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Birding at the Chico

The Chico Basin Ranch is a major flyway for migratory birds, due to the abundant springs, lakes and bird habitat on the ranch. The ranch works closely with Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory and has over 300 birds on the ranch bird list. Many people come to the ranch in the spring and fall to bird.

Bill Maynard is one of birders that comes most frequently. When we asked him if he would keep the ranch birding journal, he was pleased and agreed to do it. Thank you Bill! Bill has taught high school biology, worked as a naturalist for the National Park Service and as a biologist for a variety of government agencies. He has also worked for the American Birding Association at their national headquarters in Colorado Springs. 

Click Here to download the Ranch Bird Checklist

Click Here to download the Birding Trail Map (4mb PDF)

Click Here to download the Ranch Dragonfly and Damselfly Checklist



Wind and Warblers
Although there were migrants, the wind was the bigger story.  Wind might be good for kite flying, but it makes finding birds difficult.  The HQ Pond remains good for shorebirds with a all three peep species, Western, Least, and finally a Semipalmated Sandpiper being seen.  Joining a Marbled Godwit were two Willets, making comparisons easy.  A large flock of dark ibis, all of them White-faced put in a show in the shallow water.  An Eared Grebe dove for food.

Warblers were on the move but unfortunately not everyone saw all of the species present.  Two Vermivora warblers were caught (photographs courtesy of Steve Brown) at the RMBO/CBR Banding Station and those who were present were able to see the orange crown feathers of each species, feathers that are often concealedin the birds' crowns (Virginia's Warbler above and Orange-crowned Warbler below). The wide wide eyering in Virginia's Warlber and the split yellow eyering in Orange-crowned was obvious.

Other warblers present were two Northern Parulas, one feeding only 6 feet off the ground and out of the wind, and a 30 minute discussion ensued on the proper pronunciation of "parula".  The first Common Yellowthroat of the season was caught and a Blue Jay with an old and worn band is being investigated to see when and where it was first banded.  A Cedar Waxwing finally made it into a net and it was inspected before being banded.  A yellow-striped White-throated Sparrow was seen at the Bell Grove.
Posted by Bill M. on 04/24/2010

Shorebird Migration Continues
Although the landbird migration ground to a halt, new yearly shorebird species continue to land and forage in the existing mudflats.  A first-of-the- year Wilson's Phalarope and Black-necked Stilt flew in to feed.  A very large species, a Long-billed Curlew circled twice before landing right in front of us.

The length of the shorebird's bill determines upon what it will feed.  Long-billed species normally probe deep into the mud.  However, this Long-billed Curlew used its very long bill to pick up items off the surface of the mud.  Today's photograph is courtesy of Brandon Percival who captured the curlew as it came in to land.
Posted by Bill M. on 04/21/2010

Nesting Owl

An early nester like most species that use tree cavities, the Great Horned Owl is a common breeding bird on the Chico wherever there is a tree cavity large enough to house these large owls.  When no tree cavity is available, these huge predators use abandoned hawk or squirrel nests and brave the elements. 

This individual probably has young birds in the nest hole with her.  Because it was such a cold day for mid-April the adult stayed in the nest to provide some warmth to the nestlings.  Notice the adult's tail is bent upwards; a large bird in a relatively small tree cavity.

Posted by Bill M. on 04/17/2010

Early Warblers
Most birders can't wait for spring migration in order to see warblers.  Sometimes it is the song, sometimes the color combination and for some it is how rare the species is.  The number of birders increased dramatically today because of two birds, Hooded Warbler (upper photo) and Northern Parula (lower bird).  Both birds are eastern species and both are species all birders would like a chance to see.  Both photographs are courtesy of Brandon Percival. 

Today and yesterday, both species were visible at the RMBO/CBR Banding Station.  Sometimes they were at the tops of trees and sometimes the Hooded Warbler came as low as the ground where it often spread its tail to flash the white inner webs of each tail feather, part of its courtship display.   Let the fun begin.
Posted by Bill M. on 04/17/2010

Shorebird Migration
Across most of the state, storage reservoirs are full.  This means that migrant shorebirds, winging their way to their arctic tundra breeding grounds, must continue flying north to find mud flats where they use their bills to probe the mud for arthropods, restoring their fat reserves.  With the current drawdown of water for the alfalfa field irrigation, there is a nice mud area at the southeast end of HQ Pond and with it a variety of shorebirds.  Today, the first Stilt Sandpiper appeared and a Long-billed Curlew called loudly before setting down in the alfalfa field.  Just about every day you should be able to spot both Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs (photo), two species appropriately named for the color of their legs.

One of the biggest surprises today was the discovery of nesting Golden Eagles on the Chico with at least one white young partially visible in the nest.  One adult sits on the nest while the other forages for food to feed their hungry chicks.  Another nesting species, a Great Horned Owl was seen leaving a tree cavity and it shouldn't be too long before their youngsters appear in the tree opening. 
Posted by Bill M. on 04/16/2010

Bewick's Wren Singing
A rare migrant in the Spring, a singing Bewick's Wren was at the small Headquarter's Pond this morning.  They are common just to the south along the Arkansas River and a few do get recorded now each year at the Chico.  This species has been documented as expanding its range northward, probably as a response to warming trend in the past 10 years. 
Posted by Bill M. on 04/11/2010

Mountain Plovers - They're Back
One of the Chico specialties is the breeding Mountain Plovers that prefer the prairie dog colonies up on the big hill.  They are bare ground specialist and most often chose an area where black-tailed prairie dogs keep the vegetation short and the ground clear of dense vegetation.  Today, a male Mountain Plover was observed doing one of its head down and tail up courtship displays to a nearby female.  Of in the distance a single Burrowing Owl watched the fuss. 

Although Mountain Plovers are cryptically colored, enabling them to blend with their dull habitat, the males' hindnecks turn rufous in color in spring making them somewhat more attractive than just a dull brown-and-tan bird; however it is their display right in front of the females and their choice of a suitable nesting area that clinches the bond between the male (upper photo) and female (lower bird).
Posted by Bill M. on 04/11/2010

Migrantion Continues
Joining the common Red-winged Blackbirds, Yellow-headeds posed at the edge of HQ Pond, some likely staying to breed in the cattails.  With water  being  diverted from HQ Pond to irrigate the alfalfa field, mud is appearing at the edges making it perfect for shorebirds.  Today, both Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs stopped by on their way to the arctic tundra to breed.

Early migrants, both Barn and Tree Swallows were scooping insects over HQ Pond and Savannah and Vesper Sparrows appeared, right on schedule.  Barn Swallows breed on the Chico but Tree Swallows move on where tree cavities or nest boxes near water provide summer breeding areas.  Neither sparrows will stay to breed at the Chico but both species breed in the state.

Posted by Bill M. on 04/11/2010

   
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CONTACT US 719.683.7960 info@chicobasinranch.com