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

Glossy vs. White-faced Ibis
Ibis must be ancient flying dinosaurs.  They look out of place wherever I see them.  Two look alike species often occur together in migration and they hybridize with increasing frequency.  To separate the eastern Glossy Ibis from the western species, White-faced Ibis, first look at the feathering around the eyes.  If you see narrow bluish or blue-white narrow feathers around the eye but not encircling it, you spotted the rare Glossy Ibis.  Check the eyes, they should be brown, not red, and look at the leg (tibio/tarsus to be exact) color, gray, often with pinkish "knees".  Our more common ibis, White-faced Ibis has red eyes, on adults wide white feathering on the sides of the eye and also behind the eye, always the same width wherever it occurs. Unlike the leg color of Glossies, this species' leg color is bright pink in high breeding plumage with darker pink "knees".  They are seen in the wetlands during late April into May.  Two Glossy Ibis in the front and two White-faced Ibis in back, one not in full breeding plumage.
Posted by Bill M. on 04/29/2014

Nesting Great Horned Owl

All of the larger woodlots have Great Horned Owls in them.  The very popular "the willows" behind the dam of the smaller headquarters pond has had a pair breeding there for as long as I have been birding on the Chico.  Although I have not seen any young poking their heads out of their nest cavity, this bird, probably the male, was perched out of the wind and didn't move as I searched (successfully) for the recent sprouting asparagus.

Posted by Bill M. on 04/29/2014

A fairly recent split from Common Snipe, our Wilson's Snipe has a different winnowing call than its European relative.  It is almost time to hear the winnowing calls high overhead but today in the very strong winds I could only flush one from one of the rich marshy areas.  The name “snipe” comes from “snite,” a variation of “snout,” which refers to Wilson's Snipes long bills. Like most other shorebirds, Wilson's Snipe's bill has sensory organs located near its tip which enables it to detect invertebrates buried in the mud.
Posted by Bill M. on 04/29/2014

White-eyed Vireo - a rarity
My nemisis Chico bird, White-eyed Vireo, is an aptly named eastern species that prefers dense woodland scrub.  Finally, I caught up to the one found this morning at the headquarters willows below the small pond where lots of visiting birders were able to see it actively foraging. 

Although this bird was not singing, their song is very distinctive (ginger beer quick). In the U.S. there are 15 vireo species all in the same genus, Vireo, so the common name and the genus name is the same, according to some from virere, to be green.  Vireos' heavy, hooked bills and sluggish foraging help birders to distinguish them from the thinner-billed and most often more active warblers.  

April's migration has already been a memorable one.  Fourteen Hermit Thrushes were banded at the Chico Banding Station today where you can see details of plumage, structure, coloration you wouldn't be able to see while viewing the same birds through binoculars. 
Posted by Bill M. on 04/26/2014

Ah Kah a Qual
First identified by the Chinook of the northwest, Black-throated Gray Warbler is a western species that is a regular migrant on the Chico. One was located today at both the banding station area and at Headquarters.  They breed in pine-oak, pinon-juniper, a pine forests mostly west of the Rocky Mountains.  

They are short distant Neotropcial migrants and always fun to watch.  The catkins (seen in photo) on the cottonwood trees are loaded with insects and is currently the hot spot to look for migrant warblers. 
Posted by Bill M. on 04/26/2014

Hooded Warbler at the Bell Grove
Another eastern warbler and early migrant, a loudly calling male Hooded Warbler was in the wet area west of the Bell Grove this Easter Sunday. This is a handsome warbler with a long tail, usually found in mixed-hardwood forests in the northern part of its range and in cypress swamps in the southern parts of its range. It is often called a "gap specialist" because of its preference for fragmented forests and gaps where trees have blown down. 

Keep the warblers coming please. At least 10 birders were out on the Chico today.
Posted by Bill M. on 04/20/2014

Prothonotary Warbler - 2nd record
On Saturday, visiting birders found a warbler at Rose Pond nicely fitting the description of a Prothonotary Warbler.  This eastern species has only been found one previous time on the Chico.  Although this photo was not taken at the Chico it does show the big, potbellied cavity nesting warbler that is almost always found near water.  They have short tails and they move more slowly than most other warbler species.  It is the only member of the genus Protonotaria, the species was named for its plumage, which resembles the bright yellow robes of prothonotaries (papal clerks) in the Roman Catholic church.
Posted by Bill M. on 04/20/2014

Saturday, Apr 19, 2014
The Black-and-white Warbler does not breed in Colorado but it is an annual migrant here.  Its scientific name translates as variegated moss-plucker, Mniotilta varia.  It is one of the few warbler species that does not appear to be affected by forest clearing.  It feeds nuthatch style, hopping around on trunks and large limbs inspecting cracks and broken bark for insects, here a caterpillar.  Its slightly decurved bill enables it probe most tree bark.  Its plumge resembles the black and white striped shirts of referees and thus one of its common names is referee bird. 

Black-and-white Warbler has a huge wintering range extending from the West Indies and the Bahamas south into northern South America. One of my favorite warblers and often easy to watch as it creeps around slowly.  Today, found at the "Bell Grove" along with two Palm Warblers I could not find.  Black-and-white Warbler is one of the early migrant warbler species.  Don't miss out.
Posted by Bill M. on 04/19/2014

The Subtleties of Field Identification
Finally, a few sparrow species are on the move.  Here are two different sparrow species out in the cholla grassland.  The upper species was singing a very distinctive song so if heard it is easy to I.D.  This one has a  lookalike relative that is also found at the Chico, so the thin crown stripes without a wider white central streak, longish tail, shortish bill, thin eyering, and basically colorless face help to separate this Brewer's Sparrow from the more colorfull, tan-breasted Clay-colored Sparrow. 

The bird below is larger and chunky with a shorter tail, big head, and big bill.  It has a streaky breast and a nicely patterened face with a wide white eyering and white outer tail feathers. Look at the shoulder area look for the I.D. clincher, the rufous lesser wing coverts, not always visible. Vesper Sparrow.  Both it and the Brewer's Sparrow are grassland species, so look for them on Chico's extensive grasslands.
Posted by Bill M. on 04/18/2014

Nesting Begins

Resident birds, especially cavity nesters, begin to nest earlier than species wintering out of state and out of the country.  Most woodlands now have a pair of Ladder-backed Woodpeckers excavating a cavity for nesting.  Here a male Ladder-back has finished extracting wood from this perfectly round hole on the darkest area of this Siberian elm near the banding station.

Posted by Bill M. on 04/18/2014

Invasive Species
Each year a few more Eurasian Collared-Doves move onto the Chico whereas 10 years ago it was considered rare on the ranch.  As the name implies, this dove with the square tail and a ring on its neck is not a native to North America but it has found a niche here so better get used to seeing and hearing them. 

Meanwhile, the rare Yellow-throated Warbler is still frequenting the large cottonwoods and elms by the banding station as of April 17th often losely associated with a Brown Creeper and two Mountain Chickadees.
Posted by Bill M. on 04/18/2014

Common Grackles Rule
The grackle’s voice is less than mellow,
His heart is black, his eye is yellow,
He bullies more attractive birds
With hoodlum deeds and vulgar words,
And should a human interfere,
He attacks that human in the rear.
I cannot help but deem the grackle
An ornithological debacle.
Ogden Nash
Posted by Bill M. on 04/15/2014

First Warbler of the Season
This southeastern species, Yellow-throated Warbler, was found on Sunday afternoon and was still around Monday morning inspite of the snow and overnight temperatures in the teens.  Unlike most warblers, this species forages more like a Brown Creeper, prefering the tops of large horizontal limbs, using its bill to extract insects from furrows in the bark.  Although sexes appear almost the same, this individual is a male, it began singing when the temperatures warmed into the 30s.   
Posted by Bill M. on 04/15/2014

Yellow-headed Blackbirds

Yellow-headed Blackbirds frequently breed on the Chico. Flocks of males arrive first (flock of 30 birds above the Moons' ranch house on Saturday).  This species is polygynous (one male and multiple females), nesting in grouped territories.  Females select the nesting site.  In a labratory experiment, a male's bright yellow feathers were painted black with no apparent affect on the males attracting multiple females.  The scientific name, Xanthocephalus, translates as yellow-headed.  Nice to look at, but their loud, cacophonous calls are not the most pleasant to hear.

Posted by Bill M. on 04/13/2014

Burrowing Owl Nest & Pellet
Burrowing Owls have arrived on the Chico.  While nesting, birds roosting above their abandoned, black-tailed prairie-dog burrows, often fly off if they see approaching danger.  Here is one that did not, spreading her wings to increase her camouflage.  To the extreme lower left is a pellet that was a 1.5 feet past the burrow opening. If we opened it we would know exactly what this owl pair ate. Female Burrowing Owls feed in daylight hours, usually walking or hopping very close to their burrow looking for insects, especially grasshoppers and ground beetles.  Males, on the other hand, forage mostly at night and they persue small rodents.  The owl pellet is the exact size and shape of the owl's crop in which it stores inedible and undigestible parts of its prey.  When the crop is full, the owl coughs up the pellet, these parts not passing through its digestive tract.
Posted by Bill M. on 04/13/2014

Spring Lapland Longspur
An unexpected spring female Lapland Longspur was perched at the edge of the alfalfa field yesterday.  The bold patterned face, short legs, and long tail help to separate it from all sparrow species.  The dark-bordered ear coverts with the dark patches at the rear corners help to separate it from the other three longspur species.  The dry rattle as it took off also indicated it was a longspur, not a sparrow.  This is proabably the first spring record of this high arctic tundra breeder from the Chico, unfortunately in the worst possible light condition making for a difficult photograph.
Posted by Bill M. on 04/09/2014

The Peregrine Falcon
An uncommon but annual spring migrant on the Chico, a classic Peregrine Falcon made a stop at Rose and HQ Ponds on Saturday before continuing north (photo by John Drummond).  This large falcon is designed for speed, clocked at up to 150 mph.  They are found on all contintents except Antarctica and some migrate up to 15,000 miles roundtrip, their name meaning wanderer.  Before the pesticide, DDT, use was banned in the U.S., its byproduct, DDE, caused eggshell thinning in this and other end-of-the-food chain species and their numbers plummeted.  However, they have made a stunning recovery and can now be found nesting on tall buildings in large cities, in abandoned Osprey nests out on channel buoys, in old Bald Eagle and raven nests to name just a few structures now used by Peregrines. Some follow migrating shorebird flocks, in the Grand Canyon some are bat specialists, and on the Pacific Northwest coast some specialize in hunting amidst large flocks of seabirds.
Posted by Bill M. on 04/09/2014

Before heading upslope to aspen forests to breed, sapsuckers, here Red-naped Sapsucker because of the red nape feathers, stop at the Chico to drill sap wells and look for insects.  Four species of small woodpecker are called "sapsucker" because these woodpeckers create sap wells in the bark of trees and a few larger shrubs to feed on sap that comes to the surface after the woodpeckers' bills tap into the trees' tissues. Sap wells are shallow holes drilled through outer bark to the underlying phloem or xylem tissues which flows out to the bark where it is exploited by these specialized woodpeckers.
Posted by Bill M. on 04/06/2014

Insects, Birds, and Deer

One way to become a better birder is to explore every habitat type and learn what bird sepcies are unique to it.  Also, watching insects will often lead you to birds, especially bird species who migrate north to exploit insects which are fed to their developing young. Now that I justified talking about insects, I found what has been identified by Eric Eaton as an adult deer botfly on the road between Upper and Lower Twin Ponds. Some deer botflies mimic bumblebees like this one (flies have one pair of wings, bees have two pairs). 

What makes these deer botflies so interesting is in their adult stage they are rarely seen and they attack the nostrils of deer. The larvae of at least one of the deer botfly species is called a stagworm and it is an obligate parasite on deer. Eggs hatch in the uterus of the female deer botfly and she then hovers above a deer and ejects her larvae into the deer's nostrils where the larvae move to the base of the deer's tongue.  The deer eventually ejects the larvae where they enter the soil, pupate, and eventually emerge as an adult.  Adult deer botflies do not feed, so it becomes necessary to quickly locate a mate where the cycle is renewed.

Posted by Bill M. on 04/01/2014

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