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

K-Rat - It's What's For Dinner
 Two Common Ravens fighting over a dead kangaroo rat. I tried one once and it isn't worth fighting over. The k-rat, in addition to meadow voles and pocket gophers out in the sand are all abundant right now.
Posted by Bill M. on 04/30/2015

Rare Bird - Prairie Warbler
 Only the third Chico record of Prairie Warbler and the first one banded at Chico by the RMBO group.  This is a rare species in Colorado and requires documentation. Luckily it was seen and photographed by many and the sighting brought the Colorado Springs birding group who call themselves the MAMBOS to Chico to look for the warbler.  In addition, the first of the season Hooded Warbler was banded and seen by the MAMBOs and an American Redstart, another attractive warbler was at headquarters. Plus, only Chico's third ever Greater White-fronted Goose was at HQ Pond.  The goose should be in the arctic right now so it is possible it may stick around for the summer.  Nine Wilson's Phalaropes made an appearance over on weed-covered Rose Pond and my FOS Long-billed Dowitchers were probing the mud at HQ Pond.  Migration is happening. Bring 'em.
Posted by Bill M. on 04/30/2015

 Currently a population explosion of rodents is occurring on Chico Basin Ranch.  The most common species being seen and eaten by both large owls and hawks is the 10-inch-long Hispid Cotton Rat. This rat is an herbivore, eating roots, stems, and seeds of many plant species. They don't store food, nor do they hibernate. Cotton rats' populations fluctuate greatly and they are currently in a boom cycle, in part due to the abundance of tumbleweeds and their seeds. Although nocturnal, Hispid Cotton Rats also venture about during daylight hours; here one can be seen searching for fruits up five feet in a Russian olive at the Banding Station. Both breeding and migrant birds need food and this year the cotton rat is one of the options for birds of prey. 
Posted by Bill M. on 04/27/2015

My Favorite Owl
 My favorite, the medium-sized heart-faced owl that in North America can be confused with no other.  Barn Owl on the Chico nests along Chico Creek in steep bank cavities or where large limbs have broken off in old cottonwoods but they also roost in thickets such as this one away from most ranch activities.
Posted by Bill M. on 04/26/2015

What's Up With Chukars on Chico?
 Chukar is an introduced game species from Pakistan.  They were widely introduced into the Great Basin where they have thrived and are a favorite of hunters.  A few have been released out in the Chico sand hills and along Black Squirrel Creek.  They scratch a depression into the ground for a nest where the female lays 10-21 eggs.  Their primary food is the leaves and seeds of perennial grasses, especially in sagebrush-grassland habitats. I found three mated pairs recently along Black Squirrel Creek, this one is strutting its stuff! 
Posted by Bill M. on 04/25/2015

How To Attract A Female Woodpecker
 The southeast Colorado species, Ladder-backed Woodpecker is the most common woodpecker on the Chico but rare to absent to the north and west of here.  They are found in almost all of the Chico areas with substantial trees.  During the height of breeding season, now, the males will do almost anything to attract a mate.  Here, a male all puffed up with a female out of view on a lower post and seemingly ignoring the male. 
Posted by Bill M. on 04/21/2015

 Four blackbird species have be seen on the Chico, Red-winged Blackbird not seen in this photo, is the species found even in the winter.  In Spring, male Yellow-headed Blackbirds arrive first and they find the best breeding location. Yellow-headed Blackbirds are polygymous, many nesting in group territories.  The obvious Yellow-headed Blackbirds in the photograph are all males so the birds without the yellow heads and white wingbars must be a different species.  The purple/greenish cast and smaller blackbirds are Brewer's Blackbirds, the all brown one is the female.  All the birds pictured are in a mixed species flock, foraging in the Penitentiary before continuing their journey north. 
Posted by Bill M. on 04/19/2015

Mimics - Northern Mockingbird
Northern Mockingbirds are a common breeding species on the Chico.  A few have returned and they are already singing.  Both males and females sing, males' songs are acquired by imitating the calls, songs, and parts of songs of other birds and they will also imitate non-bird mechanical songs, thus their name.  Males being to sing in February and they continue into August, sometimes singing throughout the night. For birders, the problem is separating mockingbird vocalizations from the other Chico mimics, Brown, Sage, and Curve-billed Thrashers and to some extent, Gray Catbird.  Because of the "mocking" of all sounds around them, a birder trying to memorize a mockingbird's song is not really of much help. 
Posted by Bill M. on 04/19/2015

Early Empidonax Flycatcher
 One of the best things about birding is trying to identify the more difficult species.  A group of 8 closely related small flycatchers, Empidonax or Empids for short, have been seen on the Chico and most often the earliest one is Gray Flycatcher. Although this individual is not very gray it was calling "whit...whit" eliminating a few species.  The longish bill with the orangish lower mandible, the short wings, and the longish tail cement the I.D. as a Gray Flycatcher.  It is also the only Empid to "pump" its tail strongly downward. Gray Flycatcher is a western species and breeds frequently in pinon/juniper habitat, in Colorado mostly on the West Slope, but also nearby in Temple Canyon.
Posted by Bill M. on 04/18/2015

Not a Bird but...
 One of the best things about birding on the Chico, like a treasure hunt, you never know what you will find. Today, while tracking an early migrant Gray Flycatcher (see above post) I saw a large bobcat and it didn't see me. As I walked closer I saw it clenched something large in its mouth.  Before the bobcat saw me, I took a series of photographs that reveal its prey item to be a woodrat, Neotoma sp.  
Posted by Bill M. on 04/18/2015

If It Quacks Like A Duck
 All ducks give unique vocalizations but very few species would be described as giving a "quack" call.  Here, two ducks of the same species but the lead duck is the female because she will be incubating eggs on the ground and can't afford to be seen by predators. The handsome male, however, a Cinnamon Teal drake, needs to show his colors in order to attract a mate.  Hard not to like Cinnamon Teal.  Common in migration.  Males molt in early summer and will take on the hues of the females by August. 
Posted by Bill M. on 04/16/2015

Least Sandpipers - PEEPS
 Peeps is a name usually given to the three smallest shorebirds, Least, Semipalmated, and Western Sandpipers.  Today, I saw my first two Least Sandpipers of spring at Headquarters Pond, the exposed mud perfect for shorebirds to probe into.  Of the three peeps, only Least has yellow legs, but in this photo they aren't visible.  Looking at the thin bill with the drooped tip, the chunky posture and the short tail along with a nice demarcation where the breast streaks end at a white breast enable a fairly easy I.D. 
Posted by Bill M. on 04/16/2015

Bad Weather Birding
 Wind, cold and precipitation force birds to land.  Today a flock of American Avocets dropped out of the sky to seek shelter at Headquarters Pond.  While foraging, avocets swish their bill side-to-side to filter small invertebrates, but they are also one of the few shorebirds to be seen floating, duck-like, in the middle of a lake.  Although both sexes look similar, females' bills have more of an upturn.  Everyone likes American Avocets.  Their long legs, large size, and striking coloration make them one of the most beautiful birds.
Posted by Bill M. on 04/16/2015

Migrant Osprey
The raptor that dives for fish, an Osprey perched in a plains cottonwood along the dam of Headquarters' Pond this morning.  Imagine just the head on a football helmet and you have the logo of the Seattle Seahawks.  Osprey are often called a sea hawks.  One of the end of the food chain raptors, they were severely affected by DDT that accumulates in fish.  Now, they commonly breed at Pueblo Reservoir and Pueblo Wildlife Area where during summer months they are commonly seen hunting for fish over the reservoir.  Not yet established as a breeder in the Chico area, platforms are being erected in Colorado Springs in an effort to lure some of these migrants to stay and nest. 
Posted by Bill M. on 04/14/2015

Franklin's Gull
Saying "Canadian Geese" will draw the ire of a birder (Canada Goose is its name) so will saying "seagull" identify the speaker as someone who is not a student of birds (know what I mean Deb and Coco?) Franklin's Gull, the very attractive dark-headed gull with the red bill when an adult is a common prairie breeder.  Franklin's Gull was first described from Mexico and it's species name pipixcan is an Aztec word suggesting Mexico. The gull was named in honor of Sir John Franklin, an early explorer of the arctic, but later it was discovered the bird had already been described in 1831 and the name Franklin stuck as the common name. In the summer, this gull follows plows, sometimes in large numbers as it feeds on a variety of insects including grasshoppers and dragonflies.  It is sometimes called "prairie dove" although it is a gull and a not a dove. 
Posted by Bill M. on 04/14/2015

White-winged Doves
 White-winged Dove is a tropical species that is now a regular breeder in Colorado.  During the past few springs, an individual bird was seen near or in the Moons' chicken coop. Today, another dove was spotted with the chickens but when it flew it landed near a second bird over the headquarters office.  It will be interesting to see if both birds remain, or if  they disappear in a week or two.

Other new birds seen today were an Osprey, the first Gray Flycatcher of the year, a couple Hermit Thrushes, my FOS (first of the season) Brown Thrasher and my FOS Northern Mockingbird.
Posted by Bill M. on 04/14/2015

Immature Bald Eagle
Our nation's symbol, the Bald Eagle is rarely reported from the Chico partly due to immature birds not acquiring a full white head and white tail until sometime in their 4-5th year of life. Therefore, some migrants, like the one pictured here, are likely overlooked as a "big hawk."  Now that DDT is illegal to use in the U.S./Canada, this species is making a remarkable recovery and one pair has attempted to nest within 15 miles of Chico for the past three years.  Osprey, another raptor at the end of the food chain and previously affected by DDT, is often harassed until they drop their fish prey to the larger Bald Eagle. Where there are large concentrations of dying fish, Bald Eagles are likely to attend the banquet.  Bald Eagles are not closely related to the more common Chico bird, Golden Eagle, Bald Eagles having a large head, larger bill, and unfeathered legs. 
Posted by Bill M. on 04/09/2015

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