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

Breeding Great Horned Owl
 Great Horned Owls nest in most large woodlots on the Chico and even out on the open plains where one pair uses a stick nest on a power pole that was built in years past by a raptor.  Great Horned Owls and other owl species do not build nests so they have to find a cavity or use an existing stick nest.  The pair of owls by the small headquarters pond has nested in a tree cavity for the past 12 years or more.  Because both adults are roosting out of the nest hole, the young must be getting close to poking their heads out for their first peek at the rest of their neighborhood. 
Posted by Bill M. on 04/29/2016

Left Over from the Dinosaur Age
 Looking more like a small dinosaur than a bird, the White-faced Ibis is a fairly common spring migrant on the Chico, especially when bad weather forces them to land. After Thursday's snow,  a flock of ibis landed to feed, probing in the mud with their long decurved bills. From a distance the coloration on these birds looks to be dark maroon, but up close you can see the multiple shades of greens, chestnuts, and purples on the individual feathers. If this was and adult bird there would be a cream-colored patch circling the eyes, but this is a 1-year old bird that has not attained its adult plumage.  As the poet Ogden Nash wrote about learning to I.D. birds... "then they go and change their plumage, which takes us back to ignorant gloomage..."
Posted by Bill M. on 04/29/2016

Who Swallowed the Grapefruit?
 The bird on the upper left looks like it might have swallowed a grapefruit and that is one way to separate it from its closest relative.  I am talking about Long-billed Dowitcher the shorebird who likes to forage sewing machine style with other dowitchers in what often seems like the closer the better.  Long-billed Dowitcher is a tundra breeder so they are only seen in spring and fall on their way to or from their breeding grounds.  They are a fairly common on Chico in late April to about mid-May.  The rare close relative is called Short-billed Dowitcher but bill lengths overlap so compare the grapefruit look with a flat-backed look on Short-billeds which do not appear in this photo. Thursday's bad weather forced 50 of these long-billed shorebirds to land on Chico's large headquarters pond. 
Posted by Bill M. on 04/29/2016

The Other Owl
 In the U.S. the best known owl is Barn Owl, probably because of its heart-shaped face and they can often be found nesting in old barns with a large opening.  They are not considered a true owl, like the other Chico owls, taxonomically different in having the inner toe the same length as the middle toe, a character found in 16 other owls in the genus Tyto in the world.  Barn Owls are nocturnal, hunting in open grasslands but they roost or nest in tree cavities and sometimes they are seen flying away during daylight hours (photo).  Young begging sounds, sounds like snoring, can be heard near a nest cavity or barn for hours at a time during evening hours.  Barn Owls on Chico are resident whereas some populations in Europe or Asia are migratory.  Resident Barn Owls in some countries sometimes starve in mass during harsh winters.  
Posted by Bill M. on 04/24/2016

Flycatcher Challenge
 Eight flycatchers in the genus Empidonax have been recorded on the Chico. None of them are easy to identify, even in the hand where often wing, tail and bill measurements are needed to be taken for identification.  There is one dull species, Gray Flycatcher, that has a unique behavior among flycatchers in this genus.  Instead of pushing its tail upwards like all the other species, Gray Flycatcher pumps its tail in a downward motion.  A good look will also show it has a long bill, long wings, and a longish tail.  The bill is the longest of any member of the genus and it has a orange base to the bill.

 Migration is slow so far. 
Posted by Bill M. on 04/24/2016

Thomas Say's Flycatcher
 Thomas Say was the biologist on Long's Expedition to the Rocky Mountains in the early 1800s where he collected and named a few birds new to science.  He is most known as the Farther of Entomology and hundreds of insects were first collected and named by Say.  The first returning flycatcher in spring to Chico was named in his honor, Say's Phoebe.  Say's Phoebe has a huge longitudinal range extending from central Mexico to the arctic tundra.  The primary reason it can return so early, mid-March, is its feeding habits.  Like all flycatchers it feeds on insects, but it does so by hovering over the ground and hover-gleaning insects from the ground or low grasses, something other flycatchers are unable to do.  On Chico, Say's Phoebe builds its nest under the overhanging roof, such as the one at the banding station and by the leather shop. 
Posted by Bill M. on 04/24/2016

Cover Your Ears
 A male Great-tailed Grackle has returned to the big trees above Chico's office.  The one word best describing this species is flamboyant.  Big, males are twice the size of females, polygynous, with neither sex faithful to their mate. In 1900, this species had just begun to colonize Texas but now it nests in 14 states and is found in others.  They are at home with humans and this grackle feeds on waste grain, trash and almost anything and therefore is not a favorite in cities where there roosts can number in the hundreds.  But, for me it is their vocalizations that are the most interesting.  Words describing their "songs" include: prolonged slur, yodeling, bugle-like call, lazy screeching note, and my favorite "best heard from a distance."  This is a cool bird, check it out. 
Posted by Bill M. on 04/15/2016

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