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

Blackburnian Warbler
The singing male Blackburnian Warbler from Saturday was not present today, Sunday, nor were many other migrants.  Three other birders were able to see the warbler Satruday afternoon.  The name Blackburnian was used to honor the 18th Century English botanist, Anna Blackburn.

Brian Gibbons was able to photograph this treetop species and he provided these photographs. 

Although Blackburnian Warbler breeds due north of Colorado in the Canadian provinces of Alberta and eastern British Columbia and then east to Nova Scotia, it is a rare bird in Colorado.  It is a classic trans-Gulf migrant and disperses north of CO before fanning out to the east and west.  With its long wings, its disperses to northern South America for the boreal winter.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/24/2009

Do Waxwings Have Wax?
In the past week, Cedar Waxwings invaded the Chico.  Audubon's Cedar Bird, today called Cedar Waxwing, is something of an enigma.  First of all,  the secondary feathers (the inner flight feathers) have specialized flattened areas on the tips, or rachis, where red pigments are stored.  The red droplets are unique to the world's three waxwing species.  Waxwings forage throughout the year on sugary fruits, almost exclusively so in winter, but they can not synthsize them completely so some are stored as red droplets or red carotenoid pigments.  The yellow tail band seen on the tail feather tips, or rectrices, are also yellow carotenoids and also found in the feather vanes, but these are not waxy.

In the eastern U.S., Cedar Waxwings are most fond of Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus cedrorum) berries.  It is therefore not surprising their scientific name is Bombycilla cedrorum.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/23/2009

Saturday, May 23, 2009
Other than the probably extinct Ivory-billed Woodpecker, my favorite woodpecker in the U.S. is the knockout and perfectly named Red-headed Woodpecker.  This species is in decline across the U.S. mostly because large diameter snags are felled for firewood.  Lewis's Woodpecker, a more agressive species, most likely out-competes the Red-headeds for nesting cavities in our area so seeing one atop a fence post by the south end of the alfalfa field was a treat.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/23/2009

Migration Continues
In the rarity news, I found a singing male Blackburnian Warbler at the Rose Pond, argueably the snaziest warbler there is.  Other highlights included an Alder Flycatcher, a difficult to identify species caught and banded at RMBO Banding Station.

Other colorful birds were about with the common, American Goldfinch being quite cooperative (see photo).  After two days of southwesterly winds, the winds finally shifted to the northeast and southeast funneling eastern species again to the Chico.  The five weeks early moonsonal moisture from Mexico is mostly falling closer to the Pikes Peak massive unfortunately.

Alough banding has ended for the season, there will still be interesting birds coming through until the end of the month.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/23/2009

Purple Martin
The largest swallow in the U.S., Purple Martin, made a quick stop near Chico Headquarters on Thursday.  Where's the purple?  Sexually dimorphic, female Purple Martins resemble males only in structure and size without the deep purple breasts of the males.  This species is very rarely seen in spring migration on the Chico.

This bird was associated with the scores of Cliff Swallows who are currently attracted to the undersides of the grain disperser next to HQ.  The Cliff Swallows can be seen gatherning fresh mud by the little HQ pond which they are using to construct their adobe nests. 

Martins are notorious colonial breeders, using man-made multi-storied and multi-chambered dwellings for nesting.   In Colorado, however, they use snags with cavities created by woodpeckers and are thus less social due to the availablility of nesting cavities here.

Photo by Brian Gibbons
Posted by Bill M. on 05/22/2009

Summer Tanager in the Spring
One of the now regularly recorded migrants on the Chico, a species not yet known to breed in Colorado, fist year male Summer Tanagers are a study in greens, yellows and shades of red.   Summer Tanager photo is courtesy of Brian Gibbons.

The tanagers form a tropical family with over a hundred representatives, all in the New World tropics, but with only five species making their way north to the U.S.  The latest news on "our" tanagers; all of them are going to be moved out of the Tanager Family and placed alongside the grosbeaks and buntings in the Cardinal Family.  They will, however, keep their common names so the name, at least, will not be lost.

The wind picked up early today and blew briskly.  Unfortunatley the front arrived after first light so many migrants passed by before it blew in, a result being few new migrants grounded.

Posted by Bill M. on 05/21/2009

Chestnut-sided Warbler
If you are a fan of the colors black, white, lemon-yellow, chestnut, and olive-green, and who isn't, this warbler is for you.  The bird wth the rich rufous sides, Chestnut-sided Warbler, was caught today at the Banding Station. Before being caught, it was seen foraging, gleaning insects from the undersides of leaves with its tail cocked up.  This was one of 17 species of warblers seen today, the 16th of May, on the Chico, furthering its reputation as being one of the best migrant traps in the state.

Although the Chico bird was silent today, on its breeding area, secondary forests in eastern and northern North America, its song is often likened to the phrase...  please please pleased to meetcha.  All who saw this bird were quite pleased.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/16/2009

RMBO Bird Banding Station
One of the very best introductions to wildlife for kids is to show them birds up close.  Every child I have watched wants to hold a bird and release it back into the wild.  At the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory's Banding Station on the Chico,  most kids are afraid at first or at least apprehensive about holding something that small with such a  rapidly beating heart.  But, after they are guaranteed "their" bird will not hurt them,  they let go of their fear, watch in amazement, and then squeal with delight as a Yellow Warbler, or other brightly colored bird, is returned to the wild.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/16/2009

Warbler Migration Continues
Black-throated Blue Warbler is a species that winters primarily in the Greater Antillies.  It is rare anywhere west of the Mississippi River.  But two of them spent four days feasting on insects by the Moons' ranchhouse and were viewed and photographed by many.

This species nests under the shady conopy of maple/birch/beech forests in the northeast and Canada.  The two birds seen at the Chico both sang a soft version of their uplslured, raspy zeer zeer zeer zeeeee song. 

Photograph is courtesy of Steve Brown.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/16/2009

Monday, May 11, 2009
I was riding in the Dry Creek pasture today, gathering the Scottish Highlander herd that we will be shipping in the next three weeks.  It was almost the same time last year that I was gathering the pasture, I remembered, as I began to see the mass of Lark Buntings in the grasslands scrubrush - small groups of them flitting from one area to another, with enormous energy, moslty females with usually one male, in each group. 

Solitary males would be perched at the very top of the four wing salt brush bushes, calling loudly with chests puffed out (it seemed), then flying high into the air, hovering in one place for a moment, with their wings batting the air.  They would then make a long glide to another bush, always close to the others that he had sat on - all within his small territory, within a larger territory where it seemed hundreds of them are doing their courting ritual.  All the while, the winners were swarmed with females flying along in little flocks.

It has always been one of my favorite sights on the Chico, one of spring at its fullest capacity for life.  It is amazing to see so many small territories, as far as I could see across the hills, marked distinclty by small black birds flying up and gliding down, flying up and gliding down - incesnatly. 

For anyone who wants to see a trully magnificent sight of mighty little kingdoms with their lords swinging high into the air, head out to the Dry Creek pasture and take a walk across the southern and western hills.  The next several weeks will mark the peak of the Lark Bunting mating dance.
Posted by Duke P. on 05/11/2009

National Migratory Bird Day
The annual Spring Count on the Pueblo County portion of the Chico always corresponds with National Migratory Bird Day.  This year Chico Days and NMBD occured on the same date.  All birders in the Pueblo County portion of Chico Basin Ranch tallied the species seen in Pueblo County only.  An incredible 120 species were tallied.  Here is the list as provided by the count coordinator, Brandon Percival.

The photograph of a migrant male Hooded Warbler photo was taken along the fence in the Moons' backyard.

Location:     Chico Basin Ranch - Pueblo County, CO
Observation date:     5/9/09
Number of species:     120

Greater White-fronted Goose     1
Canada Goose     20
Gadwall     45
American Wigeon     5
Mallard     15
Blue-winged Teal     20
Cinnamon Teal     2
Northern Shoveler     30
Green-winged Teal     10
Ring-necked Duck     2
Lesser Scaup     2
Bufflehead     1
Ruddy Duck     5
Scaled Quail     2
Pied-billed Grebe     2
Eared Grebe     6
American White Pelican     10
American Bittern     2
Great Blue Heron     3
Black-crowned Night-Heron     1
White-faced Ibis     25
Turkey Vulture     1
Northern Harrier     2
Swainson's Hawk     2
American Kestrel     1
Peregrine Falcon     1
Virginia Rail     2
Sora     1
American Coot     30
Killdeer     10
Black-necked Stilt     1
American Avocet     2
Spotted Sandpiper     15
Lesser Yellowlegs     1
Least Sandpiper     10
Baird's Sandpiper     1
Long-billed Dowitcher     2
Wilson's Phalarope     40
Red-necked Phalarope     3
Franklin's Gull     1
Mourning Dove     20
Barn Owl     1
Great Horned Owl     1
Burrowing Owl     1
Common Nighthawk     1
hummingbird sp.     1
Ladder-backed Woodpecker     4
Olive-sided Flycatcher     1
Least Flycatcher     4
Hammond's Flycatcher     2
Dusky Flycatcher     1
Empidonax sp.     4
Say's Phoebe     3
Ash-throated Flycatcher     1
Western Kingbird     30
Eastern Kingbird     1
Loggerhead Shrike     2
Plumbeous Vireo     1
Warbling Vireo     1
Blue Jay     1
Chihuahuan Raven     5
Horned Lark     15
Northern Rough-winged Swallow     50
Bank Swallow     5
Cliff Swallow     250

Posted by Bill M. on 05/11/2009

Monday, May 11, 2009
It's  Sunday and many of Saturday's migrants have departed with some rare birds remaining at the HQ area, and including two Black-throated Blue Warblers and a confiding Hooded Warbler.

At the wetland west of the banding station, three male Bobolinks made an appearance on their way north. Bobolinks are grassland species, but they nest in mixed and tallgrass prairies and have adapted to alfalfa fields.  In the environmentally senstitive Boulder County, many ranchers and farmers who grow alfalfa, now voluntarily postpone cutting their first crop until Bobolinks have fledged young.

A long distant migrant, Bobolinks are considered a pest in their Argentine wintering grounds, where huge flocks descend on rice fields.  Their 5,000 mile flight makes Boblinks one of the longest distance landbird migrants.  The interesting name comes from their bubbly skylarking song, described by William Cullen Bryan in his poem, "Robert of Lincoln" as Bob-o'-link, Bob-o'-link, spink, spank, spink.

Posted by Bill M. on 05/11/2009

A Bird in the Hand - Three Vireos
Three look- alike vireos, one rare, one common, and one uncommon are seen each year on the Chico.  The upper bird, a common migrant, Plumbeous Vireo is the grayest of the three with no contrast between the gray head and gray back.  In the fall it can have some yellow flank feathers but as the name plumbeous implies, it is mostly a gray bird with a white spectacle around the eye.

The middle bird, Cassin's Vireo, most often has a dull gray head and dull green back the head color gradually grading into the dull green back coloration.  It can have yellow flank feahers and the separation between the gray sides of its face gradually changes to white on the throat.

Blue-headed Vireo males are very contrasty, with a blue-gray head contrasting sharply with a greenish back.  There is usually a lot of yellow feathering on the flanks, and the blue-gray cheecks contrast strongly with the white chin.  Intergrades occur and then the identification gets confused.

Steve Brown provided all three photos from birds banded at the RMBO Banding Station.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/11/2009

Friday, May 08, 2009
South winds broght in a new batch of migrants today.  The best one was a Black-throated Blue Warbler that I found after taking two steps out of my car at Headquarters.  It sang for most of the morning and a few birders were able to see it then.  Other interesting birds were the thrush called Veery, named from the sound of its song, and one of the most beautiful warblers, Magnolia.

At the RMBO Banding Station, a fiesty Rose-breasted Grosbeak was caught, measured, and banded.  The massive bill cracks large seeds open with ease.  Banders' fingers are at risk, thus the thick cloth bag protecting Nancy G's fingers.  For once, I can say that this is a perfectly named species.  The bird's breast and underwings are beautiful rose, and its gros beak means big, fat, or stout in French.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/08/2009

Thursday, May 07, 2009
This weekend at Chico Days see if you can spot one of the three small grebe species that are sometimes present.  Pied-billed Grebe, bottom photo, breeds at Twin Ponds, Rose, and HQ Pond, but the other two species are migrants.   Horned Grebe, center, is the least common migrant of the three, but one was present earlier in the week on HQ Pond.  The "horns" are really the golden feathers extenting back from the eye.  Eared Grebe, upper photo, is called Black-necked Grebe in other parts of the world.  Of the three, it has the most spectacular plumage.

All three speices have broad lobed toes, helping them to pursue small fish while they chase them underwater. 
Posted by Bill M. on 05/07/2009

Monday, May 04, 2009

Today's school group came prepared to identify birds.  Nancy showed the group a Hermit Thrush and most of the kids knew what it was.  I was impressed.  There are some birds that are much more difficult to separate. 

In the bottom photograph Nancy Gobris, one of the bird banders from Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory, is trying to identify one of the confusing vireos.  A few years ago a single species was called Solitary Vireo, but now that species has been split into three fairly distinct species.   Two of them, Blue-headed and Cassin's, can look a lot alike.  Here, Nancy is using callipers to measure the length of the culmen, the top ridge of the bill.  She used the measurements to separate the western species, Cassin's,  from its look-alike congener, Plumbeous Vireo.  Lots of photographs were taken.

Posted by Bill M. on 05/04/2009

Bill, Were you here today to see the 2 Pelicans?  Think we saw a Wilson's Phalarope and what are the black head/dark almost black body and white beak birds?  We thought Coots.  It was hard for my friend and I to tell what a couple of the birds were - I kept looking around for your car - we needed help!   There are so many different birds on the HQ pond right now! 
Posted by Dawn M. on 05/02/2009

Bird Banding News - Warblers
Two of my favorite warbler species are Hooded Warbler (above) and Townsend's Warbler (below).  Hooded Warbler breeds east of Colorado in mixed deciduous forests were it never ventures much above 15 feet off the ground whereas Townsend's breeds in the Northwest, nesting and feeding in the tops of large conifers.  Both species are regular migrants on the Chico.

Townsend's Warbler, named after John K. Townsend, an ornithologist and collector, undergoes a different migration path in the spring than it does in the fall.  Many species undergoe an elliptical migration, moving north in spring along a westerly route but heading a thousand miles or more farther east on its way back south.

Hooded Warbler is a nevervous bird, rarely stopping to rest, often first found by following the direction of its explosive chip notes that can be heard from some distance.  Both species are beautiful, hoped for birds during May migration on the Chico.

Posted by Bill M. on 05/02/2009

New Ranch Bird
The newest species on the Chico Checklist, number 322, is Kentucky Warbler, an eastern species that has been expected, but never recorded until today.  While birding with Bryan Patrick, I first found this distinctive beauty by the small headquarters pond while it feed close to the ground.

Kentucky Warbler was named by Alexander Wilson the first person to collect one in 1811 in where else, Kentucky.  The scientific name formosus means beautiful.

The first day of May was very good for migrants.  Birds and birders seemed to be everywhere as upslope winds dropped birds into most of the Chico habitats.  In addition to the Kentucky Warbler, another hot yellow-and-black species, Hooded Warbler was caught and banded at the Banding Station.

Photo is courtesy of Bryan Patrick who got a nice shot as the bird foraged on the ground.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/01/2009

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