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

Friday, May 21, 2010

Migration continues at the Chico.  Orchard Orioles have returned and hopefully a few pairs will stay to nest.  The adult Swainson's Thrushes have been replaced by second year birds, the species still the most frequently caught at the RMBO banding station. 

At Rose Pond, a male Black-and-white Warbler was singing (photograph).  Carefull observation will reveal its long bill (although this one has open bill and is singing) that is used to probe in the fissures of tree bark.  This study in black and white is often seen creeping on the trunks of thick-barked trees.

Posted by Bill M. on 05/21/2010

Tuesday, May 18, 2010
The untold story.  Second net run, lots and lots of birds, mostly Swainson's Thrushes, the most abundant species banded in the spring at the Chico.  Steve Brown is carefully extracting birds from the nets and brings them back in bags where they will be banded.  Twenty minutes later, Brian Gibbons sticks his hand into a pink paisley bag to band a bird caught in net #26, but when he sees what the bird is he utters multiple words !!! that can't be printed on this page.  To learn more about the reason for his excitment and to see what he found, read the following entries.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/18/2010

Connecticut Warbler, Part 1

The length of the yellow undertail coverts on  the Connecticut Warbler are strikingly long (bird on the right), a characteristic that is difficult to detect when a bird is not in the hand because this species, at least on its breeding grounds, spends much time walking on the ground in dense undergrowth.  Some species are better observed and photographed in migration than when on their territories at their breeding grounds.  Connecticut Warbler is a specialty of the spruce bogs of the boreal forest and although they breed directly north of CO in Canada, their migration route is normally far east of the Mississippi River Valley.  Photograph is courtesy of Steve Brown

Posted by Bill M. on 05/18/2010

FIRST RANCH RECORD - Connecticut Warbler

17 May 2010 will be remembered as the day the very rare Connecticut Warbler landed in a mist net at the RMBO Banding Station.  With fewer than 10 accepted records for Colorado, few would have predicted this bird would find its way to the Chico.  This species is often listed on most people's Top-10 want-to-see  list. 

Connecticut Warbler is one of four species in the genus Oporornis and it is the most difficult one to find, even on its breeding grounds, because of its retiring nature.  As many as 13 lucky birders got to see the bird in the dense olives after the bird was banded by Brian Gibbons and released. Two characteristics about this bird stand out.  The complete white eye ring and the very long yellow undertail coverts which separate it from our common migrant and  breeder, MacGillivray's Warbler which has upper and lower white eye arcs for comparison.  The other look-alike, Mourning Warbler, another Chico rarity, has no eye arcs and no eye ring.

Posted by Bill M. on 05/18/2010

Mississippi Kites
On Sunday, the Boulder Bird Club came to the Chico hoping to see spring migrants.  They weren't disappointed as over 100 species were talied.  Some of the interesting birds were a 2nd year male Summer Tanager, the first Chestnut-sided Warbler for the year here, a singing 2nd year male American Redstart, Blackpoll Warbler, a female Townsend's Warbler, multiple Northern Waterthrushes, both Least and Dusky Flycatchers, White-rumped Sandpiper, and the rarest birds were two Mississippi Kites that flew overhead continuing north.  This was only the third ranch record for Mississippi Kite.

Photograph is courtesy fo Mike Blatchley.

With one inch of rain over the weekend, Cassin's Sparrows can  now be seen giving their skylarking song while flocks of Lark Buntings, Brewer's and Clay-colored Sparrows are still moving north. 
Posted by Bill M. on 05/17/2010

Northern Waterthrush
Not a thrush but a warbler, Northern Waterthrush spends much of the time walking on the ground while bobbing its tail, almost always close to the water or singing from a perch above the water.  This species doesn't breed on the Chico but is one of the common migrant warblers in the spring and in the fall.  It has a huge breeding range, from western Canada in the boreal forest east to the easternmost Canada and northeastern U.S.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/15/2010

Least Flycatchers
One of the more common Emidonax flycatchers, especially in spring migration is Least Flycatcher, Empidonax minimus. Yesterday I photographed one at the small headquarters pond where it allowed me to approach as close as 10 feet.  It was intent on catching food on a cold day.  Luck enabled me to obtain a photograph of the flycatcher with its insect prey.  I sent the photograph to Dave Leatherman, a forest ecologist specializing in forest health and the insects that affect trees.  I asked Dave if he could identify the insect in the bird's bill.  He replied that the insect was a "jumping bristletail" (Order Microcoryphia).  He also said it was amazing an empid would find this type of prey item since these insects live under logs in wet forested habitats.  I hadn't told him the Least Flycatcher was foraging right next to a large log and within a few feet of the water.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/15/2010

Friday, May 14, 2010
One of the most beautiful warblers, and one with a cool name, was at the banding station where it was banded and later seen foraging only a foot off the ground in the Russian olives.  Its name? Magnolia Warbler.

This migrant breeds in boreal coniferous forests, especially in second growth areas and is one of the species thought to be increasing in numbers.

Photograph is courtesy of Steve Brown.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/14/2010

Bagsfull of Birds
Birds were almost everywhere and because of the cold temperatures many foraged at low elevations resulting in many birds flying into the mist nets.  The RMBO Banding Station was hopping and Brian and Steve could barely process the birds before it was time to make another net run.  This was the day to see a variety of birds up close and to learn about molt, migration, aging, and sexing of birds.  Once birds are in a bag they relax.  145 individuals were captured, banded, and released unharmed.

Photograph is courtesy of Steve Brown.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/14/2010

Yellow Warbler

Aptly named, Yellow Warbler is a common breeder on the Chico.  Males started to arrive in big numbers this week and they can be easily seen feeding below eye level by the small headquarters pond where they are catching small insects just above the water.  The second part of the scientific name, petechia, is from the Latin meaning "red spots on skin" a reference to the red streaks on the male's breast.  In the mangrove regions of the Americas, Yellow Warblers have chestnut heads making for a stunning yellow and chestnut warbler often called "Mangrove Warbler."

Posted by Bill M. on 05/14/2010

Common Chico Breeding Bird

Sometimes passed over as too common, the Common Yellowthroat is one of the classic breeders in the cattail marsh.  Fiesty and aggressive, males are territorial and will chase most other marsh nesters.  The first part of the bird's scientific name, Geothlypis is Greek for "of the earth".  Most people know this bird first by its loud song often described as witchity, witchity, witchity, witchity".  One of the most common warblers, it ranges from the Atlantic to the Pacific and from Canada to Mexico.  Males are known to breed with multiple females, a mating system called polygyny. 

Posted by Bill M. on 05/14/2010

A Picuture is Worth More than 1000 Words
A territorial Red-winged Blackbird letting a Great Horned Owl know whose territory is whose.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/14/2010

Worm-eating Warbler

Worm-eating Warbler photograph is courtesy of Brandon Percival.

Kelly Shipe took her mother birding on the Chico on Sunday for Mother's Day. Her present to her mom was the second Ranch record of Worm-eating Warbler and only the second one ever recorded in Pueblo County (the other Chico bird was in El Paso county).  The scientific name of this bird is Helmitheros vermivorus that translates as worm-eater and to devour.  However, this warbler rarely eats earthworms but instead will eat smooth caterpillars.  On its breeding grounds across the central U.S. it spends most of its time on the ground so it was unusual that Kelly found the Chico bird at the very top of a tall cottonwood tree.  Worm-eating Warbler places its nest on the ground and while foraging it often can be seen investigating the insides of curled dead leaves.  It is often considered as a dead leaf specialist.


Posted by Bill M. on 05/09/2010

Chico Days Bird Walk
A group of mostly beginning birders joined me on a two-hour walk during Saturday's annual Chico Days.  All of us loved watching the singing male Northern Parula and watching the adult Golden Eagle flying above us. We encountered many of the Ranch's breeding birds and some of the northbound migrants too.

Saturday was also International Migratory Bird Day.  John Drummond,  Nick Moore, and I scoured the Pueblo portion of the Chico counting every bird we saw.  The totals will be added to the birds seen in other parts of Pueblo County.  The HQ Ponds produced a Black-bellied Plover, a rare bird for the Ranch.  On Black Squirrel Creek a pair of Chihuahuan Ravens (photograph), rare breeders on the Ranch and not frequently found much farther north, were investigating an old stick nest near where they nested last year.

A Peregrine Falcon played havoc with the shorebirds flocks on the HQ Pond.

Posted by Bill M. on 05/09/2010

Cinco de Mayo

The first Tennessee Warbler on the Chico this spring was seen in the headquarters area in the magic willows.  A flock of Willets stopped to feed along the extensive mud flats.  A Rose-breasted Grosbeak magically appeared in the trees above the Banding Station and the first Northern Waterthrush of the season was heard in the seep between the Banding Station and the Casita.

Although sometimes we take bird names for granted, some bird names accurately describe one or more of a bird's body parts.  Take Semipalmated Sandpiper and Semipalmated Plover for example.  The pictured Semipalmated Plover (1st of the year at the Chico) shows us how it gets its name.  The webbing on the birds right leg is not fully webbed, only partially so.  Thus the name semipalmated.

Posted by Bill M. on 05/05/2010

Boring Birds?
If the oriole is hot orange, the Gray Flycatcher is a very dull gray.  The Empidonax flycatchers, of which Gray Flycatcher is a member, all look confusingly similar.  To a birder this difficulty adds to the excitement of migration, each of us attempting to place the correct name on each species. Lots of clues are available here.  The long and thin bill with the dark tip is one hint, but the clincher for a careful observer is watching this gray bird pump its tail downward, the only Empidonax flycatcher to move its tail in this fashion.   
Posted by Bill M. on 05/02/2010

Another Rarity on The Chico
Not as colorful as the orioles, a very rare Chico shorebird, Whimbrel, flew directly over HQ Pond, calling the whole time.  Not finding suitable mud in which to feed, it continued on its long journey north without stopping. 
Posted by Bill M. on 05/02/2010

They're Back!
Everyone likes the chatter and especially the brilliant orange coloration of Bullock's Orioles.  Sunday, a few of this tropical species returned to the Chico where they were easily seen performing acrobatic maneuvers in the leafless trees  busily searching for insects in the flowers of Rose Pond's peachleaf willows.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/02/2010

Saturday, May 01, 2010
Chico's third record of Wood Thrush was found by Brandon Percival on Thursday.  Today, Saturday, about 45 birders from the combined Aiken and Arkansas Valley Audubon Societies came to the Chico and all were rewarded with excellent views of this very rare Colorado thrush (above). 

In addition, most birders were able to see a Summer Tanager, an uncommon migrant at the Holmes Corral, and a variety of shorebirds at HQ Pond, including the large Marbled Godwits.  Young Great Horned Owls were just visible in their protected nest cavity. A Mountain Plover may be nesting and a few scattered Burowing Owls are mostly below ground, undoubtedly sitting on eggs. 

On Thursday, a 1st summer American Redstart was seen at the Rose Pond.  Migration is just beginning but with rarities already passing by, all birders are anticipating the big fallout that will hopefully occur later in the month.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/01/2010

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