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

Blackpoll Warbler - another late migrant
The song of the Blackpoll Warbler is very high-pitched and is used as a measure for hearing loss in birders.  Luckily I can still hear the high frequencies as this one was singing near the headquarters willows and was just a little above head height.  Blackpolls have a wide breeding range, but this species doesn't breed in Colorado.  Birds from Alaska migrate as far as Brazil in fall or as many as 5,000 miles.  The Blackpoll Warblers from the east double their body weight before they migrate in the fall and they make a non-stop flight over the Atlantic Ocean to northern South America, a flight of over 1900 miles taking as long as 90 hours to complete!
Posted by Bill M. on 05/30/2012

Red-eyed Vireo - late migrant
Red-eyed Vireos winter as far south as northern South America.  They have been described as the most common bird species in eastern deciduous forests.  Their song is monatanous and has been described as saying "here I am, where are you, do you see me, I see you." The song on the breeding grounds is repeated over and over.  There was one singing at the banding station today, 30 May, and a silent one at the headquarters willows.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/30/2012

Long-distant Migrant

White-rumped Sandpiper has one of the longest migrations of any animal in the Western Hemisphere and therefore they need very long wings (see photo, wing tips way past the tail).  They breed mostly in the Canadian arctic and after breeding they move east to Nova Scotia before undertaking a 60-hour, nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean to the Guianas of northeastern South America.  There they feed and make short flights until  reaching their winter destination in Patagonia in southern South America, a journey that may take three months.  On their northbound migration, White-rumped Sandpipers stop to refuel in the Great Plains, so a few stop each spring on the Chico (four here today) to gain enough fat for the final leg of their journey north. Their complete migration path is in the form of an elipse so we only see these birds for a few days in late May, never in late summer, and never in the fall. On their breeding grounds, males run on the ground with their wings spread with wingtips drooped and with tails up and bent forward and with necks inflated, a fancy display used to attract a mate.  The males leave the breeding grounds as soon as eggs are laid, usually by mid-June so for all of that flying about they are only on the breeding grounds for about two weeks.

Posted by Bill M. on 05/24/2012

The Tanager That Isn't
All of the U.S. and Canadian tangers have been moved out of the tanager family and placed in the cardinal family but they are still called tanagers.  Confused?  This is a beautiful tropical species that comes north to breed in the Colorado mountains, often stopping first on a migrant trap like the Chico to refuel, often finding caterpillars for snacks.

While I was working on a bird project in California, I was introduced to this species other name.  This beautiful bird, here an adult male Western Tanager, is sometimes called "Wasted Teenager".  If you see one of these in your yard it should become an instant favorite with this great combination of bright colors.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/19/2012

Yellow-throated Warbler Remains
Found on Wednesday, banded on Thursday, the warbler from southeastern U.S. was still being seen on Saturday, now wearing a metal bracelet. The species part of the scientific name of this attractive warbler is dominica, named for Santo Domingo, before the island's name was changed to Hipaniola. The first Yellow-throated Warbler was discovered there but recently all Yellow-throated Warblers from the West Indies, in particular those nesting on Grand Bahama and the Cayman Islands were given species rank and a new name, Bahama Warbler. Our Yellow-throated Warbler is often associated with "Spanish moss" the attractive lichen of the south used by this warbler for lining its nest.  The Chico bird is far from its traditional breeding grounds.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/19/2012

Who Was Virginia?
A Colorado breeder, Virginia's Warbler finally arrived on its way to an oak or mountain mahogany hillside possibly along our Front Range where they are fairly common breeders.  In 1858, army assistant surgeon, William W. Anderson, found and described the first Virginia's Warbler in New Mexico.  He named it after his wife, Virginia. 
Posted by Bill M. on 05/19/2012

Bee Swarm at the Banding Station
When a queen bee leaves a colony with a large group worker bees, a swarm results. Often as many as 60% of the worker bees leave the original hive location with the old queen. This swarm can contain thousands to tens of thousands of bees. Swarming is mainly a spring phenomenon. An afterswarm may also result; these are usually smaller, the swarm is accompanied by one or more virgin queens.

An individual bee without a colony cannot survive for long. The colony needs a certain colony size in order to reproduce. Lee mentioned that bees in a swarm are docile and can be moved to a hive without threat of being stung. This swarm now resides in a hive at Lee's house.

Posted by Bill M. on 05/19/2012

The Peregrine Falcon in a Prairie-Dog Town
The Peregrine Falcon was one of the symbols of the environmental movement of the 1970s when its population in North America plummeted due to the widely used insecticide, DDT, whose byproduct, DDE, caused eggshell thinning in avian predators at the bottom of the food chain.  Peregrines were also once a symbol of wilderness until hack sites were placed in metropolitan areas such as on skyscrapers' window ledges and underneath wide span bridges.  Peregrine Falcon is one of the most widespread avian species, absent as a breeder only from the Amazon Basin, the Sahara Desert, Antarctica, and most of the steppes of central and eastern Asia. Their diet includes many hundreds of species of birds and some bats; some Peregrines roosting all day and hunting only when bats stream out of bat caves at dusk.  This bird was a northbound migrant that stooped low on a black-tailed prairie-dog colony on the Chico but the p-dogs started their warning cries long before the falcon could sneak in.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/17/2012

Baltimore Oriole at HQ
For an unkown reason Baltimore Oriole, a breeder in CO's northeastern counties, is very rarely seen in Pueblo County where John Drummond found one singing today and was able to get this photograph.  One of the most familiar birds to many non-birders, it is the bird that is the logo for the professional Major League Baseball's team, the Baltimore Orioles.  Mark Catesby named this bird the “Baltimore-Bird,” because black and orange were the colors of the Baltimores, the colonial proprietors of the Maryland colony. This is a tropical species, most individuals wintering from central Mexico south to Colombia, South America.  Chico's common breeder, Bullock's Oriole, is a very close relative of Baltimore Oriole and they hybridize in their zone of contact.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/16/2012

Not A Bird, But...
Last week a large group of birders from the Denver Audubon Master Birding Class had a great time birding on the Chico.  One of the highlights was a mammal, although one that flies.  At Rose Pond, the large bat species, Big Brown Bat, put on a show as it swept in closeby to drink water before flying over to a cottonwood to roost. 
Posted by Bill M. on 05/16/2012

Wood Thrush
During Chico Days, John Drummond led a large group of birders from the Boulder Bird Club. They found a Wood Thrush (photo by John) near the banding station. 

This has been one of the more unusual spring migrations with many southeastern warblers showing up and just recently the CO breeding birds returning and the trees leafing out three weeks early.

Today, a small group from the Greater Denver Audubon Society saw the rare Yellow-throated Vireo and rare Yellow-throated Warbler in addition to the eastern species, Baltimore Oriole.  A Northern Waterthrush (a warbler) was at the small headquarters pond.  A Mountain Plover was a life bird for two and a Peregrine Falcon dove unsuccessfully towards some black-tailed prairie dogs out on the plains, a very strange place to encouter this falcon.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/16/2012

Rarity - Eastern Towhee
Eastern Towhee is rare in Colorado, our breeding species is Spotted Towhee.  But, there it was feeding on miller moths in the parking area for headquarters.  Surprisigly this is the third record for the ranch.  It also perched in a tree and sang its distinctive "drink your teeeeee" song.  There are more birders at the Chico this spring and these rarities help to draw in more each day. Most of the rare birds from yesterday were seen again today.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/03/2012

Black-crowned Night-Herons
As the name implies, night-herons forage at dawn and dusk and during the evening hours and roost during the day usually hidden in the marsh.  These three Black-crowned Night-Herons are migrants so the fact that they are visible and not in hiding just means they are still in the migration mode.  I wouldn't want to be a bullfrog in headquarters pond tonight.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/03/2012

The Beautiful Golden-winged Warbler

Golden-winged Warbler is small and beautiful.  One was first seen and then caught and banded today in the banding station area woods.  The closest relative of Golden-winged Warbler is Blue-winged Warbler and although they look quite different, their songs are very similar.  Interbreeding of the two speices produces fertile hybrid offspring, the hybrids origianlly thought to be two separate species. These two hybrids, Brewster's and Lawrences's warblers were found to carry the dominant and recessive traits of the two parental species. For an unknown reason, there is little differentiation in nuclear DNA between the two species suggesting a recent isolation.

Golden-winged Warbler is declining in many areas and has disappeared from previously occupied regions. In many areas of its former range they are being replaced by Blue-winged Warblers.  A great bird to see up close. 


Posted by Bill M. on 05/02/2012

Pied Creeper
Although the correct name of this bird is Black-and-white Warbler, it has also been called creeping warbler, striped warbler, whitepoll warbler, referee bird, and scrannel.  They do not breed in Colorado but they are seen almost every year during migration on the Chico.  It is unique in that it is the only member of the genus, Mniotilta, which translates as "moss-plucker".  Black-and-whites frequently forage in the fissures of bark using its slightly decurved bill to probe for spiders, spider eggs and insects.  It is one of the earlier migrants and today's bird foraged high in the big cottonwoods near the banding station.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/02/2012

Worm-eating Warbler
Although no warbler eats earthworms, caterpillars have sometimes been refered to as worms. Worm-eating Warbler is subtly attractive with the head stripes resembling the football helmets worn by University of Michigan football players. The Worm-eating Warbler is a dead leaf specialist, hopping through the understory and probing into hanging dead leaf clusters for food including spiders.
This was the third ranch record for this species, the first time one was captured at the banding station and it was also captured in pixels by Steve Brown.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/01/2012

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