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

Northern Harriers Set to Breed
Although I won't say exactly where, a pair of Northern Harriers are exploring one of the extensive wetland areas on the Chico.  From the coloration, gray on top and white underneath ("gray ghost"), you can tell this is the male.  He is also loudly calling to his mate.  The dish face with the slightly offset ears allows harriers to trangulate the location of their rodent prey (this year there are an exceptionally high number of kangaroo rats being seen) so it should be a good year for nesting raptors.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/31/2014

Migration Slows to a Crawl
Although a few Swainson's Thrushes, a Willow Flycatcher, a Red-necked Phalarope, and five Long-billed Dowitchers were on the Chico, for the most part the remaining species will likely stay here to breed.

One still molting Black Tern made a few passes back and forth and back and forth over Headquarters Pond and surely it took a few dragonflies but hopefully not too many. 
Posted by Bill M. on 05/31/2014

White-rumped Sandpiper
White-rumped Sandpiper is a late spring migrant found on the Chico almost every spring but never in the fall because its elliptical migration takes it far east of Colorado in the fall.  It is considered to have one of the longest migrations of any animal species, wintering as far south as southern Argentina and breeding in far northern arctic Canada. Long distant migrants need to have long wings (photo). This species can travel up to 60 hours non-stop before landing to refuel, often feeding for a few days to regain fat reserves before taking off again.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/26/2014

Canelita, little torch in Spanish, American Redstart in English was at the vacated banding station this morning. In fact there were three redstarts there.  This handsome warbler often spreads its tail and jumps into the air to catch insects.  It is an abundant species with a large breeding range, found breeding in northern Colorado, and also mainly from southeast Alaska, east to Newfoundland, and south to eastern Oregon, northern Utah, southeast Oklahoma, southern Louisiana and east to central Georgia.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/26/2014

Nighthawks Hunting in the Day
The crepuscular (feeds at dusk and dawn) Common Nighthawks didn't read the literature and were out feeding over Headquarters Pond during a mostly cloudless morning.  Look how wide the mouth opens enabling them to catch many insects.  Not seen in the photograph, they have long bristles surrounding their mouth thought to help funnel insects inside. 

A very interesting day for migrants at the Chico with a late Peregrine Falcon making a low pass and a first of the year, White-rumped Sandpiper also on the move.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/25/2014

Black Terns Finally Pass By
My favorite tern is Black Tern even though it eats my favorite insect, dragonfly, and two were patrolling for insects over Headquarters Pond.  The pair passed back and forth for a few hours catching midges on the wing.  They will come back south in late July and August.   
Posted by Bill M. on 05/25/2014

Male Ruddy Duck
A few Ruddy Ducks breed in Colorado but none noted so far on the Chico, but a male with his blue bill was close to shore today.  During courtship displays, the male circles the female with his tail cocked high,.  He slaps his chest with his intense blue bill and puffs out his chest by inflating an air sac.  I would have liked to have seen that type of display. 
Posted by Bill M. on 05/25/2014

Rare Warbler Update
Only the second ever Prairie Warbler for Chico was at the Willows at headquarters yesterday.  This female is fairly easy to I.D. as Prairie Warblers wag their tails.  They are another eastern species and contrary to their name they are found in shrubby habitats.  When the U.S. was colonized Prairie Warbler was considered a very rare species but as forests were cleared for farming its preferred shrub habitat became abundant and afterwards so did they.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/23/2014

How to I.D. Alder Flycatcher
The harder the identificaiton problem the more fun it is for me.  Empidonax (mosquito eaters) are a difficult challenge and there are 8 species that have been identified on the Chico.  Call notes help, Willow, Dusky, Gray, and Least give dry whit calls. Hammond's call is a sharp peek and Cordilleran gives a very high tseet. One of the more difficult species to identifiy, Alder Flycatcher (seen here) gives a low, flat pip.  When silent Alder Flycatcher shows a greenish back and a complete, but very narrow eyering. Sometimes the belly is quite yellow, but not always.  Alders have relatively long wings and a relatively short tail giving them a long-winged look.  Not every flycatcher can be identified with certainty but it is fun to try.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/23/2014

Tomorrow - May 24 - last day of bird banding

Watching birds come out of bags at the bird banding station is almost like opening Christmas presents.  The gifts are temporary and they are birds. Many are brown but others are orange, yellow, red, and blue.  One of the big guys is called Blue Grosbeak, the "gros" from the French for large so a blue large-billed bird.  Since blue is my favorite color I loved studying this one. But, unlike the Christmas presents you get to keep, these are all returned into the wild.

Posted by Bill M. on 05/23/2014

Big Brown Bat Rescued
Although they have wings and can fly bats are mammals, not birds.  They do migrate and some species are thought to be affected by wind turbines pressure gradients, their insides exploding when getting too close to the turbine blades.  This is called barotrama. This Big Brown Bat, if I I.D.'ed it correctly was found by Jake entangled in the rope on his saddle.  He was able to move it to a secure place before he saddled his horse. This one hissed quite loudly.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/21/2014

Least Bittern
I haven't actually seen him yet, but a male Least Bittern, a very small heron, has been giving its distinctive coo coo coo call reminiscent of a Black-billed Cuckoo's call.  This is only the third record of this species for the Chico and my first.  (Photo thanks to Brandon Percival).  The male has a black cap and back whereas a female would have brownish tones in those two areas.  Hopefully a female is in the marsh at Rose Pond too and they breed here this year and in many more years to come. Another eastern species that has recently been found breeding in southeastern Colorado.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/21/2014

Scarlet Tanager
Birds are still moving north through the Chico.  Today's highlight was a male Scarlet Tanager at Rose Pond in the willows at the northwest end.  A common eastern species found in all types of deciduos forests, they are found every 2-3 years on the Chico in spring and in fall, but never a male with this amount of red coloration. A well named species.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/21/2014

Uncommon Buteo
During spring migration a mostly eastern Buteo joins the others, Red-tailed, Swainson's, and Ferruginous Hawks that are more commonly seen on the Chico. This hawk, Broad-winged Hawk is a small, stocky raptor with pointed wings. This one is returning to its breeding grounds from as far as South America. When they return to North America they can be seen in flocks of thousands at some hawkwatch sites.  A few stay to breed in Colorado, most fly farther north.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/18/2014

The American Redstart is an uncommon but annual migrant warbler on the Chico.  But where's the red? Adult females have yellow, not red, in all the places the males show red hues.  This distinct bird is nervously active, frequently spreading its tail to show yellow patches then flitting from branch to branch sometimes rotating its side, sometimes going into a forward lean position.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/18/2014

Colorado's State Bird
 Lark Bunting is a species only Colorado claims as its state bird.  Large flocks of migrant Lark Buntings flew by low in the cholla grasslands for the past two days.  Females, unlike the black and white males, are dull brown, a necessity for a ground nesting species where the female does most of the incubation. 
Posted by Bill M. on 05/13/2014

Red-headed Woodpecker
Red-headed Woodpecker is a bird most school kids in the east and mid-western states know.  The all-red head and large white wing patches stand out especially in flight.  They are a species that suffers when large snags are removed for fire mitigation or for firewood.  They nest in large snags and excavate for insects in the same dead trees.  Three birds made an appearance today on the Chico.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/13/2014

A Rare Thrush Drops In
The group known as Cathrus thrushes are common migrants on the Chico.  To most they are dull browns, dull grays...dull birds but all with amazing voices.  Today, the rarest of the four Cathrus thrushes, Gray-cheeked Thrush put in an appearance in the Moons' yard, one of the best migrant traps on the Ranch.  To separate it from Veery (rusty head back and tail) Hermit (rusty tail always contrasts with the back color, and Swainson's (bold whitish spectacles, light brown head, back, and tail) Gray-cheeked has a cold gray appearance especially it grayish cheeks with gray head, gray back and grayish tail.  They are long distant migrants wintering in northern South America and breeding in the taiga and tundra mostly in alder/willow thickets from Newfoundland west to eastern Siberia.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/13/2014

King of the Skies
While extracating tons of tumbleweed out of my wheel wells and brakes, I looked up to see two Ferruginous Hawks diving on a Golden Eagle.  The camera battery died.  After putting in a charged battery, I looked up and two Swainson's Hawks were now diving on the eagle.  The eagle casually rolled over showing its talons and the hawks continued to circle above but stopped the attack.  Golden Eagles have almost no predators other than man even though they are afforded protection under the Eagle Protection Act. 
Posted by Bill M. on 05/10/2014

Night-heron in the Daytime
Crepuscular, not night, not day, but those times at dusk and dawn.  That is the foraging time for the world's most widespread heron, the chunky Black-crowned Night-Heron.  Two were perched in the trees above the Moon's Ranchhouse yesterday.  This species  is found on every continent except Australia and Antarctica.  At night their loud squock call could give you the willies if you don't know what is making that noise. No black back and no black cap = 2nd summer bird not quite in adult plumage.  "...then they go and change their plumage which takes us back to ignorant gloomage..." Odgen Nash
Posted by Bill M. on 05/10/2014

Flammulated Owl Banded
Some days you get lucky.  Today at the Banding Station, a Cooper's Hawk flushed a Flammulated Owl which flew into a mist net and was captured, then measured, then banded, then taken to a location away from the nets and released.  The world's authority on the 6.75 inch Flammulated Owl is a professor at Colorado College, Brian Linkhart.  Today, a large class from CC was visiting. The education specialist on the Chico, Kathyrn Baker, a CC grad was helping with the large group. Lee Dure, advisor to the master's in education program at CC, recieved his M.S. at CC, and a teacher at the banding station was present and so was RMBO biologist in charge of their bird banding program, Nancy Gobris. 

Flammulated Owl breeds in mature, mixed conifer forests in Colorado.  It is only seen rarely on the Eastern Plains in migration yet this is the third record for the Chico.   Because they return each year to the same area, some of these owls have had geolocators attached to them and when the owls return and are recaught, the geolocators indicate, becuase of a built-in digital watch, a light sensor, and a microchip, reveal the lattitude and longitude of the bird wearing the geolocator.  Dr. Linkhart knows exaclty the location in Mexico were some of his owls spend the winter.

Photograph by former Chico Education Specialist, Katie Miller (also a CC graduate) - left to right: Nancy Gobris, Lee Derr, Kathryn Baker, a tiny Flammulated Owl. 
Posted by Bill M. on 05/08/2014

Summer Tanager
Annual spring migrant on the Chico (I didn't see one last year for the first time), a 1st year male Summer Tanager was at the willows this morning. At the end of this year this bird should be all orange-red.  Bees and wasps are its favorite foods, grapping them it its bill and hammering them on top of a branch until immobilized.  Females can be any color from gray to orange-red too.  Funny thing though, none of the North American birds with tanager in their name are in the tanager family but no one is likely going to start calling them Summer Cardinal, Grosbeak, and Allies anytime soon.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/06/2014

How to I.D. Peeps
Depending on how you define peeps, there are either 3 or 5 species in the Americas.  Let's say there are three species, Western, Least, and Semipalmated Sandpipers.  First, look at the leg color if legs are visible.  If yellow (don't let it mellow) but check off our smallest shorebird, Least Sandpiper like the one on the left.  Look at the bill, tapered to a point like the bird to its right.  A Semipalmated Sandpiper (not in photo) would have a shorter bill with a blunt tip and black legs.  The other pictured species is a Western Sandpiper.  Long bill with tapered, slightly drooped tip, black legs, lots of rufous feathers on its head, face, and back and black chevrons on its flanks. Tick. 
Posted by Bill M. on 05/06/2014

Curiouser and Curiouser
A Great Horned Owl chick was too curious to stay down in its nesting cavity today.  Its eyes are unable to move, but a specialized joint, the atlanto-occipital joint, allows Great Horned Owls to move their heads more than 180 degrees and therefore they can look in any direction (this morning its target was me). Incubating females maintain their eggs at a fixed temperature even when the outside temperature is more than 70° colder. They hunt using a  perch-and-pounce technique, taking prey larger than themselves with talons designed to severe the spinal column of their prey. Great Horned Owls have the most extensive range and the widest range of prey items than any North American owl.  Skunks, house cats, and raccoons, not a problem.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/06/2014

Another White-eyed Vireo?
Perhaps the same bird or more likely a new one migrating, a White-eyed Vireo was at The Willows again today, four days after the first report.  Notice the wide yellow spectacle and the white iris and black pupil, plus the hooked tip to the bill.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/01/2014

Some Names Work
It's blue-gray and catches gnats and other small insects.  Let's call it a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. Check and check.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/01/2014

Shorebirds Finally
After weeks of viewing a few of the more common shorebirds pass through, I finally found a large group of larger shorebirds.  Here, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Long-billed Dowitchers, Willets, and Marbled Godwits.  Not in the photograph but nearby was a single Semipalmated Plover.  At HQ Pond a small flock of Wilson's Phalaropes added to the total along with two Spotted Sandpipers and the requisite vociferous Killdeer.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/01/2014

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