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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

The Other Yellow
 Named for the yellow robes of papal clerks, a male Prothonotary Warbler, only the second one recorded on the Chico, was observed flitting around the bases of the big plains cottonwoods by the banding station.  It is a southeastern species of wetlands and hardwood forests, wintering in mangroves of Central and South America. During breeding, one of its major food items is spiders and spider eggs and this bird spent the majority of time foraging in the deep bark furrows where its long bill often extracted what appeared to be insect or arachnid eggs.  One of its nicknames is "Golden Swamp Warbler" and it is one of only two North American warblers that nest in tree cavities.  Even in migration Prothonotary Warbler prefers to forage in damp wetlands, not quite what we have on the Chico. 

Posted by Bill M. on 05/29/2015

Cool Bird, Poor Name
 This beautiful warbler of boreal forests made a stop at the banding station where it was caught. Named Setophaga magnolia because the first one was seen in a magnolia tree by Alexander Wilson, Magnolia Warbler does not, nor will it ever breed in one. Instead, they breed in coniferous forests and most often place their nest below 15 feet. Migration has slowed considerably but as Yogi Berra said..."it ain't over until it's over."
Posted by Bill M. on 05/28/2015

Nighthawks Return
 One of the later migrants, Common Nighthawk, breeds on the Chico; their nest on the ground in shrub grasslands but they roost in woodlands on horizontal branches where their cryptic coloration make them difficult to spot.  Today, a flock of more than 25 birds hawked aerial plankton from above the Headquarters Pond. Specialized muscles allow their mouths to open more than most birds' while nasal bristles help funnel flying insects to the large opening.  Males (here) are separable from females, the male having a white vs. buffy throat and they have a white subterminal tail band, lacking in females.  Another species of goatsucker (name of their family) can rarely be found in Common Nighthawk flocks.  Lesser Nighthawk has its white of the wings placed farther towards the wingtip, their second to last primary is longer than the last which gives them a round-winged look.  Lesser Nighthawk is also larger- headed and shorter-winged than this male Common Nighthawk.  Common Nighthawk is a declining species.  They once commonly bred on flat rooftops in cities when the roofs were composed of tar and stones.  They hunt in early evening and late morning so they are considered to be crepuscular. 
Posted by Bill M. on 05/26/2015

Chico Breeder at Western Edge of Range
 Orchard Orioles are the smallest of the orioles and they are sexually dimorphic with males being brick red and black while females are yellow. However, second year males are yellow with a black throat.  Studies have shown that adult females select the older males and the young males feed on different foods than the adults thus avoiding competition. This adult male was singing loudly and showing off its plumage to any female who might be watching and/or listening.  Orchard Orioles spend very little time on their northern breeding grounds, often heading south by mid-July.  They are only here to breed and to take advantage of the cottonwood fruits and large insects to feed their young.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/25/2015

Rose-breasted Grosbeak
 Sometimes called "cut-throat" because of its throat coloration, Rose-breasted Grosbeak is a beautiful, uncommon migrant on the Chico.  Both sexes incubate their eggs, and the males are one of only a few songbird species to sing while sitting on their nest.  Rose-breasted Grosbeak will sometimes hybridize with its close relative and much more common (in Colorado) species, Black-heaeded Grosbeak.  They winter in Central America south to northern South America.  Not a difficult bird to look at, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are not a favorite for bird banders to extract from a mist net. Check out the size of the beak to see why.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/23/2015

Seasonal End to Bird Banding
 Today is the last day of bird banding for the spring season but migration is still in full swing. Meeting the volunteers is always a treat as we all share more than a normal interest in birds.  Here, wildlife biologist Dr. Lehmicke on a break from teaching, is all smiles after she has extracted a Dusky Flycatcher from one of the mist nets.  If you haven't seen birds in the hand you are missing one of the true wonders of nature. Bird banding returns in early September.  See you at the Chico. 
Posted by Bill M. on 05/23/2015

Western Wood-Pewee
 One of the dullest flycatchers, Western Wood-Pewee with the monotonous call, a down-slured bzeeer. Longer wings and a lack of eyering help to separate it from the difficult to identify Empidonax flycatchers.  One of the few songbirds that nest on the Chico and found in every woodlot here.  Exciting probably only because here it uses a swing for a perch while looking for insects.  
Posted by Bill M. on 05/23/2015

American Redstart
 The warbler called American Redstart is often seen performing acrobatic fly-catching maneuvers in the habitats where it searches for insects. The redstart flies with tail and wings spread open. In order to make these spectacular to watch flights, the American Redstart has proportionately large wings and tails. Its nasal bristles are long to help funnel insects in the marshlands into its flat bill. Its very loud, high-pitched songs are often heard in migration, another warbler that does not breed in Colorado.  This bright orange-and-black male (females and 2nd year males yellow) was actively hunting in the tumbleweeds floating in the small headquarter's pond. 
Posted by Bill M. on 05/21/2015

When the Bird Banders Are Away...
 RAIN! Mist nets closed due to weather.  It is obvious what would have happened had this net been open, but since it was not, it made a fine perch for this unidentified Empidonax flycatcher.  147 birds were banded on Monday, as a continuous flow of birds found themselves in the nets and then measured, weighed, an aluminum band attached to one leg, and released. 
Posted by Bill M. on 05/20/2015

Supreme Singer
 This eastern species, Wood Thrush, is a declining species and a symbol of the eastern deciduous forest it calls home.  With forest fragmentation comes Brown-headed Cowbirds, a brood parasite that easily finds the nests of Wood Thrushes in which it lay its eggs.  

Male Wood Thrushes can sing two different notes at the same time and their three-parted flute-like song is unique.  The middle part of the song is learned from birds in the neighborhood, while the first part and ending maybe either inherited or can be notes invented by the singer.  It is always a treat to observe one of these on the Chico, appearing here about every other year. 
Posted by Bill M. on 05/20/2015

Mosquito Master
 For those birders who like a challenge, the Chico hosts as many as 8 species of look-alike small, dull flycatchers.  With a good photograph and knowledge of what to look for, most of them are separable.  Empidonax, the genus, is from two Greek words, empid meaning mosquito or gnat, and anax meaning lord or master, implying the habit of these birds is to lord over and eat small flying insects.  
This is a Least Flycatcher.  It can be identified by a suit of features.  Flat top of the head, complete whitish eyering, contrasting whitish throat, short tail, short wings and short, but wide and triangular bill, best seen from underneath. Compare with Gray Flycatcher seen and analyzed in the April 2015 section. Least Flycatcher is a fairly common Spring migrant on the Chico.  Its call is a "whit" and is song is a loud, emphatic, "chi-bek".  It is the most common flycatcher in our eastern states. 
Posted by Bill M. on 05/17/2015

 Let's face it, the majority of birders come to the Chico to see rare warblers.  Hooded Warbler is an eastern species, but a yearly spring migrant to the Chico. This female flitted about the Moon's front yard today.  Male Hooded Warblers have distinctive songs, separable from their neighbors' songs and is a type of individual recognition. Their long-term memory enables males to remember each of its neighbors songs from year to year. This ability is thought to reduce the amount of time spent in defense of its own territory although one-third of all Hooded Warbler females' offspring are the result of breeding with a neighboring male.  This extra-pair mating is a fixed part of Hooded Warblers' breeding strategy.  Hooded Warblers spend a lot of time nervously flitting on the ground, flicking its tail, and showing of the white of its outer tail feathers.  
Posted by Bill M. on 05/17/2015

Blackpoll Warblers
 Blackpoll Warbler is a common breeding species from the biotic zone between tundra and taiga from Alaska east to eastern Canada. In the fall they have an amazing migration.  Birds breeding in the west travel southeast across Canada and the northern U.S., staging between Nova Scotia and Cape Hatteras, where they meet migrants moving south or southwest from this species’ eastern breeding range. The majority of Blackpolls then head south or southeast over the open Atlantic Ocean where they are assisted by periodic northwest winds taking them away from land. However, as they approach the Tropic of Cancer they encounter northeast trade winds which deflect the Blackpolls back to the south and southwest toward the South American mainland where they spend the winter months. This route varies from 1550 to 2175 miles and is estimated to take up to 88 hours. To undergo such a long migration, Blackpoll Warblers double their weight before heading out over the open Atlantic Ocean. 

Posted by Bill M. on 05/15/2015

Northern Parula
 Small and short-tailed (often held up) this eastern warbler shows up annually on the Chico. When singing, its buzzy trill up the scale and ending with a lower note is distinctive. In its southern forest breeding range most often near water, Northern Parulas build their nest using the lichen, "Spanish moss." The word parula is the diminutive of the word Parus meaning "small titmouse".  
Posted by Bill M. on 05/12/2015

Cool Woodpecker
 With its striking red head, the appropriately named Red-headed Woodpecker has been on the Chico by Holmes ranch house for almost a week. Every woodpecker has a unique cadence to it drumming, a method of defending its territory and/or attracting a mate.  Red-headed Woodpeckers' drumming is a loud and rapid, short roll. Normally a bird of open woodlands, Chico is at the western edge of its range.  They nest in large dead snags but so far none have nested on the Chico.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/12/2015

Warblers Are Beautiful
 Appropriately named, a male Chestnut-sided Warbler has been at the small pond at headquarters.  Somewhat surprising, it feeds often upon the invertebrates found on tumbleweeds floating in the pond. Even more surprising is how tame this warbler seems, sometimes landing within a couple feet of observers. This species is active and almost always holds its tail up and at an angle. Its song is often described as "pleased pleased pleased to meet you" but it also has an alternate song that sounds similar to a Yellow Warbler's song. Almost all the birders who visited the pond saw this dazzling warbler up close.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/12/2015

Our Smallest Falcon
Rain or not, birds need food. The small falcon, American Kestrel, is suited to prey on lizards, small birds, small rodents and large insects.  This female, all reddish above can be separated from males, the male with blue-gray upper wing coverts.  The remains of a lesser earless lizard can be seen it this falcon's beak. Long thought to be related to hawks, all falcons have been recently shown in DNA studies to share a common ancestor with songbirds.   
Posted by Bill M. on 05/12/2015

Fledgling Great Horned Owls
 Although most migrants haven't arrived on their breeding grounds this spring, resident birds, especially owls have already fledged youngsters.  Based on their size, age of plumage, and proximity to their nest (four feet) these three birds fledged last night.  The parents will be very busy for the next month finding food for this trio.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/04/2015

Buzz Worms
 Attention birders, fishermen, and everyone walking in the shorter grasslands, and especially near the piles of tumbleweeds with seemingly thousands of rodents. Rattlesnakes are out looking for rodents and they don't always buzz a warning. Two encountered today and both in the afternoon.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/04/2015

 Laz to birders, the fantastically colored Lazuli Bunting was named after the blue gemstone, lapis lazuli, but the pronunciation of lazuli is often butchered by beginning birders. 

Although this is an adult male, males beginning their second year of life have the same dull plumage as the adult female. Because they have no learned songs of their own, when young males arrive on the breeding grounds they often copy fragments of their neighboring males vocalizations.  Song copying by the young males often produce song neighborhoods where songs of neighboring males are quite similar.  
Posted by Bill M. on 05/02/2015

The Little King
 The genus, Regulus, translates as little king in reference to this tiny male's orange and golden crown. Golden-crowned Kinglets are only four inches in length and they are high elevation breeders.  During some winters, this kinglet  species descends to the lowlands even though they can tolerate temperatures of -40 degrees F.  This one was caught today on its way back up slope to breed. When agitated, they display their brightly colored crown, otherwise it is partially hidden from view.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/02/2015

Life and Death
After seeing three adult Barn Owls at the banding station, I couldn't help but wonder why.  Later, a call came from Tess that she and David found a young owl on the ground along with two dead ones nearby.  After an investigation, we found three dead kangaroo rats and three dead meadow voles directly below what we supposed was the nest cavity in a large cottonwood tree.  A young Barn Owl was nearby in a defense posture (photo).  After a discussion, wildlife biologist Richard volunteered to take the young owl to the Ellicott Rehabilitation Center where it will be treated and then released back into the wild when it can fly.  Although there is no proof, we postulate that a bobcat climbed the tree and the young birds had little choice other than to fall to the ground, the lucky one given a second chance on life.  
Posted by Bill M. on 05/01/2015

Wilson's Phalaropes
 Of the 29 shorebird species seen on the Chico, 11 were present today including one of my favorites, Wilson's Phalarope.  Some shorebird species are not monogamous and phalaropes are one of the best examples of role reversal in sexes. Brightly colored females are involved in competition with other females for available males; often a big flock is centered around one male.  The dull-colored male assumes all of the egg incubation and brooding duties while the female deserts him to compete for another male.  On the breeding grounds, most often around super saline lakes, a variety of behaviors can be observed including well studied female-female aggression.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/01/2015

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