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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

Yellow-throated Creeper
 The Yellow-throated Warbler forages like a Black-and-white Warbler slow and deliberate unlike most warblers and was originally named Yellow-throated Creeper because of this.  It differs from other members of the genus Setophaga in that its breeding range is more southerly and its winter range more northerly.  It is rare in Colorado, but seems to find Chico to its liking in more years than not.  Because they nest at the tops of trees in their southern breeding range, seeing them just above eye level during migration is a real treat. 
Posted by Bill M. on 05/21/2016

I Am So Lay-zee
 In spite of the males' song, "I am so lay-zee", the Black-throated Blue Warbler is a birder's favorite.  Highly sexually dimorphic, the females look nothing like the striking blue, black, and white males (photo).  How does an eastern species mainly wintering in the Bahamas and West Indies end up on the Chico most years during migration?  There are numerous winter records from the Yucatan Peninsula and northern Honduras suggesting this warbler also winters west of the described range and giving them a better chance of showing up on the Chico when southeast winds bring some transgulf migrants to Colorado.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/21/2016

The Smallest Oriole
 Sexual dimorphism is here displayed by the brick-colored male Orchard Oriole and the yellow female. Orchard Oriole is an eastern species who breeds no farther west than western El Paso and Pueblo counties and it breeds on the Chico.  They arrive in mid- to late May and depart early, as early as mid-July since they only produce one brood per year.  They are a tropical species wintering from southern Mexico south to northern South America.  The males are stunning and their song is loud. In ideal habitat they are semi-colonial in their breeding.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/21/2016

Western Tanager
 One of the stunning representatives of the coniferous forest, Western Tanager is a common spring migrant on the Chico.  Unlike its close relatives who also have red feathers, Western Tanager deposits a rare plumage pigment called rhodoxanthin into its red feathers, thought to come from the insects it eats. The insects acquire these pigments from plants.  Western Tanagers breed further north than any of our other tanager species.  This species and its congeners were all formerly placed in the Tanager Family but genetic studies now show they are really members of the Cardinal Family.  
Posted by Bill M. on 05/16/2016

Northern Parula Continues
 A tiny eastern warbler that is a regular migrant on the Chico is Northern Parula.  Parula is both a common and scientific name and I have heard as many as four pronunciations of the word. Here is a male looking for insects in the flowers of a peach-leaf willow along the dam of Rose Pond.  This bird calls on occasion and at times it can be heard singing its rising high-pitched song. 
Posted by Bill M. on 05/15/2016

Sex Role Reversal
 Female Wilson's Phalaropes are larger and they have more brightly colored plumage than males.  Females of more than 98 percent of the 10,000 birds in the world are dull in coloration so they can sit on their nests without detection by predators.  But, the male incubates the eggs in this species and females vie for the smaller males for a mate.  In fall migration, the majority of adult Wilson's Phalaropes seek supersaline or alkaline lakes where they all molt.  This is the only shorebird species to have a molt migration, all others molting on their breeding grounds before migrating. After their molt Wilson Phalaropes fly long distances to saline lakes in Bolivia and Argentina for the winter.  When feeding in open water, groups of phalaropes spin on the surface, forcing a column of water to pull up invertebrates upon which they feed.  
Posted by Bill M. on 05/15/2016

Blackpoll Warbler
 A silent male Blackpoll Warbler was seen by 6 of us at Upper Twin Pond on Monday.  This is an obligate long distance migrant that flies in the fall from coastal mid-Atlantic states where many individuals of this species congregates after flying southeast from Canadian coniferous forest breeding grounds, non-stop for up to 88 hours to northern South America.  Programmed in its DNA is the need to fly toward the southEAST towards Tropic of Cancer where the trade winds there then send Blackpolls back to the southwest to northern South America. Birds breeding in Alaska have the longest flight of any North American warbler, with a few traveling as far as northern Brazil and almost 5,000 miles.  Their very high frequency song is often the first bird song people can no longer hear as they age. Adult males' plumage changes drastically in the fall, but their bright feet and legs makes the I.D. much easier. 
Posted by Bill M. on 05/10/2016

Prairie Rattlesnake
 After seeing this 3.3' prairie rattlesnake today, it is time for the annual warning about rattlesnakes at Chico.  I only see a few each year but they are present, especially in cholla grasslands and in prairie ecosystems with spotted ground squirrel burrows and prairie-dog towns.  There is a wives tail about rattlesnakes living in harmony with prairie-dogs and Burrowing Owls but an adult prairie rattlesnake can eat the young of both species. Prairie Rattlesnakes are viviparous, i.e. they give birth to live young.  Their toxin is a mixture of proteins, with hemotoxin's function to destroy tissue.  Rattlesnake toxin also has neurotoxic properties.  They can usually strike no more than half the length of their bodies but when they are coiled the exact snake length is difficult to determine.  Each time these snakes shed their skin they add one more rattle on the tail tip. Even though I tried to make this snake coil (for a cool photo) it kept coming straight in my direction. 
Posted by Bill M. on 05/10/2016

 The most common finch at Chico is called House Finch.  A close relative, Cassin's Finch, has only been recorded a couple times in the fall on Chico.  This one is the first spring Chico Cassin's Finch recorded.  It takes two years for a male to molt its female plumage and become mostly red.  But, as this bird approaches the beginning of its second year of life a few red feathers will show on its head and rump.  Separating this species from the very rare Purple Finch can be done by looking a the culmen (top ridge of the bill), curved in Purple Finch but straight in Cassin's Finch (see photo). The undertail coverts of Purple Finch are unstreaked but streaked in Cassin's Finch like the under tail of the bird in the photo.  It was eating the fruits of a Siberian elm at headquarters. 

The best bird on May 7th was a rare bird for Colorado, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, which unfortunately was only seen by two of us as it flew to the southeast before it could be photographed. 
Posted by Bill M. on 05/07/2016

First Owlet of the Season
 A Great Horned Owl nestling poked its head out of a tree cavity for the first time on May 3rd.  Always popular with school groups and protected from potential predators by the tree nest. 
Posted by Bill M. on 05/03/2016

 The common name grosbeak means large bill and it is given to a few birds in two different families. This eastern species, Rose-breasted Grosbeak is a member of the cardinal family and is named for the male's pink coloration on his breast.  As seen by the small headquarters pond, grosbeaks eat blossoms, here the catkins of a plains cottonwoods.  He ate so many catkins the raspberry pigments in the blooms stained this second year male's bill.  This species does not nest in Colorado but is a fairly common migrant in early May.  One of the favorite bird species by many because of its pink coloration and strikingly large bill. 
Posted by Bill M. on 05/03/2016

Where Are The Males?
 The most common mating system in birds is monogamy and one of the least common is polyandry where a female mates with more than one male.  The most common shorebird seen in spring migration on the Chico is Spotted Sandpiper.  Most of the birds seen here are females (more spotting).  When it is time to mate (up to 14,000 feet in elevation) females fight for the available males.  Males incubate the eggs and raise the young while the female is trying to attract another male.  Females lay four eggs in a nest but never five because each egg weighs 20% of her body weight and it is physiologically impossible for her to carry five eggs. But, there is a scarcity of males in the population so females usually only lay eggs in two nests during the summer. For Spotted Sandpipers the breeding season is only five weeks long on average and corresponds to the period when there are the most insects available to feed the young shorebirds.  
Posted by Bill M. on 05/01/2016

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