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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

Cliff Swallows
On the 28th of June, Cliff Swallows were building nests over the entrance to the Chico Headquarters.  At the same time young-of-the-year were congregating on the powerlines, already in flocks.  The recent rains made more mud available to this species who constructs its nest of adobe.  Insects are now more abundant so a second breeding attempt is underway, insuring this species will proliferate.

Young Cliff Swallows lack the buff "headlight" of adults and often their plumage still shows juvenile feathers.  In this plumage they are sometimes misidentified as Cave Swallows, a species not yet on the Colorado Checklist. 
Posted by Bill M. on 06/29/2009

The Other Oriole
Not all orioles are orange or yellow.  The small Orchard Oriole, here at the western edge of its range, finds the large patches of Russian olives to its liking.  Males are brick orange with a dark hood.  This species is often described as a warbler-like oriole because of its small size and ability to forage in the outer branches while looking for insects.  They are breeding on the Chico this year.
Posted by Bill M. on 06/29/2009

Cactus Dodger Cicada
One of the great sounds of summer comes from a large insect.  This particular species of cicada, "cactus dodger" are currently emerging from the ground where they spent the past 2-3 years often feeding on the roots of cholla cactus.  After emerging, the adults climb up a bush, or in this case a wooden fence post, to metamorphose into an adult.

Male cicadas attract females a pair of tymbals or domed, drum-like organs on the sides of their abdomens. They alternately contract and release muscles to make the tymbals resonate. A large air sac in the abdomen with an exterior eardrum acts as an echo chamber amplifying the sound.
Posted by Bill M. on 06/29/2009

Sunday, Jun 28, 2009
While waiting for the female Bullock's Oriole to return to her nest to feed her young, I kept seeing and hearing Common Nighthawks flying around the woods by the bird banding area.  In the dying elms near Holmes at least 10 nighthawks have found the horizontal limbs there to their liking.  Since nighthawks need horizontal limbs for roosting, checking a few near Holmes should result in a few being seen.  Reports from birders in the major Front Range cities talk of diclining numbers of Common Nighthawks there, but if the numbers in the banding area are any indication, they are still common on the Chico.  The males have a narrow white subterminal tail band (seen in flight) and their white throat patch is larger than in females (not visible in this photo). 
Posted by Bill M. on 06/28/2009

Black-chinned Hummingbird nest update
If you scroll down to about 8 entries earlier, you will see a photograph and story about a female Black-chinned Hummingbird nesting on a rope hanging from the ceiling of the garage at The Casita.  Today, 28 June, two nestlings are almost too big for the nest and they will be fledging soon. 

Will this female Black-chinned Hummingbird who chose this nest location, protected from wind and predators, try again in the same location in succeeding years, having been so successful with this brood?  I will ask Jonathan to leave the rope in the same location to find out. 
Posted by Bill M. on 06/28/2009

Female Bullock's Oriole and nest

One of the more common nesting species on the Chico is the western counterpart of Baltimore Oriole, Bullock's Oriole.  In the winter it is easy to find the past summer's oriole nests because they were built way out towards the end of a swaying branch and their shape is distinctive.  The nest, woven from grasses is deep so that even the strongest winds will not spill the eggs which are lain at the bottom of the "basket."

I watched this female today, Sunday 28 June, receive a lime green catterpillar from the brightly colored male, and then she slowly worked her way to the nest and stuck her head far into it, food for her young.  Bullock's Orioles often choose cottonwood trees for nesting, the springy twigs strong and flexible.  Squirrels will try to get to this nest, but it is located far enough out that it will be very difficult for a squirrel to get to it without falling out of the tree. 

The orioles, a tropical species, are one of the first southbound migrants, but the adult Bullock Orioles will leave the cottonwoods and fly to the desert southwest to molt before migrating south to Mexico and Central America for the winter.

Posted by Bill M. on 06/28/2009

Nesting birds

The cholla cactus with its dense spine clusters of defense makes a perfect loction for birds to build their nests.  The early nester, Curve-billed Thrasher, almost exclusively chooses cholla for nesting.  A carefull observer might find a thrasher sneaking away, sort of out the back door, sometimes observed if you are walking or riding in the grasslands.  Carefully inspecting the cactus might reveal and nice cup of grasses, and if the time is right, maybe robin-blue eggs or maybe even young birds. 

Posted by Bill M. on 06/24/2009

More nesting on the Chico

Since the temperature was so cool today, I drove south of Bar J H to Black Squirrel Creek and headed south along the creek.  Soon, I heard the characteristic croaks of a Chihuahuan Raven, a southern species that seems to be expanding its range north.  There, in an old raptor nest, were two large nestlings, probably only a couple days from fledging.  The adults circled high and disappeared. 

The pink area between the two mandibles is called a gape.  This is a target area on most very young birds who are born with their eyes closed.  When poked in the brightly colored area by feeding adults, the bill opens and the adults stuff food inside the nestlings' bills. an assurance the young birds will eat.  Shortly after fledging, most gapes loose their bright colors and become the same color as the rest of the bill, dark in the case of ravens.  The feathered, upper mandible (maxillae) covers more of the bill in Chihuahuan Ravens than in Common Ravens, one good characteristic for separating the species if you can get a good look.

Posted by Bill M. on 06/10/2009

Wednesday, Jun 10, 2009
While driving south of the Phillips' house, looking for Mountain Plover, I came around a bend and there was a gray fox sitting in the middle of the road, close.  I stopped, turned off my engine, and the fox that had jumped up when it saw my car,  sat back down, no more than 60 feet from me.

At first, I wasn't sure if it was a young coyote or a swift fox, but it didn't look right for either one.  When I got home I looked in my mammal guide and sure enough, the rusty legs and feet and silver guard hairs are a characteristic of gray fox, the first one I have seen in quite a few years.
Posted by Bill M. on 06/10/2009

Saturday, Jun 06, 2009
The other birds seen today on a song perches were a few Scaled Quails.  As mentioned here last year, Scaled Quail require wet springs for successful breeding, the taller grasses hiding their coveys from predators, in part.  Each spring, male Scaled Quails find perches (fence post serve nicely) in which to deliver their far-carrying discordant cry, surely heard a half mile away.   This one just completed giving its loud call and its neck feathers are still pooched out.  It is easy to see how this species gets its name, as each feather resembles a fish scale.  With this boutiful spring, hopefully this resident bird species will recover from the poor produciton year in 2008.

In the late morning, I watched a coyote hiding behind a cholla cactus.  It was watching a doe pronghorn who was sitting on the ground.  I probably was responsible for the coyote leaving its small cholla cover, but when it did so, the pregnanat female pronghorn took out after the coyote, easily catching it and driving it away.  When the two animals disappeared over a hill, the coyote appeared to be running full out, but the pronghorn was seemingly using very littel effort to chase off the coyote.  June is the month when most pronghorns give birth. 
Posted by Bill M. on 06/06/2009

Saturday, Jun 06, 2009
Named for its loud stacatto song, Dickcissels are at the Chico now, recorded today for only the second time ever.  Chico has exaclty what this midwestern U.S. species likes, tall dense grasses, grain fields or alfalfa, especially areas that have song perches.  Unforunately, both Bobolinks and Dickcissels like to breed in dense alfalfa but the vegetation almost always gets cut before the nestlings fledge.  The Chico alfalfa should have completed the first cut before any nesting begins here, so the birds will likely search for another location will tall dense grasses or alfalfa in a week or so. 

Today, the two male Dickcissels were chased from song perches by Red-winged Blackbirds which might be nesting in the alfalfa.  I have seen many other species in the Chico alafalfa this spring, orioles looking for long dried grasses for nesting materials, Indigo Bunting, and a variety of sparrows feeding on the seedheads of dandelions in the edges of the field. 

The Dickcissels weren't here a week ago.  Where did they come from?  I can't prove it, but becasue Dickcissels like to nest in tall grasses and planted grain fields, I think they flee fields where crops have already been cut, searching the structure they need elsewhere.  Because they are still hormonally charged for breeding, they will try 2-3 times before migrating back to their wintering areas, mostly south of the U.S.
Posted by Bill M. on 06/06/2009

Nesting Begins
Now that migration is mostly over, the resident birds have begun to build nests.  Black-chinned Hummingbirds are busy using their sticky saliva to paste a variety of object together to form a nest.  See if you can see a couple of small rodent skulls and bones, along with other items making up the hummingbird nest.  Most interestingly, this female hummingbird selected the lower bend of a rope in the garage next to The Casita.  I hope Johnathan doesn't need to use this rope for the next two weeks while the female incubates her eggs. 

Other than being placed on a rope, it seems the nest is in a safe location.  Not many predators would be able to see the nest in the dark garage and mice will be unlikely to get that high.  The female quickly leaves the area whenever a person walks nearby.  Hopefully, in two more weeks there will be two baby hummingbirds being fed in the garage and later out in the wild.

Posted by Bill M. on 06/05/2009

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