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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

Fall Migration Begins!
Only a few days into summer and already birds are starting their southbound migration. Yesterday, 6 Wilson's Phalaropes (compare with the May 27 post with Red-necked Phalarope) were observed as they flew to the east shore of Headquarters Pond.  All of them were females and if you read this blog you know that females lay the eggs but the males incubate and raise the young enabling females to leave their nesting areas earlier than the males and young. 

Other migrants included a single Cassin's Kingbird by headquarters and a single Lark Bunting female out on the plains.  There seems to be much fewer Burrowing Owls this year and although there are still three Mountain Plovers in the area they do not seem to have nested.
Posted by Bill M. on 06/28/2011

Mobbing - Eastern Kingbirds
Eastern Kingbird and Red-winged Blackbird are two species that illustrate mobbing behaviors.  Both species noisly fly directly at would be predators, trying to drive them away from young nestlings.  Eastern Kingbird has a scientific name, Tyrannus tyrannus, a name well suited for this specie's personality. Yesterday, I found an Eastern Kingbird nest in the Bell Grove.  Hopefully, they will enjoy this Friday's concert.
Posted by Bill M. on 06/23/2011

Lizard Activity Increases

Off the main roads, lizards are common in sand soils, especially on hot days although they retreat into the shade during midday.  This Lesser Earless Lizard is common on the Chico and the orange coloraton is typical of adult females. The coloration is thought to be an advertizement to males that they have entered into a reproductive period.  Cattle grazing has been shown to improve the habitat prefered for this species and they will not be found in areas of high use agriculture.

Posted by Bill M. on 06/23/2011


Birds use different strategies to protect their nests.  In the mountains, Northern Goshawks will dive bomb intruders and rake their tallons across your head.

Shorebirds are not so bold.  Killdeer try to lure intruders from their nest (see below) by screaming loudly and then trying to distract the intruder by pretending to have a broken wing.  The predator follows the Killdeer as the bird leads the intruder farther and farther from its nest (unless you know what they are doing).

Posted by Bill M. on 06/18/2011

Nesting Season
The most common shorebird at the Chico and one that stays to breed, Killldeer, has a scientific name Charadrius vociferus.  They are so loud it is impossible not to notice them.  They usually lay four eggs in a flat area, often surrounded by pebbles or small stones.  After a 25 day incubation period, the young are born with eyes open and ready to walk and after a week they can fly, and example of a precocious breeding strategy.
Posted by Bill M. on 06/18/2011

Watch Your Step
At the south end of the big pond in the headquarters area a rock dam is elevated from the sandy areas below, a perfect place for snakes.  A prairie rattlesnake was there and I was looking eleswhere.  This one did not rattle but it decided to move before I stepped on it. All of the pit vipers have the "cat eye" with the verticle slit.
Posted by Bill M. on 06/18/2011

Coachwhip or Red Racer
The coachwhips in Colorado are mostly reddish or pink in coloration.  They are fast and can bite hard if handled.  The subspecies that occurs in Pueblo and El Paso counties were first discovered by the biologist, Thomas Say, on the Long Expedition to Colorado in 1823. The type locatlity for this subspecies (other subspecies are gray) was from "the junction of Turkey Creek with the Arkansas River, 12 mi. W Pueblo, Pueblo Co., Colorado" from Thomas Say's journal.  This snake was most likley looking for food that can include grasshoppers, birds and their eggs, other snakes, and even road kill.
Posted by Bill M. on 06/05/2011

Still Another New Ranch Bird
Everyone, including me, thought that spring migration was over.  A mountain breeder, Wilson's Warbler was singing at the banding station.  A Blackpoll Warlber, a species that breeds in Canada, was singing at the banding station.  And, a Northern Cardinal, a breeder in easternmost Colorado and in most states east of the Mississippi, made its first appearance on the Chico, singing from the tallest branch on the tallest tree in the banding station.  Northern Cardinal's range is expanding to the north and west, maybe because of climate change, or altered habitats, or more people feeding birds.  Whaterver the reason, seeing the state bird of Ohio and of many other midwestern states is always a treat. 
Posted by Bill M. on 06/05/2011

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