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

Burrowing Owls
If you can find a black-tailed prairie-dog town, you have a good chance of seeing Burrowing Owls, especially in late June through July.  The reason is that the young owls are getting large, and it is almost time for them to move up out of their burrows.  The adults are good housekeepers and they are busy carrying fecal pellets out away from their burrows.  This one was unhappy I was somewhere near the nest burrow (sometimes a pellet has been left on top of the burrow) and it was scolding me, so I left. It is difficult to find ground beetles near the burrows at this time of year as they are the major food source of the young.  A look at a Burrowig Owl pellet will show a compacted mass of dark beetle wings, backs, pinchers, legs, and other indigestible body parts.
Posted by Bill M. on 06/21/2012

Dickcissels in the Alfalfa Field
Dickcissel is a common species and it needs dense grass or alfalfa in which to nest.  The problem in most of its range, especially where it nests in alfalfa,  nesting takes longer than the time from irrigation to mowing of the crop so in June and July Dickcissels are often seen one day but they are gone the next, or at least they leave whenever mowing occurs.  Last week there were three Dickcissel males singing in Jay Frost's alfalfa.  This week the Frost alfalfa has been cut, but there are at least two Dickcissels singing (dick-dick-cis-cis) on the Chico.  This is one of the species named for the song it sings.
Posted by Bill M. on 06/21/2012

American Avocet
Headquarters Pond is low.  This attracts shorebirds if any are around but most species breed very far north in Canada or Alaska. However, American Avocet is a Colorado breeder, a couple can be observed sitting on nests on the island at Big Johnson Reservoir in El Paso County. 

When a nest fails, sometimes there is renesting and sometimes it is over for the year.  This bird, large, loud and attractive, appears to be molting into winter plumage (the gray feathers in front of the eye) so it might be why this individual was foraging along the shore this morning.
Posted by Bill M. on 06/21/2012

Blue-winged Teal
Blue-winged Teal(s) are common nesting ducks but somewhat surprisingly 90 percent of their nests are predated.  Also surprisingly they do not attempt to renest.  There are about 12 Blue-winged Teals, here a drake and hen, currently on headquarters pond.  They all might have lost there eggs to racoons or coyotes or some other mammalian predator.
Posted by Bill M. on 06/11/2012

Wandering Shorebirds
With the recent use of water to irrigate the Chico alfalfa field, one affect was a few shorebirds appeared almost overnight. Here is a male Wilson's Phalarope.  In phalaropes the males incubate the eggs, so maybe a nearby nest failed as a result of the heavy hail and they (there were two) found the newly exposed mud at headquarters pond to their liking.
Posted by Bill M. on 06/11/2012

Widow Skimmer
The common dragonfly, Widow Skimmer, gets its name from the dark pattern at the base of the wings, a dragonfly (widow) dressed in black.  Part of its scientific name, luctuosa, means sorrowful.  These large dragonflies eat lots of mosquitos and deer flies.
Posted by Bill M. on 06/11/2012

Red Saddlebags Dragonfly
A dazzling red dragonfly was at both Headquarters and Lower Twin ponds today flying rapdily low over the water.  Luckily one of them, a Red Saddlebags, hovered for a few seconds so I could capture an image.  Both Red and Black Saddlebags have saddlebag-shaped patches at the base of their hindwings.  The Red Saddlebags is a real stunner and hopefully it was eating some of the thousands of deer flies that are emerging.
Posted by Bill M. on 06/06/2012

Common Nighthawk does not fly at night nor is it a hawk.  But, it does breed on the Chico, on the ground and without nesting materials.  It relies on its cryptic coloration to avoid detection.  This is often the last migrant to arrive and a couple were flying overhead near Holmes ranchhouse this morning. The male makes a loud booming call when he plummets towards the ground, angling his wings to make a loud sound.  A female was flying lower, not necessarily impressed by his fancy flight.

This species, sometimes called "bullbat" because of it bat-like flight, is most active first thing in the morning and at dusk.  They call most frequently about 45 minutes after sunset.  Males can be seen roosting on horizontal branches seemingly out in the open, but their cryptic coloration makes them hard to spot.
Posted by Bill M. on 06/06/2012

Bring on the Dragons
With spring bird migration coming to an end it is time to start looking at the dragonflies on the Chico. Wandering Glider is the only cosmopolitan dragonfly in the world and it is found on every continent except Europe and Antarctica. It is often the only species found on tropical islands.  Wandering Gliders cross oceans and can be seen flying there night and day.  On the Chico there is currently one at Headquarters Pond where this one had a very small territory. During the past two years, I have never seen one land, an indication of its very strong flying ability.  They appear mostly bright yellow in flight so few other species can be confused with it.

I will be leading an introductory dragonfly/damselfly walk at the Chico for Aiken Audubon on 21 July.  The dragons (the ones that perch) make great photographic subjects and last year I found about 40 species on the Chico; one was only the fourth state record and some others were first county records for Pueblo County. As in birding, you never know what species you might encounter.
Posted by Bill M. on 06/01/2012

Rare Bird in the Alfalfa
This eastern flycatcher is very rare in Colorado.  An Eastern Wood-Pewee was singing its very loud, distinctive song, peee-a-weee, in the cottonwoods at the south end of the alfalafa field while Dalene was loading large hay bales nearby.
A western counterpart of this eastern bird, Western Wood-Pewee nests at headquarters and in the woods by the banding station and although they look very similar their songs are miles apart in all regards.
Posted by Bill M. on 06/01/2012

Black-tailed Jackrabbit
My what big ears you have. Ready for summer the black-tailed and other species of jackrabbit use their super-long ears to get rid of excess heat. 

Bird migration is drawing to a close.  Time to start looking at dragonflies.
Posted by Bill M. on 06/01/2012

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