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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

Like all raptors, Northern Harriers have keen eyesight, up to 8 times more powerful than humans. They can spot small mammals up to a mile away.  So, if you were a rodent this Northern Harrier was seeing, it would likely be the last three seconds of your life.  Although raptors have strong hooked bills for tearing open prey, it is their strong feet and talons that enable them to hunt so successfully.  Harriers (only one species in the U.S.) receive audible signals from sounds directed to their dish-shaped heads.  With ears set slightly apart, sounds are triangulated and rodents are detected in nonoseconds.
Posted by Bill M. on 07/31/2011

Young Burrowing Owls
If you spend enough time in the larger prairie dog towns on the Chico, you have a good chance of seeing young Burrowing Owls.  They are out flying about right now, but they are also quick to fly back to their burrows.  Burrows are usually 6-10 feet long and here they are exclusively those dug by black-tailed prairie dogs.  Burrowing Owls usually have a nest chamber in the burrow that they line with mammal dung, here, of course, cow dung.  These are the only species of North American owl that have the ability to raise a second brood if condition are right.
Posted by Bill M. on 07/22/2011

The Best Bird of the Day (not a bird)
I finally saw a Swift Fox on the Chico.  This youngster was out on its own and didn't know whether to run or to look and it ended up doing a little of each.  Swift Foxes, primarily nocturnal, are prairie species and usually only found on healthy ranchlands.  They are known to prey on Mountain Plovers and in turn they are eaten by coyotes.  As I walked a short ways past this pup I encountered a coyote out looking for food at mid-morning.  The very large ears, black-tipped tail, and small size separate them from Gray Fox, also dening on the prairies.
Posted by Bill M. on 07/22/2011

Southbound Migrant
Northern Rough-winged Swallows fly south in late summer to Central America.  Not visible in this small photo, the outer edge of the outermost primary of this species has barbs that are recurved, giving it the name Rough-winged Swallow.  Like many swallow species, rough-wings numbers are doing well as all swallows have adapted to living close to humans.  Warmer winters have enabled this species to return earlier in the spring and to winter at higher latitudes. On the Chico they nest is small colonies in banks where they feed their young flying insects, especially midges.   
Posted by Bill M. on 07/22/2011

Rare Colorado Dragonfly
Okay, it is not a bird, but with all of the springs and ponds on the Chico, especially where rushes, cattails, and shrubby vegetation grows next to the water, there are thousands of dragonflies and damselflies to look at this year.  Currently, there are few birders who come to the Chico to look at these insects, Odonata, or "Odes" that comprise dragonflies and damselflies, but that will change in the next few years as more and more birders fill the slow birding months of the summer with ode watching and photography.

I found this new Pueblo County record perched very close to where the water enters Headquarters Pond, very close to the drying algae there at water's edge.  This dragonfly is called Bleached Skimmer and it is a mid-sized dragonfly of desert sinks and springs, and pond edges.  It is sparsely distributed from Coahuila state in Mexico, north to very localized spots in New Mexico and westernmost Texas, a tiny area in Southeast Arizona, and in eastern California to northwestern Utah. 
Posted by Bill M. on 07/19/2011

Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Rare in summer on the Chico, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo is summering by headquarters and by the Moon ranchouse.  On occasion it gives its loud, percussive call, kuk, kuk, kuk, kuk, slowing at the end.  Both cukcoos and roadrunners are in the same family.  Many old world cuckoos and three species from Central and South America are brood parasites, laying eggs in other species nests, but not Yellow-billed Cuckoo which builds its own nest.

In eastern states, Yellow-billed Cuckoos feed primarily on tent caterpillars where they have been observed to eat 100 individuals from one web.  Howerver, in the west, Yellow-billed Cuckoos feed on sphinx moth caterpillars ("tomato worms"), katydids, grasshoppers, and sometimes small frogs.  They also feed on cicadas (common very loud explosive noise out on the prairie here).    They spend most of the time in trees but will come to the ground to capture grasshoppers and frogs. 
Posted by Bill M. on 07/19/2011

Young Birder Camp
On 1 July 10 participants in the American Birding Association's Young Birder Camp visited the Chico along with multiple instructors.  Participants, aged 14-17, came from as far as Costa Rica, New York, Georgia, and California.

The birds we found on the Chico and not seen on their other stops included Scaled Quail, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Northern Mockingbird, Loggerhead Shrike,  Burrowing Owl, Curve-billed Thrasher, Chihuhuan Raven, Blue Grosbeak, Barn Owl, Blue Jay, Orchard Oriole, and Yellow-billed Cuckoo. The Mountain Plovers were hiding or had left for the year.  A coachwhip put in an appearance, the pink form or red racer came within a couple of feet before it disappeared down a hole.

All campers came away with an appreciation of eastern Colorado habitats and the avain diversity found there. 
Posted by Bill M. on 07/13/2011

Western Terrestrial Garter Snake
After the big Thursday rain, snakes seemed to like the moisture and lots were seen on Monday, many with with fresh skins.  Reptiles forked tongues gives more surface area for them to detect chemical differences.  It is unknown wether a snake can follow a chemical trail by using the chemical differences from one side of its forked tongue to the other.  Hummingbirds also have tongues that split at the tip.

The phrase, "speaking with a forked tongue" possibly originated when the French were battling the Iriquois in the 1690s.  The French invited the Iriquoise to a peace conference and then attacked the Native Americans along the trail.
Posted by Bill M. on 07/12/2011

Burrowing Owl Pellets

Raptors are designed to store undigestable materials in their crops.  After a compact pellet forms they often have to work at coughing it up for disposal.  More luck than skill, I was trying to photograph this adult owl when it decided to cough up its pellet, here a mass of insect parts, mostly beetle legs, backs, and other inedible parts.

Posted by Bill M. on 07/12/2011

Migration Continues
American White Pelicans breed in Colorado but are only visitors on the Chico.  A flock of 40 birds searched the three largest Chico ponds mostly using the ponds as a resting stop on their way south. These 16-pound birds are spectacular in flight, often soaring at great heights. Unlike their relative, Brown Pelican, American White Pelicans do not dive, but feed in groups by hearding fish into concentration before scooping them up like a seine net.
Posted by Bill M. on 07/12/2011

Young Shrikes
One of the signature species of the Chico is Loggerhead Shrike, a species in decline in much of its range but it appears to be doing well in eastern Colorado.  At Upper Twin Pond, two young-of-the-year birds were begging for food, allowing a close approach.  The hooked bill, a characteristic of raptors, was previously used by biologists to assign shrikes into that group.  However, unlike true raptors, they lack talons.  Although they prey on rodents and grasshoppers they are perching birds and even have a song of sorts.
Posted by Bill M. on 07/12/2011

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CONTACT US 719.683.7960 info@chicobasinranch.com