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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

Dazzling Dragonfly
Fairly common this year at a number of Chico ponds, this male Halloween Pennant was difficult to walk away from because of the colors and patterns in his wings.  Pennant because the wings are held like up like flying team pennants and Halloween because of all of the orange, a hot dragonfly.
Posted by Bill M. on 07/25/2012

Shorebird Quiz
With water levels slowly dropping at HQ Pond, a few migrant shorebirds stopped by to explore the fresh mud.  Most of the small group flew past me and I was able to get a photograph that shows five species. The photo shows the variation in size and bill size in five fairly common migrant shorebirds.  Clues for identification would include the small bill in the upper left bird, the barred flanks in the larger bird below and to the right, the yellow legs and bill equal in length to the head in the bird below it, the long bill and large size in the bird below that.  There are three small birds that are the same species, two of them have arrow-shaped marking on their flanks which is characteristic for adults of Western Sandpiper and a molting adult that has lost its chevrons on the flanks. 

The answers, but not in any particular order are: Long-billed Dowitcher with the long bill in the lower right, Stilt Sandpiper with the barred flanks, Lesser Yellowlegs with the yellow legs, 3 Western Sandpipers, and a Semipalmated Sandpiper with the shortest blunt bill.
Posted by Bill M. on 07/25/2012

Shorebird Migration Continues
Saturday was the 1st ever Aiken Audubon Dragonfly walk and it was at the Chico.  Twenty-three species were recorded before the heat foreced us to retreat.  In addition to dragonflies, we observed six species of shorebirds heading south, this one a molting adult Stilt Sandpiper.  The medium length bill allows it to probe in mud to a depth where shorter billed species only dream about.
Posted by Bill M. on 07/22/2012

Bleached Skimmers
To reproduce and sometimes for egg-laying dragonfly pairs fly in tandem.  The male is in front and he always uses the claspers at the end of his abdomen to hold on to the female behind her compound eyes.  In the case of these, rare in Colorado, Bleached Skimmers the female wraps her front legs around his abdomen and goes along for the ride.  In Bleached Skimmers the female also lays eggs while in tandem.  The pair flys low over the water and she bangs the shallow water with the tip of her abdomen.  A column of water is moved upwards and it is there that she will drop some eggs.  The procedure is repeated over and over in different areas.
Posted by Bill M. on 07/18/2012

Blue-eyed Darner
Dragonflies have four wings, each one moving independently of the other.  They can fly up, down, forwards and backwards, always keeping their body horizontal. Forward movement is as fast as 100 body lengths per second and backwards 3 body lengths per second.  They can hover over the same spot like a helicopter. They eat insects, millions of them.  The have the best eyesight of any insect, their compound eyes seeing 360 degrees.  DARPA, the military's Defense Advanced Research Program Agency is interested in dragonflies too.  Existing technology will allow dragonfly drones to photograph and eavesdrop, track and follow.  Or you can see the wild ones at any of the Chico ponds.  At HQ Pond in areas where there is just a sandy beach, I placed 10 sticks out into the edge of the water.  Within seconds dragonflies used them as perches.  On Saturday, I will lead an Audubon Society field trip to Chico ponds where participants will learn more about these colorful creatures.
Posted by Bill M. on 07/18/2012

Barn Owl Near the HQ
While I was looking for dragonflies, lots and some rare ones, I flushed a Barn Owl from a tall cottonwood.  Easy to I.D., the owl with the heart-shaped face and very pale plumage will nest in old barns with an opening at the top or in large holes on river banks if the bank is steep enough to keep out predators.  Like all owls' eyes, Barn Owl eyes are immobile in a large head but they are able to turn their heads about 270 degrees enabling them to see without moving the rest of their body.  Each flight flight feather has very short feather tufts on the shaft which dampens the air flowing over it and thus allowing the owl to fly noislessly, not so great if you are a nocturnal rodent. 
Posted by Bill M. on 07/14/2012

Swallows Flocking
In addition to the Barn Swallows (breeds on the Chico) perched in many locations on wires, a Bank Swallow (smaller bird on left) joined a group of Barnies.  Bank Swallows may possibly breed on Chico Creek in a cutbank.  Looking at this photograph, all three birds are juveniles (fresh plumage) but they are no longer being fed by adults.  At the base of the Bank Swallow's bill, there is an orangish spot, the gape, the location where adults carrying food poke young birds when they are nestlings; the poking prompts a young bird to open its mouth and therefore allowing it to get fed.
Posted by Bill M. on 07/14/2012

Fall Migration Has Begun
It is only 14 July but already there are birds flocking.  A bird that does not breed on the Chico, Black-crowned Night-Heron was flushed from the edge of HQ Pond where it was likely hunting bullfrogs in the shallows. Another out of place species was a Gray Flycathcer, usually moving through the Chico in late August, not mid-July.
Posted by Bill M. on 07/14/2012

Better Than a Bird
It should be illegal to have an insect this brightly colored.  A male Roseate Skimmer was in the tall reeds adjacent to the pond at headquarters this morning.  A photograph of it is on the cover of a popular field guide to dragonflies and damselflies of west.  Roseate Skimmer is hot pink and this one is the first ever documented in Pueblo County, it being a southern species.  Maybe due to the strong southerly winds during the Waldo Canyon Fire period, this is the 2nd Roseate Skimmer recorded near the Front Range this year, the other one not too far away in El Paso County. 
Posted by Bill M. on 07/09/2012

The Need for Water
Although some desert species obtain water from their seed diet, most avian species need to find a source of water.  Common Nighthawks were observed coming down to Upper Twin and Headquarters Pond on the 4th of July, some drinking but other perhaps soaking their belly feathers to cool their eggs.  One thing I have noticed this summer is the number of insects, other than deer flies, seems to much fewer this year perhaps helping to explain why so few breeding birds are in the wooded areas.
Posted by Bill M. on 07/05/2012

American White Pelican
One of a 8 species of pelican worldwide, American White Pelican is a colonial species nesting on islands often in remote areas.  One of the two juveniles, most often the oldest, kills its sibling, siblicide, increasing its chances of survival.  This species, unlike the other U.S. pelican, Brown Pelican, hunts in a group.  In the water a group of White Pelicans herd fish in shallow water and then with open mouths the group moves in, fish falling into the pelicans' pouches.  Odgen Nash wrote "a crazy bird is the pelican, whose bill holds more than its belly can; food for a week it stores in its beak, but I don't know how the hell he can."
Posted by Bill M. on 07/05/2012

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