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

Juvenile Birds
Young birds don't look exactly like adult parents and more often look more like the less brightly colored females than the brighter coloration of males.  Birds' bills continue to grow after hatching and even at a month old the bill in some species is not as long as it will become later.  Therefore, this juvenile Curve-billed Thrasher might incorrectly be called the very rare Bendire's Thrasher because its bill looks a bit more like the later species than the bill of an adult Curve-bill.  A number of young birds are venturing out into the beautiful green prairie grasses on the Chico, feeding on insects that have come to life after recent rains.
Posted by Bill M. on 07/27/2013

Bird and Fish Food
The mostly blue damselfly, Tule Bluet, is abundant this week along the vegetated edges of Headquarters Pond.  Some species, like Tule and Familiar Bluets, occur together in large groups.  Like mammals that stay in flocks or herds, if a predator attacks, the odds of not being singled out are much greater than if going it alone.  The males here are on top in the sentinel position.  The females' abdomens are partially submerged and are laying eggs into algae or decaying plant material where they will hatch into larvae, spending the winter under water.  The male has specialized "claspers" he uses to attach just behind the females' eyes.  He not only stands guard above, but also prevents her from sinking too far into the water.
Posted by Bill M. on 07/27/2013

Speaking with Forked Tongue

Luckily this prairie rattlesnake (vertical pupil slits) buzzed before I stepped on it. Forked tongues evolved in lizards and snakes. The tongue is flicked out of the mouth regularly to sample the chemical environment allowing snakes etc. to sense non-volatile chemicals which cannot be detected by using their sense of smell.  Having a forked tongue enables more surface area for chemicals to contact and therefore they heighten snakes' abilites to identify prey, choose mates, find shelter, and still unproven, to follow trails.  My long camera lens allowed me to keep a safe distance.

Posted by Bill M. on 07/27/2013

Dazzling Dragonfly
Today, I showed the state's foremost authority on dragonflies and damselflies, Bill Prather and his wife, Inez, around Chico's wetlands and ponds.  We found three species not recorded to date, the tiny Arroyo Bluet, Eastern Amberwing, and Eastern Forktail.  The most beautiful, though, were the numerous Halloween Pennants (above). I predict that there will be many visitors to Chico during summer months looking for Odonata (odes) or dragonflies and damselflies in the next few years now that there are lavishly illustrated field guides for this group of insects. 
Posted by Bill M. on 07/22/2013

Snake - It's what's for Dinner

During summer months it is all about feeding young.  No snake or reptile or small rodent is safe from the most common raptor on the Chico, Red-tailed Hawk.  The snake's head is the first body part detached and discarded but eventually the remainder of the snake will be taken to feed the brood.

Posted by Bill M. on 07/17/2013

Rocky Raccoon
"Now the doctor came in stinking of gin
And proceeded to lie on the table
He said "Rocky you met your match"
And Rocky said, "doc it's only a scratch
And I'll be better as soon as I am able..."
While trying to photograph damselflies, I heard a noise that sounded like horses tromping in the mud.  After a few minutes I looked up and this lactating raccoon was eating aquatic plants only 30 feet away.  She eventually saw me then walked past me heading to her den and scaring the damselfly I was photographing.
Posted by Bill M. on 07/17/2013

Cavity Nester - Ash-throated Flycatcher

Ash-throated Flycatcher is a cavity nester mostly relying on abandoned woodpecker holes for nesting.  As drought claims more and more trees, Ash-throated Flycatchers increase. Ash-throated Flycatchers are tolerant of high temperatures and they do not need to drink water.  They can nest in relatively small cavities which enables them to breed even in sparse desert scrub as long as enough food (insects) are present.  Like most insect eaters, this species leaves Colorado and western North America where they winter along the west coast of Mexico south into Nicaragua.

Posted by Bill M. on 07/11/2013

Spotted Ground Squirrel

The small rodent, Spotted Ground Squirrel, is a common resident on the Chico. It easts mostly plant flowers and seeds.  Becasue of their cryptic coloration they can go undetected by the predators, coyote and swift foxes. 

After being missing in action all summer, the recent rains have stimulated Cassin's Sparrows to begin singing and hopefully to begin breeding soon.  In Arizona, they wait until the monsoon season to begin courtship, a strategy employed by a lot of semidesert birds.

Posted by Bill M. on 07/11/2013

Fish Food
During July, Desert Whitetails and other dragonfly species lay hundreds and sometimes thousands of eggs in aquatic vegetation just below the water surface.  The eggs hatch and become dragonfly larvae where they eat almost anything in sight, spending as much as five years in the water.  These larvae are one of the main food items for fish and later when the larvae hatch into adult insects they become a major source of food for some migrant birds. Here a female Desert Whitetail bobs her tail into the water, placing eggs in the algae below.
Posted by Bill M. on 07/07/2013

Swainson's Hawk
Absent during winter months in North America, Swainson's Hawks migrate 11,000 to 17,000 miles each year.  Many winter in Argentina and 10's of thousands can be seen in migration as they cross the narrowest portion of Mexico both in spring on their way to the western U.S. and Canada, and again in the fall on their way south.  On the Eastern Plains and at Chico they often select a solitary tree for nesting.  They eat rodents but also are seen feeding where there are large concentrations of grasshoppers.  William Swainson was a supposed brilliant English ornithologist from the early 19th Century.   
Posted by Bill M. on 07/07/2013

July = Dragonflies

The numerous Chico springs and ponds with surrounding aquatic vegetation in a semidesert habitat is perfect for dragonflies.  The first for this summer, this recently hatched Halloween Pennant is one of the more attractive species.  Here at the western edge of its range.

Posted by Bill M. on 07/07/2013

Where Are the Minnows?
This long-billed Western Grebe came very close to shore at Lower Twin Pond using its webbed toes to paddle directly towards me. Check out that bill.  The scientific name, Aechmophorus occidentalis, describes the bill.  Aichme from Greek means spear and phoros translates as spear-bearer. They can dive to about 20 feet in depth and they stay under water for up to 30 seconds.  Some say they are the bird most perfectly adapted to water. In the air it is a different story.
Posted by Bill M. on 07/04/2013

A First Pueblo County Record
While waiting for fall migrants to begin returing to the Chico, I spent time looking for members of the Odonata or dragonflies and damselflies.  Of the 114 species recorded in Colorado, Chico has recorded over 30.  Below May Camp Pond I located a Hoary Skimmer, only the fourth for Colorado and the first Pueblo County record. It is a habitat specialist liking clear springs and slow moving streams.  The name hoary refers to its "pruinosity" or the powdery gray coloration of adults and a reference to its resemblance to hoarfrost.
Posted by Bill M. on 07/04/2013

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