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

Still Nesting
 While most resident birds have completed their nesting period, breeders such as Lark Bunting, Colorado's State Bird, are still incubating eggs.  In a poem, Ogden Nash says..."there is nothing so obscure, as ornithological literature...". Ornithological literature states only female Lark Buntings incubate.  But, when I was hiking around in the grasslands I flushed a male Lark Bunting from near my feet. When I looked under a large clump of grass I found why he was so late to flush.  Five blue eggs in a nest and it was the male, not the brown female, incubating.  For the past 6 years there have been zero Lark Buntings breeding on the Chico, not enough ground cover, but this year there are thousands breeding on Chico's lush grasslands. 
Posted by Bill M. on 07/23/2015

Great Golden Digger Wasp
 Many wasps are solitary, feeding on flower nectar, and not colonial like paper wasps.  The Great Golden Digger is a solitary wasp who digs a small burrow in the sandy soil, this one out on the Chico dunes.  They catch either a cricket or grasshopper, sting it, and drag it to its burrow where hatching eggs will feed on the prey item.  Often considered THE wasp species entomologists want to find because of its beauty and gentle nature. 
Posted by Bill M. on 07/22/2015

Cactus Dodgers
 During the hottest months of summer, the cicada called "Cactus Dodger" emerges from its larval shell and begins to fly around (dodger) from cholla to any other perch, loudly buzzing in search of a mate. By the end of the season, many of these cicadas aren't really good at dodging cactus spines and close examination (if you can get close) shows thorns here and there.  The genus name, Cacama, is the name of a Mexican Aztec lord of Tezcuco who was killed by Spanish conquistadors. Legend has it Cacama lives on in the cactus dodger cicada. Here, a pair getting ready to mate.  When a males leaves a perch, which he does frequently, the very loud noise he makes sounds similar to the buzz of a rattlesnake.
Posted by Bill M. on 07/22/2015

Leaping Lizards
 During the hottest parts of the day, lizards are inactive and found in the shade.  During other parts of the day they search for insects including grasshoppers, ants, beetles, and spiders. The beautiful Lesser Earless Lizard is the most common species in sand habitats on the Chico and it is the female who is most brightly colored.  It is thought her bright coloration is an advertisement to males that she is available.  Males are often seen in their bobbing display to the female. When not interested, she side steps away from him. When in danger this species often dives head first into the sand and completely buries.
Posted by Bill M. on 07/18/2015

Learning to Fly
 Birds that breed on the Chico are mostly finished with a few exceptions.  Western Kingbird can be heard from mid-May and is one of the more common species on the plains as long as there are trees nearby in which to build a nest.  During mid- to late July, youngsters are on their own, learning to fly and learning to find food.  They look distinctly like the adults but their tails and bills are shorter and their overall appearance shows they aren't quite ready to make it on their own. On the base of the bill you can see a pinkish area, a target area for adults bring food to young, another indication this is a young bird. 
Posted by Bill M. on 07/16/2015

Great Crested Grasshopper
 One of the more interesting grasshoppers found on the Chico and in the southern Great Plains into Mexico is the spectacular looking Great Crested Grasshopper. It feeds primarily on plants in the Mallow family.  This species has loud displays in flight (crepitation) and on the ground (stridulation).  You can tell this one is still a nymph by looking at the wings.  They are tiny, just beginning to develop. Because of its resemblance to the fin-backed dinosaur, Dimetrodon, some call it Dinosaur Grasshopper.

Although many grasshoppers destroy crops and eat range grasses, other species focus primarily on eating three weed species that later will become tumbleweeds, kochia and two species of Russian thistle. 
Posted by Bill M. on 07/16/2015

Third Dragonfly Walk On The Chico
 For the past three years I led a mid-summer dragonfly exploration trip to the Chico to give beginners a chance to view, learn about, and photograph the large number of Odonata (odes) found on Chico's springs and ponds.  Here, part of the group, never complaining about the heat or biting flies, exploring one of the small ponds inside the banks of Chico Creek. Thirty-two different species were seen, most of them photographed.  Photograph by Cheyenne Mountain Zookeeper, Heidi Eaton.  
Posted by Bill M. on 07/13/2015

Black-tailed Jackrabbit
 Uh, what's up doc?
Posted by Bill M. on 07/12/2015

Singing Grasshopper Sparrows
 The tiny Grasshopper Sparrow has only been recorded a couple of times on the Chico and only in migration, even though they breed about 50 miles to the east in taller grasslands.  With the very wet spring, grasses and weeds have grown so tall that today, a Grasshopper Sparrow was seen singing just inside the Chico north boundary.  Because of its small size and insect quality song, this species and other grassland sparrows, find a perch on the tallest plant around to advertise for an available female. Grasshopper Sparrow is one of a few members of the Ammodramus genus that includes some of the most secretive sparrows in the U.S. ... except when they sing. 
Posted by Bill M. on 07/12/2015

Chico Dragonfly Hike
 The third annual Aiken Audubon dragonfly class was held on 12 July along a ponded stretch of Chico Creek and at the main pond at headquarters. Eight participants and I collectively saw and photographed 32 species, making Chico one of, if not THE best place in Colorado for Odonata diversity.  Here, a pair of Black Saddlebags dragonflies in copula. The male uses specialized "claspers" to hold on to the female behind her large compound eyes containing over 20,000 individual ommatidia.  She bends her abdomen upwards to his 2nd abdominal segment where he stores a packet of sperm which is transferred to her ovipositor which is used to place fertilized eggs into the water where they will hatch into nymphs.  The nymphs of some species take up to 5 years to hatch as adults.  The cycle of life.  
Posted by Bill M. on 07/12/2015

Flame Skimmer
 It isn't too difficult to see what attracts birders to switch from birds to dragonflies during the summer months.  Flame Skimmer is dazzling in appearance but rarely seen on the Chico.  Only my second in five years, but in a spot where it should be found for the Dragonfly class this Sunday.  
Posted by Bill M. on 07/09/2015

Recent Arrival - Dickcissel
 This species is rare on the Chico mostly because they are found in uncut alfalfa.  All over the Great Plains when alfalfa fields are cut, Dickcissels leave, needing tall structured dense shrubby plants for song perches for the males.  With the abundant spring moisture Dickcissels are common in places where alfalfa has not yet been cut and in dense weedy fields. They arrived on the Chico after the first cut so all the May birders missed them. Their name is someone's idea of what their song sounds like, Dick-dick-DIKCISSEL over and over again.  They look like a miniature meadowlark.
Posted by Bill M. on 07/09/2015

Swift Foxes Eat Birds...
 The smallest member of the dog family in the U.S., Swift Fox (Vulpes velox) is a Great Plains species and mostly nocturnal. But, they like to sunbathe and after a series of cloudy days this may be the reason this one was out and about.  The species name velox is Latin for swift. They eat rodents, hares, rabbits, birds, and also seeds and fruits.  They range from Canada where they are endangered south to Texas but Colorado and New Mexico have the highest numbers of this attractive species. The black tip of the 10-inch-long tail help to identify this species.
Posted by Bill M. on 07/09/2015

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