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

Swift Fox Den
 After a few people reported a swift fox from the same location over a couple weeks duration, I stopped where I had seen one a week ago and sure enough, there was an adult fox on top of the den.  Colorado shortgrass prairie is the premier habitat for this species, declining in the northern part of its range. 
Posted by Bill M. on 07/29/2016

Juvenile Plumage = Ignorant Gloomage
 A quick look at this bird might cause a casual observer to say "juvenile Sage Thrasher" because of the light spots on the bird's chest or even the extremely rare Bendire's Thrasher with the arrow-shaped spots and straight bill.  But, a closer look reveals the bird has broad white wingbars and is therefore a juvenile Northern Mockingbird, out on its own. 
Posted by Bill M. on 07/29/2016

Nighthawk Migration Day
 As mentioned here recently, Common Nighthawk males perch on horizontal tree limbs while the females lay eggs in just a scrape on the ground and both hunt at dusk and dawn for flying insects. Today, with a weather system moving through, three Common Nighthawks perched on fence poles along the main road. Although they rely on cryptic coloration to blend in with a tree branch, their coloration didn't work too well out in the open on top of a wooden pole.  Eyes half open but seeing everything of note. 
Posted by Bill M. on 07/29/2016

Dragonfly Walk - Saturday, July 23rd
 The annual Chico Dragonfly Walk will begin at the Chico headquarters beginning at 0900 on Saturday, 23 July.  Long pants, long-sleeved shirt, a hat and plenty of water is highly recommended (fee). It will be hot. We will visit May Camp Pond and its wetland outflow, Chico Creek, and the large pond at Chico's headquarters area.  Last year the group recorded 32 species of damselflies and dragonflies making it probably the best single area location for the diversity of this group in Colorado.  On occasion we something uncommon, here a Flame Skimmer by one of the ponded areas along Chico Creek on 15 July. One year we had multiple Roseate Skimmers. Other insects will not be ignored. 
Posted by Bill M. on 07/16/2016

Swift Fox Hunting
 The swift fox is nocturnal but when feeding young they might hunt into the morning hours.  This one completely ignored my car as it stalked a spotted ground squirrel or black-tailed jackrabbit nearby. In the photograph there are also two grasshoppers which becomes part of the swift fox diet during the summer months. During drought years, up to 85 % of a swift fox's diet can be grasshoppers. Nestling birds are also consumed. Swift fox is a shortgrass prairie species and Chico is a great place to see one. 
Posted by Bill M. on 07/15/2016

Colorful Chico Grasshopper
 This is a bush-loving species but so far I would call it rare on Chico.  In fact, I didn't see it until I opened my car door at home and out it jumped.  One of its names is Western Grass-green Grasshopper or better yet, Showy Grasshopper.  Not too hard to look at. Most of the Chico species eat grass but the most numerous species are found in the Russian thistle and other members of the Chenopodiace or Goosefoot family that has mostly weedy species and so those grasshopper species are making a small dent in the invasive weeds.  Thistle grasshopper is one of those grasshopper species.
Posted by Bill M. on 07/14/2016

 During hot summer days when birds are scarce, a little exploration on Chico will reveal many grasshopper species.  This one inch guy was in the grasslands in the sand and its is appropriately named Four-spotted Grasshopper. This one is the only one I have ever seen. Females are black-and-white. Some grasshoppers are a challenge to photograph but if it was easy it wouldn't be as much fun. I will lead a grasshopper field trip with Mile High Bug Club scheduled to begin at 0830 starting at HQ on 6 August. We might find as many as 30 species including some very colorful ones.  Fee. 
Posted by Bill M. on 07/14/2016

 There is a myth in multiple countries about Common Nighthawks sucking  goats milk.  In Spanish they are called chupacabres and in Latin the family name, Caprimulgidae, comes from caper, goat, and  mulgeo, to milk or to suck.  Part of the myth may have originated because nighthawks are crepuscular, i.e. they feed at dusk and dawn when they are difficult to see well and they often feed close to the ground in open areas where goats may be found.  On Chico the males are easy to find roosting on horizontal branches at Holmes Ranch house during the day but the females are sitting on eggs or with young on the ground nearby.  When it is hot, however, the females can sometimes be seen flying to ponds to get water, sometimes to drink, but at other times to wet their breast feathers to cool the young nighthawks. In flight they can look a bit like a hawk and therefore the common name, nighthawk.  Females can be told from males by looking at their tails from underneath.  Males have a broad white subterminal band unlike this female whose undertail is evenly barred with brown.  There mouth also has long bristles surrounding it to help funnel flying insects into its mouth. This female Common Nighthawk was swooping down to the surface of Vega Pond to get water. 
Posted by Bill M. on 07/14/2016

Very Early Migrant?
 If you know Greek, there is a chance you know the meaning of Oreoscoptes montanus.  In Greek, oros or oreos means mountain and skoptes means mocker or combined "mountain mockingbird". This is in fact an adult Northern Mockingbird and they rarely breed in mountains but sometimes on Chico Basin Ranch.  This, however, is likely a failed breeder who now is slowly migrating south.  Chico does provide lots of habitat for large numbers of southbound Northern Mockingbirds but most of them come through in September.
Posted by Bill M. on 07/06/2016

When An Ant Is Not An Ant
 Chico's 87,000 acres is a natural laboratory.  Everyone hears coyotes and sees pronghorns and hears and sees birds, but it is the insects that are amazingly diverse here. Velvet ants are mostly nocturnal and they aren't even ants; they're wasps. Some are commonly seen in the daytime and this one even visited a Penstemon flower in the dry wash that is Black Squirrel Creek.  This is a female, no wings like the males have and if you look closely you can see the stinger.  The sting of velvet ants is intense and one of the most painful stings in the insect world. The entomologist Justin Schmidt describes the pain as lasting about 30 minutes but feels like hydrocloric acid spilled on a paper cut. Ouch!
Posted by Bill M. on 07/06/2016

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