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

2nd Annual Grasshopper Walk
 One of the most important food items for nesting birds is grasshoppers.  Last year the Chico grasshopper field trip tallied 41 grasshopper species. On August 5th, starting at 0730 at headquarters, we will try see what new species we can add to the list that already has over 50 grasshopper species on it. Because there are so many different micro-habitats, we will visit as many as time allows.  We hope to see representatives of all the grasshopper groups, Pygmy Grasshoppers (haven't found any yet), Slant-faced Grasshoppers, Band-winged Grasshoppers, Spur-throated Grasshoppers, and the large Lubber Grasshoppers. We will also look for katydids which are close relatives of grasshoppers and along with crickets are a part of the Orthoptera order. Pictured above is the sleek Mottled Sand Grasshopper hitching a ride on my car windshield. The clean windshield was washed using Photoshop.
Posted by Bill M. on 07/26/2017

Black Lights and UV Lights Attract Insects
 Chico's first ever Moth Night was held on July 22 at the Bell Grove.  Four setups including this one by Tim Leppec were erected in various parts of the grove including on top of the platform where bands play.  Tim's setup used an incandescent light source, while others used ultraviolet light and black lights to pull in insects from far away. Studies have shown that black light and UV wave lengths attract more insects than incandescent lights do. The UV light seemed to attract the most insects but hundreds to thousands of insects came to investigate each white sheet where the lights were aimed. It was easy to see that participants wearing white T-shirts made a mistake with their color choice. Moths were not the most common insect studied, but the moth diversity was evident.  All thirteen participants tried their luck at night photography some successful, newbies not so much.

Common Nighthawk which breeds on the Chico and hunts in the early evening and early morning (crepuscular) don't need lights to attract insects, their night vision allows them to successfully see and catch insects flying in the low light levels. 
Posted by Bill M. on 07/25/2017

Insect Bird Food
 The majority of the over 10,000 bird species on planet Earth feed insects to their young. The flush of insects, unrivaled source of food, in the summer months in temperate North America is the reason migratory birds leave their home in the tropics and subtropics to fly north to breed.  Tons of food in the form of insects is available. This week is National Moth Week and Chico Basin Ranch along with the Mile High Bug Club hosted the first moth night at Bell Grove.  Thirteen enthusiastic buggers came to find interesting bugs, moths, beetles, a damselfly, grasshopper nymphs, and other fascinating insects. Although no nocturnal owls came to visit, predatory insects did show up including a praying mantis, a mantisfly (scary looking), carrion beetles (orange insect with black bands in photo), and a robber fly (called the wolf of the insect world).  The photo shows the variety of insects attracted to a white sheet with a black light used in one setup and an ultraviolet light used in one of the other setups.  Slender, dark rove beetles seemed to be the most numerous insect attracted. A species of moth new for Colorado might have been discovered on Saturday evening. 
Posted by Bill M. on 07/25/2017

In the species called Great-tailed Grackle (perfect name), neither the male or the female is usually faithful = it is a polygynous species.  Males defend a small territory but only after they reach three years of age. But, it doesn't matter because females may switch the area where they nested either during the current breeding season or between seasons.  Great-tailed Grackles are sexually dimorphic and the brown females are half the size of the big, purple-hued glossy male with the long keeled tail (photo). Whereas many bird species are affected by agriculture or expanding civilization, Great-tailed has expanded it range tremendously in the past 50 years.  Thirty years ago Great-tailed Grackles would never be found on the Chico, but today they breed in many Colorado counties and throughout the Midwest and West.  
Posted by Bill M. on 07/06/2017

Grasshopper Sparrow
 All habitats have grasshoppers.  Native grasslands have the most grasshopper species and they become food for all grassland birds. It is not surprising then that one bird species is name Grasshopper Sparrow. This species is an uncommon breeder on the Chico but they are found in the northeastern most Chico grasslands. All members of the Ammodramus genus are secretive but during the breeding season they can often be seen perched high on a grass stem singing. Grasshopper Sparrow has a weak whisper song that does not project far so birders need to listen carefully to hear one. But, they are often rewarded with a petite, subtly attractive sparrow. 
Posted by Bill M. on 07/05/2017

Breeding Season
During years of good spring moisture, Lark Buntings find Chico as a good place to nest and raise their young.  The Colorado State Bird, Lark Bunting, is an excellent example of sexual dimorphism, males looking quite different from females.  Here a male mates with a female. Surprising to me, the pair mated three separate times within a 40 second time frame.  The female will lay eggs on the ground underneath a small plant like sand sage.  
Posted by Bill M. on 07/05/2017

Nesting Season
 Since the majority of Chico is a prairie, most of the breeding birds here are species that nest on or close to the ground. Lark Sparrow, a brightly colored bird and a loud singer, by necessity becomes secretive after eggs have been laid. Here is the completed nest and four well hidden eggs of a Lark Sparrow out in the dry wash of Black Squirrel Creek. The eggs are not brightly colored, but perfectly camouflage with a broken color pattern.  Ground nests are randomly found by birders and by predators like foxes, coyotes, badgers, and skunks. I accidentally found this one a second time four days later and two of the eggs had hatched. 
Posted by Bill M. on 07/05/2017

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