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

Northern Waterthrush
Fall banding has begun and a number of intersting birds are being recorded.  Warblers are on everyone's wish list and so far the warbler with the thrush name, Northern Waterthrush, is being caught in good numbers.

Empidonax flycatchers are beginning to show up, and the young sparrows are here and causing some confusion with plumages birders only see for a couple months each year.  

Today, Brian Gibbons saw a Black-and-white Warlber, a good name for a black and white bird.  A male Townsend's Warbler adult was spotted, a very handsome warbler.  An Everning Grosbeak, a mountain species and very rare on The Chico, was  also spotted.

Tomorrow should provide some more surprises. 
Posted by Bill M. on 08/28/2008

Chico Hummingbirds

Hummingibrds are uncommonly recorded on the Chico, although they are seen in migration.  Now that there are two hummingbird feeders at the Banding Station, it appears that there are actually more birds around in migration than are normally reported or seen.  The only species that may breed on Chico is Black-chinned Hummingbird, a species that wasn't even recored here until May 2007.  

From upper left, clockwise, the five species that have been recorded on Chico are: Calliope Hummingbird, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Rufous Hummingbird and the extremely rare Magnificent Hummingbird.  

Except for the Magnificent Hummingbird, all of the photographs are of male birds.  The immatures and females are very dull and offer birders I.D. challenges. 

Calliope Hummingbird is the smallest regularly occuring hummingbird north of Mexico, and it breeds just west and north of Colorado. It is only 3.25 inches long.  It is fairly common in migration on the plains. near the foothills of the Front Range.  Males are easy to I.D. with their striped violet-rose gorgets.

Black-chinned Hummingbird should breed at Chico, especially in years when there are abundant spring rains.  Although hummingbirds need the nectar from tubular flowers for energy, they feed primarily on small airborn insects during the summer months.  Males are easy to I.D. with their throats (gorget) mostly black with the lowest throat region  violet.  They have longish bills.

Broad-tailed Hummingbird is a common breeder in the mountains of Colorado.  This species is caught accidentally in nets during the spring banding season.  The males are easy to I.D. with their magenta gorgets.  

The aptly named Rufous Hummingbird is small and is mostly seen after the 4th of July when males start moving south.  Right now, mid-August, they are the most common hummingbird at the Chico feeders.  Males are unmistakeable with their orangey backs and bellies and  greenish head.  The gorget is metalic orange.  At feeders, they can be the most dominant species, seemingly spending more time chasing away other birds than feeding.  Young birds can be confused with Calliopes.

There is currently only one record for Magnificent Hummingbird on the Chico.  It is the largest Colorado hummingbird, but is a southern species that only appears in Colorado when Arizona birds disperse after their breeding season, and rarely in migration.  The bills are very long and the birds are about 5.25 inches long.  Males are striking with metalic purple crowns and metalic green throats.  Females and immatures are identified by the white stripes that separate the darker cheeck patch.


Posted by Bill M. on 08/21/2008

Chico's Swallows
All of Colorado's accepted records of swallows have been recorded at The Chico.  Starting in the upper left and moving counter clockwise, they are: Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Barn Swallow, Violet-green Swallow, Bank Swallow (center), Purple Martin, Cliff Swallow, and Tree Swallow.  

The two species known to breed on Chico are the common Barn Swallow that builds an open-topped mud nests in the Chico HQ buildings and the very common Cliff Swallow building domed mud nests beneath overhanging structures.  The rarest of the group is the very rare Purple Martin which nests in tree cavities high in the Colorado Mountains, mostly on the West Slope.

Perhaps the most stricking species is  Violet-green Swallow, a bird with a beautiful combination of bright green back feathers that contast with electric purple rump feathers.   Tree Swallow is a close second in beauty with metalic blue heads and dark blue backs.  Both of these  species nest in tree cavities.  The two brown-backed swallows, Bank and Northern Rough-winged, build their nests in holes in dirt banks and may possibly nest somewhere along Chico Creek.  

All species should be looked for in both spring and in fall migration where they catch hatching aquatic insects over all of the the Chico ponds.
Posted by Bill M. on 08/20/2008

Black Tern
Black Tern is a marsh tern that breeds sparingly in Colorado, but on the Chico they are seen only in spring and fall migrations where it is the most common tern species.  With an black-and-gray plumge and swallow-like flight they are easy to spot.  Unlike other terns, this species rarely plumge-dives for fish, but instead plucks aquatic insects off the surface of the water.

In the photo there are two ages represented, a juvenile on the left with the brown edges to the fresh feathers and adult molting into basic plumge.  A closer look at the feathers of the adult shows two different ages, older worn feathers, and fresh ones.  In breeding plumage the head of this species would be completely dark gray and the breast would be black, making it a striking species.
Posted by Bill M. on 08/10/2008

Forster's Tern - Migrant
Yesterday, there was evidence of the beginning of Fall migration.  Besides two Orchard Orioles and a couple of Chipping Sparrows, there were 7 species of shorebirds at HQ Pond, the most interesting was a single Long-billed Curlew that flew over my head calling, but then kept going south.

Two species of tern were present too, Black and Forster's Terns.  Tomorrow I will talk about the numerous Black Terns, but today let's look at the photo of a molting adult Forster's Tern.

Tern identification can be difficult, but becasue this bird is still in mostly breeding plumage, it is fairly straightforward.  The  large orange, not red, bill with its black tip, at this age separates it from both the slimmer Arctic and Common Terns.  In addition, Forster's Tern has longer legs than either Common and Arctic which in those species it sometimes seems that they are almost legless.  

Looking closely at the dark cap, you can see that some of the black feathers have been molted and replaced by lighter grayish ones.  By the end of summer most adults will be light-headed with only a black mask remaining.  In the air, while  hunting for minnow-sized fish, their silvery-white wings with a noticeable bar of black along the trailing edge is a distinctive I.D. feature.

Posted by Bill M. on 08/06/2008

Did Birds Evolve from Reptiles?
Looking for birds, birders often find outher interesting critters.  Ornate box turtle is recorded as being rare in El Paso County.  I found two males facing each other along the county line separating El Paso from Pueblo Counties.  Only mature males have red irises. 

Ornate box turtle is common in its range in the  eastern counties of Colorado, wherever there are unplowed prairies.  They are a favorite in the pet trade and the records of this species from Ft. Collins, Boulder, Denver, Pueblo, and Colorado Springs are thought to be pet turtles released into the wild.  Ornate box turtles are found in sandhills and priaires where they dig burrows to escape extreme heat and cold. 

Eggs hatch about two months after they are laid, usually in August or September.  These turtles are reported to search for insects beneath cow flops.  They can live over 30 years in the wild. 
Posted by Bill M. on 08/02/2008

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