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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

Red-naped Sapsucker
Sapsuckers are uncommon on the Chico but one visited the Moons' yard yesterday.  The name sapsucker describes woodpeckers that create sap wells in the bark of woody plants.  They feed on the sap that forms in shallow holes that have been drilled through the bark into the underlying phloem and/or xylem tissues. Red-naped Sapsuckers drill sap wells in the xylem tubes of conifers and aspen When temperatures increase sapsuckers switch to phloem wells in aspen and later in willows.  In the Canon City area in winter, sometimes three sapsucker species can be found where they make their rounds from tree to tree to ensure sap production continues, often seeming to choose only select mature trees in which to drill.  They can be seen defending their wells from other sapsuckers and from other species.
In summer, Rufous Hummingbirds are at times associated with Red-naped Sapsuckers, sometimes placing their nests near sap wells and some individuals are thought to time their migrations to coincide with sapsucker migration so they can feed in the sap wells.
Posted by Bill M. on 09/28/2011

Blue Jay Migration
Blue Jay is the only jay known to migrate latitudinally and birds in the eastern parts of its range are mainly sedentary.  Becasue they need to find food, Blue Jays are often seen moving about in early fall when mast, especially acorns, have developed.  Lacking acorns on the Chico, Blue Jays search for Russian olive and ash fruits.  Today a flock of 12 birds was seen heading south over Upper Twin Pond, no doubt leaving the area for the winter.  It remains to be seen if these birds will be replaced by another flock from the northeast.  Colorado is about as far west as this species occurs on a regular basis.
Posted by Bill M. on 09/28/2011

Common Migrant
Although Ruby-crowned Kinglets breed at high elelveation woodlands in Colorado, many of them migrate through the plains both in spring and fall.  They are nervous, active foragers, almost always in motion.  Here one hangs one while it gleans a small insect from the bark of a cottonwood.  The ruby crown is usually only seen during confrontations when it elevates its crown feathers to warn other birds foraging in the same habitat or during breeding season to show off the only bright part of its plumage to females.
Posted by Bill M. on 09/25/2011

Silent Predator
Sharp-shinned Hawks are built to hunt in the woods, their short round wings and longish tail allowing them to make sharp turns through the trees while hunting. This bird was apparently so hungry that it allowed me to walk directly underneath it and only flying to chase a number of songbirds that it missed on each attempt while I was watching.

The name sharp-shin comes from the very thin legs of this fairly common accipiter.  It is a raptor that is often seen in town near bird feeders in fall and winter where it stealthily sneaks in to try to separate birds from their sunflower seed snacks.  Their closest relative, Cooper's Hawk, is larger and has been frquently accused of raiding the chicken coop and is thus also called chicken hawk. 

Males and female accipiters are noticeably different in size, females being much larger than the mates.  It is thought that this is so they can exploit different sized prey items to insure there is always a food source during the raising of their broods.
Posted by Bill M. on 09/23/2011

Rare Fall Visitor
While talking to the Julie and Steve, the Chico banding team, I saw a orangish bird walking on a log in the woods behind the banding table area.  It was a rare visitor to Colorado, one that has appeared on the Chico a few times, a Wood Thrush.  Although they don't sing during fall migration, this attractive species is a beautiful songster with flute-like phrases while on its breeding grounds. The closest it breeds to Colorado is eastern Kansas.  After a few hours while the banders were not so patiently waiting, the bird finally flew into a net where it was caught, extracted from the net, measured, and banded.  It was a juvenile, born this summer, most likey northeast of the Chico as northeast winds were blowing during the night. 
Posted by Bill M. on 09/23/2011

Another New Ranch Bird
Yesterday while particiating the Pueblo County Annual Fall Bird Count, I found a LeConte's Sparrow below the dam at Upper Twin Pond, a new species for Chico Basin Ranch.  It was in a wet sedge meadow, a habitat that few birders walk in because there is standing water there.
LeConte's Sparrow is one of the secretive grassland sparrows in the genus, Ammodramus, all highly sought after species.  This is one of the most attractive of all the sparrows but not this individual.  Here is the reason.  After this bird was born it grew fresh juvenile feathers.  Later, right now, it started to molt its juvenile plumage and it is in the process of a preformative molt, the end product being a complete set (some species only undergo a partial molt) of adult feathers.  So, this bird has both juvenile and adult feathers and as such it looks a mess.

Posted by Bill M. on 09/18/2011

Bird Banding on the Chico
A large group of charter school elementary kids spent most of the day on the Chico on Tuesday.  The came on a great day as all kids and a ton of parents learned about birds and about migration.  The most common bird passing through on their way south is the super abundant Wilson's Warbler.  Note the cushioning affecct the bag of the net has on the bird after it flies into the mostly invisible strands.  Banding will continue through the first week of October.  Every day is different and days when there is a cold front often are the best to see a variety of species. 
Posted by Bill M. on 09/14/2011

Fall Magnolia Warbler
A Magnolia Warbler was banded this morning.  Another very beautiful species, especially in spring (see May 26th post).  Look at the differences in plumage to see why birders sometimes have to relearn the field marks of warblers that don't always look the same in fall as they did in the spring.  A very good bird in fall migration on the Chico and elsewhere in Colorado.
Posted by Bill M. on 09/14/2011

Confusing Fall Warblers
Chestnut-sided Warbler is very easy to identify in the spring (see May 17 post).  Afther theiir prebasic molt (after breeding is completed) the plumage changes drastically to match the juveniles, all which are lime green on top and whitish below.  One was foraging above the banding table at the banding station for much of the day but was never caught.  This is primarily a beautiful eastern species that has nested on occassion in Colorado.  Rarely recorded in fall on the Chico.
Posted by Bill M. on 09/14/2011

Townsend's Warblers at Rose Pond
One of my favorite warblers, Townsend's Warbler, was foraging mostly high in the cottonwoods on Monday and Tuesday in a mixed species migratory flock that contained the Yellow-throated Warbler (see below).  They are rare in spring in Colorado but fairly common in fall migration especially in the mountains.  There are always a few seen in September on the Chico. The breed in the Pacific Northwest north to southeastern Alaska and primarily forage at the tops of Douglas-fir or spuce and fir trees. 
Posted by Bill M. on 09/14/2011

Fall Warblers

A rare Yellow-throated Warbler was at the Chico on Monday and Tuesday in Pueblo County where it represents only the 2nd fall record for that county.  For a warbler it is sluggish, often feeding on the trunk and on large limbs like a nuthatch.  It is fairly easy to tell it belongs to the western subspecies, albilora, by looking at the all-white supercillium.  Eastern subspecies have yellow at the front end of its supercillium.  This warbler is a southeastern specialty, rarely making it west of eastern Kansas and eastern Oklahoma.

Posted by Bill M. on 09/14/2011

Cool Weather's Affect on Reptiles
Yesterday morning was cool on the Chico.  Reptiles are cold blooded so they need to find warmth to maintain a body temperature of 32 degrees Celsius in order to function on cool mornings.  So, it was not surprising that I saw a prairie rattlesnake south of the banding station and of more interest, this juvenile racer on the Chico main road.  Juvenile snakes often look totally different than adults so I was stumped when seeing this one, a racer or Coluber constrictor. Not to be confused with "red racer", really a coachwhip, racer as an adult is grayish green, unlike the brightly patterned juveniles. In winter racers den in mixed species groups in rock crevices that are used year-after-year.  They are diural.  Adults are docile but juveniles often shake their tails like rattlesnakes and will strike at would be predators. 
Posted by Bill M. on 09/08/2011

Waterfowl migration
Northern Pintail is one of the fastest flying duck species being recored flying at 60 mph.  Becasue only the female incubates eggs, males leave breeding grounds early followed later by junveniles and females.  Yesterday I observed three flocks of southbound Northern Pintails flying over Upper Twin Pond where they circled a few times before continuing on their way south where many will winter in the Gulf of Mexico.  
Posted by Bill M. on 09/08/2011

Bell's Vireo
Possibly only the second record for the Chico, a migrant Bell's Vireo was in the weedy area by the two wire exclosure this morning along with numerous other more common migrants.  The bill, stout with a hooked tip, separates vireos from warblers.  Bell's Vireo is tiny, usually very dull, but they molt before migrating, so fall birds are the brightest.  They nest in northeastern most Colorado in dense plum thickets.
Posted by Bill M. on 09/04/2011

Blue Grosbeak migration
Blue Grosbeaks were out in the Kochea fields where they were feeding on the seeds of giant ragweed. Their massive bills can be a bird bander's nightmare.  They are closely related to buntings and are usually the last breeding Chico bird to depart for their winter territories in Mexico and Central America.
Posted by Bill M. on 09/04/2011

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