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

#331 - Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Overdue, a juvenile Yellow-bellied Sapsucker was in the Siberian elms near Holmes Ranch on the 27th feeding in the vicinity of two Red-naped Sapsuckers. Juvenile Yellow-bellies look very similar to juvenile Red-napes but the later molt to look like adults by October while juvenile Yellow-bellies retain juvenile feathers on their backs and head until April.  All three Colorado sapsuckers rely on sap from two types of holes they drill in as many as 100 tree species. Round holes extend deep into a tree in which the sapsucker inserts its bill and tongue to extract sap.  A second type of hole is rectangular and more shallow and these must be maintained on a regular basis for sap to continue flowing. From the shallow holes sapsuckers use their brush-tipped tongue to lick sap and it is here where the growing part of the tree bark occurs, the cambium, which the sapsucker will also eat.  At Holmes ranch house, at least five bird species were using the recently drilled sapsucker holes on Thursday.  Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is the second new ranch bird for the year raising the Chico total to 331.
Posted by Bill M. on 09/29/2012

Red-eyed Vireo - uncommon fall migrant on Chico
Red-eyed Vireo's eyes become redder with age.  This species was once thought to be one of the three most common birds in North America but they haved shown some decline in the past 30 years.  They are possibly best known for their repetative song which has been described as either "here I am, where are you? - do you see me? - I see you" or  " you-see-it, do-you-know-me? - do-you-hear me? do-you-believe-it?" A Red-eyed Vireo was reported to have sung 22,197 songs during a 10-hour period. Their monotanous song in summer makes them fairly easy to find, but they are uncommon breeders in Colorado and are only seen as migrants on the Chico. Notice the hooked bill tip found on all of the vireo species.
Posted by Bill M. on 09/28/2012

Another Rarity Banded
Rare in Colorado, a Philadelphia Vireo was caught and banded today at the CBR/RMBO banding station. The first individual was collected in September 1842 in woods near Philadelphia, PA.  It was described to science by John Cassin which is of interest because I found a Cassin's Finch today, rare away from the mountains and very rare on the Chico.  Vireos all have a hook on the tip of the bill something our thinner-billed wood-warblers lack.  

Two Red-headed Woodpeckers (uncommon in this part of the state) and a number of Red-naped Sapsuckers were foraging in the trees near the banding station.  Three White-throated Sparrows were seen in various parts of the ranch.
Posted by Bill M. on 09/27/2012

Black-throated Blue Warbler
The most sexually dimorphic (males look different than females) warbler and unlike the drab female, the male Black-throated Blue Warbler (photo courtesy of Steve Brown) is deep blue, black and white.  It would be difficult not to like one. Not one, but two were banded on Wednesday at the banding station. Even though this species breeds far to the east, it is surprisingly regular as a migrant to the western states during the fall far from their wintering habitats in the Bahamas and the West Indies.
Posted by Bill M. on 09/27/2012

Magnolia Warbler

The eastern species, Magnolia Warbler, was caught and banding this morning at the RMBO/Chico banding station. In 1810 Alexander Wilson saw members of this species migrating in magnolia trees near Ft. Adams, Mississippi, thus the name.  Bright males (this is an immature bird) are one of the more beautiful species in the U.S.  They are seen annually in small numbers on the Chico.

Posted by Bill M. on 09/25/2012

Williamson's Sapsucker

Williamson Sapsucker breeds in high elevation coniferous forests and they are rare as migrants on the eastern plains.  Visiting birder, Laurence Pitcher from England found this one, a new ranch bird for me, next to the Moons' ranch house.  This immature female was hitching up a small tree trunk looking for insects.  During winter it will drill parallel rows of holes in a tree trying to get sap to flow and if successful it will switch its diet to sap. 

We also heard a few Sandhill Cranes flying high overhead, a bit early this year.

Posted by Bill M. on 09/24/2012

Young and Dumb, Part II

I found a juvenile Burrowing Owl with a burrow within 10 feet of a seldom used dirt road.  For some unknown reason it let me drive next to it.  While I was watching, the Burrowing Owl looked to the sky whenever an airplane flew overhead, seemingly responding  to any loud overhead noise by looking skyward even though I should have been thought of as the more imminent danger.

Posted by Bill M. on 09/22/2012

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks

Rose-breasted Grosbeak (juvenile male and female shown here) is an eastern species that is not uncommon as a migrant in the spring and in the fall on the Chico.  Black-headed Grosebeak is a close relative, a western species that breeds in the Colorado foothills and mountains and is a fairly common spring and fall migrant.  The males of each species are very easy to identify in the spring when Rose-breasteds have a bright pink upper breast area.  In the fall, however, young birds are confusing without a good look.  These two Rose-breasted Grosbeaks landed in the same mist net this a.m.  They might even be brother and sister.  The male is the one with the rose under its wing and with a faint wash on its upper breast.  The female has the yellowish underwings but so do young female Black-headeds. 

Posted by Bill M. on 09/22/2012

Fall Blackpoll Warbler
A Blackpoll in the fall does not look like it does in spring making it one of the confusing fall warblers.  One was banded and photographed yesterday at the banding station (photo here courtesy of Steve Brown).  Luckily, Blackpolls always have yellowish feet so this one was easy to identify.  Blackpolls are quintessential migrants nesting across the boreal forest from Alaska to Newfoundland and wintering east of the Andes in South America as far south as Chile and Argentina.  A close inspection will show that this bird has long wings needed for long distant flights.  Their fall migration is spectacular with most individuals flying non-stop from New England over the Atlantic to northern South America. The beginning of their flight is in a southeasterly direction which seems disasterous but the prevailing winds for the last half of their flight pushes them back to the southwest and to the South American continent. 
Posted by Bill M. on 09/19/2012

Tuesday, Sep 18, 2012
While trying to photograph some dull sparrows a series of totally unexpected events transpired. A bobcat, an owl, and then another bobcat.  The Barn Owl unknowingly flew into a tree right next to a baby bobcat.  See below for photos taken along Chico Creek.
Posted by Bill M. on 09/18/2012

A Walk on Chico Creek
The dry creekbed of Chico Creek had a flock of birds.  As I tried to quietly work my way closer I heard a noise in the brush and there was an adult bobcat staring at me.  I took one step and it took three. I took another step and it took another three.  I wanted to work into a clear spot for a photograph and finally I was in place and the bobcat moved into the open.  Then suddenly something fell or jumped out of a tree near me.  Continued...
Posted by Bill M. on 09/18/2012

Leap of Faith
The young bobcat kitten, unable to climb the large cottonwood, instead leaps to the ground.
Posted by Bill M. on 09/18/2012

Birding 101
After only a couple of seconds it jumped from the lower trunk and shot up a smaller tree into a small thicket only 10 feet up.  I took a few photographs and left them both to continue their hunt. 
Posted by Bill M. on 09/18/2012

Western Grebe
An elegant 25" Western Grebe was diving for fish close to shore at Chico's Rose Pond today.  It could see me so I waited until it dove before trying to approach for a closer view.  At times fish were seen spashing out of the water in front of the submerged grebe.  Instead of diving, it slowly submerged like a submarine often staying under water for over a minute.

Although a cold front came through last night it was a poor day for landbird migration.  Hopefully tomorrow will bring more variety of birds to the Chico.
Posted by Bill M. on 09/17/2012

Our Smallest Shorebird
The appropriately named Least Sandpiper (3) were at the Headquarters Ranch Pond today probing for food in the fresh mud.  The small, slightly drooped bill and the yellowish legs help to I.D. this species. Structurally it is short-tailed and short-winged thus it can be found in winter on both coasts and along the Gulf of Mexico and southwards into Mexico and Central America. During migration they are often the most common shorebird at inland sites. They breed in the subarctic and boreal forests often in wet areas with tussocks.  Standing on one leg is common in shorebirds and may help to conserve energy.
Posted by Bill M. on 09/17/2012

Scarlet Tanager
Although the name implies this bird should be scarlet red in coloration, young birds and adult females are green (this is this year's male).  Tanagers are birds from the tropics and they only make a short stay in North American (north of Mexico) where they are an eastern breeder.  They are no strangers to Chico however as one has been reported here almost annualy the past few years.  In this image, courtesy of Steve Brown, you can see there are no wingbars and the wings are black a characteristic only of Scarlet Tanager.  Two rare Colorado birds in one day and both at the Chico!
Posted by Bill M. on 09/13/2012

Birders Holy Grail - Connecticut Warbler
If asked what are the top 5 bird species a birder would like to see, Connecticut Warbler is likely on most peoples' list.  Although Connecticut Warblers have a fairly large breeding range they are uncommon in it.  They are difficult to see even when singing unless they move.  They spend much of their lives on the ground, walking instead of hoping.  In the fall most of Connecticut Warblers head far east before making a long journey south to northern South America so to see one in Colorado in the fall is extremely rare.  Today, Chico's 2nd Connecticut Warbler was caught in a net at the Chico/RMBO banding station.  The 1st was captured a few years ago in May.  Unfortunately only Nancy and Steve were there to see it. The complete eyering, pot belly, the very long undertail coverts and short tail clinch the I.D.  This photograph is courtesy of banding assistant and Chico volunteer, Steve Brown.
Posted by Bill M. on 09/13/2012

Raptors on the Move
Birds of prey including this juvenile Northern Harrier, formerly known as Marsh Hawk, were on the move.  This harrier was teetering low over Lower Twin Pond marshes hoping for a small rodent or even a small bird.  The shape of their face, concave, funnels even the softest sounds into their ears placed just off center which allows these and other raptors to triangulate the location of their prey.
Posted by Bill M. on 09/11/2012

Red-naped Sapsucker
As the name implies, the woodpecker, Red-naped Sapsucker not only sucks sap from wells drilled by its woodpecker type bill; it also has a red nape.  Females are told from males by the red and white chin (males are red-chinned).  This one was at Rose Pond and was silently hitching up a peach-leaf willow.  They nest in aspen groves (cavity nester) at higher elelvations in the inter-mountain west, but they are often seen throughout September migrating on the eastern plains.
Posted by Bill M. on 09/11/2012

Most Widespread Shorebird in the World
In late summer Sanderling is easy to identify with its white-and-black plumage.  This species nests in the tundra of the high arctic and most migrate along ocean shores except there is a population which migrates through the Great Plains and another through the Great Lakes.  This species winters as far south as southern South America and as a result it has long wings making it appear as an elongated shorebird.  The world population of Sanderling has been estimated at 643,000 birds with 300,000 occuring in North America.  They occur on every continent except Antarctica.  They are the wave chasers seen commonly on almost any coastal beach.  This one was first found at Lower Twin Pond by Jeannie Mitchell and it remained there today, 9/11.
Posted by Bill M. on 09/11/2012

Friday, Sep 07, 2012

The four letter banding code for Green-tailed Towhee is GTTO which immediately brings to mind the Beach Boys song "Little GTO".  Seen more often than its relative the distinctive Spotted Towhee, Green-tails appear in both spring and fall migration on the Chico.  Their "mew" call often gives them away and with patience they will come out of dense cover for a peak.  Birders will often see the rufous crown or the long tail poking out behind twigs or branches before seeing the entire bird.

Posted by Bill M. on 09/07/2012

Bird Banding
Today was windy, but there were areas where the nets could be unfurled.  The largest warbler, if it really is a warbler, a Yellow-breasted Chat was caught, measured, photographed and banded.  On its breeding territory (nearby, but not on the Chico) they utter a wide array of chucks, squeaks, and croaks (thus the name chat), often from dense cover.  The Wilson's Warbler (see earlier post) is 4.75 inches long and the Yellow-breasted Chat measures in at 7.5 inches so in comparison it is a monster. 
Posted by Bill M. on 09/07/2012

Bring On the Rarities
Wood Thrush is a rare bird in Colorado but this is the second consecutive fall that one has appeared at the RMBO banding station.  I found this one flitting in the understory near the net lanes.  It is an eastern species with an incredible rising and falling flutelike song but it is silent during fall migration. 
Posted by Bill M. on 09/05/2012

Wilson's Warbler - A Very Common Fall Migrant
Fall is the time to see the abundant warbler, Wilson's Warbler. The all black beanielike cap is good for males.  This will likely be the most abundant species at the RMBO banding station when bird banding begins tomorrow and continues through 5 October.  This is one of the most exciting times for birders. 
Posted by Bill M. on 09/05/2012

Townsend's Warblers on the Move
One of my favorite warblers, Townsend's Warbler, is fairly common during fall migration throughout Colorado even though uncommon during spring migrantion.  Many species were feeding on the ground today as ENE winds and a small cold front brought migrant birds to the Chico.
Posted by Bill M. on 09/05/2012

Western Scrub-Jay
One of the more common birds at Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs is Western Scrub-Jay. Howerver, they are very rare on the Chico and on the Eastern Plains.  This jay species primarily eats acorns and pine seeds so this bird at the Moons' Ranch House was likely a local migrant looking for water by the chickens and possibly looking for dog food near Zephyr and Sky.  Another species of jay, Blue Jay, is a primarily eastern species but a  breeder in Chico's banding station woods.
Posted by Bill M. on 09/02/2012

Not So Yellow Yellow Warbler
When you visit the Chico/RMBO Bird Banding Station this fall, 6 September through 5 October you will likely get to see a Yellow Warbler or two in the bird banders' hands. They breed here on the Chico, the birds not the banders, but young birds are greenish yellow and not the bright yellow with fine red breast streaking of the spectacular males as seen at the Chico in the Spring and during the Summer.
Posted by Bill M. on 09/02/2012

Turkey Vultures Are Migrants Too
Althought there is plenty of food around in the winter for vulutures they don't stay in Colorado during the cold months.  There are plenty of trees for roosting and plenty of road kills, especially on Hanover Road, but without hot weather there aren't any thermals, air currents to give them the lift they need for soaring.  Last night one Turkey Vulture roosted in the banding station grove, circling here while looking for a different perch.  A close look at the posterior ends of the primaries and secondaries will show that some feathers are molting, the short feathers are new ones that are still growing.  No birds can afford to molt all of the their feathers at the same time, especially large soaring birds.
Posted by Bill M. on 09/02/2012

Convergent Evolution
Both hummingbirds and sphinx moths exploit the same food resource, flowers with nectar.  They both have long tongues, both can hover and both have the same body shape.  Perhaps the White-lined Sphinx moths at the giant sunflowers today were safer from predators as a result of looking a lot like fast-flying hummingbirds.  An insect and a bird with the same niche.
Posted by Bill M. on 09/02/2012

Subscribe to Feeds
CONTACT US 719.683.7960