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

Magnolia Warbler
Although Magnolia Warbler breeds due north of Colorado in the western Canadian provinces in coniferous forests, in the fall they can be found in almost any habitat type including weedy fields.  In Colorado, they are much more common in spring migration because fall migration finds them much farther east, mainly along the mid-Atlantic and south-Atlantic coasts.  Because of their affinity to spruce trees on their breeding grounds they are sometimes called the "Spruce Warbler." They winter mainly from southern Mexico south to Panama. In spring, Magnolia is one of the most striking warblers in appearance.  
Posted by Bill M. on 09/29/2014

Harrying the Horned Larks
As the name Northern Harrier implies, this raptor flies low trying to flush rodents or small birds.  In the distance a flock of Horned Larks was flushed by this female Northern Harrier. 
Posted by Bill M. on 09/28/2014

Fall Ovenbird
The warbler called Ovenbird was at Headquarters' cottonwoods today.  It is regular in the spring but uncommonly encountered in the fall here.  The slight change in weather with some winds from the north brought more migrants, including this nice looking warbler who spends most of its life walking on the ground in deciduos forests to the east and north. If you are wondering about its name, it comes from the dome-shaped nest resembling a Dutch oven often place on the ground or very close to ground level.  It is pot-bellied and big-eyed and looks a bit more like a thrush than a warbler. The orange crown stripe is often difficult to see unless you are close.
Posted by Bill M. on 09/28/2014

Autumn Meadowhawk Male
If it is autumn shouldn't there be an Autumn Meadowhawk, the dragonfly, on the Chico?  This male, identified by the tan, not black legs and the dark spots on the top of the back segments of the abdomen would only fly in a small sunny spot at Rose Pond.  It won't be long before all the dragonflies are gone until the cycle is renewed in May. 
Posted by Bill M. on 09/28/2014

FOS Brown Creeper
The first of the season (FOS) Brown Creeper was caught early this morning at the Chico/Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory Banding Station.  The bill tells most of the story.  Long and thin for sticking under bark where this creeper hopes to find either spiders or beetle larvae.  The slender build and cryptic coloration aides in its creeping along on limbs or tree trunks looking for prey items without  being detected by predators.
Posted by Bill M. on 09/26/2014

Feisty Falcon
Merlins have no fear.  They are our second smallest falcon but they will chase after any prey up to its own size.  They will chase down every zig and zag with a zig and a zag of its own.  The light face tells us it is a Prairie Merlin.  Bird banding was slow today until this guy moved on south. 
Posted by Bill M. on 09/26/2014

Autumn Meadowhawk
As the name implies, this late season dragonfly can withstand light frosts and will remain flying into October. The light-colored tan legs and the funnel-shaped subgenital plate makes the identification of this female Autumn Meadowhawk easy.
Posted by Bill M. on 09/26/2014

Rare on the Chico and Rare in El Paso County
As the name Eastern Phoebe implies, this flycatcher is an eastern, not a western, species.  However, all birders know that Colorado is the state where east meets west so it is not surprising that this eastern species was at The Casita this morning.  Phoebes are flycatchers and this one used the low fence line as a perch to wait for insect movement on the ground before it flew down to pick up a beetle or bug. Its dark head and tail-wagging help in the identification of this flycatcher.
Posted by Bill M. on 09/23/2014

A Brown Blue Grosbeak
A juvenile Blue Grosbeak is rudely welcomed to the Chico when it flew into this Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory mist net. Only the adult males are blue.  Although widespread throughout its breeding range including the Chico, almost all aspects of Blue Grosbeak biology are poorly known.  They often have two broods per year explaining why a few are still singing  on the Chico in mid-August.  The large bill (gros in French) is somewhat surprisingly used for catching grasshoppers and not for crunching large seeds. They winter only as far south as southern Mexico.    
Posted by Bill M. on 09/23/2014

Aerial Draw
Bird banders accidentally flushed a Barn Owl from its favorite day roost at the Chico Banding Station today.  The owl spent over a minute flying about deciding on an alternate day roost.  Two ravens, however, were not too keen on a predator in their territory so the three birds flew about overhead, neither the owl nor the ravens having an advantage.  Eventually the ravens flew north and the owl found a high roost above the porta-potties where it quickly fell back to sleep.
Posted by Bill M. on 09/22/2014

Another Molting Tanager
This male Western Tanager (compare with the Summer Tanager below) has a strange combination of feather colors during this prebasic molt, a molt all birds undergo whether or not they have bred.  Look for the loose feathers that being replaced by duller feahters; a mostly yellow-green underparts will remain until spring.  Western Tanagers are a tropical species who fly north to temperate climate such as the Colorado mountains for the sole purpose of breeding. They spend most of their lives in central Mexico south into Central America where they feed mostly of small fruits.     
Posted by Bill M. on 09/22/2014

Tools of the Trade

We have established that young Summer Tanager plumage is a mismash of colors.  In addition, there are two subspecies that have been recorded in Colorado, ones from the southwest having a longer bill than eastern birds.  Western subspecies birds are much more rare in our state.  The easiest way to determine which suspecies has been caught is to measure the distance from the nares to the tip of the bill.  Here Nancy Gobris demonstates the technique on this eastern Summer Tanager.

Posted by Bill M. on 09/18/2014

Time To Molt
There are four species of tanagers that have been seen on the Chico. All four are attractive birds and all birds molt at the end of the breeding season, even if they did not breed. September is a good time to see birds with unusual plumages and here we can see a young male Summer Tanager with a variety of colors in its feathers. By spring this bird will be all rosy red with a yellowish bill. The coloration on these fall birds is so variable no two birds will look the same.  Regular, but uncommon spring and fall migrant on the Chico. They breed to the east of Colorado and to the southwest with a couple pairs breeding in a canyon by the Utah state line.
Posted by Bill M. on 09/16/2014

Barn Owl at the Banding Station
Seventy-five kids and about 7 teachers from the historic Black Forest Log School saw this Barn Owl today on its day roost.  Barn Owls are one of the most widely distributed of all bird species and found on most of our continents.  They are seldom seen except on day roosts as they feed exclusively at night.  They are low light specialists and also have exceptional hearing which enables them to find their prey at night by both sight or sound.  Their favorite food items are voles, good sized rodents that are common in grassland habitats.  Barn Owls are also habitat generalists so they will nest in barns and other man made structures like nest boxes and at Chico in natural cavities including cliffs such as those along Chico Creek. 
Posted by Bill M. on 09/10/2014

A Thrasher with an Attitude
Sage Thrashers rarely breed on the Chico but they are always seen in both spring and fall migrations when they can be common. Today, three birds were close to the cattle guard at the south end of Headquarters Pond.  These juveniles have very fresh plumage and for an unknown reason were singing an almost inaudible version of their song. At this time of year, adults would have most of their arrow-shaped breast streaks worn off and could look like a Bendire's Thrasher, but not the juveniles.
Posted by Bill M. on 09/08/2014

Duke's Truck
Canyon Towhees are reclusive in some of their habitats and easy to see in others.  This juvenile has selected Duke's pick-up as its home.  One day I saw it walking under the truck and today it was perched on the roof.  A resident of the Chico.
Posted by Bill M. on 09/08/2014

Hummingbirds are attracted primarily to red and orange colors.  This red flagging, placed to indicate a net lane to the crew clearing vegetation, attracted an immature Black-chinned Hummingbird.  Flowers and pollinators evolved simultaneously, hummingbirds seeking nectar found at the base of the flowers' nectaries. When the hummingbird inserts its tongue into the flower's corolla, pollen is transfered from the bird's forehead to the flower's style or tip of its pistal and more pollen is then transfered onto the hummingbird's forehead for its visit to the next flower.  The pollen grows a tube and eventually pollination occurs.  If the process was too easy for too many pollinators there woudn't be nectar left to attract more birds (or insects) therefore, certain shaped flowers attract very specific pollinators.
Posted by Bill M. on 09/05/2014

Migration on the Chico
September is the time to visit the Chico (free to school groups with a reservation) to see southbound migrants. On 1 September this Green-tailed Towhee stopped near the banding station, a reminder that bird banding will commence on 3 September and continue through 4 October.  You never know what fall migration will bring. 
Posted by Bill M. on 09/01/2014

New for Chico
Great Spreadwing was seen on the 1st of September perched by the banding station at the edge of one of the net lanes.  This is the largest damselfly in North America.  Females have been observed laying eggs over 40 feet above water in a tree.  Although almost all damselflies hold their wings behind their backs at rest, spreadwings hold them at an angle to their body.  First one seen on the Chico.
Posted by Bill M. on 09/01/2014

Subscribe to Feeds
CONTACT US 719.683.7960