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

 Vultures were on the move today, a common species in Colorado but uncommon on the Chico.  Turkey Vultures, the species most often seen in Colorado has a very keen sense of smell.  They eat carrion and for them fresh is better than old.  The chemical ethyl mercaptan is released when mammals die and Turkey Vultures can smell it from high in the air.  Another U.S. vulture, Black Vulture which is rare in Colorado, has a poor sense of smell and where the two species occur together as in the tropics and southeast U.S. the more aggressive Black Vulture flies higher and waits to see Turkey Vultures move towards a carcass. The Black Vultures then out bully the Turkey Vultures and take the prey the TVs had found. Vultures use their bills to tear open prey and in Latin "vulturus" means tearer.  Vultures non-feathered head is perfect for sticking it inside a large carcass with little blood and guts coming out on feathers which would need cleaning on a daily basis if in fact they had feathers on their heads. Today, a small group of Turkey Vultures used the uplift of thermals to help them gain altitude on their flight south into Mexico.
Posted by Bill M. on 09/30/2016

Bluebirds Heading South
 Perhaps confused by the sign on their way south, a small flock of Mountain Bluebirds was seen foraging on the ground for grasshoppers and then flying up to perch on this well known Chico sign. This cavity nester often winters in pinon/juniper woodlands, including P/J in Pueblo County, in large flocks feeding on juniper berries.  
Posted by Bill M. on 09/28/2016

Chestnut-collared Longspurs
 There are four species of longspurs in the world and three of them have been found on the Chico.  The annual September/early October visitor from the prairie provinces or maybe even from Colorado's northern plains, is Chestnut-collared Longspur.  In spring it is a beautiful bird but come fall, the adults are now dull looking as are the young.  It is one of the bird species whose feather tips slowly wear during winter months to produce a beautiful breeding plumage (right hand bird), but it is not a molt.  The dull fall longspur plumage (left bird) provides an I.D. challenge but with a good photograph they are easy to I.D.  The mostly white tail is only found in McCown's and Chestnut-collared Longspurs and the other two species have only two outer feathers white. The pattern that shows the dark wedge in the center of the white tail is a characteristic found only in Chestnut-collared longspur (photo).  With short wings, they will only travel south as far as New Mexico, Texas, and northern Mexico for the winter, sometimes seen in very large flocks foraging on the side of a dirt road. Chestnut-collared Longspurs have recently been found breeding in northeastern El Paso County whereas they are thought to no longer breed in Kansas where they once were abundant. 
Posted by Bill M. on 09/28/2016

Northern Saw-whet Owl x2
Prior to Saturday there had been zero Northern Saw-whet Owls banded on the Chico and only two had been seen.  But, on Saturday Laura-Marie caught and banded Chico's first and then today, Monday, she caught Chico's second (and two days later a third was caught).  Here volunteer banding assistant, Dr. Anna Joy gets to release the bird before she had to leave to teach anatomy/physiology to a bunch of college students.  

Called Saw-whet because one of its calls resembles the sound made by the old method in which large mill saws were filed/sharpened (whetting).  This is the most nocturnal of owls, so while fairly common in the mountains, they are more often heard than seen there. In most of its range, Northern Saw-whets head south for the winter, but in Colorado and other mountainous states, some descend to lower elevations, a down slope migration.  One or two saw-whets are usually encountered out in the plains in isolated trees during our winter.  They are often tame relying on their small size and camouflage and roosting low in dense thickets where they are rarely spotted.  In summer months, North Saw-whets feed mainly on insects but also on the young of rodents.  They are only 6-8 inches tall.  When Chico's intern, Becca, saw this bird up close she commented..."this is the best day of my life."
Posted by Bill M. on 09/26/2016

Do Sapsuckers Suck Sap?
 Although sapsuckers drill holes in trees, especially in aspen and willows in the Colorado mountains, which gets sugary sap to flow, sapsuckers can't suck. They have specialized tongues with an anticoagulant to lick the sugary sap.  This is a female Red-naped Sapsucker identified to gender by the color on the chin, half white and half red.  A male's chin would be entirely red.  The genus name, Sphyrapicus, comes from the Greek, Sphurs, meaning a hammer, and from the Latin, picus, meaning a woodpecker.  So, sapsuckers are a small woodpecker that breed in Colorado's aspen forest but migrate mainly on the plains, like today at Chico where a male was caught at the banding station and this female was foraging at headquarters. Three of the four North American sapsuckers have been recorded at the Chico, Red-naped being the most common.
Posted by Bill M. on 09/16/2016

Rare Bird - Prothonotary Warbler
 One of the warblers every birder wants to see is Prothonotary Warbler.  The name comes for the very bright yellow that was compared to the yellow hoods of papal notaries. A better name, and one which was historically used for this species, is "Golden Swamp Warbler" which accurately describes both the color and the location where this species breeds.  It is in fact a swamp species and one of only two warblers who nests in tree cavities.  The closest to Colorado this species breeds is eastern Kansas as it is really an eastern species. This is the third record of this species for Chico, the first fall record, and only the second one banded here. 
Posted by Bill M. on 09/16/2016

Bird Hunter
 As the name implies swift fox is a fast runner and will eat any bird it can run down. Colorado's eastern plains represent one of the best remaining habitats for this species that dens in sand hills on short grass and mid-grass prairies. Although the literature says they hunt mostly at night, this one was seen about noon and was not shy about posing for photographs. Much of its body length is the black-tipped tail. 
Posted by Bill M. on 09/13/2016

Thrashers in the Cholla
 In September, a walk in the cholla cactus will often result in seeing two thrasher species.  The migrant Sage Thrasher is is dark gray with a shortish straight bill and the resident Curve-billed Thrasher (photo) is easy to find except when it is nesting.  The curve of its bill and larger size than Sage Thrasher make the two species fairly easy to separate, plus a Curve-billed Thrasher has large breast spots than Sage Thrasher breast spots. 
Posted by Bill M. on 09/13/2016

Cooper's Hawk Caught
 Accipiters like this Cooper's Hawk feed primarily on birds. Their long tail and relatively short rounded wings enable them to fly rapidly through a forest in pursuit of prey unlike Buteos whose broad wings are made for soaring.  The the dark vertical bands on the breast of the Cooper's Hawk indicate a young bird (orangey horizontal breast bands in adults).  Laura-Marie extracted, measured, and posed with this very cool bird at the Chico Banding Station. Male accipiters are noticeably smaller than females and some have suggested the size difference in the sexes is to enable them to exploit a different sized prey base. Notice the respect given to the bird's talons and the grip used to keep the talons away from her. 
Posted by Bill M. on 09/13/2016

Bird Banding Techniques
 The process of extracting a bird sometimes tangled badly in a mist net and then examining wing, bill, and feathers, while looking at fat reserves, eye color, feather molt, and other body characteristics takes many years of practice to keep the bird healthy before release. Common Grackles are common in spring and fall but usually avoid the Chico net lanes most years, but they have become one of the more commonly caught species this September. Here, Bird Conservancy of the Rockies' biologist, Laura-Marie examines the length and coloration of the bird's primaries which will tell her this bird's age, a hatch year female.  Forgot to mention this species likes to bite.
Posted by Bill M. on 09/09/2016

Rare Chico Warbler
 Bird Conservancy of the Rockies' fall biologist/bird bander, Laura Marie Koitsch, captured, photographed (above) and banded a rarely seen (in Colorado) Canada Warbler this morning at the Chico banding station. This species has been seen a few times on Chico but this is the first one to be captured at the banding station since its inception. Canada Warbler, as the name implies, breeds north of us and mostly in the East, but they do breed due north of Colorado in cool, shaded, moist ravines and swamps.  They often migrate early, with peak fall movement in the East the last week of August into the first week of September but a bird was banded in 2014 at Clear Spring Ranch on 23 September. A very handsome bird. Only a couple birders were present to enjoy it. 
Posted by Bill M. on 09/08/2016

Fall Bird Banding
 During September the most commonly caught bird on the Chico is almost always Wilson's Warbler (photo). They are an abundant breeding species from Alaska all across Canada to the eastern Canadian provinces and they are most common in the West. However, so far this fall, both the large Brown Thrasher and the diminutive House Wren have been caught and banded way more times than Wilson's Warblers; the warblers just beginning to show up in the nets. The amount of black in the warblers' crown is an indication on its age and gender.  This one appears to be an adult male. Banding continues through September and following a cold front the number of birds explodes.   
Posted by Bill M. on 09/07/2016

Bell's Vireo
 On Wednesday, Laura Marie caught and photographed this rarely encountered Chico species, an eastern race of Bell's Vireo.  Faint spectacles and faint eyeline along with the palish bill and yellow underparts and the hooked tip to the vireo bill all help I.D. this bird.  Bell's Vireos do nest in northeastern Colorado but this was only the second one banded at Chico and only the third sighting, all from El Paso County.  
Posted by Bill M. on 09/07/2016

 The Empidonax flycatchers are on the move causing heartache for those trying to separate individuals to species.  Flycatchers don't catch just flies, here an eastern race of Willow Flycatcher catching again a grasshopper that almost got away.  
Posted by Bill M. on 09/07/2016

Coluber constrictor
 Racer, or to some Western Yellow-bellied Racer, is widespread but on Chico not seen too often except in spring.  Although adults (lower image) show dull gray-green on top and yellow on the belly, juveniles look completely different (upper photos). This is a species of prairie grasslands and sand hills. They winter underground often in aggregates with other snake species. 
Posted by Bill M. on 09/06/2016

There Is A Season
 Seventeen MAMBOS, Monday A.M. Bird Observers, ventured out for an early Labor Day outing to Chico to look for migrants.  At the big pond near headquarters we watched Black Terns foraging.  Black Terns molt much of their black feathers in mid summer and show a hooded look throughout the winter. Unlike most tern species, Black Terns do not plunge dive for fish, rather they grab arthropods or small fish near or on the surface of the water.  Black Terns are not in the Sterna genus like most of our other terns and differ with the Sterna terns by being short-winged and short-tailed. Although a Black Tern's flight is buoyant, it appears feeble as if a slight breeze could blow it off it flight path.   
Posted by Bill M. on 09/06/2016

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