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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



I'm So Special
 The bird who sings his name all day long, Dickcissel, seems to me to be singing..."I'm so special" over and over. Most birders miss seeing this bird on Chico because Dickcissels usually arrive in June when most bird migration is over.  This is an eastern species who nests in tallgrass prairies and weedy fields so you won't find this one out on the Chico shortgrass prairie. Also, sometimes large flocks of non-breeding birds hangout during summer months.  Today, I counted 9 singing males but I didn't see any females. This species is an alfalfa specialist in some agricultural areas and most alfalfa fields are mowed three times during the summer so rarely does a Dickcissel get to nest in this habitat type.  One had been at the Chico alfalfa field but with the recent mowing it is no longer there. Dickcissels are about the size of a House Sparrow and current taxonomy places them in with the Cardinal and Allies Family.  
Posted by Bill M. on 06/18/2017

Female Lark Bunting
 In some bird species males and females look identical but in many ground nesting birds, females need a dull plumage to avoid detection by predators.  And during winter, brightly colored males often molt to a dull plumage which too will help them avoid detection, or as the poet, Ogen Nash wrote, "then they go and change their plumage, which takes us back to ignorant gloomage..." Here is a female Lark Bunting, noticeably different looking than the males (see next entry). 
Posted by Bill M. on 06/16/2017

Lark Bunting
 Colorado's State Bird, Lark Bunting. Males (here) and females are noticeably different in appearance. These sparrows, not buntings, are birds of the Great Plains and prefer to nest in prairies with sand sage like what is found on the eastern regions of Chico. Like a few other prairie species, males skylark while singing which projects their loud song further so more females might here them. They are often very social wintering and migrating in large flocks. In ideal habitat nests can be as close as 100 feet apart.  Lark Buntings feed on grasshoppers and other insects.  A couple of their less common names are buffalo bird and prairie bobolink, a species it is sometimes confused with.  The species name, melanocorys, comes from the Greek, melanos meaning black in color, and from koros or lark, a reference to their flight songs. 
Posted by Bill M. on 06/16/2017

Ground Nesting Bird Warning
American Badger is a resident on the plains and Chico is no exception. Although their primary food source on the Chico is spotted ground squirrels and black-tailed prairie dogs, the majority of birds nesting here nest on the ground and badgers find them easy prey.  American Badgers are nocturnal except when feeding young.  They choose sandy soils so it is surprising more badgers are not seen, especially in early morning hours.  This one came out to see who was present at midday.  
Posted by Bill M. on 06/02/2017

Black Terns at Headquarters Pond
 One of the prettiest birds seen in both spring and fall at Chico is the Black Tern. Terns are notorious for their diving skills plunging head first into the water to grab small fish. But, Black Tern has a different set of hunting skills and they do not dive.  Like their relatives, they hunt over shallow bodies of water but they are hunting dragonflies and other flying insects.  Here, a Black Tern opens its bill to take the most common Chico dragonfly, Variegated Meadowhawk. 
Posted by Bill M. on 05/30/2017

Bird Predator
 Many birders who come to Chico have never seen a swift fox here. But, driving in the shortgrass prairie 2-tracks gives everyone a good chance to find this very small prairie fox. Even though they are mostly nocturnal hunters, during the breeding season, swift foxes also hunt during daylight hours to ensure enough food can be provided to the kits.  Birds and bird eggs are just some of the food items these small foxes search for and small mammals and even insects become food for these foxes.
Posted by Bill M. on 05/30/2017

Chestnut-sided Warbler
 One of the few warblers with chestnut coloration, Chestnut-sided Warbler is an eastern species so Monday's birders were happy to see and hear a singing male at Rose Pond. This is a species that prefers second growth mixed woodlands but during migration it is found where the food is.  As in most springs, the food at Chico for warblers is found in peachleaf willows whose blooms attract a variety of insects.  Chestnut-sided Warbler is one of the species where females don't look anything like the males, the females having a lime green back. Sadly, migration is coming to a close but each day in May seemed to provide one interesting migrant. 
Posted by Bill M. on 05/30/2017

   
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