Sombrero Marsh, April 10th–with Morgan Sherwood

It was a beautiful morning of birdwatching and banding at Sombrero Marsh, in partnership with Thorne Nature Experience. We began by taking a short walk down to the bird blind that overlooks the marsh. In addition to the large flocks of Canada Geese, there were quite a few Green-Winged Teal, as well as Mallards and three Gadwalls. While we were watching, two Killdeer showed up on the shore and we enjoyed watching them walk on the beach.

Tree Swallow on nestbox. Photo by Janet Meyer.

As we headed toward Thorne’s education building, we saw two Say’s Phoebes, which was a first for some of our participants from the East coast. While walking back, we also saw a Western Meadowlark perched on a post and talked about its song. We arrived at Thorne’s educational building just as Oak Thorne was showing up to demonstrate bird banding for our group. He has been banding birds for nearly 70 years! He began when  he was 13 years old, and his high school biology teacher introduced him to it. He founded the nature education center named for him in 1954 and it has been connecting kids to the outdoors ever since. 

I started attending nature-themed summer camps with Thorne Nature Experience when I was eight years old and signed up for Oak’s Beginner Bird Banding camp as soon as I was 12 years old. I immediately fell in love with bird banding and have been doing it ever since. While we were waiting for Oak to catch birds in the traps set up near the building, we watched a small flock of Tree Swallows that were conveniently posing on top of some bird houses in front of the beautiful mountain landscape.

Oak Thorne showing off his bird banding feeder trap. Photo by Janet Meyer.

The traps were unusually quiet at first, which seemed mysterious until one of our participants spotted a Cooper’s Hawk in the area–that explained it! The hawk moved on and, soon enough, Oak caught a male Red-Winged Blackbird in one of his traps. The traps have seeds in them and most of the time, when he isn’t banding, they are normal bird feeders, and the birds are accustomed to freely moving in and out of them. When Oak is ready to band, he activates a control panel inside the Thorne building to close the feeder and trap the birds inside.

This bird was not banded and so the group got to see an up-close demo of banding and had the opportunity to hold the bird.

Male Red-winged Blackbird being banded. Photo by Janet Meyer.

One of the participants released it and we once again waited for more birds to come into the trap. While we waited, the Cooper’s Hawk from earlier flew over, as well as a Double-crested Cormorant. After a short while, Oak announced he had caught a whole flock of male Red-Winged Blackbirds. The group went around the back of the building to examine the traps and watch the process of removing birds. As we removed the birds one by one, it became clear that many of them had already been banded. This is quite common, since Oak bands at Sombrero Marsh frequently and even the recaptures provide useful data. For the birds that are already banded, Oak still records all of the information about them as sometimes we will catch a bird multiple years in a row and this provides valuable information about their lifespans. All of his data gets electronically submitted to a national database based in Laurel, Maryland. 

There were a couple unbanded birds in this catch and participants got to use the special bird banding pliers and fit the small aluminum band on the bird’s leg before releasing them again.

Red-Winged Blackbirds are by far the most common birds Oak bands at the marsh, but in the summer he also gets Yellow-Headed Blackbirds, White-Crowned Sparrows, Mourning Doves, and the occasional Blue Jay or American Robin. 

It was a great morning with lots of waterfowl, songbirds, and a bird banding demo with a master bird bander. We were lucky enough to have a photographer come and take lots of pictures of the whole process. A few are included in this post but you can see the whole gallery at this link. Big thank you to Janet Meyer for capturing these shots!

https://janetmeyerphotography.smugmug.com/Events/Bird-Walk-/

Bird Count:

2 Red-Tailed Hawks

20 Green-Winged Teals

3 Gadwalls

10 Mallards

2 Killdeer

2 Say’s Phoebe

8 Tree Swallows

1 Cooper’s Hawk

1 Cormorant

1 Western Meadowlark

25 Red-Winged Black Birds (10 banded and released)

26 Canada geese

Stearn’s Lake, April 2, 2021–with Sheridan Samano

Early morning has the reputation for being the best time to go birding. It’s definitely a sweet spot for peak bird activity, but as the days get longer, you might find it convenient to bird later in the day.

On April 2, we met at Stearns Lake at 5:30 pm. Even before leaving the parking lot, we had the opportunity to pick out a lone white Snow Goose among a hundred or so Cackling Geese. Snow Geese have a  ‘grin patch’ – a dark patch on the side of the beak that makes the beak look open or like the bird is grinning. It’s not always easy to see the ‘grin patch’, but the setting sun provided ideal lighting conditions to do just that.

Bald Eagle – Second or Third Year. Photo by Sheridan Samano.

It wasn’t long before a Bald Eagle flew over the lake scattering the large flock of geese. Since 2012, a pair of Bald Eagles has nested near Stearns Lake. For several years, their nest was in a large cottonwood tree east of Del Corso Park, a small park wedged between apartment complexes that can be seen to the west of Stearns Lake. Last year, the Bald Eagles moved to a nesting tree south of Stearns Lake. This year, they’re nesting just southwest of the lake, much closer to the trail that leads you along the lake’s south and east shore.

The Bald Eagle that scared off the flock of geese wasn’t one of the adults in the nesting pair. By plumage, it appeared to be a second or third year individual. We watched as it headed straight for the eagle nest tree after flushing the geese. It was then promptly chased off by the adult male. We watched as the young individual approached the nest tree multiple times before being chased off again and again.

As we worked our way along the lake’s south shore, we practiced our waterfowl identification (ID) skills. We spotted a lone Gadwall, several Mallards, a Bufflehead pair, two pairs of Ruddy Ducks, and a Horned Grebe. The cerulean blue bill of male Ruddy Ducks in breeding plumage always rank high on the “wow-index”. We also discussed the distinct profile of Ruddy Ducks in the water –  small body, scoop-shaped bill, and stiff tail often cocked upward.

The Horned Grebe offered another ID challenge. Both Horned and Eared Grebes had been reported in Boulder County recently. In poor light or from a distance, it can be challenging to tell the two species apart. Both are small and compact with black heads and showy head feathers. Neck color in breeding plumage differs between the two species, though. The Horned Grebe has a cinnamon neck and the Eared Grebe a black neck. Again, the setting sun

Killdeer. Photo by Sheridan Samano.

provided ideal lighting to see the cinnamon neck of this Horned Grebe through the spotting scope.

Other highlights of our walk included a pair of American Kestrels, our smallest and most common falcon “pair bonding”, a Great Blue Heron stalking prey in the lake’s shallows, and a Killdeer in beautiful Golden Hour lighting.

As the days continue to get longer in the coming weeks, consider taking an evening bird walk. It’s a wonderful way to end the day.

eBird Checklist – 20 Species

 
Snow Goose
Cackling Goose
Canada Goose
Gadwall
Mallard
Bufflehead
Ruddy Duck
Horned Grebe
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)
Killdeer
Great Blue Heron
Bald Eagle
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Black-billed Magpie
European Starling
American Robin
Western Meadowlark
Red-winged Blackbird
Great-tailed Grackle

 

Front Range Birding Company’s blog readers get 10% of Best Birding Hikes – Colorado’s Front Range. Enter discount code FRBC at check out.

Harriman Lake, April 3, 2021 – with Chuck Aid

Say’s Phoebe (c) Bill Schmoker

It’s about a two-mile hike around Harriman Lake on a nice wide path.  The size of the lake is small enough that it’s possible to scan it with binoculars and be able to pick out most of the waterfowl, thus, for the most part, negating the need for a spotting scope.  Of course, a scope is a pretty nice accoutrement if you’re really wanting a great view of all the tiny details of a bird.  Back in November when we were here the lake was as low as I’ve ever seen it with extensive mudflats.  Now, five months later, it’s back to being full.  Nice to have this brief respite from our horrific drought conditions.  Hopefully, April and May will continue to bring a bit more moisture.  One final note on the lake itself.  For some reason it tends to always have a pretty good variety of waterfowl when other reservoirs in the area may not, so because of the generally good variety of birds and the size of the lake permitting fairly good views, I highly recommend it for our beginning birders.

American Coot (c) Bill Schmoker

The above being said, we did not have a great variety of waterfowl this past Saturday.  Some of our wintering ducks have apparently already begun to wend their way northwards, and throughout the area we seem to be seeing less of many of them.  In mid-winter we can commonly see 10-15 species of waterfowl at Harriman.  On Saturday we had 9 species, so a bit below what we tend to expect.  We did have a great view of three American Coots standing on a log.  While Coots superficially can look like ducks they are in a completely separate order, the Gruiformes.  Quick digression.  It is helpful to pay a bit of attention to the taxonomy associated with birds, though this may be a bit more scientific than some of you want.  Bear with me, and I’ll try and be brief.  As we scroll down through the taxonomic levels, we see that birds are in the Kingdom Animalia, the Phylum Chordata (have a spinal cord), Subphyllum Vertebrata (have a backbone), and the Class Aves (all birds). Then within the Class Aves the next level is the Orders (there are about forty of them) that differentiate between the major groups of birds – Ostriches, Penguins, Hawks, etc.  The fact that ducks are in the order Anseriformes, grebes are in the order Podicipediformes, and coots are in the order Gruiformes tells us right away that we’re looking at some critters that even though they may appear sort of similar in some ways have very different origins in their evolutionary history.  So back to our American Coots standing on the log.  This was cool for us because we got to see, when we looked closely, that not only do coots not have a spatulate-like bill which ducks have, but they don’t have webbed feet either – they have extremely long, lobed toes.  They can do a bit of walking, but they’re not really equipped for a long hike.

Ruddy Duck (c) Bill Schmoker

Perhaps the real highlight of the waterbirds was a beautiful male Ruddy Duck in breeding plumage.  Newly arrived migrants included Mourning Doves, Double-crested Cormorants, Say’s Phoebes, and Common Grackles.  We also saw more Song Sparrows than were around a month or so back, so some of them are likely new arrivals.  We had plentiful singing from these Song Sparrows, as we also did from some cooperative Western Meadowlarks, and that was a great treat. Finally, thanks to our sharp-eyed fifth grader, Anna Panaka, we got to see a high-flying Cooper’s Hawk heading north. These guys, which are one of our three accipiter species, are long-tailed hawks that get their groceries by flying fast and low through trees and bushes and don’t often fly very high – except in migration.  So, not a for-sure migrant, but a likely one.

Song Sparrow (c) Bill Schmoker

Hope to see you next month!

Chuck

 

Harriman Lake Park, Apr 3, 2021

27 species

Canada Goose  7
Northern Shoveler  48
Gadwall  4
Mallard  14
Lesser Scaup  2
Ruddy Duck  2
Pied-billed Grebe  3
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  1
Eurasian Collared-Dove  3
Mourning Dove  5
American Coot  44
Double-crested Cormorant  2
Cooper’s Hawk  1
Red-tailed Hawk  2
Downy Woodpecker  1
Northern Flicker  5
Say’s Phoebe  2
Blue Jay  3
American Crow  5
Common Raven  3
European Starling  6
American Robin  3
House Finch  12
Song Sparrow  11
Western Meadowlark  6
Red-winged Blackbird  36
Common Grackle  8

Hudson Gardens Bird Walk March 27, 2021

Hudson Gardens Field Trip – Mar 27, 2021 8:00 starting time

Led by Patti Galli

Wow, what a great start this morning! The weather was beautiful – sunny skies with the early temperature hovering around 35 degrees and it just kept getting nicer as the morning went along. Spring is almost here, and with it the migratory birds not far behind. Our first birds were House Finches with their joyful chatter and the American Robin.

American Robin photo by Bill Schmoker

We spent some time looking at the American Robins, since this is one of our most familiar birds, with its lovely rusty-orange breast, uniform dark gray upper side, and dark head.  Some in our group hadn’t noticed before its white markings around the eyes. The American Robin ( Turdus migratorius ) name is the affectionate diminutive of Robert. The name Robin is also associated with at least three particular favorites: Robin Hood, Robin Goodfellow, and Robin Redbreast.

Green-winged Teal photo by Bill Schmoker

We worked our way down to the South Platte river to see if any ducks are were still here. This time of year our wintering ducks start making their way north to their breeding grounds. Turns out there were still a few left to look at. The Gadwalls, American Widgeon, and Bufflehead ducks still gave us one more good glance.  Our year round ducks of course such as the Mallards, Canada Geese, and one last fun surprise- the Green-winged Teal treated us as well!  

The Green -winged Teal is our smallest duck.  The male has a dark rufous head with green patch behind the eye, a white belly, and white bar on the side of the breast. The female has a rather dark, indistinctly marked faint eye ring and dark line across the check.

 

We finished up at the bird feeders, where we sat and watched Black-capped Chickadees, Dark-eyed Juncos, and hearing in the distance, the loud sounds of Red-winged Blackbirds.

Truly a wonderful morning!

eBird Report: Hudson Gardens, Arapahoe, Colorado, US
Mar 27, 2021 8:00 AM – 10:50 AM
Protocol: Traveling
1.0 mile(s)
Checklist Comments:     Led trip for Front Range Birding Comp/Hudson Gardens . Cool 32* start , no wind , sunny , beautiful morning
22 speciesCanada Goose  15
Gadwall  11
American Wigeon  8
Mallard  20
Green-winged Teal  2
Bufflehead  7
Ring-billed Gull  5
Belted Kingfisher  1
Downy Woodpecker  2
Say’s Phoebe  2
Blue Jay  2     heard
Black-billed Magpie  2
American Crow  5
Black-capped Chickadee  10
Bushtit  9
Red-breasted Nuthatch  2     heard
European Starling  6
American Robin  10
House Finch  11
Dark-eyed Junco  3
Song Sparrow  1     heard
Red-winged Blackbird  25View this checklist online at https://ebird.org/checklist/S84222379

Hudson Gardens Feb 27, 2021

Leader Patti Galli, nine participants. Sunny, clear and 24 degrees at 8:00 starting time.

It turned out to be another beautiful Colorado morning.  The temperature was indeed wonderful and we spotted a total of 23 species.We saw several common visitors in and around the area. Most of our group really considered themselves asbeginners, but they all turned out to be good spotters. 

We made our way to the South Platte river and saw many of our winter visitors. They were beautiful! We got a real kick out of the Canada Geese. We laughed as this behemoth bird made a cracking, crunching sound as they walked on the ice. This bird is an incredible flyer and a great survivor as well!  The Canada Goose (not Canadian) was once esteemed as “ the noblest of our waterfowl,” and bred mostly in Canada and in Alaska. It used to migrate until man interfered with this pattern – they are now found almost everywhere and are often considered a messy nuisance.  However, the Canada Goose  didn’t expand its range on its own; it had human help. Beginning in the 1950’s it was introduced throughout the country to ensure there would be plenty to hunt- so there you have (some of) it!

Canada Geese photo by Bill Schmoker                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

The challenge is almost often ducks, such as the American Wigeon. We saw a perfect adult male in breeding plumage, with its green patch leading back from the eye, white forehead, brownish breast and flanks, white belly, black undertail and uppertail coverts, and a green speculum bordered with black.

American Wigeon Photo by Bill Schmoker

What is a covert feather? A covert feather on a bird is a set of feathers, which as the name implies, covers other feathers. They help to smooth airflow overthe wings and tail. It’s one of the many things to help ID a bird. And a speculum? The speculum is a patch, often distinctly colored, on the secondary wing feathers of some birds.

 

Red- Brested Nuthatch photo by Bill Schmoker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We spent some time too looking at Buffleheads, Ringed-necked duck, Gadwalls, and the Common Goldeneye. We ended our lovely walk with the sounds and sights of Black-capped Chickadees, House Finches and two adorable Red – breasted Nuthatches, which was a favorite as well! We’re looking forward to spring as we’ll welcome our spring migrates, but it’s nice to enjoy our year-round birds as well, for there is no such thing as a common bird!

Hudson Gardens, Arapahoe, Colorado, US
Feb 27, 2021 8:00 AM – 10:20 AM
Protocol: Traveling
1.4 mile(s)
Checklist Comments:     Leader myself, Patti Galli , and 8 participants. Sunny start , no wind 24*
22 species (+1 other taxa)Canada Goose  100
Gadwall  5
American Wigeon  3
Mallard  4
Ring-necked Duck  3
Bufflehead  8
Common Goldeneye  7
Ring-billed Gull  5
Accipiter sp.  1
Downy Woodpecker  2
Northern Flicker  2
Black-billed Magpie  1
American Crow  4
Black-capped Chickadee  5
Bushtit  1
Red-breasted Nuthatch  2
White-breasted Nuthatch  1
European Starling  7
American Robin  2
House Finch  12
Dark-eyed Junco  2
Song Sparrow  1
Red-winged Blackbird  2View this checklist online at https://na01.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Febird.org%2Fchecklist%2FS82440316&data=04%7C01%7C%7C562834325d3f40ccd92d08d8dd17aa40%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C637502441000545620%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C1000&sdata=WqZJlYwv4Y3iQzAa8UMLxKf4CBOAH8FucZ%2BPEyYwMo0%3D&reserved=0

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Hudson Gardens Bird Walk January 30, 2021

Hudson Gardens Field Trip – Jan 30, 2021 , 8:00am start time
Led by Patti Galli
 
Our Saturday morning at Hudson Gardens was sunny and beautiful. As sometimes typical for January birding in Colorado, it was also a quiet start. The birds must still have been sleeping!  That was ok though, we enjoyed slowly walking the grounds exploring and making our way to the South Platte River to see who may be in the water. We found the river loaded with Canada geese, Mallards (beautiful healthy looking males), Gadwalls, and gorgeous Buffleheads.
 
Buffelhead (c) Bill Schmoker
 
 
In addition, a muskrat was spotted.  We crossed to the other side of the river and were greeted by  dozens of Black-capped Chickadees and the happy sounds of American Robins. It was still way too early for Spring, but our feather friends seemed to be getting ready.
 
 
 
 
The fun find of the day was a large flock of Bushtits. The Bushtit was formerly classified in the family Paridae along with chickadees and titmice, which it resembles in behavior. Later, Bushtits were reclassified into their own species. The name of its genus- Psaltriparus – is a combination of the Greek word psaltria, an ancient stringed instrument played with a bow or a plectrum; and the Latin word parus (a titmouse).  They were so named for the birds’ high-pitched calls that resembles the notes of a psaltery.  So next time you hear the name, I bet you don’t giggle as much!!
 
Brown Creeper (c) Bill Schmoker
 
 
female Bushtit (c) Bill Schmoker
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Our final sighting was a Brown Creeper! We logged a total of 21 species, not bad!  It was a great morning enjoyed by all!
 
Hudson Gardens, Arapahoe, Colorado, US
Jan 30, 2021 7:45 AM – 10:20 AM
Protocol: Traveling
1.0 mile(s)
Checklist Comments:     I lead trip in behave of FRBC for Hudson Gardens, nice morning , no wind , about 37*
21 species

Canada Goose  35
Gadwall  4
Mallard  15
Bufflehead  5
Ring-billed Gull  2
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Downy Woodpecker  2
Northern Flicker  3
Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay  1
Black-billed Magpie  8
American Crow  2
Black-capped Chickadee  15
Bushtit  14
Brown Creeper  1
European Starling  1
American Robin  2
House Sparrow  10
House Finch  11
Dark-eyed Junco  3
Song Sparrow  2
Red-winged Blackbird  3

View this checklist online at https://na01.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Febird.org%2Fchecklist%2FS80147440&data=04%7C01%7C%7Ccb4538d85e974d05d93508d8d144dc7a%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C637489440966542333%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C1000&sdata=pqTwh%2BdoBoVv699KArj%2BPgkol2bslaMijcOS4tfpunI%3D&reserved=0

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Wheat Ridge Greenbelt, March 6 – with Chuck Aid

Red-breasted Merganser (c) Bill Schmoker

What a great morning, and great crew of folks!  Wow!  We saw so many cool birds today it’s hard to know where to start.  However, we’ll begin with the waterfowl.  Based on what we saw on Saturday it appears that some of our ducks (and Cackling Geese) may have already begun moving north out of our area.  This, however, is probably not the case as April tends to be the peak of waterfowl migration.  We’ll just have to keep an eye out and see how things progress.  Certainly, the high point of the ducks was getting to see four male Red-breasted Mergansers – one of my favorites.  The island on Tabor Lake is starting to get its spring influx of Double-crested Cormorants, and we recorded almost thirty, complete with their doofy double-crests sticking out on either side of their heads.

Sharp-shinned Hawk adult (c) Bill Schmoker

With regard to the raptors, we had some good ones, starting with an adult Sharp-shinned Hawk.  This smallest of our accipiters was initially observed perched in a tree where we could make out its orange breast, but the tail was hidden.  Then we got to watch it dive rapidly down amongst a small group of squawking American Robins that were totally thrown off their game. Sharp-shins are dramatically sexually dimorphic, the male being the smallest hawk in North America weighing 3-4 ounces and the female weighing 5-8 ounces.  A male Sharpie, which I believe our bird was based on its apparent size, has a wingspread of about 20-22 inches and is about 9-10 inches long.  An American Robin, therefore, is only slightly smaller than a Sharpie, the biggest difference being that a Sharpie has longer wings than a robin which can make it appear bigger.

Harlan’s Red-tailed Hawk (c) Bill Schmoker

We also got a brief look at a Merlin, our second largest falcon, zipping past us with its characteristic direct, powerful, fast flight.  Our smallest falcons are American Kestrels, which, in contrast to Merlins, have a buoyant and wandering flight style.  Finally, the last bird of the day (seen from the parking lot as I was leaving) was a Harlan’s Hawk.  This is one of the many subspecies of Red-tailed Hawk.  As with the other subspecies there are both light and dark morphs, but while for most of the subspecies, like our generic western Red-tails, the light morph is the dominant look, for Harlan’s almost 90% of them are of the dark morph variety.  Overall, what you see is a very dark bodied hawk with dark underwing coverts, the flight feathers are a light gray with black tips causing the back edge of the wing to have a black border.  Then, the tail is light gray with a smudgy darker gray terminal band.

 

At one point we ran into a pair of Brown Creepers, one of which was singing.  It’s a delightful little song, and really pretty unique once you become aware of it.

Cedar Waxwing (c) Bill Schmoker

Finally, among our many highlights, perhaps the best of the day was getting to watch a flock of beautiful adult Cedar Waxwings sallying out and feeding on insects directly above Clear Creek. They are gorgeous birds and we got great views.

Good birding!  Chuck

 

Wheat Ridge Greenbelt. Mar 6, 2021
37 species (+2 other taxa)

Canada Goose  76
Cackling/Canada Goose  6
Northern Shoveler  102
Gadwall  82
Mallard  50
Green-winged Teal  36
Redhead  1
Ring-necked Duck  4
Lesser Scaup  4
Bufflehead  4
Common Goldeneye  8
Hooded Merganser  22
Red-breasted Merganser  4
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  1
Eurasian Collared-Dove  1
Mourning Dove  2
American Coot  44
Ring-billed Gull  34
Double-crested Cormorant  28
Sharp-shinned Hawk  1
Red-tailed Hawk  2
Red-tailed Hawk (Harlan’s)  1
Downy Woodpecker  4
Hairy Woodpecker  1
Northern Flicker  14
American Kestrel  1
Merlin  1
Black-billed Magpie  3
American Crow  3
Black-capped Chickadee  32
Red-breasted Nuthatch  1
White-breasted Nuthatch  2
Brown Creeper  2
American Robin  12
Cedar Waxwing  13
House Finch  18
Song Sparrow  3
Spotted Towhee  3
Red-winged Blackbird  70

 

Walden Ponds, February 27th–Sheridan Samano

Walden Ponds, Sawhill Ponds and Boulder Creek – February 27, 2021 – with Sheridan Samano

Last Saturday morning, there was enough interest for two different bird walks at the Walden Ponds/ Sawhill Ponds Complex in Boulder. Both groups met at Cottonwood Marsh, but with different start times and routes. The avian highlights varied substantially between the two walks.

To start, the 8 am group noticed several male Red-winged Blackbirds displaying and singing in the cattails on the south side of the marsh. It won’t be long before we see an influx of even more males and females as spring progresses and breeding season is in full swing.

From Cottonwood Marsh, we headed to the northwest corner of Duck Pond where the group started practicing their duck ID skills. In winter, ducks showcase their fine-feathered breeding plumage so this time of year offers excellent opportunities to learn how to distinguish between common species in the area. At Duck Pond, we found Hooded Mergansers, Ring-necked Ducks, Gadwalls, American Wigeon, and Mallards. As we watched the various individuals from the same species, we noticed that members of the same species tend to move together in groups. Female ducks are harder to distinguish, but they’re often traveling with male counterparts. Those observations can help birders ID ducks on future outings.

Each pond we passed offered a different collection of waterfowl so we had several opportunities to practice telling species apart. Finding a large group of male Green-winged Teal in a large pond north of Duck Pond, the smallest dabbling duck in North America, was a highlight for everyone. Green-winged Teal are often found at shallow edges of ponds. They often walk along muddy edges, too.

By the time the second walk started at 10:15 am, the skies were clearing and it was much warmer. These conditions favored raptor activity so the focus of the second walk shifted from examining ponds to searching perches and the sky overhead.

An adult Bald Eagle perched noticeably on a tower east of Cottonwood Marsh greeted the group. This individual was likely from the pair that nests east of 75th Street. We could see the second half of the pair at the nest tree.

Instead of heading due west from Cottonwood Marsh as we did during the first walk, we headed north towards Boulder Creek. On the west side of Cottonwood Marsh, we spotted a male American Kestrel perched on a stump with his back to us. This view provided an opportunity to discuss coloration differences among the sexes of North America’s smallest falcon. Female Kestrels don’t have blue-gray wings like males. We got a second, better look at this male later in the walk.

Other raptor highlights during the second walk included multiple Red-tailed Hawks, a third year Bald Eagle, and a Golden Eagle. A member of our group mentioned she was hoping to see a Golden Eagle this morning so having one fly overhead at the end was an excellent way to end our morning of birding.

The Walden Ponds and Sawhill Ponds Complex is featured in Best Birding Hikes – Colorado’s Front Range. The Complex offers some of the best year-round birding opportunities in Boulder County. No matter the month, a birding outing here is sure to deliver.

22 Species Observed during 8 am Bird Walk (eBird Checklist)

Canada Goose – 13

Northern Shoveler – 5

Gadwall – 24

American Wigeon – 10

Mallard – 25

Green-winged Teal – 20

Ring-necked Duck – 6

Common Goldeneye – 1

Hooded Merganser – 30

Common Merganser – 10

Great Blue Heron – 8

Red-tailed Hawk – 2

Northern Flicker – 4

Blue Jay – 5

Black-billed Magpie – 2

American Crow – 1

Black-capped Chickadee – 8

European Starling – 2

American Robin – 2

House Finch – 2

Song Sparrow – 1

Red-winged Blackbird – 30

 

29 Species + 1 Other Taxa During 10:15 am Bird Walk (eBird Checklist)

Cackling Goose – 2

Canada Goose – 28

Cackling/Canada Goose – 90

Northern Shoveler – 2

Gadwall – 11

American Wigeon – 8

Mallard – 40

Green-winged Teal – 1

Ring-necked Duck – 10

Common Goldeneye – 1

Hooded Merganser – 14

Common Merganser – 5

Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) – 8

Great Blue Heron – 1

Golden Eagle – 1

Bald Eagle – 3

Red-tailed Hawk – 4

Northern Flicker – 1

American Kestrel – 1

Blue Jay – 4

Black-billed Magpie – 1

Common Raven – 1

Black-capped Chickadee – 4

White-breasted Nuthatch – 1

European Starling – 6

American Robin – 1

House Finch – 3

Song Sparrow – 2

Red-winged Blackbird – 46

Yellow-rumped Warbler – 1

 

Sandstone Ranch, February 13–with Aron Smolley

 

American Tree Sparrow. Photo by Jamie Simo.

It was an honor and a pleasure to lead my first bird walk for Front Range Birding Company this morning. Although the temperatures never quite got above 4 degrees Farenheit, our small group had a fantastic time braving the elements in search of birds at Sandstone Ranch.

A lone American tree sparrow greeted us at the bottom of the hill, and we started off scanning the mostly frozen river for waterfowl, and mostly turned up Canada and Cackling geese as well as mallards, but we did get some great views of the local muskrat going about it’s day on the ice like it was no big deal. As soon as we crossed the first bridge we dicovered a pair of American kestrels, a male and female sitting side by side, feathers puffed up for warmth, and shortly after that we had a pair of red-tailed hawks soaring

Northern Pintail drake. Photo by Jamie Simo.

in the distance in what appeared to be early courtship behavior. An adult bald eagle sat perched next to a partially completed nest as black-billed magpies fluttered by.

Scanning the river we managed to turn up a few gadwall among the mallards, and a Northern pintail was a “lifer” for one of our participants. We also found some more bonus mammals- a small herd of white-tailed deer and a mink! A little further upstream we had a female hooded merganser ducking and diving beneath the icy water. At this point, we made a group decision to start making our way back to the parking lot, stopping occasionally for interesting waterfowl such as a common goldeneye, as well as some little brown birds that had to be left unidentified (I blame fogged-up, iced over binoculars and shivering hands!)

When we got back to the main trail we had a soul-satisfying view of an immature bald eagle that flew low and slow over our heads, and at that point my falcon senses started tingling so I started scanning the sandstone cliffs. To my delight, a prairie falcon (a lifer for ALL the partipants of this bird walk!) was perched in plain view at the edge of the cliff so we took a small detour so that everyone could get a closer look. The final bird of the day- a special bonus I might add- was a merlin that zipped by, giving us all of 3 seconds to confirm it’s identity before disappearing over the horizon. Our third falcon species and the perfect ending to a wonderful, albeit frigid, bird walk.

Here is our complete list of (confirmed) birds seen:
Canada goose-110

Merlin. Photo by Jamie Simo.

American crow- 17
Am. tree sparrow- 1
Mallard- 48
Cackling goose- 37
American kestrel- 2
Black-billed magpie- 3
Red-tailed hawk- 2
Gadwall- 4
Western meadowlark- 3
Northern pintail- 2
Bald eagle- 2
Hooded merganser- 1
Common goldeneye- 1
Prairie falcon- 1
Merlin- 1

South Platte Park, Feb 6, 2021 – with Chuck Aid

We visited two main areas this morning, South Platte Reservoir and the smaller ponds just to the east of the reservoir along the South Platte River.  The reservoir had very little action, but we did get to have excellent views of a pair of Long-tailed Ducks.  These guys were historically known as Oldsquaws, evidently because they (the males primarily, actually) tend to be far more vocal than most other ducks and can be heard for long distances.  This politically incorrect name was changed about twenty years ago, and the name from across the Atlantic for this species was adopted.

Long-tailed Duck – non-breeding male (c) Bill Schmoker

Long-tailed Ducks have several unique qualities.  One is that they dive deeper than any other duck, down to almost 200 feet.  Hence, we tend to see them when they show up in Colorado on only the largest reservoirs.  Then, unlike any other waterfowl, they have three plumages instead of the normal two. In the non-breeding season, when we see these guys here in Colorado, the male has a white forehead and crown, a black nape and sub-auricular area (below the ear), a beige patch on the side of head, a bi-colored black-pink-and black bill, and a white chin and breast. The most distinctive feature is the two long central tail feathers that stream behind. The female has a white eyeline, neck, nape, and area where bill meets face, a dark sub-auricular area (sort of like the male), and otherwise she is mostly mottled brown (see photo at the top of the blog).

Western Meadowlark (c) Bill Schmoker

One of our morning’s highlights was getting to see a flock of 28 (more or less) Western Meadowlarks in the top of a cottonwood.  We have Meadowlarks throughout the year here in Colorado, with more around in the summer than the winter.  However, these wintering birds tend to hang out together in small flocks, so when we do get to see them, we tend to see more than one bird at a time.  Our flock did seem to be unusually large, and it was interesting that they were all in the top of a tree.

Yellow-rumped Warbler – Audubon’s race in fall (c) Bill Schmoker

Another great bird we saw was an Audubon’s race of the Yellow-rumped Warbler.  This is the western race, while the eastern race is the Myrtle.  We have both races here in the winter.  These two were considered to be separate species back in the day, but because of the degree of hybridization they were lumped together as one species.  The yellow rump is always bright yellow regardless of the time of year or the race.  Superficially, we always talk about the Audubon’s having a yellow throat and the Myrtle having a white throat but take a look in your field guide and note that the yellow throat of an Audubon’s in first-year birds can be very washed out and almost white.  A good feature to look for is whether that throat patch is restricted to the throat area (Audubon’s), or whether it wraps around back of the auricular (ear) patch (Myrtle).

I hope to see you on another walk soon!

Chuck

 
South Platte Park, Feb 6, 2021
32 species

Cackling Goose  20
Canada Goose  33
Northern Shoveler  30
Gadwall  72
American Wigeon  20
Mallard  38
Green-winged Teal  56
Ring-necked Duck  44
Lesser Scaup  10
Long-tailed Duck 2
Bufflehead 12
Common Goldeneye 15
Hooded Merganser 28
Common Merganser 2
Eurasian Collared-Dove 1
Killdeer 2
Ring-billed Gull 8
Great Blue Heron 1
Bald Eagle 2
Red-tailed Hawk 6
Belted Kingfisher 1
Downy Woodpecker 2
Northern Flicker 6
American Kestrel 2
Black-billed Magpie 3
American Crow 3
Black-capped Chickadee 12
White-breasted Nuthatch 2
House Finch 14
Song Sparrow 1
Western Meadowlark 28
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s) 1