Hudson Gardens, July 27, 2019 – with Chuck Aid

Black-crowned Night-Heron (c) Bill Schmoker

So one of the first things to happen Saturday morning was that a Great Blue Heron flew in and landed in the branches of a cottonwood tree right beside us just as we were being surrounded by a family of loquacious Black-capped Chickadees.  And, then, we got to our first pond and got to see a beautiful adult Black-crowned Night-Heron with four juvenile Wood Ducks right beside it. It turns out that Tom Bush, owner of the Front Range Birding Company, later that same day saw six juvenile Wood Ducks hanging out with mom Wood Duck right in the same area.

Female Mallard (c) Bill Schmoker

The South Platte was moving along at a good clip, and the only waterfowl were a smattering of Mallards.  The males are totally in their eclipse plumage and best identified by their yellowish bill, as opposed to the female’s orange and black bill.  Song Sparrows along the river were singing in a number of places.

Chipping Sparrow (c) Bill Schmoker

Moving to the west side of the river we got to hear the ongoing screechy begging call of a nestling, (or juvenile) Red-tailed Hawk, and we saw one adult perched on a powerline pole.  Remember that the adult has the “red” (actually rust-colored) tail, and juveniles have dark and light banded tails with no red. In the same area we had a good sized flock of Chipping Sparrows, evidently prepping for the voyage south.

Juvenile Red-tail begging (c) Xeno-Canto:

Double-crested Cormorant (c) Bill Schmoker

So, what didn’t we see?  The sixty or so Cliff Swallows of a month ago were entirely gone from the Bowles Avenue bridge, as, for the most part, were the ubiquitous Yellow Warblers from all the cottonwoods in the area. We encountered no nuthatches, and only one Bullock’s Oriole.  There were no gulls flying by overhead, and no crows.  So, as we can expect with birds, nothing stays the same for very long.

Good Birding!
Chuck

Hudson Gardens, July 27, 2019
26 species (+1 other taxa)

Canada Goose  9
Wood Duck  4
Mallard  9
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  4
Mourning Dove  3
Broad-tailed Hummingbird  3
hummingbird sp.  1
Double-crested Cormorant  2
Great Blue Heron  2
Black-crowned Night-Heron  1
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Belted Kingfisher  1
Northern Flicker  18
Say’s Phoebe  1
Blue Jay  1
Black-billed Magpie  2
Black-capped Chickadee  12
American Robin  3
House Finch  17
Lesser Goldfinch  1
American Goldfinch  7
Chipping Sparrow  14
Song Sparrow  5
Bullock’s Oriole  1
Red-winged Blackbird  6
Brown-headed Cowbird  1
Yellow Warbler  1

Meyer’s Gulch Bird Walk 7/13

Pygmy nuthatches. Photo by Jamie Simo.

We couldn’t have asked for a much better trip to Meyer’s Gulch at Walker Ranch. The Meyer’s Gulch Trail took us through some of the best preserved examples of the native ecosystems where the Rocky Mountains and foothills meet in Boulder County. Of course, aside from the amazing views and wildflowers we saw an awesome assortment of birds.

On the first segment of the hike we got the opportunity to see and hear many Pygmy nuthatches. These tiny nuthatches are among the smallest in their family at only 4 inches long and with a body weight of only 10 grams. What they lack in size, however, they make up for in personality as they are gregarious, noisy and hyperactive. We also got to see two species of sparrow: the Vesper sparrow and the Chipping sparrow. The Vesper sparrow is a grass-loving species with a white eyering and outer tail feathers while Chipping sparrows are easily distinguished from other sparrows by their rusty caps, gray bodies, and black lores and beaks. We also got fleeting views of a beautiful Green-tailed towhee, a less common cousin of the Spotted towhee known for its unmistakable olive-yellow wings and tail. 

Fledging Red-naped sapsucker. Photo by Aidan Coohill

Some of our best birding happened in the willow carr next to the old mill. We quickly re-found the Red-naped sapsucker pair that I had found scouting for this trip and were able to see not only them but their fledgling young as it practiced scaling a ponderosa and foraging just like its parents. We were also treated to good views of a Cordilleran flycatcher, one of the more colorful Empids, and a fascinating bird that inhabits the cooler and damper slopes of arid forests. Other birds here included many House wrens, a single Pine siskin, both species of goldfinch, and a singing Plumbeous vireo. 

On our way back to the parking lot we continued to get great views of a male Western tanager and plenty of Western bluebirds. Sarah, by some miracle, found a lone Red crossbill sitting on a spruce far off in the distance. Thanks to a handy scope, most of the group was able to see the bird and its distinct beak that earns the species its name.

In the end, our trip netted us 30 bird species in all. Such a great day!

I would like to extend a special thanks to the amazing Sarah Spotten for helping me out on my first bird-walk with FRBC and all the great folks who joined us!

-Aidan Coohill

FRBC-Boulder Bird Walk to Betasso Preserve

Join us on Saturday, August 10th for FRBC-Boulder’s 2nd Saturday bird walk at Betasso Preserve.

Betasso Preserve spreads out over 1,100 acres of foothills habitat and is named for a family of homesteaders who ranched the land from the early 1900’s to 1976 when it became the first major open space property in Boulder County. Its scenic views make for an enjoyable hike, which is moderately difficult. Some notable species that may be seen at Betasso include Red Crossbills, Lark Sparrows, and migrating hummingbirds.

We will meet at the FRBC-Boulder store (5360 Arapahoe Ave., Ste. E Boulder, CO 80303) at 7:30am for our Birder’s Breakfast (featuring Birds & Beans “bird-friendly” certified coffee) and then carpool to Betasso Preserve. We will return by 12pm.

Please call the store (303.979.2475) to sign up. Limit is 15 participants. Preference will fall to those meeting at the store but any open spots can go to folks wishing to meet at the site.

Be sure to dress in layers for the weather and bring binoculars, water, snacks or lunch, hat, bug spray, and sunscreen.

Visit http://www.bouldercounty.org/os/parks/Pages/betassopreserve.aspx to learn more about Betasso Preserve.

Meyer Ranch, July 6 – with Chuck Aid

Savannah Sparrow (c) Bill Schmoker

Meyer Ranch provides a wonderful array of habitats – montane meadow, montane shrubland, mid-elevation willow carr, mixed aspen-conifer forest, pure aspen forest, ponderosa pine forest, Douglas-fir forest, lodgepole pine forest, wetlands, stream, cliffs, bridges, culverts, power poles, etc…. WHEW!  In turn, this wide array of habitats results in a wide array of birds, particularly during breeding season.  Remember that getting to know your habitats will help you become a better birder.

Black-headed Grosbeak (c) Bill Schmoker

 

I arrived at Meyer Ranch about 45 minutes before my group showed up from the Front Range Birding Company, and in that time recorded about 25 species.  Unfortunately, seven of these did not remain around for the group – Say’s Phoebe, Steller’s Jay, Common Raven, Hermit Thrush, Pine Siskin, Red Crossbill, and Black-headed Grosbeak.  However, once the group was there, we had our own suite of birds, including about ten that I had failed to see earlier.  So it goes in the birding world.

Cliff Swallows (c) Bill Schmoker

Even before we got out of the parking lot, we could see that someone had knocked down all the Cliff Swallow nests on the US 285 bridge over South Turkey Creek Road.  A sad piece of news, since back in mid-May over one hundred Cliff Swallows were recorded in this area.  So, here’s the scoop on the removal of these nests.  This was done by the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), and in compliance with the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA).  This means that as long as birds had not initiated egg-laying, CDOT was playing by the rules.  Their approach, which began in April this year, was to remove old nests in anticipation of construction projects scheduled for this summer.  They then continued to remove nests, as birds started to rebuild, in an attempt to discourage them from nesting in that area, which seemed to eventually work.

Cliff Swallow (c) Bill Schmoker

The reason for needing to discourage Cliff Swallows from nesting on the bridges is that if the birds are nesting at the time that a project eventually gets rolling, and that project then, subsequently creates a problem for the birds, then CDOT realizes that they would not be in compliance with the MBTA.  So, they try to be proactive.  It appears that there have been a number of projects along US 285 this year, so I think we need to give CDOT the benefit of the doubt, at least for this year.  What’s not clear is how much this could be anticipated to be an annual event, and whether there will be future years when the swallows will be allowed to breed once again with no disruptions.

Dark-eyed (gray-headed) Junco

Getting on with our walk, we had a number of highlights, including getting to see and hear singing Savannah Sparrows from very close.  We also got to hear two Williamson’s Sapsuckers calling and a Vesper Sparrow but failed to see them.  We had a nice variety of plumages for Yellow-rumped (Audubon’s) Warblers from a brightly colored male to a very drab first-year bird.  We definitely enjoyed getting to see a pair of Dark-eyed (Gray-headed) Juncos taking turns bringing in beak-fulls of food to their nestlings.  The latter we couldn’t see, but we could definitely tell where their ground nest was.  Finally, as a final treat we got to briefly hear a Wilson’s Snipe calling.

Of course, at this time of year we also spent a good amount of time enjoying the great variety of flowers. The columbine are reaching their peak.

Good birding!
Chuck

Meyer Ranch, Jul 6, 2019
26 species

Broad-tailed Hummingbird  11
Wilson’s Snipe  2
Williamson’s Sapsucker  2
Hairy Woodpecker (Rocky Mts.)  1
Northern Flicker (Red-shafted)  2
Dusky Flycatcher  1
Cordilleran Flycatcher  2
Empidonax sp.  1
Warbling Vireo  6
Violet-green Swallow  3
Barn Swallow  8
Cliff Swallow  4
Mountain Chickadee  2
White-breasted Nuthatch  1
Brown Creeper  1
House Wren  3
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  8
Mountain Bluebird  2
American Robin  7
Chipping Sparrow  7
Dark-eyed Junco (Gray-headed)  9
Vesper Sparrow  1
Savannah Sparrow  3
Song Sparrow  4
Red-winged Blackbird  5
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s)  4
Western Tanager  1

Hudson Gardens, June 29 – with Chuck Aid

Wood Duck – female (c) Bill Schmoker

What a great group of enthusiastic birders we had on Saturday morning, and there was a lot to be enthusiastic about!  For starters, as in prior years at Hudson Gardens, we once again had a mom Wood Duck with her flotilla of seven ducklings cruising around with her.  The only role the male seems to play when it comes to nesting is perhaps helping the female choose a cavity in which to lay her eggs. Beyond that the female does all the incubating, which takes about fourteen days.  The hatchlings, when they emerge, are covered with down, their eyes are open, and they require little else from mom (the ecological term for this type of self-sufficient youngster is “precocial”).  There is a residual yolk reserve that helps them initially, but they are very quickly on their own.  You may have seen videos of these stalwart daredevils leaping out of a cavity entrance into whatever lies below – here’s one to check out – http://www.swxrightnow.com/blogs/outdoors/2016/may/21/wood-duck-follow-mom-giant-leap-faith/.  The ducklings can scatter quite widely when feeding on various invertebrates and they seem more independent than the youngsters of other duck species.  We witnessed this on Saturday, watching the little ones cruising around and feeding with no initial evidence of mom at all.

Downy Woodpecker – juvenile (c) Bill Schmoker

Additional highlights included a few single birds as the only representative of their species.  We had one each of American White Pelican, Snowy Egret, Swainson’s Hawk, Belted Kingfisher, Say’s Phoebe, White-breasted Nuthatch, and Gray Catbird.  One other individual was of considerable interest.  We know that Downy Woodpeckers, with regard to appearance in the vicinity of the Front Range of Colorado can generally exhibit two different looks.  There is an eastern Downy of the Great Plains and eastern forests with more white in its wings and shoulders, and there is a western Downy with mostly black shoulders and less white in the wings.  These subspecies meet and often hybridize where the plains meet the mountains, and they can have intermediate plumages.  One further difference to look for is that Downys have sexual dimorphism, that is the males and females don’t look alike – the primary difference being that male has a bright red patch on its nape.  Now, back to Saturday.  The individual Downy that we saw had a red patch on the TOP of its head. How do explain that?  It was a juvenile, and both sexes get that red patch on top of the head for a brief time.

Cliff Swallows (c) Bill Schmoker

One other interesting observation was that the Cliff Swallows were in good abundance at their nests on the Bowles Avenue bridge.  This location has been used frequently, but perhaps not every year – the presence of ectoparasites from a prior year is one of several factors that may make a site not viable.  Last year in particular I did not notice any nesting there.  It’s a complex game when it comes to how Cliff Swallows choose their nest site.  Birds choose a colony site first, a process which may entail a collective decision-making process and involve birds visiting numerous likely colony locations.  Then it may take several additional days for a nest site to be chosen within the colony.

Finally, for those of you who have come on our Hudson Gardens bird walks in the past, you may recall the pair of Red-tailed Hawks that often perch conspicuously on top of the powerline poles on the west side of the Platte.  Well, they are there again, or at least there is a pair in the same location.

I hope you can make it to a future Hudson Gardens walk, and don’t forget that you can also come on one of the free first-Saturday-of-the-month Front Range Birding Company bird walks by calling the Littleton store to register (303-979-2473).

Chuck

Hudson Gardens, Jun 29, 2019
33 species

Canada Goose  60
Wood Duck  8
Mallard  12
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  1
Mourning Dove  7
Double-crested Cormorant  6
American White Pelican  1
Snowy Egret  1
Turkey Vulture  2
Swainson’s Hawk  1
Red-tailed Hawk  2
Belted Kingfisher  1
Downy Woodpecker  1
Northern Flicker  4
Say’s Phoebe  1
Blue Jay  3
Black-billed Magpie  2
Cliff Swallow  60
Black-capped Chickadee  3
Bushtit  3
White-breasted Nuthatch  1
House Wren  6
American Robin  17
Gray Catbird  1
Cedar Waxwing  4
House Finch  7
American Goldfinch  3
Song Sparrow  7
Bullock’s Oriole  8
Red-winged Blackbird  13
Brown-headed Cowbird  5
Common Grackle  9
Yellow Warbler  7

Photo courtesy of Dave McLoughlin

Heil Valley Ranch, June 8, 2019

We couldn’t have asked for better weather for our trip to Heil Valley Ranch. Heil Valley Ranch is one of the jewels of the Boulder County Open Space program with over 6,000 acres of prime wildlife habitat, amazing vistas, and gorgeous wildflowers, all of which we were able to enjoy on a warm Saturday morning in June.

Cordilleran Flycatcher. Photo by Jamie SImo.

We first struck out on the Lichen Loop. Before we’d gotten over the bridge, we heard a Cordilleran Flycatcher calling. Cordilleran Flycatchers are small, yellowish flycatchers with large white eye rings that form a tear drop shape behind the eye. They tend to favor moist areas in coniferous forests, such as along streams, which is where we found this one. Flycatchers can be extremely difficult to tell apart, but this one helpfully says its name: “Cordi! Cordi!”

A visit to Heil Valley Ranch isn’t complete without a Wild Turkey sighting and we saw several. Most of Heil Valley Ranch is Ponderosa pine habitat and the turkeys eat the cones as well as insects and berries from bushes such as the chokecherry present in the valley. 

Not only is Ponderosa pine habitat good for foothills birds like Wild Turkeys, but also for mammals like the Abert’s squirrel and mule deer, both of which we got a chance to see on our hike. The Abert’s squirrels at Heil are almost exclusively melanistic, meaning that they’re a very dark brown or black color rather than grey. Heil is also an amazing place to go butterflying or wildflower watching and we were lucky to have some experts in our group to help identify them. Painted lady and orange sulphur butterflies were especially abundant.

Lazuli Bunting pair mating. Photo courtesy of Linda Hardesty.

Once we emerged from the Lichen Loop, we walked a short distance along the Wapiti Trail where we had fantastic views of a male Broad-tailed Hummingbird flashing his pink gorget, and several Lazuli Buntings. We even got to see a pair of Lazuli Buntings mating! Quite different from the bright blue and orange of the male, the female Lazuli Bunting is a warm cinnamon brown. She’s also much shyer than her mate; rather than singing from atop an exposed perch, she tends to hide in dense bushes. 

Male Lesser Goldfinch. Photo courtesy of Chris Friedman.

As we headed back to the parking lot, we finally got great looks at several birds we had only been able to hear deep in the trees: a male Lesser Goldfinch and a male Western Tanager. “Lesser” isn’t a value judgment; it really refers to having less yellow than our other Colorado goldfinch species, the American Goldfinch. Lesser Goldfinch males in Colorado have sooty black caps and dusky backs. When they fly, they flash large white patches on their wings. We had an unprecedented invasion of Western Tanagers in people’s yards this spring due to the cooler temperatures and late snow, but Western Tanagers typically breed up in the Ponderosa pine forests such as at Heil Valley Ranch. The males are a riot of red, yellow, and black, while females are a dingy yellow and grey.

Our trip netted us 25 bird species in all, plus an unidentified hummingbird (Broad-tailed or Black-chinned). Such a great day!

Waterton Canyon, June 1, 2019

We had such a great response to our first FRBC bird walk to Waterton Canyon that we had enough people to host 2 walks and we still had a waiting list! Although the day started off pretty windy, it thankfully calmed down as we walked. Windy days can be some of the worst days to bird because small songbirds will hunker down to get out of the wind and it can be hard to hear birds singing.

Andrea’s Group:

Violet-green Swallow (left) versus Tree Swallow (right). Photo by Jamie Simo.

Waterton Canyon trailhead is located in Littleton, near the Audubon Center at Chatfield off of Waterton Road. The area has an interesting history with Kassler just across from the parking lot.  Kassler was once an active town where employees of Denver Water lived and managed the dams and reservoirs of the canyon.  The trail, once a thriving railroad, has a gentle incline and is widely used by bikers, joggers, families and even burros! (We stopped to visit with two burros and their owner who was preparing them for the summer circuit.) Note that if you plan to visit Waterton Canyon, the parking lot fills quickly on weekends, and from June 3-14 weekday access is closed for annual dust mitigation.

We barely started down the trail before birds were appearing left and right. One thing I really appreciated about our group was the team effort in finding birds, helping others to find the exact location of a bird, and identifying birds. The group shared a ready camaraderie – though we didn’t know each other, you’d have thought we were old friends. Oh, the magic of birding! And with new birds coming into view around every bend and sometimes every few steps, we were thrilled at the great birds we saw (Lazuli Buntings, Yellow Breasted Chats, Yellow Warblers and Cedar Waxwings to name a few), and thrilled to share it with each other.

We got some great views of Tree Swallows and Violet-green Swallows and took some time to learn their distinguishing field marks. Both of these swallows have white undersides. In flight, the white of the Violet-green Swallow wraps onto the sides of the rump; the Tree Swallow has a small crescent on each side of the rump, not nearly as noticeable as the white rump of the Violet-green Swallow. The white on the Violet-green Swallow also extends well into the face – above the eye and covering the cheek; the Tree Swallow’s blue hood extends through the eye, forming a sharp contrast between the blue above and white below. The Violet-green Swallow has a shorter tail with narrower wings that extend beyond the tail, noticeable in flight, and especially while perched; the Tree Swallow has broader wings and a longer, notched tail.

The morning sun cast a yellow glow on the breast of a bird that puzzled us us until we determined we really were seeing blue on it’s back.  A Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay!

Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay. Photo courtesy of Kathleen Deckler.

Toward the end of our walk, an interesting sparrow was seen foraging on the ground and perching in the shrubs. The face had bold coloring – white, rust and black, and the outer tail feathers were white. Any guesses? It was a Lark Sparrow!

Waterton Canyon–from Waterton Rd to overhead pipes, Jun 1, 2019 
28 species

Canada Goose 4
Mallard 1
Common Merganser 5
Turkey Vulture 4
Red-tailed Hawk 1
Western Meadowlark 1
White-throated Swift 1
Black-chinned Hummingbird 1
Broad-tailed Hummmingbird 2
Belted Kingfisher 1
Northern Flicker 3
Olive-sided Flycatcher 1
Say’s Phoebe 1
Western Kingbird 1
Woodhouse’s Scrub Jay 3
Violet-green Swallow 2
Northern Rough-winged Swallow 1
Barn Swallow 3
Tree Swallow 4
House Wren 4
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 2
Cedar Waxwing 4
Yellow Warbler 8
Yellow-breasted Chat 2
Spotted Towhee 6
Lark Sparrow 1 
Lazuli Bunting 6
Bullock’s Oriole 2

Jamie’s Group:

Yellow-breasted Chat. Photo courtesy of Bob Magee.

Yellow was definitely the color of the day. By far, the most numerous bird we encountered was the Yellow Warbler. The brilliant, bright yellow males with their brick-red breast stripes were everywhere singing their “Sweet, sweet, sweeter than sweet!” songs from both high and low in the canopy. Next door at the Audubon Nature Center at Chatfield, this is the bird that is most frequently caught during bird banding. Yellow Warblers are most commonly found in wet areas such as at the edges of streams or marshes.

Normally skulky, we got fantastic looks at the Yellow-breasted Chat, an olive-backed bird with a bright yellow breast and throat, thick bill, and loud “chatty” voice. The chat used to be formally lumped in with the warblers, but has since been split off into its own family of which it is the only member. There just literally is nothing else like the Yellow-breasted Chat!

Other yellow birds seen were both American and Lesser Goldfinches, and Cedar Waxwings (hey, the tip of the tail counts!).

Cedar Waxwing. Photo courtesy of Bob Magee.

Another normally secretive bird that you’re more likely to hear than see is the Gray Catbird. However, that wasn’t the case on Saturday! We had a dapper little catbird male singing right out in the open for us. Both sexes are slate gray with little black caps and a flush of maroon under the tail. Named for the cat-like “meow” it often gives at the end of repeated phrases, the Gray Catbird is a mimic like the Northern Mockingbird. 

One of the most exciting birds of the day was the Lazuli Bunting. In the same family as the Northern Cardinal, the Lazuli Bunting male is a beautiful, blue bird with an orange sherbet-colored breast. Their stout, conical bills are perfectly suited for cracking seeds. The breath-taking blue of the Lazuli Bunting’s feathers is due to the structure of the feathers rather than being a pigment in the feather itself. Most blues and greens in bird feathers are “structural colors.”

Near the end of our walk we ran across an id challenge: a silent flycatcher sitting on a post. Flycatchers are notoriously difficult to identify when not singing. This one was a large flycatcher with a slight head crest and no eyering so the initial thought was that it was a Western Wood-Pewee, but when it turned around we got a great look at its dark “vest.” This “vest” is characteristic of the Olive-sided Flycatcher, which is in the same genus as the Western Wood-Pewee. Mystery solved!

In all, we observed 35 species, an incredibly successful day.

Waterton Canyon–from Waterton Rd to overhead pipes, Jun 1, 2019 
35 species

Mallard  1
Common Merganser  2
Mourning Dove  3
Black-chinned Hummingbird  2
Broad-tailed Hummingbird  7
American White Pelican  2
Turkey Vulture  1
Red-tailed Hawk  2
Northern Flicker (Red-shafted)  4
American Kestrel  2
Olive-sided Flycatcher  1
Western Wood-Pewee  2
Warbling Vireo  2
Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay  2
Violet-green Swallow  12
Barn Swallow  4
Cliff Swallow  8
Black-capped Chickadee  2
White-breasted Nuthatch  2
House Wren  7
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  2
American Dipper  1
Gray Catbird  2
European Starling  1
Cedar Waxwing  10
Lesser Goldfinch  7
American Goldfinch  4
Lark Sparrow  1     
Song Sparrow  1
Spotted Towhee  5
Yellow-breasted Chat  2
Western Meadowlark  1
Brown-headed Cowbird  2
Yellow Warbler  7
Lazuli Bunting  2

 

 

Hudson Gardens, May 25, 2019

When your walk starts with great looks at Cedar Waxwings, you know it’s going to be a great day!  We saw a 3 of these gorgeous birds hopping around low in a tree, then visiting the small stream behind the Visitor’s Center.

This spring, we have seen and heard many reports of Western Tanagers so we were on the look-out for them, as well as the vibrant Bullock’s Oriole.  We were not disappointed!

In addition to these colorful birds, we also saw a couple of spunky House Wrens, busily hopping in and out of a wood pile, most likely looking for nesting material or a snack.  Nearby, we saw a nestbox full of sticks – a sign of a busy wren!  Males build several nests in the spring, perhaps as decoys, but also to give the female a choice of nest sites.  Never fear – the wrens don’t lay eggs on a pile of sticks and hope the babies don’t fall through the cracks.  Once they’ve selected a nest to use, they build a soft cup for their eggs. Wrens are larger-than-life characters – they are tiny birds that sing loud and long, and seem to have the energy of the Energizer Bunny.

 

We saw several Yellow Warblers that seemed to follow the same path as us for a bit, foraging in the tree canopy.  We all got to experience “warbler neck,” that painful feeling you get from looking straight up in a tree for warblers.  I’m considering, and I’m only half-joking here, a post-birding yoga session.  Perhaps there is a “downward bird” pose, or maybe “hunting heron” that will help us stretch out our necks?

 

Near the end of our adventure, we saw two Snowy Egrets and eventually got a good look of their black legs and yellow feet.  Word on the street is Snowy Egrets will use those yellow toes like fishing lures. They wiggle them to attract fish, and then snatch up whoever unwittingly takes the “bait.”   Makes me wonder how many times they snatch their toes in the process.

 

Til next time,

 

Jennifer O’Keefe

 

Western Tanager (C) Bill Schmoker
Bullock’s Oriole (c) Bill Schmoker

Species List

Blue-winged Teal                             2

Mallard                                               20

Common Merganser                        1

Mourning Dove                                 1

Broad-tailed Hummingbird           2

Double-crested Cormorant            2

American White Pelican                 5

Great Blue Heron                             1

Snowy Egret                                      2

Egret spp.                                           1

Turkey Vulture                                  1

Accipiter spp.                                     1

Red-tailed Hawk                               1

Western Wood-Pewee                     1

Black-billed Magpie                         2

Cliff Swallow                                      35

House Wren                                       2          

American Robin                                8

Cedar Waxwing                                 4

House Finch                                      5

American Goldfinch                        1

Chipping Sparrow                            3

Song Sparrow                                    2

Bullock’s Oriole                                5

Red-winged Blackbird                    50

Common Grackle                             7

Yellow Warbler                                 5

Western Tanager                             2

 

 

 

Bobolink Trail – May 11, 2019

Red-winged Blackbird male with Common Grackle male in background at far left.
Red-winged Blackbird male with Common Grackle male in background at far left. Photo courtesy of Stephen VanGorder.

FRBC Boulder’s May 11 bird walk started on a clear to partly cloudy and a balmy 50-degree morning in Boulder, Colorado for our group of twelve birders on Bobolink Trail. Bobolink Trail is a flat, walkable trail that runs north to south along a section of South Boulder Creek between Baseline Rd and South Boulder Rd just west of Baseline Reservoir. We started the walk from the East Boulder Community Center at 55th St and Sioux Dr, on a path which connects to Bobolink Trail in about the middle of its run. A walking trail runs close to the creek, while a multi-use trail runs along an open – and sometimes wet – field where cattle graze. There are patches of cattail marsh throughout the open space, and there are a couple of ponds at the East Boulder Community Center. Having all of these different habitats in one place means that there are opportunities to see and hear many different bird species: riparian birds like warblers and flycatchers, birds of the open fields like meadowlarks and Bobolinks, marsh birds such as rails and Red-winged Blackbirds, and waterfowl at the ponds.

American Kestrel female with prey
American Kestrel female with prey. Photo courtesy of Stephen VanGorder.

We had hardly left the parking lot to head to the trail when we had our first highlight of the day: a female American Kestrel with prey perched on the trail sign near 55th St. The kestrel looked as though she had gone for a swim to catch her prey, which appeared to be a small mammal. The trail was fairly busy that morning with numerous walkers, joggers, cyclists and pets on the trail, and yet this kestrel sat calmly on her perch, watching the traffic go by. Moments later we saw a male American Kestrel – presumably her mate – flying around in the same area.

As we approached the trail sign, the whinnying call of a Sora rang out from a tiny patch of cattails mere feet away from the concrete path. The Sora is a short-billed species of rail, birds which excel at not being seen as they skulk through tall, thick marsh vegetation. Have you ever heard the expression “thin as a rail?” To get around more easily in said tall, thick marsh vegetation, rails’ bodies are laterally compressed, making them look tall and thin from the front. The jury is still out on whether the expression “thin as a rail” refers to the shape of these birds, but it makes sense when you see one head-on! Unfortunately but unsurprisingly, we never did see the stealthy Sora, but just knowing it was nearby was pretty cool. Even better, on our way back by this spot later, we heard the whinny calls of not one but TWO Sora in these cattails!

American Robin
American Robin. Photo courtesy of Stephen VanGorder.

As we approached the pedestrian bridge over South Boulder Creek, we paused for several moments to watch a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher forage and a female Common Grackle busy herself with nest-building, both birds in trees very close to the bridge for great viewing.

The morning was full of spring birdsong: Red-winged Blackbirds, American Robins, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Western Meadowlarks, and House Wrens could all be heard singing from wherever we were on the trail. We had some beautiful views of singing Western Meadowlarks in the spotting scope. Another earbirding highlight of the day was a Brewer’s Sparrow singing in a mixed flock of Chipping and Brewer’s Sparrows near the playing fields at the East Boulder Community Center. And speaking of warblers, the group had some great looks at the Audubon’s and Myrtle forms of Yellow-rumped Warbler, a somewhat-cooperative Orange-crowned Warbler, and a beautiful singing male Yellow Warbler on the way back to the trailhead near where the Sora were calling.

Canada Geese with goslings
Canada Geese with goslings. Photo courtesy of Stephen VanGorder.

Another sign of spring: the Canada Geese already have goslings hatching! We observed one little family grazing together near the community center and other pairs with young swimming on the ponds.

Thank you very much to Stephen VanGorder, who generously sent us these great photos he took during the bird walk for use on our blog.

See you next time – let’s go birding!

~Sarah Spotten


Bobolink Trail in Boulder, Colorado, May 11, 2019
36 species (+2 other taxa)
Canada Goose 20 (estimated)
Mallard 6
Eurasian Collared-Dove 3
Mourning Dove 4
Broad-tailed Hummingbird 4
Sora 2
Killdeer 1
Wilson’s Snipe 4
Double-crested Cormorant 1
Great Blue Heron 3
Turkey Vulture 1
Red-tailed Hawk 2
Downy Woodpecker 2
American Kestrel 2
Blue Jay 2
Black-billed Magpie 3
American Crow 1
Violet-green Swallow 7
Barn Swallow 4
Cliff Swallow 2
swallow sp. 20 (estimated)
House Wren 5
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 1
American Robin 10
European Starling 6
House Finch 2
American Goldfinch 8
Chipping Sparrow 5
Brewer’s Sparrow 5
Song Sparrow 4
Western Meadowlark 4
Red-winged Blackbird 30 (estimated)
Brown-headed Cowbird 6
Common Grackle 30 (estimated)
Orange-crowned Warbler 1
Yellow Warbler 2
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle) 4
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s) 6

Roxborough State Park, May 4 – with Chuck Aid

Golden Banner (c) Chuck Aid

A spring morning at Roxborough is pretty hard to beat. The wild plums were all in bloom and subtly perfuming the air.  Many of the early flowers were out: Sand Lily, Mertensia (Bluebells), Larkspur, Golden Banner, Spring Beauty, Oregon Grape, etc.  And, there were the usual resident birds mixing with the newly arrived migrants.

 

Prairie Falcon (c) Rob Raker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course, the main attraction at Roxborough are the incredible rock formations, and it is always of interest to tune in to the birds that utilize this unique habitat.  For the last several years Prairie Falcons have nested up on the highest protected rock ledges where they scape loose pebbles to form a small depression to hold their eggs.  And we got to watch a single falcon standing up high on its ledge.

White-throated Swift (c) Bill Schmoker

Also, notable were the Violet-green Swallows and White-throated Swifts that utilize the numerous little pockets and cracks in the faces of the cliffs for their nests.  A little bit of info on swifts and swallows.  Swifts, along with Hummingbirds, belong to the order Apodiformes (“without feet” or “footless”) because their feet are so little and really only useful for perching.  Swifts superficially resemble swallows, and both groups get their groceries by foraging for flying insects.  However, swifts are faster flying, with a rapid, flickering flight reminiscent of bats, they rarely fly in a straight line – giving the impression that their wings are flapping alternately, their sickle-shaped wings are more swept back, and their “wrist” appears proportionally closer to the body.

Violet-green Swallow (c) Rob Raker

Swallows are in the large Passeriformes order – “Perching” birds – which includes over half the birds in the world.  They have broader, shorter wings, and have a more relaxed wing-beat.  Both the species we were seeing, White-throated Swift and Violet-green Swallow, have rumps with white sides, so this can take a bit of work sorting these out.

Other birds that can, at times, have a preference for foraging on cliff faces include Northern Flickers and Say’s Phoebes, but we did not see any of this behavior this time around.

 

 

Cooper’s Hawk (c) Rob Raker

Perhaps the real highlight of the day was getting to play bird detective a bit with a pair of Cooper’s Hawks.  Being woodland hawks, often in dense foliage where visual contact may be limited, they rely on vocalizations as a primary means of communication.  We first heard a single bird making a couple of interesting sounds down in the little riparian area below our trail.  One call was the typical “cak-cak-cak,” which, once one becomes familiar with it, is fairly distinct, and provides an easy way to identify a “Coop.”  The other call, however, was not one with which I am familiar, a kind of nasal “whaaa.”  A little research indicates that this is primarily a call that females make that’s related to receiving food, or begging for food, from the male.  Digging a bit deeper I found that scientists have identified 42 different calls by females, 22 by males, and 14 by young. The larger repertoire of calls by females is attributed to their greater need to convey more information.

So, then, after a bit of looking we located our calling bird, presumably a female, in the upper branches of a cottonwood.  Shortly thereafter the male showed up, and they were alternately engaged in sitting in a nearby stick nest, presumably getting it in shape for the eventual laying of eggs. The longer we stood up on our trail, and just observed things, the more we saw and learned.  Great fun!

Hope to see you soon on another bird walk!

Chuck

 

Roxborough SP, May 4, 2019
24 species (+2 other taxa)

Mourning Dove  1
White-throated Swift  7
Broad-tailed Hummingbird  12
Turkey Vulture  2
Cooper’s Hawk  2
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Prairie Falcon  1
Say’s Phoebe  2
Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay  1
American Crow  2
Violet-green Swallow  15
Black-capped Chickadee  8
White-breasted Nuthatch  2
House Wren  3
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  1
Townsend’s Solitaire  1
Lesser Goldfinch  1
Chipping Sparrow  1
Spotted Towhee  21
Western Meadowlark  1
Red-winged Blackbird  1
Brown-headed Cowbird  1
Yellow-rumped Warbler  4
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle)  1
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s)  2
Lazuli Bunting  2