Hudson Gardens, Sept 28, 2019 – with Chuck Aid

Wood Duck – juvenile male (c) Bill Schmoker

We had an incredibly entertaining start to our walk on Saturday.  This year mama Wood Duck had about eight fledglings back in July.  Last month we were thrilled to see that six of them were still around, and we were able to tell that they were all males.  We could see the characteristic bright white “bridle” that the males have on their neck and cheek, even though the rest of the outrageous male plumage hadn’t quite emerged. On Saturday we were able to see, once again, all six of this year’s juvenile males.  Not too much had changed from a month ago except that they were considerably bigger (almost adult sized), there was starting to be some color definition in the bill, their eyes were getting red, and we could see some of that wonderful deep bluish turquoise in their speculums (the secondary flight feathers). However, they also still had their white eye-rings that are characteristic of juvenile birds.

Wood Duck – female (c) Bill Schmoker

Beyond the six youngsters we also had an adult female Wood Duck (mom?), and three adult males.  These latter were all in the process of emerging from their eclipse plumage phase when the males go through a sequence of molts causing them to look more drab, like their female counterparts.  It can take them awhile to regain their full male splendor, and all three of our Saturday males had different degrees of white speckling in what will become eventually a mostly burgundy-colored breast.  Part of what was so cool about this herd of Wood Ducks is that they were all tending to hang out together foraging in the grass along with some companionable female Mallards, and they were not worried about us at all.

Killdeer (c) Bill Schmoker

As we moved over to the South Platte we saw more Mallards – the males in a mix of plumages between cryptic brown and bright breeding colors, as they, too, are emerging from their eclipse plumage. We also were fortunate to see some Killdeer and a single Spotted Sandpiper which actually will have no spots until next March at the advent of breeding season. 

Cedar Waxwing (c) Bill Schmoker

We also encountered a nice flock of Cedar Waxwings, being a mix of beautiful warm-brown adults and streaky juveniles.  In the adults some of the secondary flight feathers have bright red tips from a waxy red secretion resembling sealing wax.  Historically, Cedar Waxwings were considered uncommon breeders in Colorado, being more common during spring and fall migration and throughout the winter.  However, in more recent years the number of breeders have increased dramatically along water courses in North, Middle, and South Parks and the San Luis Valley.  The resultant increase in the Colorado population may be due to a number of factors: an increase in edge habitat which promotes the growth of fruiting trees and shrubs, the planting of non-native fruiting trees and shrubs, the planting of shelter-belts, and the ongoing increase in Russian olives.

Great Blue Heron (c) Bill Schmoker

One of the topics that came up on our walk was about those species that breed in Colorado and afterwards most of them migrate south, but there are always a few individuals that stick around throughout the winter.  We were speaking primarily of Great Blue Herons, but there are quite a few others that follow this pattern such as American Kestrel, Killdeer, Mourning Dove, Say’s Phoebe, American Robin, and Spotted Towhee.

Undoubtedly the highlight of the morning was getting to watch a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk from about twenty feet away (I kid you not!) eviscerate a cottontail.  I’m thinking that as a youngster it still may have been learning the craft of capturing its own prey, and perhaps it was so darn hungry it just did not care whether we were there or not.

Hope to see you on another walk soon!

Chuck

Hudson Gardens, Sept 28, 2019
27 species

Red-tailed Hawk- juvenile (c) Bill Schmoker

Canada Goose  6
Wood Duck  10
Mallard  32
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  2
Broad-tailed Hummingbird  2
Killdeer  4
Spotted Sandpiper  1
Ring-billed Gull  1
Great Blue Heron  1
Turkey Vulture  1
Red-tailed Hawk  2
Downy Woodpecker  1
Northern Flicker  10
Say’s Phoebe  2
Blue Jay  8
Common Raven  1
Black-capped Chickadee  8
Red-breasted Nuthatch  2
White-breasted Nuthatch  3
European Starling  2
American Robin  4
Cedar Waxwing  20
House Finch  14
Lesser Goldfinch  1
Song Sparrow  3
Red-winged Blackbird  6
Yellow-rumped Warbler  2

Lagerman Agricultural Preserve, September 14, 2019–with Jamie Simo

Least Sandpiper in breeding plumage. Photo by Jamie Simo.

September is a great month to look for migrants and this past Saturday at Lagerman Agricultural Preserve didn’t disappoint on that count. We also welcomed our newest employee, Stephen Chang, to the FRBC team on this bird walk. Welcome, Stephen!

Baird’s Sandpiper in foreground and Least Sandpiper in background. Photo by Jamie Simo.

Unlike spring migration where birds are in a rush to find nesting territories, fall migration is a more leisurely affair, so we saw stopover species that breed farther north, Colorado breeders, and species that winter along the Front Range. In the stopover species category, we saw both Least and Baird’s Sandpipers. Least Sandpipers are the smallest shorebird species in the world and are long-distance migrants breeding in the arctic and wintering in Mexico and Central America. In addition to size, Least Sandpipers can be distinguished from the other small sandpipers classified as “peeps” by their yellow legs (the other four “peeps,” Western, Semipalmated, Baird’s, and White-rumped Sandpipers, have dark legs). In September, Least Sandpipers are still in breeding plumage and appear rusty with a couple of paler stripes down the back.

Baird’s Sandpipers are also long-distance migrants that breed in the arctic, although they travel even farther in winter than Least Sandpipers and fly all the way down to Chile and Argentina. Perhaps because of this they have long wings that extend slightly past their tails. They tend to look somewhat “scaly-backed,” especially juveniles, with dark-centered feathers on their backs edged with a paler tan. Their breasts are also tan with pale striping that doesn’t extend onto the clean white of their bellies and flanks.

Male Brewer’s Blackbird. Photo by Jamie Simo.

For species breeding in Colorado, we saw a number of Brewer’s Blackbirds. Brewer’s Blackbirds are often found in agricultural areas. Males are an iridescent black with a pale eye. The pale eye, lack of red shoulder patches, and thinner bill, distinguish them from the similar male Red-winged Blackbird. Female Brewer’s Blackbirds are brown with a dark eye and can be distinguished from the similar female Brown-headed Cowbird by being darker, larger, and having a thinner bill.

Finally, we were fortunate to see the first vanguard of several species that winter in our area, including the Ring-necked Duck. Despite being named for the ring around their neck, which is usually only visible at close range, Ring-necked Ducks have grey bills tipped with black and ringed with a band of white. Both males and females have peaked heads. Females are brown with a darker brown “saddle” on their backs and a white patch near the base of the bill. In non-breeding plumage, males can be picked out from females by their dark breasts, darker heads, and yellow eyes.

Male and female non-breeding Ring-necked Ducks next to American Coot. Photo by Jamie Simo.

In all, we saw 28 species. Join us next month at our Boulder location when we check out Barr Lake State Park and visit Bird Conservancy of the Rockies’ banding station.

Lagerman Agricultural Preserve, Sep 14, 2019
28 species (+1 other taxa)

Canada Goose 16
Blue-winged Teal 4
Cinnamon Teal 1
American Wigeon 24
Mallard 6
Green-winged Teal 2
Redhead 3
Ring-necked Duck 3
Ruddy Duck 3
Pied-billed Grebe 5
American Coot 12
Killdeer 6
Baird’s Sandpiper 4
Least Sandpiper 2
Short-billed/Longbilled Dowitcher 7
Ring-billed Gull 57
Double-crested Cormorant 13
American White Pelican 2
Great Blue Heron 2
Turkey Vulture 2
Osprey 1
American Kestrel 2
Say’s Phoebe 2
Barn Swallow 11
Lesser Goldfinch 3
American Goldfinch 2
Vesper Sparrow 4
Western Meadowlark 4
Brewer’s Blackbird 6

 

 

Betasso Preserve, August 10, 2019

Western Wood-Pewee. Photo by Jamie Simo.

We started our walk at Betasso Preserve under cloudy skies, which fortunately kept things a little cooler for our 3 mile trek along the Canyon Loop than they otherwise could’ve been this time of year. Betasso Preserve is ideal for hiking and birding on Wednesdays and Saturdays when the trail is closed to mountain bikers. The rest of the week, it’s strongly advised that you walk or jog the opposite direction from bikers so that you’re able to see each other coming. Right now, road work is progressing on Boulder Canyon Drive Monday through Thursday with delays and a full closure of the road between 10am and 2pm those days, so plan accordingly.

It being nearly mid-August and with migration ramping up, things were quieter than they’d been just two weeks earlier, but we were immediately greeted by Violet-green Swallows chattering and soaring over the parking lot. These swallows are ubiquitous in the foothills in spring and summer where they nest in old woodpecker holes in open forest. Western Wood-Pewees were everywhere as we walked, filling the hush with their querulous “pee-r” calls. This unassuming flycatcher is a greyish-brown with a slight peaked crown that tends to perch out in the open on the tops of conifers or on dead branches.

Male Red Crossbill. Photo by Ashley Wahlberg (Tubbs). https://flic.kr/p/qB8fhe

Particularly exciting were the small, roving flocks of Red Crossbills that seemed to follow us around the loop. These large finches are named for their distinctive crossed bills that help them easily lever open pine, fir, and spruce cones to get to the seeds inside. Males are a rosy red like a more decorative House Finch, while females are a greenish-yellow. While we at first were only able to hear the crossbills’ chirping, we finally got some great looks at a cooperative male perched atop a Ponderosa pine near the trail.

Townsend’s Solitaire. Photo by Jamie Simo.

In one small hollow a male Broad-tailed Hummingbird treated us to his his mating display. To impress females, male Broad-tails will climb high into the air and then dive, pulling up abruptly to form a rough J shape. No female was visible so perhaps he was just practicing for next year. Other highlights of the walk were a couple of Warbling Vireos and two silent Plumbeous Vireos (plumbeous referring to the lead grey color of the bird). Close to the end of the trail we also ran across a seemingly-young Townsend’s Solitaire, a member of the thrush family and cousin of the American Robin that can often be found defending territories rich in juniper berries in the winter.

In all, we heard or saw 26 taxa; pretty good for this time of year in the foothills! 

Betasso Preserve, August 10, 2019
25 Species (+1 additional taxa)
 
7 Broad-tailed Hummingbird 
3 hummingbird sp. 
2 Turkey Vulture 
5 Northern Flicker
17 Western Wood-Pewee 
2 Plumbeous Vireo 
2 Warbling Vireo
4 Steller’s Jay
5 American Crow 
4 Black-capped Chickadee 
8 Mountain Chickadee 
15 Violet-green Swallow
3 Red-breasted Nuthatch
2 White-breasted Nuthatch (Interior West)
14 Pygmy Nuthatch
3 House Wren 
8 Western Bluebird
1 Townsend’s Solitaire
1 American Robin 
3 House Finch
10 Red Crossbill
8 Pine Siskin 
2 Lesser Goldfinch 
6 Chipping Sparrow 
1 Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s)

Beaver Ranch, Aug 3, 2019 – with Chuck Aid

Mountain Chickadee (c) Bill Schmoker

Beaver Ranch is a new location for our Front Range Birding Company bird walks.  It is located just off US 285 a bit southwest of Conifer (about 25 minutes from the store) and is operated and managed by a local non-profit in agreement with Jeffco Open Space.  It provides cabin rentals, camping sites, a disc golf course, multiple ziplines, and occasional weddings are held there.  So, it can potentially be a bit of a zoo on a summer Saturday morning. However, we are quickly learning how to find some of its quieter corners, and it has excellent habitat for birds.

Downy Woodpecker (c) Bill Schmoker – note the black spots in the outer tail feathers, also the faint red spotting on the crown = juvenile.

Our first hot spot of the day was out in open montane grassland between a dense willow carr and a few scattered Ponderosa.  The grassy area was punctuated with some dense stands of purple-headed thistles which were proving very attractive to a beautiful male Lesser Goldfinch and a Downy Woodpecker.  It was difficult to get a good look at the Downy, which had the dark shoulders of the interior west subspecies (eastern Downys, which are the ones generally seen in Denver, have more white spotting on the shoulders).  Verification that the bird was a Downy was quickly obtained by noting the black spots on the outer tail feathers.  The very similar, but larger, Hairy Woodpecker lacks those spots. 

Red-naped Sapsucker (c) Bill Schmoker

In this same vicinity, while we were noting the Violet-green Swallows, Broad-tailed Hummingbirds, Song Sparrows, and Lincoln’s Sparrows, we saw a woodpecker fly into a nearby Ponderosa. A quick look with the binocs noted the long, white wing-patch characteristic of a sapsucker.  However, our bird was a juvenile (as were many birds on Saturday), and it took us awhile to determine that we had a Red-naped Sapsucker and not a Williamson’s.  The only red coloring noted was in the chin area, the rest of the head being rather uniformly dark with a faint white mustache stripe.  There was extensive white-and-black mottling in the back, and a patch of yellow on the belly.  We got to see none of the characteristic red, black, and white head stripes that we associate with Red-naped Sapsuckers, and we had to remind ourselves that until 1983 the Red-naped was lumped with the eastern Yellow-bellied Sapsucker as a single species, so yes it would have some yellow on its belly.  It was great getting to walk ourselves through the process of identification, and to be able to come out eventually with an ID that we felt comfortable with.

Evening Grosbeak (c) Bill Schmoker

Continuing on our way we had a good time sorting through the Mountain Chickadees, all three nuthatch species, the numerous juvenile Gray-headed (Dark-eyed) Juncos with their nondescript spotted plumage, and a male Western Tanager.  We eventually wended our way to our second hotspot of the day – a coniferous riparian area with great willows along a small stream.  We just stood there and couldn’t take it all in fast enough. The prize was getting wonderful long looks at a juvenile Evening Grosbeak – appearing rather doofy – and being fed by dad.  But in the same small area we had both species of chickadees, Red-breasted and White-breasted Nuthatches, a Brown Creeper, a Yellow-rumped Warble, and a couple of Ruby-crowned Kinglets.  What fun!

Lark Sparrow (c) Bill Schmoker

So, then, we got back to our cars, thinking we were done, but in those final minutes we still got to see another Red-naped Sapsucker, a Barn Swallow, a Cliff Swallow, two Lark Sparrows, and a Brown-headed Cowbird.  A great way to round out our morning!

See you on another walk soon!

Chuck

Beaver Ranch, Aug 3, 2019
35 species

Broad-tailed Hummingbird  12
Turkey Vulture  5
Red-tailed Hawk  2
Red-naped Sapsucker  2
Downy Woodpecker  6
Hairy Woodpecker (Rocky Mts.)  1
Northern Flicker (Red-shafted)  1
Cordilleran Flycatcher  4
Steller’s Jay (Interior)  1
Common Raven  5
Violet-green Swallow  10
Barn Swallow  1
Cliff Swallow  1
Black-capped Chickadee  5
Mountain Chickadee  18
Red-breasted Nuthatch  6
White-breasted Nuthatch  9
Pygmy Nuthatch  25
Brown Creeper  1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  2
Mountain Bluebird  5
Townsend’s Solitaire  1
American Robin  2
Evening Grosbeak  3
Red Crossbill  5
Pine Siskin  4
Lesser Goldfinch  2
Lark Sparrow  2
Dark-eyed Junco (Gray-headed)  14
Song Sparrow  7
Lincoln’s Sparrow  3
Red-winged Blackbird  8
Brown-headed Cowbird  1
Yellow-rumped Warbler  2
Western Tanager  1

 

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

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

 

 

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

Hudson Gardens, March 30 – with Chuck Aid

American Wigeon – male (c) Bill Schmoker

Given the icy roads and the snow we received Friday night this outing almost got cancelled, but we pulled it off, and had four intrepid souls show up that elected to embrace the day regardless of the conditions.  AND the morning turned out to be a beautiful one in which we got to see a great variety of birds.

 

 

American Wigeon – female (c) Bill Schmoker

 

 

The wintering ducks are still hanging around, with migratory ones increasing the local populations.  I was especially glad to see a few American Wigeon, as they have been pretty ilusive for me the last month and a half.  The male is remarkable for having a white (or buffy) forehead; short, light-blue bill with a dark tip; a glorious green swoosh through his eye; warm, pinkish-brown flanks; a pointed, black tail with a striking white hip-patch just in front of it; and, in flight, that have a distinctive white patch on the upper secondary coverts (this is for those of you desiring homework terminology). The female is also very warmly colored, has the blue bill, and is noted for her “smeared mascara” look.  Finally, they have one of the more distinctive (dare I say, “cute”) calls.

Red-tailed Hawk – rufous morph (c) Bill Schmoker

For those of you tracking some of the “usual suspects” at Hudson Gardens, we did, once again, see the rufous (or Intermediate) morph Red-tailed Hawk.  He, or she, has been a regular in the area now for a few years, and has been breeding with a light morph Red-tail.  Keep your eyes open for the pair sitting on top of the powerline poles just west of the river.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bushtit -female (c) Bill Schmoker

 

We also had a couple of small groups of Bushtits, which in my estimation have increased their wintertime presence in this part of Colorado over the last few decades (climate change?).  Note that the female has a yellow eye, and the male a dark eye.  And we got to see some newly-arrived migrants, three Common Grackles.  Wahoo!  This is a species that has increased dramatically in Colorado over the last hundred years, apparently making their way here initially from the eastern United States due to the planting of shelter belts across the Great Plains, and then continuing to thrive in eastern Colorado with increases in urban and agricultural development.

Good Birding!  Chuck

Hudson Gardens, Mar 30, 2019
29 species (+1 other taxa)

Cackling Goose  35
Canada Goose  170
Cackling/Canada Goose  75
Gadwall  28
American Wigeon  3
Mallard  18
Green-winged Teal  7
Bufflehead  12
Hooded Merganser  8
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  23
Eurasian Collared-Dove  1
Ring-billed Gull  2
Great Blue Heron  2
Bald Eagle  1
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Belted Kingfisher  2
Downy Woodpecker  3
Northern Flicker  15
Say’s Phoebe  2
Blue Jay  3
Black-billed Magpie  1
American Crow  4
Black-capped Chickadee  4
Bushtit  6
American Robin  27
European Starling  3
House Finch  11
Song Sparrow  2
Red-winged Blackbird  16
Common Grackle  3