Walker Ranch Meyer’s Gulch, July 10th–with Jamie Simo

Juvenile Western Bluebird. Photo by Chris Friedman.

Walker Ranch is a fantastic place to go in summer for birds, butterflies, and blossoms. On Saturday, July 10th, 10 of us met up at the Meyer’s Gulch (also called Meyer’s Homestead) trailhead. Right off the bat we were greeted by a trio of mule deer bucks. A “bachelor herd” such as this one is usually comprised of immature males that have left their parent herd, but haven’t yet gained a harem of their own. These guys were almost completely unconcerned by us as we organized in the parking lot prior to our hike.

Every day is different when it comes to birding. While my Friday scouting trip was entirely bereft of bluebirds, a small flock put in an appearance to the delight of all on Saturday, including at least one immature bird distinguished by its spotted breast. Boulder County Open Space volunteers maintain the bluebird boxes along Meyer’s Gulch and Western (and sometimes Mountain) Bluebirds regularly set up shop in them. The mix of open Ponderosa woodland and meadow is the perfect habitat for Western Bluebirds, which are larger and a darker cobalt blue than their Eastern counterparts.

Lincoln’s Sparrow. Photo by Chris Friedman.

We also had a good day for sparrows. An especial treat was the pair of Lincoln’s Sparrows that made themselves known on the trek back to the parking lot. Lincoln’s Sparrows can often be confused for Song Sparrows and, to make it even more difficult, they can co-occur in the same wet meadow habitats. However, Lincoln’s Sparrows are smaller and more “refined” than their larger breathren with narrow, distinct breast streaks, a buffy wash on the breast, and often a more visible crest. They also often tend to be a little shyer and more retiring, but, happily, we were treated to great views of, and even some singing from, these subtly handsome birds.

Perhaps our most cooperative bird of the day was the Western Wood-Pewee. One of our most conspicuous flycatchers, this dull brown bird likes to sit upright on exposed perches, making it very easy to see. The same could not be said for the MacGillivray’s Warbler that we heard streamside, but that wouldn’t come out of the tangle of willows he was hidden in.

Meadow anemone. Photo by Jamie Simo.

In addition to birds, we had a great day for butterflies. Just a few of the butterflies we saw were the hoary comma, Weidemeyer’s admiral, and several species of blue. They were particularly attracted to the wet sand and pools of water along sections of the trail, a behavior called “puddling,” that allows the butterflies to ingest salts and minerals they don’t get from feeding on nectar. A big thanks to Chris Friedman who helped us identify the many butterflies and skippers we encountered! Wildflowers of note included Indian paintbrush, meadow anemone, sulfur flower, and sticky geranium. All in all, a fantastic day!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Walker Ranch–Meyers Gulch
Jul 10, 2021
30 taxa

2 Mourning Dove
9 Broad-tailed Hummingbird
1 Red-tailed Hawk
2 Northern Flicker
4 Western Wood-Pewee
1 Hammond’s/Dusky Flycatcher
1 Cordilleran Flycatcher
2 Warbling Vireo
2 Steller’s Jay
3 Black-billed Magpie
3 American Crow
1 Black-capped Chickadee
8 Mountain Chickadee
1 Violet-green Swallow
1 Red-breasted Nuthatch
2 White-breasted Nuthatch
6 Pygmy Nuthatch
4 House Wren
6 Western Bluebird – FL
3 American Robin
2 Pine Siskin
1 Chipping Sparrow
1 Dark-eyed Junco (Gray-headed)
2 Vesper Sparrow
1 Song Sparrow
2 Lincoln’s Sparrow
1 Green-tailed Towhee
1 Spotted Towhee
1 MacGillivray’s Warbler
3 Western Tanager

Lagerman Agricultural Preserve Open Sky Loop, June 12–with Aron Smolley

Grasslands are an iconic habitat of Colorado, although often overlooked since they lie in the shadow of the epic landscapes of Rocky Mountain National Park. However, grasslands and prairies account for a good percentage of Colorado natural areas. Sadly, in today’s day and age these crucial wildlife habitats are fragmented by roads and development, grazed by free-range cattle, and converted into farmland. Grassland birds happen to be one of the most imperiled groups of birds in the United States, having declined by around 40% since the 1960’s. Nevertheless, our native Colorado grassland birds seem to adapt well to the ever-changing landscapes, and Lagerman Agricultural Preserve provides rich habitat for an abundance of birds which is why we chose this location for the June 12th bird walk.

Great Horned Owl. Photo by Aron Smolley.

We had the largest group we’ve had in a while, after making a last-minute decision to allow the entire wait list to join. The first stretch of the Open Sky Loop is relatively uneventful, although we did get some nice views of western meadowlarks as well as a slow-motion Cooper’s Hawk flyover. There are little pockets of cottonwood trees and agricultural ditches along the trail, creating more diversity of habitat and we were lucky enough to find a Common Yellowthroat singing in one of the trees.

Further up the trail, by the ag pond, we stopped for a while and scoped out the surrounding area. Swainson’s Hawks and Red-tailed Hawks soared overhead, and both Eastern and Western Kingbirds chased insects from prominent fencepost perches. This provided an excellent opportunity to compare these species side-by-side, as well as generate some interesting discussion about bird behavior and adaptations. When Kingbirds catch insects in midair, this behavior is known as “hawking” and although it seems like a major acrobatic feat, to the bird it is as simple as opening the refrigerator door to us. This is because birds’ brains can interpret what they are seeing at a much higher-frame rate than we can, so they can react much quicker to the erratic flight pattern of an insect. We also enjoyed the thrill of watching one of the Kingbirds chasing other birds away from the area, and this territorial behavior is where they get their name.

Although our three target species (Bobolink, Dickcissel, and Blue Grosbeak) were nowhere to be found, we managed to get some soul-satisfying views of quite a few other species, including Cliff Swallows, American Goldfinch, and even a half-asleep roosting Great Horned Owl! Everyone got to view this majestic nocturnal raptor using the Novagrade phone adapter through the Zeiss Gavia spotting scope at 60x magnification. Other species of note were Osprey, American Kestrel, and Blue-winged Teal. For a hot day, and the trail being crowded with groups of bikers, I would say we didn’t do half bad.

 

1 Cooper’s Hawk

3 Swainson’s Hawks

2 Red-Tailed Hawks

Western Kingbird. Photo by Jamie Simo.

2 American Kestrels

1 Great-Horned Owl

1 Unidentified Raptor

Eastern Kingbird. Photo by Jamie Simo.

2 Western Kingbirds

2 Eastern Kingbirds

2 Blue-winged teal

1 Double-crested Cormorant

1 Great Blue Heron

1 Common Yellowthroat

X Mourning Dove

X Eurasian Collared Dove

X Black-billed Magpie

X Cliff Swallow

X European Starling

X Western Meadowlark

X Red-winged Blackbird

X Common Grackle

1 Great-Tailed Grackle

X American Goldfinch

Lagerman Reservoir, May 8

Until 2020, I only thought of Lagerman Reservoir in Boulder County as a good place to stop for a bathroom break when driving the Boulder County Raptor Loop for winter raptors. Boy, was I wrong! Last year, Lagerman was featured in multiple rare bird alerts during spring and fall migration sparking my curiosity (and that of many other birders in the area). When Front Range Birding Company asked me to lead a bird walk there on International Migratory Bird Day, I jumped at the opportunity!

American Avocet. Photo by Sheridan Samano.

Our group convened at Lagerman’s north shore near the parking lot. We were quickly treated with up close views of American Avocets in striking breeding plumage. Avocets have long bluish-gray legs, a long recurved bill, and a black-and-white chevron pattern on their back and wings. The name Avocet comes from the Italian avosetta, which means ‘graceful bird’. Scything the water’s surface in search of aquatic invertebrates is the hallmark foraging method of Avocets.

Foraging near the Avocets were several Wilson’s Phalaropes, the largest and most terrestrial of the world’s three phalarope species. Phalaropes may best be known for their reversed sex-role mating system. Females are the larger and showier sex. They compete for the attention of males and sometimes mate with multiple individuals, a process called polyandry. Males provide parental care. Exceptions in nature are always a crowd pleaser so the phalaropes sparked interesting dialogue among the group.

Wilson’s Phalaropes (male and female). Photo by Sheridan Samano.

With Lagerman’s seasonal closure, a spotting scope works best for distant viewing on the water and along the southern shoreline. With scopes, we identified a variety of species from ducks to grebes and gulls to terns.

After everyone had their fill of scope viewing, we walked to Lagerman’s east side. We listened to Western Meadowlarks singing in the fields, watched as a male American Kestrel precariously perched on a mullein stalk, and observed a Spotted Sandpiper with its bouncy-butt moving along the rocky shoreline.

In the agricultural field east of the reservoir, we found Vesper Sparrows and American Pipits. Sparrows are infamously tough to ID, but one Vesper perched in the open for several minutes affording everyone good looks at its diagnostic rufous wing patch. Vesper means evening. Vesper Sparrows are known to sing well into the twilight after most birds have stopped singing for the day.

For the morning’s grand finale, an adult Bald Eagle flew right over us with obvious prey in its talons. In real time, we weren’t sure what it was carrying but the consensus was that it was a duck. Upon closer examination of photos after our walk, a rabbit was revealed. 

Even with gusty sustained winds, everyone agreed Lagerman delivered on quality sightings. The final tally of 41 species wasn’t too shabby either.

eBird Checklist – 41 Species

Species     Count
Canada Goose 11
Blue-winged Teal 4
Northern Shoveler 1
Gadwall 7
Mallard 1
Lesser Scaup 2
Bufflehead 3
Ruddy Duck 2
Eared Grebe 4
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) 1
American Avocet 8
Killdeer 3
Western Sandpiper 3
Long-billed Dowitcher 1
Wilson’s Phalarope 18
Spotted Sandpiper 1
Lesser Yellowlegs 1
Franklin’s Gull 20
Forster’s Tern 3
Double-crested Cormorant 4
American White Pelican 2
Great Blue Heron 1
White-faced Ibis 1
Turkey Vulture 1
Osprey 1
Bald Eagle 2
Red-tailed Hawk 1
American Kestrel 1
Western Kingbird 2
Black-billed Magpie 3
Common Raven 1
Tree Swallow 9
Violet-green Swallow 1
Barn Swallow 2
Cliff Swallow 11
American Pipit 3
Vesper Sparrow 2
Western Meadowlark 4
Red-winged Blackbird 7
Brown-headed Cowbird 1
Common Grackle 2

 

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

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.

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

This report was generated automatically by eBird v3 (https://na01.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Febird.org%2Fhome&data=04%7C01%7C%7C562834325d3f40ccd92d08d8dd17aa40%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C637502441000545620%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C1000&sdata=c8XwavrGQujvX72wrfCoivNuv8Mcq19ERQU7T9gp8oc%3D&reserved=0)

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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

Walden/Sawhill Ponds Complex, March 14th – with Stephen Chang

The Saturday of March 14th, I led a group of 7 on a chilly morning to Walden Ponds wildlife habitat for our monthly birdwalk. We won’t be having another walk until, at the earliest, May 9th (maybe later), but we made the most of our last walk by observing 31 different species! Highlights included at least four different Bald Eagles (two adults and two juveniles), the area’s winter resident Harlan’s Hawk, and a very cooperative Northern Shrike.

Northern Shrike (c) Sibylle Hechtel

 

Northern Shrikes are a winter visitor here to the front range, but they breed up in the arctic tundra/taiga. Shrikes are our only predatory songbird, and during the winter the Northern Shrike will eat mostly other small songbirds and small rodents. In arid, open habitats across the front range, the Northern Shrike is replaced by the Loggerhead Shrike in the summer. They will eat small birds, mammals, reptiles, and insects.

Loggerhead Shrike (c) Jamie Simo

 

Our full eBird checklist can be found here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S65787632 

 

There is still plenty of migration to be had, so be sure to get out and look at some birds. Spending time in our natural areas is a easy way to practice social distancing. Happy Spring and be well!

Best,

Stephen Chang