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

 

Waneka Lake and Greenlee Preserve, March 9–with Jamie Simo and Special Guest Ted Floyd

Ted Floyd, birder extraordinaire

It was a beautiful, but blustery, morning when we set out for Wanaka Lake Park and Greenlee Preserve where we were joined by Lafayette resident and expert birder, Ted Floyd. The wind ended up being fortuitous because it broke up the thin skin of ice on Wanaka Lake. That meant we got to enjoy ducks and geese that would otherwise have been elsewhere, including Gadwall, Mallards, Northern Shovelers, a male Common Goldeneye, a group of Common Mergansers, and both Canada and Cackling Geese. The latter is distinguished from the former by their much smaller size, daintier bills, and stubby necks.

Cackling Goose (c) Jamie Simo

After surveying Waneka, Ted led us to Hecla Pond, which is a short walk from Waneka. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, Lafayette, CO was a big coal mining town and Waneka Lake Park used to be the site of a power plant that operated from 1907 until 1957. There are remnants of this history in the large ore boulders we passed on our walk to Hecla. We spent a few minutes admiring the lichen growing on the surface of the boulders.

Though small, Hecla Pond was no less interesting than Waneka. We were able to get good looks at a pair of Hooded Mergansers and compare them to the larger, sleeker Commons we’d seen earlier. We added American Wigeon to our list for the day there, as well as Ring-necked Duck (named for the faint, almost invisible ring around its neck rather than the much more obvious ring around its bill!).

Cooper’s Hawk (c) Jamie Simo

The wind kept our numbers of songbirds down, but back at Greenlee Preserve we logged Red-winged Blackbirds, Dark-eyed Juncos, and American Robins. We even had a Cooper’s Hawk fly over us! Lafayette hosts bird walks at 1:00pm from Greenlee Preserve on the first Sunday of every month, so stop by if you’re in the area then.

Our final species count was 27:

Waneka Lake/Greenlee Preserve
Number of Taxa: 27
100 Cackling Goose
49 Canada Goose
5 Northern Shoveler
3 Gadwall
3 American Wigeon
14 Mallard
10 Ring-necked Duck
3 Common Goldeneye
2 Hooded Merganser
7 Common Merganser
4 Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)
8 Eurasian Collared-Dove
1 Mourning Dove
32 Ring-billed Gull
1 Cooper’s Hawk
2 Red-tailed Hawk
5 Northern Flicker
4 American Crow
1 Common Raven
5 Black-capped Chickadee
7 American Robin
13 European Starling
27 House Finch
1 American Goldfinch
3 Dark-eyed Junco
3 Red-winged Blackbird
8 House Sparrow

Teller Farms, Feb 9 -with Jamie Simo

Hoar frost on Teller Lake (c) Jamie Simo
Hoar frost on Teller Lake (c) Jamie Simo

Eight birders braved the arctic temps to enjoy Teller Farms this gorgeous, February morning. Teller Farms is a working farm with a trail winding through grassland, past several ponds and under an occasional stand of trees.

While the cold meant there was no open water for ducks, limiting the number of species seen, we were able to take our time and examine common species like the Northern Flicker and the Song Sparrow. The weather didn’t deter some birds at all though. Raptors were the highlight of the day with great views of both male and female American Kestrels. One male even enjoyed his mouse breakfast just a few yards away from us! Though smaller than his mate, the male American Kestrel is brighter with slaty blue and rusty red adornments.

A male American Kestrel eating a mouse (c) Jamie Simo
A male American Kestrel eating a mouse (c) Jamie Simo

We also saw 2 different Red-tailed Hawks, one a light morph and one a dark morph. The Red-tailed Hawk is one of the, if not the, most variable of raptors ranging from the pale Krider’s to the almost black dark-morph Harlan’s.

An adult Bald Eagle, serenely perched in a distant tree and a Northern Harrier gliding low over the grass using its dish-shaped face to funnel the sounds of scurrying rodents to its ears, rounded out the raptor extravaganza. However, we’ll give an honorary mention to the Blue Jay mimicking a Red-tailed Hawk’s cry that had a few of us fooled momentarily!

Another special highlight came in the form of a mammal: a pair of coyotes loping across the grass. When we caught sight of them again, one had scored a meal of cottontail. It wasn’t clear whether the two were a mated pair or parent and not-quite-adult pup, but the larger coyote definitely wasn’t up for sharing its catch!

One coyote eats a rabbit while a second looks on hopefully (c) Jamie Simo
One coyote eats a rabbit while a second looks on hopefully (c) Jamie Simo

When out in nature, you never know what you’ll see! Next up: Walden Ponds on Saturday, February 16th!

Teller Farms, Feb 9, 2019 
14 species

Canada Goose 129
Northern Harrier  1 
Bald Eagle 1
Red-tailed Hawk 2
Northern Flicker 3
American Kestrel 3
Blue Jay 4
Black-billed Magpie 1
Black-capped Chickadee 3
White-breasted Nuthatch 2
American Robin 3
European Starling 30
Song Sparrow 6
Red-winged Blackbird 7

South Platte Park (C-470 area), Feb 2 – with Chuck Aid

Green-winged Teal female (c) Bill Schmoker

Fourteen of us began the morning by scoping and binocularing (why not, in an era when we are “verbizing” so many of our nouns?) South Platte Reservoir.  This large reservoir was completed in 2007, having been converted from an old gravel mine.  While its surroundings are rather sterile and vegetation almost non-existent, it continues to be a reliable haven for rare winter waterfowl in the south metro area. Almost every year we get one or more Long-tailed Ducks here, last year there was a Yellow-billed Loon, this year there were some Trumpeter Swans, and generally we get one or more of the three scoter duck species here.

Black Scoter female (c) Bill Schmoker

We were fortunate to see a single female Black Scoter, a single male Red-breasted Merganser, and a good representation of the more common winter ducks.  Black Scoters breed primarily in northern Quebec and northern Alaska.  Their major wintering areas are the coastal waters of Maine, Massachusetts, Alaska, British Colombia, and Washington.  Any occurrence in the center of the continent is unusual. Red-breasted Mergansers are not as rare an occurrence as the scoters, but it is certainly a special treat when we get to see them – a personal favorite of mine.  We ended up with fourteen species of ducks which was pretty good.

Red-breasted Merganser male (c) Bill Schmoker

Our other somewhat unexpected bird of the morning was an American Dipper under the C-470 bridge amidst all the current highway construction.  We were easily within twelve feet of this bird, and it was totally unperturbed, even going so far as to sing a little bit for us.  And, they have a delightful song!

American Dipper (c) Xeno-canto

  What makes this sighting unusual is that Dippers don’t tend to venture too far out on to the eastern plains.  They can make it about as far east as Loveland, Longmont, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, and Cherry Creek Reservoir, but those occurrences are fairly unusual.  Of additional interest is that a Dipper was seen in this exact same location on a Front Range Birding Company walk led by Jennifer O’Keefe on January 5th– presumably the same individual.

Hope to see you soon on our next walk.

Chuck

American Dipper (c) Bill Schmoker

South Platte Park–C470 area, Feb 2, 2019 
35 species

Canada Goose  14
Northern Shoveler  19
Gadwall  16
American Wigeon  1
Mallard  15
Green-winged Teal  9
Redhead  13
Ring-necked Duck  17
Lesser Scaup  14
Black Scoter  1 
Bufflehead  20
Common Goldeneye  13
Hooded Merganser  12
Common Merganser  1
Red-breasted Merganser  1
Pied-billed Grebe  1
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  14
American Coot  9
Killdeer  2
Ring-billed Gull  2
Great Blue Heron  1
Bald Eagle  2
Red-tailed Hawk  3
Belted Kingfisher  2
Northern Flicker  1
American Kestrel  3
Black-billed Magpie  7
American Crow  5
Black-capped Chickadee  6
American Dipper  1 
European Starling  7
American Pipit  1
House Finch  2
American Goldfinch  1
Song Sparrow  1

Hudson Gardens, Jan 26 – with Chuck Aid

Cackling and Canada Geese (c) Bill Schmoker

We had a raucous start as music blared across the parking lots at Hudson Gardens in anticipation of the Frosty’s Frozen 5 and 10 mile races.  Fortunately, we were ahead of the nine o’clock start time, and got out along the South Platte trail before the runners came by, and then safely sequestered ourselves well away from the action at the appropriate moments – all done very serendipitously.

Canada Goose (c) Bill Schmoker

So, to begin with, though the temperature was only about 30 degrees, it seemed to feel much colder, and we initially had only a few landbirds, an American Robin and some House Finches, but then as we got over to the river things picked up significantly.  The middle of the river was packed with Cackling Geese with their heads tucked away.  There were at least 600, possibly as many as 800.  Over the next forty minutes or so they gradually began to untuck, but they were in no hurry to leave.  

Cackling Goose (c) Bill Schmoker

Distinguishing Cackling Geese from Canada Geese is one of the great birding challenges.  Up until 2004 they were considered one species, and it’s easy to see why – they look VERY similar.  As with so many bird taxonomy questions, genetic analysis has led to this reclassification.  Generally speaking, Canada Geese are bigger, and Cackling Geese are smaller, but this all gets complicated by the fact that there are roughly seven subspecies of Canada Geese and four of Cackling Geese, all of which are of variable size and with some overlap between groups.  So, not to prolong this any further, a good place to start in distinguishing Cackling Geese is to look for a stubbier, shorter bill rising into a steeper forehead; the head itself is small and squarish; the neck is proportionally shorter and thicker, and some of these guys are only slightly bigger than a Mallard.  Canada Geese have longer bills rising gradually into a sloping forehead, giving the head a more rounded look; the neck is proportionally longer and thinner, with a tendency to be more “S” shaped.  Finally, we have Canada Geese year-round in Colorado, and Cackling Geese breed in northern Alaska and Canada and are only here in the winter.  ‘Nuff said!

Ring-necked Duck male (c) Bill Schmoker

Being right beside the Platte we also had ample opportunity to become experts at distinguishing male and female ducks of several species, both dabblers and divers.  One of the interesting winter phenomena in the Denver area is that as we get really cold weather the lakes and ponds can start to freeze over and the ducks then become more congregated along the flowing rivers and streams.  We generally see more dabblers along the river, e.g. Gadwall, Mallard, and Green-winged Teal, but with the colder weather the divers tend to show up more, e.g. Ring-necked Duck, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, and Hooded Merganser. With regard to diet the dabblers are primarily vegetarians, with only a small portion of their diet coming from various insect larvae.  Among the divers, about a fourth of the Ring-necked Duck’s diet is animal based (insects, nymphs, beetles, and mollusks).  Animal food constitutes the majority of the diet of Common Goldeneye, Bufflehead, and Hooded Mergansers.

Red-tailed Hawk, intermediate or rufous morph, (c) Bill Schmoker

Other highlights of the morning included an intermediate morph Red-tailed Hawk, which we picked up on flying away from us, but then it accommodatingly flew back towards us and landed right above us on a utility pole.  The majority of our Red-tail Hawks tend to be “light morphs,” that is they are pale in the breast and undertail coverts with a streaked belly band.  Roughly ten percent of Red-tails, however, are either “dark morph” birds that are all dark chocolate brown, or “intermediate or rufous morph” birds that are reddish-brown on the chest with a dark belly.  During breeding season in recent years there has been a breeding pair near Hudson Gardens of a light morph individual with an intermediate morph bird.  It seems likely to me that our bird on Saturday may have been the same one that breeds in this area.

Spotted Towhee (c) Bill Schmoker

Besides getting great looks at a number of songbirds such as Black-capped Chickadee, American Goldfinch, Dark-eyed Junco, Song Sparrow, and Spotted Towhee, one of our more interesting observations was of an all-male flock of Red-winged Blackbirds.  They were mostly first-year males just starting get their red epaulets, but also some beautiful adult males sporting wonderfully colorful bright red and yellow epaulets. But, no females.  Red-wings sexually segregate during migration but I’m puzzled by this mid-winter “all boys club.”

Red-winged Blackbird male (c) Bill Schmoker

A great morning with a great group of enthusiastic birders!  Hope you can make it to the next Hudson Gardens walk or one of the other Front Range Birding Company outings!

Best!  Chuck

Hudson Gardens, Jan 26, 2019 
25 species (+2 other taxa)

Cackling Goose  600
Canada Goose  42
Gadwall  10
Mallard  21
Green-winged Teal  1
Ring-necked Duck  9
Bufflehead  8
Common Goldeneye  3
Hooded Merganser  8
Eurasian Collared-Dove  9
Great Blue Heron  1
Red-tailed Hawk  2
Downy Woodpecker  1
Northern Flicker  2
Black-billed Magpie  5
American Crow  1
Black-capped Chickadee  7
American Robin  1
European Starling  2
House Finch  11
American Goldfinch  5
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored)  1
Dark-eyed Junco (cismontanus)  1
Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon)  3
Song Sparrow  5
Spotted Towhee  1
Red-winged Blackbird  18

South Platte Park, January 5 – Jennifer O’Keefe

One way I remember what birds are common in different times of the year is related to weather.  For instance, I associate seeing some types of birds with not being able to feel my fingers.  Many of the birds we saw on Saturday are ones I would expect to see while shivering, but the recent warm spell had us shedding layers by the end of the walk.  

We were fortunate to see both the Trumpeter Swans and the Tundra Swan that had been reported recently, as well as the Black Scoter that’s been hanging around for awhile.  We had great looks at so many different types of birds, and were able to spend some time discussing field marks and behavior.  It can be tedious to sort out a big lake full of birds, but our group was patient while we went through them. I hope everyone came away with at least one new nugget of information.

Once we moved on from the reservoir, we saw smaller numbers of birds but were able to put more attention to those not on the water.   We didn’t see many, but we did have good views of an American Kestrel and a Bald Eagle. 

We ventured under C-470 just for a few minutes to see if we could pick up any other species.  There were quite a few birders out that day, and we were lucky to happen upon a group that had just spotted a couple of American Dippers.  We relocated one of them, and were able to watch it for several minutes. 

Thanks to our group for a wonderful morning of birding!!   

Canada Goose                         200

Cackling Goose                        10

Trumpeter Swan                     6

Tundra Swan                           1

Mallard                                   55

Gadwall                                   35

Northern Pintail                      1

American Wigeon                   7

Northern Shoveler                  30

Green-winged Teal                 12

Redhead                                  7

Ring-necked Duck                   260

Black Scoter                            1

Common Goldeneye               45

Bufflehead                              60

Common merganser               5

Red-breasted merganser        2

Hooded merganser                 15

Ruddy Duck                             2

Pied-billed Grebe                    13

Great Blue Heron                    1

Red-tailed Hawk                      1

Bald Eagle                               1

Killdeer                                    3

Ring-billed Gull                       7

Rock Pigeon                            3

Belted Kingfisher                    1

Northern Flicker                     2

Prairie Falcon                          1

American Kestrel                    1

American Dipper                     1

Black-capped Chickadee         7

Sparrow spp.                           2

Red-winged Blackbird             1

Peschel Open Space, Dec 8 -with Jamie Simo

It was a cold, but clear morning when 9 intrepid birders set out for Peschel Open Space. Peschel is a hidden gem in the Weld County portion of Longmont near Sandstone Ranch. While the St. Vrain Greenway trail was heavily damaged by the devastating 2013 flood and parts of it only reopened earlier this year, the flood also created a lot of fantastic wetland habitat ideal for shorebirds and waterfowl.

Snow Goose (c) Photo by Jamie Simo

Things started off on a high note with a female American Kestrel and only went up from there. At some points the sky was nearly black and the air filled with the honking of geese attracted to the river, ponds, and nearby agricultural property that Peschel has to offer. In and among the thousands of Canada/Cackling Geese, we saw a dozen Snow Geese, including several juveniles and even a “blue morph.” 

Though Mallards were by far the most prevalent duck, there were also a scattering of American Wigeons, a few Green-winged Teal, and even 4 male Northern Pintails in their full glory.

Immature Bald Eagle (c) Photo by Jamie Simo

In addition to American Kestrels, Red-tailed Hawks were especially prevalent. We saw 6 different Red-tails. Other raptor highlights were the resident pair of Bald Eagles that made their appearance as we were heading back to the parking lot, 2 Northern Harriers, a Great Horned Owl roosting low in a tree, and a soaring Prairie Falcon.

While songbirds were in short supply this time of year, we did see several sparrow species (Song, American Tree, and White-crowned) and heard from resident species such as the Marsh Wren, Northern Flicker, and Blue Jay. The piece de resistance, however, was the American Pipit we saw picking around in the river near the bridge leading to Sandstone Ranch.

In all, we saw a total of 35 species, pretty good for an early winter day!

Peschel Open Space, December 8, 2018
35 species 

Snow Goose  12
Cackling/Canada Goose  2000
American Wigeon  22
Mallard  141
Northern Pintail  4
Green-winged Teal  3
Hooded Merganser  1
Ring-necked Pheasant  13
Eurasian Collared-Dove  11
Killdeer  5    
Ring-billed Gull  3
American White Pelican  8     
Great Blue Heron  3
Northern Harrier  2
Bald Eagle  3
Red-tailed Hawk  6
Great Horned Owl  1
Belted Kingfisher  2
Northern Flicker  2
American Kestrel  2
Prairie Falcon  1
Blue Jay  3
American Crow  4
Horned Lark  1
Black-capped Chickadee  2
White-breasted Nuthatch  1
Marsh Wren  1
European Starling  20
American Pipit  1    
American Goldfinch  2
American Tree Sparrow  1
White-crowned Sparrow  2
Song Sparrow  9
Western Meadowlark  3
Red-winged Blackbird  3