Hudson Gardens, March 25, with Chuck Aid

Dear Front Range Birders:

Thirteen of us had a delightful morning at Hudson Gardens. I was pleased to see so many American Wigeons as I’ve seen very few over the last couple of months. The female’s smeared mascara look was quite evident (all photos courtesy of Bill Schmoker).

Also, we had a great look at a pair of Green-winged Teal, and we could even see the green in the wing of the female.

Once again we were lucky to see an apparent pair of Cooper’s Hawks, and the intermediate morph Red-tailed Hawk that was around all last breeding season is back again.

Finally, I was excited to see a single Bushtit. These guys were not very common in this area thirty years ago, so even though they are more plentiful now, they still give me a thrill. Remember that the male has the dark eye, and the female’s eye is light.

Hope to see you on a walk soon either at Hudson Gardens or with the Front Range Birding Company!

Best,

Chuck

 

Hudson Gardens, Mar 25, 2017

30 species

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)  16

Gadwall (Anas strepera)  12

American Wigeon (Anas americana)  27

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)  23

Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata)  2

Green-winged Teal (Anas crecca)  2

Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)  8

Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus)  2

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)  2

Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii)  2

Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)  2

Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)  1

Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) (Columba livia (Feral Pigeon))  2

Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)  1

Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)  5

Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon)  2

Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)  10

Black-billed Magpie (Pica hudsonia)  1

American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)  1

Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)  8

Bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus)  1

White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis)  2

American Robin (Turdus migratorius)  9

European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)  3

Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata)  1

White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys)  2

Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)  3

Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)  12

House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)  3

American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)  6

South Platte Park, Dec 1 – with Chuck Aid

Greater Scaup (c) John Hoogerheide

Eight of us had a productive morning birding on a gloriously nice fall day.  The waterbirds were great, with two species of geese, fourteen species of ducks, plus a couple of Pied-billed Grebes, and some American Coots. Of special note here was a single Snow Goose amidst a long, long line of Canada Geese passing overhead.  Also, we had to wrestle with the identification of a small group of Greater Scaup.  Greater Scaup are member of the genus Aythya, which also includes Lesser Scaup, Ring-necked Duck, Canvasback, and Redhead.  

Lesser Scaup (c) John Hoogerheide

In Colorado Lesser Scaup are far more common than Greater, but telling the two apart presents us with a significant challenge.  Key attributes to look at are lateral head shape (rounded, not peaked with slight tuft), frontal head shape (has jowls), bill shape (large black nail on tip), and the extensiveness of the white wing-stripe on birds in flight (extends from the body to the end of the wing).  A more subtle attribute to look for has to do with the iridescent head color, Greaters are green, and Lessers are purple, BUT be mighty careful here. We all know how in certain light Mallards have green heads and other times they have purple heads.  Head color in scaup is not a reliable characteristic, but, coupled with seeing other pertinent details, it can help lead you to a proper identification.

Black Scoter (c) Bill Schmoker

Perhaps the bird of the day was a Black Scoter.  We are fortunate to get to see all three North American scoters in Colorado – Black, Surf, and White-winged, but these are primarily seaducks and their appearance here in the middle of the continent is relatively rare, and generally it is during fall migration that we could get lucky enough to see them.  Our bird was apparently an adult female, but first-winter juveniles, both male and female, have a very similar plumage.  Key features include a dark cap and pale cheeks on an otherwise rather plain brown, stocky duck.

Northern Shrike (c) Bill Schmoker

One other bird of note for the day was a Northern Shrike.  We get Loggerhead Shrikes breeding in Colorado, and then in winter we’re fortunate to get Northern Shrikes.  Both are very striking birds with their dramatic mix of white, gray and black patterning.  With Northern Shrikes key features include a longer, more strongly hooked bill, and the black mask is narrower than on a Loggerhead.

All in all, a very enjoyable morning!

Good birding!
Chuck

 

 

 

South Platte Park–C470 area, Dec 1, 2018
33 species

Snow Goose  1
Canada Goose  200
Northern Shoveler  75
Gadwall  18
American Wigeon  15
Mallard  12
Green-winged Teal  11
Ring-necked Duck  2
Greater Scaup  7
Lesser Scaup  17
Black Scoter  1
Bufflehead  16
Common Goldeneye  9
Hooded Merganser  19
Common Merganser  2
Ruddy Duck  5
Pied-billed Grebe  2
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  20
American Coot  3
Ring-billed Gull  5
Great Blue Heron  2
Red-tailed Hawk  5
Belted Kingfisher  1
Downy Woodpecker  1
Northern Flicker  3
American Kestrel  1
Northern Shrike  1
Black-billed Magpie  4
American Crow  1
Black-capped Chickadee  1
House Finch  3
White-crowned Sparrow (Gambel’s)  7
Song Sparrow  5

Hudson Gardens, Nov 17 – with Chuck Aid

American Wigeon – male (c) Bill Schmoker

Saturday, what with cold, drizzling rain and gusting winds, was not necessarily a good day for fair-weather birders, and about half the folks registered for our bird walk were no-shows. Those who did show up, all women by the way, were totally psyched to be there, well prepared for the weather, and had a great time.

Gadwall – male (c) Rob Raker

 

 

 

 

 

With Hudson Gardens being adjacent to the “Flat” Platte we always seem to get great views of the ducks on the river, and Saturday was no exception.  Everyone learned a lot about identifying the seven duck species that we saw, with some folks even starting to discern extremely fine points of identification all on their own – great observers!  I’m confident that in the future everyone will be far more self-assured in identifying both male and female Gadwalls – not one of the more colorful ducks, and the female is definitely a tricky ID even for moderately good birders.

Great Blue Heron (c) Bill Schmoker

One of our early highlights was getting good close views of a Great Blue Heron standing in a little streamside estuary and being aggressively challenged by a muskrat.  The muskrat kept circling around the Great Blue and to all appearances being quite brave in its attempt to drive the heron out of its home territory (we’ve seen baby muskrats in this same area on other outings).  Eventually the heron strolled off and the muskrat seemed mollified.  Great Blues are voracious carnivores.  They eat everything: fish, worms, aquatic insects, mollusks, crustaceans, amphibians, reptiles, birds (eggs, nestlings, ducklings, rails, bitterns, etc.), and mammals (mice, voles, chipmunks, squirrels, rabbits, muskrats, gophers, etc.).   Not surprisingly they have been known to choke to death on an overly large prey item.  Here’s a link to a video of a large fish being successfully swallowed whole – however, it’s not for the faint of heart – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1v5w0UK2SvE.  You can even find videos of Great Blues eating muskrats if you’re so inclined.

Gray-headed Junco (c) Bill Schmoker

On a prior Hudson Gardens walk last breeding season we got to watch a similar standoff in which a Red-winged Blackbird was attempting to drive off a Great Blue from within a stand of cattails.  The heron would crouch down and then make dramatic leaps into the air unsuccessfully attempting to snag the Red-wing.  We left not knowing the outcome of that encounter.

One of the other highlights of the morning was the good diversity of birds seen at the bird feeders in the Bird Garden.  Besides the usual House Finches and Black-capped Chickadees, we got to see a White-breasted Nuthatch, a Song Sparrow, and several American Goldfinches.  These are all species that can be seen year-round in the Denver area.  Then, we also got to see some recently arrived migrants that will spend the winter here – a couple of American Tree Sparrows, and a nice variety of Dark-eyed Junco subspecies.

Oregon Junco (c) Bill Schmoker

We have one subspecies of Junco that is in Colorado throughout the year – the Gray-headed.  However, there are an additional five subspecies that, having bred up in the boreal forest of Canada, the Pacific Northwest, and the Northern Rockies, come here to spend the winter.  We were fortunate to see four subspecies at the feeders.  A nice mix!

Hope to see you soon on another great Hudson Gardens outing!

 

Hudson Gardens, Nov 17, 2018
23 species (+4 other taxa)

Canada Goose  30
Gadwall  9
American Wigeon  1
Mallard  35
Ring-necked Duck  1
Bufflehead  6
Common Goldeneye  2
Hooded Merganser  2
Ring-billed Gull  3
Great Blue Heron  1
Belted Kingfisher  2
Northern Flicker  5
Blue Jay  1
Black-billed Magpie  4
Black-capped Chickadee  6
White-breasted Nuthatch  1
American Robin  4
House Finch  12
American Goldfinch  7
American Tree Sparrow  2
Dark-eyed Junco  3
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored)  1
Dark-eyed Junco (cismontanus)  1
Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon)  3
Dark-eyed Junco (Gray-headed)  2
Song Sparrow  3
Red-winged Blackbird  4

Harriman Lake Park, November 3 – with Chuck Aid

Female Bufflehead (c) Bill Schmoker

This morning’s walk was a bit abbreviated as cold rain mixed with a bit of sleet sent us scurrying back to the cars posthaste.  Prior to that though we were able to enjoy a productive couple of hours working on our duck identifications.  We did not work on geese or grebe IDs because we saw none.  However, the ten duck species we saw now were spectacular. Most of the males were in glorious breeding plumage, though a couple of Mallards and several Northern Shovelers were still a bit betwixt and between.  Duck highlights included great looks at American Wigeons, Green-winged Teal, and Hooded Mergansers.  And, as we continue to look for new arrivals of those ducks that bred up in northern Canada and will now spend the winter with us, it was gratifying to find a pair of Common Goldeneyes.

Prairie Falcon (c) Bill Schmoker

The main highlight of the day was a Prairie Falcon, which we saw almost immediately as we first got out of our cars.  It was perched initially on top of a light post along Kipling, and then flew rapidly over to the top of another light post along Quincy.  This is part of a common foraging strategy for wintering Prairie Falcons.  From the top of a pole, or cliff, they can effortlessly survey their surroundings, and then once they have sighted a potential prey item the can swoop down, flying low, fast, and quite powerfully towards their quarry.  This behavior, alone, can almost be diagnostic in identifying a Prairie Falcon. Fortunately, we were also able to ascertain that it was a large falcon with obvious pointed wings.  Then, once it was on its second perch, we could make out the characteristic malar stripe below its eye.  (You might want to check out the introductory pages of your field guide to familiarize yourself with where the malar region is in a bird’s topography.) We could also see the dark ear-patch, and the distinctive white patch between the dark malar stripe and dark ear patch.  Again, though, it was the behavior of the bird that offered the best initial clues as to what it was.

So, once again, Harriman delivered.  It’s an excellent place for beginning birders as the lake is small enough that it’s possible to make out many of the ducks just with binoculars.

Northern Shovelers (c) David Chernack

Good birding!
Chuck

Harriman Lake Park, Nov 3, 2018
24 species

Northern Shoveler  190
Gadwall  8
American Wigeon  50
Mallard  35
Green-winged Teal  17
Lesser Scaup  9
Bufflehead  30
Common Goldeneye  2
Hooded Merganser  14
Ruddy Duck  9
American Coot  11
Ring-billed Gull  3
Red-tailed Hawk  2
Northern Flicker  5
Prairie Falcon  1
Blue Jay  3
Black-billed Magpie  1
American Crow  5
Black-capped Chickadee  1
American Robin  1
European Starling  3
House Finch  5
American Tree Sparrow  2
Red-winged Blackbird  28

Hudson Gardens, Oct 27 – with Chuck Aid

Gadwalls (c) Mick Thompson

It was another great morning at Hudson Gardens.  We spent a fair amount of time working on the finer details of identifying five duck species. On Gadwalls the male has the big black rump and has silver tertials (the flight feathers closest to the body), and the female though relatively drab has white secondaries that when the wing is folded against the body cause a white spot to appear on her side. 

American Wigeon female (c) Bill Schmoker
American Wigeon (c) Bill Schmoker

With American Wigeons both male and female have a light bluish-gray bill and warm, brownish flanks; the male has an obvious whitish forehead and a distinct dark green swoop through the eye area; the female has her mascara smudged around her eye. 

Mallard male (c) Bill Schmoker

 

Mallards we know pretty well, but don’t forget the male’s curly black tail and clean yellow bill; the female has an orange bill with the black blobby spot on top; both have white outer tail feathers.  We only got to review male Buffleheads, as we saw no females, but we noted how white they were overall, with their relatively large round heads. For Hooded Mergansers we only got to see two males, but they were beauties, and unmistakable.

Mallard female (c) Bill Schmoker

 

 

 

 

 

We had some great looks at a couple of Red-tails, and one flew just a few feet above us providing a nice close-up view of its underside.  The birds had some nice differences and similarities.  So, while one was more of our classic light morph western Red-tail, the other was a much lighter looking individual with almost no buffy coloration – just black streaking on white for the belly-band.

 

Bufflehead male (c) Bill Schmoker

We had some good migrant activity with tons of American Goldfinches all over the place, and then right when we were leaving a large flock of Cedar Waxwings moved through. Also, had a couple of Dark-eyed Juncos. 

Overall, we had numerous opportunities for really nailing down some of the finer points of bird identification, and we all came away gratified at how much smarter we had become in such a short while – deservedly self-congratulatory!

Hooded Merganser male (c) Bill Schmoker

Good birding!
Chuck

Hudson Gardens, Oct 27, 2018
25 species

Canada Goose  28
Gadwall  8
American Wigeon  9
Mallard  37
Bufflehead  3
Hooded Merganser  2
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  8
Ring-billed Gull  1
Red-tailed Hawk  2
Belted Kingfisher  2
Downy Woodpecker  3
Northern Flicker  12
Blue Jay  2
Black-billed Magpie  3
American Crow  4
Black-capped Chickadee  14
White-breasted Nuthatch  2
American Robin  11
European Starling  3
Cedar Waxwing  38
House Finch  9
American Goldfinch  23
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored)  1
Dark-eyed Junco (Pink-sided)  1
Song Sparrow  1
Red-winged Blackbird  3

Hudson Gardens, September 29 – with Chuck Aid

American Wigeon (c) Bill Schmoker

Throughout the summer when looking at ducks, most of what we see in the Denver area are Mallards with occasionally a few of the three teal species, and perhaps a Wood Duck, Northern Pintail, Redhead, or Common Merganser.  It’s possible to see some other species, but they are pretty uncommon.  Then, as we progress through the fall the Blue-winged and Cinnamon Teal leave and migrate south.  However, starting in mid-September we gradually pick up about fourteen additional duck species that have bred farther to the north, and will then be in our area throughout the winter.  On Saturday we had Blue-winged Teal that will only be around for about two or three more weeks, and we also had two newly arrived migrants from the north, Gadwall and American Wigeon.

Dark-morph Red-tailed Hawk (c) Bill Schmoker

Other highlights included a couple of juvenile Black-crowned Night-Herons, a dark-morph Red-tailed Hawk, a single Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and a single Orange-crowned Warbler – both of the latter perhaps on their way to spend the winter in the Sierra Madre Occidental of Jalisco, Mexico.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Juvenile Cedar Waxwing (c) Bill Schmoker

Finally, the big score of the day was the huge number of Cedar Waxwings we encountered.  It’s possible to see these birds year-round, but their numbers seem to increase once we get past breeding season, and, in fact almost all the birds we saw were juveniles.  We had multiple flocks of 15-30 individuals, and at one time had close to 50 birds in one catalpa tree.  Outstanding!

Hudson delivers again!

Good Birding!
Chuck Aid

Hudson Gardens, Sep 29
29 species

Canada Goose  14
Wood Duck  9
Blue-winged Teal  7
Gadwall  5
American Wigeon  8
Mallard  55
Common Merganser  3
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  14
Mourning Dove  5
Killdeer  1
Ring-billed Gull  7
Double-crested Cormorant  4
Great Blue Heron  1
Black-crowned Night-Heron  2
Red-tailed Hawk  2
Downy Woodpecker  3
Northern Flicker  8
Blue Jay  7
Black-billed Magpie  2
American Crow  1
Barn Swallow  20
Black-capped Chickadee  10
White-breasted Nuthatch  1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  1
American Robin  60
Cedar Waxwing  54
House Finch  3
White-crowned Sparrow  7
Orange-crowned Warbler  1

Chatfield SP–Audubon Center: Sept 1 with Chuck Aid

Wilson’s Warbler (c) Bill Schmoker

Fourteen of us had a rather slow morning at Chatfield.  There were periods of almost total silence with regard to the avian community. However, we persisted, and managed to get a reasonable number of species even though the total number of individuals was quite low.

So, what did we not see?  We whiffed on Canada Geese, grebes, doves/pigeons, shorebirds (except for one Killdeer), gulls, herons, owls, woodpeckers (except for one Downy), vireos, and blackbirds/meadowlarks/orioles.

Western Kingbird (c) Bill Schmoker

 

What we did manage to see included three species of flycatchers: Western Wood-Pewee, Say’s Phoebe, and Western Kingbird.  We also had a few Gray Catbirds, Cedar Waxwings, and Lesser Goldfinches.  And, we had great looks at a couple of Yellow Warblers, a single Wilson’s Warbler, and a couple of Western Tanagers.  Fall migration is really the only time of year that we get to see Wilson’s Warblers in the Denver area, as their spring migration route is farther west and they breed high in the mountains.

 

Osprey (c) Bill Schmoker

The real highlight of the day may have been the raptors we recorded, though most of them were at quite a distance from us.  An Osprey gave us a fleeting view as it flew up the river.  We got to see Golden Eagles, Swainson’s Hawks, and a single Red-tail soaring; and we had an American Kestrel perched on a pole.  A few of us had a closer look at the two Golden Eagles as we drove back to the Front Range Birding Company.  They were on the ground tearing apart what was presumably a prairie dog and surrounded by Black-billed Magpies.  One was obviously a juvenile with the beautiful white “windows” in the wings and the white tail feathers with a broad, black, terminal band.  The other, which the whole group of us had observed while perched on a power pole, was a probable adult with the upperwing coverts paler than the rest of the dark brown feathers and forming a tawny diagonal bar.  This can be seen both on perched birds and those in flight.

Golden Eagle (c) Bill Schmoker

Hope that you get out with us on another walk soon!!

Chuck Aid

Chatfield SP–Audubon Center, Sep 1
29 species (+1 other taxa)

Mallard  11
hummingbird sp.  5
Killdeer  1
Double-crested Cormorant  3
Osprey  1
Golden Eagle  2
Swainson’s Hawk  2
Red-tailed Hawk  1

Golden Eagle (c) Brandon Trentler

Belted Kingfisher  2
Downy Woodpecker  1
American Kestrel  1
Western Wood-Pewee  2
Say’s Phoebe  1
Western Kingbird  1
Black-billed Magpie  7
American Crow  1
Violet-green Swallow  13
Black-capped Chickadee  10
White-breasted Nuthatch  1
House Wren  2

Golden eagle (c) Brandon Trentler

American Robin  11
Gray Catbird  6
Cedar Waxwing  5
House Finch  5
Lesser Goldfinch  4
Song Sparrow  1
Spotted Towhee  2
Yellow Warbler  2
Wilson’s Warbler  1
Western Tanager  2

Hudson Gardens: Aug 25, with Chuck Aid

Wood Duck female (c) Bill Schmoker

Saturday was a wonderfully mild morning for August, and six of us had a great time strolling through the peaceful environs of Hudson Gardens and along the South Platte.  The male Mallards were all clearly still in eclipse plumage – that time of year when male plumage is very like female – and the only way to tell who were the boys, and who were the girls was to look at the bill color – males = yellow-green and females = orange with black splotchiness.  The only other ducks we saw were a family group of a female Wood Duck with four juveniles.  These youngsters had not quite attained adult size and their bills were slightly smaller than mom’s.

Before getting into the highlights of the morning, we need to discuss one of our montane habitats a little bit.  A “carr” is a wet woodland or shrub area, generally dominated by willows, alders, and birches, and is often in an intermediate successional stage as a beaver pond transitions ultimately to becoming a montane meadow.  Often that intermediate stage is characteristically a saturated area of willows.  These willow carrs occur in Colorado’s mountains from about 8000 feet up to timberline at about 11,500 feet.  Got the picture?  So, with regard to birds, these willow carrs are prime breeding habitat for Fox Sparrows, Song Sparrows, Lincoln’s Sparrows, White-crowned Sparrows, and Wilson’s Warblers.

Wilson’s Warbler (c) Bill Schmoker

The point of all this habitat stuff is that you don’t necessarily need to go up to the mountains in order to see these species – just come to Hudson Gardens during fall migration. And, one of our highlights on Saturday was a beautiful Wilson’s Warbler.  Each fall migration these guys move down out of the mountains and can commonly be seen for a few weeks in the Denver area.

 

 

Cedar Waxwing juvenile (c) Bill Schmoker

Another highlight of the morning was the large number of Cedar Waxwings.  Most of these birds were juveniles and we even got to see an adult feeding its fledgling.  We also got to watch a group of waxwings gleaning insects out of a large spider web.

 

 

 

Cooper’s Hawk (c) Rob Raker

The birds of the morning, however, were the Cooper’s Hawks.  We got to have great looks at four individuals and had the opportunity to really break down all the physical features to look for in discerning Cooper’s from its very similar congener the Sharp-shinned Hawk, as well as telling juvenile and first-year Cooper’s from adults.  It was quite the seminar!  I’m not going to reiterate all those features here, but I will tell you that over the past five years the grove of cottonwoods just downstream from Nixon’s Coffee House has been a pretty reliable place in which to locate Cooper’s Hawks and they have had nests in there at least three of those five years.

Fall migration is happening, so I hope you’re able to pick up on a few species that you haven’t seen all summer.

Good Birding!
Chuck Aid

Hudson Gardens, Aug 25, 2018
26 species (+1 other taxa)

Canada Goose  11
Wood Duck  5
Mallard  48
Mourning Dove  1
Broad-tailed Hummingbird  1
hummingbird sp.  1
Ring-billed Gull  5
Double-crested Cormorant  4
Great Blue Heron  2
Turkey Vulture  4
Cooper’s Hawk  4
Swainson’s Hawk  1
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Belted Kingfisher  1
Downy Woodpecker  4
Northern Flicker  6
Blue Jay  1
American Crow  1
Barn Swallow  6
Black-capped Chickadee  12
White-breasted Nuthatch  1
American Robin  1
Cedar Waxwing  18
House Finch  6
American Goldfinch  11
Yellow Warbler  1
Wilson’s Warbler  1

Wildflowers and Birds atop Guanella Pass – Aug 4, 2018 w/ Chip Clouse & Kimberly Beck

Whipple’s Penstemon © K. Beck

Our group of 13 intrepid high-elevation birders and wildflower enthusiasts enjoyed the FRBC Birder’s Breakfast (featuring Birds ‘n’ Beans Organic, Shade-Grown, Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center-certified “Bird-Friendly” coffee – always for sale at FRBC!) before car-pooling up to join Kimberly Beck, our wildflower expert, atop Guanella Pass.  Guanella Pass is certainly popular with hikers on summer weekends as it is easily accessible from I-70 and Georgetown and from Hwy 285 and Grant.  It is the gateway to Mt Bierstadt and other above timberline hikes and the parking situation definitely showed it.  We were finally able to all get together under the tutelage of Kimberly and begin identifying alpine wildflowers and looking for birds.

 

Watching diving Mallards at Deadman’s Lake © Kimberly Beck
Interior West White-crowned Sparrow © Bill Schmoker

Avian diversity is always a bit lower at altitude but we were excited to see a few more species than I anticipated. White-crowned Sparrows were our most common sighting but a few Wilson’s Warblers were also working the willows.  We had a few hummingbird flyovers (including one definite male Broad-tailed) and a Clark’s Nutcracker also flew by.  After just commenting about the usual lack of ducks on small alpine lakes, we were surprised to find 4 Mallards.  Even more surprising was their behavior!  These dabblers were diving!  I was beginning to think I was in upside down world but this is actually the second time I have seen dabblers diving this year.  Subsequent research revealed that, though rare, dabblers do occasionally dive for food.  Another nice surprise was a juvenile Spotted Sandpiper.

 

Sneezeweed © Kimberly Beck

 

Wildflower numbers were a little off this year due to the dearth of winter snowfall (and snowmelt) and overall heat and dryness.  Nonetheless, Kimberly knew where to find a few and wanted us all to be able to describe what we saw before putting a name to them.  I, for one, really enjoyed her methods of asking you to observe first, compare to what else you have seen and place together in families before revealing the genus and the species (where possible.)  Kimberly is from Relational Rewilding Nature Guiding.

 

Fireweed © Kimberly Beck

Several folks were heading off toward I-70 and Georgetown as we concluded up top but 7 of us stopped at the Three Mile Creek Trailhead on the way back toward Hwy 285 en route to FRBC.  The mixed coniferous/aspen habitat revealed 7 more species in our relatively short stop.

Steller’s Jay, Common Raven, Violet-green Swallow, Black-capped Chickadee, Mountain Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Golden-crowned Kinglet

All in all, a good time was had by all as we continued to offer our annual high elevation wildflower walk (with some birding thrown in.)  Special thanks to Kimberly Beck for her expertise and refreshing enthusiasm.  The mission of Relational Rewilding Nature Guiding is to foster mutually enhancing relationships between people and nature that inspire healthy ecological actions as well as personal growth.  I only wish we had we had more time with her!

Chip Clouse – FRBC Manager

Meyer Ranch, July 7, with Chuck Aid

So, I start with a bit of a disclaimer.  On Friday, July 6, my wife and I picked up our new eight-week-old Golden Retriever puppy.  As a consequence, Saturday was possibly not my sharpest day in the field.  Fortunately, we were accompanied by Master Birder, Wendy Wibbens who was able to straighten out my numerous misidentifications.

Twisted Stalk

First of all, we did not see or hear any Red-winged Blackbirds, leading me to believe that the dry weather may be impacting the wetland area at Meyer Ranch, and that the Red-wings that were there a couple of weeks ago have left for wetter pastures.  Certainly, one of the impacts of the dryness that we noted was that the flowers on all the Twisted Stalk plants in what are generally moist drainages had dried up and will not be producing their red fruit this year.

Cliff Swallow (c) Bill Schmoker

So now on to the birds that we did see.  Yes, there were babies – fledgling Mallards with mom in the little creek by the parking area, and fledgling Common Grackles in the same area. Also, along the creek was a family of Song Sparrows.  Hordes of Cliff Swallows were nesting on the US 285 overpass, and actively feeding young at the nests.  Out on the trail through the mixed pine and aspen forest we saw a young male Hairy Woodpecker whose tail feathers were still not fully grown out, moving along with an adult female – presumably his mom.  Perhaps the best baby sighting was of a nest full of Chipping Sparrow nestlings in a little lodgepole pine almost at eye-level.

Song Sparrow (c) Bill Schmoker

One of the main reasons we like to go to Meyer Ranch is that it can be a great place for Savannah Sparrows which prefer to breed in damp meadows, and at Meyer Ranch there usually appears to be a fair amount of sub-irrigating of the soil going on.  Perhaps, not so much this year, for we only managed to see a couple of birds.  So, in identifying Savannah Sparrows it’s handy to be able to start with Song Sparrows first, which are long-tailed, have a coarsely-streaked breast with a central breast spot, have some rufous in the wings, and have broad brown lateral throat stripes. 

Savannah Sparrow (c) Bill Schmoker

The Savannah Sparrow also has a streaked breast with a central breast spot, but it seems cleaner and better defined, and overall lighter underneath.  Perhaps the best thing to notice is that the Savannah Sparrow has a much shorter tail. The yellow supraloral spot seen on the bird in this photo is not always obvious, and can be difficult to make out.

Good birding! Chuck

Meyer Ranch Open Space, July 7, 2018
25 species

Mallard  9
Turkey Vulture  1
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Broad-tailed Hummingbird  5
Hairy Woodpecker (Rocky Mts.)  2
Northern Flicker (Red-shafted)  2
Warbling Vireo  2
Common Raven  1
Violet-green Swallow  2
Cliff Swallow  60
Mountain Chickadee  5
Red-breasted Nuthatch  2
Pygmy Nuthatch  2
House Wren  5
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  2
American Robin  4
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s)  4
Chipping Sparrow  3
Dark-eyed Junco (Gray-headed)  7
Savannah Sparrow  2
Song Sparrow  5
Western Tanager  1
Common Grackle  2
House Finch  1

Hudson Gardens, June 30, with Chuck Aid

Black-crowned Night-Heron (c) Bill Schmoker

Well, it was another beautiful morning at Hudson Gardens!  What a great place to stroll around and look at birds!  Starting with the waterfowl, we had many Mallards – females with their attendant youngsters, and males in various stages of acquiring eclipse plumage. I know that all of you who have come on our Front Range Birding Company walks now know that eclipse plumage is when male ducks, towards the end of breeding season, molt from their brilliant breeding plumage to a dull, cryptic plumage.  Furthermore, I’m sure you recall that this all happens at the same time that the main flight feathers are molting, and that some ducks actually become flightless for a few weeks – a good plan if you are temporarily flightless, to be more cryptically colored.  With the next molt the brilliant male colors will return.  

Great Egret (c) Bill Schmoker

Getting good looks at three species of herons was a plus: Great Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, and Black-crowned Night-Heron.  Just a reminder that Snowy Egrets have black legs with “golden slippers,” and they have a mostly black bill; Great Egrets, which we also get in Colorado, though not as commonly, have black legs and feet, and they have a yellow bill.  Black-crowned Night-Herons get their name because they forage predominantly at night (and, yes, they have a black crown), and we were fortunate to see a couple of adults.

Snowy Egret (c) Bill Schmoker
Hairy Woodpecker (c) Bill Schmoker

Then, we had three species of woodpeckers, including a recently fledged Downy Woodpecker – kind of fuzzy looking, short tail not grown out completely yet, and acting a bit doofy.  And, we had a single adult male Hairy Woodpecker, the Downy’s larger cousin.  About 97% of Hairy’s nest in the mountains, so seeing one in town during breeding season is a bit of an anomalie – not completely unexpected, but certainly unusual. We were fortunate to have both a Downy and the Hairy in the same binocular field of view, so it was handy to be able to compare these very similar looking species.

Downy Woodpecker (c) Bill Schmoker

 

One funny occurrence of the morning was that as we were looking at a singing Northern Mockingbird (a song that had been confusing me for a few minutes), we also got to hear at the same moment the cat-like meow of the Gray Catbird.  Both of the species are in the family Mimidae, along with several Thrashers. These birds are well known for the diversity of their songs, their capacity for song mimicry, and the incredible duration of their songs – sometimes over ten minutes.

Cedar Waxwing (c) Bill Schmoker

 

 

 

Perhaps the stars of the morning were the numerous foraging adult Cedar Waxwings that were incredibly cooperative, to the extent that while being photographed one individual flew within two feet of the photographer.  She didn’t have to work hard to get close to that bird!

‘Tis the season of baby birds, so in your backyards you should be seeing the adults feeding and tending to their young.  Also, the Rufous and Calliope Hummingbirds which have already finished breeding to the northwest of us, are back in the area as their first step towards their migration southward.

Good birding!
Chuck Aid

Hudson Gardens, Jun 30, 2018
33 species

Mallard  34
Green-winged Teal  1
Double-crested Cormorant  13
Great Blue Heron  2
Snowy Egret  3
Black-crowned Night-Heron  2
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  4
Eurasian Collared-Dove  1
Mourning Dove  15
Downy Woodpecker  4
Hairy Woodpecker  1
Northern Flicker  2
Western Kingbird  3
Black-billed Magpie  1
Barn Swallow  3
Cliff Swallow  8
Black-capped Chickadee  4
House Wren  7
American Robin  12
Gray Catbird  1
Northern Mockingbird  1
European Starling  1
Cedar Waxwing  11
Yellow Warbler  14
Song Sparrow  2
Bullock’s Oriole  2
Red-winged Blackbird  7
Brown-headed Cowbird  5
Common Grackle  4
House Finch  19
American Goldfinch  1
House Sparrow  1