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

Milavec Reservoir, Jan 11, 2020–with Jamie Simo

Cackling Goose (left) vs Canada Goose (right) (c) Jamie Simo

Milavec Reservoir in Frederick, CO is one of the best places along the Front Range to see all the possible (read: non-rare) interior goose species. Sometimes, like last year, it even plays host to some rarities like the Colorado-record Pink-footed Goose and Barnacle Goose. As hoped for, while we didn’t see any Colorado-record geese on this frigid, but sunny, Saturday morning, we did see all the usual goose suspects. We also had some great ducks and raptors.

Nearly all Coloradans are familiar with our only breeding goose species, the Canada Goose, but winter brings migrant Cackling, Greater White-fronted, Ross’s, and Snow Geese from the arctic to our lakes, reservoirs, and fields. The most similar to the Canada Goose, the Cackling Goose was only recognized as a species in its own right in 2004. There are 4 subspecies of Cackling Goose varying in size and color, but some of the common characteristics include smaller body size than the majority of Canada Geese (there may be some overlap with the smallest subspecies of Canada Goose), a shorter neck, and a bill that looks “stubby” because of a more rounded or square head shape. Because of the difficulty of distinguishing between the smallest subspecies of Canada Goose and the largest subspecies of Cackling Goose, small white-cheeked geese are sometimes referred to as “Cackling-ish.”

Ross’s Goose (foreground) vs Snow Goose (background) (c) Jamie Simo

Like the Canada Goose, the Snow Goose also has a “mini-me” doppleganger, the Ross’s Goose, but that doppleganger is much easier to pick out than the Cackling Goose. Firstly, Snow Geese come in either the expected white plumage with black wingtips or a darker, grey-blue body plumage with white head and neck. Both have pink bills and feet as adults. The latter is sometimes referred to as a “blue goose, “blue morph,” or “blue phase” Snow Goose. There are only 2 subspecies of Snow Goose, but both have a black “grin patch” that gives them a sneering appearance, and a sloping forehead. By contrast, the Ross’s Goose, which is usually white but also occurs rarely in a blue phase, has a steep forehead leading to a rounded crown and lacks the grin patch.

The final expected goose species in Colorado is the Greater White-fronted Goose. This goose is mostly brownish-grey with darker belly bands, orange legs and bill, and white feathers around the base of the bill from which is gets its name.

Other stand-out species were 2 adult Bald Eagles, a Northern Harrier, a Red-breasted Merganser, a female Canvasback, and even a coyote. Not bad for a cold, January morning!

Female Northern Harrier (c) Chris Friedman

Frederick Lake (Milavec Reservoir) & Recreation Area, Jan 11, 2020
25 species

8 Snow Goose
3 Ross’s Goose
1 Greater White-fronted Goose
2000 Cackling Goose
4000 Canada Goose
60 Northern Shoveler
10 Mallard
1 Canvasback
7 Lesser Scaup
3 Bufflehead
20 Common Goldeneye
7 Common Merganser
1 Red-breasted Merganser
1 Ruddy Duck
3 American Coot
1 Northern Harrier
2 Bald Eagle
1 Red-tailed Hawk
1 American Kestrel
1 Blue Jay
6 European Starling
6 American Tree Sparrow
1 White-crowned Sparrow (Gambel’s)
2 Song Sparrow
1 Red-winged Blackbird

Boulder Reservoir, November 9, 2019–with Aidan Coohill

Female Ruddy Duck (c) Jamie Simo

We started our walk at Boulder Reservoir with excellent sunny weather and low wind, allowing us to see the birds on the lake quite easily without many waves. Boulder Reservoir is the largest reservoir in the county in terms of both size and volume creating an excellent environment for birds but also for recreational boating, fishing, swimming, and jogging. It also provides and holds all water for the Northern Water Distinct for drinking and irrigation. We covered the area in two sections, the first on the southwestern shore of the reservoir which is extremely popular in summer for recreation, and the northern section from the West Reservoir Trailhead. 

Immediately after parking we found a large group of American coots feeding in the shallows of the swim beach. Among the flock was a lone female Ruddy duck. Belonging to the genus of “Stiff-tailed ducks”, it is a small freshwater fowl with a large range across North America. Like all in its genus, the Ruddy duck has a stiff tail (often described as looking like a bundle of Popsicle sticks), males have a bright blue bill, and a body that depending on season and sex is rusty to brown in color. These birds are currently in the process of moving to their warmer wintering grounds further south in the Unites States and into Northern Mexico. 

Bonaparte’s Gull (c) Jamie Simo

Further down the shoreline we found the Rusty blackbirds that have been seen in the area for the last several days, a rarity that drew many local birders to the reservoir. This blackbird is very similar to the Brewer’s blackbird that is common in Colorado but is an uncommon accidental migrant in this part of the west. Unlike the Brewer’s blackbird, it prefers quiet spruce forest and boreal bog and not parks, fields, pastures, lawns, and parking lots. During winter the differences between the sister species becomes most obvious with both the male and female getting buffy and ruddy patterning on their bodies. This was the state the pair we saw were in. 

On the north side of the reservoir we got another cool sighting, two Bonaparte’s gulls. This small bird is the smallest gull in North America aside from the elusive Little gull. They have dainty pink feet, a small beak, and off-white coloring. During winter plumage (what we saw) it trades its distinctive black hood for white save for a small black patch over the ear. These gulls are a real treat as they head south for the winter. 

Other highlights included a Ferruginous hawk perched in a tree on our way out, a pair of Northern harriers, and all three species of mergansers!

In all, we heard or saw 28 taxa; good for this time of year at the reservoir! 

Boulder Reservoir, November 9, 2019
27 Species (+1 additional taxa)
  • Cackling Goose 250
  • Canada Goose 100
  • Gadwall 2
  • Mallard 2
  • Lesser Scaup 1 
  • Common Goldeneye 8
  • Hooded Merganser 15
  • Common Merganser 8
  • Red-breasted Merganser 6
  • Ruddy Duck 1
  • Horned Grebe 1
  • Western Grebe 6
  • American Coot 80
  • Bonaparte’s Gull 2
  • Ring-billed Gull 200
  • Herring Gull 1
  • Great Blue Heron 1
  • Northern Harrier 2
  • Red-tailed Hawk 3
  • Red-tailed Hawk (Harlan’s) 1
  • Ferruginous Hawk 1
  • Blue Jay 1
  • Black-billed Magpie 2
  • Black-capped Chickadee 2
  • European Starling 100
  • House Finch 4
  • Red-winged Blackbird 1
  • Rusty Blackbird 2

If anyone would like me to share the eBird checklist with them please email me at aidan@coohill.com

Hudson Gardens, Sept 28, 2019 – with Chuck Aid

Wood Duck – juvenile male (c) Bill Schmoker

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

Wood Duck – female (c) Bill Schmoker

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

Killdeer (c) Bill Schmoker

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

Cedar Waxwing (c) Bill Schmoker

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

Great Blue Heron (c) Bill Schmoker

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

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

Hope to see you on another walk soon!

Chuck

Hudson Gardens, Sept 28, 2019
27 species

Red-tailed Hawk- juvenile (c) Bill Schmoker

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

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

Least Sandpiper in breeding plumage. Photo by Jamie Simo.

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

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

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

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

Male Brewer’s Blackbird. Photo by Jamie Simo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Betasso Preserve, August 10, 2019

Western Wood-Pewee. Photo by Jamie Simo.

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

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

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

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

Townsend’s Solitaire. Photo by Jamie Simo.

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

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

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

Beaver Ranch, Aug 3, 2019 – with Chuck Aid

Mountain Chickadee (c) Bill Schmoker

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

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

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

Red-naped Sapsucker (c) Bill Schmoker

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

Evening Grosbeak (c) Bill Schmoker

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

Lark Sparrow (c) Bill Schmoker

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

See you on another walk soon!

Chuck

Beaver Ranch, Aug 3, 2019
35 species

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

 

Hudson Gardens, July 27, 2019 – with Chuck Aid

Black-crowned Night-Heron (c) Bill Schmoker

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

Female Mallard (c) Bill Schmoker

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

Chipping Sparrow (c) Bill Schmoker

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

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

Double-crested Cormorant (c) Bill Schmoker

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

Good Birding!
Chuck

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

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

Meyer’s Gulch Bird Walk 7/13

Pygmy nuthatches. Photo by Jamie Simo.

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

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

Fledging Red-naped sapsucker. Photo by Aidan Coohill

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

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

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

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

-Aidan Coohill

Photo courtesy of Dave McLoughlin

Heil Valley Ranch, June 8, 2019

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

Cordilleran Flycatcher. Photo by Jamie SImo.

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

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

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

Lazuli Bunting pair mating. Photo courtesy of Linda Hardesty.

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

Male Lesser Goldfinch. Photo courtesy of Chris Friedman.

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

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