Roxborough State Park, May 4 – with Chuck Aid

Golden Banner (c) Chuck Aid

A spring morning at Roxborough is pretty hard to beat. The wild plums were all in bloom and subtly perfuming the air.  Many of the early flowers were out: Sand Lily, Mertensia (Bluebells), Larkspur, Golden Banner, Spring Beauty, Oregon Grape, etc.  And, there were the usual resident birds mixing with the newly arrived migrants.

 

Prairie Falcon (c) Rob Raker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course, the main attraction at Roxborough are the incredible rock formations, and it is always of interest to tune in to the birds that utilize this unique habitat.  For the last several years Prairie Falcons have nested up on the highest protected rock ledges where they scape loose pebbles to form a small depression to hold their eggs.  And we got to watch a single falcon standing up high on its ledge.

White-throated Swift (c) Bill Schmoker

Also, notable were the Violet-green Swallows and White-throated Swifts that utilize the numerous little pockets and cracks in the faces of the cliffs for their nests.  A little bit of info on swifts and swallows.  Swifts, along with Hummingbirds, belong to the order Apodiformes (“without feet” or “footless”) because their feet are so little and really only useful for perching.  Swifts superficially resemble swallows, and both groups get their groceries by foraging for flying insects.  However, swifts are faster flying, with a rapid, flickering flight reminiscent of bats, they rarely fly in a straight line – giving the impression that their wings are flapping alternately, their sickle-shaped wings are more swept back, and their “wrist” appears proportionally closer to the body.

Violet-green Swallow (c) Rob Raker

Swallows are in the large Passeriformes order – “Perching” birds – which includes over half the birds in the world.  They have broader, shorter wings, and have a more relaxed wing-beat.  Both the species we were seeing, White-throated Swift and Violet-green Swallow, have rumps with white sides, so this can take a bit of work sorting these out.

Other birds that can, at times, have a preference for foraging on cliff faces include Northern Flickers and Say’s Phoebes, but we did not see any of this behavior this time around.

 

 

Cooper’s Hawk (c) Rob Raker

Perhaps the real highlight of the day was getting to play bird detective a bit with a pair of Cooper’s Hawks.  Being woodland hawks, often in dense foliage where visual contact may be limited, they rely on vocalizations as a primary means of communication.  We first heard a single bird making a couple of interesting sounds down in the little riparian area below our trail.  One call was the typical “cak-cak-cak,” which, once one becomes familiar with it, is fairly distinct, and provides an easy way to identify a “Coop.”  The other call, however, was not one with which I am familiar, a kind of nasal “whaaa.”  A little research indicates that this is primarily a call that females make that’s related to receiving food, or begging for food, from the male.  Digging a bit deeper I found that scientists have identified 42 different calls by females, 22 by males, and 14 by young. The larger repertoire of calls by females is attributed to their greater need to convey more information.

So, then, after a bit of looking we located our calling bird, presumably a female, in the upper branches of a cottonwood.  Shortly thereafter the male showed up, and they were alternately engaged in sitting in a nearby stick nest, presumably getting it in shape for the eventual laying of eggs. The longer we stood up on our trail, and just observed things, the more we saw and learned.  Great fun!

Hope to see you soon on another bird walk!

Chuck

 

Roxborough SP, May 4, 2019
24 species (+2 other taxa)

Mourning Dove  1
White-throated Swift  7
Broad-tailed Hummingbird  12
Turkey Vulture  2
Cooper’s Hawk  2
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Prairie Falcon  1
Say’s Phoebe  2
Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay  1
American Crow  2
Violet-green Swallow  15
Black-capped Chickadee  8
White-breasted Nuthatch  2
House Wren  3
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  1
Townsend’s Solitaire  1
Lesser Goldfinch  1
Chipping Sparrow  1
Spotted Towhee  21
Western Meadowlark  1
Red-winged Blackbird  1
Brown-headed Cowbird  1
Yellow-rumped Warbler  4
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle)  1
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s)  2
Lazuli Bunting  2

Hudson Gardens, April 27, 2019

Saturday, April 27 was an absolutely delightful day of birding.  The weather was slightly chilly and a little cloudy, but neither the birds nor the people seemed to mind at all.  Our group included a child celebrating a 13thbirthday, and we were all happy to be a part of the celebration.

Cedar Waxwing (c) Bill Schmoker

April is an exciting but tricky time of year for birding.  Migration is underway so there is a lot of anticipation to see various species return, but it can take a minute to recognize the sights or sounds of a bird not seen since fall.  We’re not re-learning how to ride a bike; we just haven’t seen one for awhile.

The quantity of birds seen at Hudson Gardens was impressive. The birds were out and often in plain sight. We saw mostly common birds, but got some really good looks at American Goldfinches in all their spring glory, as well as an exciting glimpse of beautiful Cedar Waxwings.

Yellow-headed Blackbird (c) Bill Schmoker

Due to construction, the connection from Hudson Gardens to the Mary Carter Greenway along the South Platte River was closed.  Since many participants were really excited to look for birds along the river, we made our way to Carson Nature Center and walked a little more. We were richly rewarded with long looks at a male Belted Kingfisher, a Common Merganser flying upstream and then floating down, a soaring Red-tailed Hawk, and last but certainly not least, a Yellow-headed Blackbird.

During our adventure, we also spotted a muskrat, painted turtle, a frog, and numerous rabbits.

The species list is below, in two forms. First, the complete list from the entire hike.  Second, a list of what we saw at Hudson Gardens, and a list of what we saw along the Platte.

Great day of birding!

Jennifer O’Keefe

 

Complete List

 American Goldfinch 3

Common Grackle 15

Canada Goose 10

Red-winged Blackbird 70

Mourning Dove 5

American Robin 31

Mallard 7

Swallow spp. 30

Black-capped Chickadee 3

House Wren 2

Cedar Waxwing 7

Western Meadowlark 2

House Finch 3

Yellow-rumped Warbler 1

Downy Woodpecker 1

Brown-headed Cowbird 1

Chipping Sparrow 1

Bushtit 3

American Crow 4

Violet-green Swallows 150

Tree Swallows 150

Red-tailed Hawk 1

Black-billed Magpie 2

Yellow-headed Blackbird 2

Belted Kingfisher 2

Downy Woodpecker 1

Common Merganser 1

House Sparrow 2

 

 Hudson Gardens

American Goldfinch 3

Common Grackle 15

Canada Goose 10

Red-winged Blackbird 45

Mourning Dove 5

American Robin 18

Mallard 7

Swallow spp. 30

Black-capped Chickadee 3

House Wren 2

Cedar Waxwing 7

Western Meadowlark 2

House Finch 3

Yellow-rumped Warbler 1

Downy Woodpecker 1

Brown-headed Cowbird 1

Chipping Sparrow 1

Bushtit 3

American Crow 4

 

South Platte Trail

Violet-green Swallows 150

Tree Swallows 150

American Robin 13

Red-winged Blackbird 25

Red-tailed Hawk 1

Black-billed Magpie 2

Yellow-headed Blackbird 2

Belted Kingfisher 1

Downy Woodpecker 1

Common Merganser 1

House Sparrow 2

 

Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield, Apr 6 – with Chuck Aid

How delightful to finally be getting a few Spring-like days! We had such an enjoyable stroll through the DBG at Chatfield on Saturday morning. Lots of singing going on, and a profusion of green leaves emerging everywhere.

Turkey Vulture (c) Bill Schmoker

So, part of what we did not see was a big variety, or large numbers, of waterfowl. Many species will be heading north shortly, and some have begun to do so already, but there should still be good representation by just about all of our wintering ducks. We just fell a bit short of what I anticipated we would see. We, also, did not see a few of the migrant species that are on the verge of arriving from the south. Marsh Wrens and Swainson’s Hawks have just started appearing in the area, but we saw none. Other species, such as Blue Grosbeaks and Bullock’s Orioles, are really not expected to show up for another three to four weeks.

Bald Eagle (c) Bill Schmoker

So, what did we see? Well, we did well in the raptor department seeing a few soaring Turkey Vultures, both Golden and Bald Eagles, a Cooper’s Hawk visiting a possible nest site, a couple of Red-tailed Hawks, an active Great Horned Owl nest with mom and three nestlings, and a single American Kestrel. We hoped for a late Ferruginous Hawk or an early Swainson’s Hawk, but had no luck.

 

Say’s Phoebe (c) Bill Schmoker

We had a few other nice surprises, including great looks at a pair of Eastern Phoebes. Historically, these guys were only found breeding in rimrock canyons and riparian woodlands in southeastern Colorado. However, with increasing frequency Eastern Phoebes are now being recorded breeding along the front range foothills in Jefferson, Boulder, and Larimer Counties. This pair was hanging out in low vegetation along Deer Creek, and even finding perches on small boulders adjacent to the creek. They can be identified by being somewhat larger than a Western Wood-Pewee, having a dark head, light gray vest, light yellow belly, dark tail, and a distinctive tail-wagging motion.

Tree Swallow (c) Bill Schmoker

The Say’s Phoebe is a close relative of the Eastern Phoebe, being in the same genus Sayornis, and we got to see and hear several of them. They occur in our area much more commonly, with even a few electing to spend winters here, so they are not unexpected. Swallows tend to start arriving each spring during the first part of April, and we were fortunate to see both Violet-green and Tree Swallows. We also got great looks at a few Ruby-crowned Kinglets, even getting to see the ruby crown being partially displayed on one.

And, just as an odd occurrence, we had three Common Ravens but no American Crows. Kind of the opposite from what one might expect.

Good birding!

Chuck

Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield, Apr 6, 2019
37 species (+1 other taxa)

Canada Goose 15
Northern Shoveler 4
Gadwall 16
Mallard 11
Common Merganser 4
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) 9
Eurasian Collared-Dove 1
American Coot 1
Killdeer 2
Ring-billed Gull 3
Turkey Vulture 3
Golden Eagle 1
Cooper’s Hawk 1
Bald Eagle 1
Red-tailed Hawk 2
Great Horned Owl 4
Downy Woodpecker 3
Northern Flicker 4
American Kestrel 1
Eastern Phoebe 2
Say’s Phoebe 4
Blue Jay 2
Black-billed Magpie 5
Common Raven 3
Tree Swallow 1
Violet-green Swallow 5
Black-capped Chickadee 5
White-breasted Nuthatch 2
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 3
American Robin 15
European Starling 9
House Finch 6
Dark-eyed Junco (Pink-sided) 1
Dark-eyed Junco (Gray-headed) 2
Song Sparrow 6
Western Meadowlark 5
Red-winged Blackbird 14
Common Grackle 2

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

 

112th Ave & Barr Lake State Park, Mar 2 – with Chuck Aid

The goal for the day was winter raptors, and the area between Barr Lake and DIA is one of the best I know of that is relatively close to the Denver metro area.  So, how do we know where we might find raptors?  Well, a key place to start is by looking at where they get their groceries. Let’s look at some of our local raptors a bit more closely.

Bald Eagle (c) Bill Schmoker

Bald Eagles eat fish almost exclusively, so it makes sense that Barr Lake always has a fair number of wintering Bald Eagles. However, if a large prairie dog town is in the vicinity of their fish market, then they may bop over there to check things out – possibly, to catch an unaware “dog,” but what can be even easier is to steal one from someone else who already did all the work, what’s known as kleptoparasitism.

Golden Eagles will eat a variety of mammals, and they will cover large distances when foraging, but perhaps because they prefer their overnight canyon roosts in the foothills they tend not to be seen regularly too far out on the eastern plains.

Ferruginous Hawk (c) Bill Schmoker

Ferruginous Hawks focus primarily on ground squirrels and prairie dogs.  This is our largest Buteo (soaring hawk), weighing up to 3.5 lbs.  In contrast, a Red-tailed Hawk weighs only 2.4 lbs.  In looking closely you’ll notice the Ferruginous’ huge bill, accentuated by its long “gape” – the portion of the mouth extending back into the head, allowing for a larger mouth opening.  Also, notice its large feet compared to other Buteos.

 

 

Ferruginous Hawk (c) Bill Schmoker

Red-tails go for a bit smaller prey, primarily voles, mice, rats, and cottontails.  Prairie Falcons in the winter focus mainly on Horned Larks and Western Meadowlarks, and Northern Harriers and American Kestrels on voles.  As for Rough-legged Hawks, the third of our three Buteos being addressed here, they weigh only slightly less than Red-tails, but they have a smaller bill and smaller feet, and their primary winter prey is also voles.

So, back to our question about where to find raptors in the winter.  We need to start by determining which of the prey “grocery stores” might be the easiest for us to find, and the answer, generally, is prairie dogs.

Rough-legged Hawk (c) Rob Raker

Black-tailed Prairie Dogs have several extensive towns in the area we chose to visit on Saturday.  However, while these dogs don’t hibernate, they do tend to snuggle down in their burrows when the weather gets a bit crisp, as it was on Saturday morning as a cold-front descended on us.  As a result, we had no dogs, and therefore very few raptors.  The potential dramas that can unfold in this area along 112thAve are legendary, with numerous Ferruginous Hawks, Bald Eagles, Red-tails, an occasional Golden Eagle, and an occasional Rough-leg attempting to steal a dead prairie dog from one of the Ferruginous Hawks that has successfully made a kill.  We struck out this time, except for the numerous Bald Eagles and a solitary Great Horned Owl, we saw at Barr Lake, but we will keep this same itinerary on the books for a future outing.

White-crowned Sparrow – Gambel’s (c) Bill Schmoker

On a final note, let’s talk briefly about White-crowned Sparrows (Zonotrichia leucophrys).  We have two sub-species that predominate in Colorado.  The ones we saw on Saturday had orange bills, and white lores (the area between the eye and the bill).  These are the Z. l. gambelii subspecies.  The birds that we’ll see nesting up in the krumholtz next summer will have pinkish bills and black lores – the Z. l. oriantha subspecies.  Both can be seen during migration.  There will be a test next time I see you, so study up!

Good birding!  Chuck

112thBarr Lake SP,
24 species (+2 other taxa)
Canada Goose  120
Common Merganser  40
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  2
Eurasian Collared-Dove  5
Ring-billed Gull  7
Bald Eagle  27
Red-tailed Hawk  5
Ferruginous Hawk  2
Great Horned Owl  1
Northern Flicker  2
American Kestrel  2
Blue Jay  3
Black-billed Magpie  9
American Crow  6
Black-capped Chickadee  8
American Robin  18
European Starling  7
House Finch  5
American Goldfinch  1
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored)  3
Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon)  4
Dark-eyed Junco (Pink-sided)  2
White-crowned Sparrow (Gambel’s)  9
Western Meadowlark  2
Red-winged Blackbird  37
House Sparrow  17

Pre-Boulder store Grand Opening Bird walk to Walden/Sawhill Complex w/ Ted Floyd – Feb 16th

Thirty some folks gathered on a gloomy Saturday morning at the Front Range Birding Company’s new store in Boulder. Despite overcast skies and a bit of snow, spirits were high—for today was the grand opening celebration! After a free “birder’s breakfast” at the store, we carpooled to nearby Cottonwood Marsh.

We were actually greeted at Cottonwood by a bit of sunshine, but that was short-lived. The clouds rolled back in, the temperature dropped, and the wind picked up. Even so, we enjoyed a fine time together, seeing lots of waterfowl and a pair of Bald Eagles on our ramble around the Sawhill–Walden complex.

The whole time, co-leader Chip Clouse groused that he hadn’t yet seen a White-breasted Nuthatch this year. Well, at one point Chip accompanied some folks to the rest rooms—only to miss a glorious White-breasted Nuthatch at eye level along Boulder Creek. We also saw a Brown Creeper, yet another species Chip hadn’t yet seen in 2019.

Thanks to the Front Range Birding Company for providing delightful bird walks like this one. We in Boulder County and beyond are so pleased to have you in our midst!

—Ted Floyd, outing co-leader and Clouse tormenter

Enjoy our multimedia checklist at:

ebird.org/view/checklist/S52796419

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