Chatfield State Park, Sept 5 – with Chuck Aid

Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay (c) Bill Schmoker

We had a warm morning along the South Platte in the vicinity of the Audubon Nature Center, and bird activity was a bit slow.  However, if one just shows up there will always be cool things to observe.  For starters there has been an apparent influx of Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jays into Chatfield State Park, which from my previous experience there is an unusual event.  People occasionally see one or two, but nothing like the number we had on Saturday, sixteen.

 

One of the highlights of the morning was the number of Cedar Waxwings we saw, adults and juveniles. They were flycatching over the river as well as foraging in the Russian Olives.  In that same vicinity of good streamside vegetation we found three migrant Wilson’s Warblers.  These guys breed up in high elevation willow carrs, and then are a regularly occurring fall migrant in the Denver area.  Also, had some nice Gray Catbirds also along the river.

 

Lesser Goldfinch (c) Bill Schmoker

Out in the more open areas some large sunflowers proved attractive to a good number of Lesser Goldfinches, while the thistles and other weeds were being worked over by some Chipping Sparrows and Vesper Sparrows.  A number of our birds today were juveniles which can make them even trickier than usual to identify.

Hope to see you out on another walk soon!
Chuck

Chatfield SP–Audubon Center & Trails, Sep 5, 2020
27 species (+2 other taxa)

Eurasian Collared-Dove  1
Broad-tailed Hummingbird  4
hummingbird sp.  7
Double-crested Cormorant  2
Bald Eagle  1
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Downy Woodpecker  1
Northern Flicker  4
American Kestrel  3
Western Wood-Pewee  1
Blue Jay  6
Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay  16
Black-billed Magpie  1
Black-capped Chickadee  7
Mountain Chickadee  2
White-breasted Nuthatch  1
House Wren  1
Gray Catbird  3
American Robin  36
Cedar Waxwing  18
House Finch  11
Lesser Goldfinch  12
American Goldfinch  3
Chipping Sparrow  12
Spizella sp.  9
Vesper Sparrow  8
Song Sparrow  1
Spotted Towhee  2
Wilson’s Warbler  3

Hudson Gardens, Aug 29 – with Chuck Aid

Mallard drake in eclipse plumage (c) Dave Key

We have come to recognize that during the summer, when it comes to ducks in the Denver area, the story is pretty much Mallards and more Mallards, and we count ourselves lucky when we stumble across something else.  And, then during the latter part of the summer,  male ducks go through about a 1-2 month period where they acquire a cryptic coloration known as eclipse plumage.  During this time, when they look very similar to their female counterparts, they are flightless, so a touch of camouflage is not amiss.  On Saturday we noted that the only way to easily tell male Mallards from the females was by the color of their bills – males being yellow or greenish-yellow while the females are orange with a black smudge on top.  I’m pretty familiar with these guys. 

American Wigeon in eclipse plumage (c) Dave Key

However, I am less familiar with what some of the eclipse males look like for our less-common ducks, and while on our walk a few of us got to see an American Wigeon in eclipse plumage. A male American Wigeon in breeding plumage is a beautiful fellow with a cream (almost white) colored crown and forehead.  It has a wide iridescent green swoop running from the eye down the nape; the cheek and throat are creamy-white with little black spots; the bill is a light bluish-gray; the undertail coverts are black; the belly is white; and the breast, flanks, and back are a wonderful warm pinkish-brown.  In contrast, during eclipse plumage, all of the head is creamy-white with little black spots, the black tail disappears, and the majority of the bird is a rich chestnut brown.  One of the participants on Saturday mentioned that it looked red.  And finally, as with the male Mallard, its bill retains the same color that it previously had – a light bluish gray.

Wood Duck juvenile female and male (c) Lynn Korus

Sticking with the ducks, we had one other neat observation – a group of what appeared to be six juvenile Wood Ducks, four females and two males (bright white “bridle”).  I say “appeared to be” because the females all had the white teardrop surrounding the eye that is characteristic of adult females. However, because they apparently lacked the pale spotted flanks of an adult and were all together in conjunction with two juvenile males, I concluded that they had probably just recently acquired their white teardrops.  We are right at that time of year for that transition to be happening.  Now, as for the two males you may be asking, “How do we know that they’re not adults in eclipse plumage?”  The answer once again lies with the color of the bill.  In an adult there is a small patch of yellow at the base of the bill with a larger patch of scarlet in front of that which grades into white, ending with a distinct black nail at the tip of the bill.  Our guys lacked this bright coloration, having gray bills, therefore they were juveniles.

A few other highlights included an adult Swainson’s Hawk, a couple of migrating Wilson’s Warblers – down out of the mountains and on their way south, and a slew of Cedar Waxwings hawking insects out over the river.

Good birding!
Chuck

Hudson Gardens, Aug 29, 2020
28 species (+2 other taxa)

Canada Goose  15
Wood Duck  6
Blue-winged Teal  1
American Wigeon  1
Mallard  33
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  25
Mourning Dove  2
hummingbird sp.  5
Killdeer  3
Ring-billed Gull  6
Double-crested Cormorant  1
Snowy Egret  1
Swainson’s Hawk  1
Belted Kingfisher  1
Downy Woodpecker  1
Northern Flicker  15
Blue Jay  6
Black-capped Chickadee  12
Barn Swallow  2
Red-breasted Nuthatch  2
White-breasted Nuthatch  4
House Wren  2
American Robin  1
Cedar Waxwing  27
House Finch  14
Song Sparrow  1
Red-winged Blackbird  10
Yellow Warbler  1
Wilson’s Warbler  2
warbler sp. (Parulidae sp.)  1

Beaver Ranch, August 1- with Chuck Aid

Turkey Vulture (c) Bill Schmoker

We led our first Front Range Birding Company bird walk to Beaver Ranch just a year ago at this same time. Somehow it seems much longer ago given the strangeness of the intervening twelve months.  The ranch is located just off US 285 a bit southwest of Conifer 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, a dog park, and occasional weddings are held there.  So, it can potentially be a bit of a zoo on a summer Saturday morning, and that was certainly the case this time around.  I can’t quite decide if the number of good birds that we see there is worth inserting ourselves into quite so much chaos.

Western Tanager – first year male(c) Rick Leinen

However, we did see a number of fun birds.  As with last year, we saw a several Turkey Vultures, as there appears to be a roost just southeast of the ranch.  In Colorado Turkey Vultures nest primarily in crevasses in cliffs, and the young tend to fledge around the first of August.  At that time, they join other Turkey Vultures at a communal nighttime roost in an area of sheltered forest, and then may forage separately during the day returning to the roost each evening.  We also were treated to the loud, persistent, begging, squeal of a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk. Later two adults were seen soaring together in the same area.

 

Western Tanager – second-year male (c) Rob Raker

We were thrilled to get numerous looks at both male and female Western Tanagers, as well as seeing one probable juvenile who essentially had female-like plumage, but just sat in one spot for awhile looking fluffy and doofy.  The male, of course, is one of our most beautiful birds here in Colorado with its strikingly bright yellow underparts, nape, and rump, coupled with its black back, tail, and wings having one yellow wing-bar and one white wing-bar.  And, then to top it all off, it has a largely reddish head which can vary from deep scarlet to light orange.  First-year males may only get a bit of this red coloration, but by the second year, and if their diet is rich in carotenoids, it can be breath-taking.

Williamson’s Sapsucker male (c) Bill Schmoker

Perhaps the highlight of the day was the variety of Williamson’s and Red-naped Sapsuckers we saw – males, females, and juveniles.  This seems to be a Beaver Ranch specialty, and we were lucky enough to pretty much get the full show.  There are four species of sapsuckers in North America, and the two we saw are the primary ones to be found in Colorado, though the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker can be a rare fall migrant and winter resident out on the eastern plains. The fourth species, the Red-breasted Sapsucker is mostly confined to the Pacific Coast of North America from Baja California to southeast Alaska.  One of the interesting features of all of these guys except for the female Williamson’s is that they have bright white wing coverts which on a perched bird appear as a long white vertical wing-bars and on a bird in flight show up as large white wing patches.  They all have large white rumps.  There’s an interesting story associated with the female Williamson’s which in the early 1850’s was originally described as a separate species due to its distinctively different plumage from the male.  It was known variously as the Black-breasted, Brown-headed, or Cooper’s Round-headed Woodpecker, and it wasn’t until 1873 that things got properly sorted out when a nesting pair was observed in Colorado.

Williamson’s Sapsucker – female (c) Bill Schmoker

One final cool observation was that we got to document breeding success for ten different species.  That is, we observed many juvenile birds, some of them begging, and even saw a few of them getting fed by mom and pop.

Good birding!
Chuck

Beaver Ranch, Aug 1, 2020
33 species

Broad-tailed Hummingbird  13
Turkey Vulture  6
Red-tailed Hawk  3
Williamson’s Sapsucker  2
Red-naped Sapsucker  3
Hairy Woodpecker (Rocky Mts.)  3
Northern Flicker (Red-shafted)  3
Western Wood-Pewee  8
Say’s Phoebe  1
Steller’s Jay (Interior)  3
American Crow  6
Common Raven  1
Mountain Chickadee  10
Violet-green Swallow  26
Barn Swallow  5
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  3
Red-breasted Nuthatch  1
White-breasted Nuthatch  3
Pygmy Nuthatch  15
House Wren  3
Western Bluebird  1
Townsend’s Solitaire  1
American Robin  12
Pine Siskin  1
Lesser Goldfinch  4
American Goldfinch  1
Chipping Sparrow  1
Dark-eyed Junco (Gray-headed)  16
Song Sparrow  1
Lincoln’s Sparrow  3
Red-winged Blackbird  4
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s)  2
Western Tanager  7

Hudson Gardens, July 25 – with Chuck Aid

Wood Duck – juvenile male (c) Bill Schmoker

We had a beautiful morning at Hudson Gardens, and managed to see a variety of fun stuff.  For starters we had two groups of juvenile Wood Ducks for a total of six females and one male.  The juvenile male can be distinguished from the females by his bright white “bridle,” a feature that persists on the males into adulthood. Adult males, of course, are among the most colorful birds in North America but we, unfortunately, saw no adults. On the other hand, we did see a slew of adult male Mallards, all of which were in eclipse plumage, which occurs at this time of year when the males acquire the same camouflage as the females and can only be distinguished by their yellow bill (female bills are orange and black).  This is a nice adaptation for the males because they can actually become flightless for a few weeks and to be less visible is a nice protective strategy.  The deal is that while most birds replace old feathers with new ones a few at a time, ducks shed all of their outer feathers when they molt, including their wing feathers.  Part of the “reason” behind all this is that ducks prepare for the coming breeding season much earlier than most other birds and have all of their bright colors again in the fall in time for the onset of the ducky dating season.  As I mentioned during the walk, winter birding can be a fun time for newbie birders because the ducks are easy to see and have their breeding plumage.  Also, we have a far greater variety of ducks in the winter – up to twenty species – than we do in the summer.

Snowy Egret (c) Bill Schmoker

We also had a nice variety of other waterfowl, including Double-crested Cormorant, American White Pelican, Great Blue Heron, and Snowy Egret.  While the Snowy and Great Egret, which also occurs in Colorado, are superficially alike, the Snowy can be distinguished by its all black bill and “golden slippers.” Incidentally, for you more advanced birders, distinguishing between these two in flight can be a bit tricky, but the underneath belly and neck of the Snowy are in a flat plane while the neck of the Great Egret bulges downward.

Prairie Falcon (c) Bill Schmoker

A real bonus for the morning was getting to see four raptor species: a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk which could be identified as such by its multi-banded tail and its juvenile “squeal” calls, an Osprey, a Turkey Vulture (actually more closely related to storks than to the raptors, but because of their strong superficial resemblance to hawks and eagles they continue to be included as a raptor in our field guides), and a Prairie Falcon.  A bit more about this last bird – it could be initially identified as a falcon because of its pointed wings and long tail.  Much of the rest of the identification was based on behavior.  It flew with continual strong, snappy, stiff-winged, shallow wing beats with no gliding, and was very fast and purposeful in its direct flight. This flight behavior and the bird’s apparent large size made it likely that our bird was a Prairie Falcon.  The light brown coloration in the back helped to confirm that it was not a similarly-sized Peregrine Falcon.

Finally, we had great looks at a number of Cedar Waxwings.  These guys are glorious, and we certainly appreciated the show.

Hope to see you on another walk soon!
Chuck

Hudson Gardens, July 25
30 species (+1 other taxa)

Canada Goose  80
Wood Duck  7
Mallard  23
Mourning Dove  3
Broad-tailed Hummingbird  2
hummingbird sp.  1
Ring-billed Gull  2
Double-crested Cormorant  5
American White Pelican  1
Great Blue Heron  2
Snowy Egret  4
Turkey Vulture  1
Osprey  1
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Belted Kingfisher  1
Northern Flicker  12
Prairie Falcon  1 
Blue Jay  3
Black-capped Chickadee  12
Northern Rough-winged Swallow  10
Barn Swallow  1
White-breasted Nuthatch  6
House Wren  3
American Robin  8
Cedar Waxwing  12
House Finch  86
Lesser Goldfinch  1
American Goldfinch  3
Chipping Sparrow  2
Red-winged Blackbird  11
Yellow Warbler  2

Meyer Ranch, July 11- with Chuck Aid

Savannah Sparrow (c) BillSchmoker

One of the best things about the Meyer Ranch area is that it sits at the headwaters of South Turkey Creek where there is a vast sub-irrigated meadow that gradually forms a small stream bordered by willows and alders.  There are parts of this area that actually form wetlands where there are cattails. This combo of wet-meadow, cattails, and riparian vegetation can be great for certain birds including:  Mallard, Spotted Sandpiper, Wilson’s Snipe, Savannah Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, Yellow Warbler, and MacGillivray’s Warbler.  And, then moving up into the drier portions of the meadow there can be Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Mountain Bluebird, and Lark Sparrow.  The sky above all this can often have a good variety of swallow species.

Cliff Swallow (c) Bill Schmoker

This past Saturday we got a bit of a flavor of this diversity of birds, but the meadow is drier than it has been in years past, and numbers were down a bit.  Also, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) in anticipation of possible repairs to the US-285 overpass continues to remove partially built Cliff Swallow nests so that the swallows cannot actually get to the point of laying eggs.  The point of this is that disturbing an active nest is against the law, and CDOT cannot do repairs in an area with active nests.  The bad part of this is that they don’t really know when a bridge may need repairs, so they just remove the partially built nests in an attempt, from their perspective, to be proactive.  As a result, on Saturday we were treated to only one Cliff Swallow. In the years 2016, 2017, and 2018, years in which the nests were undisturbed, the Front Range Birding Company recorded 40, 35, and 60 Cliff Swallows, respectively.

Brown-headed Cowbird (c) Bill Schmoker

So, what else did we see? Highlights included recently fledged Downy Woodpecker (red on top of the head), American Crow (juvenile being fed), Mountain Chickadee (fluffy and doofy), Chipping Sparrow (stripey), and Brown-headed Cowbird (Baby Huey, because they can be huge compared to their parasitized host).  This last one can provide a good identification challenge, and we got great looks from less than ten feet away and it still was a stumper for most everybody.

 

MacGillivray’s Warbler (c) Bill Schmoker

Perhaps the best bird of the morning was a single male MacGillvray’s Warbler.  The preferred habitat for these guys is a thick tangle of understory shrubs, often along drainages, but they will set up shop in drier areas where there is sufficient thick foliage.  They also seem to need some sort of overstory of taller shrubs or trees.  The fact that they are skulkers within this preferred habitat tends to make getting a good look a definite challenge.  However, once you get that good look, you’ll become a real Mac Warbler fan for life, as they are exceedingly handsome.  We were very fortunate in getting a reasonably good look at our guy.

Good birding!
Chuck

Meyer Ranch Open Space, July 11, 2020
34 species

Mourning Dove  1
Broad-tailed Hummingbird  9
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Downy Woodpecker  3
Hairy Woodpecker (Rocky Mts.)  2
Cordilleran Flycatcher  2
Warbling Vireo  2
American Crow  5
Common Raven  5
Mountain Chickadee  10
Tree Swallow  6
Violet-green Swallow  2
Barn Swallow  1
Cliff Swallow  1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  4
Red-breasted Nuthatch  1
White-breasted Nuthatch  2
Pygmy Nuthatch  12
House Wren  2
Hermit Thrush  1
American Robin  8
Red Crossbill  1
Pine Siskin  5
Chipping Sparrow  10
Dark-eyed Junco (Gray-headed)  2
Savannah Sparrow  2
Song Sparrow  3
Lincoln’s Sparrow  1
Green-tailed Towhee  1
Red-winged Blackbird  4
Brown-headed Cowbird  2
MacGillivray’s Warbler  1
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s)  2
Western Tanager  3

 

Hudson Gardens, June 27 – with Chuck Aid

This was the first bird walk I’ve led since back in early March.  There were nine of us counting me, and we all adhered to strict corvid guidelines: masks, distancing, no shared spotting scope, etc.  I thought it went well, and I felt fortunate to have had a good cooperative group.

Song Sparrow (c) Bill Schmoker

So, first of all, what did we fail to see?  Well, probably a lot of things, but what struck me the most is that we had no Canada Geese, Wood Ducks, raptors, Belted Kingfishers, or Bushtits. These tend to be regularly occurring species at the Gardens, but we whiffed on ‘em this time. I was particularly disappointed that we didn’t get to see any Wood Ducks as they have been regular breeders on the long turtle pond the last few years.

For the most part we saw species that we can expect to see in the area, and we focused on the vocalizations of a few of these.  Song Sparrows are common and widespread across all of North America and are found year-round here in Colorado most commonly in moist shrubby habitats.  As with all the Passerines, that is the birds that take up roughly the second half of your field guide, Song Sparrows have a “call” that they do throughout the year (some say it is akin to the bark of a Chihuahua) – first recording below, and then they have a “”song” that is heard primarily during breeding season (territoriality and attracting a mate) – second recording.

Yellow Warbler (c) Bill Schmoker

Another bird that we heard singing a lot were the Yellow Warblers.  As they are neotropical migrants, they are only here in Colorado from May through mid-September.  Their call is a simple “chip” note, while their song tends to be a version of “sweet-sweet-sweet-little more sweet.”

Downy Woodpecker (c) Bill Schmoker

Also, one other bird we heard was the diminutive Downy Woodpecker which is found year-round in Colorado. It has a couple of calls; one is a sharp “pik” note, but the one we heard a few times was the descending whinny.

Gray Catbird (c) Bill Schmoker

Finally, we had three rather special encounters for the morning.  First, we got to see a family of four Say’s Phoebes hanging out together – three on top of same electrical box.  Then, we had a pair of Gray Catbirds meowing.  And, finally, we had a troop of Cedar Waxwings who literally came within a few feet of us, and we got great looks of the red-tipped wings and beautiful yellow-tipped tail.  They are quite an eyeful!

Just a quick reminder that my favorite field guide for our area is The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America, which you can buy at the Front Range Birding Company (303-979-2473). Sibley also has a great app – Sibley Birds 2ndEdition, which has a nice variety of vocalizations as well as the other info found in the field guide.

Oops!  One more thing: a Canada Goose egg is 86 x 58 mm, Great Blue Heron is 65 x 46 mm, and a Mallard is 58 x 42 mm.

Good birding!
Chuck

Hudson Gardens, Jun 27, 2020
33 species

Mallard  16
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  1
Eurasian Collared-Dove  1
Mourning Dove  4
Double-crested Cormorant  7
American White Pelican  8
Great Blue Heron  1
Snowy Egret  1
Downy Woodpecker  3
Northern Flicker  9
Western Wood-Pewee  2
Say’s Phoebe  4
Warbling Vireo  1
Blue Jay  1
Black-billed Magpie  1
Black-capped Chickadee  12
Tree Swallow  3
Barn Swallow  5
Cliff Swallow  15
White-breasted Nuthatch  2
House Wren  2
Gray Catbird  2
American Robin  17
Cedar Waxwing  11
House Finch  4
Lesser Goldfinch  1
American Goldfinch  5
Song Sparrow  3
Bullock’s Oriole  3
Red-winged Blackbird  14
Brown-headed Cowbird  3
Common Grackle  10
Yellow Warbler  17

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

Wheat Ridge Greenbelt, March 7 – with Chuck Aid

Northern Shoveler (c) Bill Schmoker

Weather-wise we had a beautiful day at the Wheat Ridge Greenbelt.  Interestingly enough, it did not translate into a slew of birds.  We had a reasonable number of species – thirty, but the overall number of individual birds was not great.  And, I had a comparable birding day on Friday. It seems that with this good weather some birds may be feeling inclined to do a migratory step north and have left the area, e.g. Northern Shovelers who have been around in the hundreds, and perhaps other birds are not feeling too stressed about food so they’re less active. I’m curious to see if the next round of inclement weather will cause an increased surge in bird activity.  There’s always something to be learning more about with this avian world.  I just try not to get paranoid about a temporary decrease in numbers really reflecting the overall decline in birds that we know is going on.

Gadwall (c) Bill Schmoker

So, as for the birds we did see, they are all looking spectacular in their breeding plumage.  We had wonderful close looks at Gadwall, Green-winged Teal, and Hooded Merganser.  Glorious! And there were several hints as to the onset of breeding season – Gadwall and Mallards doing a bit of courtship behavior, Double-crested Cormorants starting to build and occupy their nests on the Tabor Lake island, and House Finches singing their wonderful song.

We also had a couple of interesting raptor observations.  Red-tailed Hawks are found in Colorado throughout the year and in recent weeks they’ve been busy finding mates, building nests, and in some cases even starting to incubate eggs.  We might start to see nests with young by the middle of April – the incubation period is roughly 30-33 days.  On our walk we had one pass right over us a couple of times so that we got excellent looks, and I want to reiterate some of the field marks we discussed. 

Red-tailed Hawk (c) Bill Schmoker

First of all, Red-tails belong to the group of hawks known as Buteos – these are the large soaring hawks and include Ferruginous and Swainson’s Hawks.  Buteos are medium to large robust hawks that hunt primarily while soaring.  Their wings are long and broad, and their tail is relatively short.  Red-tails have a huge variety of plumages but there are a few characteristics that are almost always present.  The wings tend to be more truncated and rounded than the other Buteos, and they have distinctive “bulging” secondaries causing the wings closer to the body to look even broader than those of the other Buteos.  Also, to varying degrees all Red-tails have a dark leading-edge of the wing (the patagium).  An interesting behavioral characteristic is that, when coming in to perch, Red-tails tend to fly in low and swoop up to the perch at the last moment.

Prairie Falcon (c) Rob Raker

Our other raptor of note was a Prairie Falcon which showed several characteristics leading to our being able to identify it.  It flew by going low and fast, the pointed wings flapped rapidly, stiffly, shallowly, and without pause.  It appeared only slightly smaller than a Red-tail but was more svelte (they weigh about two-thirds as much).  Finally, the real clincher was that it had black axillaries (armpits), which is diagnostic.

We are now only about a month out from the onslaught of Spring migration, and someone locally, as hard as it is to believe, has already reported a Broad-tailed Hummingbird. Also, Mountain Bluebirds are back in the area.

So, get your hummingbird feeders all set, and make sure you’ve got some binoculars that work.  Good optics make a world of difference!

Chuck

Wheat Ridge Greenbelt, Mar 7, 2020
30 species

Canada Goose  55
Northern Shoveler  18
Gadwall  50
American Wigeon  3
Mallard  35
Green-winged Teal  28
Redhead  1
Ring-necked Duck  2
Bufflehead  1
Common Goldeneye  3
Hooded Merganser  3
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  8
Virginia Rail  2
American Coot  18
Killdeer  1
Ring-billed Gull  50
Double-crested Cormorant  30
Red-tailed Hawk  2
Belted Kingfisher  1
Downy Woodpecker  1
Northern Flicker  4
Prairie Falcon  1
Blue Jay  1
Black-billed Magpie  1
American Crow  2
Black-capped Chickadee  12
American Robin  3
House Finch  9
Song Sparrow  3
Red-winged Blackbird  11

Hudson Gardens, Feb 29 – with Chuck Aid

Green-winged Teal (c) Bill Schmoker

The weather forecast for Saturday said it should get up to about 62 degrees.  It may have eventually gotten that warm, but it was far from it at 8 AM. Fortunately, we had a fair amount of bird activity to help keep us warm.  We began by checking out the pond immediately behind the Welcome Center, and were rewarded by a pair of Gadwall, a few Mallards and Canada Geese, and four male Green-winged Teal.  Then, in the next pond over we could see a couple of male Northern Shovelers.  This brings me to an interesting aspect of our morning.  We ended up seeing nine species of ducks, six of these were heavily dominated by males. We saw no female Shovelers or Green-winged Teal, 90% of our Mallards were males, and all of our Lesser Scaup, Common Goldeneyes, and Hooded Mergansers were males.  The only species with a semblance of balance were the Gadwall, American Wigeon, and Bufflehead.  Not sure where the girls were but given the rough treatment one female Mallard was receiving, we can imagine that for good reason many of them were not ready to hang out with the boys.

Lesser Scaup (c) Bill Schmoker

There was also a single American Coot on the river which has a superficial resemblance to the ducks, but rather than having webbed feet, it has long lobed toes and a stout, conical bill. 

We had one mystery raptor flying low and fast behind some trees.  At the time I identified it as a Prairie Falcon, but upon further thought I think it was probably a Cooper’s Hawk.  Both of these birds have long tails and fly powerfully with shallow, stiff, wingbeats; however, the Prairie Falcon flaps more consistently, and the Cooper’s Hawk has a flap-flap-flap-glide pattern.  While I did not get a great look at our bird and even thought that it might have had the pointed wings of a falcon, I did see this classic Cooper’s Hawk flight pattern, and base my final identification largely on that.

Hairy Woodpecker (c) Bill Schmoker

We also had a nice mix of finches and sparrows, many of whom were singing.  This included many House Finches, a single American Goldfinch, a nice mix of Dark-eyed Juncos, a single White-crowned Sparrow, a single Song Sparrow, and a single Spotted Towhee.

Perhaps the highlight of the morning was the woodpeckers.  We ended up with six Downy Woodpeckers, getting great looks at almost all of them, and then we had a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers.  These last are primarily resident in the foothills and mountains and only rarely make it out onto the eastern plains or into urban areas.  So, it is rare to see one in the city, and even more rare to see a male and female together, and even exhibiting some obvious pair-bonding.

Good birding!
Chuck Aid

Hudson Gardens, Arapahoe, Colorado, US
Feb 29, 2020
33 species (+2 other taxa)

Canada Goose  90
Northern Shoveler  2
Gadwall  12
American Wigeon  2
Mallard  23
Green-winged Teal  4
Lesser Scaup  2
Bufflehead  6
Common Goldeneye  1
Hooded Merganser  1
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  2
Eurasian Collared-Dove  4
American Coot  1
Ring-billed Gull  7
Cooper’s Hawk  1
Red-tailed Hawk  2
Downy Woodpecker  6
Hairy Woodpecker  2
Northern Flicker  5
Blue Jay  2
Black-billed Magpie  1
American Crow  1
Black-capped Chickadee  14
Bushtit  4
European Starling  2
American Robin  11
House Finch  14
American Goldfinch  1
Dark-eyed Junco  5
Dark-eyed Junco (Pink-sided)  2
Dark-eyed Junco (Gray-headed)  2
White-crowned Sparrow  1
Song Sparrow  1
Spotted Towhee  1
Red-winged Blackbird  7

South Platte Park, Feb 1 – with Chuck Aid

Belted Kingfisher – female (c) Nona Radin

Another fun-filled bird walk with mild winter weather! Yahoo!  We started at the pond immediately north of the Front Range Birding Company along Remmington Ave.  Here, we got good close looks at a slew of Cackling Geese, a variety of ducks, and two individuals that I want to spend a bit more time on.  First, we had a Belted Kingfisher, that I misidentified as a first-year bird.  There were two things wrong with that assessment.  First of all, there are no juvenile kingfishers in mid-winter as they have acquired their adult plumage by October – I just didn’t think it through properly. Second of all, I was wrong about what I thought I saw with regard to our bird’s plumage. 

 

 

Common Goldeneye x Hooded Merganser – hybrid (c) Nona Radin

So, let’s get straight about Belted Kingfishers.  The male has a single gray upper breast-band, the female has the same gray band as the male PLUS a second rusty-colored breast-band lower down and a bit of the same rusty coloring in the flanks, and the juvenile is just like the female except the rusty breast-band is broken in the middle and does not extend all the way across.  In looking at the photo you can see that our bird was an adult female.  The second bird I want to bring to your attention was a hybrid Common Goldeneye x Hooded Merganser.  Though rare, these guys do occur with some regularity.

Hooded Merganser pair (c) Nona Radin

We then spent the majority of the morning visiting various ponds in the vicinity of South Platte Park.  Among the highlights were several pods of Northern Shovelers swirling around and creating a vortex to bring food up to the surface of the water.  We also saw an interesting convocation of over forty Buffleheads in one group.  And, we had great looks at a male American Kestrel, our smallest falcon.

American Pipit – winter (c) Jeff Jaacks

Our group began to dissipate around eleven o’clock, and several folks missed out on one of the more interesting birds of the morning – an American Pipit.  These small, slender, migratory birds are rather inconspicuous looking, occurring throughout North America and as far south as El Salvador.  They belong to an elite group of ground-inhabiting songbirds that breed in both alpine and arctic tundra, and here in Colorado they can be a fairly common summer resident above timberline.  In the winter, though, they are rather uncommon, being found occasionally along sandy shorelines of ice-free rivers, which is exactly where our bird was on Saturday. 

American Pipit – summer Colorado (c) Bill Schmoker

Back to the appearance of the American Pipit. David Sibley, well-known ornithologist and author/illustrator of many bird fields guides, has described the American Pipit as possibly “the most variably-colored songbird on the continent.”  This does not mean a lot of bright colors, just that within their inconspicuous subtle coloring there is a lot of variation.  Some of this can be ascribed to differences between the four main subspecies of American Pipit, which can generally be distinguished from one another based on the amount of yellow vs pink on the breast and belly, the darkness vs lightness of the legs, the extensiveness and boldness of the breast streaking, and the whiteness of the supercilium (eyebrow) and maIar (whisker).  In looking at the two photos here, our Saturday bird had faint yellow on the belly, bold streaking on the breast, and strikingly white supercilium and malar, making it I believe a member of the eastern subspecies (Anthus rubescens rubescens), while the other picture shows a Colorado breeder with hardly any of the characteristics mentioned above, making it a member of the Rocky Mountain subspecies (Anthus rubescens alticola).  However, I’m getting way over my head here, and haven’t even mentioned seasonal molt differences.  Finally, Sibley contends that much of this variation could simply be due to differences between individual birds. 

What a nice engaging pastime it is trying to always learn just a little bit more about our avian friends. 

See you on another walk soon!
Chuck

South Platte Park, Feb 1, 2020
29 species

Cackling Goose  500
Canada Goose  30
Northern Shoveler  200
Gadwall  12
American Wigeon  8
Mallard  39
Green-winged Teal  26
Ring-necked Duck  17
Lesser Scaup  16
Bufflehead  60
Common Goldeneye  34
Hooded Merganser  17
Common Goldeneye x Hooded Merganser (hybrid) 1
Common Merganser  4
Pied-billed Grebe  1
Rock Pigeon 16
Killdeer  5
Ring-billed Gull  5
Great Blue Heron  1
Bald Eagle  1
Red-tailed Hawk  4
Belted Kingfisher  3
Northern Flicker  2
American Kestrel  1
Black-billed Magpie  1
American Crow  8
Black-capped Chickadee  2
American Pipit  1
House Finch  4
Red-winged Blackbird  2