Meyer Ranch, July 6 – with Chuck Aid

Savannah Sparrow (c) Bill Schmoker

Meyer Ranch provides a wonderful array of habitats – montane meadow, montane shrubland, mid-elevation willow carr, mixed aspen-conifer forest, pure aspen forest, ponderosa pine forest, Douglas-fir forest, lodgepole pine forest, wetlands, stream, cliffs, bridges, culverts, power poles, etc…. WHEW!  In turn, this wide array of habitats results in a wide array of birds, particularly during breeding season.  Remember that getting to know your habitats will help you become a better birder.

Black-headed Grosbeak (c) Bill Schmoker

 

I arrived at Meyer Ranch about 45 minutes before my group showed up from the Front Range Birding Company, and in that time recorded about 25 species.  Unfortunately, seven of these did not remain around for the group – Say’s Phoebe, Steller’s Jay, Common Raven, Hermit Thrush, Pine Siskin, Red Crossbill, and Black-headed Grosbeak.  However, once the group was there, we had our own suite of birds, including about ten that I had failed to see earlier.  So it goes in the birding world.

Cliff Swallows (c) Bill Schmoker

Even before we got out of the parking lot, we could see that someone had knocked down all the Cliff Swallow nests on the US 285 bridge over South Turkey Creek Road.  A sad piece of news, since back in mid-May over one hundred Cliff Swallows were recorded in this area.  So, here’s the scoop on the removal of these nests.  This was done by the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), and in compliance with the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA).  This means that as long as birds had not initiated egg-laying, CDOT was playing by the rules.  Their approach, which began in April this year, was to remove old nests in anticipation of construction projects scheduled for this summer.  They then continued to remove nests, as birds started to rebuild, in an attempt to discourage them from nesting in that area, which seemed to eventually work.

Cliff Swallow (c) Bill Schmoker

The reason for needing to discourage Cliff Swallows from nesting on the bridges is that if the birds are nesting at the time that a project eventually gets rolling, and that project then, subsequently creates a problem for the birds, then CDOT realizes that they would not be in compliance with the MBTA.  So, they try to be proactive.  It appears that there have been a number of projects along US 285 this year, so I think we need to give CDOT the benefit of the doubt, at least for this year.  What’s not clear is how much this could be anticipated to be an annual event, and whether there will be future years when the swallows will be allowed to breed once again with no disruptions.

Dark-eyed (gray-headed) Junco

Getting on with our walk, we had a number of highlights, including getting to see and hear singing Savannah Sparrows from very close.  We also got to hear two Williamson’s Sapsuckers calling and a Vesper Sparrow but failed to see them.  We had a nice variety of plumages for Yellow-rumped (Audubon’s) Warblers from a brightly colored male to a very drab first-year bird.  We definitely enjoyed getting to see a pair of Dark-eyed (Gray-headed) Juncos taking turns bringing in beak-fulls of food to their nestlings.  The latter we couldn’t see, but we could definitely tell where their ground nest was.  Finally, as a final treat we got to briefly hear a Wilson’s Snipe calling.

Of course, at this time of year we also spent a good amount of time enjoying the great variety of flowers. The columbine are reaching their peak.

Good birding!
Chuck

Meyer Ranch, Jul 6, 2019
26 species

Broad-tailed Hummingbird  11
Wilson’s Snipe  2
Williamson’s Sapsucker  2
Hairy Woodpecker (Rocky Mts.)  1
Northern Flicker (Red-shafted)  2
Dusky Flycatcher  1
Cordilleran Flycatcher  2
Empidonax sp.  1
Warbling Vireo  6
Violet-green Swallow  3
Barn Swallow  8
Cliff Swallow  4
Mountain Chickadee  2
White-breasted Nuthatch  1
Brown Creeper  1
House Wren  3
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  8
Mountain Bluebird  2
American Robin  7
Chipping Sparrow  7
Dark-eyed Junco (Gray-headed)  9
Vesper Sparrow  1
Savannah Sparrow  3
Song Sparrow  4
Red-winged Blackbird  5
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s)  4
Western Tanager  1

Hudson Gardens, June 29 – with Chuck Aid

Wood Duck – female (c) Bill Schmoker

What a great group of enthusiastic birders we had on Saturday morning, and there was a lot to be enthusiastic about!  For starters, as in prior years at Hudson Gardens, we once again had a mom Wood Duck with her flotilla of seven ducklings cruising around with her.  The only role the male seems to play when it comes to nesting is perhaps helping the female choose a cavity in which to lay her eggs. Beyond that the female does all the incubating, which takes about fourteen days.  The hatchlings, when they emerge, are covered with down, their eyes are open, and they require little else from mom (the ecological term for this type of self-sufficient youngster is “precocial”).  There is a residual yolk reserve that helps them initially, but they are very quickly on their own.  You may have seen videos of these stalwart daredevils leaping out of a cavity entrance into whatever lies below – here’s one to check out – http://www.swxrightnow.com/blogs/outdoors/2016/may/21/wood-duck-follow-mom-giant-leap-faith/.  The ducklings can scatter quite widely when feeding on various invertebrates and they seem more independent than the youngsters of other duck species.  We witnessed this on Saturday, watching the little ones cruising around and feeding with no initial evidence of mom at all.

Downy Woodpecker – juvenile (c) Bill Schmoker

Additional highlights included a few single birds as the only representative of their species.  We had one each of American White Pelican, Snowy Egret, Swainson’s Hawk, Belted Kingfisher, Say’s Phoebe, White-breasted Nuthatch, and Gray Catbird.  One other individual was of considerable interest.  We know that Downy Woodpeckers, with regard to appearance in the vicinity of the Front Range of Colorado can generally exhibit two different looks.  There is an eastern Downy of the Great Plains and eastern forests with more white in its wings and shoulders, and there is a western Downy with mostly black shoulders and less white in the wings.  These subspecies meet and often hybridize where the plains meet the mountains, and they can have intermediate plumages.  One further difference to look for is that Downys have sexual dimorphism, that is the males and females don’t look alike – the primary difference being that male has a bright red patch on its nape.  Now, back to Saturday.  The individual Downy that we saw had a red patch on the TOP of its head. How do explain that?  It was a juvenile, and both sexes get that red patch on top of the head for a brief time.

Cliff Swallows (c) Bill Schmoker

One other interesting observation was that the Cliff Swallows were in good abundance at their nests on the Bowles Avenue bridge.  This location has been used frequently, but perhaps not every year – the presence of ectoparasites from a prior year is one of several factors that may make a site not viable.  Last year in particular I did not notice any nesting there.  It’s a complex game when it comes to how Cliff Swallows choose their nest site.  Birds choose a colony site first, a process which may entail a collective decision-making process and involve birds visiting numerous likely colony locations.  Then it may take several additional days for a nest site to be chosen within the colony.

Finally, for those of you who have come on our Hudson Gardens bird walks in the past, you may recall the pair of Red-tailed Hawks that often perch conspicuously on top of the powerline poles on the west side of the Platte.  Well, they are there again, or at least there is a pair in the same location.

I hope you can make it to a future Hudson Gardens walk, and don’t forget that you can also come on one of the free first-Saturday-of-the-month Front Range Birding Company bird walks by calling the Littleton store to register (303-979-2473).

Chuck

Hudson Gardens, Jun 29, 2019
33 species

Canada Goose  60
Wood Duck  8
Mallard  12
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  1
Mourning Dove  7
Double-crested Cormorant  6
American White Pelican  1
Snowy Egret  1
Turkey Vulture  2
Swainson’s Hawk  1
Red-tailed Hawk  2
Belted Kingfisher  1
Downy Woodpecker  1
Northern Flicker  4
Say’s Phoebe  1
Blue Jay  3
Black-billed Magpie  2
Cliff Swallow  60
Black-capped Chickadee  3
Bushtit  3
White-breasted Nuthatch  1
House Wren  6
American Robin  17
Gray Catbird  1
Cedar Waxwing  4
House Finch  7
American Goldfinch  3
Song Sparrow  7
Bullock’s Oriole  8
Red-winged Blackbird  13
Brown-headed Cowbird  5
Common Grackle  9
Yellow Warbler  7

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!

Bobolink Trail – May 11, 2019

Red-winged Blackbird male with Common Grackle male in background at far left.
Red-winged Blackbird male with Common Grackle male in background at far left. Photo courtesy of Stephen VanGorder.

FRBC Boulder’s May 11 bird walk started on a clear to partly cloudy and a balmy 50-degree morning in Boulder, Colorado for our group of twelve birders on Bobolink Trail. Bobolink Trail is a flat, walkable trail that runs north to south along a section of South Boulder Creek between Baseline Rd and South Boulder Rd just west of Baseline Reservoir. We started the walk from the East Boulder Community Center at 55th St and Sioux Dr, on a path which connects to Bobolink Trail in about the middle of its run. A walking trail runs close to the creek, while a multi-use trail runs along an open – and sometimes wet – field where cattle graze. There are patches of cattail marsh throughout the open space, and there are a couple of ponds at the East Boulder Community Center. Having all of these different habitats in one place means that there are opportunities to see and hear many different bird species: riparian birds like warblers and flycatchers, birds of the open fields like meadowlarks and Bobolinks, marsh birds such as rails and Red-winged Blackbirds, and waterfowl at the ponds.

American Kestrel female with prey
American Kestrel female with prey. Photo courtesy of Stephen VanGorder.

We had hardly left the parking lot to head to the trail when we had our first highlight of the day: a female American Kestrel with prey perched on the trail sign near 55th St. The kestrel looked as though she had gone for a swim to catch her prey, which appeared to be a small mammal. The trail was fairly busy that morning with numerous walkers, joggers, cyclists and pets on the trail, and yet this kestrel sat calmly on her perch, watching the traffic go by. Moments later we saw a male American Kestrel – presumably her mate – flying around in the same area.

As we approached the trail sign, the whinnying call of a Sora rang out from a tiny patch of cattails mere feet away from the concrete path. The Sora is a short-billed species of rail, birds which excel at not being seen as they skulk through tall, thick marsh vegetation. Have you ever heard the expression “thin as a rail?” To get around more easily in said tall, thick marsh vegetation, rails’ bodies are laterally compressed, making them look tall and thin from the front. The jury is still out on whether the expression “thin as a rail” refers to the shape of these birds, but it makes sense when you see one head-on! Unfortunately but unsurprisingly, we never did see the stealthy Sora, but just knowing it was nearby was pretty cool. Even better, on our way back by this spot later, we heard the whinny calls of not one but TWO Sora in these cattails!

American Robin
American Robin. Photo courtesy of Stephen VanGorder.

As we approached the pedestrian bridge over South Boulder Creek, we paused for several moments to watch a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher forage and a female Common Grackle busy herself with nest-building, both birds in trees very close to the bridge for great viewing.

The morning was full of spring birdsong: Red-winged Blackbirds, American Robins, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Western Meadowlarks, and House Wrens could all be heard singing from wherever we were on the trail. We had some beautiful views of singing Western Meadowlarks in the spotting scope. Another earbirding highlight of the day was a Brewer’s Sparrow singing in a mixed flock of Chipping and Brewer’s Sparrows near the playing fields at the East Boulder Community Center. And speaking of warblers, the group had some great looks at the Audubon’s and Myrtle forms of Yellow-rumped Warbler, a somewhat-cooperative Orange-crowned Warbler, and a beautiful singing male Yellow Warbler on the way back to the trailhead near where the Sora were calling.

Canada Geese with goslings
Canada Geese with goslings. Photo courtesy of Stephen VanGorder.

Another sign of spring: the Canada Geese already have goslings hatching! We observed one little family grazing together near the community center and other pairs with young swimming on the ponds.

Thank you very much to Stephen VanGorder, who generously sent us these great photos he took during the bird walk for use on our blog.

See you next time – let’s go birding!

~Sarah Spotten


Bobolink Trail in Boulder, Colorado, May 11, 2019
36 species (+2 other taxa)
Canada Goose 20 (estimated)
Mallard 6
Eurasian Collared-Dove 3
Mourning Dove 4
Broad-tailed Hummingbird 4
Sora 2
Killdeer 1
Wilson’s Snipe 4
Double-crested Cormorant 1
Great Blue Heron 3
Turkey Vulture 1
Red-tailed Hawk 2
Downy Woodpecker 2
American Kestrel 2
Blue Jay 2
Black-billed Magpie 3
American Crow 1
Violet-green Swallow 7
Barn Swallow 4
Cliff Swallow 2
swallow sp. 20 (estimated)
House Wren 5
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 1
American Robin 10
European Starling 6
House Finch 2
American Goldfinch 8
Chipping Sparrow 5
Brewer’s Sparrow 5
Song Sparrow 4
Western Meadowlark 4
Red-winged Blackbird 30 (estimated)
Brown-headed Cowbird 6
Common Grackle 30 (estimated)
Orange-crowned Warbler 1
Yellow Warbler 2
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle) 4
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s) 6

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