Walden Ponds, February 27th–Sheridan Samano

Walden Ponds, Sawhill Ponds and Boulder Creek – February 27, 2021 – with Sheridan Samano

Last Saturday morning, there was enough interest for two different bird walks at the Walden Ponds/ Sawhill Ponds Complex in Boulder. Both groups met at Cottonwood Marsh, but with different start times and routes. The avian highlights varied substantially between the two walks.

To start, the 8 am group noticed several male Red-winged Blackbirds displaying and singing in the cattails on the south side of the marsh. It won’t be long before we see an influx of even more males and females as spring progresses and breeding season is in full swing.

From Cottonwood Marsh, we headed to the northwest corner of Duck Pond where the group started practicing their duck ID skills. In winter, ducks showcase their fine-feathered breeding plumage so this time of year offers excellent opportunities to learn how to distinguish between common species in the area. At Duck Pond, we found Hooded Mergansers, Ring-necked Ducks, Gadwalls, American Wigeon, and Mallards. As we watched the various individuals from the same species, we noticed that members of the same species tend to move together in groups. Female ducks are harder to distinguish, but they’re often traveling with male counterparts. Those observations can help birders ID ducks on future outings.

Each pond we passed offered a different collection of waterfowl so we had several opportunities to practice telling species apart. Finding a large group of male Green-winged Teal in a large pond north of Duck Pond, the smallest dabbling duck in North America, was a highlight for everyone. Green-winged Teal are often found at shallow edges of ponds. They often walk along muddy edges, too.

By the time the second walk started at 10:15 am, the skies were clearing and it was much warmer. These conditions favored raptor activity so the focus of the second walk shifted from examining ponds to searching perches and the sky overhead.

An adult Bald Eagle perched noticeably on a tower east of Cottonwood Marsh greeted the group. This individual was likely from the pair that nests east of 75th Street. We could see the second half of the pair at the nest tree.

Instead of heading due west from Cottonwood Marsh as we did during the first walk, we headed north towards Boulder Creek. On the west side of Cottonwood Marsh, we spotted a male American Kestrel perched on a stump with his back to us. This view provided an opportunity to discuss coloration differences among the sexes of North America’s smallest falcon. Female Kestrels don’t have blue-gray wings like males. We got a second, better look at this male later in the walk.

Other raptor highlights during the second walk included multiple Red-tailed Hawks, a third year Bald Eagle, and a Golden Eagle. A member of our group mentioned she was hoping to see a Golden Eagle this morning so having one fly overhead at the end was an excellent way to end our morning of birding.

The Walden Ponds and Sawhill Ponds Complex is featured in Best Birding Hikes – Colorado’s Front Range. The Complex offers some of the best year-round birding opportunities in Boulder County. No matter the month, a birding outing here is sure to deliver.

22 Species Observed during 8 am Bird Walk (eBird Checklist)

Canada Goose – 13

Northern Shoveler – 5

Gadwall – 24

American Wigeon – 10

Mallard – 25

Green-winged Teal – 20

Ring-necked Duck – 6

Common Goldeneye – 1

Hooded Merganser – 30

Common Merganser – 10

Great Blue Heron – 8

Red-tailed Hawk – 2

Northern Flicker – 4

Blue Jay – 5

Black-billed Magpie – 2

American Crow – 1

Black-capped Chickadee – 8

European Starling – 2

American Robin – 2

House Finch – 2

Song Sparrow – 1

Red-winged Blackbird – 30

 

29 Species + 1 Other Taxa During 10:15 am Bird Walk (eBird Checklist)

Cackling Goose – 2

Canada Goose – 28

Cackling/Canada Goose – 90

Northern Shoveler – 2

Gadwall – 11

American Wigeon – 8

Mallard – 40

Green-winged Teal – 1

Ring-necked Duck – 10

Common Goldeneye – 1

Hooded Merganser – 14

Common Merganser – 5

Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) – 8

Great Blue Heron – 1

Golden Eagle – 1

Bald Eagle – 3

Red-tailed Hawk – 4

Northern Flicker – 1

American Kestrel – 1

Blue Jay – 4

Black-billed Magpie – 1

Common Raven – 1

Black-capped Chickadee – 4

White-breasted Nuthatch – 1

European Starling – 6

American Robin – 1

House Finch – 3

Song Sparrow – 2

Red-winged Blackbird – 46

Yellow-rumped Warbler – 1

 

Sandstone Ranch, February 13–with Aron Smolley

 

American Tree Sparrow. Photo by Jamie Simo.

It was an honor and a pleasure to lead my first bird walk for Front Range Birding Company this morning. Although the temperatures never quite got above 4 degrees Farenheit, our small group had a fantastic time braving the elements in search of birds at Sandstone Ranch.

A lone American tree sparrow greeted us at the bottom of the hill, and we started off scanning the mostly frozen river for waterfowl, and mostly turned up Canada and Cackling geese as well as mallards, but we did get some great views of the local muskrat going about it’s day on the ice like it was no big deal. As soon as we crossed the first bridge we dicovered a pair of American kestrels, a male and female sitting side by side, feathers puffed up for warmth, and shortly after that we had a pair of red-tailed hawks soaring

Northern Pintail drake. Photo by Jamie Simo.

in the distance in what appeared to be early courtship behavior. An adult bald eagle sat perched next to a partially completed nest as black-billed magpies fluttered by.

Scanning the river we managed to turn up a few gadwall among the mallards, and a Northern pintail was a “lifer” for one of our participants. We also found some more bonus mammals- a small herd of white-tailed deer and a mink! A little further upstream we had a female hooded merganser ducking and diving beneath the icy water. At this point, we made a group decision to start making our way back to the parking lot, stopping occasionally for interesting waterfowl such as a common goldeneye, as well as some little brown birds that had to be left unidentified (I blame fogged-up, iced over binoculars and shivering hands!)

When we got back to the main trail we had a soul-satisfying view of an immature bald eagle that flew low and slow over our heads, and at that point my falcon senses started tingling so I started scanning the sandstone cliffs. To my delight, a prairie falcon (a lifer for ALL the partipants of this bird walk!) was perched in plain view at the edge of the cliff so we took a small detour so that everyone could get a closer look. The final bird of the day- a special bonus I might add- was a merlin that zipped by, giving us all of 3 seconds to confirm it’s identity before disappearing over the horizon. Our third falcon species and the perfect ending to a wonderful, albeit frigid, bird walk.

Here is our complete list of (confirmed) birds seen:
Canada goose-110

Merlin. Photo by Jamie Simo.

American crow- 17
Am. tree sparrow- 1
Mallard- 48
Cackling goose- 37
American kestrel- 2
Black-billed magpie- 3
Red-tailed hawk- 2
Gadwall- 4
Western meadowlark- 3
Northern pintail- 2
Bald eagle- 2
Hooded merganser- 1
Common goldeneye- 1
Prairie falcon- 1
Merlin- 1

South Platte Park, Feb 6, 2021 – with Chuck Aid

We visited two main areas this morning, South Platte Reservoir and the smaller ponds just to the east of the reservoir along the South Platte River.  The reservoir had very little action, but we did get to have excellent views of a pair of Long-tailed Ducks.  These guys were historically known as Oldsquaws, evidently because they (the males primarily, actually) tend to be far more vocal than most other ducks and can be heard for long distances.  This politically incorrect name was changed about twenty years ago, and the name from across the Atlantic for this species was adopted.

Long-tailed Duck – non-breeding male (c) Bill Schmoker

Long-tailed Ducks have several unique qualities.  One is that they dive deeper than any other duck, down to almost 200 feet.  Hence, we tend to see them when they show up in Colorado on only the largest reservoirs.  Then, unlike any other waterfowl, they have three plumages instead of the normal two. In the non-breeding season, when we see these guys here in Colorado, the male has a white forehead and crown, a black nape and sub-auricular area (below the ear), a beige patch on the side of head, a bi-colored black-pink-and black bill, and a white chin and breast. The most distinctive feature is the two long central tail feathers that stream behind. The female has a white eyeline, neck, nape, and area where bill meets face, a dark sub-auricular area (sort of like the male), and otherwise she is mostly mottled brown (see photo at the top of the blog).

Western Meadowlark (c) Bill Schmoker

One of our morning’s highlights was getting to see a flock of 28 (more or less) Western Meadowlarks in the top of a cottonwood.  We have Meadowlarks throughout the year here in Colorado, with more around in the summer than the winter.  However, these wintering birds tend to hang out together in small flocks, so when we do get to see them, we tend to see more than one bird at a time.  Our flock did seem to be unusually large, and it was interesting that they were all in the top of a tree.

Yellow-rumped Warbler – Audubon’s race in fall (c) Bill Schmoker

Another great bird we saw was an Audubon’s race of the Yellow-rumped Warbler.  This is the western race, while the eastern race is the Myrtle.  We have both races here in the winter.  These two were considered to be separate species back in the day, but because of the degree of hybridization they were lumped together as one species.  The yellow rump is always bright yellow regardless of the time of year or the race.  Superficially, we always talk about the Audubon’s having a yellow throat and the Myrtle having a white throat but take a look in your field guide and note that the yellow throat of an Audubon’s in first-year birds can be very washed out and almost white.  A good feature to look for is whether that throat patch is restricted to the throat area (Audubon’s), or whether it wraps around back of the auricular (ear) patch (Myrtle).

I hope to see you on another walk soon!

Chuck

 
South Platte Park, Feb 6, 2021
32 species

Cackling Goose  20
Canada Goose  33
Northern Shoveler  30
Gadwall  72
American Wigeon  20
Mallard  38
Green-winged Teal  56
Ring-necked Duck  44
Lesser Scaup  10
Long-tailed Duck 2
Bufflehead 12
Common Goldeneye 15
Hooded Merganser 28
Common Merganser 2
Eurasian Collared-Dove 1
Killdeer 2
Ring-billed Gull 8
Great Blue Heron 1
Bald Eagle 2
Red-tailed Hawk 6
Belted Kingfisher 1
Downy Woodpecker 2
Northern Flicker 6
American Kestrel 2
Black-billed Magpie 3
American Crow 3
Black-capped Chickadee 12
White-breasted Nuthatch 2
House Finch 14
Song Sparrow 1
Western Meadowlark 28
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s) 1

 

South Platte Park, January 9 – with Chuck Aid

Greater Scaup (c) Rob Raker

What a great morning!  A bit on the chilly side, but we saw some cool birds. We started with one of the classic bird identification conundrums.  Was our group of five scaup Lesser or Greater Scaup?  These two members of the Aythya genus are very similar in appearance and can cause no end of headaches.  There are a number of characteristics to look for, and it’s best if you can have more than one of them on which to base you ID.  Let’s begin with lateral head shape.  In Greater Scaup the head is higher towards the front of the crown and is gently rounded from crown to nape as it slopes back from that high point, the eye appears proportionally higher in the face, the bill is more massive, and the head tends to be green (but there are many warnings about not relying on head color).  When viewing the head from the front, Greater Scaup have definite “jowls” and the nail at the tip of the bill is quite wide. 

Lesser Scaup (c) Bill Schmoker

Lesser Scaup have a more pointy, taller head with an obvious corner at the rear of the crown, which is also the highest point of the head; the eye is more centered in the face from top to bottom, the bill is thinner, and the head tends to be purple (but this is not always reliable).  When viewed from the front, Lessers have a narrower (less jowly) look, and the nail at the tip of the bill is just a little black spot. For more on scaup head shape check this out – https://cobirds.org/Publications/ColoradoBirds/InTheScope/21.pdf.  Two other characteristics to be aware of are the degree of whiteness in the flanks – Greaters tend to be more bright white, and the amount of white in the wings – in Greaters, this white extends through both the secondary and primary flight feathers, while the white in Lessers is confined to the secondary flight feathers. Lacking a scope on Saturday, I didn’t feel as though I was getting as good a view as I needed to make a definite identification, and therefore just put these birds down as Greater/Lesser Scaup. Incidentally, these guys were seen on Blackrock Lake which, in prior years, has been a good place to see Greater Scaup.  One more resource for you – https://www.audubon.org/news/greater-or-lesser-scaup-here-are-biggest-differences-between-two.

Common Merganser pair (c) Bill Schmoker

While at Blackrock we also got to spend some time on identifying a male and female Common Merganser.  The male is pretty straightforward with his all-white breast and belly, dark green head (which often appears black), and red-orange bill.  But let’s spend some time on the female, because we want to be able to distinguish the female Common Merganser from the superficially similar female Red-breasted Merganser. We noted on Saturday that our bird had a warm, cinnamon brown head, with slight crests at the back, and a distinct bright-white throat patch.  One other feature to look for is that the bill on a Common Merg has a wide base where it meets the head and then it tapers down to a narrow point.  The bill on a Red-breasted Merg is uniformly thin along its whole length, and while there can be some lightness of color in the throat area it’s more blended and not so distinct as with the Common Merg. Also, the Red-breasted has longer, wispier, ragged crests.

Say’s Phoebe (c) USFWS

Heading over to the C-470 overpass we had a few more great birds, including Killdeer, Belted Kingfisher, and a Say’s Phoebe.  This last is really the only flycatcher that we can see in the Denver area in the winter. In southern Colorado, in the winter, you can also find Black Phoebes.  While 30-40 years ago Say’s Phoebes were considered quite rare in the winter in Colorado, we now see them with some increasing regularity, and, overall, their numbers have been on the increase.  With regard to summer populations for the US and Canada, Breeding Bird Survey data over a 45-year period indicate an estimated 40% increase.

 

 

Risty Blackbird (c) Bill Schmoker

We ended the morning with a couple of more first-rate birds at a swampy beaver pond.  Rusty Blackbirds occur rarely in the winter in eastern Colorado, primarily along the South Platte and Arkansas River drainages.  We ran into a little group of four and got great looks at one with its brownish hood and back, buffy supercilium (eyebrow), small black patch around its bright yellow eye, and slender, slightly decurved bill.  In this same area, apparently hanging out with some Song Sparrows, we had another rare winter resident, a beautiful Swamp Sparrow.  And then, in that same area we got multiple views of Wilson’s Snipe.  And then……., but that’s enough for now.

Hope to see you on another walk soon.
Chuck

 

South Platte Park, Jan 9, 2021
30 species (+1 other taxa)

Cackling Goose  12
Canada Goose  4
Northern Shoveler  11
Gadwall  39
American Wigeon  11
Mallard  26
Northern Pintail  1
Green-winged Teal  28
Greater/Lesser Scaup  5
Bufflehead  14
Common Goldeneye  11
Hooded Merganser  5
Common Merganser  2
American Coot  4
Killdeer  1
Wilson’s Snipe  3
Ring-billed Gull  4
Great Blue Heron  3
Red-tailed Hawk  2
Belted Kingfisher  1
Northern Flicker  8
Say’s Phoebe  1     
Black-billed Magpie  2
American Crow  9
Black-capped Chickadee  7
Bushtit  8
White-breasted Nuthatch  1
American Pipit  2
Song Sparrow  4
Swamp Sparrow  1
Rusty Blackbird  4

South Platte Park, Dec 5, 2020 – with Chuck Aid

Greater Scaup (c) Bill Schmoker

Saturday at South Platte Park was a memorable one.  We had great weather, a great group, and OUTSTANDING birds!  We began at Blackrock Lake where we spent time working on the finer points of Greater Scaup identification.  These diving ducks belong to the Aythyagenus along with Canvasback, Redhead, Tufted Duck, Ringed-neck Duck, and Lesser Scaup.  A few of these are very similar and it takes some work learning the subtle differences required to differentiate them. Telling Greater Scaup from Lesser Scaup is the biggest of these challenges.  They are very similar in all plumages.  However, here are a few things to work on.  Greater Scaup are 18” long and weigh 2.3 lbs; Lesser Scaup are only an inch shorter, but they weigh half a pound less (22% less).  So, Greaters just seem heftier – bigger rounded head, big jowls, wide body; while Lessers are more attenuated – thinner body, thinner head, thinner neck, more pointy-headed. This is all pretty subtle stuff, but we wouldn’t want this bird-watching game to be too easy now, would we?  One of the things that really helped us out on Saturday was that the Greater Scaup were mixed in with some Ring-necked Ducks which are roughly the same size and weight as Lesser Scaup.  Our Greaters were significantly bigger than the Ring-necked Ducks.

We next moved on over to where the South Platte flows under C-470.  There was a good variety of ducks here, but the real prize was a singing American Dipper that just went on and on.  Beautiful! Particularly in December!

Swamp Sparrow (c) Bill Schmoker

We then proceeded over to a relatively new beaver pond just south of C-470 where we had several great birds: Wood Duck, Wilson’s Snipe, Swamp Sparrow, Rusty Blackbird, and Pine Warbler. The look we had at the Swamp Sparrow was world class.  The bird sat out in the open for ten minutes and we got to note every important feature – similar to a Song Sparrow but a bit smaller, more delicate, and shorter tailed – strongly streaked gray and brown crown, gray nape, clean white throat, dark rufous wings and shoulders, blurry gray-buff streaking on upper breast, and clean white belly.  The best look I’ve ever had!  We got a good enough look at the Rusty Blackbird in order to identify it, but it was high in a tree and a bit far away.

Pine Warbler (c) Rob Raker

Finally, the real highlight of the day was the Pine Warbler.  This bird breeds and winters in the eastern half of the United States, occurring rarely here in Colorado.  We had several opportunities to get reasonably good looks – greenish-olive crown and back, throat and breast bright yellow with line of faint yellow extending back below and behind the darker auricular (ear) patch, with faint smudgy streaking on sides of the breast, white belly and under-tail coverts, yellow broken eye-ring creating eye arcs above and below the eye with a small yellow lore spot (between the eye and the bill), wings grayish with two strong white wing-bars. There was one disconcerting feature on this bird – it’s lower mandible was deformed, having grown out longer than normal.  It seemed to be doing fine, but who knows what the impact of that may have on its survivorship.

Risty Blackbird (c) Bill Schmoker

Good birding!  
Chuck

South Platte Park,  Dec 5, 2020
40 species (+1 other taxa)

Canada Goose  24
Cackling/Canada Goose  80
Wood Duck  2
Northern Shoveler  38
Gadwall  30
American Wigeon  18
Mallard  37
Green-winged Teal  13
Ring-necked Duck  46
Greater Scaup  8
Bufflehead  12
Common Goldeneye  19
Hooded Merganser  18
Common Merganser  22
Pied-billed Grebe  2
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  6
American Coot  7
Killdeer  3
Wilson’s Snipe  1
Ring-billed Gull  1
Great Blue Heron  1
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Belted Kingfisher  4
Hairy Woodpecker  1
Northern Flicker  3
American Kestrel  1
Blue Jay  1
Black-billed Magpie  2
American Crow  2
Common Raven  2
Black-capped Chickadee  16
White-breasted Nuthatch  2
Brown Creeper  1
American Dipper  1
House Finch  2
American Goldfinch  1
Song Sparrow  7
Swamp Sparrow  1
Western Meadowlark  1
Rusty Blackbird  1
Pine Warbler  1

 

Hudson Gardens, Nov 21, 2020 – with Chuck Aid

Bufflehead (c) Mick Thompson

While I’ve been telling you guys that the number of duck species will increase dramatically as we get into winter, we only had four species on this morning’s walk.  While some male ducks, e.g. Northern Shoveler, are still emerging from their eclipse plumage, the four species we saw looked all spruced up and ready for breeding season, and we even saw some initial courtship behavior – head bobbing, pairs moving around together, male competitive behavior.  One of the highlights was getting to note the glossy green and purple on the heads of the male Buffleheads, and we even noted the bubblegum-pink feet as one came skating into a landing on the river.

Northern Harrier juvenile (c) Bill Schmoker

Yet another highlight was getting to observe a juvenile Northern Harrier migrating through the area.  Harriers have long, banded tails and long slender wings, and we generally think of them as flying or gliding buoyantly low over fields and wetlands with wings held in an obvious dihedral.  Often the defining characteristic is the bright white rump. These guys are strongly sexually dimorphic, that is the male and female have very distinct plumages from one another. Males are gray above, mostly white below, with two striking patches of black on the tips of the secondaries and the tips of the primaries – the ends of the wings looking as though they were dipped in black ink.  FYI The secondaries and primaries are the flight feathers of the wing (also known as remiges), the secondaries being smaller and closer to the body and the primaries being the larger feathers farther out.  Female Harriers are brown above and buffy with brown streaks below – very different looking from the males.  Juveniles are similar to adult females but have a darker chocolate brown back and are strongly rufous below, especially in the fall.  So, we got good looks at the rufous underside of our bird as it was moving high over our heads (not low over a marsh), and this is the behavior of a migrating Harrier.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet (c) Bill Schmoker

We had a slew of good landbirds including several subspecies of the Dark-eyed Junco, good numbers of American Goldfinch, a few American Tree Sparrows and Song Sparrows, a single juvenile White-crowned Sparrow, and two species of nuthatches – Red-breasted and White-breasted.  Perhaps the best of all of these was a single Ruby-crowned Kinglet.  No, we didn’t get to see the ruby crown, but we got great looks, noting that this bird is only 4.25” long – a full inch shorter than all the Black-capped Chickadees that were flitting around, and at 0.23 oz (6 g), it weighs about 40% less than a Black-cap.  These tiny, resilient birds breed in boreal forests of northern Canada and throughout the mountains of western North America.  They are common in the mountains of Colorado during the summer. In winter a few are still to be found uncommonly in the foothills and out on the eastern plains.  They have a yellowish-green wash overall, two bright white wing-bars, have a characteristic rapidly moving foraging behavior, and a “broken,” white eye-ring.  We got to see it all!

Good birding!
Chuck

Hudson Gardens, Nov 21, 2020
31 species (+3 other taxa)

Cackling Goose  2
Canada Goose  45
Gadwall  21
Mallard  20
Bufflehead  7
Hooded Merganser  2
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  2
Killdeer  1
gull sp.  5
Northern Harrier  1
Cooper’s Hawk  1
Belted Kingfisher  2
Downy Woodpecker  1
Northern Flicker  3
Say’s Phoebe  1
Blue Jay  3
Black-billed Magpie  1
American Crow  2
Common Raven  1
Black-capped Chickadee  14
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  1
Red-breasted Nuthatch  3
White-breasted Nuthatch  5
European Starling  11
American Robin  9
House Finch  15
American Goldfinch  10
American Tree Sparrow  3
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored)  1
Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon)  3
Dark-eyed Junco (Pink-sided)  3
White-crowned Sparrow (Gambel’s)  1
Song Sparrow  4
Red-winged Blackbird  17

 

Harriman Lake, Nov 7, 2020 – with Chuck Aid

American Coot (c) Nona Radin

The size of Harriman Lake continues to be as small as any of us on Saturday have ever seen it.  Evidently, the last time it was this low was back around 2011-2012 when Denver Water drained the entire lake to do maintenance on the dam.  We did notice on Saturday that water was being brought in from the nearby Bowles Lateral Canal, aka Harriman Canal.  So, it looks as though they intend to not let it go completely dry, and as a result we saw a number of waterfowl – geese, ducks, grebes, and coots.

Cackling and Canada Goose (c) Bill Schmoker

Among of the most obvious birds were the geese, but which species were we seeing?  Canada and Cackling Geese look very similar, and, while we only have Canada Geese during the summer, we have both species here in the winter. Part of the identification problem lies in the fact that there are at least eleven subspecies of Canada Geese and four of Cackling Geese ranging in size from just slightly bigger than a Mallard to behemoths with a five-foot wingspan.  I noticed some traits of both species on Saturday, but did not take the time to really try and figure out what we had and therefore they got entered on our list as Cackling/Canada Geese.

American Wigeon couple (c) Nona Radin

A few duck notes….  While all of the male Mallards appear to have lost their cryptic eclipse plumage and regained their elaborate breeding plumage, the Northern Shoveler males seem to be lagging behind and still look slightly disheveled – don’t quite have their bright, clean breeding plumage yet.  It was great to see so many American Wigeon, and some of us worked on trying to imitate the high, squeaky, rubber-ducky call of the male.  Overall, about 95% of our ducks were “dabblers,” and we just had a few “diving” ducks – Redhead, Bufflehead, and Hooded Merganser.  This may be due to the lake being so shallow these days.  We noticed some apparent male-female “couples” among the ducks; many are seasonally monogamous for up to eight months – picking a different mate the following year.

American Kestrel and Red-Tailed Hawk (c) Nona Radin
American Tree Sparrow (c) Rick Leinen

As for highlights we got to watch a male American Kestrel diving repeatedly at a Red-tailed Hawk encouraging it to move out of the neighborhood.  And, then, we got great looks at a large group of American Tree Swallows moving through some low shrubs.  These handsome sparrows start arriving in mid-October, they spend the winter here and, then, they’ll be starting to head north in March and early April.  Their name is somewhat of a misnomer, given by early North American settlers who saw that the birds resembled the European Tree Sparrow.  Our birds actually breed north of the arctic tree line.  While many of our sparrows have steaky breasts, Tree Sparrows have a clear, light-gray breast and belly with a dark central spot and a rufous patch on their side.  They have a gray head and nape with a rufous crown and eye-line.  The back and scapulars (shoulders) are streaked black and rufous which provides a nice contrast with the bold white wing-bars.  Finally, they have a bi-colored bill with a dark upper mandible and a dusky-yellow lower mandible.

Good birding!  Chuck

Harriman Lake, Nov 7, 2020
21 species (+1 other taxa)

Cackling/Canada Goose  70
Northern Shoveler  28
Gadwall  11
American Wigeon  30
Mallard  80
Redhead  2
Bufflehead  4
Hooded Merganser  2
Pied-billed Grebe  3
Western Grebe  1
American Coot  120
Ring-billed Gull  12
Red-tailed Hawk  2
Northern Flicker  2
American Kestrel  2
Blue Jay  1
Black-billed Magpie  2
American Crow  24
Common Raven  1
European Starling  12
House Finch  3
American Tree Sparrow  27

 

Hudson Gardens, Oct 31, 2020 – with Chuck Aid

I hope that I’m not offending anyone if I use the phrase “Indian Summer.”  It’s always been one of my favorite times of year, and I use the expression with great respect and fondness (anyone know the Poco song Indian Summer?).  Saturday was definitely an Indian Summer morning starting quite chilly but then eventually warming up nicely with wonderful bright fall sunshine.

Say’s Phoebe (c) Mick Thompson

The South Platte was as low as I’ve ever seen it, but that apparently made no difference to the ducks, and the streamside willows were hopping with Song Sparrows, Black-capped Chickadees, and Bushtits.  The main ducks were Mallards, Gadwall, and Buffleheads, but then we also picked up some American Wigeon and Hooded Mergansers.  So, the winter ducks are starting to show up, but, frankly, we didn’t see as great a variety as I was hoping for.  Perhaps one of the reasons had to do with the pond on the west side of the river that is for the time being completely dry.  There was a lone pole sticking up out in the middle from which a Say’s Phoebe was sallying out and taking insects off the dried mud, but certainly no ducks, or egrets, or herons.

 

Cedar Waxwing (c) Mick Thompson

Fortunately for us, once it warmed up, it turned out to be a good day for the landbirds.  There were several highlights.  First there was a flock of twenty or so Cedar Waxwings right by the parking lot partaking of a juniper berry breakfast.  Cedar Waxwings are late breeders because of their dependence on ripening fruit, and, apparently, we can see juvenile waxwings as late as January.  However, and this is just a personal observation, I feel like I was seeing a lot of juveniles in the early part of the breeding season this year, and all of the birds I saw on Saturday were adults.  So, there may be some year-to-year fluctuations.  Other interesting facts about Cedar Waxwings are that they regularly produce a second brood, starting nesting activity while the first brood may be only about seven days old, and they are apparently monogamous within a breeding season.

 

 

 

Dark-eyed Junco – Oregon race, female (c) Mick Thompson

We were also treated to a nice mix of the different subspecies of Dark-eyed Junco – Slate-colored, Oregon, Pink-sided, and White-winged.  It’s fun to start recognizing these different guys.  I encourage you to take some time looking at them in your field guide.  One of the great places to begin is by noticing whether a bird you’re looking at has black lores or not – the lore is the area between the eye and the bill.  The Pink-sided, White-winged, and Gray-headed have black lores, while the Oregon, Slate-colored, and Cassiar tend to have a uniformly colored head.  Then of course, also pay attention to whether your bird has rusty-pink flanks.  Juncos can be regular visitors to our feeders so you should have ample opportunity to study up in the coming months.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (c) Bill Schmoker

Finally, the real highlight of the day was a juvenile Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.  Of the four sapsuckers found in North America, we have two that breed each year in our mountains, Williamson’s and Red-naped. The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is primarily an eastern species though they do breed as far west as the Yukon Territory (check out the distribution map in your field guide), and then in migrating to their wintering grounds in the southeastern US, eastern Mexico and Central America, a few pass through Colorado each fall.  One of the keys to differentiating juvenile Yellow-bellied from the very similar juvenile Red-naped is that Red-naped juveniles generally acquire their adult plumage by October, Yellow-bellied juveniles may not get their adult plumage until early next year.

Overall, we had a great morning filled with more bird info than some people may have wanted.  But, that’s why we like this birding game so much, right? There’s always something else cool to learn.

Good birding! Chuck

Hudson Gardens, Oct 31, 2020
31 species (+4 other taxa)

Canada Goose  80
Gadwall  12
American Wigeon  8
Mallard  28
Bufflehead  12
Hooded Merganser  2
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  19
Eurasian Collared-Dove  4
Killdeer  3
Ring-billed Gull  23
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Belted Kingfisher  1
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker  1
Downy Woodpecker  2
Northern Flicker  7
Say’s Phoebe  1
Blue Jay  2
Black-billed Magpie  23
American Crow  4
Black-capped Chickadee  13
Bushtit  7
Red-breasted Nuthatch  3
White-breasted Nuthatch  4
American Robin  7
Cedar Waxwing  22
House Finch  15
American Goldfinch  5
Dark-eyed Junco  1
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored)  1
Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon)  1
Dark-eyed Junco (Pink-sided)  3
Dark-eyed Junco (White-winged)  1
White-crowned Sparrow (Gambel’s)  1
Song Sparrow  6
Red-winged Blackbird  25

 

Barr Lake Banding Station, Oct 3 – with Chuck Aid

Lincoln’s Sparrow (c) Kathy Holland

Visiting the Barr Lake banding station operated by the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies is always a special treat.  This fall they’ve been limiting group size to just six people, but we managed to book two back-to-back hour-long sessions, so we were able to get two groups of six out there, and it was well worth it.  While one group was visiting the banding station, and getting the benefit of Meredith McBurney’s expertise, the other group took a stroll with me to see what we could find, and then after an hour we switched the groups around.  The Conservancy has been banding birds at Chatfield in the spring and at Barr Lake in the fall for almost thirty years, and Meredith has played a major role in that endeavor.  She is not only accomplished at what she does, but she has a multitude of interesting facts and stories to relate.  

Ruby-crowned Kinglet (c) Scott Kieselbach

These two banding stations at Chatfield and Barr have been located in places where migratory birds tend to congregate.  Using mist nets, birds are harmlessly trapped, they’re removed from the nets, data is collected on them, a small, numbered band is placed on a leg, and then they’re released.  Each of these bands has a unique number on it so that if the bird is recaptured somewhere else we can know where and when it was banded, thus learning a bit about the timing and route of that species’ migration.  Here’s a link to a video of Meredith banding birds in the spring of 2011 at Chatfield –https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aTXpVL_XjD4.

Song Sparrow (c) Kathy Holland

Highlights at the banding station on Saturday included in-the-hand looks at such tough-to-see birds as Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Hermit Thrush, Lincoln’s Sparrow, and Wilson’s Warbler, while those of us out strolling along the canal were able to get great looks at a male Northern Harrier, Rock Wren, Chipping Sparrow, and Spotted Towhee.  Both groups got lots of looks at Dark-eyed Juncos and White-crowned Sparrows.

Pink-sided Junco (c) Bill Schmoker

Let’s talk a bit more about the Juncos because the birds we saw at Barr were definitely not the same birds we might have seen this past summer up in the mountains.  Here in North America we have seven subspecies of Dark-eyed Junco that have different plumages (there are actually about fifteen, but sticking to seven suits our purposes just fine).  One, the Gray-headed Junco, breeds in our mountains each summer.  They, then, stick around through the winter, and the other six subspecies, which have bred farther north come down to also spend the winters here, and these have just started to arrive in the last couple of weeks.  The two subspecies we saw on Saturday were the Oregon and the Pink-sided.  If you look in your field guide, you’ll note how the Oregon Junco, regardless of whether it’s a male or female does not have black lores (the area between the eye and the bill), while the Pink-sided Junco does have black lores.  This is a really key characteristic because the duller colored individuals of both subspecies can otherwise look quite similar, often confounding even the best birders.

Hermit Thrush (c) Kathy Holland

Hope to see you on another walk soon!

Chuck

Barr Lake SP, 3, 2020
34 species (+2 other taxa)

Canada Goose  1
Ring-necked Pheasant  1
Eurasian Collared-Dove  5
Mourning Dove  2
American White Pelican  X
Northern Harrier  2
Bald Eagle  1
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Downy Woodpecker  2
Northern Flicker  3
American Kestrel  2
Blue Jay  11
Black-billed Magpie  3
American Crow  2
Black-capped Chickadee  13
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  4
Red-breasted Nuthatch  4
White-breasted Nuthatch  5
Rock Wren  1
European Starling  45
Hermit Thrush  2
American Robin  28
House Sparrow  1
House Finch  7
American Goldfinch  2
Chipping Sparrow  3
Dark-eyed Junco  5
Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon)  6
Dark-eyed Junco (Pink-sided)  4
White-crowned Sparrow (Gambel’s)  19
Song Sparrow  7
Lincoln’s Sparrow  2
Spotted Towhee  2
Western Meadowlark  3
Red-winged Blackbird  80
Wilson’s Warbler  2

Hudson Gardens, Sept 26 – with Chuck Aid

Gadwall male (c) Bill Schmoker

As many of you know, male ducks have been going through their period of eclipse plumage for the last couple of months and they are finally starting to emerge from that flightless, cryptically-colored phase, and starting to look like their showy selves again. Also, we’re on the cusp of that period when many species of ducks that bred farther north this summer are starting to pass through eastern Colorado on their way south, or they may be only coming this far, and they will then spend the winter right here. One species that we’ve hardly seen this summer, but which we got to see a pair of on Saturday was Gadwall – both the male and female with their bright white spot on the flank (which is actually part of their folded up wing – secondary flight feathers, also known as a speculum). And, then the female has her unique orange and black bill with the colors meeting in a distinct line that runs the length of the bill, and the male with his totally dark slate-gray bill plus his big, black butt (mainly his upper-tail and undertail coverts and sides of his rump).

Wilson’s Warbler (c) Bill Schmoker

Just a couple of months ago you couldn’t walk anywhere in the vicinity of Hudson Gardens and not see and hear Yellow Warblers everywhere, but they are one of our first warblers to migrate south to Mexico and Central America, generally leaving by mid-September. In contrast a few of our other fairly common warblers, e.g. Orange-crowned, Yellow-rumped, Common Yellowthroat, and Wilson’s, can still be found passing through our area until the end of October (and you may get to see an occasional Yellow-rumped Warbler in mid-winter, but that’s an exceptional find). On Saturday we were fortunate to run into a couple of Wilson’s Warblers. In the spring these guys initially seem to head up the Pacific Coast and through the higher Sierra and Rockies to their preferred nesting habitat in high-elevation willows, but in the fall on their way back south they can come through the lower elevations of eastern Colorado in large numbers – in fact, this is the main bird captured at the Barr Lake banding station each fall.

Solitary Sandpiper (c) Bill Schmoker

We had one other interesting migrant on Saturday, a Solitary Sandpiper. These guys pass through Colorado in late April and early May on their way to their Canadian and Alaskan breeding grounds. They then start passing back through again heading south beginning in late July. They are generally gone by the end of September with a few stragglers passing through until the end of October. Key features in their identification are their long light-colored legs, white “spectacles,” and dark back with small white spots.

I hope you’re getting to catch some of this fun migrant bird action!
Chuck

Hudson Gardens, Sep 26, 2020
27 species

Canada Goose 6
Wood Duck 1
Blue-winged Teal 2
Gadwall 2
Mallard 44
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) 30
Broad-tailed Hummingbird 1
Killdeer 5
Solitary Sandpiper 1
Ring-billed Gull 2
Double-crested Cormorant 2
Great Blue Heron 1
Snowy Egret 3
Turkey Vulture 3
Northern Flicker 5
Blue Jay 13
Black-capped Chickadee 8
Red-breasted Nuthatch 2
White-breasted Nuthatch 3
American Robin 50
Cedar Waxwing 5
House Finch 26
American Goldfinch 1
Song Sparrow 4
Spotted Towhee 1
Red-winged Blackbird 1
Wilson’s Warbler 3