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

Least Sandpiper in breeding plumage. Photo by Jamie Simo.

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

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

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

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

Male Brewer’s Blackbird. Photo by Jamie Simo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Harriman Lake, Sep 7, 2019 – with Chuck Aid

Brewer’s Sparrow (c) Rob Raker

Harriman Lake always seems to have something to offer!  Saturday the focus was on migrant birds.  To talk about our first bird we need to start by learning a bit about four species of little sparrows that belong to the genus Spizella.  We have about thirty species of sparrows (AKA Little Brown Jobs) that can show up in Colorado.  Among these are the Spizellas, which includes Field Sparrows, Brewer’s Sparrows, Clay-colored Sparrows, and Chipping Sparrows.  American Tree Sparrows used to belong to this group, but they have recently been moved to their own monotypic genus.  Of the other four species we can ignore Field Sparrow as it only occurs rarely in far eastern Colorado.  So, that leaves us with three species. 

 

 

Brewer’s Sparrow (c) Rob Raker

Two of these, Brewer’s and Chipping Sparrow, breed in Colorado, and Clay-colored breeds just a bit farther north.  However, all three species migrate through Colorado, and the fall-plumaged birds can be particularly challenging.  I won’t dwell on this too much further, as this is a tough area even for advanced birders. For now, just know that we saw some Brewer’s Sparrows on Saturday, and we identified them as such because of their small size (smallest NA sparrow), long tail, small bill, COMPLETE WHITE EYE-RING, and STREAKED NAPE.  I encourage you to take a quick look at these birds in your field-guide and begin to challenge yourself with this tough realm of sparrow identification.

 

American Wigeon – female (c) Bill Schmoker

Moving on to the ducks.  Our summer ducks in the Denver area are primarily Mallards, the three teal species, and an occasional Wood Duck.  As we move into fall we start picking up migrants as well as other ducks that may over-winter here, eventually having about twenty duck species in the area.  On Saturday we saw evidence of this as we found Gadwall, American Wigeon, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, and Ruddy Duck. We are also right in the midst of fall shorebird migration, and we can get up to about thirty-five species passing through Colorado. On Saturday we got great looks at one shorebird, a Spotted Sandpiper. 

Pied-billed Grebe – juvenile (c) Rick Leinen

Also, of interest is the ongoing high numbers we had for Pied-billed Grebes and American Coots, as well as the number of juvenile birds we saw for both species.  Adult Pied-billed Grebes are notable for their white bill with a black band, and juveniles have a strikingly striped head. Adult American Coots are very dark, slate-gray (almost black) with white bills.  Juveniles are a dull light gray with a gray bill.  These guys will both be around through the winter, but their numbers will be dropping by the beginning of November as some of them retreat south.

Finally, Great Horned Owls nested once again at Harriman, and we got to see one ensconced among some dense cottonwood branches.

Hope to see you on our next walk!
Chuck

Harriman Lake, Sep 7, 2019
28 species (+1 other taxa)

Spotted Sandpiper (c) Rick Leinen

Gadwall  18
American Wigeon  2
Mallard  23
Redhead  7
Ring-necked Duck  1
Ruddy Duck  2
Pied-billed Grebe  17
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  2
Mourning Dove  5
Broad-tailed Hummingbird  1
hummingbird sp.  1
American Coot  31
Spotted Sandpiper  1
Double-crested Cormorant  4
Great Blue Heron  1
Turkey Vulture  1
Red-tailed Hawk  2
Great Horned Owl  1
Northern Flicker  4
American Kestrel  1
Blue Jay  2
American Crow  3
Barn Swallow  4
House Wren  1
European Starling  1
House Finch  6
Brewer’s Sparrow  3
Lark Sparrow  1
Red-winged Blackbird  17

Hudson Gardens, Aug 31, 2019 – with Chuck Aid

Back-caped Chickadee (c) Bill Schmoker

Saturday was the day of the Black-capped Chickadees.  As we left the welcome center we immediately were surrounded by a little group consistently calling to one another.  Now that breeding season is pretty much over with just a few ragtag juvenile birds still harassing their parents for a hand-out (or beak-out), the time for singing is pretty much past.  We only heard the distinctive, pure two-note whistled “feebee” a couple of times.  Mostly we heard the “chickadee-dee-dee” calls or abbreviated variations.  There is one additional call that Black-capped Chickadees make which I wanted to call to your attention, and we heard it a lot on Saturday.  It’s a relatively quiet contact call that the chickadees use to stay in touch with one another.

One other cool bird that showed up with the chickadees was a Red-breasted Nuthatch.  These guys are primarily found in coniferous forests up in the mountains, but in the fall and winter a few will move down into the conifers that have been planted in parks and residential areas.  It was singing consistently doing its rather monotonous “red-red-red-red” series (both recordings (c) xeno-canto.org).

Wood Duck – juvenile male (c) Bill Schmoker

Once again, this summer Wood Ducks successfully fledged young on the pond immediately below the welcome center, and we were able to get good looks at six juveniles, all of whom were apparently males.  We’re right on that cusp when juvenile Wood Ducks are starting to take on some of the plumage attributes of adult birds, and all of our birds had the beginnings of the bright white “bridle” so distinctive in the males – finger-like extensions from the white throat on to the cheek and neck.  However, our birds also had bright white rings around their eyes, an attribute of their appearance as youngsters.

Snowy Egret (c) Bill Schmoker

Moving on down to the South Platte we saw scores of Mallards.  The males were all clearly still in eclipse plumage – that time of year when male plumage is very like female – and the only way to tell who were the boys and who were the girls was to look at the bill color – males = yellow-green and females = orange with black splotchiness.  The only other duck we saw was a single female Gadwall.  A reminder to you all, that as fall migration really gets cranking we could see over ten species of ducks on one of our Hudson hikes, and some of our Front Range Birding Walks on the first Saturday of each month will target areas where we could get over fifteen species.

Black-crowned Night-Heron (c) Bill Schmoker

Finally, shorebird migration through eastern Colorado is at its peak right now, with over twenty species generally recorded each year.  We were fortunate on Saturday to see a Spotted Sandpiper (white in front of the wing, and with an obvious bobbing motion) and a Solitary Sandpiper (white “spectacles,” and relatively dark back).

Good Birding!
Chuck

 

 

 

 

Hudson Gardens, Aug 31, 2019
28 species

Canada Goose  13
Wood Duck  6
Gadwall  1
Mallard  48
Rock Pigeon  2
Broad-tailed Hummingbird  1
Spotted Sandpiper  1
Solitary Sandpiper  1
Ring-billed Gull  53
Great Blue Heron  1
Snowy Egret  2
Black-crowned Night-Heron  1
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Belted Kingfisher  1
Downy Woodpecker  1
Northern Flicker  5
Blue Jay  1
Black-billed Magpie  1
American Crow  3
Black-capped Chickadee  24
Barn Swallow  2
Red-breasted Nuthatch  1
White-breasted Nuthatch  1
House Wren  3
American Robin  2
House Finch  20
American Goldfinch  7
Yellow Warbler  1

Betasso Preserve, August 10, 2019

Western Wood-Pewee. Photo by Jamie Simo.

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

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

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

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

Townsend’s Solitaire. Photo by Jamie Simo.

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

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

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

Beaver Ranch, Aug 3, 2019 – with Chuck Aid

Mountain Chickadee (c) Bill Schmoker

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

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

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

Red-naped Sapsucker (c) Bill Schmoker

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

Evening Grosbeak (c) Bill Schmoker

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

Lark Sparrow (c) Bill Schmoker

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

See you on another walk soon!

Chuck

Beaver Ranch, Aug 3, 2019
35 species

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

 

Hudson Gardens, July 27, 2019 – with Chuck Aid

Black-crowned Night-Heron (c) Bill Schmoker

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

Female Mallard (c) Bill Schmoker

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

Chipping Sparrow (c) Bill Schmoker

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

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

Double-crested Cormorant (c) Bill Schmoker

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

Good Birding!
Chuck

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

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

Meyer’s Gulch Bird Walk 7/13

Pygmy nuthatches. Photo by Jamie Simo.

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

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

Fledging Red-naped sapsucker. Photo by Aidan Coohill

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

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

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

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

-Aidan Coohill

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!