Waneka Lake/Greenlee Preserve, November 13th–with Jamie Simo

European Starling in June showing mostly worn feather edges. Photo by Jamie Simo.

It was a gusty morning this past Saturday at Waneka Lake and Greenlee Preserve, but thankfully that didn’t keep us from seeing some great birds, including some small songbirds that tend to hunker down deep in the brush on windy days. We were immediately greeted in the parking lot by a flock of European Starlings. I have mixed

Male Red-winged Blackbird showing brown feather edges in December. Photo by Jamie Simo.

feelings about these invasive birds, but they are very adaptable and quite beautiful. The name “starling” comes from the white speckle pattern they wear in the winter. Rather than molting into new plumage in the spring, abrasion gradually wears the pale tips off their feathers leaving behind the irridescent green- and purple-black feathers they wear during courtship. Male Red-winged Blackbirds’ glossy black appearance in spring and summer is also due to abrasion rather than molt.

One special song bird we briefly saw was a White-throated Sparrow. This chunky little sparrow is common in the Eastern U.S., but is relatively rare here in Colorado, though it’s shown up at Waneka Lake the last few winters. White-throated Sparrows have head stripes like our usual White-crowned Sparrow, but it has yellow lores (the space between the eye and the beak), and, obviously, a white throat. On their regular wintering grounds they’ll often practice singing just like our White-crowned Sparrows will. Their song is often mnemonicized as “Old Sam Peabody Peabody Peabody.”

Winter along the Front Range is prime duck and goose season and Waneka Lake/Greenlee Preserve didn’t disappoint. At Greenlee Preserve were were able to get great looks at both dabbling ducks such as Mallards and American Wigeon, as well as diving ducks like Buffleheads and Ring-necked Ducks. Dabbling Ducks are surface-feeding ducks. Rather than diving under the water to find food such as fish, they can be seen with their butts tipped up in the air while their heads are busy underwater sucking up aquatic plants or small insects. Because they feed on the surface, dabbling ducks are more agile on land with feet more in the center of their bodies while diving ducks have legs and feet placed well back on their bodies to act as little rudders when swimming underwater. 

The highlight of our trip was the 3 most likely hybrid Canada x Snow Geese we saw in a large flock of Canada and Cackling Geese on Waneka Lake proper. These geese were distinguished from “blue phase” Snow Geese by their uniformly dark bodies with no white on the tertials and by their greyish-pink bills.

Hybrid Canada x Snow Goose. Photo by Jamie Simo.

A great day for birding!

Waneka Lake/Greenlee Preserve

27 species (+1 other taxa)

Cackling Goose  100

Canada Goose  400

Snow x Canada Goose (hybrid)  3   

American Wigeon  5

Mallard  66

Ring-necked Duck  3

Bufflehead  5

Common Goldeneye  1

Eurasian Collared-Dove  3

American Coot  2

Ring-billed Gull  9

Sharp-shinned Hawk  1

Bald Eagle  2

Red-tailed Hawk  1

Northern Flicker  1

Blue Jay  3

Black-billed Magpie  1

American Crow  3

Common Raven  1

Black-capped Chickadee  7

White-breasted Nuthatch (Interior West)  1

European Starling  30

American Robin  3

House Sparrow  3

House Finch  3

White-crowned Sparrow  4

White-throated Sparrow  1

Red-winged Blackbird  30

 

Hudson Gardens Bird Walk With Front Range Birding’s Patti Galli – October 29, 2021

 

What a beautiful Colorado fall day! There are not many places like this in the US,  if I do say so myself, especially this time a year.  The trees were still gorgeous and the  temperature perfect. Maybe there were not a lot of birds today, but the walk was still very enjoyable for all.

The first birds we saw were the ever dependable House Finches – singing away! Though very abundant, House Finches do thrive very well. The males do not always have red breast coloring  Once in a while, depending on what the eat, the male breast can be orange or even yellow in coloring.

 

                 photo of Great Blue Heron by Bill Schmoker

We got a fantastic view of a Great Blue Heron right by the South Platte river. It sat still for a moment, but after seeing us, as we were getting maybe to close, it took to flight. We saw it lift its large wings into the air and fly right past us! The Great Blue Heron is in the wading bird family, such as Bitterns, Herons and Egrets. They have spear like bills and seize prey with lightning -quick forward strikes. We all cheered in delight!

Making our way along the South Platte river, we noticed many ducks are returning here to their wintering grounds. Our walk takes us over a bridge for another look at the ducks, and right into the riparian area for some Chickadees, Northern Flickers, American Robins, and another fun find, a juvenile Coopers Hawk! We noticed he was still a little unsure of himself when it came to hunting.

We finally made our way to the Hudson Gardens feeders for a good look at  Dark- eyed Juncos , Blue Jays,  and White breasted-Nuthatches. Truly a wonderful morning with our new birding friends! We spotted a total of 23 species , which we thought was not too bad.

ebird Checklist share here:    https://ebird.org/mychecklists?subID=Uzk2ODk2MjMz&s=t

Patti

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

 

Hooded Merganser (c) Bill Schmoker

These mild fall days make it a joy to be out strolling around looking for birds.  I know we need some moisture, but on Saturday I was happy to be out in the sunshine.  The arrival of those duck species that overwinter here has started to increase, and we lucked into eleven species, including Northern Pintail, Ring-necked Duck, and the ever-showy Hooded Mergansers.  We also saw two species of grebes, a bunch of American Coots, and a few Double-crested Cormorants.  Our songbird numbers, in contrast were low, and we had no sparrows at all. 

 

Northern Pintail (c) Mick Thompson

One of the challenges with identifying ducks is, if they’re dabblers, all you may get to see is their butts up in the air, and if they’re divers you may only see them briefly between dives.  On Saturday we had six dabblers, and even without seeing their heads we worked on how to identify them.  So, let’s talk a bit about butts.  Get your field guides out.  Male Northern Shovelers have a black butt, then a white hip patch with a bright rufous belly and flanks.  Both male and female Shovelers have white edging to their tail, but so do Mallards, so that can be a little tricky.  Gadwall males have an extensive black butt, and both male and female have a white wing patch in their secondary flight feathers, also known as a speculum.  Even when they’re tilted downwards this white speculum is often visible.  Male American Wigeon have a similar pattern to the Shovelers – black butt, white hip patch and belly in front of that, and then warm, orange-toned flanks.  The female has a speckly butt with the same white belly and orange-toned flanks as the male.  Mallard males have a black butt divided by a white tail with one curly black tail feather, then there’s a pale belly.  Females have the same whitish tail – not quite as bright as the male’s.  Northern Pintail males have a black butt with elongated tail feathers; then, in front of the black is a yellow-buff hip patch.  Females have a bit of an elongated tail, but otherwise they can be tricky.  Finally, Green-winged Teal have bit of a black butt, however, the undertail coverts are pale yellow and can be the dominant feature.

Prairie Merlin (c) Bill Schmoker

As for the highlight of the day, we had a Prairie Merlin stay perched in a nearby tree for over twenty minutes.  We got to look at it from all different perspectives and most folks got to take about a gazillion pictures of it.  This was a great bird, and we had world-class views!  Merlins breed throughout the northern hemisphere.  There are six subspecies found in Europe and Asia, and we have three subspecies in North America.  These vary from the very dark Pacific (Black) Merlin that occurs very rarely in Colorado, to the intermediate-colored Taiga Merlin, which is somewhat rare here, to the distinctly paler Prairie Merlin which is still fairly uncommon, but can be seen with some luck every year.  The male is smaller and has a pale bluish-gray back and crown while the female has a pale brown back and crown.  They both have a thin white supercilium (eyebrow) and only the slightest hint of the typical falcon “whisker” or “mustache.”  This last may not be visible at all.  In distinguishing a Merlin from an American Kestrel note the lack of any rufous coloring and note the multi-banded gray and black tail (white and black when seen from below).  This was definitely the bird of the day!

Good birding!
Chuck

South Platte Park, Nov 6, 2021
31 species

Canada Goose  22
Northern Shoveler  19
Gadwall  75
American Wigeon  65
Mallard  22
Northern Pintail  2
Green-winged Teal  8
Ring-necked Duck  30
Lesser Scaup  6
Bufflehead  45
Hooded Merganser  17
Ruddy Duck  5
Pied-billed Grebe  3
Western Grebe  1
American Coot  70
Killdeer  2
Ring-billed Gull  6
Double-crested Cormorant  3
Great Blue Heron  3
Bald Eagle  1
Red-tailed Hawk  3
Belted Kingfisher  1
Downy Woodpecker  1
Northern Flicker  6
American Kestrel  1
Merlin (Prairie)  1
Black-billed Magpie  5
American Crow  4
Black-capped Chickadee  4
White-breasted Nuthatch  1
American Goldfinch  7

 

Rabbit Mountain, September 11th–with Sarah Spotten

The morning of September 11, 2021 at the Ron Stewart Preserve at Rabbit Mountain began bright and hot for our intrepid group of six birders (myself included) – and got brighter and hotter as it drew on. With each hour of our trip, the sky grew welcomely bluer, as the wildfire smoke that had been hanging around for the last week began to blow out of the area.

Ferruginous Hawk. Photo by Jamie Simo.

The Rabbit Mountain area is the easternmost reach of the Rocky Mountain foothills in Boulder County. As such, it lies in an ecotone where the open shortgrass prairie ecosystem meets and merges with the Ponderosa Pine habitat of the foothills, and interesting species from both habitats can occur here. Golden Eagles nest nearby and are regularly seen soaring over the area year-round. Unfortunately, we did not see any Golden Eagles on this hike – but we did see several other interesting raptors, including a fantastic close-range flyover by a Ferruginous Hawk as we were hiking down the hill that allowed us to study it from below as well as from above, and compare it to nearby soaring Red-tailed Hawks.

With the birds being rather quiet and skulky this time of year in the post-breeding and fall migration season, we practiced a good amount of birding by ear. Finding Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, a tiny bird that spends a lot of time foraging in dense vegetation, becomes much easier when one learns to recognize their wheezy “beee, beee” calls. Even though we only ever had brief views of Spotted Towhee and Green-tailed Towhee, the group learned to know which towhee was skulking in the bushes just out of view by discerning between their common calls: the lower-pitched, raspy mewing call of Spotted Towhee versus the very high-pitched, drawn-out sparrow-like “tseeeet” of Green-tailed Towhee (indeed, towhees are sparrows). At one point, we all heard a Blue Jay out in the open at pretty close range…and yet somehow none of us managed to see it. The call was so definitively Blue Jay, though, that we wouldn’t have needed to see it to confirm the ID – so on the eBird checklist it went!

Speaking of confirming IDs, we had two field lessons on the subject on our Rabbit Mountain bird walk:

  1. Empidonax flycatchers are hard to ID.
  2. Accipiters in flight are hard to ID.

The first ID challenge involved a silent, briefly seen flycatcher at the north end of the preserve. A lot of North American flycatcher species look very similar to each other, with sometimes overlapping characteristics that make them very difficult to tell apart visually (even in the hand!). Indeed, the best way to identify most North American flycatchers is by voice. Well, our bird was silent (as a lot of them will be this time of year, on migration), so no help there.* Our flycatcher had a complete white eyering and showed shorter, rounder wings than a pewee when it flew, placing it squarely in genus Empidonax and ruling out Olive-sided Flycatcher and Western Wood-Pewee (genus Contopus). It was grayish overall with a slightly peaked crown, faint dusky vest and slight yellowish wash to the underparts, and had a smaller bill than Willow Flycatcher. This time of year – post-breeding dispersal and fall migration season – the open juniper and cottonwood habitat in which we saw it didn’t provide many helpful clues, as the bird was possibly just passing through and not in its preferred setting. What little we could piece together in the few seconds we observed the bird only narrowed down the probable ID to one of four flycatcher species in genus Empidonax that are likely in this area: Dusky, Least, Hammond’s, and Gray. At the end of the day, if one simply doesn’t have enough information to clinch the species ID, it’s best not to guess. Instead, it’s better to leave the ID at the highest taxonomic level one can be sure of – in this case, genus Empidonax.

Soaring Cooper’s Hawk. Photo by Jamie Simo.

The second ID challenge came as we approached the parking lot near the end of our stay at Rabbit Mountain: a small, long-tailed raptor catching a thermal overhead. The rounded wings eliminated American Kestrel, which has the pointed wings of a falcon. The overall shape of the bird was that of genus Accipiter, the small, powerful “forest hawks,” three species of which occur in North America. This particular Accipiter was clearly a youngster, sporting brown upper parts and heavily streaked with brown below. Definitely too small for Northern Goshawk, the largest North American Accipiter, but was it too large for Sharp-shinned Hawk (the

Sharp-shinned Hawk. Photo by Jamie Simo.

smallest) – and therefore the middle sibling, Cooper’s Hawk? We debated in the field between Sharpie and Coop. I snapped a few quick photos with the bird at a few different angles to study later. I try to do this on tricky IDs in order to prove myself wrong later on my field calls – which happened to be the case with our Accipiter! The photos revealed that in fact, we were looking at a Sharp-shinned Hawk, likely female by its larger size approaching Cooper’s Hawk (and hence the confusion in the field!). Features in favor of Sharp-shinned Hawk (and in contrast to Cooper’s Hawk) include the sharp-cornered tail with not much graduation in length from inner to outer rectrices (tail feathers), a strongly S-curved trailing edge to the wings, more strongly curved leading edge to the wings, a body shape wide at the shoulders and narrow at the hips versus Cooper’s Hawk’s more barrel-chested proportions, smaller head size relative to the rest of the bird, and plumage features including a thin pale terminal edge on the tail and heavy brown streaking on the underparts (this last feature only applicable to our bird because it was an immature individual).

Another highlight of the day was watching a male Lesser Goldfinch attend one of his recently-fledged progeny. The baby Lesser Goldfinch was uniformly green-gray, with a stubby little tail and wings, and wisps of down peeking out on its crown. It begged with fluttering wings, awkwardly following dad around. While breeding season may be over for many birds, goldfinches breeding in our area time their families for the abundant seed crop of late summer. They are the “last call” breeders of the season, a happy reminder of those halcyon summer days filled with adorable baby birds (or tricky juvenile IDs, depending on your opinion) before we remember that cold winter days (and winter birds!) are coming just around the corner!

See you next time – let’s go birding!

eBird checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S94535187

 

26 species (+ 1 other taxon), 85 individuals

11 Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) (Columba livia (Feral Pigeon))

5 Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)

1 Northern Harrier (Circus hudsonius)

1 Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus)

2 Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)

1 Ferruginous Hawk (Buteo regalis)

1 Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens)

1 Empidonax sp.

1 Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)

4 Black-billed Magpie (Pica hudsonia)

1 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea)

1 Rock Wren (Salpinctes obsoletus)

3 Sage Thrasher (Oreoscoptes montanus)

17 American Robin (Turdus migratorius)

1 House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)

15 Lesser Goldfinch (Spinus psaltria)

1 American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)

1 Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina)

1 Lark Sparrow (Chondestes grammacus)

2 Vesper Sparrow (Pooecetes gramineus)

3 Green-tailed Towhee (Pipilo chlorurus)

4 Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus)

1 Yellow-breasted Chat (Icteria virens)

1 Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta)

2 Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata)

2 Wilson’s Warbler (Cardellina pusilla)

1 Lazuli Bunting (Passerina amoena)

*Side note: at the time we saw the Empidonax flycatcher, one of our walk participants was running the new (as of summer 2021) Sound ID feature of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s free Merlin Bird ID app on their phone. The app gave a secondary hit to Dusky Flycatcher, but this was at the same time that two Yellow-rumped Warblers were flying over and giving their chip calls, which are similar to a call made by Dusky Flycatcher. The app had already correctly IDed the warblers. It would be interesting to go back to that recording and its spectrogram and see if our flycatcher did indeed call at that moment.

Lair O’ the Bear, Aug 7 – with Chuck Aid

American Goldfinch (c) Bill Schmoker

The paucity of birds this summer in the foothill and montane habitats continues, and with this past Saturday being perhaps the worst air quality day of the summer, the number of birds seemed to have declined even more.  Our group recorded only slightly more than seventy individual birds.  The list of those birds that seem likely at this time of year, but were not seen on Saturday, far exceeds what we did see.  For starters we tend to always see Mallards along the creek, hear the plaintive call of the Mourning Doves, and perhaps see a solitary Great Blue Heron gliding past and a few Turkey Vultures in the distance.  Nothing.  As for woodpeckers, we heard no Downy or Hairy Woodpeckers, and we had only one solitary Northern Flicker.  With regard to our migrant songbirds, normally, we still tend to see Cordilleran Flycatchers, various swallows, American Robins, Yellow Warblers, and other warblers until the end of August, but we whiffed on all of these.  And even among our resident birds such as the nuthatches, Black-capped and Mountain Chickadees, and Dark-eyed Juncos that are here year-round, we saw none.  We have already seen in recent years that North America has experienced a loss of about one-third of its birds since 1970.  That’s about THREE BILLION birds, but now this year the progression of that decline seems to have accelerated.  Reasons behind declines in bird populations include habitat loss, pesticide use, agricultural intensification, urbanization, declines in insects, and, of course, climate change.

Cedar Waxing (c) Bill Schmoker

Despite our low numbers we did have a few highlights.  For starters we got to have good long looks at numerous adult Cedar Waxwings that were busily engaged in sallying out from exposed dead branches after insects.  While we saw them engaged in this insectivory, these birds for much of the year are frugivorous (fruit eating), and as a result they tend to breed later in the breeding season when fruits are ripening.  We saw evidence of an abundant fruit crop at Lair O’ the Bear including wax currant, gooseberries, raspberry, and especially chokecherry, so the waxwings are likely to remain in that area for the next several weeks and a return to the park should provide an opportunity to see juvenile Cedar Waxwings.

Lazuli Bunting (c) Bill Schmoker

One other rewarding sight was of two beautiful male Lazuli Buntings.  These have bright blue on the head, nape, back, wings, and rump; a cinnamon band extending across the upper breast and down the flanks; white underparts; and two bright white wing-bars.  There can be quite a bit of variation in the width of the cinnamon breast band that does not appear to be related to the age of the bird.  Finally, the bird of the day was the Lesser Goldfinch which was present everywhere and constantly calling.

Hopefully, as breeding season winds down and fall migration activity increases, we will see more birds in the coming months.

Chuck

Lair O’ the Bear, Aug 7, 2021
14 species (+1 other taxa)

Broad-tailed Hummingbird  7
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Northern Flicker (Red-shafted)  1
Western Wood-Pewee  9
Steller’s Jay  1
American Crow  6
Common Raven  2
nuthatch sp.  1
House Wren  4
Cedar Waxwing  10
Lesser Goldfinch  19
American Goldfinch  3
Song Sparrow  5
Yellow Warbler  1
Lazuli Bunting  2

 

Beaver Ranch, July 10, 2021 – with Chuck Aid

Broad-tailed Hummingbird (c) Bill Schmoker

This is a puzzling year to me as I have visited several places up in the mountains where the number of birds and bird species seems really low, and, frankly, a bit depressing.  In contrast, Beaver Ranch continues to deliver!  On June 5th I led a walk here where we recorded 37 species, and then this past Saturday, July 10th, I led this walk here and we had 35 species.  It’s a head scratcher, even more so because Beaver Ranch can be such a zoo on a Saturday morning with all of the zip-line and frisbee golf activities going on.  Even while standing in the parking lot waiting for everyone to arrive, we recorded Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, Say’s Phoebe, American Crow, Common Raven, Violet-green Swallow, Barn Swallow, American Robin, House Finch, and Red-winged Blackbird.  Not a bad parking lot list!

 

Tree Swallow (c) Bill Schmoker

We then moved over to Casto Creek, which has extensive willows along it and runs through a long, open meadow.  Here we caught a brief glimpse of a Wilson’s Warbler, saw and heard a couple of Lincoln’s Sparrows and Song Sparrows, and then heard, but didn’t see, a MacGillivray’s Warbler.  These are all birds that we expect to see in montane willows, so, once again, knowing the habitat you are in can help you predict what birds might be there.  Also, in this vicinity we were treated to some wonderful singing by a Black-headed Grosbeak, and we had a Red-naped Sapsucker fly over the willows and land in a nearby ponderosa.  One neat observation we had was of a Tree Swallow feeding young at a nest box.  This was exactly what we had observed five weeks earlier on the prior walk, so evidently the same adults may now be working on having a second brood.  Finally, we got to watch the local adult Red-tailed Hawk being regularly harassed by Red-winged Blackbirds and American Crows.  Presumably it might have been doing its own harassing of them at another time.

 

Red-naped Sapsucker (c) Bill Schmoker

Leaving Casto Creek we made our way past the frisbee golf course and followed a small stream with lots of spruce and occasional openings with aspen.  At Celebration Meadow, where occasional weddings are held, we hit a hot spot of avian activity, due in large part to the several large “condo” aspen buried amidst the huge spruce trees.  Here, in one spot, we had Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Downy Woodpecker, Western Wood-Pewee, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Warbling Vireo, Steller’s Jay, Mountain Chickadee, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, White-breasted Nuthatch, House Wren, American Robin, Gray-headed Junco, Green-tailed Towhee, and Western Tanager.  The real prize, though, was the family of recently fledged, very active, loud Red-naped Sapsuckers.  Needless to say, we spent more than a few minutes craning our faces upward to try and take in as much of the drama as possible.

Beaver Ranch comes highly recommended.  Hope you can make it up there. 
Chuck

Beaver Ranch, July 10, 2021
35 species

Broad-tailed Hummingbird  8
Turkey Vulture  3
Red-tailed Hawk  2
Red-naped Sapsucker  8
Downy Woodpecker  2
Northern Flicker (Red-shafted)  4
Western Wood-Pewee  3
Cordilleran Flycatcher  5
Say’s Phoebe  2
Warbling Vireo (Western)  5
Steller’s Jay (Interior)  2
American Crow  5
Common Raven  1
Mountain Chickadee  6
Tree Swallow  6
Violet-green Swallow  12
Barn Swallow  3
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  5
White-breasted Nuthatch  2
House Wren  9
Western Bluebird  1
American Robin  19
House Finch  4
Pine Siskin  2
Chipping Sparrow  6
Dark-eyed Junco (Gray-headed)  5
Song Sparrow  8
Lincoln’s Sparrow  3
Green-tailed Towhee  1
Red-winged Blackbird  26
Brown-headed Cowbird  5
MacGillivray’s Warbler  1
Wilson’s Warbler  1
Western Tanager  6
Black-headed Grosbeak  4

Walker Ranch Meyer’s Gulch, July 10th–with Jamie Simo

Juvenile Western Bluebird. Photo by Chris Friedman.

Walker Ranch is a fantastic place to go in summer for birds, butterflies, and blossoms. On Saturday, July 10th, 10 of us met up at the Meyer’s Gulch (also called Meyer’s Homestead) trailhead. Right off the bat we were greeted by a trio of mule deer bucks. A “bachelor herd” such as this one is usually comprised of immature males that have left their parent herd, but haven’t yet gained a harem of their own. These guys were almost completely unconcerned by us as we organized in the parking lot prior to our hike.

Every day is different when it comes to birding. While my Friday scouting trip was entirely bereft of bluebirds, a small flock put in an appearance to the delight of all on Saturday, including at least one immature bird distinguished by its spotted breast. Boulder County Open Space volunteers maintain the bluebird boxes along Meyer’s Gulch and Western (and sometimes Mountain) Bluebirds regularly set up shop in them. The mix of open Ponderosa woodland and meadow is the perfect habitat for Western Bluebirds, which are larger and a darker cobalt blue than their Eastern counterparts.

Lincoln’s Sparrow. Photo by Chris Friedman.

We also had a good day for sparrows. An especial treat was the pair of Lincoln’s Sparrows that made themselves known on the trek back to the parking lot. Lincoln’s Sparrows can often be confused for Song Sparrows and, to make it even more difficult, they can co-occur in the same wet meadow habitats. However, Lincoln’s Sparrows are smaller and more “refined” than their larger breathren with narrow, distinct breast streaks, a buffy wash on the breast, and often a more visible crest. They also often tend to be a little shyer and more retiring, but, happily, we were treated to great views of, and even some singing from, these subtly handsome birds.

Perhaps our most cooperative bird of the day was the Western Wood-Pewee. One of our most conspicuous flycatchers, this dull brown bird likes to sit upright on exposed perches, making it very easy to see. The same could not be said for the MacGillivray’s Warbler that we heard streamside, but that wouldn’t come out of the tangle of willows he was hidden in.

Meadow anemone. Photo by Jamie Simo.

In addition to birds, we had a great day for butterflies. Just a few of the butterflies we saw were the hoary comma, Weidemeyer’s admiral, and several species of blue. They were particularly attracted to the wet sand and pools of water along sections of the trail, a behavior called “puddling,” that allows the butterflies to ingest salts and minerals they don’t get from feeding on nectar. A big thanks to Chris Friedman who helped us identify the many butterflies and skippers we encountered! Wildflowers of note included Indian paintbrush, meadow anemone, sulfur flower, and sticky geranium. All in all, a fantastic day!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Walker Ranch–Meyers Gulch
Jul 10, 2021
30 taxa

2 Mourning Dove
9 Broad-tailed Hummingbird
1 Red-tailed Hawk
2 Northern Flicker
4 Western Wood-Pewee
1 Hammond’s/Dusky Flycatcher
1 Cordilleran Flycatcher
2 Warbling Vireo
2 Steller’s Jay
3 Black-billed Magpie
3 American Crow
1 Black-capped Chickadee
8 Mountain Chickadee
1 Violet-green Swallow
1 Red-breasted Nuthatch
2 White-breasted Nuthatch
6 Pygmy Nuthatch
4 House Wren
6 Western Bluebird – FL
3 American Robin
2 Pine Siskin
1 Chipping Sparrow
1 Dark-eyed Junco (Gray-headed)
2 Vesper Sparrow
1 Song Sparrow
2 Lincoln’s Sparrow
1 Green-tailed Towhee
1 Spotted Towhee
1 MacGillivray’s Warbler
3 Western Tanager

Lagerman Agricultural Preserve Open Sky Loop, June 12–with Aron Smolley

Grasslands are an iconic habitat of Colorado, although often overlooked since they lie in the shadow of the epic landscapes of Rocky Mountain National Park. However, grasslands and prairies account for a good percentage of Colorado natural areas. Sadly, in today’s day and age these crucial wildlife habitats are fragmented by roads and development, grazed by free-range cattle, and converted into farmland. Grassland birds happen to be one of the most imperiled groups of birds in the United States, having declined by around 40% since the 1960’s. Nevertheless, our native Colorado grassland birds seem to adapt well to the ever-changing landscapes, and Lagerman Agricultural Preserve provides rich habitat for an abundance of birds which is why we chose this location for the June 12th bird walk.

Great Horned Owl. Photo by Aron Smolley.

We had the largest group we’ve had in a while, after making a last-minute decision to allow the entire wait list to join. The first stretch of the Open Sky Loop is relatively uneventful, although we did get some nice views of western meadowlarks as well as a slow-motion Cooper’s Hawk flyover. There are little pockets of cottonwood trees and agricultural ditches along the trail, creating more diversity of habitat and we were lucky enough to find a Common Yellowthroat singing in one of the trees.

Further up the trail, by the ag pond, we stopped for a while and scoped out the surrounding area. Swainson’s Hawks and Red-tailed Hawks soared overhead, and both Eastern and Western Kingbirds chased insects from prominent fencepost perches. This provided an excellent opportunity to compare these species side-by-side, as well as generate some interesting discussion about bird behavior and adaptations. When Kingbirds catch insects in midair, this behavior is known as “hawking” and although it seems like a major acrobatic feat, to the bird it is as simple as opening the refrigerator door to us. This is because birds’ brains can interpret what they are seeing at a much higher-frame rate than we can, so they can react much quicker to the erratic flight pattern of an insect. We also enjoyed the thrill of watching one of the Kingbirds chasing other birds away from the area, and this territorial behavior is where they get their name.

Although our three target species (Bobolink, Dickcissel, and Blue Grosbeak) were nowhere to be found, we managed to get some soul-satisfying views of quite a few other species, including Cliff Swallows, American Goldfinch, and even a half-asleep roosting Great Horned Owl! Everyone got to view this majestic nocturnal raptor using the Novagrade phone adapter through the Zeiss Gavia spotting scope at 60x magnification. Other species of note were Osprey, American Kestrel, and Blue-winged Teal. For a hot day, and the trail being crowded with groups of bikers, I would say we didn’t do half bad.

 

1 Cooper’s Hawk

3 Swainson’s Hawks

2 Red-Tailed Hawks

Western Kingbird. Photo by Jamie Simo.

2 American Kestrels

1 Great-Horned Owl

1 Unidentified Raptor

Eastern Kingbird. Photo by Jamie Simo.

2 Western Kingbirds

2 Eastern Kingbirds

2 Blue-winged teal

1 Double-crested Cormorant

1 Great Blue Heron

1 Common Yellowthroat

X Mourning Dove

X Eurasian Collared Dove

X Black-billed Magpie

X Cliff Swallow

X European Starling

X Western Meadowlark

X Red-winged Blackbird

X Common Grackle

1 Great-Tailed Grackle

X American Goldfinch

Beaver Ranch, June 5, 2021 – with Chuck Aid

Black-headed Grosbeak (c) Anne Craig

As Saturday’s participants will attest Beaver Ranch, which is operated and managed by a local non-profit in agreement with Jeffco Open Space, is an “interesting” place.  It provides cabin rentals, camping sites, a disc golf course, and multiple ziplines, and occasionally weddings are held there.  So, on a summer Saturday morning it’s pretty much guaranteed to be a bit of a zoo.  However, if you get there early enough and know which paths to take, it has a nice diversity of habitats and birds.

Tree Swallow (c) Anne Craig

For starters, Casto Creek which runs through the north side of the ranch transects a wide, open mountain meadow with occasional huge ponderosas along one side and dense stands of spruce, Douglas-fir, and aspen on the opposite side.  Then, it has a wide swathe of tall willows running the whole way along the creek.  The height and extensiveness of these willows is part of what makes Beaver Ranch exceptional with regard to the birds that can be seen there.  For starters we saw a Wilson’s Warbler and a Lincoln Sparrow.  These are the probably the two most common breeding passerines (songbirds) in willow shrublands of the montane, subalpine, and alpine ecosystems.  Also in the willows were a Song Sparrow and a singing Black-headed Grosbeak – one of Colorado’s premier vocalists.  Meanwhile, out in the meadow a pair of Tree Swallows were feeding their young at a bird box, and a Red-tailed Hawk, Say’s Phoebe and Barn Swallow were in the vicinity.  Later in this same area we were treated to great looks of a Cooper’s Hawk flying just over our heads.

Red-naped Sapsucker male (c) Anne Craig

Leaving Casto Creek we followed a small tributary, not much more than a foot wide, into a narrow valley dominated in the bottom by huge blue spruce, with Douglas-fir on the north-facing slope and ponderosas on the south-facing slope.  A major feature was the occasional patches of mature aspen, which can provide groceries and condo-style living for a wonderful variety of birds.  Here we had nesting Violet-green Swallows and Northern Flickers bringing food into their cavity nests – the flickers being in a cavity that showed attempted depredation by a black bear with claw marks and bark torn away around the hole.  It was here that we also got fantastic looks at both Williamson’s and Red-naped Sapsuckers.  Finally, we had a pair of Evening Grosbeaks doing some nest building – views of these birds were world-class.  Throughout our time in this little valley we were treated to the ongoing calling of Cordilleran Flycatchers and singing of House Wrens and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and, YES, we did get to see the ruby crown.

Evening Grosbeak (c) Anne Craig

What a glorious morning!

Chuck

 

Beaver Ranch, Jun 5, 2021
37 species

Broad-tailed Hummingbird  10
Turkey Vulture  2
Cooper’s Hawk  1
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Williamson’s Sapsucker  2
Red-naped Sapsucker  2
Hairy Woodpecker   1
Northern Flicker (Red-shafted)  4
Cordilleran Flycatcher  6
Say’s Phoebe  1
Steller’s Jay (Interior)  7
Black-billed Magpie  1
Common Raven  4
Black-capped Chickadee  1
Mountain Chickadee  5
Tree Swallow  5
Violet-green Swallow  15
Barn Swallow  1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  7
Red-breasted Nuthatch  1
White-breasted Nuthatch  3
Pygmy Nuthatch  2
House Wren  6
American Robin  5
Evening Grosbeak  2
House Finch  4
Chipping Sparrow  1
Dark-eyed Junco (Gray-headed)  4
Song Sparrow  5
Lincoln’s Sparrow  1
Red-winged Blackbird  3
Brown-headed Cowbird  2
Common Grackle  1
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s)  1
Wilson’s Warbler  1
Western Tanager  2
Black-headed Grosbeak  3

View this checklist online at https://ebird.org/checklist/S89666116

 

Lagerman Reservoir, May 8

Until 2020, I only thought of Lagerman Reservoir in Boulder County as a good place to stop for a bathroom break when driving the Boulder County Raptor Loop for winter raptors. Boy, was I wrong! Last year, Lagerman was featured in multiple rare bird alerts during spring and fall migration sparking my curiosity (and that of many other birders in the area). When Front Range Birding Company asked me to lead a bird walk there on International Migratory Bird Day, I jumped at the opportunity!

American Avocet. Photo by Sheridan Samano.

Our group convened at Lagerman’s north shore near the parking lot. We were quickly treated with up close views of American Avocets in striking breeding plumage. Avocets have long bluish-gray legs, a long recurved bill, and a black-and-white chevron pattern on their back and wings. The name Avocet comes from the Italian avosetta, which means ‘graceful bird’. Scything the water’s surface in search of aquatic invertebrates is the hallmark foraging method of Avocets.

Foraging near the Avocets were several Wilson’s Phalaropes, the largest and most terrestrial of the world’s three phalarope species. Phalaropes may best be known for their reversed sex-role mating system. Females are the larger and showier sex. They compete for the attention of males and sometimes mate with multiple individuals, a process called polyandry. Males provide parental care. Exceptions in nature are always a crowd pleaser so the phalaropes sparked interesting dialogue among the group.

Wilson’s Phalaropes (male and female). Photo by Sheridan Samano.

With Lagerman’s seasonal closure, a spotting scope works best for distant viewing on the water and along the southern shoreline. With scopes, we identified a variety of species from ducks to grebes and gulls to terns.

After everyone had their fill of scope viewing, we walked to Lagerman’s east side. We listened to Western Meadowlarks singing in the fields, watched as a male American Kestrel precariously perched on a mullein stalk, and observed a Spotted Sandpiper with its bouncy-butt moving along the rocky shoreline.

In the agricultural field east of the reservoir, we found Vesper Sparrows and American Pipits. Sparrows are infamously tough to ID, but one Vesper perched in the open for several minutes affording everyone good looks at its diagnostic rufous wing patch. Vesper means evening. Vesper Sparrows are known to sing well into the twilight after most birds have stopped singing for the day.

For the morning’s grand finale, an adult Bald Eagle flew right over us with obvious prey in its talons. In real time, we weren’t sure what it was carrying but the consensus was that it was a duck. Upon closer examination of photos after our walk, a rabbit was revealed. 

Even with gusty sustained winds, everyone agreed Lagerman delivered on quality sightings. The final tally of 41 species wasn’t too shabby either.

eBird Checklist – 41 Species

Species     Count
Canada Goose 11
Blue-winged Teal 4
Northern Shoveler 1
Gadwall 7
Mallard 1
Lesser Scaup 2
Bufflehead 3
Ruddy Duck 2
Eared Grebe 4
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) 1
American Avocet 8
Killdeer 3
Western Sandpiper 3
Long-billed Dowitcher 1
Wilson’s Phalarope 18
Spotted Sandpiper 1
Lesser Yellowlegs 1
Franklin’s Gull 20
Forster’s Tern 3
Double-crested Cormorant 4
American White Pelican 2
Great Blue Heron 1
White-faced Ibis 1
Turkey Vulture 1
Osprey 1
Bald Eagle 2
Red-tailed Hawk 1
American Kestrel 1
Western Kingbird 2
Black-billed Magpie 3
Common Raven 1
Tree Swallow 9
Violet-green Swallow 1
Barn Swallow 2
Cliff Swallow 11
American Pipit 3
Vesper Sparrow 2
Western Meadowlark 4
Red-winged Blackbird 7
Brown-headed Cowbird 1
Common Grackle 2

 

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