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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Chatfield Banding Station, May 1, 2021 – with Chuck Aid

American Kestrel (c) Nona Radin
Wilson’s Warbler being banded (c) Nona Radin

As our group approached the Chatfield banding station it was not without some apprehensiveness.  The previous day Meredith McBurney, who runs the banding station along with her banding assistants, had recorded only three birds in a five-hour period.  Were we going to strikeout and not have any birds in the hand?  We could see that only a few cottonwoods were starting to leaf out, insects were apparently in low numbers, and we knew that spring and the spring migrants were running behind schedule due to the recent cold, snowy weather.

 

Wilson’s Warbler having its wing measured (c) Nona Radin

The Bird Conservancy of the Rockies has been running the banding station at Chatfield State Park each spring for about thirty years. The process entails using mist nets strung between poles in which birds are harmlessly trapped, they’re removed from the nets, measured and weighed, a small, numbered band is placed on a leg, and then they’re released.  Each of these bands has a unique number 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.

White-throated Sparrow (c) Rob Raker

As it turns out luck was with us, and we got to see Meredith band some great birds, a male Wilson’s Warbler, a Black-capped Chickadee, a male and female American Goldfinch, and a male Spotted Towhee.  As migrants return to Colorado, we initially have a preponderance of males arriving first to set up territories, and then they will work to attract a mate as the females arrive just a little bit later. There was one other bird at the banding station that we just happened to see hopping around on the ground and low in the bushes, a White-throated Sparrow.  The looks we had were world-class, and, as this is predominantly a bird of eastern North America, only occurring rarely in Colorado, we were decidedly thrilled. Also, it doesn’t hurt that these guys are exceedingly handsome with their sharply delineated bright white throat, white supercilium, bright yellow lores (the area between the eye and the bill), and rufous wings.

Broad-winged Hawk (c) New Jersey Audubon

Leaving the banding station our morning had several other highlights, including five species of corvids: Steller’s Jay, Blue Jay, Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay, American Crow, and Common Raven.  We also picked up on six raptor species:  Turkey Vulture, Golden Eagle, Cooper’s Hawk, Bald Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, and, last but certainly not least, a Broad-winged Hawk.  Broad-winged Hawks are a bird of eastern North America, and they are the smallest North American buteo (soaring hawks) with a wingspread of less than three feet.  They occur rarely in Colorado as spring migrants, and we were lucky to get a good view of one soaring overhead.

Good birding!
Chuck

Chatfield Banding Station, May 1, 2021
32 species (+2 other taxa)

Canada Goose  4
Mallard  5
Common Merganser  1
Eurasian Collared-Dove  3
Broad-tailed Hummingbird  1
Double-crested Cormorant  9
Turkey Vulture  2
Golden Eagle  1
Cooper’s Hawk  1
Bald Eagle  2
Broad-winged Hawk  1
Red-tailed Hawk  4
Downy Woodpecker  3
American Kestrel  2
Say’s Phoebe  1
Steller’s Jay  1
Blue Jay  1
Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay  1
American Crow  3
Common Raven  1
Black-capped Chickadee  12
swallow sp.  2
House Wren  2
American Robin  8
House Finch  2
American Goldfinch  6
White-throated Sparrow  1
Song Sparrow  2
Spotted Towhee  20
Western Meadowlark  2
Red-winged Blackbird  14
Yellow-rumped Warbler  1
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s)  2
Wilson’s Warbler  1

View this checklist online at https://ebird.org/checklist/S86819580

 

Sombrero Marsh, April 10th–with Morgan Sherwood

It was a beautiful morning of birdwatching and banding at Sombrero Marsh, in partnership with Thorne Nature Experience. We began by taking a short walk down to the bird blind that overlooks the marsh. In addition to the large flocks of Canada Geese, there were quite a few Green-Winged Teal, as well as Mallards and three Gadwalls. While we were watching, two Killdeer showed up on the shore and we enjoyed watching them walk on the beach.

Tree Swallow on nestbox. Photo by Janet Meyer.

As we headed toward Thorne’s education building, we saw two Say’s Phoebes, which was a first for some of our participants from the East coast. While walking back, we also saw a Western Meadowlark perched on a post and talked about its song. We arrived at Thorne’s educational building just as Oak Thorne was showing up to demonstrate bird banding for our group. He has been banding birds for nearly 70 years! He began when  he was 13 years old, and his high school biology teacher introduced him to it. He founded the nature education center named for him in 1954 and it has been connecting kids to the outdoors ever since. 

I started attending nature-themed summer camps with Thorne Nature Experience when I was eight years old and signed up for Oak’s Beginner Bird Banding camp as soon as I was 12 years old. I immediately fell in love with bird banding and have been doing it ever since. While we were waiting for Oak to catch birds in the traps set up near the building, we watched a small flock of Tree Swallows that were conveniently posing on top of some bird houses in front of the beautiful mountain landscape.

Oak Thorne showing off his bird banding feeder trap. Photo by Janet Meyer.

The traps were unusually quiet at first, which seemed mysterious until one of our participants spotted a Cooper’s Hawk in the area–that explained it! The hawk moved on and, soon enough, Oak caught a male Red-Winged Blackbird in one of his traps. The traps have seeds in them and most of the time, when he isn’t banding, they are normal bird feeders, and the birds are accustomed to freely moving in and out of them. When Oak is ready to band, he activates a control panel inside the Thorne building to close the feeder and trap the birds inside.

This bird was not banded and so the group got to see an up-close demo of banding and had the opportunity to hold the bird.

Male Red-winged Blackbird being banded. Photo by Janet Meyer.

One of the participants released it and we once again waited for more birds to come into the trap. While we waited, the Cooper’s Hawk from earlier flew over, as well as a Double-crested Cormorant. After a short while, Oak announced he had caught a whole flock of male Red-Winged Blackbirds. The group went around the back of the building to examine the traps and watch the process of removing birds. As we removed the birds one by one, it became clear that many of them had already been banded. This is quite common, since Oak bands at Sombrero Marsh frequently and even the recaptures provide useful data. For the birds that are already banded, Oak still records all of the information about them as sometimes we will catch a bird multiple years in a row and this provides valuable information about their lifespans. All of his data gets electronically submitted to a national database based in Laurel, Maryland. 

There were a couple unbanded birds in this catch and participants got to use the special bird banding pliers and fit the small aluminum band on the bird’s leg before releasing them again.

Red-Winged Blackbirds are by far the most common birds Oak bands at the marsh, but in the summer he also gets Yellow-Headed Blackbirds, White-Crowned Sparrows, Mourning Doves, and the occasional Blue Jay or American Robin. 

It was a great morning with lots of waterfowl, songbirds, and a bird banding demo with a master bird bander. We were lucky enough to have a photographer come and take lots of pictures of the whole process. A few are included in this post but you can see the whole gallery at this link. Big thank you to Janet Meyer for capturing these shots!

https://janetmeyerphotography.smugmug.com/Events/Bird-Walk-/

Bird Count:

2 Red-Tailed Hawks

20 Green-Winged Teals

3 Gadwalls

10 Mallards

2 Killdeer

2 Say’s Phoebe

8 Tree Swallows

1 Cooper’s Hawk

1 Cormorant

1 Western Meadowlark

25 Red-Winged Black Birds (10 banded and released)

26 Canada geese

Stearn’s Lake, April 2, 2021–with Sheridan Samano

Early morning has the reputation for being the best time to go birding. It’s definitely a sweet spot for peak bird activity, but as the days get longer, you might find it convenient to bird later in the day.

On April 2, we met at Stearns Lake at 5:30 pm. Even before leaving the parking lot, we had the opportunity to pick out a lone white Snow Goose among a hundred or so Cackling Geese. Snow Geese have a  ‘grin patch’ – a dark patch on the side of the beak that makes the beak look open or like the bird is grinning. It’s not always easy to see the ‘grin patch’, but the setting sun provided ideal lighting conditions to do just that.

Bald Eagle – Second or Third Year. Photo by Sheridan Samano.

It wasn’t long before a Bald Eagle flew over the lake scattering the large flock of geese. Since 2012, a pair of Bald Eagles has nested near Stearns Lake. For several years, their nest was in a large cottonwood tree east of Del Corso Park, a small park wedged between apartment complexes that can be seen to the west of Stearns Lake. Last year, the Bald Eagles moved to a nesting tree south of Stearns Lake. This year, they’re nesting just southwest of the lake, much closer to the trail that leads you along the lake’s south and east shore.

The Bald Eagle that scared off the flock of geese wasn’t one of the adults in the nesting pair. By plumage, it appeared to be a second or third year individual. We watched as it headed straight for the eagle nest tree after flushing the geese. It was then promptly chased off by the adult male. We watched as the young individual approached the nest tree multiple times before being chased off again and again.

As we worked our way along the lake’s south shore, we practiced our waterfowl identification (ID) skills. We spotted a lone Gadwall, several Mallards, a Bufflehead pair, two pairs of Ruddy Ducks, and a Horned Grebe. The cerulean blue bill of male Ruddy Ducks in breeding plumage always rank high on the “wow-index”. We also discussed the distinct profile of Ruddy Ducks in the water –  small body, scoop-shaped bill, and stiff tail often cocked upward.

The Horned Grebe offered another ID challenge. Both Horned and Eared Grebes had been reported in Boulder County recently. In poor light or from a distance, it can be challenging to tell the two species apart. Both are small and compact with black heads and showy head feathers. Neck color in breeding plumage differs between the two species, though. The Horned Grebe has a cinnamon neck and the Eared Grebe a black neck. Again, the setting sun

Killdeer. Photo by Sheridan Samano.

provided ideal lighting to see the cinnamon neck of this Horned Grebe through the spotting scope.

Other highlights of our walk included a pair of American Kestrels, our smallest and most common falcon “pair bonding”, a Great Blue Heron stalking prey in the lake’s shallows, and a Killdeer in beautiful Golden Hour lighting.

As the days continue to get longer in the coming weeks, consider taking an evening bird walk. It’s a wonderful way to end the day.

eBird Checklist – 20 Species

 
Snow Goose
Cackling Goose
Canada Goose
Gadwall
Mallard
Bufflehead
Ruddy Duck
Horned Grebe
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)
Killdeer
Great Blue Heron
Bald Eagle
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Black-billed Magpie
European Starling
American Robin
Western Meadowlark
Red-winged Blackbird
Great-tailed Grackle

 

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Harriman Lake, April 3, 2021 – with Chuck Aid

Say’s Phoebe (c) Bill Schmoker

It’s about a two-mile hike around Harriman Lake on a nice wide path.  The size of the lake is small enough that it’s possible to scan it with binoculars and be able to pick out most of the waterfowl, thus, for the most part, negating the need for a spotting scope.  Of course, a scope is a pretty nice accoutrement if you’re really wanting a great view of all the tiny details of a bird.  Back in November when we were here the lake was as low as I’ve ever seen it with extensive mudflats.  Now, five months later, it’s back to being full.  Nice to have this brief respite from our horrific drought conditions.  Hopefully, April and May will continue to bring a bit more moisture.  One final note on the lake itself.  For some reason it tends to always have a pretty good variety of waterfowl when other reservoirs in the area may not, so because of the generally good variety of birds and the size of the lake permitting fairly good views, I highly recommend it for our beginning birders.

American Coot (c) Bill Schmoker

The above being said, we did not have a great variety of waterfowl this past Saturday.  Some of our wintering ducks have apparently already begun to wend their way northwards, and throughout the area we seem to be seeing less of many of them.  In mid-winter we can commonly see 10-15 species of waterfowl at Harriman.  On Saturday we had 9 species, so a bit below what we tend to expect.  We did have a great view of three American Coots standing on a log.  While Coots superficially can look like ducks they are in a completely separate order, the Gruiformes.  Quick digression.  It is helpful to pay a bit of attention to the taxonomy associated with birds, though this may be a bit more scientific than some of you want.  Bear with me, and I’ll try and be brief.  As we scroll down through the taxonomic levels, we see that birds are in the Kingdom Animalia, the Phylum Chordata (have a spinal cord), Subphyllum Vertebrata (have a backbone), and the Class Aves (all birds). Then within the Class Aves the next level is the Orders (there are about forty of them) that differentiate between the major groups of birds – Ostriches, Penguins, Hawks, etc.  The fact that ducks are in the order Anseriformes, grebes are in the order Podicipediformes, and coots are in the order Gruiformes tells us right away that we’re looking at some critters that even though they may appear sort of similar in some ways have very different origins in their evolutionary history.  So back to our American Coots standing on the log.  This was cool for us because we got to see, when we looked closely, that not only do coots not have a spatulate-like bill which ducks have, but they don’t have webbed feet either – they have extremely long, lobed toes.  They can do a bit of walking, but they’re not really equipped for a long hike.

Ruddy Duck (c) Bill Schmoker

Perhaps the real highlight of the waterbirds was a beautiful male Ruddy Duck in breeding plumage.  Newly arrived migrants included Mourning Doves, Double-crested Cormorants, Say’s Phoebes, and Common Grackles.  We also saw more Song Sparrows than were around a month or so back, so some of them are likely new arrivals.  We had plentiful singing from these Song Sparrows, as we also did from some cooperative Western Meadowlarks, and that was a great treat. Finally, thanks to our sharp-eyed fifth grader, Anna Panaka, we got to see a high-flying Cooper’s Hawk heading north. These guys, which are one of our three accipiter species, are long-tailed hawks that get their groceries by flying fast and low through trees and bushes and don’t often fly very high – except in migration.  So, not a for-sure migrant, but a likely one.

Song Sparrow (c) Bill Schmoker

Hope to see you next month!

Chuck

 

Harriman Lake Park, Apr 3, 2021

27 species

Canada Goose  7
Northern Shoveler  48
Gadwall  4
Mallard  14
Lesser Scaup  2
Ruddy Duck  2
Pied-billed Grebe  3
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  1
Eurasian Collared-Dove  3
Mourning Dove  5
American Coot  44
Double-crested Cormorant  2
Cooper’s Hawk  1
Red-tailed Hawk  2
Downy Woodpecker  1
Northern Flicker  5
Say’s Phoebe  2
Blue Jay  3
American Crow  5
Common Raven  3
European Starling  6
American Robin  3
House Finch  12
Song Sparrow  11
Western Meadowlark  6
Red-winged Blackbird  36
Common Grackle  8