Late July is an interesting time to go birding in Colorado. Many birds are finished breeding, so songs are few and far between; some have even begun to stage for migration, fattening up before an arduous trip south for the winter. However, the upshot to these phenomena is that baby birds being reared by mom and dad are in abundance, and birds to our north that have begun their migration are passing through in fair numbers through the Front Range. For our large gaggle of birders at Hudson Gardens this past Saturday, this translated into some wonderful birding with up-close looks at 32 species.
Our walk began with a bang, as we quickly caught sight of some flyovers from a Snowy Egret and Black-crowned Night Heron, both of which we’d observe foraging later in the morning. Shortly afterwards, a marvelous adult Cooper’s Hawk perched in a cottonwood by the South Platte river offered superb viewing through a scope.
While there were not many birds foraging in the river — some Canada geese, Mallards, and Snowy Egrets were observed — there was plenty of action in the surrounding trees. Our group quickly tuned in to the constant sounds of juvenile Downy Woodpeckers and Northern Flickers, still calling heartily to their nearby parents. One special moment spent with the young birds was watching a juvenile Downy observe its mother feeding on a mullein stalk and then proceeding to feed on it itself.
Further along the river, we observed some Colorado summer mainstays, including Western Kingbird, Yellow Warbler, and Barn Swallow, along with some more unique breeders. Three Gray Catbirds skulked through some nearby shrubbery, alerting us to their presence with their namesake “meow” calls. Catbirds, close relatives of mockingbirds and thrashers, are one of the few bird species that can identify the eggs of the Brown-headed Cowbird — a nest parasite — and remove them.
Things really picked up as we returned to the Gardens proper en route to the freshly-filled bird feeders: in a small stagnant pond near the weather, our group was treated to views as close as twenty feet of a Black-crowned Night Heron hunting for fish. These unique herons breed in rookeries in the Front Range, but occur across the northern hemisphere. At the feeders, hungry birds were everywhere: Rufous, Broad-tailed, and Black-chinned Hummingbirds fed on a lone hummingbird feeder; more Downy Woodpeckers and Northern Flickers feasted on sunflower seeds; White-breasted Nuthatches, Mourning Doves, and American Goldfinches made appearances as well. Our walk was finally capped off with the sighting of three Ospreys — mom, dad, and junior — soaring overhead.
Check out all the species we saw on our unexpectedly splendid walk on eBird here!
So, I start with a bit of a disclaimer. On Friday, July 6, my wife and I picked up our new eight-week-old Golden Retriever puppy. As a consequence, Saturday was possibly not my sharpest day in the field. Fortunately, we were accompanied by Master Birder, Wendy Wibbens who was able to straighten out my numerous misidentifications.
First of all, we did not see or hear any Red-winged Blackbirds, leading me to believe that the dry weather may be impacting the wetland area at Meyer Ranch, and that the Red-wings that were there a couple of weeks ago have left for wetter pastures. Certainly, one of the impacts of the dryness that we noted was that the flowers on all the Twisted Stalk plants in what are generally moist drainages had dried up and will not be producing their red fruit this year.
So now on to the birds that we did see. Yes, there were babies – fledgling Mallards with mom in the little creek by the parking area, and fledgling Common Grackles in the same area. Also, along the creek was a family of Song Sparrows. Hordes of Cliff Swallows were nesting on the US 285 overpass, and actively feeding young at the nests. Out on the trail through the mixed pine and aspen forest we saw a young male Hairy Woodpecker whose tail feathers were still not fully grown out, moving along with an adult female – presumably his mom. Perhaps the best baby sighting was of a nest full of Chipping Sparrow nestlings in a little lodgepole pine almost at eye-level.
One of the main reasons we like to go to Meyer Ranch is that it can be a great place for Savannah Sparrows which prefer to breed in damp meadows, and at Meyer Ranch there usually appears to be a fair amount of sub-irrigating of the soil going on. Perhaps, not so much this year, for we only managed to see a couple of birds. So, in identifying Savannah Sparrows it’s handy to be able to start with Song Sparrows first, which are long-tailed, have a coarsely-streaked breast with a central breast spot, have some rufous in the wings, and have broad brown lateral throat stripes.
The Savannah Sparrow also has a streaked breast with a central breast spot, but it seems cleaner and better defined, and overall lighter underneath. Perhaps the best thing to notice is that the Savannah Sparrow has a much shorter tail. The yellow supraloral spot seen on the bird in this photo is not always obvious, and can be difficult to make out.
Good birding! Chuck
Meyer Ranch Open Space, July 7, 2018
Turkey Vulture 1
Red-tailed Hawk 1
Broad-tailed Hummingbird 5
Hairy Woodpecker (Rocky Mts.) 2
Northern Flicker (Red-shafted) 2
Warbling Vireo 2
Common Raven 1
Violet-green Swallow 2
Cliff Swallow 60
Mountain Chickadee 5
Red-breasted Nuthatch 2
Pygmy Nuthatch 2
House Wren 5
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 2
American Robin 4
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s) 4
Chipping Sparrow 3
Dark-eyed Junco (Gray-headed) 7
Savannah Sparrow 2
Song Sparrow 5
Western Tanager 1
Common Grackle 2
House Finch 1
Well, it was another beautiful morning at Hudson Gardens! What a great place to stroll around and look at birds! Starting with the waterfowl, we had many Mallards – females with their attendant youngsters, and males in various stages of acquiring eclipse plumage. I know that all of you who have come on our Front Range Birding Company walks now know that eclipse plumage is when male ducks, towards the end of breeding season, molt from their brilliant breeding plumage to a dull, cryptic plumage. Furthermore, I’m sure you recall that this all happens at the same time that the main flight feathers are molting, and that some ducks actually become flightless for a few weeks – a good plan if you are temporarily flightless, to be more cryptically colored. With the next molt the brilliant male colors will return.
Getting good looks at three species of herons was a plus: Great Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, and Black-crowned Night-Heron. Just a reminder that Snowy Egrets have black legs with “golden slippers,” and they have a mostly black bill; Great Egrets, which we also get in Colorado, though not as commonly, have black legs and feet, and they have a yellow bill. Black-crowned Night-Herons get their name because they forage predominantly at night (and, yes, they have a black crown), and we were fortunate to see a couple of adults.
Then, we had three species of woodpeckers, including a recently fledged Downy Woodpecker – kind of fuzzy looking, short tail not grown out completely yet, and acting a bit doofy. And, we had a single adult male Hairy Woodpecker, the Downy’s larger cousin. About 97% of Hairy’s nest in the mountains, so seeing one in town during breeding season is a bit of an anomalie – not completely unexpected, but certainly unusual. We were fortunate to have both a Downy and the Hairy in the same binocular field of view, so it was handy to be able to compare these very similar looking species.
One funny occurrence of the morning was that as we were looking at a singing Northern Mockingbird (a song that had been confusing me for a few minutes), we also got to hear at the same moment the cat-like meow of the Gray Catbird. Both of the species are in the family Mimidae, along with several Thrashers. These birds are well known for the diversity of their songs, their capacity for song mimicry, and the incredible duration of their songs – sometimes over ten minutes.
Perhaps the stars of the morning were the numerous foraging adult Cedar Waxwings that were incredibly cooperative, to the extent that while being photographed one individual flew within two feet of the photographer. She didn’t have to work hard to get close to that bird!
‘Tis the season of baby birds, so in your backyards you should be seeing the adults feeding and tending to their young. Also, the Rufous and Calliope Hummingbirds which have already finished breeding to the northwest of us, are back in the area as their first step towards their migration southward.
Hudson Gardens, Jun 30, 2018
Green-winged Teal 1
Double-crested Cormorant 13
Great Blue Heron 2
Snowy Egret 3
Black-crowned Night-Heron 2
Red-tailed Hawk 1
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) 4
Eurasian Collared-Dove 1
Mourning Dove 15
Downy Woodpecker 4
Hairy Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker 2
Western Kingbird 3
Black-billed Magpie 1
Barn Swallow 3
Cliff Swallow 8
Black-capped Chickadee 4
House Wren 7
American Robin 12
Gray Catbird 1
Northern Mockingbird 1
European Starling 1
Cedar Waxwing 11
Yellow Warbler 14
Song Sparrow 2
Bullock’s Oriole 2
Red-winged Blackbird 7
Brown-headed Cowbird 5
Common Grackle 4
House Finch 19
American Goldfinch 1
House Sparrow 1
It was a beautiful early summer morning up on top of Mount Falcon this past Saturday, June 2. Eleven of us enjoyed a delightful stroll through the ponderosa woodlands, montane grassland, montane shrubland, and Douglas-fir forest. The mix of habitats on top of Mount Falcon is a wonderful mosaic, and consequently provides homes for a delightful variety of birds.
So, since it’s breeding season, the birds were letting the world know which territory was whose, and we got to hear a lot of nice songs. A pair of House Wrens was investigating a probable nesting cavity in a rotten snag, and between times singing up a storm from a nearby rock outcropping. A Plumbeous Vireo kept loudly proclaiming his presence, which his apparent partner seemed to appreciate, and which we appreciated because it allowed us to track him down right in front of us at eye-level. At one point a Cordilleran Flycatcher was singing continuously right above us, and we all got multiple great looks. Because of all this singing we got so many great looks! Western Tanagers, Gray-headed Juncos, and Green-tailed Towhees were also pretty non-stop. And, once we switched over into the more dense Douglas-fir Forest, we had a nice long visit with a singing Brown Creeper.
Oh, and the flowers were splendiferous! The foothill flowers will be reaching their peak in the coming weeks so make sure to get out and enjoy them. Hope to see you on another bird walk soon!
Mount Falcon Park, Jun 2, 2018
Turkey Vulture 1
Sharp-shinned/Cooper’s Hawk 1
Mourning Dove 1
Broad-tailed Hummingbird 8
Northern Flicker (Red-shafted) 2
Western Wood-Pewee 1
Cordilleran Flycatcher 1
Plumbeous Vireo 2
Steller’s Jay (Interior) 4
Black-billed Magpie 4
American Crow 8
Common Raven 2
Violet-green Swallow 4
Mountain Chickadee 4
White-breasted Nuthatch 3
Pygmy Nuthatch 4
Brown Creeper 2
House Wren 8
Western Bluebird 2
Hermit Thrush 1
American Robin 3
Chipping Sparrow 2
Dark-eyed Junco (Gray-headed) 5
Green-tailed Towhee 5
Spotted Towhee 1
Western Tanager 8
Black-headed Grosbeak 1
House Finch 1
Pine Siskin 3
Saturday, May 12, as part of the Front Range Birding Company’s Annual Expo, we offered four different bird walks. Six of us went to Harriman Lake (Kipling & Quincy), and managed to tally 51 species. As the early morning was humid and cool with a low cloud cover, one of the first things to greet us were hundreds and hundreds of swallows flying low over the lake and perching on the lower tree branches and cattails. We later on got good looks at individual species, but that first onslaught was both miraculous and daunting.
One never knows at this time of year how many ducks to expect, as the majority of several species have already flown north by the middle of May. We saw no Common Goldeneyes, but we did manage one pair of Ring-necked Ducks and one Hooded Merganser. The most interesting observation regarding this group of May-migrants is that we saw 15 Bufflehead, but they were all females. Apparently, the males have left already for the prairie provinces of Canada where they will be setting up territories – looking for ponds that have nearby trees with old woodpecker cavities which are attractive to such cavity nesters as Buffleheads.
Another fun sighting was of a mom Great Horned Owl with her two youngsters that are quickly approaching adult size. We got great looks, and they were totally at their ease.
The highlight of the morning was the great views we had of three Virginia Rails. They came out into the open on several occasions and were actively calling much of the time. I recommend that northwest side of Harriman where the trail is near the cattails. It was in this same area that I saw an American Bittern last October. We also had a Sora here on Saturday.
Twelve of us enjoyed a delightful morning – first checking out the birds at the feeders at the Denver Audubon Nature Center, and then visiting with Meredith McBurney as she banded a few birds at the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies’ banding station. The Conservancy has been banding birds at Chatfield in the spring and at Barr Lake in the fall for almost thirty years, and Meredith has played a major role in that endeavor. She is not only accomplished at what she does, but she has a multitude of interesting facts and stories to relate.
These two banding stations, at Chatfield and Barr, have been located in places where migratory birds tend to congregate. Using mist nets, birds are harmlessly trapped, they’re removed from the nets, data is collected on them, a small, numbered band is placed on a leg, and then they’re released. Each of these bands has a unique number on it so that if the bird is recaptured somewhere else we can know where and when it was banded, thus learning a bit about the timing and route of that species’ migration. Here’s a link to a video of Meredith banding birds – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aTXpVL_XjD4
Beyond our great visit with Meredith we ended up tallying 26 species (see list below). The morning was easily dominated by House Wrens everywhere. A few of our best sightings were of a singing Common Yellowthroat and, we also had great looks at a Green-tailed Towhee, an American Goldfinch, and a Lazuli Bunting. The real highlight though was a beautiful male Rose-breasted Grosbeak at the feeder at the Denver Audubon Nature Center. This is a rare to uncommon spring migrant on the eastern plains of Colorado, with only a couple of confirmed breeding records for the state.
Chatfield Bird Banding Station, May 5
Double-crested Cormorant 2
Bald Eagle 1
Mourning Dove 5
Broad-tailed Hummingbird 2
Say’s Phoebe 1
Tree Swallow 1
Cliff Swallow 3
Black-capped Chickadee 2
White-breasted Nuthatch 1
House Wren 14
Hermit Thrush 1
American Robin 6
European Starling 1
Common Yellowthroat 2
Yellow Warbler 1
Song Sparrow 4
Green-tailed Towhee 1
Spotted Towhee 6
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 1
Lazuli Bunting 1
Western Meadowlark 3
Red-winged Blackbird 18
Brown-headed Cowbird 4
House Finch 4
American Goldfinch 2
Our merry group of 27 birders ventured into Hudson Gardens and along the South Platter River on a brisk, beautiful day with plenty of sun. We spotted 25 species of birds during our 3-hour walk covering just under 2 miles.
We began by walking clockwise through Hudson Gardens, looking and listening for birds in the trees, on the ground, in the sky, and everywhere in between. American Robins and Red-winged Blackbirds were both observed singing out in the open, giving us a great opportunity to associate the song with the bird.
Out along the South Platte trail, we saw many of the waterbirds we’d anticipate seeing this time of year such as Bufflehead, American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal and Gadwall.
One exciting observation was a Northern Harrier behaving very un-Harrierlike. These medium-sized raptors with long tails and a distinctive white rump patch are most often seen flying low over grasslands or marshes. This behavior is explained by their habit of not only looking for its prey, but listening as well. The Northern Harrier we observed was soaring high in the sky, a behavior we typically expect from other raptors such as the Red-tailed Hawk. What a treat to see a bird exhibiting an unexpected behavior!
Female Northern Harrier @ Bill Schmoker
Another big highlight was a pair of nest-building Bushtits. These tiny gray birds are often seen in marauding flocks that descend upon your suet feeder and then disappear, often for weeks at a time. This time of year, they are paired up to nest and often start earlier than many other perching birds.
Bushtit @ Bill Schmoker
As spring migration continues, we will say goodbye to many species of waterbirds, and hello to some of our summer favorites such as hummingbirds, swallows, and Bullock’s Orioles. Be sure to sign up early for the next walk on April 28th, 2018 by visiting the Hudson Garden’s website.
To begin with, the weather was far milder than anticipated, the sun broke through the scattered clouds, and we ended up tallying 42 species of birds. So, it was certainly a fantastic morning for the ten of us that showed up to greet the day and the birds.
Harriman Lake continues to be a very nice local hot spot for wintering and migratory waterfowl. Some of these were not apparent on Saturday. We saw no Western Grebes, no geese other than Canada, or any of the three teal species, and there were no American Wigeons, Canvasbacks, Redheads, or any of the three merganser species. However, what we did see was pretty great! To begin with we had three members of the Aythya genus: Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup, and the more uncommon Greater Scaup. In one of the early field books for Colorado birders Harold Holt and James Lane (first published, I believe, in 1987), instead of using terms such as “abundant” and “rare,” used expressions like “Hard to miss” or “May see.” For Greater Scaup they said, “Lucky to find,” and we certainly counted ourselves as “lucky.”
We had high numbers for Buffleheads (90) and Ruddy Ducks (45), earning us on eBird what I’ve come to call “the dreaded black box.” If you use the eBird app to enter your bird lists you may know whereof I speak. The black box appears whenever you record a species that’s unanticipated for your location, or if you enter a number in excess of what eBird thinks is reasonable for your location. eBird then asks that you justify your sighting in some way, e.g. a good written description or a photograph of what you saw. Justifying these dramatic changes in numbers can be particularly tricky during migration when good sized flocks can be present one day and gone the next.
A couple of other great sightings included fifteen Pied-billed Grebes and an Eared Grebe. The Pied-bills seem to have a real affinity for Harriman, possibly based on the apparently abundant crayfish population, and they can be seen here year-round. We often see the Pied-bills with full beaks trying to decide whether to eat a crayfish head first or tail first. In contrast, the window for seeing Eared Grebes in Colorado in the spring is rather narrow (roughly late March through late May), so this was another lucky find.
We did pretty well with the raptors, even though we came away without having seen a Red-tailed Hawk. However, a Northern Harrier, two Coopers Hawks, and, what was a first of the season bird for all of us, a Swainson’s Hawk made up for the Red-tail deficiency.
Additional highlights included a single Wilson’s Snipe, a beautiful male Audubon’s Warbler in full regalia, a small flock of migratory Lincoln’s Sparrows sticking to the lowlands for the time being, but heading up to breed in the montane willows eventually, and a large number of Tree Swallows coursing back and forth over the lake and grabbing insects from the water’s surface. By the way, the Eared Grebe seemed to be taking advantage of this same food resource, whatever it was.
Finally, we wrapped up our morning with a Great Horned Owl mom sitting in her nest with two fuzzy nestlings. All in all, another great morning bird-watching.
Hope to see you on another walk soon or at the FRBC open house on May 12 (we’re offering four different bird walks that morning)!
The Snowman Stampede is a 5K, 10K, and half marathon race held every February in Littleton, and this year it was held on the day of our bird walk at Hudson Gardens. Fortunately, we were mostly able to do the necessary dodging when required, and were not significantly impacted by the hundreds of runners.
Here at the end of February we are on the cusp of so many interesting bird activities. First, and foremost it appears that the same pair of Red-tailed Hawks that were around last breeding season have returned to the area. These guys tend to hang out just across the river from Hudson Gardens, and are remarkable because while one is our standard light-morph western Red-tail, the other is an intermediate, or rufous-morph, western Red-tail. The variety of plumages that Red-tailed Hawks exhibit is truly incredible. Without going into too much detail, just know that there are 12 sub-species of Red-tails each tending to have either a dark or light morph, with some intermediate colored birds, and then you have the different plumages exhibited by juveniles versus adults. It can be quite the smorgasbord for us birders, as well as quite confusing!
We are also commencing waterfowl spring migration which peaks towards the end of March (to be followed shortly thereafter in mid-April by the peak of shorebird migration). This is all by way of saying that we saw a good variety of geese and ducks (13 species). These guys are all in wonderful breeding plumage right now, and it’s a great show!
Other highlights included a few species that tend to be around throughout the winter, but one can never be guaranteed of seeing them: Killdeer, Bushtit, Brown Creeper, and Ruby-crowned Kinglet. This last is one of North America’s smallest songbirds wintering in a variety of habitats, and then here in Colorado breeding up in the Spruce-Fir Forest.
Finally, one other bird that can be here illusively in the winter is the Mountain Bluebird. We were fortunate to get several good looks at this outstanding fellow.
Thanks to those of you who braved the Snowman Stampede and the chilling winds that were with us almost all morning. And thanks to David Chernack for his excellent photos!
Beautiful blue skies made for excellent birding this past Saturday morning along the South Platte River at Hudson Gardens. A wide range of birds were seen, from a tiny Ruby-crowned Kinglet to an enormous juvenile Bald Eagle and everything in between!
Our walk largely consisted of hugging the South Platte, keenly eyeing the only non-frozen water in the vicinity for large numbers of waterbirds. Present in huge numbers were Cackling geese, which actually vastly outnumbered their more well-known relatives, the Canada geese. Amongst the large number of Cackling and Canada geese was one “gray goose” from the genus Anser, which includes the Ross’s geese and Snow geese. Those species are uncommon but regular winter visitors to the greater Denver area, and associate with Cackling and Canada geese while here; in their breeding grounds, they also hybridize with them, creating a broad and confusing spectrum of hybrids which can be difficult to identify. Our mystery goose gave our group the impression of a Canada X Ross’s goose hybrid, but it flew off with several Cackling geese before we could make the final call. Shame!
Also present along the river were Denver’s usual cast of winter characters, including Ring-necked Ducks, Mallards, Green-winged Teals, Gadwalls, and Hooded Mergansers. Not seen on our previous excursion to Hudson Gardens, two female Common Mergansers were present along our route, with one individual which was preening gave us excellent scope views. A mated pair of Common Goldeneyes were also found amongst the other ducks, and showed off their bright breeding plumage. A handful of Buffleheads energetically foraged as we advanced along the river, diving below the surface and quickly resurfacing.
Our group found a surprising diversity of landbirds along our route as well. A unique surprise was seeing a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, a tiny bird filled with energy. Interestingly, the bird was foraging alongside some sparrows and Brown Creepers. A distinctly not tiny bird which we spotted perched atop a telephone pole was an impressive immature Bald Eagle; the bird was just beginning to show off its distinctive white head plumage. Also seen were two cantankerous Belted Kingfishers, a pair of Northern Flickers, and a single Red-breasted Nuthatch.
Check out the full list of species below or on eBird here!