South Platte Park, January 9 – with Chuck Aid

Greater Scaup (c) Rob Raker

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

Lesser Scaup (c) Bill Schmoker

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

Common Merganser pair (c) Bill Schmoker

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

Say’s Phoebe (c) USFWS

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



Risty Blackbird (c) Bill Schmoker

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

Hope to see you on another walk soon.


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

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

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

Greater Scaup (c) Bill Schmoker

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

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

Swamp Sparrow (c) Bill Schmoker

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

Pine Warbler (c) Rob Raker

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

Risty Blackbird (c) Bill Schmoker

Good birding!  

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

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


Hudson Gardens, Nov 21, 2020 – with Chuck Aid

Bufflehead (c) Mick Thompson

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

Northern Harrier juvenile (c) Bill Schmoker

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

Ruby-crowned Kinglet (c) Bill Schmoker

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

Good birding!

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

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


Harriman Lake, Nov 7, 2020 – with Chuck Aid

American Coot (c) Nona Radin

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

Cackling and Canada Goose (c) Bill Schmoker

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

American Wigeon couple (c) Nona Radin

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

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

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

Good birding!  Chuck

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

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


Hudson Gardens, Oct 31, 2020 – with Chuck Aid

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

Say’s Phoebe (c) Mick Thompson

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


Cedar Waxwing (c) Mick Thompson

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




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

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

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (c) Bill Schmoker

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

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

Good birding! Chuck

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

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


Barr Lake Banding Station, Oct 3 – with Chuck Aid

Lincoln’s Sparrow (c) Kathy Holland

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

Ruby-crowned Kinglet (c) Scott Kieselbach

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

Song Sparrow (c) Kathy Holland

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

Pink-sided Junco (c) Bill Schmoker

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

Hermit Thrush (c) Kathy Holland

Hope to see you on another walk soon!


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

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

Hudson Gardens, Sept 26 – with Chuck Aid

Gadwall male (c) Bill Schmoker

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

Wilson’s Warbler (c) Bill Schmoker

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

Solitary Sandpiper (c) Bill Schmoker

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

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

Hudson Gardens, Sep 26, 2020
27 species

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

Chatfield State Park, Sept 5 – with Chuck Aid

Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay (c) Bill Schmoker

We had a warm morning along the South Platte in the vicinity of the Audubon Nature Center, and bird activity was a bit slow.  However, if one just shows up there will always be cool things to observe.  For starters there has been an apparent influx of Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jays into Chatfield State Park, which from my previous experience there is an unusual event.  People occasionally see one or two, but nothing like the number we had on Saturday, sixteen.


One of the highlights of the morning was the number of Cedar Waxwings we saw, adults and juveniles. They were flycatching over the river as well as foraging in the Russian Olives.  In that same vicinity of good streamside vegetation we found three migrant Wilson’s Warblers.  These guys breed up in high elevation willow carrs, and then are a regularly occurring fall migrant in the Denver area.  Also, had some nice Gray Catbirds also along the river.


Lesser Goldfinch (c) Bill Schmoker

Out in the more open areas some large sunflowers proved attractive to a good number of Lesser Goldfinches, while the thistles and other weeds were being worked over by some Chipping Sparrows and Vesper Sparrows.  A number of our birds today were juveniles which can make them even trickier than usual to identify.

Hope to see you out on another walk soon!

Chatfield SP–Audubon Center & Trails, Sep 5, 2020
27 species (+2 other taxa)

Eurasian Collared-Dove  1
Broad-tailed Hummingbird  4
hummingbird sp.  7
Double-crested Cormorant  2
Bald Eagle  1
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Downy Woodpecker  1
Northern Flicker  4
American Kestrel  3
Western Wood-Pewee  1
Blue Jay  6
Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay  16
Black-billed Magpie  1
Black-capped Chickadee  7
Mountain Chickadee  2
White-breasted Nuthatch  1
House Wren  1
Gray Catbird  3
American Robin  36
Cedar Waxwing  18
House Finch  11
Lesser Goldfinch  12
American Goldfinch  3
Chipping Sparrow  12
Spizella sp.  9
Vesper Sparrow  8
Song Sparrow  1
Spotted Towhee  2
Wilson’s Warbler  3

Hudson Gardens, Aug 29 – with Chuck Aid

Mallard drake in eclipse plumage (c) Dave Key

We have come to recognize that during the summer, when it comes to ducks in the Denver area, the story is pretty much Mallards and more Mallards, and we count ourselves lucky when we stumble across something else.  And, then during the latter part of the summer,  male ducks go through about a 1-2 month period where they acquire a cryptic coloration known as eclipse plumage.  During this time, when they look very similar to their female counterparts, they are flightless, so a touch of camouflage is not amiss.  On Saturday we noted that the only way to easily tell male Mallards from the females was by the color of their bills – males being yellow or greenish-yellow while the females are orange with a black smudge on top.  I’m pretty familiar with these guys. 

American Wigeon in eclipse plumage (c) Dave Key

However, I am less familiar with what some of the eclipse males look like for our less-common ducks, and while on our walk a few of us got to see an American Wigeon in eclipse plumage. A male American Wigeon in breeding plumage is a beautiful fellow with a cream (almost white) colored crown and forehead.  It has a wide iridescent green swoop running from the eye down the nape; the cheek and throat are creamy-white with little black spots; the bill is a light bluish-gray; the undertail coverts are black; the belly is white; and the breast, flanks, and back are a wonderful warm pinkish-brown.  In contrast, during eclipse plumage, all of the head is creamy-white with little black spots, the black tail disappears, and the majority of the bird is a rich chestnut brown.  One of the participants on Saturday mentioned that it looked red.  And finally, as with the male Mallard, its bill retains the same color that it previously had – a light bluish gray.

Wood Duck juvenile female and male (c) Lynn Korus

Sticking with the ducks, we had one other neat observation – a group of what appeared to be six juvenile Wood Ducks, four females and two males (bright white “bridle”).  I say “appeared to be” because the females all had the white teardrop surrounding the eye that is characteristic of adult females. However, because they apparently lacked the pale spotted flanks of an adult and were all together in conjunction with two juvenile males, I concluded that they had probably just recently acquired their white teardrops.  We are right at that time of year for that transition to be happening.  Now, as for the two males you may be asking, “How do we know that they’re not adults in eclipse plumage?”  The answer once again lies with the color of the bill.  In an adult there is a small patch of yellow at the base of the bill with a larger patch of scarlet in front of that which grades into white, ending with a distinct black nail at the tip of the bill.  Our guys lacked this bright coloration, having gray bills, therefore they were juveniles.

A few other highlights included an adult Swainson’s Hawk, a couple of migrating Wilson’s Warblers – down out of the mountains and on their way south, and a slew of Cedar Waxwings hawking insects out over the river.

Good birding!

Hudson Gardens, Aug 29, 2020
28 species (+2 other taxa)

Canada Goose  15
Wood Duck  6
Blue-winged Teal  1
American Wigeon  1
Mallard  33
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  25
Mourning Dove  2
hummingbird sp.  5
Killdeer  3
Ring-billed Gull  6
Double-crested Cormorant  1
Snowy Egret  1
Swainson’s Hawk  1
Belted Kingfisher  1
Downy Woodpecker  1
Northern Flicker  15
Blue Jay  6
Black-capped Chickadee  12
Barn Swallow  2
Red-breasted Nuthatch  2
White-breasted Nuthatch  4
House Wren  2
American Robin  1
Cedar Waxwing  27
House Finch  14
Song Sparrow  1
Red-winged Blackbird  10
Yellow Warbler  1
Wilson’s Warbler  2
warbler sp. (Parulidae sp.)  1

Beaver Ranch, August 1- with Chuck Aid

Turkey Vulture (c) Bill Schmoker

We led our first Front Range Birding Company bird walk to Beaver Ranch just a year ago at this same time. Somehow it seems much longer ago given the strangeness of the intervening twelve months.  The ranch is located just off US 285 a bit southwest of Conifer and is operated and managed by a local non-profit in agreement with Jeffco Open Space.  It provides cabin rentals, camping sites, a disc golf course, multiple ziplines, a dog park, and occasional weddings are held there.  So, it can potentially be a bit of a zoo on a summer Saturday morning, and that was certainly the case this time around.  I can’t quite decide if the number of good birds that we see there is worth inserting ourselves into quite so much chaos.

Western Tanager – first year male(c) Rick Leinen

However, we did see a number of fun birds.  As with last year, we saw a several Turkey Vultures, as there appears to be a roost just southeast of the ranch.  In Colorado Turkey Vultures nest primarily in crevasses in cliffs, and the young tend to fledge around the first of August.  At that time, they join other Turkey Vultures at a communal nighttime roost in an area of sheltered forest, and then may forage separately during the day returning to the roost each evening.  We also were treated to the loud, persistent, begging, squeal of a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk. Later two adults were seen soaring together in the same area.


Western Tanager – second-year male (c) Rob Raker

We were thrilled to get numerous looks at both male and female Western Tanagers, as well as seeing one probable juvenile who essentially had female-like plumage, but just sat in one spot for awhile looking fluffy and doofy.  The male, of course, is one of our most beautiful birds here in Colorado with its strikingly bright yellow underparts, nape, and rump, coupled with its black back, tail, and wings having one yellow wing-bar and one white wing-bar.  And, then to top it all off, it has a largely reddish head which can vary from deep scarlet to light orange.  First-year males may only get a bit of this red coloration, but by the second year, and if their diet is rich in carotenoids, it can be breath-taking.

Williamson’s Sapsucker male (c) Bill Schmoker

Perhaps the highlight of the day was the variety of Williamson’s and Red-naped Sapsuckers we saw – males, females, and juveniles.  This seems to be a Beaver Ranch specialty, and we were lucky enough to pretty much get the full show.  There are four species of sapsuckers in North America, and the two we saw are the primary ones to be found in Colorado, though the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker can be a rare fall migrant and winter resident out on the eastern plains. The fourth species, the Red-breasted Sapsucker is mostly confined to the Pacific Coast of North America from Baja California to southeast Alaska.  One of the interesting features of all of these guys except for the female Williamson’s is that they have bright white wing coverts which on a perched bird appear as a long white vertical wing-bars and on a bird in flight show up as large white wing patches.  They all have large white rumps.  There’s an interesting story associated with the female Williamson’s which in the early 1850’s was originally described as a separate species due to its distinctively different plumage from the male.  It was known variously as the Black-breasted, Brown-headed, or Cooper’s Round-headed Woodpecker, and it wasn’t until 1873 that things got properly sorted out when a nesting pair was observed in Colorado.

Williamson’s Sapsucker – female (c) Bill Schmoker

One final cool observation was that we got to document breeding success for ten different species.  That is, we observed many juvenile birds, some of them begging, and even saw a few of them getting fed by mom and pop.

Good birding!

Beaver Ranch, Aug 1, 2020
33 species

Broad-tailed Hummingbird  13
Turkey Vulture  6
Red-tailed Hawk  3
Williamson’s Sapsucker  2
Red-naped Sapsucker  3
Hairy Woodpecker (Rocky Mts.)  3
Northern Flicker (Red-shafted)  3
Western Wood-Pewee  8
Say’s Phoebe  1
Steller’s Jay (Interior)  3
American Crow  6
Common Raven  1
Mountain Chickadee  10
Violet-green Swallow  26
Barn Swallow  5
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  3
Red-breasted Nuthatch  1
White-breasted Nuthatch  3
Pygmy Nuthatch  15
House Wren  3
Western Bluebird  1
Townsend’s Solitaire  1
American Robin  12
Pine Siskin  1
Lesser Goldfinch  4
American Goldfinch  1
Chipping Sparrow  1
Dark-eyed Junco (Gray-headed)  16
Song Sparrow  1
Lincoln’s Sparrow  3
Red-winged Blackbird  4
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s)  2
Western Tanager  7