FRBC-Boulder Bird Walk to Betasso Preserve

Join us on Saturday, August 10th for FRBC-Boulder’s 2nd Saturday bird walk at Betasso Preserve.

Betasso Preserve spreads out over 1,100 acres of foothills habitat and is named for a family of homesteaders who ranched the land from the early 1900’s to 1976 when it became the first major open space property in Boulder County. Its scenic views make for an enjoyable hike, which is moderately difficult. Some notable species that may be seen at Betasso include Red Crossbills, Lark Sparrows, and migrating hummingbirds.

We will meet at the FRBC-Boulder store (5360 Arapahoe Ave., Ste. E Boulder, CO 80303) at 7:30am for our Birder’s Breakfast (featuring Birds & Beans “bird-friendly” certified coffee) and then carpool to Betasso Preserve. We will return by 12pm.

Please call the store (303.979.2475) to sign up. Limit is 15 participants. Preference will fall to those meeting at the store but any open spots can go to folks wishing to meet at the site.

Be sure to dress in layers for the weather and bring binoculars, water, snacks or lunch, hat, bug spray, and sunscreen.

Visit http://www.bouldercounty.org/os/parks/Pages/betassopreserve.aspx to learn more about Betasso Preserve.

Photo courtesy of Dave McLoughlin

Heil Valley Ranch, June 8, 2019

We couldn’t have asked for better weather for our trip to Heil Valley Ranch. Heil Valley Ranch is one of the jewels of the Boulder County Open Space program with over 6,000 acres of prime wildlife habitat, amazing vistas, and gorgeous wildflowers, all of which we were able to enjoy on a warm Saturday morning in June.

Cordilleran Flycatcher. Photo by Jamie SImo.

We first struck out on the Lichen Loop. Before we’d gotten over the bridge, we heard a Cordilleran Flycatcher calling. Cordilleran Flycatchers are small, yellowish flycatchers with large white eye rings that form a tear drop shape behind the eye. They tend to favor moist areas in coniferous forests, such as along streams, which is where we found this one. Flycatchers can be extremely difficult to tell apart, but this one helpfully says its name: “Cordi! Cordi!”

A visit to Heil Valley Ranch isn’t complete without a Wild Turkey sighting and we saw several. Most of Heil Valley Ranch is Ponderosa pine habitat and the turkeys eat the cones as well as insects and berries from bushes such as the chokecherry present in the valley. 

Not only is Ponderosa pine habitat good for foothills birds like Wild Turkeys, but also for mammals like the Abert’s squirrel and mule deer, both of which we got a chance to see on our hike. The Abert’s squirrels at Heil are almost exclusively melanistic, meaning that they’re a very dark brown or black color rather than grey. Heil is also an amazing place to go butterflying or wildflower watching and we were lucky to have some experts in our group to help identify them. Painted lady and orange sulphur butterflies were especially abundant.

Lazuli Bunting pair mating. Photo courtesy of Linda Hardesty.

Once we emerged from the Lichen Loop, we walked a short distance along the Wapiti Trail where we had fantastic views of a male Broad-tailed Hummingbird flashing his pink gorget, and several Lazuli Buntings. We even got to see a pair of Lazuli Buntings mating! Quite different from the bright blue and orange of the male, the female Lazuli Bunting is a warm cinnamon brown. She’s also much shyer than her mate; rather than singing from atop an exposed perch, she tends to hide in dense bushes. 

Male Lesser Goldfinch. Photo courtesy of Chris Friedman.

As we headed back to the parking lot, we finally got great looks at several birds we had only been able to hear deep in the trees: a male Lesser Goldfinch and a male Western Tanager. “Lesser” isn’t a value judgment; it really refers to having less yellow than our other Colorado goldfinch species, the American Goldfinch. Lesser Goldfinch males in Colorado have sooty black caps and dusky backs. When they fly, they flash large white patches on their wings. We had an unprecedented invasion of Western Tanagers in people’s yards this spring due to the cooler temperatures and late snow, but Western Tanagers typically breed up in the Ponderosa pine forests such as at Heil Valley Ranch. The males are a riot of red, yellow, and black, while females are a dingy yellow and grey.

Our trip netted us 25 bird species in all, plus an unidentified hummingbird (Broad-tailed or Black-chinned). Such a great day!

Teller Farms, Feb 9 -with Jamie Simo

Hoar frost on Teller Lake (c) Jamie Simo
Hoar frost on Teller Lake (c) Jamie Simo

Eight birders braved the arctic temps to enjoy Teller Farms this gorgeous, February morning. Teller Farms is a working farm with a trail winding through grassland, past several ponds and under an occasional stand of trees.

While the cold meant there was no open water for ducks, limiting the number of species seen, we were able to take our time and examine common species like the Northern Flicker and the Song Sparrow. The weather didn’t deter some birds at all though. Raptors were the highlight of the day with great views of both male and female American Kestrels. One male even enjoyed his mouse breakfast just a few yards away from us! Though smaller than his mate, the male American Kestrel is brighter with slaty blue and rusty red adornments.

A male American Kestrel eating a mouse (c) Jamie Simo
A male American Kestrel eating a mouse (c) Jamie Simo

We also saw 2 different Red-tailed Hawks, one a light morph and one a dark morph. The Red-tailed Hawk is one of the, if not the, most variable of raptors ranging from the pale Krider’s to the almost black dark-morph Harlan’s.

An adult Bald Eagle, serenely perched in a distant tree and a Northern Harrier gliding low over the grass using its dish-shaped face to funnel the sounds of scurrying rodents to its ears, rounded out the raptor extravaganza. However, we’ll give an honorary mention to the Blue Jay mimicking a Red-tailed Hawk’s cry that had a few of us fooled momentarily!

Another special highlight came in the form of a mammal: a pair of coyotes loping across the grass. When we caught sight of them again, one had scored a meal of cottontail. It wasn’t clear whether the two were a mated pair or parent and not-quite-adult pup, but the larger coyote definitely wasn’t up for sharing its catch!

One coyote eats a rabbit while a second looks on hopefully (c) Jamie Simo
One coyote eats a rabbit while a second looks on hopefully (c) Jamie Simo

When out in nature, you never know what you’ll see! Next up: Walden Ponds on Saturday, February 16th!

Teller Farms, Feb 9, 2019 
14 species

Canada Goose 129
Northern Harrier  1 
Bald Eagle 1
Red-tailed Hawk 2
Northern Flicker 3
American Kestrel 3
Blue Jay 4
Black-billed Magpie 1
Black-capped Chickadee 3
White-breasted Nuthatch 2
American Robin 3
European Starling 30
Song Sparrow 6
Red-winged Blackbird 7

Front Range Birding trip to Minnesota and Sax Zim Bog

Who goes to Minnesota in January? If you want to see Great Gray and Snowy Owls then traveling to the Sax Zim Bog just outside Duluth, Minnesota is a must. Front Range Birding helped, along with Sheridan Samano of the Reefs to Rockies travel company, to lead a small group of intrepid birders to this cold north location to see these and other great boreal birds. 

Top left and top center – Great Grey Owl!  Top right – Snowy Owl!    Score!!

Bottom left – The drive into Sax Zim Bog      Bottom right – Our group from Colorado, Delaware, and New Jersey. 

Considering the weather, and dead of winter time frame, the number of birds seen was quite impressive. Most in the group picked up multiple life birds for their lists. The temps were very tolerable and brought out many of the Minnesota winter residents. Aside from our target birds pictured above, of note were the Black-backed woodpecker, White-winged crossbill, Bohemian waxwing, Pileated woodpecker, Boreal chickadee, and Golden-crowned sparrow.

We loved our stay in Duluth, Minnesota at the historic Fitger’s Inn which is located in the vintage 1885 renovated Fitger’s Brewery. The shores of Lake Superior offered great views and ambiance and all of us had a fantastic time. Thank you Reef to Rockies for setting up this trip!

Our complete list of birds seen is below.

  1. Mallard
  2. Common Goldeneye
  3. Ruffed Grouse
  4. Sharp-tailed Grouse
  5. Wild Turkey
  6. Bald Eagle
  7. Red-tailed Hawk
  8. Rough-legged Hawk
  9. Thayer’s Gull
  10. Rock Pigeon (feral)
  11. Snowy Owl
  12. Great gray Owl
  13. Downy Woodpecker
  14. Hairy Woodpecker
  15. Black-backed Woodpecker
  16. Pileated Woodpecker
  17. Northern Shrike
  18. Gray Jay
  19. Blue Jay
  20. Black-billed Magpie
  21. American Crow
  22. Common Raven
  23. Black-capped Chickadee
  24. Boreal Chickadee
  25. Red-breasted Nuthatch
  26. White-breasted Nuthatch
  27. American Robin
  28. European Starling
  29. Bohemian Waxwing
  30. Dark-eyed Junco
  31. Golden-crowned Sparrow
  32. Pine Grosbeak
  33. White-winged Crossbill
  34. Common Redpoll
  35. Pine Siskin
  36. American Goldfinch
  37. Evening Grosbeak

Our partnership with Reefs to Rockies is great and we are planning many more trips with them. Next up is a visit to the Sandhill Crane Capital of the World – Kearney, Nebraska March 25-27, 2017. Be sure to visit Reefs to Rockies website for details on this trip. Also sign up for our newsletter on this website to learn more about this and other great trips with Front Range Birding!