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

 

Front Range Birding Company’s blog readers get 10% off Best Birding Hikes – Colorado’s Front Range. Enter discount code FRBC at check out.

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

 

Front Range Birding Company’s blog readers get 10% of Best Birding Hikes – Colorado’s Front Range. Enter discount code FRBC at check out.