Wheat Ridge Greenbelt, March 7 – with Chuck Aid

Northern Shoveler (c) Bill Schmoker

Weather-wise we had a beautiful day at the Wheat Ridge Greenbelt.  Interestingly enough, it did not translate into a slew of birds.  We had a reasonable number of species – thirty, but the overall number of individual birds was not great.  And, I had a comparable birding day on Friday. It seems that with this good weather some birds may be feeling inclined to do a migratory step north and have left the area, e.g. Northern Shovelers who have been around in the hundreds, and perhaps other birds are not feeling too stressed about food so they’re less active. I’m curious to see if the next round of inclement weather will cause an increased surge in bird activity.  There’s always something to be learning more about with this avian world.  I just try not to get paranoid about a temporary decrease in numbers really reflecting the overall decline in birds that we know is going on.

Gadwall (c) Bill Schmoker

So, as for the birds we did see, they are all looking spectacular in their breeding plumage.  We had wonderful close looks at Gadwall, Green-winged Teal, and Hooded Merganser.  Glorious! And there were several hints as to the onset of breeding season – Gadwall and Mallards doing a bit of courtship behavior, Double-crested Cormorants starting to build and occupy their nests on the Tabor Lake island, and House Finches singing their wonderful song.

We also had a couple of interesting raptor observations.  Red-tailed Hawks are found in Colorado throughout the year and in recent weeks they’ve been busy finding mates, building nests, and in some cases even starting to incubate eggs.  We might start to see nests with young by the middle of April – the incubation period is roughly 30-33 days.  On our walk we had one pass right over us a couple of times so that we got excellent looks, and I want to reiterate some of the field marks we discussed. 

Red-tailed Hawk (c) Bill Schmoker

First of all, Red-tails belong to the group of hawks known as Buteos – these are the large soaring hawks and include Ferruginous and Swainson’s Hawks.  Buteos are medium to large robust hawks that hunt primarily while soaring.  Their wings are long and broad, and their tail is relatively short.  Red-tails have a huge variety of plumages but there are a few characteristics that are almost always present.  The wings tend to be more truncated and rounded than the other Buteos, and they have distinctive “bulging” secondaries causing the wings closer to the body to look even broader than those of the other Buteos.  Also, to varying degrees all Red-tails have a dark leading-edge of the wing (the patagium).  An interesting behavioral characteristic is that, when coming in to perch, Red-tails tend to fly in low and swoop up to the perch at the last moment.

Prairie Falcon (c) Rob Raker

Our other raptor of note was a Prairie Falcon which showed several characteristics leading to our being able to identify it.  It flew by going low and fast, the pointed wings flapped rapidly, stiffly, shallowly, and without pause.  It appeared only slightly smaller than a Red-tail but was more svelte (they weigh about two-thirds as much).  Finally, the real clincher was that it had black axillaries (armpits), which is diagnostic.

We are now only about a month out from the onslaught of Spring migration, and someone locally, as hard as it is to believe, has already reported a Broad-tailed Hummingbird. Also, Mountain Bluebirds are back in the area.

So, get your hummingbird feeders all set, and make sure you’ve got some binoculars that work.  Good optics make a world of difference!

Chuck

Wheat Ridge Greenbelt, Mar 7, 2020
30 species

Canada Goose  55
Northern Shoveler  18
Gadwall  50
American Wigeon  3
Mallard  35
Green-winged Teal  28
Redhead  1
Ring-necked Duck  2
Bufflehead  1
Common Goldeneye  3
Hooded Merganser  3
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  8
Virginia Rail  2
American Coot  18
Killdeer  1
Ring-billed Gull  50
Double-crested Cormorant  30
Red-tailed Hawk  2
Belted Kingfisher  1
Downy Woodpecker  1
Northern Flicker  4
Prairie Falcon  1
Blue Jay  1
Black-billed Magpie  1
American Crow  2
Black-capped Chickadee  12
American Robin  3
House Finch  9
Song Sparrow  3
Red-winged Blackbird  11

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