More Birding

While I was getting stuck in the mud at Chico Basin on Tuesday, somebody found a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher at Clear Spring Ranch. I drove down there on Wednesday morning but didn’t find it. My search delayed my arrival at Cañon City until 10:00. There were birds around, but it certainly wasn’t a migration wave. On the way home, I walked the 4-mile trail at Aiken Canyon and saw very little (except some guy carrying the skull of an elk with the antlers (and quite a bit of fur) still attached. He’d gone off trail and found it up in the hills.

Wood Ducks at Clear Spring Ranch

Black-headed Grosbeak at Cañon City.

Black-chinned Hummingbird at Aiken Canyon. I’m still searching for the shot where the purple on the throat glistens.

On Thursday, I went back to Chico Basin. Unlike Tuesday, when I was alone, there were other birders all over the place.

The Black-throated Gray Warbler was still there, and being much more cooperative.

The Northern Waterthrush was still there too. They bob their tails so consistently that it’s tough to get a photo that isn’t blurred a bit—with my camera anyway.

My first Colorado Tennessee Warbler was also hanging around, although not quite as cooperative.

Gray Flycatcher near Rose Pond

I was scanning the far side of the pond when I saw a Wilson’s Phalarope and … something else. The other bird looked brown, and it was swimming when I first saw it. When it climbed up on some reeds and then waded back in the water, I was able to see it was a Sora. Not great photos, but considering I was 80 yards away, not bad either.

Swainson’s Thrush

The Prairie Warbler was still at Bell Park, although far to high in the cottonwoods for a photo. While I was looking for it, I heard the unmistakable “song” of a Least Flycatcher and was soon able to track it down—also high in the trees.

In the past month, I’ve spotted at least 15 porcupines sleeping in trees. I imagine they’ve been easy to see all along and I’ve just learned what to look for. It’s funny how observation is a learned skill.

There’s a tiny little pond at Chico Basin (which birders refer to by the clever name of “the small pond”). Small though it is, it hosts a healthy population of giant Bullfrogs.

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Back to Chico Basin

Weird day. It snowed last night, and the forecast for today was rain and snow. I initially considered going to Cañon City, but then I saw online that a birder predicted a fallout in the Rocky Ford/La Junta area based on the weather pattern. I didn’t want to go that far, but I decided to head in that general direction—as the crow flies, Chico Basin Ranch is about halfway between my house and Rocky Ford.

It was misting when I arrived, and the road was muddy and slick. I made it to headquarters to discover I was the first birder there. In fact, for as long as I was there (until 2:30 or so), I was the only birder there. My feet got wet immediately and stayed that way all day. The drizzle was on/off, but never so heavy that it made birding miserable apart from frozen hands.

One of the first birds I spotted was my third-ever Black-throated Gray Warbler.

Soon after, I saw my first Colorado Northern Waterthrush. With two warblers in the bag early, I thought the day was shaping up nicely but I only saw Yellow, Audubon’s, and Common Yellowthroat after that.

A flock of 15 Marbled Godwits flew over the pond and landed on the far side near a couple Willets.

Semipalmated Sandpiper

I tried to drive to Rose Pond, but I hadn’t gone far before I found myself at a standstill. The muddy road at this point was bottomless. For the next five minutes or so, I was basically stuck. At times, I really didn’t think I was going to make it out. I rocked my car back and forth and finally got my wheels off the road into the prairie. I was still facing the way I had been going, and when I tried to pull back on the road and turn around, I got stuck again. Another five minutes of back and forth and I finally got my wheels in the grass and drove back to Headquarters Pond through the prairie along the road.

I walked to Rose Pond. There wasn’t a lot going on. I did find a young Indigo Bunting feeding around the sage not far from the pond.

As I walked along the muddy path by the shore, a bird flashed by going faster than I could follow. So fast, in fact, that it could only be a falcon. It circled and landed in a tree not far away, allowing me to identify it as a Peregrine Falcon.

It flew off after maybe 5 minutes. I saw it later as I walked back toward Headquarters Pond. It was flashing low over the prairie back toward Rose Pond.

On my way to the banding station, I spotted two Black-tailed Jackrabbits chasing through the cholla. One took off running. The other froze.

I stopped at Fountain Creek to walk a couple miles in the continuing drizzle to get in my walking for the day. I ended up with 84 species, one of my best days in Colorado, if not my best. Nine of them were new for the year, one new for the state.

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Lewis’s Woodpecker

I’d done a lot of driving and birding over the week, and I expect to do a lot more next week, so Saturday, I decided to stick closer to home. I spent a few hours at Fountain Creek and Clear Spring Ranch and was home before noon.

Spotted Towhee at Fountain Creek

Eastern Kingbird at Clear Spring Ranch

Brown Thrasher at Clear Spring Ranch

When I arrived at Clear Spring Ranch, another birder with a dog on a leash had just started down the trail toward the T intersection. I wasn’t in a chatty mood, so I headed north on the trail. When I got to the place where the road crosses a culvert in a strip of cottonwoods, I saw two Lewis’s Woodpeckers on a stump at the edge of a field. This is significant because they were my first for El Paso County, my first of the year, and—most significantly—the first I’d ever found on my own (as opposed to chasing down someone else’s sighting). I maneuvered through the trees to where I could get decent photos, but the stump they were on was in shadow. I waited for the sun to shift and light things up better, but before that happened, a Cooper’s Hawk blew through the grove and scattered everything.

After waiting a couple minutes for the woodpeckers to return, I walked back to the trail. I soon saw them again sharing a tall, isolated cottonwood with a pair of similarly-sized kestrels. The lighting was better here, but I wasn’t nearly as close. After a few minutes, one of the woodpeckers flew off to the south and the other off to the east. I didn’t see them again. I later ran into four hot-shot birders looking for them in another part of the park—so I know I wasn’t the first person to find them. But still, I hadn’t heard they were there and found them on my own.

Otherwise, things were dead. I got in my  miles and headed for home.

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Chico Basin Ranch

Chico Basin Ranch is a working cattle ranch that straddles the border between El Paso and Pueblo Counties. That’s out in the cholla flats, but a series of ponds along a small creek—and the cottonwoods growing around them—make it a great migrant trap. I’ve known about the ranch almost as long as I’ve lived in Colorado, but I’d never gone because (1) there’s a $15 fee, and (2) skepticism about how good it could be.

But during a fairly slow first week of birding in May, I decided to give it a try. I spent 6 or 7 hours. I saw 55 birds, including 8 new for the year—2 new for El Paso County, and 9 new for Pueblo County.

Least Sandpiper

One of 7 Ladder-backed Woodpeckers.

Lark Sparrow

Spotted Sandpipers at Headquarters Pond.

Singing Brown Thrasher by Rose Pond

When I was birding at Rose Pond, I met three other guys who were birding together. They were very nice and told me how to get to all the hot-spots on the ranch. One of those spots, called Bell Park (for an old dinner bell that hangs on a wooden frame), has hosted a Prairie Warbler for the past several days. I decided to take a shot, even though the guys said they hadn’t seen the bird when they’d been there earlier that morning. To get there, I had to open a gate made of old strips of wood and barbed wire, and then close it behind me.

At Bell Park, I spotted a pair of Ash-throated Flycatchers.

I also saw a gray empidonax flycatcher with a long, slender tail that it constantly pumped up and down, phoebe-like. I don’t usually attempt to identify empids by sight, but the shape of the tail, the wagging, and the color convinced me this was my second ever Gray Flycatcher.

I had done a fairly comprehensive scan of the area when the three guys I’d met by Rose Pond showed up. Someone told them the Prairie Warbler was still hanging around. We all set out in search of it. Sometimes I was separated from them, at other times I was with one or more. I pointed out a Golden Eagle sailing over, and that impressed them. After that, they pretty much accepted me as one of the group. I was talking with one of them when I spotted a MacGillivray’s Warbler in the brush at the base of a cottonwood—about 40 yards away. The other two had just seen it, but they were much closer and were again impressed that I’d seen it from so far away. When I then picked out the Prairie Warbler foraging high in a cottonwood, my reputation was sealed.

We drove back through the gate to the trees around the banding station. They only stayed a couple minutes, and I only stuck around a little bit longer. Just after I’d exited the ranch gate, I spotted a small flock of Lark Buntings near the Hanover Fire Station. For some reason, my camera just doesn’t seem able to capture the black feathers well. I’m not happy with any of these photos.

A female Lark Bunting

A Western Meadowlark sang on a fence post nearby.

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Cañon City

After my long drive on Tuesday, I stuck (somewhat) closer to home on Wednesday. I began at Cañon City Riverwalk. I saw my first-of-the-year Black-chinned Hummingbird and Black-headed Grosbeak, but apart from Yellow-rumped Warblers, things were pretty dead. The Great-horned Owl was on its regular nest, joined now by two young.

I hiked the Tunnel Drive Trail. As I said to some other birders I met there, “It’s not a good place to bird, but it’s a good place to be.” As usual, the birds were scarce and hard to find. I did see a herd of 9 Bighorn Sheep, however.

And the cactus were in bloom.

After lunch at Big Burger World, I went to Brush Hollow. I finally saw the Pinyon Jays that others report there from time to time. They weren’t in the wildlife area itself, but off on a side road nearby. I was just about to give up looking when I heard their odd laugh-call. I got out of the car and found two perched on top of pinyon pines. I wasn’t terribly close, and the light was terrible for photography, but hey … any sighting of a Pinyon Jay is a good one.

There wasn’t a lot happening at the reservoir itself. I should know because I walked all the way around it to get in my miles. It’s not a hike I’d like to make if the temperature had been much higher, but a pleasant breeze made things bearable on this day.

Western Kingbird

Spotted Sandpiper

I ended the day with 50 species—4 new for the year—a pathetic total for May, but the weather was perfect, and I got in 10 miles of walking.

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