Category: Blog

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Sandstone Ranch, February 12th–with Aron Smolley

Heavy snowfall on Friday evening made for an interesting bird walk on Saturday morning at Sandstone Ranch. The weather was sunny, clear and still, although very chilly, and the birds were active and busy. Starting down the hill from the parking lot, we were graced with the spectacle of hundreds if not thousands of Canada geese flying overhead in the warm morning glow. Their collective honking was so loud we were shouting over them!

As we made our way past the sandstone cliffs, white-crowned sparrows and dark-eyed juncos flitted between the low shrubs. The first bird we stopped for was a female hairy woodpecker, busily foraging up the side of a snag, completely oblivious to our group watching her. Everyone was able to get good views through the spotting scope, and it led to an excellent conversation about the differences between hairy and downy woodpeckers, and bird identification in general.

Female American Kestrel. Photo by Jamie Simo.

When we got to the bottom of the hill, a solitary northern flicker flew overhead, calling, and as we watched it fly by we also spotted a pair of American kestrels, and got excellent views that helped demonstrate the differences between the male and female. There were no shortage of red-tailed hawks or bald eagles, and we got excellent views of several different color morphs of red-tails, and of eagles in every stage of life, including 2 adults next to their nest. A northern harrier whooshed past us and made several passes over the wetland, scattering mallards and causing a ruckus. We stopped to watch the harrier cruising around and also put the scope on a majestic great blue heron hanging out on a floating log.

Male American Kestrel. Photo by Jamie Simo.

This stop was very well timed, because 2 hooded mergansers that had been submerged and unnoticed suddenly popped up. We spent most of the rest of the walk watching the mergansers, heron, and harrier, and even had a common merganser flyover briefly. The last birds of the walk were a small group of house finches, which presented us with an excellent opportunity to simply enjoy the more common species and their subtle beauty. Overall, this was a very pleasant walk with great company and great conversation. Looking forward to the next one!


Canada Goose 2000, Am Kestrel 3, hairy woodpecker 1, northern flicker 1, RT hawk- 6, bald eagle 9, canvasback 2, mallard 30, dark eyed junco 10, white crowned sparrow 4, northern harrier 1, great blue heron 2, hooded merganser 2, common merganser 1, house finch 4

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Bird Count
Canada Goose 2000
Am Kestrel3
hairy woodpecker 1, 1
northern flicker 1, 1
RT hawk- 6, 6
bald eagle 9, 9
canvasback 2, 2
mallard 30, 30
dark eyed junco10
white crowned sparrow 4
northern harrier 1
great blue heron2
caption goes here

Milavec Reservoir, January 8th–with Jamie Simo

Immature Bald Eagle in flight. Photo by Jamie Simo

Hybrid Greater White-fronted Goose x Cackling Goose. Photo by Jamie Simo.

Milavec Reservoir in Frederick, Colorado is always a good place to see ducks and geese in the winter. I like to go at least once every year to see what I can see. This past Saturday was cold and windy and because of that a lot of the reservoir was frozen, but just enough remained open that it drew some interesting waterfowl and even some hungry raptors,

Hybrid Snow Goose x Cackling/Canada Goose. Photo by Jamie Simo.

including 4 Bald Eagles and a Northern Harrier.

Hiding among the masses of Canada and Cackling Geese were a Greater White-fronted Goose and a couple of interesting hybrids. One of these hybrids was clearly a cross between a Greater White-fronted Goose and probably a Cackling Goose going by the bright orange beak and feet (indicative of a Greater White-fronted Goose) and the dark  head and neck with a paler cheek patch (indicative of either a Canada or Cackling Goose). It’s small size hints that the other parent was probably a Cackling Goose rather than a Canada Goose.

The other hybrid was a lot harder to pin down to parentage. The white, blotchy head points to either a Snow Goose or a Ross’s Goose parent with the blocky head shape being more of a Snow Goose than Ross’s Goose trait. The dark bill and dark body indicates the other parent was either a Cackling or a Canada Goose.

We also had some great diving ducks, including good looks at both male and female Canvasbacks. The “ski slope” head shape of the Canvasback is distinctive and makes it unique from our other duck species. The Canvasback is named for the male’s white body, which resembles the color of unpainted canvas. The highlight for me was the lone Red-breasted Merganser that helpfully hung out next to a male Common Merganser to give a good indication of its slightly smaller size. This merganser had dark patches on the face, which I suspect would’ve been green feathers coming in if we’d been able to get closer to it. Immature male Red-breasted Mergansers resemble females with their brown heads and grey bodies. Mature males have green heads.

Red-breasted Merganser. Photo by Jamie Simo.

If you get a chance, check out Milavec this winter. I doubt you’ll be disappointed whatever you end up seeing!

Milavec Reservoir

20 taxa

Greater White-fronted Goose 1
Greater White-fronted x Cackling Goose (hybrid) 1
Snow x Canada Goose (hybrid) 1
Cackling/Canada Goose 2500
Northern Shoveler 16
Mallard 27
Canvasback 19
Lesser Scaup 1
Common Goldeneye 23
Common Merganser 21
Red-breasted Merganser 1
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) 5
Ring-billed Gull 2
Northern Harrier 1
Bald Eagle 4
Northern Flicker 1
Blue Jay 1
American Crow 6
Black-capped Chickadee 1
House Finch 7

White Rocks Trail, December 11th–with Patrick Morgan

The cold front that moved in on Thursday did not disappoint, as the morning of the 11th of December proved to be a frigid one. The thermometer was at 28° at 8:00 a.m. and a cold breeze was blowing from the west. 8 birders arrived at Teller Farm bright and early, ready to meet the birds that find a winter home in the White Rocks area. 

Female Belted Kingfisher. Photo by Patrick Morgan.

From the Teller Farm parking lot, we headed north across Valmont Road towards White Rocks. The first portion of the trail followed the path of Dry Creek. The thickets of willows and cottonwoods that grow along the creek cut a meandering path through agricultural fields. The first memorable bird of the walk was a Red-tailed Hawk perched on the edge of the field north of the creek. The hawk gave us some good looks through the scope and then took off across the field. While the hawk was perched, a female Belted Kingfisher flew to a perching spot above the creek. As she sat there, a mixed flock of American Goldfinches and sparrows moved through the willows. We could barely catch a glimpse of them as they flew about before descending deeper into the thicket, but their calls alerted us to their continued presence. 

When I find riparian corridors such as this, I like to reflect on what this area looks like from a bird’s perspective. To us, the dirt path that we walk down is what we perceive this area to be. We need clear, open land to walk through, for our size and shape limits our movement through dense brush. For small passerines like the Song Sparrow or American Goldfinch, these densely vegetated creeks provide much needed shelter in an otherwise inhospitable environment. To them, the vast open spaces that we desire are full of many dangers. The lack of cover exposes them to predators and the harsh elements, along with sparse foraging opportunities to be found. To our smaller avian friends, these riparian corridors are their trails through a world filled with many dangers. 

While some bird species prefer these thickets, others find their domain in the vast open sky. As we continued to head north towards the ponds, we spied two of these lords of the air. The mated Bald Eagle pair that has nested in this area were perched far off to the west of the ponds. As we admired them from a distance, they suddenly took off from their perch, seemingly dancing through the air as they flew eastwards towards another perching spot even closer to the trail. We were able to walk very close to one of them, standing on the bridge right underneath the cottonwood where it was perched. They permitted our presence for a good while, and then with a lordly glance down at us that almost seemed to remind us that this was their domain, they took off to the sky. 

After the eagle, the cold seemed to be getting to the group and we were ready to turn around. Before we did that, we walked a little farther down the trail to a point where it started to rise up a hill. This section is made up of shortgrass prairie habitat, with a couple of acres of prairie dog town to the northwest of the trail. Sitting on the ground amongst the prairie dogs was a juvenile Ferruginous Hawk, a habit that is characteristic of this largest of North American hawk species. I had seen this particular bird multiple times in this prairie dog town, a sign that this area and its rodent populations are important for many different raptor species.

Adult Bald Eagle. Photo by Patrick Morgan.

While we admired the hawk and a flock of Western Meadowlarks perched high in a willow, a flash of black and white flew across the landscape. I followed it to where it perched atop some bushes, and from there we got our first looks at a Northern Shrike. This predatory songbird winters in Boulder County and it was a first for many on our walk. We were able to get some brief looks at them through the scope, but these birds seem to be quite energetic and rarely sat still for more than a minute.  We chased them through our optics from perch to perch until they flew out of sight, off to find some songbird or rodent prey. Their habit of storing their food for later by impaling them on thorns and barbed wire has earned them the gruesome nickname of “butcherbirds.” 

After the Shrike took off, we spotted another unique bird that winters in this area. Far off to the west of the trail, a Harlan’s Hawk was perched high up in a cottonwood. The Harlan’s is a subspecies of the Red-tailed Hawk and this particular bird has spotted here fairly frequently over the past month. They nest in central Alaska and then make their way down the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains to winter on the central Great Plains. They make up a small percentage of the greater Red-tailed Hawk species and can be difficult to identify, with dark, intermediate, and light morphs of their own, along with interbreeding with other subspecies of Red-tailed Hawks. 

Even though we had already seen some of our target species, we were not done with more wildlife sightings. As we scanned across the prairie dog town, we became aware of their calls becoming more agitated. Sure enough, the culprit was the ubiquitous prairie wolf, also known as the coyote. It appeared to be attempting to make its way through the town, with occasional glances back at us. Its path was made a little difficult, however, by a Northern Harrier that didn’t take too kindly to its presence. The Harrier dive-bombed the coyote a few times before finally letting it pass through. Once the coyote moved on and the Harrier had enough, we decided we had had enough of the cold as well and started walking back. 

The walk back brought us glimpses at the more common species of this area. A Great Blue Heron flew overhead, while a mixed flock of Canada and Cackling Geese attempted to find comfort on the frozen pond. It was also filled with each of us recounting our favorite experiences of the day and sharing what we had learned. The camaraderie that develops on bird walks is one of my favorite things about birding in groups. Everyone has something insightful to share and I usually walk away learning something new, from both novice and expert alike. It is especially enjoyable to bird together in the winter months, when the cold weather and dark days can make life seem a little tougher. With a group of enthusiastic birders and the birds to help us through the cold, brighter days don’t seem that far away.           

Waneka Lake/Greenlee Preserve, November 13th–with Jamie Simo

European Starling in June showing mostly worn feather edges. Photo by Jamie Simo.

It was a gusty morning this past Saturday at Waneka Lake and Greenlee Preserve, but thankfully that didn’t keep us from seeing some great birds, including some small songbirds that tend to hunker down deep in the brush on windy days. We were immediately greeted in the parking lot by a flock of European Starlings. I have mixed

Male Red-winged Blackbird showing brown feather edges in December. Photo by Jamie Simo.

feelings about these invasive birds, but they are very adaptable and quite beautiful. The name “starling” comes from the white speckle pattern they wear in the winter. Rather than molting into new plumage in the spring, abrasion gradually wears the pale tips off their feathers leaving behind the irridescent green- and purple-black feathers they wear during courtship. Male Red-winged Blackbirds’ glossy black appearance in spring and summer is also due to abrasion rather than molt.

One special song bird we briefly saw was a White-throated Sparrow. This chunky little sparrow is common in the Eastern U.S., but is relatively rare here in Colorado, though it’s shown up at Waneka Lake the last few winters. White-throated Sparrows have head stripes like our usual White-crowned Sparrow, but it has yellow lores (the space between the eye and the beak), and, obviously, a white throat. On their regular wintering grounds they’ll often practice singing just like our White-crowned Sparrows will. Their song is often mnemonicized as “Old Sam Peabody Peabody Peabody.”

Winter along the Front Range is prime duck and goose season and Waneka Lake/Greenlee Preserve didn’t disappoint. At Greenlee Preserve were were able to get great looks at both dabbling ducks such as Mallards and American Wigeon, as well as diving ducks like Buffleheads and Ring-necked Ducks. Dabbling Ducks are surface-feeding ducks. Rather than diving under the water to find food such as fish, they can be seen with their butts tipped up in the air while their heads are busy underwater sucking up aquatic plants or small insects. Because they feed on the surface, dabbling ducks are more agile on land with feet more in the center of their bodies while diving ducks have legs and feet placed well back on their bodies to act as little rudders when swimming underwater. 

The highlight of our trip was the 3 most likely hybrid Canada x Snow Geese we saw in a large flock of Canada and Cackling Geese on Waneka Lake proper. These geese were distinguished from “blue phase” Snow Geese by their uniformly dark bodies with no white on the tertials and by their greyish-pink bills.

Hybrid Canada x Snow Goose. Photo by Jamie Simo.

A great day for birding!

Waneka Lake/Greenlee Preserve

27 species (+1 other taxa)

Cackling Goose  100

Canada Goose  400

Snow x Canada Goose (hybrid)  3   

American Wigeon  5

Mallard  66

Ring-necked Duck  3

Bufflehead  5

Common Goldeneye  1

Eurasian Collared-Dove  3

American Coot  2

Ring-billed Gull  9

Sharp-shinned Hawk  1

Bald Eagle  2

Red-tailed Hawk  1

Northern Flicker  1

Blue Jay  3

Black-billed Magpie  1

American Crow  3

Common Raven  1

Black-capped Chickadee  7

White-breasted Nuthatch (Interior West)  1

European Starling  30

American Robin  3

House Sparrow  3

House Finch  3

White-crowned Sparrow  4

White-throated Sparrow  1

Red-winged Blackbird  30

Hudson Gardens Bird Walk With Front Range Birding’s Patti Galli – October 29, 2021

What a beautiful Colorado fall day! There are not many places like this in the US,  if I do say so myself, especially this time a year.  The trees were still gorgeous and the  temperature perfect. Maybe there were not a lot of birds today, but the walk was still very enjoyable for all.

The first birds we saw were the ever dependable House Finches – singing away! Though very abundant, House Finches do thrive very well. The males do not always have red breast coloring  Once in a while, depending on what the eat, the male breast can be orange or even yellow in coloring.

                 photo of Great Blue Heron by Bill Schmoker

We got a fantastic view of a Great Blue Heron right by the South Platte river. It sat still for a moment, but after seeing us, as we were getting maybe to close, it took to flight. We saw it lift its large wings into the air and fly right past us! The Great Blue Heron is in the wading bird family, such as Bitterns, Herons and Egrets. They have spear like bills and seize prey with lightning -quick forward strikes. We all cheered in delight!

Making our way along the South Platte river, we noticed many ducks are returning here to their wintering grounds. Our walk takes us over a bridge for another look at the ducks, and right into the riparian area for some Chickadees, Northern Flickers, American Robins, and another fun find, a juvenile Coopers Hawk! We noticed he was still a little unsure of himself when it came to hunting.

We finally made our way to the Hudson Gardens feeders for a good look at  Dark- eyed Juncos , Blue Jays,  and White breasted-Nuthatches. Truly a wonderful morning with our new birding friends! We spotted a total of 23 species , which we thought was not too bad.

ebird Checklist share here:


South Platte Park, Nov 6, 2021 – with Chuck Aid


Hooded Merganser (c) Bill Schmoker

These mild fall days make it a joy to be out strolling around looking for birds.  I know we need some moisture, but on Saturday I was happy to be out in the sunshine.  The arrival of those duck species that overwinter here has started to increase, and we lucked into eleven species, including Northern Pintail, Ring-necked Duck, and the ever-showy Hooded Mergansers.  We also saw two species of grebes, a bunch of American Coots, and a few Double-crested Cormorants.  Our songbird numbers, in contrast were low, and we had no sparrows at all. 


Northern Pintail (c) Mick Thompson

One of the challenges with identifying ducks is, if they’re dabblers, all you may get to see is their butts up in the air, and if they’re divers you may only see them briefly between dives.  On Saturday we had six dabblers, and even without seeing their heads we worked on how to identify them.  So, let’s talk a bit about butts.  Get your field guides out.  Male Northern Shovelers have a black butt, then a white hip patch with a bright rufous belly and flanks.  Both male and female Shovelers have white edging to their tail, but so do Mallards, so that can be a little tricky.  Gadwall males have an extensive black butt, and both male and female have a white wing patch in their secondary flight feathers, also known as a speculum.  Even when they’re tilted downwards this white speculum is often visible.  Male American Wigeon have a similar pattern to the Shovelers – black butt, white hip patch and belly in front of that, and then warm, orange-toned flanks.  The female has a speckly butt with the same white belly and orange-toned flanks as the male.  Mallard males have a black butt divided by a white tail with one curly black tail feather, then there’s a pale belly.  Females have the same whitish tail – not quite as bright as the male’s.  Northern Pintail males have a black butt with elongated tail feathers; then, in front of the black is a yellow-buff hip patch.  Females have a bit of an elongated tail, but otherwise they can be tricky.  Finally, Green-winged Teal have bit of a black butt, however, the undertail coverts are pale yellow and can be the dominant feature.

Prairie Merlin (c) Bill Schmoker

As for the highlight of the day, we had a Prairie Merlin stay perched in a nearby tree for over twenty minutes.  We got to look at it from all different perspectives and most folks got to take about a gazillion pictures of it.  This was a great bird, and we had world-class views!  Merlins breed throughout the northern hemisphere.  There are six subspecies found in Europe and Asia, and we have three subspecies in North America.  These vary from the very dark Pacific (Black) Merlin that occurs very rarely in Colorado, to the intermediate-colored Taiga Merlin, which is somewhat rare here, to the distinctly paler Prairie Merlin which is still fairly uncommon, but can be seen with some luck every year.  The male is smaller and has a pale bluish-gray back and crown while the female has a pale brown back and crown.  They both have a thin white supercilium (eyebrow) and only the slightest hint of the typical falcon “whisker” or “mustache.”  This last may not be visible at all.  In distinguishing a Merlin from an American Kestrel note the lack of any rufous coloring and note the multi-banded gray and black tail (white and black when seen from below).  This was definitely the bird of the day!

Good birding!

South Platte Park, Nov 6, 2021
31 species

Canada Goose  22
Northern Shoveler  19
Gadwall  75
American Wigeon  65
Mallard  22
Northern Pintail  2
Green-winged Teal  8
Ring-necked Duck  30
Lesser Scaup  6
Bufflehead  45
Hooded Merganser  17
Ruddy Duck  5
Pied-billed Grebe  3
Western Grebe  1
American Coot  70
Killdeer  2
Ring-billed Gull  6
Double-crested Cormorant  3
Great Blue Heron  3
Bald Eagle  1
Red-tailed Hawk  3
Belted Kingfisher  1
Downy Woodpecker  1
Northern Flicker  6
American Kestrel  1
Merlin (Prairie)  1
Black-billed Magpie  5
American Crow  4
Black-capped Chickadee  4
White-breasted Nuthatch  1
American Goldfinch  7


Rabbit Mountain, September 11th–with Sarah Spotten

The morning of September 11, 2021 at the Ron Stewart Preserve at Rabbit Mountain began bright and hot for our intrepid group of six birders (myself included) – and got brighter and hotter as it drew on. With each hour of our trip, the sky grew welcomely bluer, as the wildfire smoke that had been hanging around for the last week began to blow out of the area.

Ferruginous Hawk. Photo by Jamie Simo.

The Rabbit Mountain area is the easternmost reach of the Rocky Mountain foothills in Boulder County. As such, it lies in an ecotone where the open shortgrass prairie ecosystem meets and merges with the Ponderosa Pine habitat of the foothills, and interesting species from both habitats can occur here. Golden Eagles nest nearby and are regularly seen soaring over the area year-round. Unfortunately, we did not see any Golden Eagles on this hike – but we did see several other interesting raptors, including a fantastic close-range flyover by a Ferruginous Hawk as we were hiking down the hill that allowed us to study it from below as well as from above, and compare it to nearby soaring Red-tailed Hawks.

With the birds being rather quiet and skulky this time of year in the post-breeding and fall migration season, we practiced a good amount of birding by ear. Finding Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, a tiny bird that spends a lot of time foraging in dense vegetation, becomes much easier when one learns to recognize their wheezy “beee, beee” calls. Even though we only ever had brief views of Spotted Towhee and Green-tailed Towhee, the group learned to know which towhee was skulking in the bushes just out of view by discerning between their common calls: the lower-pitched, raspy mewing call of Spotted Towhee versus the very high-pitched, drawn-out sparrow-like “tseeeet” of Green-tailed Towhee (indeed, towhees are sparrows). At one point, we all heard a Blue Jay out in the open at pretty close range…and yet somehow none of us managed to see it. The call was so definitively Blue Jay, though, that we wouldn’t have needed to see it to confirm the ID – so on the eBird checklist it went!

Speaking of confirming IDs, we had two field lessons on the subject on our Rabbit Mountain bird walk:

  1. Empidonax flycatchers are hard to ID.
  2. Accipiters in flight are hard to ID.

The first ID challenge involved a silent, briefly seen flycatcher at the north end of the preserve. A lot of North American flycatcher species look very similar to each other, with sometimes overlapping characteristics that make them very difficult to tell apart visually (even in the hand!). Indeed, the best way to identify most North American flycatchers is by voice. Well, our bird was silent (as a lot of them will be this time of year, on migration), so no help there.* Our flycatcher had a complete white eyering and showed shorter, rounder wings than a pewee when it flew, placing it squarely in genus Empidonax and ruling out Olive-sided Flycatcher and Western Wood-Pewee (genus Contopus). It was grayish overall with a slightly peaked crown, faint dusky vest and slight yellowish wash to the underparts, and had a smaller bill than Willow Flycatcher. This time of year – post-breeding dispersal and fall migration season – the open juniper and cottonwood habitat in which we saw it didn’t provide many helpful clues, as the bird was possibly just passing through and not in its preferred setting. What little we could piece together in the few seconds we observed the bird only narrowed down the probable ID to one of four flycatcher species in genus Empidonax that are likely in this area: Dusky, Least, Hammond’s, and Gray. At the end of the day, if one simply doesn’t have enough information to clinch the species ID, it’s best not to guess. Instead, it’s better to leave the ID at the highest taxonomic level one can be sure of – in this case, genus Empidonax.

Soaring Cooper’s Hawk. Photo by Jamie Simo.

The second ID challenge came as we approached the parking lot near the end of our stay at Rabbit Mountain: a small, long-tailed raptor catching a thermal overhead. The rounded wings eliminated American Kestrel, which has the pointed wings of a falcon. The overall shape of the bird was that of genus Accipiter, the small, powerful “forest hawks,” three species of which occur in North America. This particular Accipiter was clearly a youngster, sporting brown upper parts and heavily streaked with brown below. Definitely too small for Northern Goshawk, the largest North American Accipiter, but was it too large for Sharp-shinned Hawk (the

Sharp-shinned Hawk. Photo by Jamie Simo.

smallest) – and therefore the middle sibling, Cooper’s Hawk? We debated in the field between Sharpie and Coop. I snapped a few quick photos with the bird at a few different angles to study later. I try to do this on tricky IDs in order to prove myself wrong later on my field calls – which happened to be the case with our Accipiter! The photos revealed that in fact, we were looking at a Sharp-shinned Hawk, likely female by its larger size approaching Cooper’s Hawk (and hence the confusion in the field!). Features in favor of Sharp-shinned Hawk (and in contrast to Cooper’s Hawk) include the sharp-cornered tail with not much graduation in length from inner to outer rectrices (tail feathers), a strongly S-curved trailing edge to the wings, more strongly curved leading edge to the wings, a body shape wide at the shoulders and narrow at the hips versus Cooper’s Hawk’s more barrel-chested proportions, smaller head size relative to the rest of the bird, and plumage features including a thin pale terminal edge on the tail and heavy brown streaking on the underparts (this last feature only applicable to our bird because it was an immature individual).

Another highlight of the day was watching a male Lesser Goldfinch attend one of his recently-fledged progeny. The baby Lesser Goldfinch was uniformly green-gray, with a stubby little tail and wings, and wisps of down peeking out on its crown. It begged with fluttering wings, awkwardly following dad around. While breeding season may be over for many birds, goldfinches breeding in our area time their families for the abundant seed crop of late summer. They are the “last call” breeders of the season, a happy reminder of those halcyon summer days filled with adorable baby birds (or tricky juvenile IDs, depending on your opinion) before we remember that cold winter days (and winter birds!) are coming just around the corner!

See you next time – let’s go birding!

eBird checklist:


26 species (+ 1 other taxon), 85 individuals

11 Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) (Columba livia (Feral Pigeon))

5 Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)

1 Northern Harrier (Circus hudsonius)

1 Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus)

2 Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)

1 Ferruginous Hawk (Buteo regalis)

1 Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens)

1 Empidonax sp.

1 Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)

4 Black-billed Magpie (Pica hudsonia)

1 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea)

1 Rock Wren (Salpinctes obsoletus)

3 Sage Thrasher (Oreoscoptes montanus)

17 American Robin (Turdus migratorius)

1 House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)

15 Lesser Goldfinch (Spinus psaltria)

1 American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)

1 Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina)

1 Lark Sparrow (Chondestes grammacus)

2 Vesper Sparrow (Pooecetes gramineus)

3 Green-tailed Towhee (Pipilo chlorurus)

4 Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus)

1 Yellow-breasted Chat (Icteria virens)

1 Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta)

2 Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata)

2 Wilson’s Warbler (Cardellina pusilla)

1 Lazuli Bunting (Passerina amoena)

*Side note: at the time we saw the Empidonax flycatcher, one of our walk participants was running the new (as of summer 2021) Sound ID feature of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s free Merlin Bird ID app on their phone. The app gave a secondary hit to Dusky Flycatcher, but this was at the same time that two Yellow-rumped Warblers were flying over and giving their chip calls, which are similar to a call made by Dusky Flycatcher. The app had already correctly IDed the warblers. It would be interesting to go back to that recording and its spectrogram and see if our flycatcher did indeed call at that moment.

Lair O’ the Bear, Aug 7 – with Chuck Aid

American Goldfinch (c) Bill Schmoker

The paucity of birds this summer in the foothill and montane habitats continues, and with this past Saturday being perhaps the worst air quality day of the summer, the number of birds seemed to have declined even more.  Our group recorded only slightly more than seventy individual birds.  The list of those birds that seem likely at this time of year, but were not seen on Saturday, far exceeds what we did see.  For starters we tend to always see Mallards along the creek, hear the plaintive call of the Mourning Doves, and perhaps see a solitary Great Blue Heron gliding past and a few Turkey Vultures in the distance.  Nothing.  As for woodpeckers, we heard no Downy or Hairy Woodpeckers, and we had only one solitary Northern Flicker.  With regard to our migrant songbirds, normally, we still tend to see Cordilleran Flycatchers, various swallows, American Robins, Yellow Warblers, and other warblers until the end of August, but we whiffed on all of these.  And even among our resident birds such as the nuthatches, Black-capped and Mountain Chickadees, and Dark-eyed Juncos that are here year-round, we saw none.  We have already seen in recent years that North America has experienced a loss of about one-third of its birds since 1970.  That’s about THREE BILLION birds, but now this year the progression of that decline seems to have accelerated.  Reasons behind declines in bird populations include habitat loss, pesticide use, agricultural intensification, urbanization, declines in insects, and, of course, climate change.

Cedar Waxing (c) Bill Schmoker

Despite our low numbers we did have a few highlights.  For starters we got to have good long looks at numerous adult Cedar Waxwings that were busily engaged in sallying out from exposed dead branches after insects.  While we saw them engaged in this insectivory, these birds for much of the year are frugivorous (fruit eating), and as a result they tend to breed later in the breeding season when fruits are ripening.  We saw evidence of an abundant fruit crop at Lair O’ the Bear including wax currant, gooseberries, raspberry, and especially chokecherry, so the waxwings are likely to remain in that area for the next several weeks and a return to the park should provide an opportunity to see juvenile Cedar Waxwings.

Lazuli Bunting (c) Bill Schmoker

One other rewarding sight was of two beautiful male Lazuli Buntings.  These have bright blue on the head, nape, back, wings, and rump; a cinnamon band extending across the upper breast and down the flanks; white underparts; and two bright white wing-bars.  There can be quite a bit of variation in the width of the cinnamon breast band that does not appear to be related to the age of the bird.  Finally, the bird of the day was the Lesser Goldfinch which was present everywhere and constantly calling.

Hopefully, as breeding season winds down and fall migration activity increases, we will see more birds in the coming months.


Lair O’ the Bear, Aug 7, 2021
14 species (+1 other taxa)

Broad-tailed Hummingbird  7
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Northern Flicker (Red-shafted)  1
Western Wood-Pewee  9
Steller’s Jay  1
American Crow  6
Common Raven  2
nuthatch sp.  1
House Wren  4
Cedar Waxwing  10
Lesser Goldfinch  19
American Goldfinch  3
Song Sparrow  5
Yellow Warbler  1
Lazuli Bunting  2


Beaver Ranch, July 10, 2021 – with Chuck Aid

Broad-tailed Hummingbird (c) Bill Schmoker

This is a puzzling year to me as I have visited several places up in the mountains where the number of birds and bird species seems really low, and, frankly, a bit depressing.  In contrast, Beaver Ranch continues to deliver!  On June 5th I led a walk here where we recorded 37 species, and then this past Saturday, July 10th, I led this walk here and we had 35 species.  It’s a head scratcher, even more so because Beaver Ranch can be such a zoo on a Saturday morning with all of the zip-line and frisbee golf activities going on.  Even while standing in the parking lot waiting for everyone to arrive, we recorded Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, Say’s Phoebe, American Crow, Common Raven, Violet-green Swallow, Barn Swallow, American Robin, House Finch, and Red-winged Blackbird.  Not a bad parking lot list!


Tree Swallow (c) Bill Schmoker

We then moved over to Casto Creek, which has extensive willows along it and runs through a long, open meadow.  Here we caught a brief glimpse of a Wilson’s Warbler, saw and heard a couple of Lincoln’s Sparrows and Song Sparrows, and then heard, but didn’t see, a MacGillivray’s Warbler.  These are all birds that we expect to see in montane willows, so, once again, knowing the habitat you are in can help you predict what birds might be there.  Also, in this vicinity we were treated to some wonderful singing by a Black-headed Grosbeak, and we had a Red-naped Sapsucker fly over the willows and land in a nearby ponderosa.  One neat observation we had was of a Tree Swallow feeding young at a nest box.  This was exactly what we had observed five weeks earlier on the prior walk, so evidently the same adults may now be working on having a second brood.  Finally, we got to watch the local adult Red-tailed Hawk being regularly harassed by Red-winged Blackbirds and American Crows.  Presumably it might have been doing its own harassing of them at another time.


Red-naped Sapsucker (c) Bill Schmoker

Leaving Casto Creek we made our way past the frisbee golf course and followed a small stream with lots of spruce and occasional openings with aspen.  At Celebration Meadow, where occasional weddings are held, we hit a hot spot of avian activity, due in large part to the several large “condo” aspen buried amidst the huge spruce trees.  Here, in one spot, we had Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Downy Woodpecker, Western Wood-Pewee, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Warbling Vireo, Steller’s Jay, Mountain Chickadee, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, White-breasted Nuthatch, House Wren, American Robin, Gray-headed Junco, Green-tailed Towhee, and Western Tanager.  The real prize, though, was the family of recently fledged, very active, loud Red-naped Sapsuckers.  Needless to say, we spent more than a few minutes craning our faces upward to try and take in as much of the drama as possible.

Beaver Ranch comes highly recommended.  Hope you can make it up there. 

Beaver Ranch, July 10, 2021
35 species

Broad-tailed Hummingbird  8
Turkey Vulture  3
Red-tailed Hawk  2
Red-naped Sapsucker  8
Downy Woodpecker  2
Northern Flicker (Red-shafted)  4
Western Wood-Pewee  3
Cordilleran Flycatcher  5
Say’s Phoebe  2
Warbling Vireo (Western)  5
Steller’s Jay (Interior)  2
American Crow  5
Common Raven  1
Mountain Chickadee  6
Tree Swallow  6
Violet-green Swallow  12
Barn Swallow  3
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  5
White-breasted Nuthatch  2
House Wren  9
Western Bluebird  1
American Robin  19
House Finch  4
Pine Siskin  2
Chipping Sparrow  6
Dark-eyed Junco (Gray-headed)  5
Song Sparrow  8
Lincoln’s Sparrow  3
Green-tailed Towhee  1
Red-winged Blackbird  26
Brown-headed Cowbird  5
MacGillivray’s Warbler  1
Wilson’s Warbler  1
Western Tanager  6
Black-headed Grosbeak  4

Walker Ranch Meyer’s Gulch, July 10th–with Jamie Simo

Juvenile Western Bluebird. Photo by Chris Friedman.

Walker Ranch is a fantastic place to go in summer for birds, butterflies, and blossoms. On Saturday, July 10th, 10 of us met up at the Meyer’s Gulch (also called Meyer’s Homestead) trailhead. Right off the bat we were greeted by a trio of mule deer bucks. A “bachelor herd” such as this one is usually comprised of immature males that have left their parent herd, but haven’t yet gained a harem of their own. These guys were almost completely unconcerned by us as we organized in the parking lot prior to our hike.

Every day is different when it comes to birding. While my Friday scouting trip was entirely bereft of bluebirds, a small flock put in an appearance to the delight of all on Saturday, including at least one immature bird distinguished by its spotted breast. Boulder County Open Space volunteers maintain the bluebird boxes along Meyer’s Gulch and Western (and sometimes Mountain) Bluebirds regularly set up shop in them. The mix of open Ponderosa woodland and meadow is the perfect habitat for Western Bluebirds, which are larger and a darker cobalt blue than their Eastern counterparts.

Lincoln’s Sparrow. Photo by Chris Friedman.

We also had a good day for sparrows. An especial treat was the pair of Lincoln’s Sparrows that made themselves known on the trek back to the parking lot. Lincoln’s Sparrows can often be confused for Song Sparrows and, to make it even more difficult, they can co-occur in the same wet meadow habitats. However, Lincoln’s Sparrows are smaller and more “refined” than their larger breathren with narrow, distinct breast streaks, a buffy wash on the breast, and often a more visible crest. They also often tend to be a little shyer and more retiring, but, happily, we were treated to great views of, and even some singing from, these subtly handsome birds.

Perhaps our most cooperative bird of the day was the Western Wood-Pewee. One of our most conspicuous flycatchers, this dull brown bird likes to sit upright on exposed perches, making it very easy to see. The same could not be said for the MacGillivray’s Warbler that we heard streamside, but that wouldn’t come out of the tangle of willows he was hidden in.

Meadow anemone. Photo by Jamie Simo.

In addition to birds, we had a great day for butterflies. Just a few of the butterflies we saw were the hoary comma, Weidemeyer’s admiral, and several species of blue. They were particularly attracted to the wet sand and pools of water along sections of the trail, a behavior called “puddling,” that allows the butterflies to ingest salts and minerals they don’t get from feeding on nectar. A big thanks to Chris Friedman who helped us identify the many butterflies and skippers we encountered! Wildflowers of note included Indian paintbrush, meadow anemone, sulfur flower, and sticky geranium. All in all, a fantastic day!








Walker Ranch–Meyers Gulch
Jul 10, 2021
30 taxa

2 Mourning Dove
9 Broad-tailed Hummingbird
1 Red-tailed Hawk
2 Northern Flicker
4 Western Wood-Pewee
1 Hammond’s/Dusky Flycatcher
1 Cordilleran Flycatcher
2 Warbling Vireo
2 Steller’s Jay
3 Black-billed Magpie
3 American Crow
1 Black-capped Chickadee
8 Mountain Chickadee
1 Violet-green Swallow
1 Red-breasted Nuthatch
2 White-breasted Nuthatch
6 Pygmy Nuthatch
4 House Wren
6 Western Bluebird – FL
3 American Robin
2 Pine Siskin
1 Chipping Sparrow
1 Dark-eyed Junco (Gray-headed)
2 Vesper Sparrow
1 Song Sparrow
2 Lincoln’s Sparrow
1 Green-tailed Towhee
1 Spotted Towhee
1 MacGillivray’s Warbler
3 Western Tanager