Last Saturday promised to be a great day. We were heading to Chico Basin Ranch. The ranch describe itself as a:
… 87,000-acre family-run, working cattle ranch that operates on the high prairie 30 miles southeast of Colorado Springs, Colorado. Its sprawling ranges of shortgrass and sandsage prairie, spring-fed lakes, creeks, and pools are home to diverse populations of birds, pronghorn, deer, fish, prairie dogs, coyote, badgers, and much more. … In addition to our cattle business, the Chico offers education, farming, recreation, sporting, arts, and hospitality programs.
It’s one of the best birding sites in our area, well worth a trip any time. In addition, they were hosting a “Birder Brunch” on Saturday, a free breakfast for those of us who bird there. I was eagerly anticipating good food, good company, and a day of exceptional birding. However…
(This post continues my series on birding in Australia; choose “Birding Trips” in the Category box at right to see my previous posts.)
The strip of coastline between Sydney and Brisbane is full of national parks. With some notable exceptions, Australian national parks are not as developed as the ones in the U.S., and could better be compared to our national forests. While Australia is similar in size to the United States, much of it is desert. There is a lot of pressure to develop the arable land along the coast, and the national parks play an essential role in preserving the natural environment. They also provide plenty of opportunities to pull off the road and look for birds. Using a combination of Australian birding sites and eBird lists, we picked a fairly random assortment of likely looking destinations and headed in their direction. Continue reading “Birding Down Under: Fernbank Creek Road”
With the high plains sizzling in 90+ degree heat, I was desperate to escape to somewhere cooler. Plus, I really wanted to see some birds. That’s why I headed to the hills—or, more accurately, mountains. There’s an advantage to living right next to the Rockies. In less than an hour, I was at 7,700 feet, surrounded by ponderosas, birding at Manitou Lake. A day-use area popular with the fishing crowd, this five acre lake is also a birding hotspot. You have to get there early, especially on weekends, but the abundance of wildlife is worth the extra effort.
It was pitch black, and our motel room was uncomfortably cold, despite the noisy heater that had run all night. I groped my way out of bed, half asleep but excited about the coming day. We were in Socorro, New Mexico, just north of the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. In less than an hour, I’d be taking pictures of some 30,000 Snow Geese flying into the dawn sky.
Question: I’m a birder and nature photographer living in Colorado, with a limited budget for travel. Where can I go for fun and photos at this time of year?
Answer: Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge!
Just a day’s drive south of Colorado Springs, Bosque del Apache is the place to go for anyone interested in birds and/or photography. The week we visited, right after New Year’s, the refuge was home to 8,100 Sandhill Cranes, over 32,000 “light” geese, and a whopping 57,000 ducks! With such numbers, spectacular photos are pretty much guaranteed.
Do you watch birds? And if so, are you a “lister”? That is, when you go out to look at birds, do you keep a list of which species you’ve seen?
While most of us start listing for our own sense of accomplishment (or compulsion!), those notebooks can actually help ornithologists determine where the birds live, whether their populations are thriving, stable, or in decline, and the human and environmental factors affecting them.
At the same time, we birders can benefit from one another’s sightings. Are you looking for a particular species to add to your life list? Did you know that you can find out where others have seen that bird?
Chico Basin Ranch is a great place to bird all year round, but it is a must-see during spring migration. It’s easily worth the 45 minute drive from Colorado Springs, and the $15 daily access fee (annual passes are also available).
What makes this such a great spot?
A look at a map of Colorado shows why birds and birders love Chico Basin. Straddling the El Paso/Pueblo county line, the ranch attracts species found in the southeast corner of Colorado as well as those more that live in the north and west. Strategically situated between miles of arid, short-grass prairie on one side, and more miles of arid short-grass prairie on the other, the year-round ponds and green trees are a welcome rest stop for tired and thirsty migrating birds.
You’ve got your binoculars in hand, ID book in one pocket, notebook and pen in another, and your resolutions to be a responsible, ethical birder firmly in place—you are ready to go birding. But, where will you go?
While birds may be found virtually anywhere, they are not evenly distributed across the landscape. When birders discover a place with lots of birds (both in numbers and variety of species) that location is called, in birder-speech, a “hotspot.”
Just as people tend to congregate in places with housing and markets or restaurants, birds have their own favorite hangouts, and for the same reasons. Birds need water, food, and shelter. Any site providing all three is bound to have great birding.