Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Sandhill Cranes in Nebraska

The squawks, honks and rattles grew louder as we stepped out of the van and crept through the woods toward the blind. Just yards ahead, in front of the simple plywood structure, thousands of sandhill cranes were standing side by side in the North Platte River shallows, calling to one another as they waited for dawn.

Each spring an estimated 80% of the world’s sandhill crane population passes through the North Platte and Platte River valleys in Nebraska, a stopover on the birds’ annual migration from Mexico and the American Southwest to their breeding grounds in northern Canada and Alaska.

I’d seen more than 1,000 cranes the afternoon before, feeding in empty cornfields outside the city of North Platte, just a 3.5-hour drive from Broomfield. Peeking through the window of my parked car, I’d watched the 4-foot-tall birds peck at waste grain and use their long, pointed bills to probe the ground for edible roots, insects and snails.

Sandhill cranes pack on the pounds, gaining 15% to 20% of their body weight, during their spring layover in Nebraska. It’s fuel for the long flight north. But I’d seen some pause while feeding to “dance,” leaping into the air with wings spread wide, ruffling their feathers and occasionally tossing small twigs into the air. It had been quite a show.

Now 12 of us were sitting silently inside the blind while the shadowy shapes of cranes slowly came into focus. Just moments before sunrise, the birds’ calls took on a new urgency – and then, all at once, perhaps 500 cranes lifted their wings and took to the sky. They circled two or three times, then headed off for another day of foraging. One after another, flocks up and down the river gathered, circled and flew.

For a few minutes, the air rang with their rattling “bugle calls,” which can be heard more than two miles away. Then sunlight reached the riverbank, and the cranes were gone.

This birder couldn’t stop smiling.

Post and photos by Christine Kindl

Sandhill cranes typically visit Nebraska in huge numbers from late February through early April, with peak spring migration occurring in mid-March. Visitor centers along the flyway, in North Platte, Kearney, Hastings, and Grand Island, Neb., have information about viewing sites and tours.


Monday, March 25, 2024

Heron's Knees


As Great Blue Herons are now returning to the heronry at Metzger Farm Open Space, it seems appropriate to share some of club member Walter "Ski" Szymanski's photos and thoughts on these beautiful creatures from past Facebook postings.

August 7, 2023 -- See those bony knees on the Great Blue Heron in my first photo here from this morning at Metzger? If you thought, "Sure, I see them", then you need to immediately reach out to the science community because you've got paranormal eyesight!

What I'm talking about is, those visible knobby structures midway up the legs on this bird that for all the world look like a mummy's bony leg knees, are not its knees. They're its ankles. Its knees are further up its legs, hidden under its feathers.
Like most birds, herons stand, walk, and run on their toes. Cats and dogs are structured this way, too. Animals with this kind of setup are known as toe walkers--kind of like some of us do when tippy-toeing downstairs late at night to snag some ice cream from the freezer hoping others in the house don't hear your stealth maneuvers. (I haven't a clue, though, why anyone would want to tip toe through the tulips. There isn't any ice cream in tulip fields.)
Anyway, the second image I took of this heron this morning hopefully provides a better visual of how the bend in this bird's leg in the process of scratching itself is at its ankle, and not at its knee.
Well, ain't that just the bee's knees!
Walter "Ski" Szymanski

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Books About Migration

Why do birds migrate? How do they find their way? What tells them that it's time to migrate?

Spring is a great time to investigate this magical phenomena, and there are a plethora of resources available on the subject. Here are a just a few.

A Season on the Wind by Kenn Kaufman

Birders from around the globe gather each spring along the shores of Lake Erie in northwestern Ohio to witness the magic of bird migration as billions of birds congregate on their way through to northern breeding grounds. Kenn Kaufman focuses on this location to focus on the world of migration. His book is engaging, heartfelt and passionate in addressing the topics of birding, migration and conservation. 

A World on the Wing; the Global Odyssey of Migratory Birds by Scott Weidensaul

Compelling, beautifully written book on the science of bird migration. The author shares his experiences working with scientists, as they track birds that cross oceans and mountains, flying tens of thousands of miles to migrate each year.

A Warbler's Journey by Scott Weidensaul and Nancy Lane

A beautifully illustrated story about a mighty little warbler on a journey from Central America to Canada. On her travels several families provide habitat for her to take refuge along the way. The story is a marvelous lesson for children and adults, about the world of migration and our responsibility in it.

Saturday, January 20, 2024

Clear Creek

A group of us from the club took a nice winter walk along Clear Creek at the Wheat Ridge Greenbelt on January 20th. The temperatures were cold and brisk, but the camaraderie was warm and pleasant.

Starting at the parking area off of Youngfield Street we headed west and were treated to the antics of a couple of American Dippers playing in the water.

Waterfowl were abundant including Gadwall, Common Goldeneye, Bufflehead, Mallard, and Green-winged Teal. Heading back east on the trail towards the frozen West and Bass Lakes, we were treated to White-breasted Nuthatches, Bushtits, Black-capped Chickadees and Hair and Downy Woodpeckers as well.

The Wheat Ridge Greenbelt is a 300-acre open space that runs along the Clear Creek Trail, a multi-use trail that stretches from Denver to Golden. There are several parking areas that access the space in Wheat Ridge. Check out the website for more information.

To learn about upcoming field trips, click on the Activities link on our website, and scroll down to Walk Information.

Happy Birding,

Karen Clark 

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Aquarius Trailhead Bird Walk

Sharp-Shinned Hawk

Sunday morning was a beautiful day for a bird walk on the Coal Creek Trail. Six of us, led by member Courtney Rella, started at the Aquarius Trailhead on Empire Road/CO42, just west of 287. We had a total of 22 species including nice sightings of a sharp-shinned hawk and a Merlin.

California Gull

The Coal Creek Trail is a great spot, just up the road from Broomfield. There are several places to connect with it that offer ample parking. The Aquarius Trailhead offers two kinds of habitats including prairie views with beautiful mountain vistas (this involves a semi steep hill to climb), and a nice even trail through a riparian zone. There is another starting point at South Public Road that takes you right to the riparian zone. Check out the Coal Creek Trail website for other connections to this 14-mile trail.

Cooper's Hawk

Thank you to Courtney for sharing her patch with us. It was an enjoyable and educational walk!

The next schedule walk for the Broomfield Bird Club is on November 18th at Plaster Reservoir. 

Happy Birding,

Karen Clark

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Belted Kingfishers

These large-headed, short-necked, heavy-billed, robust-bodied, short-legged birds with spiked hairdos are a constant resident of our parts. And they are exceedingly difficult to capture a decent image of. At least that's been true of my attempts to do so over the years.
Such failures on my part notwithstanding, these are one of my most favorite birds because they never fail to cause my face to instantly contract into a smile the moment I hear or see them. And hearing their machine-gun rat-a-tat-tat call is virtually always how I become aware of their presence somewhere in my vicinity. If I'm lucky, I may then spot one off in the distance.
So why do I always smile when I hear them? Because an image of them with their over-sized head and spiked crest on a small body, like the male on the right in my photo here from yesterday, invariably reminds me of an cupcake-fueled 6-year-old whippersnapper with a pomaded tomahawk hairdo charging down a grocery store aisle while excitedly jabbering away a mile-a-minute about whatever it was that was so animating him at the time.
Such a vision, whether I happen upon it in a grocery store or while walking along Big Dry Creek, which is where I mostly hear and sometimes spot these energetic critters, never fails to cause me to smile.
Here's hoping one of these balls of energy, either the grocery store or fish-eating kind, soon brings a grin to your face too.

Walter "Ski" Szymanski


Monday, September 18, 2023

Pampas Hawk

On some cool early morning in the coming weeks, the chestnut-colored bibbed raptor you see here in my photo will lift off its north metro perch and begin a two-month, 3,000-mile voyage to its wintering grounds in the fertile low grasslands of Argentina and Uruguay. Along the way it will stop for foraging, resting, and waiting out harsh weather conditions. It'll also meet up with anywhere from 300,000 to a half million or more of its cousins who are doing the same resettling.
Swainson's Hawks, who's eponymous common name should be changed to reflect their grasslands habitat, that is, Pampas Hawks, are buteos of open spaces and each year they migrate to and from the plains of North America to the plains of Argentina. That's 12,000 miles and four months of flying for each year they're alive. And during those epic migrations they subsist primarily on eating grasshoppers, crickets, and such that they catch on the ground and in the air. Insects are also their primary food base during their stays at their winter destinations. Based on analysis of their cast-off pellets, each Pampas Hawk consumes around 100 grasshoppers a day. Multiply that by the total number of these long-distance migrators and the aggregate number of grasshoppers, etc., consumed by all of them during their annual migrations and wintering is…just astounding.
During their breeding season in our mid-western and western grasslands, though, they're not running down little grasshoppers and other insects on the ground or in the air to bring to their babies. Of efficiency and nutritional demands, they modify their foraging to include warm-blooded mammals and cold-blooded reptiles to meet the dietary needs of the females and their voracious and rapidly growing young.
Overall, these buteos are about the same size as Red-tailed Hawks, which are large hawks, but they do have a bit longer wingspan than the red tails.
Hope everyone gets a chance to observe a Pampas Hawk or two before they leave!
Cheers, and good birding to all!
Walter "Ski" Szymanski