This blog details the birds seen during a 5 month residency at Zapata Ranch, Colorado. You will find the birding events from early May to early October 2013 detailed within. There is also a species list incorporated into the blog. The San Luis Valley, within which the ranch sits, offers great birding throughout the seasons along with some amazing migration spectacles. There were many highlights over the 5 months and some scarce species recorded too. Colorado’s second Brown crested Flycatcher in late June 2013 and an immature male Ruby-throated Hummingbird during September of the same year.

BIRDING 3rd October 2013

High pressure continues…


Scrub-Jay, preparing for winter.

The weather was perfect for my final walk around the site, pretty much just taking in the sights before I leave today. Just me and my best friend Pepe the dog! The dawn was full of Solitaire song. A few Yellow-rumps (c18) around, 2 Orange-crowned Warbler and White-crowned Sparrows now appearing all over. The weekend is set to see some cold weather which could well bring another crop of birds, especially Sparrows and Sandhill Crane. Talking of which I went out to the Medano last night to take in a final sunset and look for Cranes. The sunset was beautiful but unfortunately I’ll be leaving the San Luis Valley again with out seeing a single Crane! There’ll be in the 10,000’s in less then a months time. There were a few wildfowl out there and a single Eared Grebe.


American Wigeon, Pintail, Blue-winged Teal, Gadwall and Northern Shoveler.

 It’s been a real pleasure to spend the last 5 months here at Zapata ranch and to make birding an almost daily fixture. For me a highlight is to see a landscape and it’s bird’s change with the seasons. There’s something complete about seeing the birds arrive and depart in the autumn. I hope this blog will be an insight for anyone interested in the birds and birding at Zapata Ranch. It’s a site that offers a lot at anytime of year. I may put together a little round of the 5 months. Otherwise it maybe as long as March 2014 before there are any further posts. Thanks for looking! Bye Bye.


Pepe, needs to learn some birding field skills but I forgive him!

BIRDING 2nd October 2013

High pressure continues to give very pleasant and settled autumnal weather.


Blue Jay. 

Common on the eastern front range but still scarce here. A beautiful bird, one of my favourites.

The settled weather is giving the birding a very sedate pace, Yellow-rumped Warblers barely reached c20! Which hasn’t happened very often over the last month. 2 Wilson’s Warbler, 1 Plumbeous Vireo, 2 Cassin’s Vireo. 3 Williamson’s Sapsucker, 3 Red-napped Sapsucker, 5 Cedar Waxwing, c200 American Robin, c60 Townsend’s Solitaire. c10 Steller’s Jay and at least one Blue Jay present. I’ve only seen Blue Jay once before in September 2012. Traditionally an eastern species, they have been expanding their range westward, I’m unsure of their status here. I’m assuming they are still quite scarce. The hummingbird feeder has no customers today, the first time since May. Although it’s proving popular with local “sweet toothed” Hairy Woodpeckers.

BIRDING 28th Sept to 1st Oct.

The weather has been dominated by high pressure since the 28th, giving light winds, night frosts and warm days with highs in the low 20C’s (70f).


Evening Grosbeak. 

Only now are they getting back the their former glory after completing a moult.

Having been away, I only had an hour on the morning of 28th for a quick look but plenty of birds had arrived with the cooler weather and the slight NW drift in the air. Birds included the autumns second Black-throated gray Warbler and a new site species in the form of 2 Pygmy Nuthatch. I then wasn’t back until just before sunset on the 29th although in time to see a Long-eared Owl (first since the family group dispersed in July) flushed from it’s roost by two Elk romping through the Pinyon Junipers, two very vocal Great-horned Owls and heard my first Western Screech-Owl at the site. I fortunately caught up with the Screech-Owl on the evening of the 30th Sept with the help of an iPhone and bluetooth speakers.

Today the 1st October has seen a further increase in Robins (c250), the place is also full of Solitaire song, so much so you could be mistaken in thinking it is spring. In addition there were c150 Yellow-rumps, 4 Orange-crowned and 1 Wilson’s Warbler. 4 Cedar Waxwing, c40 Dark-eyed Junco (these are grey-headed not pink-sided as I had mistakenly said), 1 Plumbeous (in song) and 1 Cassin’s Vireo. I had a strange encounter with a Mountain Chickadee, which tried repeatedly to land on my camera strap. White-crowned Sparrow numbers are increasing with c40 seen today along with the autumns first Song Sparrow. The feeders contiue to be lively, the troop of Pinyon Jays still around along with c8 Evening Grosbeaks, many Siskin, c6 Spotted Towhees and Mountain Chickadees. A single Broad-tailed Hummingbird was a the feeder too.

BIRDING 27th September

No change in the wind today but the clouds rolled in and added some showers to the scene. All change this evening, lighter winds from the NW overnight & frosts.


Red tailed Hawk.

The stagnate feel to the birding continues with the 3rd day of unrelenting SW gales. The usual visitors to feeders and two Hummingbirds, a Black-chinned and Broad-tailed are still fighting amongst themselves over two feeders, which seems a like a pointless waste of energy for both of them. As a last resort to seek out some avian interest I ventured on to the Medano (north side of the ranch) to look for Sandhill Cranes but had no luck. Dollar and Silver Lake held about 250 wildfowl mainly Green-winged Teal, Mallard and Gadwall with a few American Wigeon and Ring-necked Duck mixed in. I then got distracted and starting shooting the roaming Bison herd over that side.




Looking forward to another -30c winter no doubt. These animals are completely unmanaged,  allowed to roam upon 50,000 acres. They don’t need any supplementary feeding throughout the intensely cold winter that this part of Colorado gets. They are built for purpose.

BIRDING 26th September 2013

Today was a continuation of blue skies and non-stop gale force southerly winds.

_MG_8863View north across the Sand Dunes National Park.

I gave up on looking for migrants in the pinyons and cottonwoods as the wind made it pretty much impossible. I’m sure the current wind direction and strength does little to deliver birds in numbers. I opted to walk a field just to the north of the guest quarters that is irrigated throughout the spring and early summer to provide grazing from cows with calves. Although the cows have now gone and the watering stopped, the field has a lot of growth thats gone to seed and seems quite popular with Sparrows and Bluebirds. I have daydreamed about finding a Sprague’s Pipit in this field but it’s yet to happen. The field held a Say’s Phoebe, 8 Western Meadowlark, c120 Mountain Bluebirds, c30 Pine Siskin, 5 American Pipit, c35 Yellow-rumped Warblers, c8 Vesper Sparrow, whilst c25 Barn Swallow and a single Violet-green Swallow battled south into the wind.


Say’s Phoebe.


Mountain Bluebird.

A Merlin (first I’ve seen this autumn) whizzed through and a Sharp-shinned Hawk was seen. An immature Cooper’s Hawk sat by the feeders whilst the Pine Siskins & Evening Grosbeaks fed happily, seemingly unfazed by this harbinger of doom sitting just 2ft from them.


Cooper’s Hawk.

6 White-crowned and 3 Lincoln’s Sparrow were scattered about the place along with 2 Ruby-crowned Kinglets, 1 Blue-grey Gnatcatcher and 6 Dark-eyed Junco.


Lone Coyote.

BIRDING 25th September 2013

Today was another clear sunny day but unfortunately it also came with blasting, gale force wind from the SSW. This made birding a bit of a chore. Temperatures were up on the last two days.

Yellow-rumped Warblers (the endless supply of) were present in good numbers (c130+), Mountain Bluebirds (c60), Western Bluebirds (8).  Although some of these day totals may be similar to previous days, I can say with confidence that the turn over of birds (Yellow-rumps and Bluebirds) through the site is fairly rapid. Ruby-crowned Kinglets have started passing through, 5 today and a couple yesterday, which I forgot to mention. Very little else out there today to keep one looking. A migrant Swainson’s Hawk passed over. Although these birds breed on the close by plains I rarely see them over the ranch during the summer months. I wondered if being situated close to the mountains may channel some raptor passage overhead but I’ve never seen it.


Swainson’s Hawk.

Attendees at the feeders include a pair of Steller’s Jay, many Scrub-Jay, 4 Evening Grosbeak, Cassin’s Finch (3-4) have appeared again after being almost absent for best part of a month, c60 Pine Siskin, small numbers of White-breasted Nuthatch and Hairy Woodpecker. There’s also been a passage of Mountain Chickadee. A large flock of Pinyon Jays cleared the feeders out early morning, their visits can be expensive. Other birds of interest included 3 Lincoln’s, 5 White-crowned Sparrows and c45 Chipping Sparrow.


 Pinyon Jays.

And just when I thought the day could hold nothing more a smart Cassin’s Kingbird (2nd of the autumn) turned up right on the door step of the cabin I’m living in. In other news, a guest saw a young Black Bear on the lawn of the HQ playing with a sprinkler. That’s the second time I’ve missed out seeing a Bear on site. Towards dusk 30 Barn Swallow and 8 Common Nighthawk went south.


Cassin’s Kingbird. Trying not to get blown away in the wind.

BIRDING 24th September

Today dawned clear and still, with a sharp ground frost, it remained cloudless with a light SSE breeze. Perfect autumnal sunshine throughout the day. This is the first day since early May I have not seen a Barn Swallow, or any Swallow for that matter.


Monarch Butterfly. 

2 Monarch Butterfly were seen along with a large number of several different Dragonfly species. I’m aware, like the Monarchs and certain other butterfly species, some Dragonfly are highly migratory so I assume that is what was going on here today.


Monarch’s, beautiful from all angles.

_MG_8508 Yellow-rumped Warbler, a never ending supply of!

It took over 2 hours to see Warbler that wasn’t a Yellow-rumped Warbler. Things weren’t exactly jumping! Although there was a bit of quality (for this site) in the form of 2 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and the autumns second Chestnut-sided Warbler. Apart from the omnipresent Yellow-rumps (c150 in total) I only encountered 2 Wilson’s Warbler, and singles each of Cassin’s and Plumbeous Vireos. Perhaps it’s getting too late in the month to hope for scarce warblers from further east?


Chestnut-sided Warbler.

Unlike the previous one on the 10th, this one has a little trace of chestnut on the flanks.

Despite the hard frost 2-3 Broad-tailed Hummingbirds are still using the feeders. Sparrows were a little more evident with 8 White-crowned, 6 Lincoln’s and c30 Dark-eyed Junco (pink sided) being seen. Another Ferruginous Hawk passed through.

BIRDING 23rd September

The cold front come with a lot of rain, perhaps too much overnight to expect birds to be delivered. A cold NW wind eventually blew away the low cloud which hung around until late morning.


The near by mountains got a dusting.

There was a noticeable upturn in bird numbers and diurnal, visible migration taking place but nothing huge. Small groups of Mountain Bluebirds (total c150) were moving through, often accompanied by Yellow-rumped Warblers (total c200), a party of 12 Evening Grosbeaks headed south along with groups of American Robin (total c300). Warbler’s proved thin on the ground with 6 Wilson’s, 3 Townsend’s and 3 Orange-crowned.


Cooper’s Hawk.

2 Sharp-shinned Hawks & 1 Coopers Hawk were seen. A ragged Ferruginous Hawk hovered over the site mid afternoon.


Ferruginous Hawk.

BIRDING 22nd September

A bright start with a brisk SW wind with wet & cooler weather moving in from the NW. Turning cold and wet by the days end.

Much the same as yesterday in that bird numbers were low, notable birds were a migrant Lewis’s Woodpecker and a small group of White-throated Swift south mid morning. A few White-crowned Sparrow about. Two sorry looking Hummingbirds were on the feeders at dusk sheltering from a cold downpour that left the first decent snow fall upon the peaks of the near by Sangre de Cristo mountians. Autumn is really here.


White-crowned Sparrow. According to Sibley, the bill colour and dark lores would make this an adult of the “interior west” population.


Mountain Chickadee.

_MG_8190Steller’s Jay.