Resources & Research : Recent Sightings

Critter and Bird Count

Who: Art Elser

When: July 22, 2008

Start time: 7:20 AM

End time: 11:05 AM

Weather: Clear and calm

Temperature: About 75 degrees F at the start and 90 at the finish

Walked: North from the nature center and did the loop on the main trail past the riparian area and back to the nature center. Took side excursion at the northwest. Did not go to the northeast part of the area trying not to disturb the pronghorn herd with fawns.

Comments: A beautiful morning for hiking the prairie, but the temperature rose quickly. The grasses are mainly dry and tawny, with only low grasses near the trails showing a little bit of green. The prairie sure needs some rain.

The does and their fawns have now joined into a herd for mutual protection. I saw a herd in the low area across from the riparian area. When I first saw them, from the west side of the area, I couldn't count them because of the distance, but I could see that most of the herd was lying down in the grass. As I made the turn to head toward the riparian area, the herd got nervous. The nine fawns formed a small group and followed the does who first headed out. The single buck with the herd brought up the rear. They disappeared over the ridge to the south, and I never saw them again.

Animal or Bird

Number

Comments

Cottontail Rabbit

6

A youngster and several adults hopping around the nature center. Also saw a youngster on Soddie Road. He sprinted away and then hid in a prairie dog burrow about ten feet off the trail.

Jackrabbit

0

Still no jacks on my counts. I did see two about two weeks ago while driving a wagon ride.

Prairie Dog

768

This is the largest prairie dog count I've had in three years of counts like this. In addition to seeing more dogs, I can see that they are expanding their range outward from the existing colonies. I saw lots of dogs standing sentry in tall grass where they haven't yet had time to cut down the tall grasses. In walking through colonies, I've seen lots of old burrows that are newly occupied. The multiple prairie dog skulls and other bones along with fresh dirt show that the new occupants have cleaned house since the large kill two winters ago.

Pronghorn

24

The does and their fawns have now joined into a herd for mutual protection. I saw a herd in the low area across from the riparian area. When I first saw them, from the west side of the area, I couldn't count them because of the distance, but I could see that most of the herd was lying down in the grass. As I made the turn to head toward the riparian area, the herd got nervous. The nine fawns formed a small group and followed the does who first headed out. The single buck with the herd brought up the rear. They disappeared over the ridge to the south, and I never saw them again.

I had a strange experience with a very large buck. We watched each other for about an hour as I walked the area and he lay near the top of a ridge. As I got closer, my path took me directly at him for a few hundred yards and he got nervous and stood. He watched me with suspicion and then trotted parallel to my route to get ahead of me and intercept.

When he got ahead of me, he turned to look directly at me. He seemed to want to make sure I was looking at him. He snorted at me five or six times. He then turned, put his head down and sniffed the ground, pawed the grass, urinated, and then defecated. We call this SPUD, and it is a way bucks mark their territory. This buck is paranoid or needs glasses.

Coyote

0

I saw scat and tracks on the trails, but did not spot any of these critters. Not quite sure why they've been out of sight for the past months.

13-Lined Ground Squirrel

1

Saw one standing on its hind legs near a prairie dog colony as the dogs barked predator calls because I was there.

 

 

 

Coot, American

11

Swimming in the large pond. Four adult and seven immature birds. The immature coots are now almost as large as their parents. They are, however, a lot lighter in color.

Kestrel, American

3

One hovering over the prairie looking for breakfast and the other two were in the riparian area. One was chasing a mourning dove as if trying to catch it. I think it was actually chasing it from a nesting site.

Robin, American

2

Around the west side, along the fence line near the houses and in the riparian area.

Blackbird, Red-winged

35

All through the willows and reeds in Toll Gate Creek and the pond. Noisy critters. Saw about half dozen of them mobbing a great-horned owl, chasing it from a perch to another tree in the riparian area.

Blackbird, Yellow-headed

1

Did not see any, but heard one calling from the reeds on the east side of the pond.

Dove, Mourning

113

They were scattered all over the area. Many flew in pairs to spots in the grass, so I assume they are nesting there.

European Starling

3

Scattered in the area.

Finch, house

8

In the bushes and flying near the nature center.

Grebe, pied-billed

1

Swimming near coot families in the big pond

Grackle, Common

2

Two near grand central station, male and female.

Lark, horned

5

In a small group on Soddie Road as I approached the cattle guard heading south.

Killdeer

2

Two flying near the cattle guard on Soddie Road.

Kingbird, western

30

Scattered through the area, but many in the riparian area. Some were chattering as though scolding other birds getting too close to their nests.

Magpie, black-billed

1

Heard it chattering near two trees, but did not see it.

Mallard

11

Four adults jumped out of the reeds close to the bench by the large pond. And seven chicks swam out of the brush right behind them. I think there were two males in the group, but in their eclipse, fall, plumage, so they were difficult to tell from the females.

Oriole, Bullocks

2

Saw one in the reeds by two trees and heard one chattering in the trees, scolding a bird getting too close, probably a western kingbird.

Owl, burrowing

25

Scattered in prairie dog colonies in the area. Did see one group three dark chicks sitting on a burrow.

Owl, great-horned

4

An adult and two chicks in the picnic shelter and one in the riparian area. The one in the riparian area flushed when I spent too much time by the bench. As it flushed, it was mobbed by a half dozen red-winged blackbirds.

Phoebe, Says

3

On fence posts and wires near the riparian area. Saw two of them flycatching from their perches on the fence.

Pigeon, rock

40

Scatter along the housing area to the west and to the north east of the riparian area.

Shrike, loggerhead

1

Perched in a tree far away enough that I could not tell if it was a northern or loggerhead. The range maps, however, indicate that the northern is not in this area this tie of year.

Sparrow, house

12

On the roof of the mews.

Sparrow, vesper

1

Near the riparian area.

Swallow, barn

1

Flying over the prairie just north of the picnic shelter.

Swallow, cliff

26

Singles over the prairie in several spots and a group over the pond in the riparian area.

Meadowlark, Western

44

They were scattered all over PCC. None singing, but many clucking as if I were getting too close to nests.

Vulture, turkey

2

Flying fairly low over the area just north of the nature center just as I finished my count.

 

________________________________________________________

Who: Art Elser

When: June 24, 2008

Start time: 8:30 AM

End time: 12:00 AM

Weather: Clear with winds out of the west at 5 to 10 mph.

Temperature: About 65 degrees F at the start

Walked: North from the nature center and did the loop on the main trail past the riparian area and back to the nature center. Took side excursions at the northwest and northeast corners Total of about 5 miles.

Comments: It was a warm summer morning, and I was eager to count prairie dogs. I've been driving folks on wagon rides for the past couple of weeks, and it looked to me as if we had more prairie dogs than I'd ever seen at PCC. I was right, almost 700—see details below.

During this past week we saw several pronghorn fawns running with their moms as we drove around on wagon rides in late afternoon and evenings. I think most fawns are now old enough to run with the herd, and the pronghorns should soon congregate into one or two herds for mutual protection.

Animal or Bird

Number

Comments

Cottontail Rabbit

3

A youngster and several adults hopping around the nature center.

Jackrabbit

0

Still no jacks on my counts. I did see one about a month ago while I was driving a wagon ride.

Prairie Dog

695

That's up from 449 last month. The kits range in size from about a quarter to half grown. It is fun to watch five or six of them run for their burrow in a close pack and flow into it like brown water, with mom right behind. I think the lack of predators—few hawks and coyotes sighted these days—has led to this large number. I have noticed that the PDs are extending the edges of their current towns into the tall grasses around it. And old, unoccupied burrows are now occupied and have lots of bones around them, showing the housecleaning efforts of the new residents.

Pronghorn

17

For the past month, few pronghorns are together in herds, except for small herd of from four to five young bucks. The does have had their fawns and have been on that solitary life they live until the fawns can run with the herd. As I mentioned above, I've seen several fawns running with their moms, so the herd of does and fawns should start to come together soon. I've seen signs of SPUD on the trails, so I imagine the bucks are practicing for September and October when they'll try to capture a harem for mating.

Coyote

0

I saw scat and tracks on the trails, but did not spot any of these critters. Not quite sure why they've been out of sight for the past months.

13-Lined Ground Squirrel

3

Have seen them all over the area this year. Perhaps I just didn't know where to look. One hangs out by the logs just west of the large parking lot. He's a bold one, running around as if there weren't any predators he can't handle.

 

 

 

American Coot

13

Swimming in the large pond. Two families with young. The young have yellow-orange bills and follow mom around as she dives for food. When she comes up from a dive, the youngsters race to see who can feed first.

American Kestrel

7

Scattered around the area, including three immatures sitting on a post at the cattle guard near the sod village. An adult male was chasing a Swainson's Hawk near the northwest prairie dog colony.

American Robin

5

Around the west side, along the fence line near the houses and in the riparian area.

Blackbird, Red-winged

39

All through the willows and reeds in Toll Gate Creek and the pond. Noisy critters. Saw about 10 of them mobbing a great-horned owl that spooked when a wagon ride stopped at the pond.

Blackbird, Yellow-headed

2

We've been seeing them in the reeds and willows in the riparian area. We have no record of any sightings of these birds, ever. Fran Blanchard was back a few weeks ago and said she's never seen them here. These are obviously nesting. We've seen as many as 5 at one time.

Double-crested cormorant

1

It was flying a few hundred feet over the houses west of the area and then through our area to the southeast, probably headed for one of the reservoirs. First one I've seen here.

Dove, Mourning

25

While not back in the numbers we had last year, they are back in force. They are nesting again in the grasses of the prairie.

European Starling

13

Scattered in the area.

Ferruginous hawk

1

Circling near two trees while being attacked by three red-winged blackbirds. It finally climbed high enough to get away from the pests. One blackbird even landed on the hawk's back for a couple of seconds.

Grackle, Common

2

Flying past the nature center to the houses to the west.

Horned Lark

15

Most seemed busy, feeding young I suspect. They were scattered around the area.

Killdeer

20

Scattered through the area. The largest population is along the trail at the north of the area, near Jewell Ave.

Kingbird, Western

18

All through the area. Saw one hovering, which I had not seen before.

Mallard

7

Swimming in the pond, mostly in pairs.

Oriole, Bullocks

2

Heard them singing and squawking in the cottonwoods in the riparian area.

Owl, Burrowing

12

Scattered in prairie dog colonies in the area. Did see one group of two adult and three chicks.

Owl, great-horned

2

Both in the dead trees by the large pond. One sat in plain sight, although its camouflage made it almost invisible. The other was invisible until it flew. It landed in another dead tree only to be mobbed by a dozen red-winged blackbirds.

Pigeon, Rock

5

Scattered along the housing area to the west.

Sparrow, song

1

In the pond next to Jewell Ave.

Swainson's hawk

1

Wonderful sight. I was standing on Rattlesnake Road at the northern most part when this large bird swooped over my head, no more than 50 feet up and pounced in the grass 30 yards away. I think he attacked with the sun at his back, a sure way to keep from being spotted. He came back up in three or four seconds with a prairie dog pup in his talons. He circled in some lift to gain altitude and was harassed by a kestrel who has a nest nearby or wanted the food or both.

Swallow, cliff

10

Singles over the prairie in several spots and a group over the pond in the riparian area.

Western Meadowlark

78

They were scattered all over PCC. Not many singing, but many clucking as if I were getting too close to nests.

________________________________________________________

Who: Art Elser

When: May 6, 2008

Start time: 8:30 AM

End time: 11:30 AM

Weather: Clear with calm winds.

Temperature: About 50 degrees F at the start

Walked: North from the nature center and did the loop on the main trail past the riparian area and back to the nature center. Took side excursions at the northwest and northeast corners Total of about 5 miles.

Comments: Must tell of one exciting find on the bird survey at Aurora on Saturday, May 1. We found a peregrine falcon in one of the large cottonwood trees in the riparian area. Karen Metz, who first spotted the Peregrine, had just read an article saying that Peregrines in this area at this time of year may be migrating to Alaska for breeding. Wow!

Another strange find on May 1, was a great-blue heron standing in the middle of a prairie dog colony east of Tollgate Creek. I suspect it was flying by and saw either a snake in the open or some of the young prairie dog kits that have just begun to show themselves.

The grasses and forbs are finally starting to green up. We've finally gotten enough moisture to make that happen.

Animal or Bird

Number

Comments

Cottontail Rabbit

1

A youngster hopping around the nature center.

Jackrabbit

0

I've not seen any jacks this spring. I think we lost most of the population to the previous winter and the coyotes. I'm hoping some new ones will migrate into the emptiness.

Prairie Dog

449

The prairie dog kits, or pups if you'd rather, have made their exit from their birthing dens and are sunning themselves on their burrows. Look for clusters of them, 2, 3, 4, or as many as 6 to 8. They sit quietly absorbing the warmth of the sun or frisk with their siblings. They stay close to their burrow so they can dive into it should a hawk, falcon, or coyote appear.

Pronghorn

21

I first sighted a herd of 10 does and a single buck. They drifted north as I walked north, staying a quarter mile ahead of me. I saw a solitary buck ahead of them, and the does joined him. But the buck who had been with them lingered behind, perhaps because the other was the herd alpha male.

Later I saw a herd of 9 bucks with no does. I've seen SPUD markings on the trails meaning the bucks are already marking their territory. I suspect the two bucks I saw with the does have marked their territory and are guarding it. (SPUD = Sniff, Paw, Urinate, Defecate) A SPUD marking looks like recently disturbed ground with scat in the middle of it.

I think that the does stay away from the bucks as they get ready to drop their fawns. We should be seeing fawns within the month now. Each doe will normally have twins.

Coyote

0

I think the coyotes are denning now, birthing their pups. They probably hunt nocturnally to avoid leading any predators, including humans, to their dens. Coyote pups stay in the den for about six weeks after they are born, so we'll probably see some pups soon.

 

 

 

American Coot

1

Swimming in the large pond.

American Kestrel

2

One in the riparian area and the other near the next box on the Grange Museum.

American Robin

1

In the riparian area.

Black-billed Magpie

1

This one emerged from a new, large nest near the pond. The nest is in one of the most northern trees at the edge of the pond. It is the traditional stick nest with a roof and a hole for the adults, and later the fledglings, to enter and exit.

Blackbird, Red-winged

8

In the riparian area. I think I saw only males, and they have their epaulettes are bright red now.

Dove, Mourning

36

While not back in the numbers we had last year, they are back in force. Looks like they will be nesting again in the grasses of the prairie.

European Starling

5

Scattered in the area.

Grackle, Common

2

Flying past the nature center to the houses to the west.

Grebe, Pied-billed

1

Swimming and diving near a coot in the large pond. I often find these grebes with coots.

Hawk, Red-tailed

1

It was trying to land in one of the two northern trees in the riparian area, but a very dedicated red-winged blackbird kept diving on it and pecking it, finally driving it off. I swear I saw the blackbird land in the hawk's back to give several pecks. The hawk is either molting or has lots several primary feathers on both wings, near the wrist joint.

Horned Lark

19

These joyous birds were singing and flying all over PCC this morning. Some even sat out on the trails so I could get a good look at their beautiful yellow faces, black neck band, and black horns.

Killdeer

16

Scattered through the area. The largest population is along the trail at the north of the area, near Jewell Ave.

Kingbird, Western

2

One near the nature center and the other in the riparian area.

Mallard

3

Swimming in the pond.

Oriole, Bullocks

1

I caught a flash of color flying from a tree in the riparian area. Was able to get my binoculars on the bird before he disappeared into the branches of another tree. What a beautiful bird. Too bad it chatters like a magpie when nesting.

Owl, Burrowing

6

Scattered in prairie dog colonies in the area. We first spotted them on the first Saturday of April, on the bird survey.

Phoebe, Says

1

Sitting on a fence in the riparian area.

Pigeon, Rock

4

Scattered along the housing area to the west.

Sparrow, Chipping

5

Near the north end of the riparian area. I think they have just migrated back to us.

Sparrow, Vesper

18

Scattered along the trails in the entire area.

Swallow, Barn

2

Over the prairie near where Front Range and Tollgate Forks meet.

Swallow, Northern Rough-winged

1

Over the pond in the riparian area.

Western Meadowlark

87

These beautiful singers are back in force, having migrated back for nesting. They are scattered all over PCC.

 

 



Fran Blanchard

 

 

 


Dave Showalter

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