Date: 1/31/18 7:57 pm
From: DAVID A LEATHERMAN <daleatherman...>
Subject: [cobirds] Fort Collins Miscellany (Larimer)
Today I visited a new area of Fort Collins at the invitation of a friend who said he was "seeing interesting ducks" at his neighborhood pond. The pond is called "Willow Springs", I guess. I can't find it named on any map. The pond is sw of the intersection of Battlecreek Drive and S. Timberline Road in southeastern Fort Collins. Waterfowl present today on this totally ice free pond were Lesser Scaup, Ring-necked Ducks, Mallards, Cackling Geese and Canada Geese.

While trying to figure out where the pond was and how to access it from inside the nearby condo maze, I saw some interesting things. A flock of approximately 15 Red Crossbills (sounded like Type 2s) was coming down to a small drainage to drink. A Red-breasted Nuthatch was exploring roofs and gutters. At one juncture he got what looks like a winged carpenter ant but it might be a darkened European Paper Wasp cadaver pulled from its cell in a roof corner comb. Tough to tell dead insects in the beak of a bird 15 feet away.


A Downy Woodpecker was percussing various objects. Most notably he checked out adventitious root knots protruding above the grass at the base of a cottonwood (not sure what would be in these) and goldenrod gall fly galls (see below).

[cid:38fbd75c-b286-478d-840f-a12452794253] [cid:f8fc9a6e-8df9-403c-ab12-aa882ed532bf] [cid:13c8650d-a0de-423e-be80-a81b4bf4e6e5]

(1) Goldenrod plant with three galls (left), (2) opened gall showing two fly larvae (Eurosta solidaginis) which cause these swellings (middle) and (3) downy woodpecker (right) going after goldenrod gall fly maggots (gall is right in front of its chest).

The wonderful red Fox Sparrow first found at the Northern Colorado Environmental Learning Center by Andy Bankert continues. Yesterday and today it was in the exact site where first reported (southeast of the intersection of the Wilcox and Alden Trails a few tenths of a mile south of the east end of the suspension bridge). I watched the bird at length both yesterday and today and found its behavior most interesting. Whatever it is after is down in the leaf litter. This species is a well-known doublefoot scratcher, similar to towhees and certain other sparrows, including the juncos it hangs with. What I had never seen before was scratching with a twist. A full twist, that is. Its normal posture is head-down and its scratching is modest. But every once in a while, it raises its head, stands on it clawtip toes, and does a rapid 360-degree spin. Ice skaters at the upcoming Olympics would receive high marks if they could bust such a move. Presumably this flips particularly thick or matted litter. In an attempt to discern what the red sparrow and juncos were getting, several times a minute, from said leaf litter, I got down on my knees, scrunched my trifocals so as to use the reader layer at the bottom to best advantage and scratched back leaves with my hands. Over a period of 20 minutes and exposing an area of approximately one square meter, I found exactly ZERO insects, one snail barely a mm across, lots of deer droppings, and some seeds of an unidentified plant that might be the answer to the puzzle. Not exactly the cornucopia I was expecting. Once again I marvel at the survival skills of birds, once again I walked away stumped. But that gorgeous sparrow was worth the effort. If you are looking for it, approach the described area QUIETLY AND SLOWLY. This bird has been pursued by dozens of birders, many of them loud and impatient, playing tapes, etc. It is VERY WARY, very difficult to see. Find the junco flock, stay back and just watch all the scratchers. It is usually the farthest one away. When approached or warned of something by nervous juncos, it usually goes up a short ways into the boxelder trees. Patience usually is rewarded by it returning to the leaf litter but sometimes this takes 15-30 minutes.


I have looked for the Harris's Hawk out off Prospect Road near the Welcome Center at I-25 yesterday and today and not seen it (which means NOTHING with that bird). It works a huge area, is quite active, never seems to sit in the same place for very long or two days in a row.

Dave Leatherman

Fort Collins

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