A County First

Colorado holds a few records in the United States: With 6,800 feet (2,073 meters), it has the highest mean elevation among the 50 states. It is also the only state whose entire area lies above 3,280 feet (1,000 meters).

El Paso County, where we live, is the most populous of Colorado’s 64 counties, based on the 2020 Census, which revealed a population of 730,395, exceeding even the population of the City and County of Denver by about 15,000. To me, this is a depressing statistic, as I think the region’s growth has been uncontrolled and unhealthy. But the purpose of this post is not to vent my frustration with too many people in an area with too little water and too much traffic, I simply was looking for a segue to the actual theme of my essay.

With regard to population dynamics, since the summer of 2022, El Paso also holds the distinction of being one of the few Colorado counties in which the successful breeding and fledging of an avian species—one that’s not even supposed to be here—has been documented. As the following range map from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology shows, Vermilion Flycatchers typically breed in parts of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona (and rarely in California).

Range Map for Vermilion Flycatcher

When not one but two individual vermilions were discovered at our local Evergreen Cemetery in May of this year, and when one happened to be male and the other female, the excitement among birders was palpable. But because the birds were only in their first year of life, indicated by the yellowish wash on the female’s lower belly and vent (which later turns pink), and the speckled red belly of the male (which turns a homogeneous red as the bird ages), it was considered unlikely that they would breed this year.

May 3, 2022: Female Vermilion Flycatcher. The yellow lower belly indicates this a first year bird.

May 3, 2022: Male Vermilion Flycatcher. The speckled pink on the belly is typical for a first year bird.

Nonetheless, to everybody’s surprise and delight, we were proven wrong, and in time, a nest was discovered, with the female incubating presumptive eggs. When that nest was abandoned for unknown reasons and our late May snowstorm blanketed the entire area in 1.5 feet of snow, no one expected to find another nest. But that’s exactly what transpired.

June 30, 2022: Female sitting on a nest (the second).

Like several other birders, I made repeated trips to the cemetery in hopes of seeing this couple succeed, and our hopes weren’t disappointed. The following photos show what happened in the course of July. Not only did this young, unexperienced pair manage to lay an egg, they laid three. Moreover, all three eggs hatched, and the three nestlings were tended to so diligently that they were able to fledge.

July 7, 2022: Female looking into the nest with presumptive hatchlings.

July 7, 2022: Male carrying food in his beak which suggests he is feeding youngsters.

July 15, 2022: 2 of 3 nestlings.

July 15, 2022: Male feeding the young.

July 22, 2022: 3 fledglings in a tree (2 are easy to see, the third is hiding behind a branch on the left).

July 22, 2022: One of the beautiful fledglings.

Great joy abounded and good wishes for their future followed the family from all who were fortunate enough to witness their feat, one for the record books.

++++++++++++++++

According to Cornell, the nest of Vermilion Flycatchers is “a shallow, somewhat loosely constructed cup of small twigs, grasses and empty cocoons bound together with spiderweb. It is often decorated (camouflaged) with small bits of lichen.”

Clutch size: 2-4 eggs.

Incubation period: 13-15 days.

Nestling period: 14 to 16 days.

PS: All photos were taken with a telephoto lens from a distance that seemed acceptable to the parents. It is important not to approach and disturb breeding birds, which could lead to the abandonment of the nest.

62 thoughts on “A County First

    • Dankeschön, lieber Jürgen.
      Aus Interesse habe ich bei eBird mal geschaut, wie viele verschiedene Vogelarten in Deutschland dokumentiert sind–468. In den USA gibt es 1137. In Deinem Bundesland, Nordrhein-Westfalen, gibt es 326, in meinem (Colorado) gibt es 514.
      Ich würde sagen, 326 Arten ist nicht schlecht!
      Viel Spaß beim Finden. 😊

      Like

  1. That’s a great story and good that the birds were not disturbed.
    We had a very similar event only 7 miles away. Two pairs of European Bee-eaters nested for the first time in our County of Norfolk (these are birds from southern Europe) and sixth time in the Country. A 24/7 guard was mounted to protect them with a viewing area available. There was much media coverage (try googling it). I went and saw them once but the photos were poor so no post. https://rspb.org.uk/our-work/rspb-news/rspb-news-stories/buzz-as-rare-rainbow-birds-set-up-summer-home-in-norfolk/?from=hp2

    Liked by 1 person

    • How exciting to have had bee-eaters nest in Norfolk. They are such charismatic birds and it’s understandable that many people were interested in seeing them, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to publicize the breeding sites of rare birds. Too bad the press had to advertise their presence, but it’s good that there was around-the-clock protection.

      Most of the birders who went to see our nest didn’t mention or post it in order to prevent too many visitors, and there was definitely no press coverage of the event. Some people thought that the first nest failed because of too much disturbance, but we’ll never know. I’m just happy and relieved that the second brood survived and fledged.

      Liked by 1 person

      • When the Bee-eaters were first spotted in the area the sightings were reported over the usual media used by birders. At that time they were not breeding. When it became clear that nesting was being attempted action was taken to protect them as even in this day and age there are those who would steal the eggs. Once everything was in place only then was the press informed so the public could visit. The site was very well run and the viewing area a long way from the nests (hence my poor photos!). It was successful and the chicks have now fledged and left.

        Liked by 1 person

      • In a way, it’s nice that people take an interest in these gorgeous birds and want to see them and their offspring as it might help create an appreciation of nature and the realization that we need to change our ways to protect it. On the other hand, it’s sad that there are still people who would collect eggs only to add them to a dusty collection. But I guess some of us never learn.

        I’m glad your bee-eater spectacle had a happy ending!

        Liked by 1 person

    • Dankeschön, liebe Maren. Das Wohl der Vögel sollte immer im Vordergrund stehen, das sehen wir beide so. Leider halten manche Fotografen sich nicht an ethische Richtlinien.
      Ich bin froh, daß für diese Familie alles gut ging.
      Lieben Gruß,
      Tanja

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Über dein Glück bei der Beobachtung dieser wunderschönen Vögel freue ich mich sehr, Tanja.
    Dass du sehr sorgsam bist beim Beobachten ist für mich gar keine Frage!!!
    Ist das auch dem Klimawandel geschuldet, dass die Vögel jetzt bei euch brüten?
    Toi toi toi little birds.
    Liebe Grüße
    Brigitte

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dankeschön, liebe Brigitte.
      Es ist möglich und sogar wahrscheinlich, daß einige Arten ihren Lebensraum erweitern, weil das Klima sich ändert. Ausnahmen hat es wahrscheinlich schon immer gegeben, aber wenn sie sich häufen, dann ist sicher ein Hinweis darauf, obwohl wahrscheinlich auch noch andere Faktoren eine Rolle spielen. So genau weiß es wahrscheinlich niemand.
      Hoffen wir, daß es der Familie weiterhin gut geht.
      Sei herzlich gegrüßt,
      Tanja

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Botanists have been known to quip, when coming upon a plant flowering outside its typical season or doing some other unexpected thing, that plants don’t read field guides. It seems your pair of precocious birds didn’t read any, either, and did what came naturally to them.

    And speaking of surprises, it came as one to me that your county has more people than the county that includes Denver.

    Liked by 1 person

    • These birds neither knew that they weren’t supposed to be here, nor that they were too young to breed. Their ignorance was their (and our) bliss.

      I was also surprised (and dismayed) to learn of the number of people in Colorado Springs and environs.

      Like

    • Colorado is a high state–in more ways than one, by the way!
      As far as the medical effects of the altitude, they can go both ways. People used to come here to cure their tuberculosis and other pulmonary problems, but the lower oxygen can also be detrimental for individuals with heart and certain lung diseases. Most visitors from lower elevations will have some trouble adjusting, especially if they travel straight to 10, 000 or 11,000 feet without taking the time to acclimate.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh wow, was für ein tolles und schönes Erlebnis. Du warst bestimmt im 7. Vogelhimmel 🙂 Dann noch so seltene Gäste mit einem so guten Bruterfolg. Schön. Ich freue mich für dich und mit dir! Schöne Fotos sind dir gelungen. Niedlich, die ganze Vogelfamilie! LG und eine gute Restwoche, Almuth

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I occasionally see a report of someone seeing these birds in our area, but they’re only passing through. How wonderful that you were able to see this process from beginning to end; it’s a charming and heart-warming story.

    I was lucky enough this year to have a pair of mourning doves nest atop a sheltered pole very near the boat I’ve been working on. I was able to watch that process from nest-building to fledging, although the nest was so high I couldn’t see much until the young birds began standing at the edge of their pole, trying to decide what to do next. The parents stayed close, on the rigging of another boat, but eventually they stopped returning to the nest, and simply cooed at their youngsters. In time, the kids got the idea, and took flight. One stayed around the nest for about three days, but they’re all gone now, living their birdy life.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I always marvel at how you manage to find and photograph those baby birds, and what sweeties they are! So fragile looking. They break my heart.
    Wishing you a good Autumn…and wishing us both a winter with more snow to help with the water shortage!
    😉
    Julie

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Julie, I’m glad you enjoyed watching the flycatchers grow up.
      I can’t take credit for finding this nest and family of birds as it was discovered by other birders. But I gratefully kept returning from time to time to follow the exciting events inside their nursery and I’m so happy they were able to fledge.
      I appreciate the good wishes for more moisture in the seasons to come. Many areas need it sorely.
      Best,
      Tanja

      Like

  7. Thank you, Tanja, for sharing this epic “good news story.” Hopefully your flycatcher friends will be back again in 2023 to brighten the lives of local birders – yourself included – once more. Maybe in due course a self-sustaining outlier population will develop in your area of Colorado…wouldn’t that be good news!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. What a wonderful story, Tanja. Great images too. Congratulations to the young couple and to you for your opportunity to watch and enjoy their success. Possibly their offspring will spread the species in Colorado and you will have many more chances to see them.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Kudos on the outstanding documentary of the nesting flycatchers!

    This was one of our favorite birds when we lived in Texas where they were somewhat common. Here in Florida, we see one every few years during migration.

    What a great feeling you must have to watch this whole process!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Wally. How nice that you were able to see these attractive birds regularly while you lived in Texas. They are rare enough here that I get a tingling sensation every time I see one. 😊
      I’m grateful that other birders shared the location of this nest with me and that I was able to follow them and witness their success story.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Here I am valiantly trying to get caught up! Yikes! I’m so glad I didn’t miss this post of yours. I very well remember catching sight of my first sighting of a pair of Vermillions during a visit to the Bosque del Apache WR… what a thrill this must have been to not only see these unexpected visitors, but to watch them successfully raise some youngsters.
    I hate to say it, but perhaps one unlikely benefit to global warming???

    Looks like I have a whole lot more catching up to do.
    Hope your autumn is going well! 💞

    Like

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