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Live from the Ranch

This is the official Ranch Journal, a collection of short reports about daily life on the ranch. Postings are made by all ranch staff, but mostly by Tess Leach & Kate Matheson, Guest Services Managers, David Leach, Business & Marketing Manager and Jeff Gossage, Ranch Manager. (Banner photo 3 by Stephen Weaver)

Ride Through Medano Meadows
Last Thursday, after spending the morning foraging with Hank for our Butcher, Baker, Ice Cream Maker Workshop, a group of us headed to the Medano to take a ride. David and I took a group who wanted to go faster to Sand Creek. To get there we rode through the meadows by the Wedding Trees and came upon a HUGE herd of elk. As we rode on, we kept crossing paths with the elk herd all the way to Sand Creek. 

I snapped this picture of Kitty, our ice cream maker, taking in the view in the meadows. 
Posted by Tess L. on 07/19/2013

Great Plains Toad
Each summer between late June and mid July, the Great Plains Toads appear out of no where. If there's a rainstorm, their numbers seem to quadruple. They're found in such large numbers near the wetlands-- especially Dollar and Cotton Lakes-- that it's actually hard to walk without stepping on one. They hop around all day, some just the size of a penny, looking for insects in the grass.

Here's a great photo of one taken by Patrick Myers of the Great Sand Dunes NP&P.

Posted by Tess L. on 07/15/2013

Rufous Hummingbird.

Rufous Hummingbirds are a colourful harbinger of the changing seasons.
Although it’s only the 4th of July these little birds are on the southbound trajectory of their autumn migration.
They make a large looping circuit of western North America, from their wintering grounds in Central America. Heading north along the Pacific coast as far up as Alaska. Then returning south, inland along the spine of the Rockies. They make one of the longest migrations of any bird relative to it's size. This bird was photographed today, after seeing the first one on the 2nd July.
Posted by Bird D. on 07/04/2013


On the Afternoon of Saturday 29th June I came across a Myiarchus Flycatcher. Having not seen any members of this family here at Zapata I watched it for a while and took some photos. At the time I begun to the think there were some structural features that really didn’t fit with the only species that should occur here, that being Ash-throated Flycatcher.
I sat with the photos for a while and begun to look at the possibility of it being Brown-crested Flycatcher. A species that has it’s strong hold in Latin America and only just creeping into southern Arizona and the extreme south of Texas.
Realizing that it would be out of range I sent the shots onto Bill Maynard with my suspicions of its identity. As a Brit birder here in the US I only have experience with Great-crested and Ash-throated Flycatcher so I needed input from a native perspective!
I was pretty shocked when his reply came “It looks like a Brown-crested, you realize it would be only the second record for Colorado?!”
So from that point the photos were circulated to some very eminent US birders and all were in unanimous agreement with my initial identification.
Unfortunately the bird was not seen beyond 7pm on the 29th.
Although it was disappointing not to get to share the bird with others it has come as some prize for the many hours I’ve put in birding around the ranch. Finding scarce vagrants are, for me at least, one of the most exciting and rewarding aspects of birding anywhere.
I’d like to thank Bill Maynard, Mark Peterson Tony Leukering & Richard Fray of for their help.
Hopefully Zapata has some more surprises in store as we go into the autumn period. Could it do one better? A new species for Colorado!?
Posted by Bird D. on 07/02/2013


By late July the sound of bird song begins to give way to the sound of hungry young birds! With all the parent birds working over time to fill tens of greedy mouths. This was one of a group of young Western Bluebirds I photographed the other evening. The young birds on this ranch don’t run the gauntlet of being caught by domestic cats, as there is none allowed on the ranch… It’s a pretty safe place for them.
If you were wondering how you could tell fledgling Western Bluebirds from Mountain Bluebirds an excellent clue is the spotting on the birds back, this would be plain if it were a Mountain.
Posted by Bird D. on 07/02/2013

 White-winged Doves at Zapata

A pair of White-winged Doves appeared at the feeders during the last two weeks of June. This was a species I hadn’t encountered before, owing to the fact I have never birded the lower southern States and haven’t been birding in Colorado too long! Traditionally these birds had a range restricted to only the southern states of the US but over the last decade or so have been successfully colonizing new territory to the north. In fact not long ago they were considered a state rarity in Colorado. Most populations of White-winged Doves are migratory wintering in Mexico and Central America.
White-winged Doves feed on a variety of seeds, grains, and fruits. Western White-winged Doves (Zenaida asiatica mearnsii) migrate into the Sonoran Desert to breed during the hottest time of the year because they feed on pollen and nectar, and later on the fruits and seeds of the Saguaro cactus.
I later saw a third bird behind Safeway in Alamosa, so I’m guessing they are well on the way to colonizing this part of Colorado too.
Posted by Bird D. on 07/02/2013

Hello Dolly!
 Meet Dolly! Dolly has just joined our herd and will be discovering her new home of Zapata all this week. Dolly came from some friends of ours a few hours away and is a pretty special Paint. She's settling in well and will be headed to check out the Bison on a ride this morning. 

Posted by Kate M. on 07/01/2013

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