Every April Colorado gets set upon by birders doing the chicken route circling the state, stopping at the leks in order to see displaying members of the Tetraonidae as they prance around their strutting grounds trying to impress a mate. These amazing sights are a treat to take not just with the eye but with the ear as the sounds they make sometimes rival the display. All together it is well worth seeing in person. My local birding buddy David organized a group and a guide to go out and as this was a trip I had been wanting to do for some time I jumped at the chance. All the arrangements were made ahead of time and the hotels and vehicles were ready for us and all went off without a hitch. I took the 5th edition of the National Geographic Guide which served me well while there.
Day 1, April 18th,
We arrived around noon and picked up the vehicles and by 1 o’clock were on our way. At the airport I ran into Alvaro Jaramillo from Wings who told us about Genesee Park so we decided to head there after we got checked in and had our briefing from Mike about how the trip would go and where we would be going. As we waited for all to get settled in and have a brief rest I went out in the parking lot and located my first lifer, a Western Meadowlark, singing from a road sign next to the highway. After about 45 minutes all were ready.
We started by heading to Red Rocks Park near Morrison on the outskirts of Denver. This arid, rocky setting got us our first Spotted Towhee at the trading post along with White-throated Swift’s that were nesting in the rock face across from us. The robin like calls of a Western Scrub Jay got our attention next and we climbed up the path to the upper parking lot for some great views of a rather tame bird. From here we continued through the park back to the main road and crossed over it to a parking area next to the river where we found a pair of American Dippers splashing about in the water just feet from us sometimes diving in after prey other times just sitting on a rock dipping up and down. We stayed and enjoyed these two for a while before heading higher up to Genesee Park. After we got there we drove up a while before finding a good parking area with plenty of birds about. Our first find was a pair of Pine Siskins. As I recorded one of the birds the group moved up to an area of open pine where they found Pygmy Nuthatch. After a bit of looking I came across one close to the road along with some Mountain Chickadees. Several Red Crossbills flew over us while Western Bluebirds alighted in the tops of the pines below us.
Having enjoyed these birds enough we moved up to a parking lot at the top and got out and walked for a bit finding Red-breasted Nuthatch, Pine Siskin and Mountain Chickadee. At one point we found a very vocal Red Crossbill Red Crossbill Recording sitting atop a pine tree. We were soon distracted by a distant song we were not familiar with and once across the parking lot we were standing under the tree where it was singing. After some time we located the culprit in the form of a Cassin’s Finch Recording of Cassin's Finch, its beautiful song ringing out from the tree before it got tired of being stared at and flew off. We made our way back to the vehicles to head back to the hotel for dinner.
Day 2, April 19th,
This morning we loaded up and drove out of Denver and up into the mountains to Allen’s Park. We stopped along highway 7 for Mountain Bluebird and had a nice Red-naped Sapucker on a telephone pole. A bright Red Crossbill sat atop a pine for all to see and several Mountain Chickadees and Pygmy Nuthatchs flitted about in a close group of pines. From here we drove to a small village where our guide, Mike, knew of several places that put out feeders.
When we got there three Pygmy Nuthatches were at a suet feeder while a Cassin’s Finch and a Hairy Woodpecker were vying over a seed feeder. In the pine tree above us I could hear movement and when I looked up a female Pine Grosbeak was moving about. Took a while before she came out for all to get a look and after about ten minutes of her skulking around in the pine she came out and we all got great looks as she came down to check the area for seeds.
From here we continued on past several beautiful mountains winding our way through river strewn gorges and we stopped several times for birds and for a pair of Clarke’s Nutcrackers which were the only ones of the trip we saw. We also came across the macrolopha subspecies of Stellers Jay with its white eyebrow. We found a pair here and got some good looks before we continued on along highway 72. Five minutes later Mike, in the lead car, pulled sharply over to the side of the road and we all followed suit. I could see why when I looked to my right and in the grassy field only 100 feet from the vehicle was a Dusky Grouse. A female, she sat in the field for all to enjoy for quite some time before she flew off into a stand of pines. We were very lucky to find this bird and it was the only one of the trip. There was another spot we could have tried for but this convenient bird meant we didn’t have to traipse out of the way to try and find them on another day.
We continued on for a while before descending into a town where we had a nice herd of Big Horn Sheep next to the road. Two nice rams were seen along with several does. A nice close Common Raven glided past at eye level before we got back into the vehicles and headed for our lunch stop. After a brief meal we started the long drive up to Loveland Pass. Our target here was White-tailed Ptarmigan but after three stops and a long time scanning we never did find the bird. There were plenty of people out which might have contributed to the bird being out of the area.
As we needed to get north we climbed back into our vehicles and headed back down from Loveland pass and continued north on 40 and then 125 up into Jackson County. We took some smaller country roads and finally met up with a friend of Mike’s who was already at the lek. We spoke for a few minutes then turned the cars around and got in position. Once settled the windows went down and the waiting began. This was not down time though. We were constantly serenaded by several Horned Larks, a few coming quite close. There was also a distant Sage Thrasher whose complex and beautiful song reached our ears as the sun slowly sank into the horizon.
Then over the crest of the hill to our front, the distant form of a portly looking Greater Sage Grouse emerged, ably spotted by Marcia, who pointed it out to us in the vehicle. Slowly over the next fifteen to twenty minutes a gathering of about fifteen birds got into position and began their display. Inflating air sacs and posturing up the males would puff out their chests and bounce their air sacs up and down creating a bouncing ball like whump Greater Sage Grouse Song?. This was also accompanied by a swishing sound and much strutting around, tails fanned and crest raised. We enjoyed this amazing natural display for about an hour and a half before the light became too low to take pictures and eventually they flew off for the night. Relieved at being able to move again we all got out of our vehicles and walked around marveling at the amazing display we had just seen. We loaded up and headed back to our hotel for the night.
Day 3; April 20th
This morning we were up early to get to the Sharp-tailed Grouse lek near Hayden, which sits right next to the road so plenty of vehicles would rush by drowning out any sound but we still got some great views of the birds on the lek. A cacophony of Western Meadowlarks persisted throughout with a couple of bright yellow chests appearing from time to time. Once satisfied with our looks at another of our grouse targets we moved on continuing west across northern Colorado towards Hayden.
We took a winding county road at one point and stopped next to some wooded fields to look for birds finding Northern Flicker, of the red shafted variety, Vesper Sparrow, Tree and Violet-green Swallows, several Sandhill Cranes were out in the cow pastures and a Say’s Phoebe was seen along the wires. A nice group of Pronghorn Antelope were seen clambering across a hill and we all stopped to get some nice shots of these four legged Ferrari’s of the planes.
Once at Craig we took highway 13 south and pulled in at a stop next to the Yampa River. Here we overlooked some ponds below us as a flock of American White Pelicans rose on thermals over the shallow bluff descending below us. Vesper Sparrows sang constantly while we were here.
After scanning the ponds for a while and not finding much of interest we moved on down to Meeker and continued on south on Highway 13 towards Rifle. As we go close to Rifle we stopped and grabbed some lunch and went and sat at Fravert Reservoir to enjoy the birds here while we ate. Red-winged and Yellow-headed Blackbirds were seen here along with a few ducks but our main target was farther in past the reservoir into the chaparral brush country.
The area was crisscrossed with trails and we drove in for a while before parking in a likely spot. We hiked in 'till we heard what we were looking for. We found a Grey Flycatcher but it wasn’t cooperative and we tried several times for it before getting good looks. Turned out later we found several perched and easy to see birds. We also got onto a Black-throated Grey Warbler which came in close for some great looks. While we were enjoying this bird a party of Pinyon Jays passed by with noisy calls and disappeared past us into the surrounding brush.
As we were hiking back the loud calls of two distant Common Ravens alerted us to the presence of a Golden Eagle soaring over the distant mesa they were perched on. We loaded up and drove back out passing a nice Mountain Bluebird which perched for some photos.
From here we continued south towards Cameo and when we got stopped in traffic at a tunnel we all piled out and scanned the area and were rewarded with another Golden Eagle, this one right over our heads, circling the cliff face next to us. The traffic began to move so we all piled in and continued on to Cameo.
Once at Cameo we drove in behind the power plant and drove in to the canyon area. We parked at the end and go out to hike around here for a while. We heard several Black-throated Sparrows but a Rock Wren got our attention so we tried for it and found it up near a cliff face strewn with boulders. It sang from several rocky outcrops and flew around us a few times before heading up the cliff face. I followed up after it and got close enough to get some photos before it passed over the other side and was gone.
I climbed back down and joined the others as they continued down the dusty track. We found a nice close Dark-eyed Junco of the Pink-sided variety here and another Rock Wren singing up the face of a huge mesa. A lovely Mountain Bluebird looked starkly blue against the beige back drop behind it. A lovely pair of Black-throated Sparrows darted about in low bushes and afforded us some nice looks. As it was nearing dusk we decided to hike out with the song of the Black-throated Sparrows chiming behind us.
Back at the cars I thought I heard a Chukar but it only called once and was not heard again. We left here and drove to our hotel for the night in Grand Junction.
Day 4, April 21st
From Grand Junction we drove to Blue Mesa Reservoir along the way we stopped at a few watery pullouts to check for ducks finding Cinnamon Teal and Common Merganser on a few of the little lakes. Once at Blue Mesa Reservoir we stopped at one pullout to scan the water for ducks but didn’t find much so we moved on to another spot along the road where we could pull off and this time seeing some likely suspects we got out the scopes and had a look. This time we hit paydirt with a pair of Bucephala ducks both juveniles one a Common and the other a Barrows Goldeneye. They soon took flight though before all could get a look. We scanned the water some more and farther out found a small raft of three Lesser Scaup. While scanning the distant shoreline I found a pair of Long-billed Curlews and we got to enjoy them, though from distance for a bit until the pair of Goldeneye’s came back at which time all attention was focused on them. Sadly they took flight again and disappeared round the jut of land in front of us and down the lake out of sight.
We continued on down the reservoir and pulled out one last time where we had three Western Grebes and some more scaup. A distant gull circled round the far edge of the reservoir but was left unidentified.
From here we continued on driving up to Crested Butte. The snow capped peaks surrounding the city greeted us with fantastic vistas as we rolled into the small town. Finding a parking spot we got out and began to look for likely spots for our targets. This was made easier by the small flock of Brown-capped Rosy-Finches sitting in an Aspen right next to where we parked. We walked down a side road to get a better look and peering between two buildings we found the mother load. A lady living here has put out feeders and a flock of around fifty birds was perched in the trees and on the ground in her still snow covered yard. Seed casings were everywhere along with the Rosy-Finches. We set up camp here and hovered around the feeders waiting to see if we could find a Grey-crowned or Black but had no luck. Cassin’s Finch were also seen here in ones and twos along with several Black-billed Magpies. A few Red-winged Blackbirds came into the feeders and Eurasian Collared Doves were seen landing on the telephone poles.
We decided to check a few other houses and found another feeder but to no avail. Though we got fantastic looks at Brown-capped Rosy-Fiches we were beginning to tire of scanning the hundreds we were seeing with no sign of the other two. We decided to have some lunch and come back so we sat outside and ate sandwiches while enjoying the views of Mt Crested Butte and the surrounding peaks.
After lunch we drove around town and found another group of birds coming to feeders and the lady who owned the house invited us in to her back yard to view the birds. We stayed for a little while enjoying more Rosy-Finches but also got some nice looks at Mountain Chickadee and the Grey-headed form of Dark-eyed Junco. I snapped a few pictures of the mountains before we left and drove back down to Gunnison.
We checked in at the hotel and dropped off our luggage before heading back out at four to check out some local spots. Our first stop was at a little river park where we found Hairy Woodpecker and several sparrows hiding in the surrounding brush unwilling to show themselves. Checking along the river we found a good number of Red-winged Blackbird. Circling around the park we ended up back at the parking lot and loaded up to go to the local cemetery on the edge of town. This proved a good spot as we pulled in we had nice looks at a pair of Mule Deer and a circling Red-tailed Hawk.
A pair of White-breasted Nuthatches were nesting in a broken snag and a Northern Flicker moved about from tree to tree. In the pines Mike found a Great Horned Owl that presented some great photo ops for us before it tired of us and took flight across the road to a distant tree. At the back of the cemetery we found a nice group of Black-billed Magpies and a small herd of Mule Deer lining up to spring over a five foot fence with seeming ease.
From here we headed east farther out of town to where the Gunnison Sage-grouse lek was and took the country roads deeper into the rolling hills here. Once in Aspen woods we slowed down to check for birds and though quiet we finally came across a nice Townsends Solitaire and scoped it from a distance. With a little playback it came in to the edge of the treeline and we managed to get some cracking views. We enjoyed this bird for a while and pursued it up into the Aspen to make recordings of it singing and get a few photos before we moved on.
Once the valley opened up we were out in pasture land and didn’t find much, though at the point we decided to turn around a Golden Eagle flew from a pylon and drifted right across our path nice and low. We watched for a few minutes as it disappeared then turned around and headed back to the Sage-Grouse lek in hopes we might get to see them in the evening as we had done with the Greater Sage-Grouse earlier in the trip. We waited and waited until it was almost dark and once we didn’t have enough light to see we turned round and headed home.
Day 5, April 22nd
An early start this morning as we had to be at the Gunnison Sage-Grouse lek an hour before first light. Groggily we loaded up the vehicles and drove silently out of Gunnison to the lek. We arrived and got situated and began our wait for sunup. Around 6 O'Clock birds began to sing with Song Sparrow and Western Meadowlark the main culprits. In the distance we began to make out the shapes of Sage-Grouse moving around past the fence line. As it began to get lighter we managed to get better looks but just then a raptor flew over the lek and spooked the seven grouse we had been watching. Once gone we were allowed to move around and we spoke to each other for a bit and the lek wardens before we left and headed back to Gunnison for breakfast with not the most satisfying looks but tickable views.
As the grouse had left so early we had options and after breakfast decided to head back up to Crested Butte to try for the Rosy-Finches we had missed the other day. Once there we checked the spots we had looked at the day before with the same results but there seemed to be less numbers here on this bright sunny morning. After spending a little while here we decided to head back to Gunnison and onwards. We did have a very productive stop on the way back where some water had collected in fields on the side of the road. We pulled over and great looks at several White-faced Ibis, Franklins Gulls and a Western Willet. As we were stopped here looking at the birds a gentleman pulled up and asked if we wanted to come check his yard for birds as he had several feeders up. Happily accepting we drove back to his house about a mile down the road and set up behind some vehicles to watch the goings on.
His yard was filled with White-crowned Sparrows, Red-winged and Brewers Blackbirds, Cassins Finch and Black-capped Chickadees. The real star of the show was a Green-tailed Towhee, his first of the season and our only one of the trip. Having enjoyed his yard for a bit we thanked him and continued back to Gunnison and collected our gear for the drive south.
We left Gunnison and drove up into the mountains passing through Monarch Pass. The beautiful scenery up here was stunning. Bright sunshine and snowcapped peaks were all around us. From here we continued down the east side of the mountains and out onto the plains towards Canon City. Here is where the weather got sketchy. A strong snow storm came barreling out of the mountains and driving snow whipped across the road making for some fun driving conditions but once passed that we pulled in for lunch and gassed up before heading for our next destination, Tunnel Drive.
I had mentioned to Mike that Canyon Wren was a bit of a priority to me as it was now my last, regularly occurring, U.S. wren that I needed so we pulled over at a few turn offs to check the cliffs against a flowing river but had no luck at the first stop but the larger second stop proved to be the spot as Ed used some playback and shortly after had a nice bird responding. We all got fantastic views and I got my last U.S. wren. We moved on following the winding road towards Canon City.
We arrived in bright sunshine and fairly warm temperatures. Once parked we scanned around the parking lot and found Curve-billed Thrasher. Two were seen next to the road for some nice pics as they cooperated nicely and sat for a while as we snapped away. The rest of the group had begun the hike up tunnel road and we caught up soon after. The big tunnel through the mountain was fun to hike through and rewarding as right out on the other side we came across our target, Rufous-crowned Sparrow. This fantastic little sparrow though did not give himself up easily and remained skulking around in the brush below us allowing only fleeting glimpses. Eventually the bird moved to an open branch for all to see then up the cliff face in front of us allowing some more looks before he continued up out of sight.
We meandered slowly back to the parking lot and once there found a pair of Black Phoebes which was a nice addition to the trip before we moved on to Canon City Riverside Park. He we walked the pathways and checked the trees and bushes for more species. We found several Yellow-rumped Warblers of the Audubon’s variety showing their yellow throats really well. A nice “Red-shafter” Northern Flicker perched right above us at one point making it easy for us to see the orange/red color of its under wing and tail. We looped round back to the parking lot finding and Orange-crowned Warbler and a small herd of Mule Deer before the constant call of and unseen bird had us scanning the tree line above us. After and age I found the culprit as a yellow spot in the trees up the ridge in front of us. Two Evening Grosbeaks continued to squeak away from a perch inside the crown of the tree and only the wind clearing the leaves away from it allowed us to get some views of the birds. BVD for sure, but countable. Once back at the parking lot we loaded up and stopped on the way out for a quick pic of the pair of Lesser Scaup on the little pond before the exit of the park. From here we drove another hour to Pueblo for the night.
Day 6, April 23rd
This morning we headed out to Swallows Rd. This stretch of dry open scrub at the back of a neighborhood allowed us some nice views of Scaled Quail. We found several along here and at one time pished up a Brewer’s Sparrow. Near the end of the road we found a nice Western Kingbird. Reports of a Canyon Towhee had me turning round the vehicle and heading back to a yard that had feeders in it. We stayed here for a while as we enjoyed views of Scaled Quail, Mourning Dove and the only good looks of Canyon Towhee I had on the trip.
We spent the rest of the morning driving to La Junta and then south along Highway 109 out into the grasslands and then onto highway 160 that would take us into Kansas. Along here we drove through the rolling grasslands enjoying the scenery and stopping for birds along the way. Our first stop for birds was at the nest of a Great Horned Owl whose three chicks huddled around one of their parents. We all got great looks at these birds before we drove on. Our next stop was at a nest sight Mike knew about but when we got there no bird was seen. We waited for a while before the ghostly image of a raptor drifted towards us about ten feet from the ground over the compact brush below it. It passed the tree and came to land on the grass about 100 feet past us. We waited for a while before it took flight low across the planes again and just before the nest tree it rose up and came to roost on an exposed snag. A beautiful Ferruginous Hawk sat perched up in the driving wind and scanned the scenery around it. We all enjoyed this bird for a while before moving off. We ended up taking back roads and secondary roads 'till we came out at Cottonwood Canyon in Baca County. We found a place to stop and had a quick picnic lunch before we began hiking in along the dirt road. Along here were patches of grass interspersed with mixed woodland and rock walls along a river course. Spotted Towhee sang from inside the thick brush and trees and a Bewick’s Wren called from inside there too. We moved along the tree line till we were back on the road and found the wren sitting out for some good views. We crossed over the road and into an area of grass and groups of trees. Another Bewick’s Wren sang from inside here while Spotted Towhee and Western Scrub Jay flew around. There was a Canyon Towhee in here but not seen by me.
We followed the tree line next to the river and when it came out into an open area we found our target. Three Lewis’s Woodpeckers were perched up on several dead snags where they were quite approachable and we spent a while here enjoying the beautiful woodpeckers. Once satisfied with our looks we moved on down the dirt road where we found a singing Spotted Towhee and some more Dark-eyed Junco’s. Along a steep rock face I heard a Canyon Wren and climbed across the river to make a recording but had to back track my steps when I couldn’t get past the other side. Mike, David and I decided to go back for the cars so we could pick up everyone and bring them back once at the end of the trail. Back near the area we saw the Lewis’s Woodpeckers we heard a woodpecker rapping and thought this might be our target so we hiked along a narrow trail and hit the playback. We did draw in a Downy Woodpecker but not the one we wanted. I could still hear rapping in the distance so climbed through some fir trees and out into an opening where and old farm had been and I could see the culprit on a fence post banging away. It was a Hairy Woodpecker with its very black back. It flew off across the open area of the old farm and into the woods. When we had thought it was a Ladder-backed Woodpecker David had gone ahead to grab one of the cars and drove down to start collecting the group but once back and he figured out it wasn’t the target we decided to go back along the dirt road to check again. Most of the group was at the end where a Ladder-backed Woodpecker had been found. Several of our group mentioned this as we passed them on the way so we hurried to the end and got out to check. Where it had been seen it was no where to be found. Mike showed up and we did some playback without result so began to retrace our steps along the river gorge when we heard the bird call from the other side. We scanned for a while without seeing the bird but did find an Eastern Phoebe.
Eventually a female popped up and we got to see her for a second before she dropped down into the trees and was gone. By this time many others had shown up and we waited for a while moving slowly down the gullies edge. The female popped up again and we managed to get some nice looks before she flew out from her perch and crossed over us with the male in tow letting out a long rattle. They passed into some cactus and brush before moving up the hill and over out of sight. Now satisfied with our looks for the whole group we headed back out of Cottonwood Canyon to our next destination in Kansas.
Along the drive we stopped at several places where we had nice close looks of singing Long-billed Curlew and then through some farmland where we had a huge flock of Red-winged and Yellow-headed Blackbird. On one of the fence posts sat a massive Golden Eagle that took flight as we approached soaring over the planes. The nest of a Swainson’s Hawk was found and the adult took to the air when we stopped to have a look. Marcia was desperate to find a countable Ring-necked Pheasant , but I kept my mouth shut about a "go to China" joke, and we had stopped a couple of times to check where ones had been seen but without much luck. So when Mike came over the radio saying he had a nice male out in an open field I sped up to where he was for a look. A gorgeous male came walking towards us down a fence line before walking past us then across the road behind us. Some fantastic looks were had by all. Now satisfied with her life look we could concentrate on some of the other, less brightly adorned birds around us like White-crowned Sparrows, Horned Lark and Western Meadowlarks. We came to the end of the dirt road at the Kansas border and ended up on paved road all the way to Elkhart. We went straight to the Lesser Prairie-chicken lek and waited to see what we could find. A few people went into the blind and the rest stayed in the cars. One bird flew into the lek and we waited for dusk in hopes more would show up. David and I walked the fields behind the blind enjoying the cacophony of evening birds like Western Meadowlark, Northern Bobwhite, Grasshopper Sparrow and several Coyotes that wailed in the distance. As there were not any other birds on the lek we decided to head to Elkhart and our hotel for the night. After our dinner a few made the “long” trek to Oklahoma, about a ten minute drive, and walked over the state line to say they had been there and tick off one more state. David and I gave it a miss and looked through pictures before heading for a good nights sleep.
Day 7, April 24th
We woke early this morning to get over to the Lesser Prairie-Chicken lek and when we got there four people were already in the hide so some of us stayed out and looked through scopes or took turns in the blind. At one point a few flew up and one landed just outside the hide for some nice close looks before it departed. As the light came up we were able to get better looks and see them performing before most of them flew off for the day. We returned to the hotel and packed up for the long drive north towards Wray.
Along the way we stopped at Lamar Community College to check the woods there but as we heard nothing singing we decided to skip it and continue on to the Wray State Fishing Unit where we stopped to check the ponds. Here we found several good birds including several Blue-winged Teal and three Wilson’s Phalarope in breeding plumage. It was windy and damp so we decided to continue on to our next destination.
We arrived in the early afternoon at Bob Bledsoe’s ranch and he came out to meet us and sat us all in his office to talk about the ranch and the Prairie-Chickens on his property. He had some fun and interesting stories about his cattle and his birds before he told us about the lek and what we could expect. After the intro we loaded up into the vehicles and drove out through the muddy jeep tracks through his cattle fields until we got to the sight where they lek. Bob has been good enough to put out two old cars so the birds get used to vehicles. Once we were all in position we waited while Horned Larks sang and flew around us. As the sun began to drift towards the horizon our first Greater Prairie-chicken flew in and landed at the end of the lek where there were still large clumps of grass to hide in. Slowly one’s and two’s began to move out of the grass tussocks and onto the lek. For the next hour and a half we sat and enjoyed the cavorting chickens doing there dance and chase each other about the lek making a cacophony of strange and delightful sounds. This was much to the dismay of the pair of Burrowing Owls about fifty feet from our vehicle that kept popping out of their burrow to inspect the strange neighbors. They would call once or twice then drop back down almost out of sight apart from a crown of feathers and two eyes constantly scanning their surroundings.
As it got closer to dusk the chickens began to depart and soon there were only a few left on the lek and no one was displaying so we slowly made our way to the gate and this sent the last few up and we closed the gate behind us before driving back. After such a fine show we hit the muddy trail with reckless abandon hitting several mud puddles and spraying water like some rally drivers. All good fun and a great end to another long day.
Day 8, April 25th
From Wray we drove north stopping to collect some lunch. While sitting in the parking lot and waiting for the last few people a nice V formation of White-faced Ibis flew over us. Once loaded up we continued through the Pawnee National Grasslands making our first stop for a major target at a Prairie dog town. This was right next to the highway so there was plenty of traffic but we pulled out scopes and scanned the area as best we could but didn’t find our bird. We moved about 100 yards farther down past a large mound that blocked the back of the town and scanned again. This time we thought we found it near the back of the field. “No, wait that’s a Horned Lark.” We scanned just passed the lark and this time found it for sure, Mountain Plover, my last regular US plover, I was thrilled. We got everyone onto the bird eventually before we moved off into grasslands.
Our next stop came after we had moved onto to some back roads, driving through rolling hills of the vast grassy expanse. Just as we had pulled onto a secondary road a Prairie Falcon flew right in front of us and across the planes. We stopped to have a look but it continued on and we never got great looks at it, which was a shame as it was the only one we saw. We drove on and though it was windy we began to hear our target so got out to scan the area. A lone McCown’s Longspur landed on a bush some distance away but we were able to get some scopes on it. Then from above us several started singing and one landed on the barbed wire fence close to us for some great looks. Once satisfied we began to slowly creep through the grasslands stopping for more longspurs and some nice looks at both Merlin and American Kestrel. We stopped for lunch which allowed me to walk off into the rolling hills and check for more birds. I managed to get close up to some Longpurs crawling along the ground to get some eye level pictures.
As we got to the right habitat of longer grass we got out to try for our other target and found one singing eventually and with some playback had the bird right in front of us in the tall grass. It’s bright colors giving it away in as it moved through the grass. The only Chestnut-collared Longspur we saw close was right here. A beautiful bird moving through the tall grass in front of us, a real cracker. Once all were satisfied with our looks we loaded up and moved on.
As we got close to the end of the road we stopped for a nice Western Meadowlark sitting on a fence post singing. As we enjoyed that a Sage Thrasher moved about the fence line and came quite close for our best looks of the trip. Another Ferruginous Hawk and Swainson’s Hawk added to the raptor count before we hit the main road and drove on to Denver. We had our farewell dinner in a nice restaurant and talked about the great birds we had seen and the miles we had driven before we bid all goodnight.
Day 9, April 26th
This was a flight day so there was little birding to be done. We turned in the cars back where we had begun and caught our flights home.
Colorado is a beautiful state and has some spectacular birding. You will have to drive a hell of a long way to get to all the leks but if you want to see the chickens dance you have to make this trip. Driving was mostly quite easy depending on the weather and prices aren’t too bad. All the major US birding guides cover all the birds in detail but I use the National Geographic 5th edition as I find it the best for me.
You can see photos from this tour in my Colorado 2012 Flickr Album.
You can listen to recordings from this tour on xeno-canto.
Western Grebe Aechmophorus occidentalis
American White Pelican Pelecanus erythrorhynchus
Double-crested Cormorant Phalacrocorax auritus
Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias
Great Egret Egretta alba
Little Blue Heron Egretta caerulea
Green Heron Butorides virescens
White-faced Ibis Plegadis chihi
Canada Goose Branta canadensis
Wood Duck Aix sponsa
Gadwall Anas strepera
Green-winged Teal Anas carolinensis
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
American Black Duck Anas rubripes
Blue-winged Teal Anas discors
Cinnamon Teal Anas cyanoptera
Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata
Ring-necked Duck Aythya collaris
Red Head Aythya americana
Lesser Scaup Aythya affinis
Bufflehead Bucephala albeola
Barrow's Goldeneye Bucephala islandica
Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula
Common Merganser Mergus merganser
Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis
Black Vulture Coragyps atratus
Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura
Osprey Pandion haliaetus
Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Sharp-shinned Hawk Accipiter striatus
Cooper's Hawk Accipiter cooperii
Northern Goshawk Accipiter gentilis
Red-shouldered Hawk Buteo lineatus
Swainson's Hawk Buteo swainsoni
Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis
Ferruginous Hawk Buteo regalis
Rough-legged Buzzard Buteo lagopus
Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos
American Kestrel Falco sparverius
Merlin Falco columbarius
Prairie Falcon Falco mexicanus
Ring-necked Pheasant Phasianus colchicus (introduced)
Wild Turkey Meleagris gallopavo
Dusky Grouse Dendragapus obscurus
Greater Sage Grouse Centrocercus urophasianus
Gunnison Sage Grouse Centrocercus minimus
Sharp-tailed Grouse Tympanuchus phasianellus
Greater Prairie-chicken Tympanuchus cupido
Lesser Prairie-chicken Tympanuchus pallidicinctus
Scaled Quail Callipepla squamata
Northern Bobwhite Colinus virginianus
Sandhill Crane Grus canadensis
Killdeer Charadrius vociferus
Mountain Plover Charadrius montanus
Long-billed Curlew Numenius americanus
Wilson's Phalarope Phalaropus tricolor
Ring-billed Gull Larus delawarensis
Eurasian Collared-Dove Streptopelia decaocto (introduced)
Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura
White-winged Dove Zenaida asiatica
Greater Roadrunner Geococcyx californianus
Burrowing Owl Athene cunicularia
White-throated Swift Aeronautes saxatalis
Broad-tailed Hummingbird Selasphorus platycercus
Belted Kingfisher Ceryle alcyon
Lewis's Woodpecker Melanerpes lewis
Red-naped Sapsucker Sphyrapicus nuchalis
Ladder-backed Woodpecker Picoides scalaris
Downy Woodpecker Picoides pubescens
Hairy Woodpecker Picoides villosus
Northern Flicker Colaptes auratus
Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris
Northern Rough-winged Swallow Stelgidopteryx serripennis
Tree Swallow Tachycineta bicolor
Violet-green Swallow Tachycineta thalassina
Purple Martin Progne subis
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
American Pipit Anthus rubescens
Cedar Waxwing Bombycilla cedrorum
American Dipper Cinclus mexicanus
Canyon Wren Catherpes mexicanus
Rock Wren Salpinctes obsoletus
Bewick's Wren Thryomanes bewickii
Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottos
Curve-billed Thrasher Toxostoma curvirostre
Sage Thrasher Oreoscoptes montanus
Townsend's Solitaire Myadestes townsendi
American Robin Turdus migratorius
Mountain Bluebird Sialia currucoides
Western Bluebird Sialia mexicana
Blue-grey Gnatcatcher Polioptila caerulea
Ruby-crowned Kinglet Regulus calendula
Grey Flycatcher Empidonax wrightii
Black Phoebe Sayornis nigricans
Eastern Phoebe Sayornis phoebe
Say's Phoebe Sayornis saya
Western Kingbird Tyrannus verticalis
Pygmy Nuthatch Sitta pygmaea
Red-breasted Nuthatch Sitta canadensis
White-breasted Nuthatch Sitta carolinensis
Black-capped Chickadee Poecile atricapilla
Mountain Chickadee Poecile gambeli
Juniper Titmouse Baeolophus ridgwayi
Pinyon Jay Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus
Steller's Jay Cyanocitta stelleri
Western Scrub-Jay Aphelocoma californica
Black-billed Magpie Pica hudsonia
Clark's Nutcracker Nucifraga columbiana
American Crow Corvus brachyrhynchos
Chihuahuan Raven Corvus cryptoleucus
Common Raven Corvus corax
Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris (introduced)
Blue-headed Vireo solitarius
Orange-crowned Warbler Vermivora celata
Yellow-rumped Warbler Dendroica coronata
Black-throated Grey Warbler Dendroica nigrescens
Pine Warbler Dendroica pinus
Pine Siskin Carduelis pinus
American Goldfinch Carduelis tristis
Brown-capped Rosy-Finch Leucosticte australis
Cassin's Finch Carpodacus cassinii
House Finch Carpodacus mexicanus
Pine Grosbeak Pinicola enucleator
Red Crossbill Loxia curvirostra
Evening Grosbeak Hesperiphona vespertina
House Sparrow Passer domesticus (introduced)
McCown's Longspur Calcarius mccownii
Lapland Longspur Calcarius lapponicus
Chestnut-collared Longspur Calcarius ornatus
Yellow-headed Blackbird Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus
Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus
Western Meadowlark Sturnella neglecta
Common Grackle Quiscalus quiscula
Brewer's Blackbird Euphagus cyanocephalus
Song Sparrow Melospiza melodia
White-crowned Sparrow Zonotrichia leucophrys
Dark-eyed Junco Junco hyemalis
Grasshopper Sparrow Ammodramus savannarum
Brewer's Sparrow Spizella breweri
Vesper Sparrow Pooecetes gramineus
Rufous-crowned Sparrow Aimophila ruficeps
Green-tailed Towhee Pipilo chlorurus
Spotted Towhee Pipilo maculatus
Canyon Towhee Pipilo fuscus