NORTH PARK 2016 GROUSE TOUR

Starting from Denver on a beautiful April morning, our first stop was Genesee Mountain Park. At just over 8,000 feet, we had our first chance for Rocky Mountain specialty species. Singing Pie Grosbeak was a delight as well as Pygmy Nuthatch, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Mountain Chickadee, Cassin’s Finches and several pairs of Red Crossbills. It was a great start as wee bagged all of our targets.

After a short comfort break, we headed to the Continental Divide to look for White-tailed Ptarmigans. We found 4 mostly white puff balls hiding at the base of a large boulder. It was a life bird for all and a rewarding stop for the group. The next stop had our only Rosy-Finches of the trip, Brown-capped and Gray-crowned. A singing Pine Grosbeak and Gray Jay didn’t disappoint either. An Osprey nest gave us great photo opportunities in Silverthorne. We found Barrow’s Goldeneye’s and Cinnamon Teal while driving north along the Blue River. A nesting pair of Golden Eag

les, Prairie Falcon and singing Fox Sparrow were in the town of Kremmling. After a relaxing lunch, we continued up the Blue River drainage. Gore Pass was a nice diversion as we observed a Red-naped Sapsucker, Clark’s Nutcracker, Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Mountain Bluebirds. By late afternoon we had arrived at the Arapahoe NWR. Adding to the trip list was a singing Sage Thrasher, Vesper Sparrows, Rough-legged Hawk, Violet-green Swallows, American Avocets and 12 species of ducks. T photographers in the group loved this place because of the mammals along the route. We arrived in Walden at supper time and check into our new hotel. In Walden, you must eat at the River Rock Café for a truly western meal. We went over our daily list and enjoyed a juicy steak.

 

We were enjoying Greater Sage-Grouse leking all around us as the sun started to come up on day two. The group counted 106 birds including a very healthy 57 females. The males were dancing, jumping, inflating their air sacks, singing, challenging other males and flirting with all the females. Enjoy this sound clip of this unique lek experience. After everyone was completely satisfied, we headed back into town for a cou

Leking Greater Sage-Grouse

Leking Greater Sage-Grouse

nty style breakfast. Warm and happy, we made our way to Walden Reservoir. At 8,100 feet this time of year, the reservoir was still mostly frozen. We did manage to get a few goodies including a Wood Duck, 100 plus Am White Pelicans, 12 Canvasbacks, several Greater Scaup, Barrow’s Goldeneye, 66 Marbled Godwits and several hundred California Gulls. The Moose Visitors Center is part of the Colorado State Forest. They have a series of feeders around back that can be quite good for mountain species. Since we already cleaned up the day before, we enjoyed the sounds of 100’s of bird as point blank range. The photographers especially enjoyed this spot. The nature Conservancy has a preserve along the Yampa River. We spent some time walking the trail and stretching our legs. New to the trip included a Bald Eagle, Green-tailed Towhee, unexpected flyover of Evening Grosbeaks and White-throated Swifts. Our overnight was in Craig after a second day of fantastic birding.

Leking Sharp-tailed Grouse

Leking Sharp-tailed Grouse

The third day was packed with excitement even before sunrise. While heading up slope to the Dusky Grouse spot, we spotted three Sharp-tailed Grouse that were just flying off a lek area. We didn’t stay as we had our sights on Dusky Grouse. We got to the Dusky Grouse spot just in time. We had a male and female along the road. She soon flew down slope but he remained. Mr. Grouse gave us a great show as he boomed, strutted and blew up his air sacks. On to the second lek of the morning. Sharp-tailed Grouse have such an interesting dance. They stomp their feet, spread their wings and almost ram into other males. The grass was higher at this site which didn’t facilitate wonderful pictures. But, everyone enjoyed the show! As the sun came up, the grouse took off. Heading back east for our next stop was Catamount Lake. We tallied all the breeding swallows and a late leaving Rough-legged Hawk. Evening Grosbeaks and 6 pairs of calling Sandhill Cranes were found along the Yampa River. Several Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jays, new name for Western Scrub-Jay, were also in the area. Finding a high quality marsh yielded several Sora and Marsh Wrens. The group enjoyed the beautiful scenery on the way back into Denver. Great memories were made on this three day grouse trip. The total number of bird species was 107.

PLAINS PRAIRIE-CHICKEN 2016 TOUR

Denver was our starting point for this year’s Plains Prairie-Chicken 2016 Tour. It was a beautiful spring day as we drove east to the Greeley wetlands. Three Burrowing Owls were our first target and included a beautiful Taiga Prairie Merlin.  Northern Harriers stalking the marsh gave us great looks with Franklin’s and California Gulls added at Latham Reservoir. Three elegant looking Mountain Plovers were seen just outside of Crow Valley Campground in the small town of Briggsdale. These were life birds for many. The Pawnee National Grasslands were beautiful this time of year as the grasses were growing and small wildflowers in bloom. We hit our targets here including six Chestnut-collared and ten McCown’s Longspurs including another look at Burrowing Owls and a single Mountain Plover

Singing Western Meadowlark

Singing Western Meadowlark

. Horned Larks were singing from everywhere with an estimated 500 seen for the day. A surprise sighting of Lincoln’s Sparrow was unexpected and great looks at a single Sage Thrasher topped off the location. We cooled off, eat lunch and stretched our legs at Crow Velley picnic area. We hopped back in the vehicle to travel east. A Morgan County playa provided several Wilson’s Phalaropes, a magnificent Long-billed Curlew and richly colored Cinnamon Teal performing their breeding display. Wray Fish Hatchery had a rare Hairy Woodpecker. We found a Wild Turkey and Ring-necked Pheasant at Stalker SWA just outside of Wray as our birding day was winding up. Arriving in Wray, we visited the Bledsoe Ranch and meet Robert in his office. It is always a treat to talk to him about how his family has cared for this cattle and edibles producing ranch for years. We checked into our new hotel and cleaned up a bit. A well-earned steak dinner was enjoyed in downtown Wray.

Leking Greater Prairie-Chicken

Leking Greater Prairie-Chicken

Day two started pre-dawn at the Greater Prairie-Chicken lek spot. We counted 29 chickens dancing, strutting and squawking. Here is a sound clip taken that morning of Greater Prairie-Chickens. Also seen or heard that were new for the trip included Northern Bobwhite, Brewer’s Blackbirds, Say’s Phoebe and Vesper’s Sparrow. There is nothing in the world like spending a morning on a productive lek surrounded by world class habitat! After everyone was truly satisfied, we headed back to the hotel to freshen up and check out. We enjoyed a big breakfast before heading to Bonny SWA. Traveling south along the eastern edge of Colorado gave us an opportunity at add eastern birds to our trip list. Most of these species just barely make their way across the state line. We found Northern Mockingbird, Norther Cardinal, Eastern Bluebird, Red-bellied Woodpecker and Field Sparrow. A mysterious Virginia Rail was heard ticking away in the marshy area as we entered Bonny. Traveling south, we added the elegant looking Swainson’s Hawk and the less common Ferruginous Hawk to the list. Three Loggerhead Shrikes were seen by keen eyed birders. Neenoshe Reservoir was our next stop that provided a look and song of a Chihuahuan Raven. The migrant hotspot of Melody Temple Grove has Yellow-rumped Warblers, a pair of Sharp-shinned Hawks, a heard Barn Owl and three Great Horned Owls. Two chicks were peeking their head out of the nest whole which delight the group. A rare Brown Pelican was found several days earlier at John Martin Reservoir. The group decided it was worth the time to track it down. We got great looks and photographs of this rare Colorado visitor and enjoyed a swallow show as hundreds were flying overhead. The wind was really starting to pick up at this point as a storm was rolling in. Went had supper in Lamar before heading out to our remodeled family motel in Holly which was closer to the lek site. In the meantime, the storm moved in!

Mountain Plover

Mountain Plover

Day three was nearly a wash out due to two plus inches of rain, hail, tornados in the area and impassible clay roads. We tried

to get to the lek site but traveling was not safe on these remote roads. After almost getting stuck, we decided to head back north. It was going to be a challenge to find the two remaining pairs of Lesser Prairie-Chicken still in the state. Their range has been reducing due to several years of hard winters. We made the most of the inclement weather heading to Cheraw Lake. Here we added a pair of Black-necked Stilts, American Avocets and White-faced Ibis. Snowy Plovers were a treat at Holbrook Reservoir. Also found were Baird’s, Western and Least Sandpipers and our only Bonaparte’s Gull. As the weather was not letting up, we made the call to start heading north. The drive back to Denver took us through small hail, sleet and snow but all was well. Many storied were told on the way back to Denver. We had two terrific birding days and great effort for the last day. Total birds seen were 109 species.

South Park Gunnison 2016 Tour

Our three day April 2016 tour had amazing weather. It was clear, light winds and high in the 70”s. Leaving Denver at sunrise, we headed for Genesee Mountain Park. At 8,000 feet, this area contains Douglas-fir, Ponderosa and Lodgepole Pines. Highlights were a pair of Red Crossbills feeding right by the road and 5 displaying Wild Turkeys. Loveland Pass at the Continental Divide was chilly and still covered in snow. We found 6 White-tailed Ptarmigan’s that were still all white with their winter plumage. It was a life bird for Margie and Brian. Silverthorne feeders were active again giving u

White-tailed Ptarmigan at Loveland Pass

White-tailed Ptarmigan at Loveland Pass

s great looks at about 150 Gray and Brown-capped Rosy-Finches. Other highlights include a Gray Jay and several Evening Grosbeaks. The buffet bar at Whole Foods provided a healthy lunch. Heading south, the Pinyon Juniper habitat yielded Bushtits, one Juniper Titmouse, a Townsend’s Solitaire and more Mountain Bluebirds.  Two quick stops as State Wildlife Areas around Salida added a Cinnamon Teal plus a few strange domestic birds with some great photo opportunities. As we notice every year, this area along the Arkansas River is so rich in wildlife. Finally, we enjoyed a wonderful steak dinner in downtown Gunnison. Great first day!

 

Day two started early at the Watchable Wildlife lek trailer while we anxiously awaited sunrise. The morning sounds were memorizing as we heard a winnowing Wilson’s Snipe, and many Horned Larks, Western Meadowlarks and Song Sparrows. We saw 27 total Gunnison Sage-Grouse including 18 males. One female flew in close for an uncharacteristically close look. They danced and performed for us for several hours. We headed back to Gunnison for a scrumptious breakfast at a local favorite W Cafe. Roaring Judy provided a Red-naped Sapsucker, American Dipper and an unexpected close walk by of a Red Fox. The next stop was Sweitzer Lake State Park for a happy leg stretch. Flushing a group of 8 Gambel’s Quail gave everyone a start. Other highlights included a boisterous Marsh Wren, Clark’s Grebes, Sage Thrasher and our first Long-billed Dowitchers. Fruitgrowers Reservoir is always a great birding spot and it didn’t disappoint this year. The north shore had 80 Sandhill Cranes, Yellow-headed Blackbirds, American Avocets and our first swallows of the year. Our last stop of the day was in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP. With

Inside the Gunnison Sage-Grouse lek trailor

Inside the Gunnison Sage-Grouse lek trailor

plenty of time, we birded our way up through Pinyon Juniper habitat. Hearing Bushtits, a Juniper Titmouse and plenty of Spotted Towhees kept our attention. After driving the south rim road and walking the campground for most of the evening, we dipped on the Dusky Grouse. We did watch three Fox Sparrows a heard a distant Northern Pygmy-Owl which is always a treat in Colorado. The temperature range today was 16 in the trailer and 79 out at Fruitgrowers Reservoir.

 

Day three started a little later than the 4:30AM departure of the previous day. We caught the last of the Gunnison Sage-Grouse birds dancing on the lek. Heading east up Monarch Pass added Red Crossbills, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Pine Grosbeak and a Clark’s Nutcracker. On the way down we bagged both sapsuckers before breakfast in Salida. As the trip took us along the Arkansas River, White-throated Swifts, Rock and Canyon

Male Scaled Quail

Male Scaled Quail

Wrens were seen. Holcim Wetlands was the perfect depth for teal and shorebirds. We had all four teal species including a record 52 Green-wings and Lesser Yellowlegs were added. Stopping at Royal Gorge, Canyon City Riverwalk and parts of Pueblo Reservoir weren’t very birdy as the wind started to pick up. We had great looks at Scaled Quail and a Curve-billed Thrasher before we headed back to Denver. With the beautiful scenery of Colorado and life birds for many, it was a successful trip. The total bird species for the three day trip was 111.