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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.