Colorado Tour Itinerary


Dates: April 16-27, 2018  Full

Day 1:

Arrival at Denver International Airport departing westward once everyone has arrived. Depending upon the group’s arrival times, we hope to enjoy a bit of birding amid Denver’s springtime foothills. Typical birds might include Say’s Phoebe, Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay, Black-billed Magpie, American Dipper and a host of arriving spring migrants in the area’s ponds, thickets and fields. If weather and time allow, we may try for White-tailed Ptarmigan and all three species of Rosy-Finches before arriving at our hotel.

During dinner, our first as a group, we’ll make introductions, discuss tour details so participants know what to expect during the tour (pace, conditions, daily routine, etc.), illustrate our planned route and hand out checklists. Night Dillon.

Greater Sage-Grouse by Kim & Cindy Risen ©

Day 2:

After breakfast, we’ll journey uphill to the majestic Loveland Pass in pursuit of White-tailed Ptarmigan. Still attired in angelic white even this late in the Spring, these dapper “chickens” are permanent residents in the higher reaches of Loveland Basin. After lunch, we’ll search for any Barrow’s Goldeneye that may have delayed their departure from the area and an assortment of newly arriving waterfowl as we journey Southwestwards to the arid landscape surrounding Gunnison.

White-tailed Ptarmigan by Kim & Cindy Risen ©

In the afternoon, we’ll visit snowy Crested Butte in search of lingering Winter finches like Evening Grosbeak and rosy-finches—if we’re lucky, we may find all three species! The East River joins with the Taylor River near Almont forming the scenic Gunnison River. On our return, we’ll bird riparian woodlands along these river courses for migrants, Williamson’s Sapsuckers and charming American Dippers along the scenic waterways. Night Gunnison

Day 3:
The first of our pre-dawn starts in order to arrive at a chicken lek in the darkness, this time to enter blinds for viewing the first of our lekking chickens—Gunnison Sage-Grouse. Our blind is operated by Sisk-a-Dee, a conservation group dedicated to the conservation of the Gunnison Sage-Grouse. While the birds are a bit distant, spotting scopes allow us to witness their action packed displays without affecting the behavior of these critically endangered birds.

Once the birds have left their lek, we’ll depart for breakfast and begin our journey down the Arkansas River Valley. As we draw near to Pueblo, the landscape changes and we’ll savor an afternoon of birding amid the Arkansas River Valley’s arid landscape. Night Pueblo.

Day 4:
Sunrise will find us searching for arid country birds approaching the northernmost extent of their range—Scaled Quail, Greater Roadrunner, Curve-billed Thrasher, Rufous-crowned Sparrow and Canyon Towhee—we’re likely to find more widespread species like Burrowing Owl and Say’s Phoebe. The Arkansas River Valley’s scenic cliffs harbor thick areas of Junipers that often produce Wintering Townsend’s Solitaires, Juniper Titmouse, Bushtit, Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay and Spotted Towhee.

After returning to our hotel for breakfast and luggage, our compass heading changes to eastward toward the short grass prairies of the Comanche & Cimarron National Grasslands. As we travel parts of the Historic Santa Fe Trail, Prairie Falcon, Swainson’s and Ferruginous Hawks may be found.

As we travel this border country between Colorado and Kansas, we might encounter Long-billed Curlew, Chihuahuan Raven, migrant flocks of Lark Buntings, sparrows and longspurs. We’ll cross into Kansas in the late afternoon, hopefully with time for a brief rest before visiting a nearby Lesser Prairie Chicken lek. Night Dodge City.

Day 5:
Sitting on the pre-sunrise prairie listening to Lesser Prairie Chickens is an experience like no other. Waiting for enough light so you might put pictures with the decidedly odd sounds emanating from the lek can be difficult for the inpatient. Luckily it’s worth waiting for…and the sun rises quickly on the prairie.

Lesser Prairie-Chickens fighting by Rick Bowers ©

We’ll enjoy the chickens performing their Spring rituals, departing only after we’ve had our fill. After breakfast, we’ll travel back roads looking for migrant sparrows along brushy field margins. Vesper, Lark, Cassin’s, Grasshopper and Brewer’s Sparrows along with Lark Bunting are the usual suspects. Searching the grasslands may turn up nesting birds such as Ferruginous Hawk, Burrowing Owl, Long-billed Curlew or Loggerhead Shrike. Migrants such as Lapland, Chestnut-collared and McCown’s Longspurs, Harris’s Sparrow and a host of raptors are also possible.

We must soon turn northward as we begin our long trek to Colorado’s portion of the Nebraska Sandhills and the little town of Wray. Our trip is broken by plenty of stops to look for birds and chances to walk around. There are several migrant traps and reservoirs that demand checking during migration. These will be our best chance to add birds with a decidedly eastern flavor to our list. Red-bellied Woodpecker, Blue Jay, the eastern form of White-breasted Nuthatch, Eastern Bluebird and Northern Cardinal are likely additions.

Before supper we’ll visit a private ranch to view one of many leks located on the property. We’ll be able to view several Greater Prairie-Chickens in a more subdued evening performance. Night Wray

Day 6:
Following our now well established pattern of rising before sunrise, we’ll return to our Greater Prairie-Chicken lek to enjoy the manic sunrise activities of these prairie grouse. One final intimate experience with these vanishing symbols of America’s Great Plains.

After breakfast, our travels take us north and west crossing the Pawnee National Grasslands. Habitats change a bit each mile and we’ll be in search of Mountain Plover, Golden Eagle, Prairie Falcon, Burrowing Owl, McCown’s and Chestnut-collared Longspurs and a host of possible migrants.

Late afternoon finds us climbing through foothills to reach the charming North Park village of Walden. As we ascend, our surroundings quickly change as do our birds. After a quick stop to view American Dipper we’ll continue upward into the mountains. These transitional foothills enroute to montane forest hold Red-naped and Williamson’s Sapsuckers, three species of nuthatches and Mountain and Western Bluebirds, among others. Hopefully we’ll arrive in at our hotel in time for a short drive to view a collection of bird feeders that have been good for rosy-finches in past years. An after dark search for Boreal Owl and Northern Pygmy-Owl is likely. Night Walden

Red-breasted Nuthatch by Rick Bowers ©

Day 7:
Only the pre-dawn darkness greets us as we arrive atop a sage covered hilltop that Greater Sage-Grouse have declared perfect for their lek. Weather cooperating, we should be treated to an amazing show by these large, somewhat odd looking birds. While their displays aren’t as manic as the closely related Gunnison Sage-Grouse, they remain a riveting spectacle.

After breakfast we’ll tour North Park visiting several lakes & water impoundments that my be bustling with a surge of newly arrived Spring migrants, wet grasslands and sage covered hillsides that may hold their own migrants. The journey around North Park is quite scenic. Along the way, we should be able to locate Sage Thrasher, Townsend’s Solitaire and Mountain Bluebird with other possibilities including Dusky Grouse, Clark’s Nutcracker, Evening Grosbeak, Red Crossbill and Pine Grosbeak. This part of North Park is also the best area in Colorado to view Moose. With luck we may see several of these decidedly odd creatures before our day ends.

If there is sufficient open water, we may see Cinnamon Teal performing their first courtships of the Spring. There is great potential for migrants and mountain birds before returning to North Park. Another after dark search for Boreal Owl and Northern Pygmy-Owl is possible if necessary. Night Walden

Day 8:
As the sun brightens the forest around Walden, we’ll visit nearby feeders hoping for Brown-capped, Gray-crowned and Black Rosy Finches. Many resident birds will be in full song with Pine Grosbeak, Mountain Chickadee, Pygmy Nuthatch and Cassin’s Finch leading the way.

The balance of our day has several options, depending upon what birds we’ve seen and what kind of weather the region has enjoyed this early Spring. Lunch may be a picnic atop a windswept pass or at the head of a sage brush covered valley. What’s promised is fun birding and a good time! Night Craig

Day 9:
Pre-dawn departure toward Hayden whose hills and valleys harbor Dusky Grouse, Greater Sage-Grouse and Sharp-tailed Grouse. We’ll begin by searching traditional areas for Dusky Grouse before visiting a nearby lek of Sharp-tailed Grouse. Much like Greater Sage-Grouse, Sharp-tailed Grouse are frantic, energetic and vocal during their displays—even more so! Everyone witnessing their antics enjoys the show. While it may be hard to leave these charismatic birds, we must soon begin our drive west and south.

Sharp-tailed Grouse – Photo by Kim & Cindy Risen ©

Thankfully, changing scenery and birding stops make the drive an enjoyable one and we’ll search wetlands and water areas for Cinnamon Teal and Barrow’s Goldeneye en route to lunch near Rifle. We’ll enter the White River National Forest seeking Pinyon Jay, Bushtit and Juniper Titmouse after we enjoy our lunch.

Our final birding break is a beautiful desert canyon near Cameo where we can search for the elusive Chukar. A short hike through scenic Coal Canyon may produce Black-throated Sparrow, Rock and Canyon Wrens, Gray Flycatcher, Lazuli Bunting or Wild Horses! Night Grand Junction.

Day 10:
Our return to the desert canyons near Cameo won’t begin until the eastern skies have begun to brighten. Recent years have shown that a sunrise visit to these beautiful, rocky canyons produce good experiences with the oft-difficult-to-find Chukars. (Last year’s tour found nine, several that allowed themselves to be photographed!) Departing the high rock walled canyon, we’ll travel over the scenic Blue Mesa with a chance to find several montane species of interest—Clark’s Nutcracker, Williamson’s Sapsucker and Pygmy Nuthatch among others. As we travel off of the mesa, we’ll be greeted by fabulous views of the Gunnison Basin and one of Colorado’s most reliable locations for Lewis’s Woodpeckers. We continue to Montrose, Colorado, gateway to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park where we’ll have a late afternoon visit to search for Dusky Grouse. Night Montrose

Day 11:
After breakfast, we’ll travel a short distance to the impressive Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. The canyon scenery, particularly from overlooks suspended above the canyon, is spectacular beyond belief and there are few places where it’s easier to find Dusky Grouse—the Rocky Mountain split from Blue Grouse—Pinyon Jay and Juniper Titmouse from established paths and roadways. Weather allowing, we’ll enjoy a picnic lunch in the park. After lunch, we’ll travel through the heart of the Curecanti National Recreation Area. Home to Blue Mesa Reservoir (Colorado’s largest body of water) and Morrow Point Reservoir (origin of the Black Canyon), the area usually holds a variety of waterbirds and shorebirds.

Dusky Grouse displaying by Kim & Cindy Risen ©

Along the way we’ll stop at Monarch Pass for one last look for montane birds like American Three-toed Woodpecker, Clark ’s Nutcracker, Pine Grosbeak and Red Crossbill. Our journey to Dillon will be broken by birding, a lunch break and to stretch our legs. Night Dillon

Day 12:
After breakfast, we’ll have several options depending upon which birds we may still need to see. We’ll have time to search for White-tailed Ptarmigan at Loveland Basin if previous visits resulted in no sightings, a final search for Dusky Grouse should we need one or for a leisurely walk in search of Spring migrants in one of Denver’s many foothill parks. The Tour concludes at Denver’s airport about 12:00 noon with plenty of time before your departing flights.

Leader: Kim Risen

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