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The display of the male Greater Sage-Grouse is one of the most uniquely North American sights on this tour, a tour full of... uniquely North American sights! Photo by guide Tom Johnson.
We lucked into some awesome weather this week. An abundance of great bird and wildlife sightings followed suit. Everyone seemed quite pleased with how the tour developed, with magnificent views of the target species of grouse as well as amazing encounters with many other regional specialties, not to mention some pretty special scenery.
After meeting at the Denver airport, we scouted around the nearby grasslands, finding Burrowing Owls quite easily. We then headed south to Pueblo, making a detour to find Mountain Plovers and Scaled Quail. After a Mexican feast in Pueblo, we called it a night.
Morning birding east of Pueblo was quite thrasher-y. We first found Curve-billed Thrashers, and then followed those up with a flock of six calling Sage Thrashers! Heading east along the windy and dusty Arkansas River corridor, we sampled several lakes along the way, eventually stumbling onto a huge flock of white geese that turned out to be mostly Ross's Geese, quite late for this area. An early dinner in Lamar put us in good position for our first grouse lek.
After an overnight windstorm abated, we awoke in the dark and piled into a school bus for the ride across the eastern plains to a Lesser Prairie-Chicken lek. As the dawn grew brighter, we found ourselves staring at several male prairie-chickens displaying away on a patch of prairie at the edge of some agricultural fields. A marvelous first chicken encounter! Heading north along the eastern edge of Colorado, we stopped in barren farm fields, finding Ferruginous Hawk, more Mountain Plovers, and, wait, what's that - a Horned Lark badgering a Prairie Rattlesnake! Not a bad sighting for this early in the spring - the warm weather was encouraging lots of spring-like activity. Continuing to Wray, we were welcomed to the Bledsoe Ranch by Bob Bledsoe himself, then had an excellent dinner at a steakhouse in town.
As a lunar eclipse melted away into daylight, we enjoyed the extraordinary sights and sounds of a Greater Prairie-Chicken lek at the Bledsoe Ranch. Moving west, we lucked out with close views of a male McCown's Longspur at Pawnee National Grassland. Later in the day, we discovered a beautiful male hybrid Blue-winged x Cinnamon Teal at Lower Latham Reservoir near Evans, and got to compare it to Cinnamon, Blue-winged, and Green-winged Teal (just to be sure!).
After a good night of sleep, a morning drive took us up into the front range of the Rocky Mountains, and the air cooled down substantially. Arriving up high at Loveland Pass after breakfast, it didn't take long at all for a White-tailed Ptarmigan to appear on the slope below us. This male discovered another pair of all-white superchickens, and we got to enjoy a bit of sparring and calling at close range. Retreating to lower elevation, we soaked up a flock of all three species (four taxa, including Hepburn's Gray-crowned) of American rosy-finches at feeders in Silverthorne. Then, we continued on through the mountains to Gunnison, where we put down our bags for a few nights (a rare luxury on this mobile tour).
We were out early the next morning to settle in to the state-run Gunnison Sage-Grouse blind at Wuanita Hot Springs; though the grouse were fairly far away from the blind, we had good scope views, and also enjoyed warming up with the rising sun here. Later in the morning, we found Gray Jay, Clark's Nutcracker, and four different American Three-toed Woodpeckers at Monarch Pass. In the afternoon, we took a leisurely expedition up to Crested Butte, finding American Dippers en route and enjoying the scenery of this beautiful part of Colorado (though we opted out of skiing).
The next morning didn't involve a pre-dawn arrival at a chicken lek, but we did head to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison in order to look for Dusky Grouse. Though we had to make a few laps through the park roads, we eventually found three grouse, including a female that perched in a tree top offering wonderful views. The stunning vistas of Black Canyon were also quite memorable. A windy afternoon mostly consisted of relocating to Grand Junction; however, we did stop to see some gorgeous Lewis's Woodpeckers, and also spotted a Golden Eagle hunting prairie-dogs below eye level at close range. Wow!
Our morning start out of Grand Junction took us to a dry canyon near Cameo, where we enjoyed Chukar scrambling around on the rocky slopes. A quiet loop through the spectacular Colorado National Monument turned up Pinyon Jay, Juniper Titmouse, and some great flyby views of White-throated Swifts. We then had the beautiful experience of driving through snow squalls on the way to Craig in the northwestern part of Colorado, through some of the most remote country covered on this tour.
An early wake-up in Craig allowed us to make it to Hayden in the dark to see Sharp-tailed Grouse dancing in the snow as the morning dawned. Though activity was subdued at first, we eventually got to see and hear a good dancing show along the side of a public road. We headed east to Walden and dropped off our bags at our hotel before continuing on for some afternoon birding. This took us to the Moose Visitor Center at the eastern edge of North Park, where we found a few Moose, two Pine Grosbeaks, and another flock of rosy-finches (close views of another Black Rosy-Finch!). An optional evening outing to Rabbit Ears Pass resulted in us hearing a singing Boreal Owl, certainly not a typical find on this tour! We couldn't see the bird because it was on the far side of a snow-covered roadside lake, but hearing its snipe-like song on a cold, still evening was very special indeed.
Our last grouse lek of the tour was perhaps the most spectacular. We met dawn on a dirt road near Coalmont, and found ourselves in the company of many dozens of huge Greater Sage-Grouse, strutting and popping away in a clearing in the roadside sage. The hours we spent in amongst those birds (at times, we were totally surrounded as grouse walked past on the road) were some of the most memorable of the whole tour. Happy with this experience, we floated back to Denver, stopping to see Barrow's Goldeneye at Windy Gap Reservoir and Williamson's Sapsuckers at Genesee Park.
With wonderful views of our target species, great company, and a lack of weather curveballs, this was definitely one of the most fun and successful tours that Chris and I have run this spring. Thanks to all for coming along - we hope to see you again at some point down the road.
KEYS FOR THIS LIST
One of the following keys may be shown in brackets for individual species as appropriate: * = heard only, I = introduced, E = endemic, N = nesting, a = austral migrant, b = boreal migrant
Anatidae (Ducks, Geese, and Waterfowl)
SNOW GOOSE (Chen caerulescens caerulescens)
ROSS'S GOOSE (Chen rossii)
CANADA GOOSE (Branta canadensis)
GADWALL (Anas strepera)
AMERICAN WIGEON (Anas americana)
MALLARD (Anas platyrhynchos)
BLUE-WINGED TEAL (Anas discors)
CINNAMON TEAL (Anas cyanoptera)
NORTHERN SHOVELER (Anas clypeata)
NORTHERN PINTAIL (Anas acuta)
In the company of two male and one female Cinnamon Teal, the duck with the white facial crescent here was one of the most notable sightings of the tour. This is a male Blue-winged x Cinnamon Teal hybrid that we saw at Lower Latham Reservoir. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.
GREEN-WINGED TEAL (AMERICAN) (Anas crecca carolinensis)
CANVASBACK (Aythya valisineria)
REDHEAD (Aythya americana)
RING-NECKED DUCK (Aythya collaris)
LESSER SCAUP (Aythya affinis)
LONG-TAILED DUCK (Clangula hyemalis)
BUFFLEHEAD (Bucephala albeola)
COMMON GOLDENEYE (Bucephala clangula)
BARROW'S GOLDENEYE (Bucephala islandica)
COMMON MERGANSER (Mergus merganser)
RUDDY DUCK (Oxyura jamaicensis)
Odontophoridae (New World Quail)
SCALED QUAIL (Callipepla squamata)
GAMBEL'S QUAIL (Callipepla gambelii)
Phasianidae (Pheasants, Grouse, and Allies)
CHUKAR (Alectoris chukar) [I]
RING-NECKED PHEASANT (Phasianus colchicus) [I]
GREATER SAGE-GROUSE (Centrocercus urophasianus)
This male Greater Sage-Grouse was one of over fifty individuals that displayed within meters of our vehicles. These birds have to be seen to be fully believed. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.
GUNNISON SAGE-GROUSE (Centrocercus minimus)
WHITE-TAILED PTARMIGAN (Lagopus leucura altipetens)
DUSKY GROUSE (Dendragapus obscurus obscurus)
SHARP-TAILED GROUSE (Tympanuchus phasianellus columbianus)
GREATER PRAIRIE-CHICKEN (PINNATUS) (Tympanuchus cupido pinnatus)
LESSER PRAIRIE-CHICKEN (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus)
WILD TURKEY (Meleagris gallopavo)
HORNED GREBE (Podiceps auritus)
EARED GREBE (Podiceps nigricollis)
WESTERN GREBE (Aechmophorus occidentalis)
White-tailed Ptarmigan received votes for "Bird of the Trip" from almost everyone, and for good reason. We found these birds still in fully white winter plumage at Loveland Pass, and they put on quite a show in front of us. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.
CLARK'S GREBE (Aechmophorus clarkii)
Phalacrocoracidae (Cormorants and Shags)
DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax auritus)
AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)
Ardeidae (Herons, Egrets, and Bitterns)
GREAT BLUE HERON (Ardea herodias)
Cathartidae (New World Vultures)
TURKEY VULTURE (Cathartes aura)
Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles, and Kites)
GOLDEN EAGLE (Aquila chrysaetos)
NORTHERN HARRIER (Circus cyaneus)
SHARP-SHINNED HAWK (Accipiter striatus)
COOPER'S HAWK (Accipiter cooperii)
BALD EAGLE (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
SWAINSON'S HAWK (Buteo swainsoni)
RED-TAILED HAWK (Buteo jamaicensis)
Sharp-tailed Grouse danced for us (well, for female Sharp-tailed Grouse, I suppose) on a snowy morning near Hayden. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.
FERRUGINOUS HAWK (Buteo regalis)
ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK (Buteo lagopus)
Rallidae (Rails, Gallinules, and Coots)
AMERICAN COOT (Fulica americana)
SANDHILL CRANE (Grus canadensis)
Recurvirostridae (Stilts and Avocets)
AMERICAN AVOCET (Recurvirostra americana)
Charadriidae (Plovers and Lapwings)
KILLDEER (Charadrius vociferus)
MOUNTAIN PLOVER (Charadrius montanus)
Scolopacidae (Sandpipers and Allies)
GREATER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa melanoleuca)
LESSER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa flavipes)
LEAST SANDPIPER (Calidris minutilla)
LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER (Limnodromus scolopaceus)
Laridae (Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers)
BONAPARTE'S GULL (Chroicocephalus philadelphia)
FRANKLIN'S GULL (Leucophaeus pipixcan)
RING-BILLED GULL (Larus delawarensis)
At Bledsoe Cattle Company, near Wray, we enjoyed the dances of over thirty male Greater Prairie-Chickens. The displays became especially intense whenever a female walked through the arena. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.
CALIFORNIA GULL (Larus californicus)
Columbidae (Pigeons and Doves)
ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia) [I]
EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE (Streptopelia decaocto)
MOURNING DOVE (Zenaida macroura)
GREAT HORNED OWL (Bubo virginianus)
BURROWING OWL (Athene cunicularia)
WHITE-THROATED SWIFT (Aeronautes saxatalis)
LEWIS'S WOODPECKER (Melanerpes lewis)
WILLIAMSON'S SAPSUCKER (Sphyrapicus thyroideus)
DOWNY WOODPECKER (Picoides pubescens)
HAIRY WOODPECKER (ROCKY MTS.) (Picoides villosus orius)
AMERICAN THREE-TOED WOODPECKER (ROCKY MTS.) (Picoides dorsalis dorsalis)
Enjoying the awesome weather, the group searched for dippers and ducks in Crested Butte. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.
NORTHERN FLICKER (Colaptes auratus)
NORTHERN FLICKER (RED-SHAFTED) (Colaptes auratus cafer)
Falconidae (Falcons and Caracaras)
AMERICAN KESTREL (Falco sparverius)
MERLIN (Falco columbarius)
PRAIRIE FALCON (Falco mexicanus)
Tyrannidae (Tyrant Flycatchers)
EASTERN PHOEBE (Sayornis phoebe)
SAY'S PHOEBE (Sayornis saya)
LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE (Lanius ludovicianus)
Vireonidae (Vireos, Shrike-Babblers, and Erpornis)
PLUMBEOUS VIREO (Vireo plumbeus)
Corvidae (Crows, Jays, and Magpies)
GRAY JAY (Perisoreus canadensis)
PINYON JAY (Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus)
This stupendous adult Golden Eagle hunted prairie-dogs right in front of us near Fruit Growers Reservoir in western Colorado. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.
STELLER'S JAY (INTERIOR) (Cyanocitta stelleri macrolopha)
BLUE JAY (Cyanocitta cristata)
WESTERN SCRUB-JAY (WOODHOUSE'S) (Aphelocoma californica woodhouseii)
BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE (Pica hudsonia)
CLARK'S NUTCRACKER (Nucifraga columbiana)
AMERICAN CROW (Corvus brachyrhynchos)
COMMON RAVEN (Corvus corax)
HORNED LARK (Eremophila alpestris)
TREE SWALLOW (Tachycineta bicolor)
BANK SWALLOW (Riparia riparia)
BARN SWALLOW (Hirundo rustica)
Paridae (Tits, Chickadees, and Titmice)
BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEE (Poecile atricapillus)
MOUNTAIN CHICKADEE (Poecile gambeli)
This American Dipper was taking nesting material to its nest, under the bridge (the green blur here) on which the group stood. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.
JUNIPER TITMOUSE (Baeolophus ridgwayi)
WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH (Sitta carolinensis)
PYGMY NUTHATCH (Sitta pygmaea)
ROCK WREN (Salpinctes obsoletus)
CANYON WREN (Catherpes mexicanus)
BEWICK'S WREN (Thryomanes bewickii) [*]
AMERICAN DIPPER (Cinclus mexicanus)
Turdidae (Thrushes and Allies)
WESTERN BLUEBIRD (Sialia mexicana)
MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD (Sialia currucoides)
AMERICAN ROBIN (Turdus migratorius)
Mimidae (Mockingbirds and Thrashers)
CURVE-BILLED THRASHER (EASTERN) (Toxostoma curvirostre oberholseri)
SAGE THRASHER (Oreoscoptes montanus)
EUROPEAN STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris) [I]
Calcariidae (Longspurs and Snow Buntings)
CHESTNUT-COLLARED LONGSPUR (Calcarius ornatus)
MCCOWN'S LONGSPUR (Rhynchophanes mccownii)
Parulidae (New World Warblers)
YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER (AUDUBON'S) (Setophaga coronata auduboni)
Emberizidae (Buntings and New World Sparrows)
SPOTTED TOWHEE (Pipilo maculatus)
CANYON TOWHEE (Melozone fusca)
It's hard to ever get enough of the mysterious rosy-finches, but we pretty much maxed out our views during this tour. Here, a Black Rosy-Finch joins two Brown-capped Rosy-Finches at the Moose Visitor Center. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.
BLACK-THROATED SPARROW (Amphispiza bilineata)
FOX SPARROW (SLATE-COLORED) (Passerella iliaca schistacea)
SONG SPARROW (Melospiza melodia)
WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW (GAMBEL'S) (Zonotrichia leucophrys gambelii)
DARK-EYED JUNCO (PINK-SIDED) (Junco hyemalis mearnsi)
DARK-EYED JUNCO (GRAY-HEADED) (Junco hyemalis caniceps)
Icteridae (Troupials and Allies)
RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD (Agelaius phoeniceus)
WESTERN MEADOWLARK (Sturnella neglecta)
YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus)
COMMON GRACKLE (BRONZED) (Quiscalus quiscula versicolor)
GREAT-TAILED GRACKLE (Quiscalus mexicanus)
Fringillidae (Finches, Euphonias, and Allies)
GRAY-CROWNED ROSY-FINCH (HEPBURN'S) (Leucosticte tephrocotis littoralis)
GRAY-CROWNED ROSY-FINCH (GRAY-CROWNED) (Leucosticte tephrocotis tephrocotis)
This male Pine Grosbeak joined a female at the Moose Visitor Center feeders. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.
BLACK ROSY-FINCH (Leucosticte atrata)
BROWN-CAPPED ROSY-FINCH (Leucosticte australis)
PINE GROSBEAK (Pinicola enucleator montana)
HOUSE FINCH (Haemorhous mexicanus)
CASSIN'S FINCH (Haemorhous cassinii)
AMERICAN GOLDFINCH (Spinus tristis)
Passeridae (Old World Sparrows)
HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus) [I]
PIKA (Ochotona princeps)
NUTTALL'S (MOUNTAIN) COTTONTAIL (Sylvilagus nuttalli)
DESERT COTTONTAIL (Sylvilagus audubonii)
WHITE-TAILED JACKRABBIT (Lepus townsendi)
LEAST CHIPMUNK (Tamias minimus)
YELLOW-BELLIED MARMOT (Marmota flaviventris)
WHITE-TAILED ANTELOPE SQUIRREL (Ammospermophilus leucurus)
A small group of Bighorn Sheep were grazing on the side of I-70 during our morning trip to Loveland Pass. Needless to say, we pulled off for a closer look! Photo by guide Tom Johnson.
WYOMING GROUND SQUIRREL (Spermophilus elegans)
THIRTEEN-LINED GROUND SQUIRREL (Spermophilus tridecemlineatus)
ROCK SQUIRREL (Spermophilus variegatus)
GOLDEN-MANTLED GROUND SQUIRREL (Spermophilus lateralis)
BLACK-TAILED PRAIRIE DOG (Cynomys ludovicianus)
WHITE-TAILED PRAIRIE DOG (Cynomys leucurus)
GUNNISON PRAIRIE DOG (Cynomys gunnisoni)
FOX SQUIRREL (Sciurus niger)
RED SQUIRREL (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus)
ORD'S KANGAROO RAT (Dipodomys ordii)
MUSKRAT (Ondatra zibethica)
RED FOX (Vulpes vulpes)
COYOTE (Canis latrans)
STRIPED SKUNK (Mephitis mephitis)
ELK (Cervus canadensis)
This Prairie Rattlesnake was crossing a plowed dirt field in the eastern plains of Colorado. We wouldn't have seen it without the agitated Horned Lark that alerted us to the snake's location. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.
MULE DEER (Odocoileus hemionus)
MOOSE (Alces alces)
PRONGHORN (Antilocapra americana)
BIGHORN SHEEP (Ovis canadensis)
Totals for the tour: 136 bird taxa and 26 mammal taxa