Dramatic landscapes, dynamic weather, and a rich diversity of birds and mammals always makes for an exciting spring adventure in Colorado and our experience was no exception.
Our quest began with reservoir hopping along the Arkansas River Valley, where we picked up a significant number of ducks, grebes, and shorebirds. Our passage through the golden plains of eastern Colorado and into western Kansas was marked by lots of perched raptors. Of particular note was a stretch in Kansas were it seemed there was a Rough-legged Hawk on every other utility pole.
Lesser Prairie-Chickens were our first lekking species; followed the next day by their slightly larger and darker cousins: Greater Prairie-Chickens. The foot-stomping, wing-slapping, moans and hoots were unforgettable.
We added gems like Mountain Plover, Thick-billed Longspur and Ferruginous Hawk to our list before saying goodbye to the plains and climbing into the mountains. Mother Nature encouraged us to not linger at elevation, so we made a beeline for the Western Slope.
In my neck of the woods in southwest Colorado, a whole new suite of birds became available to us: Gunnison Sage-Grouse, Dusky Grouse, American Dipper, Pinyon Jay, Sagebrush Sparrow, and Brown-capped Rosy-Finch.
Our time in northwest and north-central Colorado proved just as fruitful with wonderful studies of Sharp-tailed Grouse, Greater Sage-Grouse, Barrow's Goldeneye and Moose!
The weather turned more agreeable our second time at higher elevations and we were able to score White-tailed Ptarmigan as the cherry on top on our way back to Denver.
Todd and I had a blast guiding all of you around Colorado. I hope the tour burns bright in your memory and we get to spend time in the field together again soon.
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
SNOW GOOSE (Anser caerulescens caerulescens)
This species winters in big numbers in SE Colorado but most are long gone by the time we run this tour. We found an individual lingering with Canada Geese at Fruitgrowers Reservoir.
CANADA GOOSE (Branta canadensis)
An everyday bird.
TRUMPETER SWAN (Cygnus buccinator)
Not a species we expect to see on this itinerary but two birds were at the waste water facility we checked in Kansas on our way back to Colorado.
TUNDRA SWAN (Cygnus columbianus)
Another species rarely encountered on this tour; there was an immature bird at the little park outside of Wray.
BLUE-WINGED TEAL (Spatula discors)
CINNAMON TEAL (Spatula cyanoptera)
Daily once we got over to the Western Slope.
NORTHERN SHOVELER (Spatula clypeata)
GADWALL (Mareca strepera)
AMERICAN WIGEON (Mareca americana)
MALLARD (Anas platyrhynchos)
NORTHERN PINTAIL (Anas acuta)
Unlike the other dabblers on this list, which were seen in good numbers, we only caught up to this species on one occasion (at Fruitgrowers Reservoir).
GREEN-WINGED TEAL (AMERICAN) (Anas crecca carolinensis)
CANVASBACK (Aythya valisineria)
Uncommon to rare in spring on the Western Slope, we were fortunate to catch up to that hen.
REDHEAD (Aythya americana)
At Fruitgrowers Reservoir.
RING-NECKED DUCK (Aythya collaris)
LESSER SCAUP (Aythya affinis)
BUFFLEHEAD (Bucephala albeola)
COMMON GOLDENEYE (Bucephala clangula)
BARROW'S GOLDENEYE (Bucephala islandica)
Such a gorgeous diving duck -- the pair on the river near Craig were a welcomed sighting.
HOODED MERGANSER (Lophodytes cucullatus)
Sweitzer Lake State Park always produces a few species that we don't see anywhere else on the tour, and Hooded Merganser was one of those this year.
COMMON MERGANSER (Mergus merganser)
RUDDY DUCK (Oxyura jamaicensis)
GAMBEL'S QUAIL (Callipepla gambelii)
WILD TURKEY (Meleagris gallopavo)
GREATER SAGE-GROUSE (Centrocercus urophasianus)
The grand finale lek lived up to the hype -- what a performance in a spectacular setting! Discovering our own lek the day before was a real bonus!
GUNNISON SAGE-GROUSE (Centrocercus minimus)
One of the "newest" and rarest birds in North America; we marveled at the extra long filoplumes as the males strutted their stuff.
DUSKY GROUSE (Dendragapus obscurus obscurus)
This soloist held still for a stretch before deciding to move on.
SHARP-TAILED GROUSE (Tympanuchus phasianellus columbianus)
Voted favorite species of the tour and for good reason: stunning lilac air sacs, foot-stomping, tail-shaking, what more could you ask for?
GREATER PRAIRIE-CHICKEN (PINNATUS) (Tympanuchus cupido pinnatus)
All the different moans and cackles the displaying males make really cracks me up.
LESSER PRAIRIE-CHICKEN (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus)
Sadly, a rapidly declining species.
WHITE-TAILED PTARMIGAN (Lagopus leucura altipetens)
Some incredible spotting by Todd! It was remarkable to trace the skier's tracks back and see that he had skied within no more than a couple feet of the ptarmigan and it didn't even flinch.
RING-NECKED PHEASANT (Phasianus colchicus) [I]
Seen while driving across the plains.
PIED-BILLED GREBE (Podilymbus podiceps)
HORNED GREBE (Podiceps auritus)
Much harder to come by than the next species in Colorado in spring; we had nice comparison looks at Cheraw Lake.
EARED GREBE (Podiceps nigricollis)
WESTERN GREBE (Aechmophorus occidentalis)
CLARK'S GREBE (Aechmophorus clarkii)
I was surprised we didn't catch up to this species at any of the reservoirs at the beginning of the tour but it was really windy. Thankfully we pulled out this species for the trip at Sweitzer Lake.
ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia) [I]
BAND-TAILED PIGEON (Patagioenas fasciata)
We were fortunate to catch up to this gorgeous pigeon at a staked out feeder station.
EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE (Streptopelia decaocto)
MOURNING DOVE (Zenaida macroura)
WHITE-THROATED SWIFT (Aeronautes saxatalis)
They make swallows look clumsy and sluggish.
AMERICAN COOT (Fulica americana)
More days than not.
SANDHILL CRANE (Antigone canadensis)
Northwest Colorado has a solid breeding population.
BLACK-NECKED STILT (Himantopus mexicanus)
This elegant shorebird was at Holbrook Reservoir.
AMERICAN AVOCET (Recurvirostra americana)
It was special watching them forage while snow was falling up in North Park.
KILLDEER (Charadrius vociferus)
MOUNTAIN PLOVER (Charadrius montanus)
This species ranked high on our most wanted list so we all celebrated when Gene spotted that beautiful individual south of Pawnee.
LONG-BILLED CURLEW (Numenius americanus)
One of my favorite shorebirds; we saw this species well, roadside near Walden.
SANDERLING (Calidris alba)
This is a tough migrant to catch up to in the spring but we found one working the shore at Fruitgrowers Reservoir.
WILSON'S SNIPE (Gallinago delicata)
Good looks in a little wetland on our river trail walk.
GREATER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa melanoleuca)
At a few sites.
LESSER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa flavipes)
Early and late in the tour.
BONAPARTE'S GULL (Chroicocephalus philadelphia)
Nice to see this small gull in crisp breeding plumage.
FRANKLIN'S GULL (Leucophaeus pipixcan)
The bold, white eye arcs stood out compared to the previous species -- we saw them both a Fruitgrowers Reservoir.
RING-BILLED GULL (Larus delawarensis)
CALIFORNIA GULL (Larus californicus)
COMMON LOON (Gavia immer)
A lone bird dwarfed the ducks and grebes around it.
DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT (Nannopterum auritum)
More days than not.
AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)
GREAT BLUE HERON (Ardea herodias)
TURKEY VULTURE (Cathartes aura)
OSPREY (Pandion haliaetus)
Migrants were arriving in numbers toward the end of the trip.
GOLDEN EAGLE (Aquila chrysaetos)
We enjoyed some excellent looks at this iconic species of the West.
NORTHERN HARRIER (Circus hudsonius)
SHARP-SHINNED HAWK (Accipiter striatus)
COOPER'S HAWK (Accipiter cooperii)
We definitely had more encounters than the previous species. The adult teed up in Kremmling as we were leaving for Denver was a memorable look.
BALD EAGLE (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
Several conspicuous nests along the Colorado River.
SWAINSON'S HAWK (Buteo swainsoni)
Just getting back from their South American wintering grounds.
RED-TAILED HAWK (Buteo jamaicensis)
ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK (Buteo lagopus)
Remember that stretch in western Kansas were there was one perched on about every third or fourth pole for many miles?
FERRUGINOUS HAWK (Buteo regalis)
The bird soaring over the IHOP in Oakley gained so much altitude that it simply disappeared in the blue.
GREAT HORNED OWL (Bubo virginianus)
Really neat to see those ear tufts projecting up out of that broken off snag on our way back out from the Greater Prairie-Chicken lek.
BURROWING OWL (Athene cunicularia)
Half the group saw one on the way out from the Lesser Prairie-Chicken lek.
BELTED KINGFISHER (Megaceryle alcyon)
WILLIAMSON'S SAPSUCKER (Sphyrapicus thyroideus)
One of the perks of having your guide be resident on the route was I knew a nesting territory for this striking species.
RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER (Sphyrapicus nuchalis)
LEWIS'S WOODPECKER (Melanerpes lewis)
Such a neat looking woodpecker.
DOWNY WOODPECKER (Dryobates pubescens)
HAIRY WOODPECKER (ROCKY MTS.) (Dryobates villosus orius)
NORTHERN FLICKER (YELLOW-SHAFTED) (Colaptes auratus auratus)
The default flicker out on the plains on the east side of the state.
NORTHERN FLICKER (RED-SHAFTED) (Colaptes auratus cafer)
The default flicker once you get into the mountains and on the Western Slope.
AMERICAN KESTREL (Falco sparverius)
MERLIN (Falco columbarius)
We didn't catch up to this tenacious little falcon until our last day on the way back to Denver (in Kremmling).
PEREGRINE FALCON (Falco peregrinus)
We scoped a nesting pair on the cliff behind the Moose Cafe.
PRAIRIE FALCON (Falco mexicanus)
It was so cool to see this species nesting in close proximity to the previous species for comparative scope views.
SAY'S PHOEBE (Sayornis saya)
More days than not.
LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE (Lanius ludovicianus)
PINYON JAY (Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus)
It took some patience to have them come into view as they foraged on the ground but this species is so worth the wait.
STELLER'S JAY (INTERIOR) (Cyanocitta stelleri macrolopha)
WOODHOUSE'S SCRUB-JAY (Aphelocoma woodhouseii)
BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE (Pica hudsonia)
CLARK'S NUTCRACKER (Nucifraga columbiana)
After hearing its raucous, grating call, we eventually had looks in flight and perched.
AMERICAN CROW (Corvus brachyrhynchos)
COMMON RAVEN (Corvus corax)
BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEE (Poecile atricapillus)
MOUNTAIN CHICKADEE (Poecile gambeli)
The fierce chickadee.
JUNIPER TITMOUSE (Baeolophus ridgwayi)
A PJ (pinyon pine and juniper) habitat specialist.
HORNED LARK (Eremophila alpestris)
NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOW (Stelgidopteryx serripennis)
This species and Bank Swallow are the hardest to catch up to on this tour but we managed to score a sweep of the six swallows.
TREE SWALLOW (Tachycineta bicolor)
VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOW (Tachycineta thalassina)
BANK SWALLOW (Riparia riparia)
BARN SWALLOW (Hirundo rustica)
CLIFF SWALLOW (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota)
BUSHTIT (INTERIOR) (Psaltriparus minimus plumbeus)
RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET (Corthylio calendula)
RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH (Sitta canadensis)
WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH (INTERIOR WEST) (Sitta carolinensis nelsoni)
PYGMY NUTHATCH (Sitta pygmaea)
Their squeaky calls make me think of a chihuahua with a chew toy.
ROCK WREN (Salpinctes obsoletus)
CANYON WREN (Catherpes mexicanus) [*]
MARSH WREN (PLESIUS GROUP) (Cistothorus palustris plesius)
The cattails lining the shore of Sweitzer Lake are a reliable place to catch up this this songster.
BEWICK'S WREN (MEXICANUS GROUP) (Thryomanes bewickii eremophilus)
A territorial bird belted out its musical song from atop a pinyon pine in Colorado National Monument.
AMERICAN DIPPER (Cinclus mexicanus)
EUROPEAN STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris) [I]
CURVE-BILLED THRASHER (CURVIROSTRE GROUP) (Toxostoma curvirostre oberholseri)
It was impressive how well they could disappear inside a cholla cactus that first morning.
SAGE THRASHER (Oreoscoptes montanus)
EASTERN BLUEBIRD (Sialia sialis)
WESTERN BLUEBIRD (Sialia mexicana)
MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD (Sialia currucoides)
TOWNSEND'S SOLITAIRE (Myadestes townsendi)
AMERICAN ROBIN (Turdus migratorius)
HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus) [I]
AMERICAN PIPIT (Anthus rubescens)
EVENING GROSBEAK (Coccothraustes vespertinus brooksi)
Look for this species to be split one day.
PINE GROSBEAK (ROCKY MTS.) (Pinicola enucleator montana)
GRAY-CROWNED ROSY-FINCH (HEPBURN'S) (Leucosticte tephrocotis littoralis)
GRAY-CROWNED ROSY-FINCH (GRAY-CROWNED) (Leucosticte tephrocotis tephrocotis)
BLACK ROSY-FINCH (Leucosticte atrata)
Tough to catch up to in that flock, as there were only one or two individuals seen briefly.
BROWN-CAPPED ROSY-FINCH (Leucosticte australis)
HOUSE FINCH (Haemorhous mexicanus)
CASSIN'S FINCH (Haemorhous cassinii)
RED CROSSBILL (Loxia curvirostra)
Heard only flying away our last day.
PINE SISKIN (Spinus pinus)
LESSER GOLDFINCH (Spinus psaltria)
Coming to feeders.
AMERICAN GOLDFINCH (Spinus tristis)
LAPLAND LONGSPUR (Calcarius lapponicus)
This species can be found in large flocks in Colorado in winter but the migrants are usually already north of Colorado by the time we run the tour. We were fortunate to catch up to a tardy individual at Pawnee.
THICK-BILLED LONGSPUR (Rhynchophanes mccownii)
Good looks despite the high winds at Pawnee.
CHIPPING SPARROW (Spizella passerina)
BREWER'S SPARROW (Spizella breweri)
BLACK-THROATED SPARROW (Amphispiza bilineata)
Such a handsome sparrow.
DARK-EYED JUNCO (Junco hyemalis)
DARK-EYED JUNCO (SLATE-COLORED) (Junco hyemalis hyemalis)
DARK-EYED JUNCO (OREGON) (Junco hyemalis oreganus)
DARK-EYED JUNCO (PINK-SIDED) (Junco hyemalis mearnsi)
DARK-EYED JUNCO (GRAY-HEADED) (Junco hyemalis caniceps)
WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW (Zonotrichia leucophrys)
SAGEBRUSH SPARROW (Artemisiospiza nevadensis)
Excellent looks at this handsome specialist at Eric's secret spot.
VESPER SPARROW (Pooecetes gramineus)
SAVANNAH SPARROW (Passerculus sandwichensis)
Spotting several along a river at 9,000' was odd but it is not unusual for migrants in the mountains to end up in odd places.
SONG SPARROW (Melospiza melodia)
LINCOLN'S SPARROW (Melospiza lincolnii)
A vanguard migrant.
SPOTTED TOWHEE (Pipilo maculatus)
YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus)
WESTERN MEADOWLARK (Sturnella neglecta)
RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD (Agelaius phoeniceus)
BROWN-HEADED COWBIRD (Molothrus ater)
BREWER'S BLACKBIRD (Euphagus cyanocephalus)
COMMON GRACKLE (BRONZED) (Quiscalus quiscula versicolor)
GREAT-TAILED GRACKLE (Quiscalus mexicanus)
BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLER (Setophaga nigrescens)
Its pleasing, buzzy song was heard repeatedly in the PJ at Colorado National Monument but few of us actually got bins on the bird before it went silent.
NUTTALL'S (MOUNTAIN) COTTONTAIL (Sylvilagus nuttalli)
DESERT COTTONTAIL (Sylvilagus audubonii)
WHITE-TAILED JACKRABBIT (Lepus townsendi)
I'm always so impressed by how big they are.
BLACK-TAILED JACKRABBIT (Lepus californicus)
LEAST CHIPMUNK (Tamias minimus)
YELLOW-BELLIED MARMOT (Marmota flaviventris)
WYOMING GROUND SQUIRREL (Urocitellus 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)
This is the most range-restricted species of prairie dog we encounter on this tour -- roughly a four corners beast.
FOX SQUIRREL (Sciurus niger)
RED SQUIRREL (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus)
ORD'S KANGAROO RAT (Dipodomys ordii)
MUSKRAT (Ondatra zibethica)
RED FOX (Vulpes vulpes)
COYOTE (Canis latrans)
STOAT (SHORT-TAILED WEASEL) (Mustela erminea)
This tiny, hyper-kinetic carnivore was racing around the rock wall at the feeder station we visited.
STRIPED SKUNK (Mephitis mephitis)
ELK (Cervus canadensis)
MULE DEER (Odocoileus hemionus)
WHITE-TAILED DEER (Odocoileus virginianus)
MOOSE (Alces alces)
Nice looks in the willows outside of Walden.
PRONGHORN (Antilocapra americana)
BIGHORN SHEEP (Ovis canadensis)
We saw the "Rocky Mountain" subspecies along I70 in the central part of the state and we saw the introduced "Desert" subspecies in Colorado National Monument.
Totals for the tour: 162 bird taxa and 27 mammal taxa