A Field Guides Birding Tours Report

Colorado Grouse I 2022

April 9-19, 2022 with Eric Hynes & Todd Day guiding

Field Guides Birding Tours
This regal male Greater Sage-Grouse in full display was one of many at the lek our last morning, putting the exclamation point on our Wild West adventure. Photo by guide Eric Hynes.

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.


—Eric Hynes

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 (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.

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Participant Martha Vandervoort shared this sublime image of the Sneffels Range in the San Juan Mountains, which are the highest concentration of high peaks anywhere on the continent.

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)


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.

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This pair of Barrow's Goldeneye on the Nampa River turned out to be the only sighting we enjoyed of this stunning duck. Photo by participant Paul Beerman.

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)

Odontophoridae (New World Quail)

GAMBEL'S QUAIL (Callipepla gambelii)

Phasianidae (Pheasants, Grouse, and Allies)

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.

Field Guides Birding Tours
Our evening visit to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park was rewarded with an excellent view of the cryptic Dusky Grouse. Photo by participant David Taylor.
Podicipedidae (Grebes)

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.

Columbidae (Pigeons and Doves)

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)

Apodidae (Swifts)

WHITE-THROATED SWIFT (Aeronautes saxatalis)

They make swallows look clumsy and sluggish.

Rallidae (Rails, Gallinules, and Coots)

AMERICAN COOT (Fulica americana)

More days than not.

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Does any bird do blue better than a male Mountain Bluebird? Photo by participant Diane Nastase.
Gruidae (Cranes)

SANDHILL CRANE (Antigone canadensis)

Northwest Colorado has a solid breeding population.

Recurvirostridae (Stilts and Avocets)

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.

Charadriidae (Plovers and Lapwings)

KILLDEER (Charadrius vociferus)

Nearly everyday.

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.

Scolopacidae (Sandpipers and Allies)

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.

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The males are undeniably showy when displaying but seeing a female Lesser Prairie-Chicken in shortgrass prairie exhibits how marvelously the species has evolved to blend into its habitat. Photo by guide Eric Hynes.

LESSER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa flavipes)

Early and late in the tour.

Laridae (Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers)

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)

Gaviidae (Loons)

COMMON LOON (Gavia immer)

A lone bird dwarfed the ducks and grebes around it.

Phalacrocoracidae (Cormorants and Shags)

DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT (Nannopterum auritum)

More days than not.

Pelecanidae (Pelicans)

AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)

Magnificent beasts.

Ardeidae (Herons, Egrets, and Bitterns)

GREAT BLUE HERON (Ardea herodias)

Almost daily.

Field Guides Birding Tours
The Colorado Grouse tour also happens to be a fantastic tour to see mammals. One of the furry highlights of our adventure was this entertaining Short-tailed Weasel that participant Paul Beerman managed to capture holding still for a second.
Cathartidae (New World Vultures)

TURKEY VULTURE (Cathartes aura)

Almost daily.

Pandionidae (Osprey)

OSPREY (Pandion haliaetus)

Migrants were arriving in numbers toward the end of the trip.

Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles, and Kites)

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?

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Gene spotted this well-camoflauged Mountain Plover, which turned out to be our only encounter of the tour. Photo by participant Paul Beerman.

FERRUGINOUS HAWK (Buteo regalis)

The bird soaring over the IHOP in Oakley gained so much altitude that it simply disappeared in the blue.

Strigidae (Owls)

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.

Alcedinidae (Kingfishers)

BELTED KINGFISHER (Megaceryle alcyon)

Picidae (Woodpeckers)

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.

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This juvenile Golden Eagle circled low right over the vans, providing an excellent view. Photo by guide Eric Hynes.
Falconidae (Falcons and Caracaras)

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.

Tyrannidae (Tyrant Flycatchers)

SAY'S PHOEBE (Sayornis saya)

More days than not.

Laniidae (Shrikes)

LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE (Lanius ludovicianus)

Corvidae (Crows, Jays, and Magpies)

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)


CLARK'S NUTCRACKER (Nucifraga columbiana)

After hearing its raucous, grating call, we eventually had looks in flight and perched.

Field Guides Birding Tours
We watched male Greater Prairie-Chickens go to extraordinary lengths to impress the females who meandered through the lek. The females in turn showed remarkable indifference to the antics of the males. Photo by participant Diane Nastase.

AMERICAN CROW (Corvus brachyrhynchos)

COMMON RAVEN (Corvus corax)

Paridae (Tits, Chickadees, and Titmice)

BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEE (Poecile atricapillus)

MOUNTAIN CHICKADEE (Poecile gambeli)

The fierce chickadee.

JUNIPER TITMOUSE (Baeolophus ridgwayi)

A PJ (pinyon pine and juniper) habitat specialist.

Alaudidae (Larks)

HORNED LARK (Eremophila alpestris)

Nearly daily.

Hirundinidae (Swallows)

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)

Aegithalidae (Long-tailed Tits)

BUSHTIT (INTERIOR) (Psaltriparus minimus plumbeus)

Field Guides Birding Tours
Thick-billed Longspurs were one of our secondary targets for this itinerary. Despite the high winds, we savored beautiful scope views of this prairie specialist. Photo by participant Paul Beerman.
Regulidae (Kinglets)

RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET (Corthylio calendula)

Sittidae (Nuthatches)

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.

Troglodytidae (Wrens)

ROCK WREN (Salpinctes obsoletus)

CANYON WREN (Catherpes mexicanus) [*]

Heard only.

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.

Cinclidae (Dippers)

AMERICAN DIPPER (Cinclus mexicanus)

Sturnidae (Starlings)

EUROPEAN STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris) [I]

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The lilac air sac of a displaying male Sharp-tailed Grouse has to be one of the loveliest colors in all of Colorado in April. Photo by participant Paul Beerman.
Mimidae (Mockingbirds and Thrashers)

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)

Turdidae (Thrushes and Allies)

EASTERN BLUEBIRD (Sialia sialis)

WESTERN BLUEBIRD (Sialia mexicana)

MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD (Sialia currucoides)

TOWNSEND'S SOLITAIRE (Myadestes townsendi)

AMERICAN ROBIN (Turdus migratorius)

Passeridae (Old World Sparrows)

HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus) [I]

Motacillidae (Wagtails and Pipits)

AMERICAN PIPIT (Anthus rubescens)

Fringillidae (Finches, Euphonias, and Allies)

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)

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Brown-capped Rosy-Finch is nearly a Colorado endemic species. Photo by participant Diane Nastase.

RED CROSSBILL (Loxia curvirostra)

Heard only flying away our last day.

PINE SISKIN (Spinus pinus)

LESSER GOLDFINCH (Spinus psaltria)

Coming to feeders.


Calcariidae (Longspurs and Snow Buntings)

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.

Passerellidae (New World Sparrows)

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.

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A giant among shorebirds, the elegant Long-billed Curlew gets swallowed up by the vastness of the western landscape. Photo by guide Eric Hynes.

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)

Icteridae (Troupials and Allies)

YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus)

WESTERN MEADOWLARK (Sturnella neglecta)

RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD (Agelaius phoeniceus)


BREWER'S BLACKBIRD (Euphagus cyanocephalus)

COMMON GRACKLE (BRONZED) (Quiscalus quiscula versicolor)

GREAT-TAILED GRACKLE (Quiscalus mexicanus)

Parulidae (New World Warblers)

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.



DESERT COTTONTAIL (Sylvilagus audubonii)


I'm always so impressed by how big they are.

BLACK-TAILED JACKRABBIT (Lepus californicus)

LEAST CHIPMUNK (Tamias minimus)

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Band-tailed Pigeons have an odd distribution in Colorado. We were fortunate to catch up to several pairs hanging around a feeding station. Photo by participant Paul Beerman.

YELLOW-BELLIED MARMOT (Marmota flaviventris)

WYOMING GROUND SQUIRREL (Urocitellus elegans)

THIRTEEN-LINED GROUND SQUIRREL (Spermophilus tridecemlineatus)

ROCK SQUIRREL (Spermophilus variegatus)


BLACK-TAILED PRAIRIE DOG (Cynomys ludovicianus)


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)


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.

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White-tailed Ptarmigan was our last new bird of the tour. Recent intelligence from our colleagues really helped narrow our search. Thankfully, sharp-eyed Todd was able to pick out the white in white. Photo by participant Paul Beerman.

Totals for the tour: 162 bird taxa and 27 mammal taxa