A Field Guides Birding Tours Report

Colorado Grouse II 2023

April 15-25, 2023 with Tom Johnson guiding

On this grand exploration of prairies, foothills, mountains, and plateaus, we road-tripped across Colorado and parts of three neighboring states: Kansas, Nebraska, and Utah. The major goal was to find and observe the five species of lekking open-land grouse of the region: Greater and Lesser prairie-chickens, Greater and Gunnison sage-grouse, and Sharp-tailed Grouse. We saw them all in fine fashion, typically at close range and in full display. In addition, we searched for and found many other mid-continent specialties like Mountain Plover, White-tailed Ptarmigan, Williamson's Sapsucker, and Sagebrush Sparrow (among many others). A few rarities popped up along the way and added some spice to the bird list—birds like Brown Pelican, Reddish Egret, Mexican Duck, and Broad-winged Hawk! It was an awesome mammal trip, too, with sightings of varied animals like American Badger, Moose, Elk, Ord's Kangaroo Rat, and Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel.

Please enjoy the video recap above and the photos below while checking out the species list from this great adventure.

Our gratitude goes out to Jim Millensifer, Bob Bledsoe, Ken Bekkedahl, and Carol Ortenzio for welcoming our group to some very special spots along our route.

Thanks for joining me and I hope to see you out in the field again soon. Good birding!


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)

Three immature birds were at Cheraw Lake.

CACKLING GOOSE (Branta hutchinsii)

Six were with assorted waterfowl at Riverside Park in Fort Morgan.

CANADA GOOSE (Branta canadensis)

Common and widespread.

WOOD DUCK (Aix sponsa)

We enjoyed awesome roadside views of a male and female near Fountain and plenty flying around the cottonwoods along the Arkansas River at Pueblo.

BLUE-WINGED TEAL (Spatula discors)

Scattered sightings including some good-sized flocks at Goodland, Kansas and Stalker Lake (Colorado).

CINNAMON TEAL (Spatula cyanoptera)

We found a few scattered in flocks of other waterfowl in the western part of Colorado.

NORTHERN SHOVELER (Spatula clypeata)

One of the common dabbling ducks we found on the route.

GADWALL (Mareca strepera)

Another very common puddle duck during this tour.

AMERICAN WIGEON (Mareca americana)

A few dozen seen, mostly in small groups of 2-6 birds.

MALLARD X MEXICAN DUCK (HYBRID) (Anas platyrhynchos x Anas diazi)

One was in the same flock as a Mexican Duck between Meeker and Craig, and another was on Walden Reservoir. These looked mostly like Mexican Ducks but had traces of the Mallard phenotype like a small streak of green in the crown or slightly upcurled feathers in the center of the tail.

MALLARD (Anas platyrhynchos)


MEXICAN DUCK (Anas diazi)

A male and possibly a female were with Mallards (and a Mallard x Mexican hybrid) in a small roadside pond between Meeker and Craig. We turned around to check out these rarities and document them with photos, and we even got to see them in flight after they were flushed by a Golden Eagle!


One was at Stalker Lake near Wray.

GREEN-WINGED TEAL (AMERICAN) (Anas crecca carolinensis)

These small ducks were quite common both on the plains and in the mountains.

CANVASBACK (Aythya valisineria)

30 were at Walden Reservoir, and we saw one other at Pueblo Reservoir.

REDHEAD (Aythya americana)

Small numbers at several locations plus a flock of 55 at Walden Reservoir.

RING-NECKED DUCK (Aythya collaris)

Numerous sightings with our biggest counts coming from Walden Reservoir and Silverthorne.

GREATER SCAUP (Aythya marila)

We checked out two mixed in with other ducks in a roadside lake in the Yampa Valley. This is a scarce migrant in Colorado.

LESSER SCAUP (Aythya affinis)

These divers were quite common; we saw about 100 at Walden Reservoir alone.

BUFFLEHEAD (Bucephala albeola)

Small groups were at many locations throughout the tour.

COMMON GOLDENEYE (Bucephala clangula)

Several sightings of these odd-looking diving ducks.

BARROW'S GOLDENEYE (Bucephala islandica)

Quite local in April on this route. We compared an adult male and two females with nearby Common Goldeneye at Silverthorne.

COMMON MERGANSER (Mergus merganser)

At reservoirs all across our route including 20 at Sweitzer Lake SP.


Three flew by along the Arkansas River near Pueblo and we saw five more at Fruitgrowers Reservoir near Delta.

RUDDY DUCK (Oxyura jamaicensis)

Seen at many lakes and ponds, with Cheraw Lake and Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR hosting our largest counts.

Odontophoridae (New World Quail)

SCALED QUAIL (Callipepla squamata)

The neighborhood near Pueblo Reservoir held a nice flock of these handsome quail of desert grassland habitats.

GAMBEL'S QUAIL (Callipepla gambelii)

After our first sighting of a flock near Delta, we found more at Sweitzer Lake SP and at Carol's house in Grand Junction.

Phasianidae (Pheasants, Grouse, and Allies)

WILD TURKEY (Meleagris gallopavo)

Heard near Pueblo and later seen north of Delta and also in a field near Rifle.

GREATER SAGE-GROUSE (Centrocercus urophasianus)

The grand finale grouse—there's a reason we save this one until the end. We actually saw our first birds displaying at a distance at the ranch west of Craig, but our major experience with this species was at an awesome, active lek in North Park. We saw 13 males and 12 females and watched in astonishment as one male mated with every single female at the lek. That's just how they roll.

GUNNISON SAGE-GROUSE (Centrocercus minimus)

We watched these rare and local grouse strutting and flopping their filoplume ponytails for just a few minutes before they blasted off and flew past us (perhaps flushed by an unseen predator?). After that they melted away into the sage brush over a small rise, but we could still hear them popping away on their alternate display stage.

SHARP-TAILED GROUSE (Tympanuchus phasianellus columbianus)

We had an intimate experience watching an active lek on a private ranch west of Craig. 23 males and 6 females showed up at the lek and gave us a superb show at close range.

GREATER PRAIRIE-CHICKEN (PINNATUS) (Tympanuchus cupido pinnatus)

The show at the Bledsoe Cattle Co. was fantastic, and we got to see the male prairie-chickens adjust their dances and fights as females walked across the lek. 24 birds showed up on the lek during our visit. We even had one male land up on top of one of our vehicle blinds!

LESSER PRAIRIE-CHICKEN (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus)

We visited a beautiful ranch property in western Kansas and watched an excellent show that included 24 Lesser Prairie-Chickens and a couple of hybrids— all from inside a cozy stock trailer.

GREATER X LESSER PRAIRIE-CHICKEN (HYBRID) (Tympanuchus cupido x pallidicinctus)

Two males at the Lesser Prairie-Chicken lek in Kansas were intermediate in multiple characters. For instance, instead of making short pops like a Lesser or a long humming boom like a Greater, these birds did short, emphatic hums. Pretty cool to see!

WHITE-TAILED PTARMIGAN (Lagopus leucura altipetens)

A well-camouflaged (white) male gave us a nice show at the Continental Divide at Loveland Pass. Yeehaw! This was a big target bird for many in our group.

RING-NECKED PHEASANT (Phasianus colchicus) [I]

These beautiful introduced gamebirds were along roadsides in Kansas and also at Bledsoe Cattle Co.

CHUKAR (Alectoris chukar) [I]

We scoped one and heard rally calls from two others on rocky slopes at Cameo.

Podicipedidae (Grebes)

PIED-BILLED GREBE (Podilymbus podiceps)

We saw 1s and 2s at several marsh ponds and lakes along the way, both in the plains and the mountains.

HORNED GREBE (Podiceps auritus)

One was fairly close at the Valco Ponds near Pueblo; at the end of the trip, we saw six together at Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR.

EARED GREBE (Podiceps nigricollis)

Dozens of these small, slender grebes were on larger lakes, mostly in the plains.

WESTERN GREBE (Aechmophorus occidentalis)

Quite common at large lakes in the plains and the mountains; clearly migrating during our tour.

CLARK'S GREBE (Aechmophorus clarkii)

Though the Western Grebes were on the move in numbers, we nearly missed Clark's Grebe! We ended up scoping a single distant bird on Union Reservoir, but the view was far from satisfying.

Columbidae (Pigeons and Doves)

ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia) [I]

Fairly common in towns and cities.

EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE (Streptopelia decaocto)

The most common pigeon/ dove that we saw around people.

MOURNING DOVE (Zenaida macroura)

Scattered across many habitats but less common around people than collared-doves.

Apodidae (Swifts)

WHITE-THROATED SWIFT (Aeronautes saxatalis)

Our closest views of these swifts came in the Colorado River Valley near Mack (close to the Utah border) on a chilly day. These aerial insectivores had probably dropped down in elevation due to the weather.

Trochilidae (Hummingbirds)

BLACK-CHINNED HUMMINGBIRD (Archilochus alexandri)

We enjoyed seeing a male displaying to a female at Colorado National Monument, and even checked out his purple gorget and black chin in the scope.

BROAD-TAILED HUMMINGBIRD (Selasphorus platycercus)

The males gave themselves away by the sound of their zinging outer primaries. We scoped a pink-throated male at Colorado National Monument and then saw a few coming in to the feeder nearby at Carol's yard.

Rallidae (Rails, Gallinules, and Coots)

AMERICAN COOT (Fulica americana)

Quite common on many lakes and reservoirs.

Gruidae (Cranes)

SANDHILL CRANE (Antigone canadensis)

Most of our sightings came of territorial birds in the Yampa River Valley.

Recurvirostridae (Stilts and Avocets)

BLACK-NECKED STILT (Himantopus mexicanus)

Eight were on the edge of Cheraw Lake.

AMERICAN AVOCET (Recurvirostra americana)

Just a couple of individuals at Goodland, KS, Craig, and Rocky Mountain Arsenal.

Charadriidae (Plovers and Lapwings)

SNOWY PLOVER (Charadrius nivosus)

Four were running around on the salty edge of Cheraw Lake.

KILLDEER (Charadrius vociferus)

A familiar plover that we saw at many locations.

MOUNTAIN PLOVER (Charadrius montanus)

This was one of the first target birds we looked for on the tour, and what a great one it was! We found a pair of these "Plains Plovers" in the sparse desert grasslands near Fountain. Later we saw the species again at Pawnee National Grassland.

Scolopacidae (Sandpipers and Allies)

LONG-BILLED CURLEW (Numenius americanus)

Two flew over us while we were driving in the Yampa Valley. We did a u-turn and returned to find them foraging in a wet pasture.

LEAST SANDPIPER (Calidris minutilla)

Just a few at Cheraw Lake and Rocky Mountain Arsenal.

WESTERN SANDPIPER (Calidris mauri)

Four were with other shorebirds at Cheraw Lake.

GREATER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa melanoleuca)

Just 3 migrants seen in Wray and Craig.

LESSER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa flavipes)

Our only two were at Cheraw Lake.

Laridae (Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers)

BONAPARTE'S GULL (Chroicocephalus philadelphia)

A flock of 15 mixed in with Franklin's Gulls at the Valco Ponds near Pueblo.

FRANKLIN'S GULL (Leucophaeus pipixcan)

70+ migrants at both Valco Ponds and Union Reservoir.

RING-BILLED GULL (Larus delawarensis)

Common on many reservoirs we visited.

CALIFORNIA GULL (Larus californicus)

One was at Sweitzer Lake but the real show was in Walden where we saw hundreds near their nesting colony on Walden Reservoir.

Gaviidae (Loons)

COMMON LOON (Gavia immer)

We saw four of these migrants at Pueblo Reservoir and another at Sweitzer Lake.

Phalacrocoracidae (Cormorants and Shags)

DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT (Nannopterum auritum)

Fairly common at larger bodies of water, with the biggest numbers at Pueblo Reservoir and Walden Reservoir.

Pelecanidae (Pelicans)

AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)

These big guys were present in the dozens at Union Reservoir, Fruitgrowers Reservoir, and Walden Reservoir.

BROWN PELICAN (Pelecanus occidentalis)

The adult bird that flew past us at the dam at Pueblo Reservoir was a great surprise (and quite a rarity for Colorado).

Ardeidae (Herons, Egrets, and Bitterns)

GREAT BLUE HERON (Ardea herodias)

Common at many bodies of water, with 10 at Walden Reservoir.

REDDISH EGRET (Egretta rufescens)

Woah! A dark morph adult appeared at the Clifton Nature Park in Grand Junction a few days before our visit, so we stopped in to check it out. Wildly out of place in Colorado!

Threskiornithidae (Ibises and Spoonbills)

WHITE-FACED IBIS (Plegadis chihi)

We pulled over to watch a close roadside bird foraging near Craig.

Cathartidae (New World Vultures)

TURKEY VULTURE (Cathartes aura)

Migrants were seen widely across the route.

Pandionidae (Osprey)

OSPREY (Pandion haliaetus)

Present at many locations with water and fish; particularly common along the Arkansas River west of Pueblo.

Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles, and Kites)

GOLDEN EAGLE (Aquila chrysaetos)

We ended up seeing 10 of these magnificent raptors including several close soaring birds plus the one that scooped up the roadkill Dusky Grouse on our final day of birding. The latter bird carried the unfortunate grouse (a bird we never saw alive on the tour) up to its cliff nest to feed its small chicks.

NORTHERN HARRIER (Circus hudsonius)

Four at widely scattered locations, including two at the Smoky Valley Ranch in Kansas.

COOPER'S HAWK (Accipiter cooperii)

Two seemed to be on territory in Wray, and we saw another very high bird soaring at Union Reservoir.

BALD EAGLE (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

Fairly common along rivers and reservoirs, especially in the western part of the state.

BROAD-WINGED HAWK (Buteo platypterus)

A rare adult migrant circled over us during a stretch break in Meeker.

SWAINSON'S HAWK (Buteo swainsoni)

We saw quite a few of these long distance migrants during our driving loop through the plains.

RED-TAILED HAWK (Buteo jamaicensis)

Common and widespread.

FERRUGINOUS HAWK (Buteo regalis)

On our drive from Cheraw, CO to Scott City, KS, we came across two separate active nests of these massive Buteos. We also saw another one at Smoky Valley Ranch in Kansas.

Strigidae (Owls)

GREAT HORNED OWL (Bubo virginianus)

A pair sang loudly outside our hotel in Scott City, Kansas as we prepared to go see Lesser Prairie-Chickens.

BURROWING OWL (Athene cunicularia)

We stopped for a single owl spotted in a prairie dog town on the plains of eastern Colorado, and then realized there were five more standing around!

BOREAL OWL (Aegolius funereus)

Since we had good weather conditions in the mountains, we made a special evening effort to look for this enigmatic owl. After hearing two birds singing and walking a considerable distance along the road to get closer, we quietly zeroed in and had an incredible experience with this small, chunky, yellow-eyed owl as it perched just above eye level. My best view ever!

Alcedinidae (Kingfishers)

BELTED KINGFISHER (Megaceryle alcyon)

We heard one near Pueblo and then saw three at various spots in western Colorado.

Picidae (Woodpeckers)

WILLIAMSON'S SAPSUCKER (Sphyrapicus thyroideus)

A male showed nicely in a mosaic of Ponderosa Pine and Aspen near the southwestern edge of our route.

RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER (Sphyrapicus nuchalis)

A pair was near the aforementioned Williamson's Sapsucker, and we also saw one briefly in Silverthorne.

LEWIS'S WOODPECKER (Melanerpes lewis)

Excellent sightings of pairs at three widely scattered locations in the western part of the state.

DOWNY WOODPECKER (Dryobates pubescens)

We saw an Eastern bird at Crow Valley Campground in the Pawnee National Grasslands, and an Interior West bird on two occasions in Silverthorne.

HAIRY WOODPECKER (Dryobates villosus)

Like with Downy, we saw an Eastern bird on the plains and Interior West birds in the mountains.

NORTHERN FLICKER (YELLOW-SHAFTED) (Colaptes auratus auratus)

A few were in the eastern plains, but these made up for a minority of our total flicker sightings.

NORTHERN FLICKER (RED-SHAFTED) (Colaptes auratus cafer)

From the western plains west into the mountains, our flickers shifted to all red-shafted.

Falconidae (Falcons and Caracaras)

AMERICAN KESTREL (Falco sparverius)

We saw plenty of these small falcons during our road trip.

MERLIN (Falco columbarius)

One was perched on a utility pole west of Walden.

Tyrannidae (Tyrant Flycatchers)

GRAY FLYCATCHER (Empidonax wrightii)

We tracked down a few "whit"-ing Empidonax flycatchers in the pinyon-juniper slopes at Colorado National Monument and had nice views of this habitual tail-dipper.

BLACK PHOEBE (Sayornis nigricans)

We saw this snazzy flycatcher along the Arkansas River near Pueblo.

SAY'S PHOEBE (Sayornis saya)

These buff-bellied tyrants were common in open habitats around Pueblo and west into the mountains.

ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER (Myiarchus cinerascens)

One perched up briefly at Colorado National Monument.

Laniidae (Shrikes)

LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE (Lanius ludovicianus)

The best views were at Pueblo Reservoir and Sweitzer Lake.

Corvidae (Crows, Jays, and Magpies)

CANADA JAY (ROCKY MTS.) (Perisoreus canadensis capitalis)

We didn't see many birds at Rabbit Ears Pass, but we did have some great views of these curious mountain denizens.

PINYON JAY (Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus)

We had early success with these handsome, intelligent corvids as we drove south into Buena Vista—a flock of 15 flew across in front of us and perched atop some piñon pines. Later, we heard and saw a single sentinel bird from Carol's yard in Grand Junction.

STELLER'S JAY (INTERIOR) (Cyanocitta stelleri macrolopha)

Regular sightings in the western part of Colorado including a large flock of 23 birds moving along a low ridgetop near Leadville.

BLUE JAY (Cyanocitta cristata)

We bumped into these eastern jays at Pueblo and Wray.


These striking birds were very common, especially in the western part of Colorado.

CLARK'S NUTCRACKER (Nucifraga columbiana)

Two appeared and actually came in to the bird feeders in Silverthorne.

AMERICAN CROW (Corvus brachyrhynchos)


COMMON RAVEN (Corvus corax)

Many sightings; we scanned carefully on the eastern plains of Colorado but couldn't find a Chihuahuan this time.

Paridae (Tits, Chickadees, and Titmice)

BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEE (Poecile atricapillus)

The best views were at State Forest State Park.

MOUNTAIN CHICKADEE (Poecile gambeli)

Common in conifer-dominated forest at higher elevations.

JUNIPER TITMOUSE (Baeolophus ridgwayi)

One chattered quietly in low shrubs at Colorado National Monument and ended up sitting up for a mighty fine view at close range.

Alaudidae (Larks)

HORNED LARK (Eremophila alpestris)

Perhaps the most common bird we saw on the plains.

Hirundinidae (Swallows)

NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOW (Stelgidopteryx serripennis)

Small numbers at a few locations; great views over a small farm pond near Mack.

TREE SWALLOW (Tachycineta bicolor)

Migrating in big numbers throughout our tour. The cold morning in Delta forced many to hunker down over Sweitzer Lake where we estimated about 850 mixed with other swallows.

VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOW (Tachycineta thalassina)

We only saw these western migrants a few times in the Grand Junction area.

BANK SWALLOW (Riparia riparia)

We saw migrants on several occasions, including 35 with the cold-related fallout of swallows at Sweitzer Lake.

BARN SWALLOW (Hirundo rustica)

Dozens were mixed with other swallows, with the biggest numbers at Pueblo and Sweitzer Lake.

CLIFF SWALLOW (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota)

We saw ten at Sweitzer Lake and one at Valco Ponds near Pueblo.

Aegithalidae (Long-tailed Tits)

BUSHTIT (INTERIOR) (Psaltriparus minimus plumbeus)

The one at Carol's feeders in Grand Junction offered the best view of the trip.

Regulidae (Kinglets)

RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET (Corthylio calendula)

One sang in the neighborhoods of Buena Vista and we saw a few other migrants in the desert scrub at Colorado National Monument.


One was vocal in montane conifer forest near Idaho Springs on our last day.

Sittidae (Nuthatches)

RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH (Sitta canadensis)

Just a few in the mountains, including a bird at the feeders at State Forest State Park.

WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH (INTERIOR WEST) (Sitta carolinensis nelsoni)

A singing bird in Placerville offered a nice view of this mountain west subspecies.

PYGMY NUTHATCH (Sitta pygmaea)

A few individuals were visiting the seed feeders at Silverthorne.

Troglodytidae (Wrens)

ROCK WREN (Salpinctes obsoletus)

On the plains of eastern Colorado, we found two roadside migrants that perched up cooperatively on fenceposts.

CANYON WREN (Catherpes mexicanus)

Heard singing at Colorado National Monument and Cameo.

MARSH WREN (PLESIUS GROUP) (Cistothorus palustris plesius)

Heard calling and singing at Valco Ponds in Pueblo and also at Sweitzer Lake; just brief views of these skulkers.

BEWICK'S WREN (MEXICANUS GROUP) (Thryomanes bewickii eremophilus)

Good views of singing birds at Valco Ponds near Pueblo.

Cinclidae (Dippers)

AMERICAN DIPPER (Cinclus mexicanus)

One of these semi-aquatic songbirds was at a tiny stream in Buena Vista; later we saw a few from a bridge just north of Silverthorne.

Sturnidae (Starlings)

EUROPEAN STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris) [I]

Common around people.

Mimidae (Mockingbirds and Thrashers)

CURVE-BILLED THRASHER (CURVIROSTRE GROUP) (Toxostoma curvirostre oberholseri)

A pair ran around among the cholla cactus near our Mountain Plovers east of Fountain; another one was in Pueblo.

SAGE THRASHER (Oreoscoptes montanus)

The close, curious birds at Sweitzer Lake gave us our most memorable looks—and one even sang its long, rambling song.

Turdidae (Thrushes and Allies)

WESTERN BLUEBIRD (Sialia mexicana)

Loose flocks in Ponderosa Pines in the southwestern part of our route plus a nesting pair in Grand Junction.

MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD (Sialia currucoides)

These exquisite songbirds were fairly common in open areas in the upper elevations of our route.

TOWNSEND'S SOLITAIRE (Myadestes townsendi)

We found these slim thrushes perched up at several spots including Pueblo, Ute Pass, and Silverthorne.

AMERICAN ROBIN (Turdus migratorius)

Very common across our route, especially in the plains. I think we caught a strong wave of migrants early in the tour in eastern Colorado and Kansas.

Passeridae (Old World Sparrows)

HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus) [I]

Common in towns and cities.

Motacillidae (Wagtails and Pipits)

AMERICAN PIPIT (Anthus rubescens)

One flew over calling at the Gunnison Sage-Grouse lek.

Fringillidae (Finches, Euphonias, and Allies)

EVENING GROSBEAK (Coccothraustes vespertinus brooksi)

These noisy finches were dominating the seed feeders in Norwood. We saw a few others in Silverthorne.

BROWN-CAPPED ROSY-FINCH (Leucosticte australis)

A maximum of three in Silverthorne on this trip. These were the only rosies we found—the large wintering flocks simply disappeared before we got to them this year!

HOUSE FINCH (Haemorhous mexicanus)

Regular sightings in open areas and in towns.

CASSIN'S FINCH (Haemorhous cassinii)

The best looks at these montane finches were clearly at the feeders in Norwood, but you had to look past the Evening Grosbeaks to see them!

RED CROSSBILL (Loxia curvirostra)

The red male that perched up high at Silverthorne on our first visit was a nice treat. Sound recording analysis confirmed that this was a Type 7 "Enigmatic Red Crossbill," a rare call type found sparsely in the West. On our return visit at the end of the tour, we found a pair of crossbills in the same spot that proved to be a more widespread call type, Type 2.

PINE SISKIN (Spinus pinus)

Fairly common in small flocks across the western part of the state.

LESSER GOLDFINCH (Spinus psaltria)

One showed up at Carol's feeders in Grand Junction.


Two were mixed in with other finches at Norwood.

Calcariidae (Longspurs and Snow Buntings)


We found about 8 of these handsome, black-bellied longspurs in shortgrass prairie habitat at Pawnee National Grassland.

THICK-BILLED LONGSPUR (Rhynchophanes mccownii)

We tracked down a loose flock of about 50 individuals in a plowed agricultural field near the edge of the Pawnee National Grassland.

Passerellidae (New World Sparrows)

CHIPPING SPARROW (Spizella passerina)

Two were near the boat launch at Stalker Lake in Wray.

BREWER'S SPARROW (Spizella breweri)

Our first was an out-of-place migrant near Pawnee National Grassland; later we found a few more of these drab sparrows singing their buzzy, rambling songs just barely inside Utah.

BLACK-THROATED SPARROW (Amphispiza bilineata)

Beautiful views of two adults in the lower stretches of Colorado National Monument.

FOX SPARROW (SLATE-COLORED) (Passerella iliaca schistacea)

One was heard singing in Placerville.

DARK-EYED JUNCO (OREGON) (Junco hyemalis oreganus)

Nice views of one individual at the State Forest State Park visitor center feeders.

DARK-EYED JUNCO (PINK-SIDED) (Junco hyemalis mearnsi)

A few individuals in the mountains including at State Forest State Park.

DARK-EYED JUNCO (GRAY-HEADED) (Junco hyemalis caniceps)

This is the common breeding junco throughout the Colorado Rockies.

WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW (GAMBEL'S) (Zonotrichia leucophrys gambelii)

This long distance migrant (the "west taiga" breeder) was the only subspecies we identified on this year's tour.

SAGEBRUSH SPARROW (Artemisiospiza nevadensis)

We found two or perhaps three skulky individuals in the sagebrush flats of extreme eastern Utah (just a few dozen yards across the state line from Colorado).

VESPER SPARROW (Pooecetes gramineus)

These odd sparrows provided a pleasant soundtrack for a few of our lek outings in the western part of the state, and we bumped into flocks of migrants in the plains, too.

SAVANNAH SPARROW (Passerculus sandwichensis)

One was along the BLM track we drove near Mack.

SONG SPARROW (Melospiza melodia)

Just a few individuals along creeks and lakeshores.

LINCOLN'S SPARROW (Melospiza lincolnii)

Bridget saw one while we were searching for Dusky Grouse.

CANYON TOWHEE (Melozone fusca)

Rather conveniently, this big butterscotch sparrow was perched atop a vault toilet at Pueblo Reservoir when we pulled in to the parking lot.

GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE (Pipilo chlorurus)

We had a very close view of a nicely hidden individual on the northern edge of the Yampa River Valley during our Dusky Grouse search.

SPOTTED TOWHEE (Pipilo maculatus)

Regular sightings in the western part of the state.

Icteridae (Troupials and Allies)

YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus)

After a sighting along a busy highway north of Denver, it was nice to watch a quiet paddock full of these handsome blackbirds in Walden.

WESTERN MEADOWLARK (Sturnella neglecta)

One of the theme songs of the tour! Common in grassland habitats throughout our route.

RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD (Agelaius phoeniceus)

Common and widespread.


Just a few widely scattered individuals.

BREWER'S BLACKBIRD (Euphagus cyanocephalus)

Just a few sightings! These were near Norwood and at Rocky Mountain Arsenal.

COMMON GRACKLE (BRONZED) (Quiscalus quiscula versicolor)

Quite common in the plains, especially along the river valleys.

GREAT-TAILED GRACKLE (Quiscalus mexicanus)

These large, lanky blackbirds were fairly common around Scott City, Kansas and the feedlots just west of there.

Parulidae (New World Warblers)

VIRGINIA'S WARBLER (Leiothlypis virginiae)

We only managed brief and relatively poor views of these returning migrants at Colorado National Monument.

YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER (AUDUBON'S) (Setophaga coronata auduboni)

Just a few sightings - at Stalker Lake in the plains and then out west near Meeker.

BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLER (Setophaga nigrescens)

These snazzy warblers were in the open pinyon-juniper woodlands of Colorado National Monument.



Seen in the oak zone at Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP.

DESERT COTTONTAIL (Sylvilagus audubonii)

Apparently the common Sylvilagus we encountered on the eastern plains, but ID/ status is a bit vexed here.


These fluff-tailed hares crossed the road in front of us a few times at night in North Park.

BLACK-TAILED JACKRABBIT (Lepus californicus)

These were the jackrabbits we saw in the eastern plains and again in desert habitats near Grand Junction.

LEAST CHIPMUNK (Tamias minimus)

This small, long-tailed chipmunk made several appearances toward the end of the tour.

YELLOW-BELLIED MARMOT (Marmota flaviventris)

These big chunky rodents were along roadsides in the Yampa River Valley.

WHITE-TAILED ANTELOPE SQUIRREL (Ammospermophilus leucurus)

Our best views were of the feeder-raider at Carol's house in Grand Junction.

WYOMING GROUND SQUIRREL (Urocitellus elegans)

These small, plain ground squirrels were in colonies on the last several days of the route in northern Colorado.

THIRTEEN-LINED GROUND SQUIRREL (Spermophilus tridecemlineatus)

These adorable little squirrels were blending in to the shortgrass prairie habitat at Pawnee National Grassland.

ROCK SQUIRREL (Spermophilus variegatus)

This grizzled ground squirrel was in the vicinity of Delta.


This ground squirrel was the one that looks like a chunky chipmunk. We saw it in the mountains in the southwestern portion of our route.

BLACK-TAILED PRAIRIE DOG (Cynomys ludovicianus)

Common on the eastern plains (tons were along the entrance road to the Denver airport).


This was the prairie-dog we found in the western and northern part of our mountain/ plateau loop toward the end of the tour.

GUNNISON PRAIRIE DOG (Cynomys gunnisoni)

West of our Black-tailed Prairie-Dog sightings and south of our White-tailed Prairie-Dogs, we found this localized species.

FOX SQUIRREL (Sciurus niger)

These big, rust-bellied squirrels were in Pueblo and a few other spots in the plains.

RED SQUIRREL (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus)

The best sightings were around the feeders in Silverthorne.

ORD'S KANGAROO RAT (Dipodomys ordii)

Our early morning drive to the Greater Prairie-Chicken lek near Wray took us through an agricultural field where one of these very cute k-rats bounced across in front of us and froze in the headlights.

RED FOX (Vulpes vulpes)

Two animals seen along the way, including one in a culvert very close to the road in Wray.

COYOTE (Canis latrans)

We found a group of 5 animals near State Forest State Park during our afternoon "moose cruise."

AMERICAN BADGER (Taxidea taxus)

We enjoyed watching one of these stout mammals trying to dig prairie-dogs out of the ground in a sagebrush flat that also hosted lekking Gunnison Sage-Grouse.

WILD HORSE (Equus caballus)

We saw about ten of these managed animals at Coal Canyon near Cameo.

ELK (Cervus canadensis)

We found these robust deer in the mountains on several occasions toward the end of the tour. Many were dead along the roads between Meeker and Craig and along the Yampa River Valley, apparently stemming from a heavy winter kill event.

MULE DEER (Odocoileus hemionus)

This was the common deer we found in the Front Range towns and westward across Colorado. It was remarkable to see so many carcasses scattered around in the Meeker-Craig area from a devastating winter kill.

WHITE-TAILED DEER (Odocoileus virginianus)

We compared these with Mule Deer at Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR on our final afternoon.

MOOSE (Alces alces)

On our afternoon "moose cruise" out of Walden, we spotted 3 or 4 of these massive deer in the creekside willows.

PRONGHORN (Antilocapra americana)

Relatively common in grasslands in many undeveloped parts of Colorado; we saw them on about half the tour days.

AMERICAN BISON (Bison bison)

A loop through Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR on our final day together served to introduce us to this iconic American mammal.

BIGHORN SHEEP (Ovis canadensis)

These sure-footed sheep were at the base of a rock wall along I-70 during our drive west into the mountains.


Other animals of note:

Prairie Rattlesnake - one was basking on the road at Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR; I encouraged it to leave the road so it wouldn't get run over by passing vehicles.

Totals for the tour: 173 bird taxa and 28 mammal taxa