Colorado, May 30th - June 14th 2008

Published by Mark Hows (mark AT


Welcome to Colorado, copyright Mark Hows

A business trip to Denver was a good opportunity to do some birding I had a few targets owls, grouse and quail / partridge type birds and in particular put some effort into getting some mammals.

Friday 30th May

Driving to the hotel from the airport produced some old friends house sparrow, starling and barn swallow.

Saturday 31st May

After a few touristy stops, belted Kingfisher of note, I headed to Valco ponds near Pueblo for my first birding stop, house finch was the first bird to greet me, the ponds were full of bird life western grebe, coot and a selection of ducks lots of Colorado Checkered Whiptail and an elusive wyoming ground squirrel were scurrying about underfoot. A walk round the whole complex produced the first of many killdeer, night heron and lots of the common species. The last bird seen here was a hairy woodpecker. A stop in Puebleo park itself produced the first Mississippi kite of the trip flying over, lots of dodgy wildfowl in the park itself. The river walk was more productive with yellow warblers everywhere and some noisy northern flickers and the only monarch butterfly of the trip was in one of the riverside meadows. The short drive to Swallow road was unproductive but on arrival some pronghorn antelope were seen followed by curve billed thrashers it took some time to locate scaled quail but find them I did and got some good photo’s before carrying on to the cemetery at the end of swallows road. Here we overlooked the back of the reservoir which was very wild and had several species of duck, white pelican, snowy egret great blue heron etc. There were colonies of white tailed prarie dogs and a couple of chihuahuan ravens along Swallows road along with several photogenic lark sparrows and a cassin's kingbird.

Great Horned Owl
Great Horned Owl, copyright Mark Hows

I travelled around the rest of the reservoir, where it was busy with families and boat traffic, highlights were osprey and american goldfinch.

I headed to Canon city, more specifically Tunnel drive where a red fox was seen in the sewage works harassing the Canada geese. The canon walk was excellent with white throated swifts hawking above. A rock wren and a rock squirrel were calling high up on the rocks above. Broad tailed hummingbirds were displaying loudly and eventually I located a single Rufous crowned sparrow skulking behind some bushes. I found a white rumped swift on the ground and picked it up helping it to fly again but it was clearly injured and I put it safely out of the way of people and hope it made a recovery or passed away swiftly. Time was drawing on and so heading back to the car a canyon towhee was found singing near the car park, and a sharp shinned hawk was hunting nearby.

I arrived at South Creek trail in total darkness a great horned owl was calling, and after a few tracks from the CD a saw whet owl was calling after a short while it was close and I torched it a few times flying from tree to tree, satisfied I continued my journey. I headed south but the time difference was catching up with me so I found a secluded spot on a dirt track for a couple of hours rest. Bright lights woke me up and yes my regular appointment with the local police checking untimely rumours of my death, assured I was alive and well they departed happy. Now well awake I continued my journey.

Forster’s Tern
Forster’s Tern, copyright Mark Hows

Sunday 1st June

As I headed further into the Comanche National Grasslands the mist appeared and a ghostly bird flew down the road, this one did not have me reaching for my Sibley guide as it was a barn owl common back home but my first in the states. I reached Cottonwood canyon as day broke and birded from where I parked the car for a couple of hours, lots of blue grosbeaks, lark sparrows, ashy throated flycatchers, chihuahuan ravens and the common species. Several Coyotes were calling but I could not locate them.

I walked to the campsite a short distance away where there were four birdwatchers camped who were just emerging for the morning (four I am lucky if I see one other birder on one of my trips) we exchanged pleasantries and the like and was offered a cup of tea (what luck) but although it tasted OK it was decaff, not what the doctor ordered! They suggested the tree in front of us was a favourite of Lewis woodpecker low and behold one turned up within minutes and it turned out there was a nest hole they were using and they travelled back and forth loads. I took a walk further along the road and up a trail or two yellow billed cuckoo and the only snake sp of the trip a small black one and several active ladder backed woodpeckers were a bonus. The journey back to the main road was mostly uneventful apart from Grasshopper sparrow and jack rabbits in the prairie. Next stop was Fort Lyons but this was the biggest disappointment a couple of damp areas not particularly accessible and I could find none of my target birds at all despite some time here.

Onward to Holbrook lake where Clark’s grebes was the highlight here but I did not stay long as the local yobs were driving quad bikes around disturbing everything. I stopped at Rocky Ford briefly but could only find 3 of the 4 dove species present collared, mourning, white winged Inca dive eluding me, although a blue jay was notable. The final stop was Lake Meredith the pond on the way held blue winged teal, and black necked stilt the reservoir itself held Clark’s and western grebes and most of the common species, I took great delight watching a young horned lark in the car park demanding food from one of its parents. The drive back had a burrowing owl and common nighthawk and I was back in Denver in time for the opening of the meeting.

Cliff Swallow
Cliff Swallow, copyright Mark Hows

Monday 2nd June

All work.

Tuesday 3rd June

All Work.

Wednesday 4th June

Up in the dark to arrive at the local state park Golden gate to get some birding before work. It was quite quiet with MacGillivray’s warbler one of the highlights there were most of the common birds around the trails and car parks. The beaver lookout was beaver less but the visitor centre had friendly trout that tourists were feeding. An American dipper was briefly on one of the streams and some hummingbird feeders were very active with broad tailed hummingbirds. Another walk finally produced cordellian flycatcher, lazuli bunting and some bighorn sheep by the side of the road, The drive back to Denver produced bison, a red fox and a few cottontails.

Thursday 5th June

A pre breakfast trip to Barr Lake state park in Denver which despite the rain was excellent, mainly due to the feeding stations, which brought in most species and could be viewed from the comfort of the visitors centre. Highlights were northern bobwhite and Downy woodpecker, bullock oriole. The rain eased so I took one of the trails The park was alive with yellow warblers and bullocks orioles. The lake held several species of duck in particular wood duck, white pelicans night heron the best was a family of great horned owls which showed well and were quite photogenic, a couple of white tailed deer kept the mammal tally ticking over. The rain started again so I headed back to the hotel for breakfast and the last day of work.

Evening Grosbeak
Evening Grosbeak, copyright Mark Hows

Friday 6th June

A quick stop at prospect park on the way to Mount Evans, a few ducks were present on the lake hooded merganser the pick. The real entertainment was the American goldfinch who came to my wing mirror and started to drive off his reflection, most amusing. Lots of the common species with night heron of note so I continued. Mount Evans had had some overnight snow and driving conditions were tricky particularly high up with no crash barriers on the sheer drops. What idiot would come up here? Well apart from myself there were two vehicles ¾ the way up just before the lake one was the ranger in a pucka 4x4 the other also in an unsuitable car was - yep you guessed it another birder – we are crazy! The ranger suggested only going as far as the lake if you had a 4x4 and the summit was to be closed, but we made it to the lake. But finding the target birds was a bit harder, no sign of ptarmigan, and a couple of fleeting views of brown rosy finch amongst the American pipits and pika’s. I headed down to Echo lake where a brown creeper was found away from the noisy picnickers as were a couple of skulking Lincoln’s sparrows. On to Gunella pass for another shot at ptarmigan but again no luck here despite an extensive search, the high winds were probably keeping them down. Then I took some of the back roads on the way to my destination Gunnerson. These produced coyote some ponds were packed with chorus frogs and had lesser scaup and ring necked duck and my only coyote of the trip.

Saturday 7th June

At Gunnison I searched lots of the back roads in search of Gunnison sage grouse to no avail, there were lots of western tanagers, brewers sparrows and a few green tailed towhees amongst the common birds. Another target species was easier to find with a couple of Gunnison prairie dog colonies easily located this completed the set of Colorado prairie dogs with two other species found elsewhere in North America left for me to get on later trips. A Wilson’s phalarope was found on a small pond whizzing around feeding on the flies. Next was Neversink trail where a grey catbird was easily found around the carpark. A walk around the river produced lots of pine siskin and a muskrat was swimming in the river itself and a fox sparrow was finally found in the trees. Then the 5 minute drive to Gunnison SWA where lots of Cleopatra butterflies were flying about, chorus frogs making a racket and all the swallow species hawking over.

Onward to Black canyon of the Gunnison National park, where relieved of $15 I was allowed in. I walked all the trails from the tourist stops finding canyon wren and a sagebrush lizard, a flyover golden eagle was a bonus, but the scenery was amazing and I stopped at all the tourist stops. At the western end I parked up and took a wander round mountain cottontails roamed the picnic area and several small birds took some locating but eventually showed, grey vireo, orange crowned warbler and black throated gray warbler the pick. I took a walk off the trail a little and encountered Virginia’s warbler and a hermit thrush. As dusk approached I took the trail in the hope for owls, a family of mountain bluebirds were very active and American robins and black headed grosbeaks were singing from the treetops, the views were stunning with the sun setting. The return trip produced a singing pygmy owl but I could not locate it. A look for dusky grouse also proved unsuccessful.

Black-headed Grosbeak
Black-headed Grosbeak, copyright Mark Hows

Sunday 8th June

I arrived at wildcat canyon, Durango later than expected and an acorn woodpecker was flying away as I arrived never to be seen again, a say’s phoebe made up for it. A frustrating few hours before I gave up and headed north to Silverton for some food. Onto Box Canon, Ouray where I was told the black swifts had not yet returned to my annoyance. Still the feeders were packed with birds evening grosbeaks and black headed grosbeaks dominated but the smaller birds managed to get in on the action mostly pine siskins but Cassin’s finches, chipping sparrows and dark eyed junco’s also attended showing well. Under the feeders least chipmunks and golden mantled ground squirrels cleaned up the spillage. Broad tailed hummingbirds packed the nectar feeders and noisy Stellar’s Jays watched the picnickers. A pygmy nuthatch made mad dashes to the feeder for food in-between the larger birds. An excellent spot shame about the swifts which I was denied on the last trip to the US as the road was still snowed in. Onward to Uravan which was hard to find as it seemed to consist of one building which I drove past. Anyway finding the bridge a pair of black phoebes were quite obvious and showed well. I headed onto Uncompahgre Plateau where I bumped into the Birdwatcher from Mount Evan’s a few days before with a local birder. We had the same target so joined up. The first spot was unproductive but the second had owls calling as soon as we left the car. It took some time to see one just a flight view and then a great horned owl was calling and all else went silent. We tried a few other spots without any luck and returned to the second spot and they were calling again this time closer, another flight view and then perched in full view was a flammulated owl which stayed for 30 seconds (camera was in the car – damm) several wilson’s snipe were displaying and a large bat sp was flying around.

Red-breasted Nuthatch
Red-breasted Nuthatch, copyright Mark Hows

Monday 9th June

Colorado National Monument was the first stop and several of the lookouts produced, with juniper titmouse and black throated sparrow low down but as the altitude increased plumbeous vireo and golden eagle were seen. I could not find collared lizards but did find some elusive hopi chipmunks. The biggest dip was Pinyon Jay which I could not locate anywhere and was not seen elsewhere. The eastern entrance to the park had numerous Gambel’s Quail and it took a little while for the two attractive women cyclist parked nearby to work out I was not looking at them with my binoculars or was I! Some lunch by the sewage works where shoveler was of note before heading to Cameo.

I had two targets the first wild horse but despite a three hour walk in the searing heat none could be located but plenty of black throated sparrows and a merlin. So I concentrated on locating Chukar which was not easy, they called lots but eventually one gave itself up. Onto Grand Mesa to the highpoint of the road where common nighthawks were hoovering up the insects. I staked out a beaver lodge for over an hour at dusk but no luck apart from snowshoe hares no luck either with Boreal owl none were heard anywhere. It was late cold and I had had enough so headed off slamming on the brakes halfway down the hill as an American badger wandered down the road. A species I have longed to see. I followed it into the undergrowth along a stream for a few mins before leaving it be. A stop for the call of nature by a pond with chorus frogs singing. I got the torch out for a look and the pond had hundreds of small Bats sp hunting over it. Then later down the road a grey fox hunting mice was disturbed by my car and ran for cover.

Tuesday 10th June

A day of frustration looking for grouse I spent all morning driving around the country roads looking for Dusky, sage and sharp tailed Grouse. But despite visits to several sites nothing at all, although sage sparrow was found at one site and vesper sparrow at another loggerhead shrike was the only other bird of note. A common nighthawk flying low over a field was a good photo opportunity but as I got out of the car I flushed 9 white faced ibis they flew around a bit and returned to their field further out but obscured. So onto the Yampa river preserve where a selection of ducks and white pelicans were present and then for a walk around the river walk, all the common species present and only a willow flycatcher of note. I headed north to Walden for the night making several stops for wilson’s Phalaropes, wilson’s snipe, ruddy ducks and a dark morph red tailed hawk. I got the last motel room but as it was early I had to get out and about and drove north the 20 miles or so into Wyoming birding all the way. On the return some ducks got my attention and I had to turn round, they were pintails further on I stopped quickly turned off the engine and scrambled for the cameras as a mountain lion my most wanted American mammal was sat by the side of the road, it gave me time to sort the camera and get some pick before moving slowly away. A top sight and managed to salvage what was a poor day.

Western Tanager
Western Tanager, copyright Mark Hows

Wednesday 11th June

I woke early boosted by the mountain lion and was eager to get out, however 4 inches of snow had fallen and it was still snowing. The roads were quite clear so I headed out anyway to Walden reservoir and then onto Delaney Buttes. The lake and the other ponds around had almost all the duck species, mallard, gadwall, pintail, shoveler, blue winged teal, Green winged teal, cinnamon teal, lesser scaup, ring necked duck, canvasback, redhead, American wigeon, ruddy duck and common merganser, eared and western grebes were also present. The buttes had several close wilsons phalaropes a few fosters terns and hoards of yellow headed blackbirds and a short eared owl. The snow was well on the way to melting and driving around the scrubby areas finally yielded sage thrasher along with savannah sparrow. The far end of the lake had franklins gulls which liked the bugles crisps I had stashed in the car. Willet and American avocet also of note. I drove to Colorado state forest visitor centre where the feeders were fully stocked and full of birds, the snow had returned and it was snowing on and off but the birds kept coming, but it was strange watching hummingbirds flying in the snow. It was not too long before the juncos, white crowned sparrows, and Cassin’s finches were joined by a brown rosy finch which eventually turned into 12 or so. I headed to the next village where there was a moose with two calves. At the feeders there were mountain chickadees and red breasted nuthatch. Back to Walden where I eventually noticed the bald eagle nest with two eagles and then onto Arapho for the last chance at sage grouse (I was running out of grouse sites!) Lots of black tailed prairie dogs a prairie falcon and northern harrier but no grouse. All the same water bird species was present on the lakes with the addition of pied billed grebe and bufflehead but little else. Onward over the continental divide back east, where I stopped for a black bear feeding by the roadside, followed by two more moose. It was now nearly dusk as I entered the Rocky mountain national park large herds of elk by the entrance station and a lone moose. The through road was closed due to the snow so I decided to drive round to keep my options open the next day. The long drive produced a couple of racoons but not much else.

Yellow-headed Blackbird
Yellow-headed Blackbird, copyright Mark Hows

Thursday 12th June

The road was still closed but a quick drive round what was open produced loads of elk a turkey and some bighorn sheep but little else. When I found a ranger the news was that the road would not open today so plan B was to head to Pawnee National Grasslands. On arrival burrowing owls were easily found amongst the prairie dogs and lots of them as well. Horned larks were everywhere but eventually I did locate some McCowans longspurs. I tried everywhere for mountain plover to no avail but did connect with several lark buntings and a single chestnut collared longspur. A loggerhead shrike was nesting in a bush and lots of thirteen striped ground squirrels were avoiding the hawks both red tailed and ferruginous but still no mountain plover. I’d had enough so headed to Wray for an evening drive for prairie chicken. ring necked pheasant was the highlight and no chickens, some common nighthawks over the pool of note.

Friday 13th June

The final full day and the last chance at any grouse, white tailed ptarmigan the target at Rocky mountain NP. The road was still closed and it was very windy and cold. But at 8am the road opened and I was the first car to Medicine bow curve and followed the track lots of white crowned sparrows, American pipits and brown rosy finches but no ptarmigan despite a long search. A couple of hours later other birders appeared and had no luck. I drove to other sites but also nothing. Then to Rainbow curve where the golden mantled ground squirrels and least chipmunks were getting free food from the tourists. My attention was the Clark’s nutcrackers getting in on the action. Then onwards to Bear Lake and enjoyed a nice walk although a little busy and some gray jays loitering around the picnic site. Back to the ptarmigan site for another look but still nothing and other birders leaving had drawn blank as well. I went into Estes Park where a set of bird feeders had some common species but not much else. Onward to Cow creek trail I has a pleasant evening walk, not much out of the ordinary, until I was leaving and just by the car a ruby crowned kinglet (one of my big bogey birds) was spotted - excellent and about time. I headed off early for some sleep.

Saturday 14th June

My last day had arrived and two major targets still eluded me white tailed ptarmigan and mountain plover, It would be hard to get both and get to the airport so I decided that mountain plover would be my target and an early morning trip would reduce the heat haze and make viewing easier. I retraced most of the areas from Thursday and caught up with all the same species. I had stopped at 14 jct with 65 when a mountain plover was spotted in the SE field it was elusive but allowed several brief scope views and disappeared when I was ready to digiscope it. This was my 1000th species (or so I thought at the time, I had missed counting Cassin's kingbird so the 1000th was that bogey bird Ruby crowned Kinglet fitting as I had missed it on several previous trips.) It was not relocated again so I headed back to Denver, popping into Roxborough state park for a short while, lots of butterflies but few birds apart from prairie falcon, spotted towhee, gnatcatcher, chickadees, yellow warbler, time was up and it was back to the airport, over 4,500 miles travelled. A sparrow photo I took at Pawnee was later identified as a Cassin's Sparrow.

 Cassin's Sparrow
Cassin's Sparrow, copyright Mark Hows

Disappointed that I did not see any grouse at all, but I did well with Owls, quails/partridges and mammals, so not bad at all and the grouse will warrant another trip sometime. Species 181.

Birding Colorado (Falcon Guide), Hugh Kingery, ISBN 978-0-7627-3960-8

A birdfinders Guide to Metropolitan areas of North America, (ABA/Lane Birdfinding Guide), Paul Lehman, ISBN 9-781878 788153

Many Thanks go to Richard Stevens for his help in planning the trip.
Check out his excellent Colorado Birding Website which I used for information.

If you would like any further information please e-mail me

For all the great photos from this trip visit