Colorado Grouse Apr 06—15, 2017
Posted by Brian Gibbons
Starting in the Mile-High City, we climbed, descended, and circumnavigated Colorado for nine days, including a couple of side trips: Kansas, and a detour through Nebraska. Long van rides and early starts were all worth it as we covered 2,090 miles with 162 species to show for it. We got the native grouse slam—seven sought-after species—and many memorable experiences. So it begins: driving, birding, driving, eating, birding, some sleep, and another lek.
Our first morning found us ascending to 12,000 feet in search of the White-tailed Ptarmigan. Great weather greeted us, which usually means the ptarmigans are readily found. Well, not this time; after more than an hour of searching, we finally had our scopes on a beautiful snow-white male, proving it’s good to have friends in high places! Next up, in Summit County the feeders in Silverthorne hosted hundreds of rosy-finches after the previous day’s snow. Finally, we had brief looks at a nice male Black after a few scope looks at Hepburn’s Gray-crowned and hundreds of the Southern Rockies species, Brown-capped Rosy-Finch. Sixteen pelicans, a lone Red Crossbill, and a few Pine Grosbeaks were great additions to our observations. Still with a long drive and a few more passes, we made our way to Gunnison to be in position for our first lek experience. The next morning, sitting in the dark and frigid blind with 15 near strangers in silence always makes for a protracted dawn, but then Venus rose over the mountains, and soon the stars faded to allow for distant views of the flop-haired Gunnison Sage-Grouse. Cruising through the Gunnison valley we noted prairie dogs, a Red Fox, and a Golden Eagle before we hunted the American Three-toed Woodpecker in Monarch Pass, where a cooperative male worked over a spruce tree for our enjoyment. Winding down the mountain, we wound up in Salida where a great band of Pinyon Jays delighted us with their calls, foraging, and scampering. The Arkansas River led us all the way to Pueblo where we had a great meal downtown at DC’s on B Street.
Pueblo County sports an enormous bird list, but our sites were narrow; in the shortgrass prairie with a few tufts of cholla we sought the Mountain Plover, eventually finding a cooperative male for great scope views. Curve-billed Thrashers, migrant Sage Thrashers, and a few Scaled Quail rounded out the list of specialties of this arid habitat. Again, pulled east by the Arkansas River lakes and ponds, we birded the morning away, noting four species of grebes, many ducks, Burrowing Owls, our first Yellow-headed Blackbirds, and a couple of distant Snowy Plovers. Rudy, the Greater Roadrunner at the John Martin Reservoir State Park office, was a confiding find. The next morning found us cruising through the Comanche National Grassland, realm of Loggerhead Shrikes, untold numbers of American Kestrels, displaying Long-billed Curlews, and many Horned Larks. Finally, the plains opened, and we wound into Cottonwood Canyon where we found many southwestern species and escaped the building wind. Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Canyon Towhee, Rock and Canyon wrens, Juniper Titmouse, and a few Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jays all made the list in this beautiful stark canyon country. With many miles to go we headed east and wound up in Garden City, Kansas. The next morning, nearly a dozen Burrowing Owls entertained us while we waited on the rising sun to observe the chickens we were already hearing. Soon we were watching our second lek display, the active, cackling, and popping antics of the Lesser Prairie-Chicken. Again, a long drive necessitated our departure, but we diverted for the obligatory sewage pond stops in Brewster and Goodland before making it to Nebraska for yet another Barn Owl sighting. Back in Colorado, we savored a wonderful meal at 4th & Main after our entertaining meeting with Bob Bledsoe.