Birding Tour USA: Colorado – Lekking Grouse and Rocky Mountains
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Dates and Costs:
06 – 17 April 2025
Price: $4,860 / £4,039 / €4,726 per person sharing
Single Supplement: $860 / £715 / €836
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Duration : 11 days Group Size : 4 – 8 Tour Start : Denver Tour End : Denver
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Colorado: Lekking Grouse, Rocky Mountains, and Open Plains April 2025
Colorado offers one of the most spectacular North American birding spectacles with the spring lekking season of several grouse species including the stunning Gunnison (Sage) and (Greater) Sage Grouse and the ever declining Greater and Lesser Prairie Chickens . Churring, gurgling, prancing males strut around their chosen lek, competing with other males to see who can get selected by a mate. While this trip is a more focus “chicken run” of sorts, there are plenty of other amazing bird species to be on the lookout for. These include a nice mix of both migrants and long staying species such as Black , Grey-crowned , and Brown-capped Rosy Finches , Barrow’s Goldeneye , American Dipper , Williamson’s Sapsucker , Pinyon Jay , Bald Eagle , and the list goes on and on! Both spring and fall migration in Colorado are amazing and we time this trip perfectly for the spring leks and arrival of spring migrants on their journey to breeding grounds. Along with the amazing bird and wildlife spectacles, are the wide assortment of fantastic habitats providing jaw-dropping scenery throughout the tour. From the stunning Rocky Mountains and rolling grass prairies to the cottonwood canyons and pine forests, the trip is never lacking a stunning view along the way. This great diversity of habitats provides us a refreshing new locale each day and with it a differing bird and wildlife community. The National Audubon Society and Colorado Birding Trail do a fantastic job here to help preserve the pristine habitats and help encourage folks to get out and experience nature with their birding festival in March and other community programs.
This tour begins in the mile-high city of Denver , visiting its various pristine birding locations before heading west and up into the dizzying heights of the Rocky Mountains . Up here, the search is on for the tricky White-tailed Ptarmigan and rosy finches. We continue onwards for our first few leks of the trip and then head southwest to Grand Junction and Gunnison, birding along the way in hopes of seeing treats like Mountain Bluebird and Clark’s Nutcracker . From here we head east and into the lowlands and grasslands of southeast Colorado with a brief dip into Kansas for Lesser Prairie Chicken . We complete our large “chicken loop” of Colorado in the northeast corner at the Pawnee National Grasslands , a premier birding spot, with Thick-billed and Chestnut-collared Longspurs and Mountain Plover amongst the many targets.
This trip can be combined with our Texas Spring and Whooping Cranes Tour , which immediately precedes it, and with our Florida Peninsula and Specialties Tour following it.
Due to the extremely limited availability and access to some of the leks, this itinerary is subject to run in a slightly different order while still visiting all of the locations and destinations.
Itinerary (11 days/10 nights)
Day 1. Arrival in Denver
Arrival at the Denver airport will be followed by introductions and an orientation about our upcoming trip. We will do some local birding as time allows and prepare for what will surely be a fantastic tour full of beautiful birds and scenery.
Overnight: Denver, Colorado
Day 2. Genesee, Loveland Pass, Silverthorne
Today will be jammed packed as we work our way out of Denver towards Steamboat Springs in the northwest. The morning will kick off with some birding at Genesee Mountain Park on the edge of Denver. Some of the targets here include Cassin’s Finch , Pygmy Nuthatch , Steller’s Jay , Clark’s Nutcracker , and Williamson’s Sapsucker . As we cruise through the mountains towards Loveland Pass, we will be sure to watch out for species like Mountain Bluebird , Townsend’s Solitaire , Two-barred (White-winged) and Red Crossbills . We will also keep our eyes peeled on the fast-moving rivers and streams for American Dipper . Eventually, we will make it to the Guanella Pass , our first stop in search of White-tailed Ptarmigan , before retreating from this high elevation back to the small town of Georgetown. If we do not have any luck here, we’ll take Route 6 over the summit of Loveland Pass (weather permitting) to give us another chance for the elusive White-tailed Ptarmigan . We’ll descend down the mountains to the town of Silverthorne where we will drive the roads, searching for feeders and seeds in hopes of spotting great birds including all three species of rosy-finches, Black , Grey-crowned and Brown-capped Rosy-Finch . Along Highway 9, towards Kremmling, there are some good bodies of water for ducks and open areas to scan for Prairie Falcon . We’ll have a brief stop at some of the open water areas along the way, which could yield the stunning Barrow’s Goldeneye and other great waterfowl species. Finally, we will arrive in Steamboat Springs, our home for the next two nights.
Overnight: Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Day 3. Coalmont for Sage Grouse lek, Hayden
This morning we will get up early, grab a quick breakfast and head east to look for (Greater) Sage Grouse on their lek in the Coalmont area. Leaving early is critical to ensure we are set up before sunrise, when the birds come onto the lek. From our vehicles we’ll be able to watch the spectacle of these amazing birds strutting around, inflating air sacs, and fanning tails to attract a female. From here we’ll continue north to Walden, visiting the Delaney Butte Lakes and the Walden Reservoir in search of some wintering water birds. In the afternoon, we’ll retrace our steps west, birding to Hayden for our first chance to spot Sharp-tailed and Dusky Grouse . After dinner, it is back to the hotel for the evening in Steamboat Springs.
Day 4. Hayden, Black Mountain, Grand Junction
We’ll start the day with a check of the Sharp-tailed Grouse lek. We should be able to park off the road and get a good look at these birds lekking away in the morning. From here, we’ll head north of Craig to Black Mountain in the Routt National Forest , checking for American Three-toed Woodpecker and Dusky Grouse lekking in the road. We’ll continue south from Craig onto Route 13, looking for waterfowl along the way, especially Cinnamon Teal . At Meeker, we’ll head west towards Rio Blanco Lake to check for loons and other waterfowl, and then drive south along Route 5 through this wonderful wilderness area, checking for birds along the way. Just north of Rifle, we’ll rejoin Route 13 and make a quick stop at the Fravert Reservoir to look for Pinyon Jay , Juniper Titmouse and Bewick’s Wren . There is a good pond here that hosts a variety of waterfowl and both Red-winged and Yellow-headed Blackbirds . We might see White-throated Swift flying about as well. At Coal Creek Canyon, we’ll pass the Cameo power plant and head into open juniper country, where we get a chance to look for Chukar Partridge , Say’s Phoebe , Rock Wren , and Black-throated Sparrow . We’ll make it to Grand Junction for dinner and our hotel for the evening.
Overnight: Grand Junction, Colorado
Day 5. Grand Junction, Blue Mesa Reservoir, Crested Butte
We start the day with the breath-taking views from Colorado National Monument . Just a few of the target birds here include Gambel’s Quail , Juniper Titmouse , Western and Mountain Bluebirds , and a possibility for American Grey Flycatcher . We’ll check a few of the local reservoirs near Delta for Western and Clark’s Grebes along with a bevy of ducks, and we’ll also scout the cattails for rails and Marsh Wren . Then we proceed to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park’s Rim Drive road. Here, we have another chance to find Dusky Grouse , sometimes seen displaying atop picnic tables! This road offers outstanding views of the canyon. We’ll make our way on the South Rim Drive to the visitor center for some great looks at the canyon. While we may have already seen these species elsewhere, other possibilities here include Golden Eagle , Woodhouse’s Scrub Jay , Violet-green Swallow , Clark’s Nutcracker and Green-tailed Towhee . We’ll also need to keep our eyes open for some amazing mammals such as Mule Deer , Bobcat , Grey Fox and Yellow-bellied Marmot . Our final main destination for the day is the Blue Mesa Reservoir. This area may hold lots of waterfowl, some gulls ( American Herring and possibly California Gulls ), shorebirds, Barrow’s Goldeneye , Sage Thrasher , and Vesper Sparrow . Get to bed early tonight in preparation for our early start to Day 6!
Overnight: Gunnison, Colorado
Day 6. Gunnison
Today we will head for the Endangered (IUCN) Gunnison (Sage) Grouse lek. Things you need to know: we will be departing the hotel around 4:45 a.m. as we must be parked and set an hour before sunrise, as the birds get there quite early. Once at the viewing area, there is no leaving the cars (no bathroom breaks!) until the birds are finished with their displays, perhaps three hours after sunrise. No morning coffee! There is a simple bathroom at the site, and we should be able to use it upon initial arrival and at the end. Also expect cold temperatures. Over the past years, low temps have ranged from 22 to 33 degrees Fahrenheit (-5 to 0 Celsius). We’ll be going back to the hotel after we leave here – you may want to sneak out a blanket or two. Hand and foot warmer packets are always a good idea as well. No flash photography is allowed here either. Other species we may see while enjoying the grouse are Swainson’s Hawk , Horned Lark , Western Meadowlark , Brewer’s Blackbird and maybe a Gunnison’s Prairie Dog . After a late breakfast, we’ll drive to Crested Butte to check for rosy finches. These rosy finches are all based on snow. If it is snowing in the mountains, it will bring the finches down to the feeders. Otherwise, there is only a low chance of seeing them, so, we will keep an eye on the weather forecast. We’ll spend a couple of hours up here checking local feeders and have some lunch before driving back to Gunnison. In Gunnison there are a few areas to check for Great Horned Owl , Black-billed Magpie , Lewis’s Woodpecker , Townsend’s Solitaire and others, before retiring back to our accommodation for the night.
Day 7. Gunnison to Pueblo
If we had no luck with the Gunnison (Sage) Grouse the day before, we can rise early and try again, but if we did have luck we will head east towards Pueblo. On the road to Pueblo, we will stop for birding at Monarch Pass to look for more mountain bird species. There is a parking lot from which you will see some unbelievable scenery. As we descend the east side, we will keep an eye out for Clark’s Nutcracker and Band-tailed Pigeon . Other stops along the route will be where there are open rivers – to look for American Dipper . Bighorn Sheep are a possibility as well. Next, we will make a couple of nice stops on Cañon City Tunnel Drive for a chance at Rufous-crowned Sparrow , Rock Wren , Canyon Wren , and Black Phoebe . Cañon City River Walk has some nice riparian habitat for a large variety of birds like Western Bluebird , Lesser Goldfinch and the red-shafted morph of Northern Flicker . This is a great place to eat if the weather is good. After lunch, we’ll continue east to a dry scrub area and the Pueblo Reservoir. Some of our target birds include Scaled Quail , Burrowing Owl , Loggerhead Shrike , Juniper Titmouse , American Bushtit , Curve-billed Thrasher , and Canyon Towhee . We could also see some species of gulls and water birds at the reservoir before settling into Pueblo for the night.
Overnight: Pueblo, Colorado
Day 8. Pueblo to Oakley
Now we leave behind the Front Range and enter the Eastern Plains, going all the way into Kansas with Oakley, Kansas being our final destination. First, we will drive through stellar grasslands with Prairie Falcon , Swainson’s and Ferruginous Hawks and Long-billed Curlew . A few planned stops near the town of Lamar will hopefully net us a few nice species such as Lark Sparrow , American Avocet , Snow Goose and American White Pelican . Finally, we will cross the state border and start ticking birds for our Kansas state list (if you’re into that sort of thing) before we settle in for the night in Oakley.
Overnight: Oakley, Kansas
Day 9. Lesser Prairie Chicken lek, Wray
This morning we will be up and at it early again, this time to get on site for the incredibly special Lesser Prairie Chicken leks. This species has been decreasing at an alarming rate but luckily a few populations are still maintaining in this area, and, with support from the local folks, hopefully they can begin increasing again. We may encounter other nice species while enjoying the leks including Horned Lark and Burrowing Owl . From here we will head north, back into Colorado. We may arrive in the Wray area with enough daylight to search the Wray State Fishing Unit for a variety of migrants and we may potentially hit the lekking area for a shot at Greater Prairie Chicken to hopefully enjoy their evening performance.
Overnight: Wray, Colorado
Day 10. Greater Prairie Chicken lek and Pawnee National Grasslands
This morning we will visit the Greater Prairie Chicken lek for another chance to see these amazing birds do their display. From here, we will head to the amazing habitat of Pawnee National Grasslands. This area of grassland is mixed with short buffalo grass, which is good for Thick-billed Longspur and Mountain Plover , and the taller grass for Chestnut-collared Longspur . There is also a possibility for Long-billed Curlew , a late Lapland Longspur or a flock of Sandhill Cranes . Ferruginous Hawk , Prairie Falcon , Say’s Phoebe , Burrowing Owl and Golden Eagle are often found here, and while traversing the rolling hills and prairie dog towns we’ll keep an eye out for Pronghorn (Antelope) too. Eventually we will call it quits and head back towards Denver and the airport.
Overnight: Denver, CO
Day 11. Departure
Today marks the end of our journey. We will head to the airport for our departure and the conclusion of an amazing tour. To continue the fun, be sure to check out our Florida Peninsula and Specialties Tour which follows this one or perhaps you will enjoy our Texas Spring and Whooping Cranes Tour immediately preceding Colorado.
Please note that the itinerary cannot be guaranteed as it is only a rough guide and can be changed (usually slightly) due to factors such as availability of accommodation, updated information on the state of accommodation, roads, or birding sites, the discretion of the guides and other factors. In addition, we sometimes have to use a different international guide from the one advertised due to tour scheduling.
Lesser Prairie Chicken
Greater Prairie Chicken
Woodhouse's Scrub Jay
Black Rosy Finch
USA – Colorado: Set Departure Birding Trip Report
03 – 13 april 2022, by jacob roalef.
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This eleven-day set departure birding tour of Colorado commenced in Denver, Colorado on the 3 rd of April 2022 and concluded back in Denver on the 13 th of April 2022. The tour circled the state of Colorado and also had short stints to Kansas and Utah. We visited many fantastic birding locations such as Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), Bledsoe Cattle Ranch, Abel Ranch, Wildernest community, Mt Crested Butte, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Colorado National Monument and Genesee Park.
Sharp-tailed Grouse was the overall favorite species of the trip!
This tour connected with amazing target birds, including several of the game bird species such as Gunnison , Sharp-tailed and Dusky Grouse and Greater and Lesser Prairie-Chickens . Other great avian species seen were White-throated Swift , Western and Clark’s Grebes , Mountain Plover , Golden Eagle , Ferruginous Hawk , Lewis’s Woodpecker , Pinyon Jay , Juniper Titmouse , Canyon Wren , American Dipper , Sage Thrasher , Chestnut-collared and Thick-billed Longspurs and all three rosy finch species, Black , Grey-crowned , and Brown-capped Rosy Finches . We also managed to score a rarity for the lower 48 states in the form of a Yellow-billed Loon .
A total of 143 bird species were seen on this trip with none recorded as heard only. In addition to the birds, some fantastic mammals were spotted including Yellow-bellied Marmot , Gunnison’s Prairie Dog , Elk , Bighorn Sheep , Pronghorn and American Bison . Full bird and mammal checklists can be found at the end of the report.
This striking Steller’s Jay was found in the high elevations of the Rockies.
Day 1, 3 rd april 2022. arrival in denver and transfer to pueblo.
Today marked the beginning of a great adventure. Four of the six participants managed to squeeze in some birding at the nearby Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR while waiting for the others’ flights to arrive. Things were very birdy for a cloudy and chilly day in Denver. We picked up several ducks including American Wigeon , Northern Shoveler , Gadwall , Hooded Merganser and Common Goldeneye . We also really enjoyed a pair of Franklin’s Gulls in their pink-hued breeding plumage.
After we gathered up the rest of the group, we headed south towards Pueblo. Along the drive we scored Bald Eagle , Turkey Vulture and Red-tailed Hawk . It began to drizzle a bit and the clouds were looking dark, but we decided to make one quick birding stop along the way to check some farm fields that were covered in Cholla. After a decent search in some chilly and wet conditions we finally pulled out three Mountain Plovers , a fantastic sighting anytime, especially day one! Along with the plovers, we scored a nice Burrowing Owl and then, while we were driving out, a gorgeous Golden Eagle perched on a telephone pole. We made it to Pueblo for a tasty dinner and discussed the plans for the next few days before heading to the hotel to rest.
Day 2, 4th April 2022. Pueblo to Oakley, Kansas
After some breakfast, we headed off to a small neighborhood west of Pueblo to begin our first full day of birding. The rain held off as we cruised the streets, locating several nice species in the arid grassland habitat, including Say’s Phoebe , Curve-billed Thrasher and Canyon Towhee . A few Black-tailed Prairie Dogs were hanging out in someone’s backyard along with a Common Raven . We headed to Lake Pueblo State Park to do some scanning for waterbirds, and we were not disappointed. Right away we were on a Common Loon , along with Horned Grebe , American Coot and Northern Shoveler . After a bit of scanning, we spotted a true rarity, Yellow-billed Loon ! This bird tested our patience as it was constantly up and down, diving in the water and covering a lot of area. Eventually, we all managed to get some nice scope views of this bird. Other species around the area included Townsend’s Solitaire , Western Grebe , Common Merganser , Western Osprey and a Rock Wren singing in the distance. Just before we packed up to leave, we got onto another loon in the distance, only this time it was a Pacific Loon ! An incredible stop in Colorado with three loon species. We continued to another section of the park, labeled as the gravel pit and this small body of water was loaded with birds. We spent some time scanning through everything and picking out many species such as Snowy Egret , California and Bonaparte’s Gulls , Cinnamon Teal , Hooded Merganser , Wood Duck , American Avocet and Lesser Yellowlegs . While walking to and from the water we noted some nice forest birds as well like Black-capped Chickadee , Bushtit and House Wren .
From here we continued our way towards Kansas, with a couple of quick stops at reservoirs along the way. First up was Holbrook Reservoir where we scanned the water while enjoying a picnic-style lunch. This place was loaded with waterbird species, including Black-necked Stilt , Long-billed Dowitcher , Northern Shoveler and Double-crested Cormorant . After lunch we ventured onwards to Neenoshe Reservoir. The wind was really starting to pick up, a theme for the next few days, unfortunately. Between the large waves on the water, we managed to spot about 40 American White Pelicans as well as close swimming Clark’s Grebe . We kept driving and finally made it into Kansas where we came across our first Rough-legged Buzzard (Hawk) of the trip. We grabbed some dinner and went to our hotel in Oakley.
Day 3, 5 th April 2022. Prairie-Chicken Lek and over to Wray
Getting up and out of the hotel before 5am, in cold and windy conditions, isn’t usually the easiest thing, but today it was no problem because we were all excited for our first lek of the trip! We met up with Jim and followed along to a private ranch where he had converted an old trailer into a bird blind. Once we were settled in, we waited for the sun to rise and the star birds to appear. With the first glimmer of light, we could make out the silhouettes of the Lesser Prairie Chickens on lek here in Kansas. We watched on in awe as they boomed and danced for us. Amazingly, a couple of Greater Prairie-Chickens were also visiting this lek, a little bit removed from the lesser in their own area. It was incredible to see both species close up next to each other for easy comparison! It was an absolutely perfect morning, followed up with coffee and warm breakfast. We then packed our things and heading out of Kansas.
The booming Greater Prairie-Chicken was a real treat to see.
The remainder of the day was mostly spent driving, in the now very windy conditions, towards Wray, Colorado and the Bledsoe Ranch to meet up with the owner, Bob. We stopped along the road at a small pool of water and noted a few new species including Long-billed Curlew and Savanah Sparrow . We eventually met up with Bob and listened to his stories and interesting history of the ranch, before heading out into the field to see the lekking location we were to visit the following morning. Amazingly, Bob pointed out a Great Horned Owl in what seemed like the only tree in the fields. We could barely make out the ear tufts in the tree cavity. After saying goodbye to Bob, we headed for dinner and sleep in preparation for our early morning the following day.
Day 4, 6 th April 2022. More chickens, Pawnee National Grasslands, and back to Denver
This morning was another early start, as we needed to be in position at the lek before sunrise so we wouldn’t spook the birds. After navigating the various gates and dark farm lanes, we arrived at our position. It didn’t take long before our van was completely surrounded by booming Greater Prairie-Chickens ! Everywhere we turned, there was another male showing off and strutting his stuff. A few females would come by and do some window shopping before presumably moving on to another lek on the ranch. We waited until the birds had finished their displaying before heading off. We stopped in a nearby field and managed to flush out three Northern Bobwhites , but relocating them after they landed in the tall grass was impossible. The wind was really howling now with gusts up to 60mph (95km/h). Any smart bird would be seeking cover and protection at this point. We had some coffee and tasty breakfast before packing our things and hitting the road.
The extreme wind certainly made our long drive more difficult, and birding was a real challenge. We made it to the Pawnee National Grasslands after lunch and cruised the roads. The only problem was that most birds were hunkered down, so finding anything was like pulling teeth. However, with our determination (and a little bit of luck) we managed to get great views of a few Thick-billed Longspurs foraging on the ground. Then with more determination (and a little less luck) we spotted a Chestnut-collared Longspur , but it only gave brief views to a few of us in the van. Our efforts to get out and bird were futile, as the second anyone stepped out, a hat would go flying and land about 100 yards away across the field. On our way out of the grasslands, we did get views of a Sage Thrasher on some barbed wire fencing. Despite the poor conditions, we still managed several nice species before heading back to Denver for the night.
Day 5, 7 th April 2022. Denver to Gunnison, through the mountains
The first loop of the tour was complete and today marked the beginning of the second loop, covering the western portion of Colorado. We started through the Rocky Mountains, where we climbed in altitude and made a stop in Loveland Pass. Unfortunately, the conditions up there were absolutely brutal, with freezing temperatures and blistering winds making birding nearly impossible. We didn’t stay long and instead headed to the town of Silverthorne, which was slightly more protected. Here we stopped at a small local pond that wasn’t frozen and noted a few ducks including American Wigeon , Common and Barrow’s Goldeneye and Ring-necked Duck . We continued through the neighborhoods searching out feeders and any activity we could find. Eventually we discovered a small feeder setup which was busy with birds coming in and out. We had our first taste of finches with Grey-crowned and Brown-capped Rosy Finches , Red Crossbill and Pine Siskin all making visits. In addition to the finches, we noted other species in the neighborhood including Mountain Bluebird , Mountain Chickadee , Pygmy Nuthatch and Dark-eyed Junco .
This Mountain Bluebird was perched up nicely on a toy truck.
We continued our long journey of the day, down the mountains towards Gunnison. After lunch we made stops in the towns of Buena Vista and Salida. It took some time and wandering through a neighborhood, but eventually we found our target, Lewis’s Woodpecker . This green gem was a real treat to see and had just arriving on breeding territory. Additionally, during our visit we picked up Clark’s Nutcracker , Hairy Woodpecker , Woodhouse’s Scrub Jay and White-breasted Nuthatch . From here we wound our way out of the mountains and eventually arrived in Gunnison for dinner, enjoying the amazing scenery along the way.
Day 6, 8 th April 2022. Early lek and Mt Crested Butte
Today was probably our earliest start yet as we headed off for another lek, well before sunrise. Unfortunately, due to the current Endangered status [IUCN], viewing Gunnison Grouse leks needs to be done from a safe distance so as not to disturb the birds. We waited until ample light was available and managed some fine scope views of this amazing species, head bobbing and booming in the distance. This was certainly worth the early morning rise. From here we headed off for a much-deserved breakfast and coffee before heading up to Mt Crested Butte, a small ski town in southern Colorado. On our way up, we made a quick stop at a small bridge crossing over some fast-moving water and enjoyed views of a pair of American Dippers , a real star bird. We even heard them singing every once in a while! Up on top of the mountain, we cruised the neighborhoods searching for feeders and wandering flocks. Here we managed to get on a big flock of rosy finches which were mainly made up of Brown-capped Rosy Finches with a couple of Grey-crowned Rosy Finches . After speaking with a local and observing the finches for a while, we headed off to the area we thought might have another feeder. As soon as we pulled over, there was a Black Rosy Finch on the ground right next to the car! This bird was incredibly tame, allowing all of us to get amazing views and pictures. At one point it was picking grit under the vehicle! In addition to the rosy finches, we managed to see some other nice species such as Northern Flicker , Steller’s Jay , Mountain Bluebird and Cassin’s Finch .
This Black Rosy-Finch put on quite a show for us.
We enjoyed a tasty lunch in this lovely town before making our way back down the mountain towards Gunnison. The afternoon was spent at Roaring Judy Fish Hatchery, where we enjoyed a lovely hike around the ponds and picked up several great species including Wilson’s Snipe , Cinnamon Teal , Osprey , Bald Eagle and Song Sparrow . We continued onwards and spent some time at the McCabe wetlands which produced Tree Swallow , Green-winged Teal , Spotted Towhee and another American Dipper . It was then time for dinner and some much-needed rest.
Day 7, 9 th April 2022. Black Canyon of the Gunnison and over to Grand Junction
This morning was a normal start time for once, so we loaded up our van, grabbed some breakfast and hit the road. Our first stop was the campground at Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP, where we spent some time walking the empty roads and camping spots, which were still covered in snow. A beautiful Slate-colored Fox Sparrow showed long enough for the whole group to eventually see. The area was rather quiet with only a few other species showing off, such as Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay , Cassin’s Finch and Spotted Towhee . We did however enjoy some beautiful scenery and nice weather while we were there. We continued our drive towards Grand Junction with a few stops at some local bodies of water in Delta. Things were a bit flatter in this area and as such, the wind started picking up again. Fortunately, we did manage to get nice views of Western Grebe before moving on through Grand Mesa.
A quick restroom break yielded some very curious Steller’s and Canada Jays . We enjoyed watching these clever birds eat some snacks that had fallen out of another vehicle (maybe it was deliberate to feed the birds…) We continued up through this mountainous region and spent some time at the Powderhorn Ski Resort, a ghost town for now because the skiing season was over. We managed to get into a nice mixed flock with Red-naped Sapsucker , Wild Turkey and Red-winged Blackbird as the highlights. While finishing our drive, we picked up Black Phoebe and White-throated Swift before making it to Grand Junction for the evening.
A Pinyon Jay perched up nicely for the group to enjoy before flying off.
Day 8, 10 th April 2022. Colorado National Monument to Steamboat Springs
We set off early this morning with a lot of distance to cover and birding to do. First up was a small neighborhood outside of Colorado National Monument, where we picked up on a lovely Western Bluebird in the morning light, as well as a small covey of Gambel’s Quail . We continued on to some of the scenic overlooks and scanned the nearby Juniper trees and distant cliffs. Way off in the distance was a Peregrine Falcon perched on the rocky outcrop, as well as a Golden Eagle waiting for the sunlight to heat up the air, so they could begin hunting. As we scanned, a very curious and adorable Canyon Wren belted off a song almost under our feet and gave us some lovely views. On our way out, we heard the calls of a small flock of Pinyon Jays , and it wasn’t long before we spotted them and enjoyed their gorgeous color along with a noisy Bewick’s Wren in the nearby scrub. Along our next stop, we scoured the trees until we found a nice group of birds which included Juniper Titmouse , Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Bushtit .
From here we grabbed some coffee and headed west to the Utah/Colorado boarder to some great sagebrush habitat. It was here that we scored a nice Sagebrush Sparrow (technically in Utah) although it didn’t perch up close or for very long. Our last stop of the day was the Cameo and Coal Canyon which also doubles as a shooting range. Bad luck for us, some sort of competition was going on making birding very difficult. We still managed to find a few nice birds such as Black-throated and White-crowned Sparrows and Rock Wren . We finished the long drive to Steamboat Springs and checked into the hotel where we would spend the next two nights.
Bighorn Sheep were one of several mammal species enjoyed by our group.
Day 9, 11 th April 2022. Early lek near Steamboat Springs
Another early morning, another lek. This time we set off towards Hayden and in the dark of the night, a Dusky Grouse almost ended up being roadkill! Unfortunately, only a couple of us managed a visual before it took off. We made it to the lekking area for the Sharp-tailed Grouse but there were no birds to be seen. We waited until after the sun rose before deciding that these birds must have been spooked off the site early, so we ventured out in search of them. It wasn’t much further up the road where we spotted a few birds in a field, which were then flushed and one landed in the top of a tree! We all managed scope views before getting a bit closer. Eventually, we got onto two displaying males right along the road with a few females watching nearby. We observed these birds from the safety and blind of our van from a super close distance and even watched as they passed right in front of the vehicle! These Sharp-tailed Grouse were certainly a highlight experience of the trip. We began the journey back to Steamboat Springs and along the way, out of the corner of my eye, I caught the silhouette of a very funny shaped bird with a long neck perched on a wire. At first, I thought it was a goose, so I pulled off safely to check this out, as a wire is a weird place for a goose to perch. Turns out it was not a goose but rather a Dusky Grouse !! Still a strange bird for a high wire, but we all managed a view of this one before it dropped down and out of sight. What a bizarre sighting that was.
Back in Steamboat Springs, we cruised around the neighborhoods, enjoying the view and architecture of some of the mansions there. We did see some birds as well and eventually found a mixed flock with Dark-eyed Junco , Evening Grosbeak , Pine Siskin and Red-breasted Nuthatch , as well as a Yellow-bellied Marmot off the road. We continued to some open farm fields in the Coalmont area, taking in some scenery and scanning for anything. Most of the birds were Horned Larks, but we did spot a few Golden Eagles and Mountain Bluebirds. On our way out we came across a stunning Ferruginous Hawk perched up on a snowbank. We watched it for a while until it flew off a bit and displayed even more of its beauty. This was a great way to end the day.
We were all ecstatic to catch up with this Ferruginous Hawk on one of the final days.
Day 10, 12 th April 2022. Back to Denver through Silverthorne
Today we had high hopes of another lek but unfortunately the weather had other ideas. The forecast was calling for snow overnight and we started off in the morning well before sunrise. We were greeted with snow covered roads and poor visibility, not a great combination if planning to drive over the mountains. However, we were not deterred and set off slowly towards the lek, eventually getting behind a plow truck. It was going decently well until suddenly the plow swerved and got stuck in the snowbank on the side of the road. We were stuck behind the plow because they were blocking traffic and a large semi-truck was stuck in the opposite lane. There was nothing we could do and quite frankly, it was probably a good thing since the road conditions were not good. We waited for over two hours while the amazing Colorado emergency tows got everyone unstuck and on their way. Needless to say, no lek today and our main goal just to get back to Denver safely.
We took things slowly and conditions did improve enough to allow us time to stop for lunch back in Silverthorne. We checked out some more feeders in the area and got one last experience with all three rosy finch species, Black , Brown-capped and Grey Crowned Rosy Finches . It was an amazing sight to see approximately 200 rosy finches swirling through the air and coming into the feeders. Other birds included Mountain Bluebird , Cassin’s Finch and Evening Grosbeak . On the eastern side of the mountains, the weather was beautiful and clear. We made a stop at Genesee Park and enjoyed the weather as well as Downy Woodpecker , Say’s Phoebe and White-breasted Nuthatch . Although this day had not gone according to plan, it could have been much worse, and we were thankful for what we had achieved.
Day 11, 13 th April 2022. Departure day with some final birding
After an early morning airport drop-off for some folks, a few others decided to venture out for another loop around the Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR. It was a gorgeous morning to be out and although we didn’t see any new species for the trip, we did enjoy viewing some beautiful wildlife like Western Meadowlark , Red-tailed Hawk , American Bison and White-tailed Deer . We headed back to the hotel to gather our things and a few participants who had opted out of the morning birding, and then headed to the airport. I asked everyone what their top five birds of the trip were, a tough question with so many great species. After some discussion, the top five for the group, in no particular order, were Sharp-tailed Grouse , Black Rosy Finch , Greater Prairie-Chicken , Lesser Prairie-Chicken and Canyon Wren . This concluded a fantastic tour.
Quietly observing a Lesser Prairie-Chicken dancing was certainly a top highlight.
Bird List – Following IOC (12.1)
The following notation after species names is used to show conservation status following BirdLife International: CE = Critically Endangered, EN = Endangered, VU = Vulnerable, NT = Near Threatened.
Please see the downloadable PDF above with the full species lists included. This is a sample trip report. Please email us ( [email protected] ) for more trip reports from this destination.
USA: Colorado – Lekking Grouse and Rocky Mountains
PASSPORT AND VISA
For US citizens, no visas or passports are required. You will need to bring along a government-issued ID as they are sometimes required for hotels.
Non-United States citizens will require a valid passport to enter the country, and some may require a tourist visa. Please consult with your local US Embassy for more details and information. You may need to show your ID/passport at various hotels or for the boat departures on this tour.
We strongly encourage you to purchase trip cancellation or interruption insurance in case you have to cancel due to illness or for any other reason, as tour payments are non-refundable as per our terms and conditions . We advise you to get a plan which covers all your medical care and evacuation back to your country of residence, repatriation, and trip cancellation due to illness just prior, or any other reason.
Colorado does not pose any major health risks, aside from high altitudes on a few days. On one day of the tour we will be at approximately 12,000 ft (3,650 m), which we will be reaching by vehicle. Typically, this involves scanning from fixed positions with minimal walking in the snow. Ample water and layers will help combat this elevation and we will be sure to increase our altitude at a slow pace. Water will be available throughout the tour and please feel free to bring your own reusable bottle to refill throughout the tour as the tap water here is safe.
Please make sure that you are covered by medical insurance in case of an emergency while on this trip. Without insurance the cost of medical care can be extremely high. Please notify us, at the time of registering for this tour, of any medical conditions you think we should know about (including allergies, heart conditions, epilepsy, etc.). This will greatly help us to cater to your needs and update emergency services if required.
The weather in Colorado in April can vary drastically from 70 °F (21 °C) down to 20 °F (-7 °C). Conditions can vary from heavy snow to beautiful sunny weather and sometimes these changes can occur in only a few hours, especially as we change in elevation. Layers and warm clothing options are a must to help with the wide range of conditions. Early mornings at lekking sites can be especially cold as we wait patiently without much movement and before the sun rises. Waterproof and rain gear are essential to ensure comfort while on the tour as it can rain or snow at any time.
We will be staying at comfortable hotels throughout the tour.
Our hotels should have decent access to Wi-Fi throughout the trip and phone service is typically fine near these areas and in the larger more populated cities. There are times throughout the trip where we will be out in the wilderness and higher altitudes so do expect to lose coverage at some points.
PHYSICAL REQUIREMENTS AND PACE OF TOUR
There are several very early starts on this tour (4:30 am) in order to get to lekking areas before sunrise. We will have something light to eat and head out to the lek where we will be viewing either from the van or a blind. Once we begin, we will not be able to leave or get out of these areas and we must remain as still and quiet as possible.
After the lek is complete, we will have a fuller breakfast and gather our luggage/gear and proceed with the day. There is also a lot of driving involved with this tour as we are covering a huge amount of ground, but of course there will be birding stops along the way, to help break up the drives. Hiking/walking requirements are relatively easy and done either along the road or well-maintained trails and typically less than a mile (1.6 kilometers) at a time. Keep in mind that while the distance and pace of walking is mild, we will be at higher altitudes at times.
WHAT TO BRING
Please kindly read the general list of what to bring on a birding tour, here .
Layers and waterproof gear are always a good idea when preparing for a wide variety of possible weather conditions, and we consider them essential on this tour. We also do recommend bringing Dramamine or other motion sickness medications if you need them, as there are long drives in the vehicle. Also, please bring along a face mask (or a few) to ensure we are able to follow local guidelines during the Covid-19 pandemic, as they will be required in certain areas.
Do not forget – Binoculars, prescription drugs (also bring the generic names for these drugs), toiletries, prescription glasses (and a spare pair), sunglasses, camera, batteries (for electronic equipment and chargers for re-chargeable batteries if required), alarm clock, money pouch, field guide(s), daypack.
Key documents and cash – Passports, your travel or health insurance cards, photocopies of which can be carried by the tour leader in case of emergency, Covid-19 vaccine card (or photo/copy), credit cards. US dollars for drinks, gifts, tips, items of a personal nature, etc., which are not included in the tour cost.
There should be enough space for each participant to bring one medium-sized suitcase as well as a personal bag to keep at their seat with them. Please do be mindful with large cameras or tripods if you choose to bring these along.
Download Colorado: Lekking Grouse and Rocky Mountains Information
‘If you want to see great views of Chickens and Grouse at their leks, then this is the tour for you. Early mornings are no problem when you experience up-close views of these magnificent birds.
Don’t forget the other birds found in Colorado, this tour goes out of its way to find them all – and it doesn’t disappoint.’
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Birding from Prairies to Peaks
Pawnee National Grassland
Rocky Mountain National Park
Boulder County Foothills
What makes our trips special?
- Two of the top birding destinations in North America: Rocky Mountain National Park and the Pawnee National Grasslands.
- Fantastic scenery and birding in five different life zones.
- We will take time to enjoy the birds we see while also allowing reasonable time for photographs.
- Expert friendly guides
- Small group with two leaders and a maximum of ten participants (1 to 5 ratio).
- All nights at ONE comfortable hotel.
- Comfortable travel in two 7-passenger mini-vans; everyone gets a window and no climbing in and out of those big tour vans.
- Group dinners included each night at the best local (non-chain) casual restaurants.
- Typically pleasant weather with warm sunny days, cool nights, low humidity, and relatively few bugs.
- Easy Access – our tour headquarters is just 45 minutes from Denver International Airport if you are flying.
Click anywhere below to browse through high-resolution images from our previous tours
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There is no better place in North America for dancing chickens than the state of Colorado, and no better time to find them than in April. We will seek out the prairie-chickens (Lesser and Greater) of the eastern plains, and the sage-grouse (Gunnison and Greater) and Sharp-tailed Grouse of intermountain parks, with an emphasis on watching the remarkable breeding displays of these five species at their leks (traditional dancing grounds). We'll also search for Dusky Grouse and White-tailed Ptarmigan; these species are challenging to find and do not gather in leks like the five aforementioned species, but we have generally good luck finding them at this season. Sprinkled in will be opportunities to see other game birds such as Wild Turkey, Scaled and Gambel's quail, and Northern Bobwhite.
Beyond the prime attraction of the lekking grouse, our adventure through Colorado provides a marvelous opportunity to study birds of the plains and mountains, from Mountain Plovers and Thick-billed and Chestnut-collared longspurs to Pinyon Jays, Lewis's Woodpeckers, and all three species of rosy-finches.
Field Guides is an equal opportunity service provider and an authorized permittee of the Pawnee National Grassland.
Select the KEY INFO tab or click here for our itinerary plus space requests, status, fees, limits, and guides for any departure.
Client comment "I always travel with Field Guides because of the excellent guides and office support. I chose this tour to see the lekking grouse. I hesitated to sign up for a tour in the US (I prefer to "guide myself" in my home country!) but I am so glad I did. I could never had found the incredible grouse on my own, or come even close to the variety of birds our guides found for us. Your office service was excellent, as always. Field Guides is always the gold standard in my book. Another perfect experience." P.P., COLORADO GROUSE 2019
Other Tours in USA
Itineraries • tour status • details • space requests.
- 2025 (PDF expected Jul 2024)
DEPARTURES • We have 3 departures currently scheduled through 2026, with details including limits, guides, fees, and space available listed below.
Apr 12-23, 2024 Guided by: Micah Riegner & Megan Edwards Crewe Tour Manager: Caroline Lewis Tour Limit: 14 Status: Provisionally full; waitlist available - This tour is full, and all those booked have made deposits. Click below to be waitlisted for this tour with no obligation; if you are waitlisted, we will also notify you in case of an added departure of this tour. Tour Fee: $4850 Deposit: $475 REQUEST WAITLIST OR MORE INFO
Apr 11-22, 2025 Guided by: Micah Riegner & Alex Sundvall Tour Manager: Caroline Lewis Tour Limit: 14 Status: Open - Space is still available on this tour, and we are accepting provisional bookings. No deposit is required until you receive the itinerary. Click below to book space. Tour Fee: Fee TBD / 2024=$4850 REQUEST SPACE OR MORE INFO
Apr 10-21, 2026 Guide: TBA Tour Manager: TBA Tour Limit: 14 Status: Open - Space is still available on this tour, and we are accepting provisional bookings. No deposit is required until you receive the itinerary. Click below to book space. Tour Fee: Fee TBD / 2024=$4850 REQUEST SPACE OR MORE INFO
Enjoy looking through the 8 most recent Field Guides triplists for this tour linked below!
- 2023 (Apr departure guided by Tom Johnson)
- 2023 (Apr departure guided by Micah Riegner & Cory Gregory)
- 2022 (Apr departure guided by Tom Johnson & Micah Riegner)
- 2022 (Apr departure guided by Eric Hynes)
- 2021 (Apr departure guided by Tom Johnson & Doug Gochfeld)
- 2019 (Apr departure guided by Doug Gochfeld & Cory Gregory)
- 2019 (Apr departure guided by Tom Johnson & Ned Brinkley)
- 2018 (Apr departure guided by Eric Hynes & Doug Gochfeld)
Birding & Nature at Zapata Ranch
June 13 - 20, 2021
- Full Itinerary
- Photo Gallery
- Trip Reports
- Know Before You Go
Hone your birding skills with birding celebrity Ted Floyd and Naturalist Journey's guide Pat Lueders, as you explore bird habitats including western sagebrush steppe, pinyon juniper woodland, lush cottonwood riparian, grasslands and wetlands, and pine forest. This NEW! Naturalist Journeys Colorado birding tour is designed to be a true birding vacation. Zapata Ranch is an important conservation property adjacent to Great Sand Dunes National Park and the rugged Sangre de Cristo Mountains, located in one of the most remote and pristine mountain valleys left in the American West. There is simply no place like it! Unpack just once, and enjoy fine hospitality on this Colorado nature tour at one of the west’s grand guest ranches, one associated with The Nature Conservancy, in view of Colorado’s beautiful Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
- UNPLUG! Be inspired as you bird—this remote location gives a sense of unlimited space and quiet, so rare in today’s world
- Visit wildlife refuges to find Western Grebe, White-faced Ibis, Cinnamon Teal, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Virginia Rail, and Black-crowned Night-Heron
- See Great Horned Owl fledglings learn about life in the grand cottonwood trees that surround the ranch and look for Elk with their young in the sage
- Discover Common Nighthawk display at dusk, listen to a chorus of Coyote song, then marvel at stars so brilliant in the dark skies
- Relax and enjoy an optional, gentle horseback ride with stunning views; enjoy western meals, perhaps some music and fun (experienced riders can request more horse time—ask us for details)
- Find six possible woodpecker species, and learn to identify western flycatchers
- Study bird behavior in detail and learn about caching by resident Pinyon Jay, a fascinating lifestyle!
- Search for rare Black Swift by Zapata Falls and nesting American Dipper in the rushing stream that flows from it
- Find nesting Mountain Bluebird, Mountain Chickadee, Sage Thrasher, Sage Sparrow, Western Tanager, and western warblers
- Wake to the calls of Western Meadowlark before learning more about ranch history and daily ranch life
Itineraries are guidelines; variations in itinerary may occur to account for weather, road conditions, closures, etc. and to maximize your experience.
Sun., June 13: Arrival at The Nature Conservancy’s Zapata Ranch
Our tour starts at the ranch, outside of Alamosa, Colorado. Those driving in personal or rental cars can meet up at Zapata Ranch at leisure today. The ranch is about four hours from either Denver or Albuquerque, or 2.5 hours from Colorado Springs. Other arrival options include flying into the small regional airport in Alamosa, Colorado, from which you can take a shuttle service to the ranch and we offer a group shuttle at noon from Denver for a limited number of people for the four-hour drive to Zapata Ranch. It’s also possible to take the train to Denver and to catch our shuttle, something different to consider this holiday! The ranch is nestled up against the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. June feels like spring at 7500 feet. Enjoy views of snow-capped peaks and wildflowers at your feet. Join our group for happy hour and introductions, followed by a welcome dinner, and an early evening orientation stroll around the ranch grounds. Summer evenings in the Rockies are hard to beat. Take a deep breath to savor the piñon-juniper habitat of the ranch, and take your first looks at a diversity of woodland species including Broad-tailed and Calliope Hummingbirds, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Loggerhead Shrike, Western Scrub-Jay, Black-billed Magpie, Mountain Chickadee, Mountain Bluebird, Western Tanager, Green-tailed Towhee, and more. Accommodations at TNC’s Zapata Ranch (D)
Mon., June 14: Medano & Zapata Ranches | Sagebrush Specialty Species
After an early but filling ranch breakfast at the lodge, we drive a short distance to the Medano Ranch, an important part of The Nature Conservancy’s Medano-Zapata Ranch holdings. Though we only go a short distance, the transition to sage-steppe habitat allows us to look for special desert birds including Brewer’s Sparrow, Sagebrush Sparrow, and Sage Thrasher. In addition, we visit several seasonal wetlands that should be brimming with birdlife. This is also the first of several opportunities to take an optional half or full day horseback ride on the ranch property. After lunch back at the ranch and a brief rest, enjoy birding on the Zapata Ranch grounds in more depth than the night before. Older buildings are photogenic and irrigation ditches lined by chokecherry, willow, and other shrubs provide great birding habitat. The corrals and barns are always an attraction. Or feel free to stroll at your leisure to photograph, go for a short close-in horseback ride, or just enjoy the views and the restful property. Accommodations at TNC’s Zapata Ranch (B,L,D)
Tues., June 15: John James Canyon | Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge
Today is gloriously full! We are up and out early in anticipation of breakfast in the field and a morning hike. Start at John James Canyon, in southern Conejos County, where the sights, sounds, and birds feel like New Mexico. Explore the base of the canyon for Black-throated Sparrow before heading into and up the canyon for melodious Rock Wren and Canyon Wren, soaring Prairie Falcon and Golden Eagle, and a rare butterfly, Rhesus Skipper. In the more arid habitat we look for lizards and blooming wildflowers and are on the lookout for possible rattlesnakes—this is the west and your leaders prep you on how take caution, then tell you more about their fascinating role in arid-land ecosystems. We return to the base of the canyon for lunch, followed by a change of scene with a trip to the spectacular Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge. Water provides the lifeblood of the San Luis Valley, and networks of riparian corridors and wetlands like those found at the refuge breakup large areas of desert and upland habitat. Bird the refuge on leisurely strolls or from the van, enjoying a wide variety of waterfowl, waders, and shorebirds. This is a great spot for night herons, bitterns, and rails. We return to the ranch with time for a break or fun joining in wine, beer and munchies before dinner in the cozy, western ranch dining room. Accommodations at TNC’s Zapata Ranch (B,L,D)
Wed., June 16: Blanca Wetlands | Ted’s Tips on the Art & Best Practices of Birding
Depart after a leisurely breakfast in the lodge, heading to meet informative biologists at the Blanca Wetlands. Learn about the amazing geology of these threatened hyper-saline wetlands, as well as important and inspiring work to protect Snowy Plover and other wetlands inhabitants. This is a sensitive area for several species we are here to help survey with special permission. Bird at an easy pace, looking for lots of birds such as Cinnamon Teal, Wilson’s Phalarope, American Avocet, Clark’s and Western Grebes, and Swainson’s Hawk. After a late lunch at the lodge, participate in a fun and very informative field workshop on “best practices” for documenting birds and other wildlife with smartphones, point-and-shoot cameras, and pocket sound recorders. After a late afternoon break, happy hour and dinner at the lodge, Ted offers a short indoor program on editing and sharing photos, audio, and video of birds and other wildlife. Accommodations at TNC’s Zapata Ranch (B,L,D)
Thurs., June 17: Russell Lakes State Wildlife Area | Night Sky Viewing
Today is another chance to explore this beautiful part of the Rockies. After an early breakfast at the lodge, we head out to stunning Russell Lakes State Wildlife Area in the northern San Luis Valley near the town of Saguache; we may be lucky enough to see dust devils on the lakeshore. This is a lush wetland with bulrushes and cattails, perfect for Marsh Wren and Common Yellowthroat, in several lakes, with nearby spring-fed streams. We hope to find Osprey, American White Pelican, American Avocet, American Bittern, Snowy Egret, Clark’s and Western Grebes, Sora, Virginia Rail, White-faced Ibis, Black-crowned Night-Heron, and other species. Surrounding sagebrush gives us a chance at Brewer’s Sparrow and Sage Thrasher; don’t be surprised if we kick up a jackrabbit as we wander, and we should see Muskrat and Mule Deer as well. Butterflies and dragonflies abound. After a picnic lunch, we drive to the base of the Sangre de Cristo Range for spectacular mountain scenery and seeking out additional mountain birds including raptors like Golden Eagle, Prairie or Peregrine Falcons, and more. By now the rhythm of ranch life has kicked in. Return with time to freshen up, happy hour, and dinner. If it’s clear tonight, the night-sky viewing is just incredible! Accommodations at TNC’s Zapata Ranch (B,L,D)
Fri., June 18: Great Sand Dunes National Park
After a relaxing breakfast at the lodge, we take a short drive to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, which is close enough to be visible from the northern portion of Zapata Ranch. These magnificent dunes rise to over 750 feet—they are strikingly high and wide. There are options today to hike the dunes (unforgettable but a bit strenuous), to look for the rare Great Sand Dunes Tiger Beetle (found only here), and to look for birds and butterflies along the steep but well-maintained trail that heads to Mosca Pass. Enjoy a picnic lunch at the very informative park Visitor’s Center and take time to explore the exhibits. Then we can return to the ranch to relax, walk, or possibly take a ride. Or, continue on with our guides to bird the park’s low-elevation pinewoods before returning to the lodge for happy hour and dinner. After dinner, Ted caps off our week with a very special (and understandable!) evening program on the dizzying changes of late involving avian systematics and taxonomy. Accommodations at TNC’s Zapata Ranch (B,L,D)
Sat., June 19: Zapata Falls | Smith Lakes State Wildlife Area
The final full day of our tour starts quite early, with a drive to Zapata Falls before breakfast, where we hope to see the breathtaking morning flight of Black Swifts as they blast their way out from behind the waterfall. Then bird the foothills trail in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains looking for American Dipper, and the full suite of western mountain warblers, vireos, tanagers, flycatchers, and more in a very birdy morning. We return to the lodge for lunch, followed by a visit to Smith Lake State Wildlife Area, just south of the ranch. This magnet for rarities may surprise us and delights with a diversity of common desert and wetland species of the valley regardless. This evening we celebrate our trip with a farewell dinner at Zapata Ranch, and a celebration of all we have seen in the week. Accommodations at TNC’s Zapata Ranch (B,L,D)
Sun., June 20: Departures
Those of us who are driving can enjoy a leisurely morning. For those returning to Denver on the shared-cost shuttle, we depart after an early breakfast for our four-hour drive to the Denver International Airport. Please plan your flight to leave no earlier than 2 PM. If you would like to stay longer in Denver, we are happy to provide suggestions for hotels and activities. (B)
Cost of the Journey
Cost of the journey is $3995 DBL from Denver, Colorado Springs, Alamosa, or Albuquerque. This cost includes accommodations for seven nights, meals as specified in the itinerary (B=breakfast, L=lunch and D=dinner), professional guide services, other park and program entrance fees and miscellaneous program expenses. Cost does not include: round-trip airfare to and from your arrival city of choice, items of a personal nature such as laundry, telephone, drinks from the bar, or gratuities for luggage handling or personal services.
Please plan to make air travel plans only after the minimum group size has been met. We will send you a confirmation email as soon as the trip has been confirmed.
Please plan to arrive on or before June 13. You can arrive at and rent a car from either Denver, Colorado Springs, or Albuquerque, arriving to the ranch at your leisure on June 13. If you plan to fly into Alamosa, there is a shuttle to the ranch. Or, if you fly to Denver and do NOT want to rent a car, we will offer a limited space, shared cost shuttle at 12:00 PM. Please let us know if you would like to be included in this shuttle (not guaranteed). If you rented a car and drove yourself, please plan your departures at leisure on June 20. If you took the shuttle from Denver, please plan your flight out of Denver no earlier than 2:00 PM. If you plan to fly out of Alamosa, the airport is just a short 40-minute drive from the ranch. A shuttle back will be coordinated.
Browse below for trip reports and species lists from past versions of this and other tours from this destination.
- Species List
- Trip Report
Pat Lueders has been leading tours for Naturalist Journeys since 2014 after volunteering as the Field Trip leader and coordinator for St. Louis Audubon for 10 years. She has led tours regularly in the U.S. including Utah, Arizona, Texas, Ohio, Georgia, South Carolina, and New Jersey. Internationally, she has led groups to Central America (Costa Rica, Panama, Belize, Guatemala), South America (Galapagos, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago), and Africa (Kenya & Uganda). For the fall 2023 & winter 2024, she’s excited to return to Trinidad and add New Zealand, Jamaica, and Portugal to her itineraries. When home in St. Louis, she’s been the coordinator of the Great Rivers Trumpeter Swan Watch for 12 years, and she conducts Breeding Bird Surveys for the Missouri Department of Conservation and the U.S. Department of Natural Resources.
Other trips with Pat Lueders
Essential Information +
This information is important for being prepared for your journey; we want you to have the best experience possible. If you only read one section, this one is key!
Ahead of Your Tour
- Please talk with your doctor about general health needs. It is a good idea to consult with your doctor about general vaccinations recommended for travel.
- Please plan to make air travel plans only after the minimum group size has been met. We will send you a confirmation email as soon as the trip has been confirmed. After you make travel reservations, please send a copy of your travel itinerary to the Naturalist Journeys office at [email protected] .
- Travel insurance in case of serious medical emergency is recommended. Full health coverage and repatriation is available through Allianz Travel Insurance .
- Soft sided luggage/duffel bags are easiest for packing the vans. Remember to pack essential medications in your carry-on luggage, as well as one day of clothing and optics in case of luggage delay.
We will share a copy of your health and emergency contact information with your guide. This information will be kept confidential but is very important in case of a medical emergency. In addition to bringing any prescription medications with you, we recommend that you have a copy of the prescriptions in case of loss.
Pace of the Tour & What to Expect
You will receive a Schedule-at-a-Glance and list of hotels (our eContact List) a few weeks before your departure. This will serve as an outline for each day and alert you to any recent changes made in the schedule or to our hotels, if needed.
Our journeys are set up to follow the rhythm of nature. Our focus is on birding and nature; we offer full, well-planned field days and often get up early for that magical time around dawn. We generally follow the published itinerary, but we stay flexible to the weather, wildlife opportunities and the interests of the group. Your guide will keep you apprised of the next day’s schedule at each evening meal, noting what to bring and what to prepare for. Questions and/or concerns are welcome.
The pace of our Naturalist Journeys tours is moderate; to fully participate you should be able to get in and out of vehicles several times a day, and walk 1-3 miles over uneven terrain . It is important to participate with a flexible attitude as adjustments may be made in our schedule to make the most of our time in the field or for other purposes at your guide's discretion. We are not a “listing” bird company that drills down on target species, but at times we do wait for those special species unique to the places we visit. During the day, we take time to stop for photos and for educational opportunities to learn about conservation projects, landscapes, and geology. We appreciate other taxa as well as birds, with mammals often the biggest draw but plants and butterflies are also very popular. Our clients often lend their own expertise to the mix.
We like to make meals a fun and memorable part of the experience, too. Breakfasts are often at hotels, and we carry snacks, fruit, and water in the vans each day. Lunches are a mix of picnics in the field (weather dependent) and a chance to dine with locals at small cafes and restaurants. For dinner, we pride ourselves in our homework to keep up with the best choices for dining, choosing restaurants with atmosphere that specialize in local foods. On occasion we keep dinner simple to go back out in the field for sunset wildlife viewing or night walks. In some remote locations, our choices are limited. If you are tired, room service for dinner may be an option you can choose.
Food & Drink
We carry water and juices/cold drinks in the cooler each day, and sodas if people like them. Please also plan on bringing and filling your water bottle for hiking each day. We try to use as few plastics as possible!
Packing, Clothing & Laundry
Soft sided luggage/duffel bags are easiest for packing the vans. Please pack essential medications in your carry-on luggage, as well as one day of clothing and optics in case of luggage delay.
Dress is informal and is casual even at restaurants. Layering is a great way to stay comfortable. Protective clothing is essential, whether it be from from sun, rain, cold, insects, or vegetation. You need closed toe shoes, and we comfortable walking shoes with good tread. Hiking boots with good support for hiking and on rocky terrain can work well.
Many people ask how much to plan to bring as spending money. Part of that depends on how much you want to shop. Most shops will take VISA and MasterCard or American Express. Typical items people purchase include local souvenirs and T-shirts, caps, and natural history books. You may want to bring cash for drinks with dinner (if available) or smaller local purchases.
Expect the normal tipping protocol to apply for hotel maids and bar service. If at the end of the tour, you would like to show your appreciation to your guides, tipping is entirely appropriate but at your discretion. We hope that you will be pleased with all professional services. Gratuities for group meals are included. For your birding tour guide, we suggest $10-$15 per day per guest. Note that if there is more than one guide, this amount can be split among them.
Cell Phones & Internet Service
Wi-Fi and cell phone service are available in most US destinations, although there are some exceptions in remote locations. Wi-Fi is generally provided in all hotels, lodges, and restaurants you visit, at least in public areas. Please refrain from taking or making cell phone calls in the vehicles when traveling with other passengers unless it appears to be an emergency as this disrupts other guests – please plan cell phone calls on your own time.
Smoking is not permitted in any vehicle or in any situation where the group is participating in an activity together, such as a vehicle excursion or a guided walk. Please respect all designated smoking areas at hotels and restaurants.
For this tour, your guides will drive travelers in either full-size or mini-vans or a combination of those two. We ask all attendees to please rotate your seating, so you ride with different drivers and alternate between front and back seats.
Photo Release & Sharing
We take many group photos and will share photos with the group. And after your tour, we will organize a chance to share photos via Dropbox or Google Photos. Please note that this is our policy and if you prefer to be excluded, we need to know ahead of your tour.
By registering for this tour, you agree to grant to Naturalist Journeys and its authorized representatives permission to record photos and/or video of your participation in the tour. You further agree that any or all of the material photographed may be used, in any form, as part of any future publications, brochures, or other printed materials used to promote Naturalist Journeys, and further that such use shall be without payment of fees, royalties, special credit or other compensation.
Please contact Naturalist Journeys by email at [email protected] or telephone our office: (520) 558-1146 or toll free: (866) 900-1146 if you have any questions. Many thanks for traveling with us and we hope you enjoy your journey.
Photo credits: Banner: Riding at Zapata Ranch by Lynn Tennefoss; Bison by Jerry Meislik; Panorama by Jerry Meislik; Aspens by Sandy Sorkin; Great Sand Dunes by Lynn Tennefoss; Mountain Bluebird, by Greg Smith; Coyote, by Greg Smith; Bald Eagle, by Greg Smith; Sora, by Doug Greenberg; Merlin, by Greg Smith; Bison, by Greg Smith; Golden Eagle, by Greg Smith; Northern Harrier, by Greg Smith; Pronghorn, by Greg Smith; Western Scrub Jay, by Sandy Sorkin; Lewis's Woodpecker by Sandy Sorkin; American Dipper, by Ted Floyd; Bullock's Oriole, by Greg Smith; American Kestrel, by Greg Smith; Golden Eagle perched, by Greg Smith; Zapata Ranch Elk, by Wes Larson; Western Meadowlark, by Hugh Simmons; Western Bluebird, by Greg Smith; Zapata Ranch Hawk, by Wes Larson; Zapata Ranch Coyote pups, by Wes Larson; Horse riding in the sand dunes, by Peg Abbott.
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Colorado Birding and Wildlife Viewing Tours
If you are interested in Colorado Birding and Wildlife Viewing Tours , come and join us at Kaiyote Tours!
We organize birding and nature tours throughout Colorado. We offer a complete range of activities and tours in Rocky Mountain National Park . Please go to that page for more info on tours within Rocky Mountain National Park.
The Colorado Big Loop Tour: 9-days/8-nights
The great changes in Colorado elevation creates habitat diversity: Arid high plains, grasslands, shrublands, foothills, montane, sub-alpine, alpine and riparian areas. This tour will visit areas of elevation from 4,865 to 12,183 feet. The diversity of plants, birds and animals is something to experience. The landscape is spectacular.
Click here for a detailed Itinerary of the 9-day Colorado Big Loop Tour
Let us know what dates work for you
Click here for a list of BIRDS we have seen in Colorado
Price for 9-day “car-camping” tour at state park and national park campgrounds is $2,925 per person (minimum 2-people). Please contact us for solo traveler rate. Hotel tour is $3,915 per person (based on double occupancy).
Car Camping Tours include: Campsite fees, meals, camping gear, and entrance fees into state parks and national wildlife refuges.
Hotel Tours include : Lodging, meals, and entrance into state parks and national wildlife refuges.
Not included: National park entrance fees (if you already have a national park pass, please bring it along).
Lodging: We recommend "car-camping" tours because we will see more birds and wildlife while staying at the campgrounds. We have wonderfully comfortable tents and sleeping pads. If you choose to join a tour that provides hotels/cabins, the stops and locations are approximately the same. The hotel lodging is "medium class" hotel, such as Best Westerns.
Gear you need to bring : Outdoor clothes including hiking boots, rain jacket and pants and warm clothes, including hats and gloves. The mountains can be cold even in the summer. Everyone should have their own head lamp and/or flashlight, refillable water bottle, day pack for hiking and a personal small emergency kit.
Camping meals: Breakfast will be cooked on the grill or on the fire at camp. Lunch will be picnic style, sandwiches, fruit, etc. Dinner will be cooked on the grill or on the fire at camp. We travel with a mini-Weber Charcoal Grill and we can grill steaks, hamburgers, chicken, or fish. Sometimes we have hotdogs and s’mores on the fire. We also travel with a Dutch Oven and cook shrimp stir-fry, pasta dishes and other delicious meals. We can accommodate vegetarians and vegans , no problem!
Electricity: There will be electricity at some of the campsites. We travel with a lithium generator, and you will have access to power for recharging your equipment.
Campfires: Most all locations permit campfires (when there is not a fire ban).
Showers: There are pay showers at most of the local and state park campgrounds.
We also offer custom tours. You can choose lodging at either campgrounds or hotels. Please let us know if you have specific birds and/or wildlife that you would like to see and how many days you would like to tour Colorado. Please request an itinerary and we will send you the day to day details of the tour.
- Travel Dates: By request or join an already scheduled trip
- Group size : 2 - 8, plus guides
- Trip Length : Minimum of 3 days (2 nights) and custom as you choose.
- Price: Car-camping tours at state and national park campgrounds are $325 per person, per day. Tours at hotels/cabins are $435 per person, per day. Prices based on double occupancy.
If you need gear, we can supply it at no extra charge. Just let us know in advance.
Suggested to bring: 1) Backpack for your gear 2) Rain gear or rain poncho or umbrella 3) Refillable water bottle 4) Sunscreen and bug spray 5) Hats for both sun and warmth 6) Binoculars 7) Wear Layered comfortable clothes.
Payment and Cancellation Policy Single-day tours: Full payment is due 72 hours prior to tour. There are no refunds within 72 hours of tour.
Multi-day tours: A non-refundable payment of $600 per person is requirement to reserve a spot on a trip. Full payment is due 90 days prior to departure date. If you are reserving a spot within 90 days of start date, full payment is required to reserve a spot.
We accept Visa, MasterCard, Discover, American Express, and PayPal.
Kaiyote Tours is authorized by the National Park Service, Department of Interior, to conduct services in Rocky Mountain National Park.
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- Take a Birding Tour
Conservation birding tours with Bird Conservancy of the Rockies combine world-class bird-watching with science-based education to showcase the biodiversity of locally and continentally important bird areas, increase awareness and support our conservation programs. We offer tours regularly in the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains regions, as well as internationally. Tours are led by Bird Conservancy biologists with support from partners with local knowledge and sometimes exclusive access to key birding areas — and proceeds support bird conservation programs!
Visit our Events Page for information about single-day birding outings and educational programs.
- Full Itinerary
Join Bird Conservancy of the Rockies for an amazing weekend of exploration and discovery in Northern Colorado. Scientists, birders, and expert guides will lead a small group of guests to birding hotspots in and around Fort Collins during the spring bird migration and provide insights into the vital conservation activities conducted by Bird Conservancy in the region and beyond. This exclusive trip is perfect for birders, nature lovers and anyone interested in bird conservation.
The highlight of the trip is Soapstone Prairie. Located 45 minutes north of Fort Collins, Soapstone is an extraordinary wildlife habitat with over 28 square miles of wide-open vistas and amazing grasslands. Soapstone Prairie is owned and managed by Fort Collins Natural Areas. Bird Conservancy of the Rockies has had a presence there for many years. From the discovery of breeding Baird Sparrows to the construction of a Motus radio telemetry tracking station, Soapstone is an active laboratory for our science and conservation programs. While at Soapstone, guests will be led by premier birding guide and Senior Research Scientist Arvind Panjabi to areas not normally accessible to the general public and get an overview of his work across the central flyway. Our visit will also include a trip to the Motus station to learn more about this leading-edge technology from Avian Ecologist and Motus network lead, Matt Webb.
Guests will also visit Bird Conservancy’s new public bird banding station at Dixon Reservoir for a private, up-close demonstration of this vital science and outreach activity with Chief Conservation Scientist, Brandt Ryder. Dixon Reservoir is a true bird hotspot with over 250 species on record. Spring migration is certain to keep the area busy and you will have a bevy of exceptional birders on hand to help you build your life list!
When not in the field, guests will enjoy wonderful accommodations and dining at the Fort Collins Hilton. Each evening will feature a private reception and dinner with Bird Conservancy of the Rockies scientists, conservationist and educators who will share insights into our activities and the impacts they have had over the past three decades. With a small group size, the trip will give guests a high level of access to scientists, birding experts and conservation practitioners and the opportunity for deep learning about the challenges and successes in the bird conservation world.
eBird.org Dixon Reservoir Species List: https://ebird.org/hotspot/L212245
eBird.org Soapstone Prairie Species List: https://ebird.org/hotspot/L2990328
Lodging: The Hilton Fort Collins: https://www.hilton.com/en/hotels/fnlcohf-hilton-fort-collins/
Soapstone Prairie: https://www.fcgov.com/naturalareas/finder/soapstone
If you have any questions please contact Joe Pettit at [email protected] or (303) 659-4348 x 12
FRIDAY, MAY 17, 2024
3:00 p.m. – Check-in available at Hilton Fort Collins
5:30 p.m. – Guest reception and introductions
6:30 p.m. – Dinner
SATURDAY, MAY 18, 2024
6:30 a.m. – Breakfast
7:30 a.m. – Travel to Soapstone
8:30 a.m. – Guided birding
11:00 a.m. – Motus Discussion
12:00 p.m. – Lunch in the field
2:00 p.m. – Travel to hotel with stops at birding spots along the way
5:30 p.m. – Guest reception
SUNDAY, MAY 19, 2024
7:00 a.m. – Breakfast
8:00 a.m. – Travel to Dixon Reservoir
8:30 a.m. – Bird banding demonstration with Brandt
9:30 a.m. – Birding
11:00 a.m. – Travel to lunch
11:30 a.m. – Lunch
12:30 p.m. – Departures
COSTING & DETAILS
Cost of the trip is $800 per person based on two people sharing a double occupancy room. $950 if you prefer a private, single occupancy room.
Cost Includes: Accommodations for two nights, meals as specified in the itinerary, land transportation during the journey, professional guide services, park and other entrance fees, and miscellaneous program expenses.
Cost Does Not Include: Transportation to and from Fort Collins, items of a personal nature such as laundry, telephone, drinks from the bar, and gratuities for luggage handling or personal services.
Brandt Ryder – Chief Conservation Scientist
Brandt earned a Bachelors of Wildlife Biology from Unity College in (1999) and then went on to get a Ph.D. from the University of Missouri-St. Louis in (2008). Brandt’s dissertation focused on the demography and social behavior of tropical lekking birds. Prior to joining Bird Conservancy, Brandt worked for a decade as a research scientist for the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center focusing on the conservation and behavior of birds across their annual cycle. Brandt has published over 50 peer-reviewed papers on a diversity of topics including urban ecology, migration ecology, landscape ecology and behavioral ecology. Brandt enjoys the outdoors in his free time through hiking, running, and doing landscape and astrophotography.
Matt Webb – Avian Ecologist
Matt was born and raised in Salida, CO. Around age 10, at odds with his preferences, his family moved to the ‘dull’ plains of Northern Colorado. To Matt’s surprise, he fell in love with the endless roll and incredible diversity of the shortgrass prairies. He later spent some time in Pittsburgh, PA, working at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, the American Bird Conservancy, and the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Wildlife Biology and a Master’s in Conservation Leadership, both received from Colorado State University. When not building automated radio telemetry stations, Matt enjoys mothing, photographing beetles, riding and fixing bicycles, turning over stones, and dragging his family outside at night to watch the International Space Station go by.
Joe Pettit – Development Director
Joe is a development professional with experience spanning performing arts, conservation, climate change, foreign policy, political campaigns and urban horticulture. He grew up in eastern Nebraska and earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English from the University of Nebraska-Omaha. When not working, he can be found gardening, cycling, cooking, and, of course, birding.
Tyler Cash – Digital Engagement Manager/Educator
Tyler grew up in sunny southern California where he spent most of his time outside and in the ocean. He graduated from the University of California Santa Cruz with a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies, where he gained extensive knowledge in natural history. After college Tyler worked at several different Outdoor Education facilities where he held several different roles ranging from Teaching Naturalist to Education Coordinator to Camp Manager. Tyler is excited to share his knowledge and love of birds and the outdoors with the Bird Conservancy community. In his free time you can find him hiking, climbing, traveling & exploring the mountains with his wife and two Australian Shepherds Pinyon and Manuka.
Taylor Dziedzina – Development/Executive Assistant
Taylor has a Bachelor’s Degree in Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology from Colorado State University. After college, she worked at Colorado Parks and Wildlife as the Statewide Volunteer Program Assistant. For the past three years Taylor has been a field biologist leading surveys in the Intermountain West for threatened and endangered species. In her spare time Taylor can be found hiking and backpacking with her dog, Delilah, birdwatching, or curled up with a good book.
For more information: [email protected]
Colorado Birding Trail Experience wildlife adventure on your own through the Colorado Birding Trail. Find birding and watchable wildlife viewing sites across Colorado. Explore the Colorado Birding Trail.
Photo Credit: Larimer County Department of Natural Resources
Fort collins office, nebraska office, tax & privacy.
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Colorado 2024: Prairie-Chickens, Grouse & More
April 01 – 11, 2024 1 Space available!
Colorado 2025: Prairie-Chickens, Grouse & More
April 01 – 11, 2025 Spaces available!
Colorado Birding Series: Piñon Pine-Juniper Woodlands to Alpine Tundra
Woodland Park, Colorado
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About this trip
Colorado Birding Series: Piñon Pine-Juniper Woodlands to Alpine Tundra (July 11-13, 2023)
Join Reefs to Rockies’ Lead Naturalist Birding Guide Chip Clouse on this 3-day trip that explores several of Colorado’s birding hotspots including Manitou Experimental Forest, Eleven Mile Canyon, Buena Vista, and Loveland Pass. A highlight of the trip is sure to be a visit Dr. Brian Linkhart’s Flammulated Owl study area. Dr. Linkhart has been studying Flammulated Owls for decades and this trip will showcase ongoing field work in prime habitat.
- Accommodations Based on 2 people sharing a double occupancy room
- Driver/Guide Chip Clouse
- Transportation In a custom-designed safari van w/ hydraulic pop-top and 4WD
- Daily guided birding W/ spotting scope available
- Donation To support ongoing Flammulated Owl research in Colorado
- Entrance fees
- Meals As listed
- Activities not listed
- Personal items
Morning departure from West Denver. There’s time for birding stops as we make our way to Woodland Park. Possible locations include Buffalo Creek, Deckers, and Westcreek. Chip knows these areas well due to his years conducting Colorado Breeding Bird Surveys in the area. This afternoon, the group will meet Dr. Brian Linkhart and accompany him and students to a Flammulated Owl study area for an in-depth look into ongoing field work in the area. With luck, we’ll get to see hands-on work with this year’s owlets.
Accommodations: Microtel Inn & Suites – Woodland Park
Meals: Lunch and Field Dinner
As we make our way to Buena Vista, we’ll stop at several birding hotspots to learn about the interconnectedness of Colorado’s varied plant and animal communities. Likely birding stops include Eleven Mile Canyon, Spinney Mountain State Park, and Antero Reservoir. Evening arrival to Buena Vista.
Accommodations: Best Western Vista Inn – Buena Vista
Meals: Breakfast and Lunch
Our day begins with birding in piñon pine-juniper (P/J) woodlands near Buena Vista. From there, we’ll move up in elevations passing through Leadville, nicknamed the “Two Mile-High City”, and over Loveland Pass where we’ll stop to search for alpine tundra species including the elusive White-tailed Ptarmigan. Early evening return to West Denver.
USA - Colorado: Prairie Chickens, Grouse & More 2023 - (11 days)
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Colorado is the best place in the country for finding all the species of Prairie Chicken and Grouse. Its varied topography, ranging from prairie grasslands through high plains to subalpine forests and alpine tundra, supports as many as 500 species of birds; its geographical location astride the Continental Divide provides a mix of eastern, western, northern and southwestern species not easily found together anywhere else.
Our trip will take us from the eastern prairies of Colorado into the high Rocky Mountains, covering about 2000 miles in search of our target species. In order to see many of these species at their leks at dawn, we’ll need to be up and out very early. We expect to find Greater and Lesser Prairie Chickens; Sage, Gunnison, Sharp-tailed and Dusky Grouse and possibly White-tailed Ptarmigan. Other species of interest include Mountain Plover, Three-toed Woodpecker and Williamson’s Sapsucker, Rough-legged Hawk, Black, Brown-capped and Grey-crowned Rosy Finches, Thick-billed and Chestnut-collared Longspurs amongst many others.
This tour is operated by High Lonesome BirdTours in partnership with Rockjumper Birding Tours. These are large group tours (up to 16 guests with multiple leaders), and will have guests from both Highlonesome and Rockjumper. For any queries not related to a tour booking, please fee free to contact High Lonesome BirdTours directly Stephan Lorenz (Tour Director)
Great & Lesser Prairie Chicken; Sage, Dusky, Sharp-tailed & Gunnison Grouse; White-tailed Ptarmigan; Chukar Partridge; Rough-legged Hawk; American Dipper; Lewis’s & Three-toed Woodpeckers; Williamson’s Sapsucker; Junpier Titmouse; Pinyon Jay; Black, Grey-crowned & Brown-capped Rosy Finches; Pine Grosbeak; Mountain Chickadee; Mountain Plover; Thick-billed & Chestnut-collared Longspurs.
Big Horned Sheep, Pronghorn, Coyote, Black Bear; Elk; Moose; Gunnison's, White-tailed & Black-tailed Prairie Dogs.
short-grass and long-grass prairie, foothills, mountains, montaine forest
in the early spring, we can encounter very wintry weather including snow. Temperatures can be as low as -7°C (20°F) in the early morning at some of the leks. Please make sure to bring layers! During the day it can get warm, 15°C (60°F).
Max Group Size
14 with 2 Tour Leaders
Tour Pace & Walking
easy, but many early mornings and long drives
very comfortable hotels; some fine Colorado restaurants.
Ease of Birding
mostly easy with some difficult species
Number of Species Expected
wonderful scenery, mountain views, prairie dog colonies.
good to excellent
What our clients say about us
LP, Texas 2021
This being my first Rockjumper tour, it far surpassed my expectations. Stephan was a fantastic guide, attentive to the entire group and making sure everyone had a good look at the bird in front of us (sometimes, several birds!) The depth of his knowledge along with his raport and friendly/kind demeanor made him feel more like a good friend on a bird walk - with tons of knowledge and ability on top of a love for birds. Thanks Stephan/Claudia and Rockjumper for providing an amazing experience!
MC, Texas 2021
We enjoyed the tor especially seeing so many warbler the first day. Stephan is a fantastic guide and makes sure that every participant gets a chance to see every bird, as much as possible. We never expected to see so many birds in Texas, and I credit Stephan with that achievement.
MM & EM - Colorado 2022
Guides were very safety conscious. They took care of their clients.
Our guide was superb. The experience was really beyond my expectations. This was “awesome” in the traditional sense of awesome not the common vernacular.
By selecting the northern part of the NP, we avoided most of the huge traffic jams and could focus on the wildlife; also well-planned were the days outside of the NP. Forrest Rowland is extraordinary: total mastery of the area from the daily routes to the trails and what is where when, to substantive knowledge about the ecology, public policies governing land and water use, all of which is seamlessly integrated throughout the course of the day and week. He's able to handle difficult situations, such as the approach of a bear, to tour members who could be distracting. Days were planned, integrating sufficient down time, and flexible to utilize unique opportunities that arose with the appearance of target species. Each day proved enjoyable, filled with cumulative knowledge gained through good views of species and time to absorb the environmental context.
USA - Colorado: Prairie Chickens, Grouse & More 2024
01 Apr 2024 - 11 Apr 2024 (11 days)
USD4,200 - No Spaces Available
Tour Leader: Stephan Lorenz
Tour price (Per person): USD4,200 * GBP3,325 * EUR3,889 * AUD6,440
Single Supplement: USD750 * GBP594 * EUR695 * AUD1,150
USA - Montana & Wyoming: Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem I 2023 - June 2023
USA - Arizona: Southeast Specialties & Nightbirds 2023 - May 2023
USA - Texas: Spring Migration & Hill Country 2023 - April 2023
USA - Colorado: Prairie Chickens, Grouse & More 2023 - April 2023
USA - Texas: Winter: Whooping Cranes and the Lower Rio Grande 2023 - February 2023
USA - Arizona: Southeast Specialties, Monsoon Breeders & Hummingbirds 2022 - August 2022
USA - Arizona: Southeast Specialties & Nightbirds 2022 - May 2022
USA - Florida: Spring Migration & Specialities 2022 - April 2022
USA - Texas: Spring Migration & Hill Country 2022 - April 2022
USA - Colorado: Prairie Chickens, Grouse & More 2022 - April 2022
USA - Montana & Wyoming: Greater Yellowstone in Winter 2022 - February 2022
USA - Texas: Winter: Whooping Cranes and the Lower Rio Grande 2022 - February 2022
USA - Texas: Winter: Whooping Cranes and the Lower Rio Grande II 2021 - December 2021
USA - California: Southern Specialties 2021 - December 2021
USA - Arizona: Hummingbird Migration, Monsoon Breeders & Night Birds II 2021 - August 2021
USA - Arizona: Hummingbird Migration, Monsoon Breeders & Night Birds I 2021 - August 2021
USA - Arizona: Southeast Specialties & Nightbirds 2021 - May 2021
USA - Texas: Hill Country Specialties and Wildlife 2021 - April 2021
USA - Texas: Migration Spectacle along the Upper Texas Coast 2021 - April 2021
USA - Texas: Spring Migration & Hill Country 2021 - April 2021
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Colorado: chasing chickens - birding tour, tour overview:.
Birding is more than about just seeing birds. What makes for a unforgettable experience often has just as much to do with what the bird is doing as it does about what it looks like. The neotropics have manakins, the old world, bustards, and New Guinea has Birds-of-Paradise. But North America isn’t without its own spectacular avian displays – North America has grouse. And nowhere on the continent offers the variety and opportunities to see them better than Colorado. This short tour covers much of the state in search of “chickens”, and also offers a good dose of the magnificent scenery and east/west ornithological melting pot that makes this state famous.
13 - 23 April ($4900; single supplement: $680 )
12 - 22 April (TBA)
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Other tour details:.
Length: 11 Days
Starting City: Denver
Ending City: Denver
Physical Difficulty: Easy/Moderate
Group size: 7 + 1 leader
Day 1: Arrival in Denver (Colorado)
You arrive in the Mile High City, where we spend the night in a hotel near the airport. The hotel provides a complimentary airport shuttle bus.
Day 2: Genessee Mountain Park, Loveland Pass and Silverthorne to Walden
A brief stop will be made to the west of Denver, for our only trip into Ponderosa woodland of the trip, at Genessee Mountain Park, where we could find birds not possible elsewhere on the tour, like Williamson’s Sapsucker, Pygmy Nuthatch, Cassin’s Finch, and Western Bluebird. The latter part of the first morning in the Centennial State will be spent at the snowy, windswept heights of Loveland Pass (12,000ft), where we will scan through the snow banks for the exceedingly well-camouflaged White-tailed Ptarmigan, the whitest bird in the world. The staggering mountain scenery that makes Colorado famous will also be on tap, and the two combined make for a true Rocky Mountain experience. After this, we will drop down into the valley town of Silverthorne, where, depending on the year, we could find massive flocks of rosy-finches, mixed in with handsome Evening and Pine Grosbeaks, charismatic Clark’s Nutcrackers, and stunning Steller’s Jays. After lunch nearby, we will spend the afternoon traveling towards the town of Walden for the night. A reservoir along the way often holds a lingering flock of the beautiful Barrow’s Goldeneye.
Day 3: Greater Sage-Grouse to Craig
Our first lekking species of the tour will be the Greater Sage-Grouse that call North Park, near Walden, their home. Probably the most bizarre of all the chicken dances, these giant grouse run around, swishing their wings and heaving their chests in what can only be called a vaguely obscene, but strikingly fascinating, display. After both a dramatic setting, and dramatic display, we will hit the road again, with another lek site beckoning to the west, near Craig, home of the Sharp-tailed Grouse. In the afternoon we will bird around Hayden for Mountain Bluebird and Sandhill Crane, before settling down in Craig for the night.
Day 4: Sharp-tailed Grouse to Grand Junction, via Cameo and Coal Canyon
In the rolling sage flats around the town of Craig we’ll look for our next species of chicken, Sharp-tailed Grouse, whose dancing displays are perhaps the most stunning of all the grouse. Their almost choreographed stomping and prancing is strongly reminiscent of a ballet, both elegant and comical at the same time. The sagebrush habitat here will also give you more than just grouse; we will also look for Brewer’s Sparrow, and also for raptors. The afternoon will see us drive south to Grand Junction for the night. Along the way we will stop off at Cameo and Coal Canyon; which offer up Chukar, Black-throated Sparrow, and Rock Wren, among others. A single night will be spent in Grand Junction, in readiness for our next chicken adventure…
Day 5: Colorado National Monument to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison
In the morning we will find ourselves within the gorgeous sculpted red-rock scenery of the Colorado National Monument. Here we will scour the pinyon-juniper woodland looking for species such as Gray Flycatcher, Canyon Wren, Pinyon Jay, Gambel’s Quail, and Juniper Titmouse. Other possibilities include Bushtit, Black-throated Gray Warbler, and Bewick’s Wren. In the afternoon we will journey east to Gunnison, home of the rarest grouse of the tour. The afternoon’s birding will include a visit to the Black Canyon of Gunnison, the deepest canyon in the state, and also a great spot for Dusky Grouse, which can sometimes be found displaying right beside the road. A single night will be spent in Gunnison.
Day 6: Gunnison to La Junta
The rarest grouse species in the United States, and nearly endemic to Colorado, the Gunnison Sage-Grouse, will be our target for the first part of this day. The Gunnison Valley also provides some good birding after our daily dose of chicken watching, where up to three species of rosy-finches can be seen, as well as over-wintering Barrow’s Goldeneyes in some years, and perhaps some lingering winter visitors or early spring migrants. Heading east, we’ll make a birding stop at Pueblo West, where Scaled Quail, Curve-billed Thrasher, and Canyon Towhee will be on our target list. The afternoon will be spent heading east into far eastern Colorado, where we will overnight in La Junta, near the border with Kansas.
Day 7: Southeast Colorado to Kansas
In the morning we will check sites in southeast Colorado for Great Roadrunner, Curve-billed Thrasher, Canyon Towhee, Brewer’s Sparrow and the local Rufous-crowned Sparrow. John Martin Reservoir can be great for waterbirds, with Eared and Horned Grebes both possible and sometimes holds Snowy Plovers too. Some cattle ranches in the east of the state can also be great for finding large flocks of Yellow-headed Blackbirds in some years too. In the afternoon, we shall have made our way into western Kansas, where our best chances at seeing Lesser Prairie-Chickens the next morning lie ahead. The night will be spent in Scott City/Oakley in Kansas (exact place decided when ranch is finalised nearer the time of the tour).
Day 8: Lesser Prairie-Chicken (Kansas) to Wray (Colorado)
Our reason for sneaking into western Kansas on this tour is for one very special bird: Lesser Prairie-Chicken. While in past years this tour has stayed within Colorado, this species is no longer reliable at the traditional sites within that state, and their numbers have decreased alarmingly. It is no wonder that the species is listed as vulnerable by Birdlife International. We have added this exciting new site in Kansas, where good numbers and viewing of this species are still commonplace. While somewhat similar looking to their Greater cousins, the displays of the Lesser Prairie-Chicken differ dramatically, and it will be immediately clear that they’re a different species. We will spend the morning picking out these differences while enjoying the show of one of America’s very own “birds-of-paradise”. After a late breakfast, we’ll head back to Colorado, in preparation for our final chicken experience of the tour.
Day 9: Greater Prairie-Chickens and Pawnee National Grasslands
An early morning departure from our hotel will bring us to a nearby lek of Greater Prairie-Chicken, the first of our many grouse leks we will visit this trip. The rolling, booming sounds and hilarious antics of the male chickens cackling, stomping, and bubbling their way into the hearts of the females will provide you with an unforgettable finale to this chicken circuit. After leaving the lek we will visit the sprawling Pawnee National Grasslands, a vast area of prairie that is home to McCown’s and Chestnut-collared Longspurs. In the late afternoon we will make our way back to Denver.
Day 10: Flexible Day in Denver Area
Denver is a good place to be based for this final “clean up” day, where we will look for whatever we might have missed earlier in the tour. This might include White-tailed Ptarmigan, rosy-finches, or some of the prairie specialties of Pawnee National Grasslands. If time allows, we may also visit some of the excellent migrant traps and waterbird hotspots along the front range, to look for waterfowl and early-arriving spring migrants.
Day 11: Departure from Denver (Colorado)
The tour ends this morning. The hotel offers a continental breakfast and a complimentary airport shuttle bus.
PACE: Moderate to intense. This tour covers a lot of ground in a short amount of time, as each of the different leks is located in a different part of the state. By moving to the next lek the day before we guarantee that we’re in place for the best performance early in the morning. Start times vary, but on a couple of mornings can be as early as 4:30 AM, while on others may be as late as 6:30 AM. For those days where we visit a lek, breakfasts are taken AFTER we spend a few hours looking at the “chickens”. On other days we typically have breakfast at the hotel before we depart. Lunches are often eaten en-route between birding spots, and we typically pick something that will be reasonably quick, like Subway or Chipotle. All dinners are at one of the best local restaurants near the hotel. On a few of the days there may be an opportunity to relax a bit at the hotel in the later afternoon, but on most days we’ll be out all day. Most days will involve several hours of driving, but there are usually some birding stops along the way to break them up (and to see some of the great scenery on tap in Colorado!). Most days include a couple of hours of driving; the longest drive days will be on days 6, 7, and 8, when there are drives of approximately 4.5 hours.
PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Mostly easy, but depending on where the White-tailed Ptarmigans are there may be some more difficult walking around Loveland Pass. Here we may walk up to a half-mile on hard snowpack at 12,000 ft (3650 m), and anyone who does not want to walk at this altitude can remain with the car. All of the lek viewing is either from a car, or from a blind, and all other birding is from along mostly flat roads or trails. The most walking is on days 2 and 5, when we may walk up to 2 miles. The entire Colorado portion of the tour is spent above 3300 ft (1000 m), with several days spent above 7500 ft (2300 m).
CLIMATE: Potentially extremely variable. A wide range of temperatures are possible this time of year in Colorado (and Kansas). Some years the overnight lows (and thus the temperature when we arrive at the leks early in the morning) can be at 0°F (-18°C) or even lower. Daytime highs on such days often don’t exceed 15°F (-9°C). However, other years the daytime lows don’t dip below 32°F (0°C), and daytime highs can reach into the 70s°F (above 21°C). Occasionally you can get both scenarios on the same trip, so it is important to be prepared for a wide variety of conditions. Rain is very rare on this tour, but snowfall (sometimes heavy) is possible.
ACCOMMODATION: Good to excellent. All of the hotels and motels have typical amenities, including Wi-Fi.
PHOTOGRAPHY: This is a birding tour, but the photography opportunities are excellent. Most of the leks allow for superb close views of the grouse. Many of the other birds we are going after occur in open country, so there are ample opportunities for photography throughout. We’ll also experience much of the great scenery in Colorado, and have occasional stops for anyone who would like to take pictures.
LEK ETIQUETTE: The grouse species we will be targeting on this tour perform some of the most amazing displays in the avian world. We have the privilege of front row seats to the spectacle, but that also imparts a responsibility on our part to minimize our impact to the birds we are observing. This means that in most cases we will be arriving before sunrise so as not to flush the birds, and will not be able to leave until the birds are finished with their morning displays. Depending on the circumstances, this could mean that we will be in our car or a blind and unable to leave under any circumstances for up to three hours. Please be prepared with sufficient warm clothing if the morning is especially cold, and be careful not to drink too many liquids beforehand – bathrooms will not be available until we leave the leks. We appreciate your cooperation since we would like to ensure that others will be able to enjoy the same shows for years to come.
TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: For US citizens, no special requirements are necessary to visit Colorado. Citizens of Canada may enter the US with a valid passport, and do not need to obtain a visa. For citizens of the 38 countries on the visa waiver list (including the UK, Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, and Japan – click here for the full list ), you can enter the US with a valid passport and a completed Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), which should be applied for online IN ADVANCE OF THE TOUR. For all passports, the passport must be valid for at least six months past your intended stay. Citizens of all other countries will need to apply for a US visa. Travel requirements are subject to change; please double check with the nearest embassy or consulate, or ask our office staff if you are unsure.
WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Accommodation from the night of day 1 to the night of day 9; meals from dinner on day 1 (unless you arrive too late for dinner service) to breakfast on day 10; reasonable non-alcoholic beverages with meals; safe drinking water only between meals (tap water is safe to drink in the US, and you are encouraged to fill your water bottles when able); Tropical Birding tour leader with scope and audio gear from the evening of day 1 to the evening of day 9; ground transport for the group in a suitable vehicle driven by the guide from the morning of day 2 to the evening of day 9; airport shuttle bus on day 1 and day 10; tips for included meals; entrance fees to the sites mentioned in the itinerary; a printed and bound checklist to keep track of your sightings (given to you at the start of the tour – only electronic copies can be provided in advance).
WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Optional tips to the tour leader; tips to baggage carriers if you require their services; flights; snacks; additional drinks apart from those included; alcoholic beverages; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary; extras in hotels such as laundry service, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; medical fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.
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Contact: Nick Komar, 970-449-3645 E-mail: [email protected]
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