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and in the nearby states of 
Wyoming, KANSAS, 


A Greater Prairie Chicken,
photographed during a FONT tour in Colorado


The following summaries here are with the most-recent tours first.
For some tours there are links below for longer narratives. Also there are links to UPCOMING TOUR ITINERARIES, and lists of BIRDS, MAMMALS, and OTHER NATURE. 

Previous Tours:

April 2010    April 2009    April 2005    April 2004    April 2003    April 2002    April 2001


Upcoming FONT Birding & Nature Tours in Colorado & nearby States

Birds during previous FONT Tours in Colorado & nearby states (with some photos)

Birds & Other Wildlife during previous FONT Colorado Tours in April  (with some photos)

Mammals during previous FONT Tours in Colorado & nearby states  (with some photos)   

Photo Galleries of Birds & Other Wildlife during FONT tours 
in Colorado & Nearby States in:    
April 2009     April 2005

A Feature - the Grouse of Colorado, Nebraska & Kansas

COLORADO (& adjacent states) - April 2010

The adjacent states were Nebraska & Wyoming

"A Tour for Grouse & More" 

The following account written by Armas Hill, leader of the tour:

During this tour, in April 2010, we traveled in the plains of eastern Colorado and Nebraska, and in the mountains of central Colorado and nearby Wyoming, in our quest to see birds and animals, and especially among the birds, the various grouse of the region.
All of the grouse that we sought were seen well, including: in Colorado, the Gunnison Sage Grouse, the Lesser Prairie Chicken, the Greater Sage Grouse, and the Dusky (formerly Blue) Grouse, and in Nebraska, the Greater Prairie Chicken and the Sharp-tailed Grouse.

A good number of other birds (about 130 species in all), and some interesting mammals were also seen (among over 20 species of them). 

Greater Sage Grouse in Colorado in April 2010
(photo courtesy of Andre from Canada)


More about the FONT Tour in Colorado, Nebraska, & Wyoming in April 2010

Birds & Other Wildlife during our Tour in Colorado, Nebraska, & Wyoming in April 2010


Sightings of Pronghorns
were especially numerous during our tour
in Colorado & nearby states in April 2010.   



COLORADO (& adjacent states) - April 2009 

The adjacent states were Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, & Wyoming

"A Tour for Grouse & More" 

The following account written by Armas Hill, leader of the tour:

This tour, during the second week of April in 2009, was a slightly abbreviated version, that ended a day or so early due to a large mid-spring snowstorm in the Rocky Mountains. (None of us wanted our trip home to be delayed.) 

But what we did of the tour, in Colorado and nearby Kansas, Oklahoma, and Wyoming, was wonderful! 
We particularly enjoyed an early-morning with about 50 Greater Prairie Chickens performing their displays and antics, close and all around us. The displaying Greater Sage Grouse were also a treat.
Other birds that were treats included Mountain Plover (seen well) and Sage Thrashers (singing atop bushes in brilliant late-afternoon sunlight).

A special treat was one morning (as the snowstorm was about to begin, but when the sun still shone through the clouds) when, at a place with bird feeders in the mountain forest, there were hundreds, and maybe a thousand or so, "northern finches". There were hundreds of Pine Siskins, including a swarm of them feeding on seeds on the ground. There were dozens of Pine Grosbeaks, including a number of them like ornaments in coniferous trees. And, along with the siskins and grosbeaks, there were also nice numbers of Cassin's Finches and Rosy Finches. Among the latter, most were the Brown-capped Rosy Finch (a Colorado near-endemic), but also there was the Black Rosy Finch (that does not breed in the state) .

A Black Rosy Finch photographed during the FONT tour in Colorado
in April 2009 

The Brown-capped Rosy Finch was one of birds sought
and nicely seen during the FONT April 2009 tour in Colorado. 

Nearly 20 species of mammals were seen ranging in size from the Least Chipmunk to the Moose. Among those in between, highlights included a Badger that ran in front of us, and an all-black Abert's (or Tassel-eared) Squirrel.

Colorado is a wonderful state in which to enjoy nature, but we also had good times in Oklahoma and Wyoming. 
In Oklahoma, we ventured one day as far west as one can, to the New Mexico border, in the narrow "no man's land", where still nearly no men (nor women) live. Among the birds for us there, a Golden Eagle flew closely by.
Actually, and oddly, the most western bird that we saw in Oklahoma was the Eastern Phoebe (a pair).
In Wyoming, our birds included another Golden Eagle, Rough-legged Hawk, and a plethora of ducks of various sorts.

Lastly, to be noted here, back in Colorado, 4 sorts of juncos were seen at 1 place, all Dark-eyed: the "Oregon", "Pink-sided", "Gray-headed", and "Slate-colored". Juncos, as you may know, are sometimes called "Snowbirds". As to that snow, about 2 feet occurred in parts of the Denver area, and as much as 6 feet fell in the high mountains.

In addition to the birds and animals just noted, the wonderful scenery and interesting history, along the way, as we traveled about, added to our overall experience, which was made all the better by the good comradeship of those on the tour.    
The dates for this tour in 2009 were April 10-16.


Lists of Birds & Other Wildlife during our Colorado Tour - April 2009 

A Photo Gallery of Birds & Other Wildlife during our April '09 Tour in Colorado & Nearby States

To Top of Page.


COLORADO, & adjacent states - April 2005

(The adjacent states were Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, & Wyoming)


This tour was designed to see grouse at their lekking grounds, where they perform early in the morning. 
For us, in April 2005, these included the 2 Prairie-Chickens, the Sharp-tailed, Dusky (formerly Blue), Greater Sage, and Gunnison Sage Grouse. Each species, and each morning, presented a different experience. 

Grouse were not the only birds during this tour, as we skirted around the beautiful state of Colorado, and dipped into some of the adjacent states. 
Among the other birds: Mountain Plover, McCown's & Chestnut-collared Longspurs, and Brown-capped Rosy-Finch

Among the 28 species of mammals: Badger, Moose (including a mother & adolescent), and another creature with Gunnison in its name, the Gunnison Prairie Dog.  


More about the FONT tour in April 2005 in Colorado & adjacent states 

Lists of Birds & Other Wildlife during our Colorado Tour - April 2005

Lists of Birds & Other Wildlife during previous Colorado Tours in April

Cumulative lists of Birds & Other Wildlife during previous Tours in Colorado & nearby states

A Photo Gallery of Birds & Other Wildlife during our Apr '05 Tour in Colorado & nearby States

A Feature - the Grouse of Colorado, Nebraska & Kansas

Upcoming Tour Itineraries for Colorado & nearby States

To Top of Page.


, & nearby Kansas & Wyoming - April 2004 

This tour was designed to see grouse at their lekking grounds, where they perform early in the morning. 
For us, in April 2004, these included the 2 Prairie-Chickens, the Sharp-tailed, Dusky (formerly Blue), Greater Sage, and Gunnison Sage Grouse. Each species, and each morning, presented a different experience. 

Grouse are not the only birds during this tour, as we skirted around the beautiful state of Colorado, and dipped into some of the adjacent states. 
Among the other birds: Mountain Plover, McCown's & Chestnut-collared Longspurs, and Brown-capped Rosy-Finches

Among the mammals: Moose  (We saw 10 of them!). 

Interesting was a spot we visited in far-eastern Colorado for Harris' Sparrow, where we also found, after some weather with strong winds, birds from the East including Worm-eating Warbler & Northern Parula (both out of range), as well as Cardinal, Brown Thrasher, and Red-bellied Woodpecker, not normally thought of as "Colorado birds".


More about the FONT tour in April 2004 in Colorado & adjacent states 

Lists of Birds & Other Wildlife during our Colorado Tour - April 2004

Lists of Birds & Other Wildlife during previous Colorado Tours in April

Cumulative lists of Birds & Other Wildlife during previous Tours in Colorado & nearby states

A Photo Gallery of Birds & Other Wildlife during our April '05 Tour in Colorado & nearby States

A Feature - the Grouse of Colorado & Kansas

Upcoming Tour Itineraries for Colorado & nearby States

To Top of Page.


COLORADO, & adjacent KANSAS & WYOMING - April 2003

For Grouse & Other Birds

The following account written by 
Armas Hill, leader of the tour.

It was very early on Easter Sunday morning.  The Sun had not yet risen. In fact, it was still dark. The stars in the clear sky above us shone very brightly. We were not near any city of appreciable size. So, without diffused light or pollution of any kind, it really was a clear, crisp early morning. We were in Kansas, not far from Oklahoma, and not far from Colorado where most of our upcoming week would be, with other early mornings, as we'd begin most days with the performances of grouse at their leks.

Before the round red sun rose above the horizon that Easter morning, we were watching, during the first light of day, the round red neck-sacs of male Lesser Prairie Chickens inflate as the birds went through the postures and maneuvers of their displays. They would run about, turn around, seem to stamp their feet, and make an assortment of sounds, some with a higher pitch, and some like bubbling hoots, as they did their routine. On the natural grassland, where we sat ever so quietly in our van, we observed the birds just outside our windows. It was quite a show. There were 4 Lesser Prairie Chickens on their lek. We had heard them first, making their sounds, when it was still dark. When lightness came, they appeared, as if on queue, on the open knoll that they favored for their displaying. One of the four birds would repeatedly rise to the top of a low bush, calling as he held on with one foot. With his red neck-sac pulsating, the red sun rose into the dawn sky behind him.

We were close to the old Santa Fe Trail, a route used by the European settlers as they traveled west across America in the early 1800's. During those days, as the settlers moved across the plains, Lesser Prairie Chickens were common, even abundant, around them. In the less than 200 years since then, the species has declined substantially. That decline is thought to be over 90% since the 19th Century, and, more recently, nearly 80% since the early 1960's.

In 1980, Lesser Prairie Chickens occupied only 8% of their original range (which was historically throughout the southwest Great Plains, in southeast Colorado, southwest Kansas, western Oklahoma, northern Texas, and eastern New Mexico). Now, it is only in small, scattered populations.

There were an estimated 50,000 birds in total back in 1960. About 20 years later, in 1979, the population was estimated as 10,000 to 25,000, mostly in northwest Texas and Kansas.

Western Kansas, open and flat, is what might be called an "in-between" type of place. We journeyed north the entire width of the state (as we headed toward Greater Prairie Chicken territory). In southern Kansas, we were at the western edge of the Central Time Zone, until for some reason, we crossed an invisible line, where we were, while still in Kansas, into the Mountain Time Zone (the same as that in Colorado a few miles to the west). Birds were also a blend of east-west. There were Eastern Bluebirds and Western Meadowlarks, Eastern as well as Say's Phoebes, and even Blue Jays at the western edge of their range. By a stream, in a small grove of trees, there were both "Myrtle" and "Audubon's" Yellow-rumped Warblers. And we saw Flickers fly, some with yellow and others with red underwings.

During our ride north in western Kansas, we observed Eurasian Collared-Doves, spreading northwest from as far as Florida, and Great-tailed Grackles, another species spreading north from Oklahoma and Texas.

Swainson's Hawks were numerous in the clear blue skies. They had just travelled north from Argentina in South America.

By a small woodland, we encountered a Prairie Falcon quickly flying low across our path, until it landed in one of the trees just ahead of us. From there, it continued on just as quickly.

In another group of trees, along the highway, by a stream and a small rocky hillside, close to Nebraska (in an area not as flat as most of the Kansas we saw), we noted in a large stick nest 3 heads of young Great Horned Owls, with an adult sitting in the open nearby. Our day in Kansas, that had begun with the performances of Prairie Chickens, was an interesting one.

Actually, by Easter Sunday's end, we had seen both prairie-chickens. On the private land of a vast ranch in northeastern Colorado, our cordial hosts took us to an open grassy area where we would see the lekking activity early the next morning. During the last hour of Sunday, we enjoyed, however, a number of close looks at Greater Prairie Chickens, again just outside of our van. We were permitted to drive onto the open grassy area.

Early the following morning we were there again, on that open area, with the Greater Prairie Chickens as they performed. From 20 to 30 of them, at various times, were around us. Their droning sound was continuous. (It's quite different than the vocalization of the Lesser Prairie Chicken.) During their booming displays, the Greater Prairie Chickens engaged in a complex series of postures and maneuvers, with their heads drawn, orange air-sacs inflated, their pinnae (pointed feathers on the head) erect and forward, and their tails cocked. They would quickly fan those tails open at the beginning and end of each display sequence. Also notable to us, during our morning visit with the chickens, were males facing each other, in pairs, and acting combatively.

We and the chickens were not alone on the grassy field. There was also a large herd of mostly black cattle that was, to say the least, curious about our vehicle. So much so that the cattle surrounded us for a while, rubbing against the van and some even licking mud from the bumper. It was certainly an odd experience. But as to the cattle, the prairie chickens paid little heed, continuing to engage in their activities. That was even as the cattle walked away from us, across the field, among the wild displaying chickens. To us it seemed somewhat as we imagined it would have been years ago when prairie chickens shared grasslands with the buffalo, when both were abundant.

There were 3 races of Greater Prairie Chickens. One, in eastern North America (from Boston to Washington), known as the Heath Hen, was extirpated on the mainland about 1835. It continued to survive, later, on the offshore Massachusetts island of Martha's Vineyard, until 1932 when that race became extinct.

Now, 2 races remain, but just barely. The "Attwater's Greater Prairie Chicken" of the Texas coast declined from 8,700 birds in 1937 to 1,070 in 1967. About 30 years later (in 1998), only 56 individuals survived, in 3 isolated populations.

We were most appreciative to our Colorado hosts for allowing us onto their property to experience some of the Greater Prairie Chickens still, fortunately, common there.

Elsewhere in eastern Colorado, there's an extensive area of natural grasslands, without cattle (and without prairie-chickens), but with a number of birds that we were glad to see well. Among them were both displaying McCown's and Chestnut-collared Longspurs, a close pair of Mountain Plovers, some Brewer's Sparrows, and a duo of Burrowing Owls at home in a former prairie dog town.

We headed west toward the sage country of northwestern Colorado, not as we would have, through a Rocky Mountain pass in Colorado, but rather on an interstate in adjacent Wyoming. During a period of 9 days (5 of them overlapping with our tour), there was a total of 51 inches of snow in areas of the Rockies west of Denver.

So, due to the weather, we went via Wyoming. And, off the interstate, we had a fine birding, particularly in the area of Laramie Lakes, where the sun was shinning (yes, the sun) on a good assortment of ducks, Yellow-headed Blackbirds, and White Pelicans. Also there, our first Golden Eagle flew by.

On the ground, there were McCown's Longspurs. Back in Colorado, he had anticipated them. Here, as unexpected birds, we enjoyed them all the more.

Mammals in the sunlight included Pronghorn, Beaver, Snowshoe Hare, Mule Deer, and the Wyoming Ground Squirrel.

In a forested area, higher in the mountains of Wyoming, we found a feeder with Evening Grosbeaks, Cassin's Finches, Pine Siskins, Mountain Chickadees, and "Gray-headed" Juncos. It was to be the first of three good "bird feeding areas" for us in the mountains during our tour.

It snowed during our entire first day in the high, open country of sage in northwestern Colorado. The plowed roads attracted a number of birds, notably Horned Larks, Pipits, and various sparrows. Atop a sage, we had a good look at a Sage Thrasher. Ponds and a reservoir in the area were filled with birds, where there were Franklin's Gulls that were pink. Not because the air was cool, but because that's what some Franklin's Gulls have in the spring, a pink hue on their breast!

We went a morning later than planned for the lekking, in the early hours, of the Greater Sage-Grouse, the largest grouse in North America. We were glad we had changed our plans. Not only did we go to the "traditional" site (where most observers go) for the performing grouse, we also had been advised by a local ranch owner to go to another road nearby. At that location, the grouse came right by the edge of the road. We stayed quietly in our van, and the Sage Grouse performed all around us, just feet away. In all, that morning, we counted on the ground more than 50 grouse, mostly males, but also some females. Both, again, close to us, and seemingly oblivious to us.

What they were not oblivious to, was an adult Golden Eagle that flew in over the open countryside, toward us and the grouse. Sage Grouse that we had been observing, and others back in the sage that were out of view, flew up quickly and headed in all directions. It was quite an experience after watching the grouse as well as we did for about an hour.

In groups, male Sage Grouse, at their lekking sites, adapt a remarkable appearance. They elevate and spread their tails to become spiked fans, backed by a ball of white-spots on black undertail coverts. They draw their heads back, and inflate their chests (giving an appearance of two large eggs "over-easy"). Their stringy black filoplumes become erect, and their bare chest patches pump, along with double-hooting and pumping sounds. The birds, moving forward, produce swishing sounds, as drooped wings bush against stiff breast feathers.

It was quite a morning for us before breakfast. On our way back to town and the restaurant, a herd of elk went by us, heading up a hill.

The next morning we enjoyed yet another early-morning show of grouse, that many in our group found just as enjoyable to watch. With the help of a good local guide, we saw atop on a knoll, the amusing antics of a group of male Sharp-tailed Grouse. Amusing, as they appear rather like "wind-up dolls", strutting together in unison, stopping at once, and then, together starting up again. They do their postures and maneuvers with cocked and spread tails. They also spread their wings forward, going into their head-down synchronized "clockwork runs" with tail-rattling and some remarkable vocalizations.

That morning began for us, before dawn, with the bugling of an elk, nearby.

Also in the area, we saw an adult Bald Eagle by its nest, and Sandhill Cranes, all in pairs. One was seen on its nest.

The next morning was that of the rarest of the grouse during our tour. The Gunnison Sage-Grouse, is similar to the Greater Sage-Grouse, but about 30 per cent smaller. And it is restricted to the smallest of the ranges of the American grouse, only occurring locally in a part of southwest Colorado and adjacent Utah. The Gunnison Sage-Grouse is a newly-described species.

Formerly thought to have been more widespread (possibly in areas of New Mexico, Arizona, Kansas, and Oklahoma), now the Gunnison Sage-Grouse is only in 6 or 7 Colorado counties and one in Utah. The entire population is estimated as being less than 5,000 birds, with most in the Gunnison Basin of Colorado. Elsewhere numbers are very few. In Utah, there may only be 150.

Near Gunnison, we saw the grouse, at a site they favor, before dawn. When it was still dark, we heard there, among other sounds, the winnowing of snipe, the calling of Killdeer, and the howling of coyotes. First, the coyote howls were faint. Then they were louder. As we were watching, through our scopes, the Gunnison Sage-Grouse at their lek, they suddenly dispersed. And then through our field of view, there was a pack of 4 Coyotes moving to the left. By 6am that morning, the display of the Gunnison Sage-Grouse was over.

The previous day, on our way to Gunnison, in coniferous forest of higher country, we stopped by a small lodge with a sign that it was open all-year. In a tree, by the parking lot, there was a single bird, a Clark's Nutcracker. One of our group members had thoughtfully brought some peanuts from home. We put some onto the parking lot, and within moments there were as many as 20 birds almost at our feet, mostly Clark's Nutcrackers, but also Gray Jays, some Steller's Jays, and a Raven or two. All were corvids.

In fact, in Colorado, we did a "Corvid-Sweep". In addition to the 4 species just noted, we saw at various places Blue Jay (in northeast CO), Western Scrub-Jay (in northwest CO), what's now the American (or Black-billed) Magpie ("split" from the Eurasian bird), the American Crow, and the Chihuahuan Raven.

As we were driving east from Gunnison, through our area of pines, a blue bird flew across the road in front of us. It was a Pinyon Jay. We stopped. Around us, then there were many Pinyon Jays, including some, outside our van window, nearly "at our feet" (without peanuts).

We were heading east, and north, from Gunnison, during our last afternoon of the tour, toward the Lovelands Pass over the Continental Divide. A friend had told us that some White-tailed Ptarmigan had been seen there, a day or so previously, by skiers (who were birders). When we got there we certainly found skiers (many of them). It was a beautiful day at the Pass.

Our friend also had told us of a feeder, nearby, with birds, notably all 3 species of Rosy-Finches. And what a visit we had there, that last sunny afternoon. At about 10,000 feet above sea-level, such a feeder can be good, and it was!
We observed there, that bright sunny afternoon, at the feeder all 3 Rosy-Finches (mostly Brown-capped, with beautiful pink in the sunlight, also Black, and Gray-crowned), 3 types of Juncos (mostly "Gray-headed", also "Oregon" and "Slate-colored"), both male and female Pine Grosbeaks, Red Crossbill, Cassin's Finch, Pine Siskin, both Mountain and Black-capped Chickadees, some Red-winged Blackbirds (a sign of coming spring), and a vagrant in the Rockies, from the East, a White-throated Sparrow.

Most of us, in our group, left, following that enjoyable experience at the feeder, to head back East to homes and work, departing Colorado the following morning after a great tour.

Upcoming FONT Birding & Nature Tours in Colorado

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COLORADO & KANSAS - April 2002

For Grouse & More

In this, the 3rd year for FONT's "All-Grouse Get-Out," we once again looked for, and found, all of the grouse of Colorado and southwestern Kansas: Greater Prairie Chicken, Lesser Prairie Chicken, Sharp-tailed Grouse, Greater Sage Grouse, Gunnison Sage Grouse, Blue Grouse, and White-tailed Ptarmigan
Lesser Prairie Chickens and Gunnison Sage Grouse are among the rarest birds in North America, and White-tailed Ptarmigan are among the toughest birds to find. 
This is the time of year that the Prairie Chickens, Sharp-tailed Grouse and Sage Grouse congregate on their leks for their communal mating displays, and we were greatly entertained by their booming, strutting and dancing. In all, we found and enjoyed a great many specialty birds of the western mountains and plains, and enjoyed spectacular and varied scenery during our tour which took us to all four corners of Colorado plus a brief foray into Kansas.

Early-arriving participants enjoyed an afternoon of pre-tour birding in the mountains to the west of Colorado Springs, where we enjoyed our first taste of birds of western North America: Townsend’s Solitaire, Evening Grosbeak, Western and Mountain Bluebirds, Swainson’s Hawk, Common Raven, (Gray-headed) Dark-eyed Junco, Clark’s Nutcracker, Wild Turkey and, returning early because of the early spring, Williamson’s Sapsucker: two males and three females, in their strikingly different plumage. Before the trip was over we would find this stunning species at 3 different localities.

The tour proper began on Saturday, April 20 with a drive from Colorado Springs to Elkhart, Kansas, the heart of Lesser Prairie Chicken country. Stops along the way in the short-grass prairie and at prairie ponds yielded 
4 species of grebe (Clark’s, Western, Eared and Pied-billed), American Avocet, Long-billed Curlew, and American Pipit
Three special treats that day were Franklin’s Gulls in breeding plumage with their rosy breasts, a pair of Great Horned Owls at a nest, and pairs of Chihuahuan Ravens doing awe-inspiring flight displays, matching each other’s every maneuver while flying nearly wingtip to wingtip.

Sunrise on Sunday morning found us at the Lesser Prairie Chicken lek where we watched 21 males do their mating dance for 2 females. Burrowing Owls and Lark Buntings looked on at the spectacle, while singing Horned Larks and Western Meadowlarks provided musical accompaniment. We then headed north through the prairie where we watched Swainson’s and Ferruginous Hawks hunt. A stop at a prairie reservoir produced Franklin’s, Ring-billed, Bonaparte’s and California Gulls and a good assortment of waterfowl including all three teal, Redhead and Common Loon in breeding plumage, and three "Blue" Snow Geese and a Ross' Goose among a flock of Snow Geese. Our stop for the night was in the tall-grass prairie of northeastern Colorado, home of the Greater Prairie Chicken. A stop at the lek in the evening gave us our first views of this bird, making it a 2-prairie-chicken day. 
The next morning we again visited the Greater Prairie Chicken lek to witness their mating dance, which gave the Native Americans inspiration for many of their dances. We then visited the Pawnee Grasslands area, where we found many more prairie species including McCown’s Longspur, Lark and Vesper Sparrows, Say’s Phoebe, and Prairie Falcon, the fastest-flying bird in the world.

We then began our westward trip into the mountains, where our first stop produced Red-breasted, White-breasted and Pygmy Nuthatch, Gray Jay, Red-naped and Williamson’s Sapsucker, Mountain Bluebird, Mountain Chickadee, and two Northern Goshawks doing flight displays. As we lunched, we watched Bighorn Sheep clamber about the rocks high above us. We then continued our ascent to Guanella Pass at 11,500 feet on the Continental Divide, where White-tailed Ptarmigan spend the winter in their exquisite snow-white plumage. In spite of the very early spring and an early snowmelt, we managed to find one of these elusive birds. Also at the pass (and giving evidence of the early spring) we found arriving Horned Larks, American Pipits, Mountain Chickadees, and a Snowshoe Hare. On our descent we watched dippers foraging in the mountain streams and, in another visit to this beautiful area the following morning, we found the "Slate-colored" Rocky Mountain form of the Fox Sparrow, said by some to be a separate species.

Next we headed north to North Park, the high intermountain plateau or north-central Colorado, characterized by sage brush and its associated bird life. In the mountains along the way we found Brown-capped and Gray-crowned Rosy Finches, "Gray-headed" Dark-eyed Juncos, and a brilliant male Pine Grosbeak. Another stop at a reservoir gave us superb looks at Common and Barrow’s Goldeneye, Common Merganser, and many other species in transit to their breeding areas. Then, as we were in transit, we saw a cow giving birth to a calf! Later, an evening stop at the Sage Grouse lek-site we had our first looks at Golden Eagle and all 3 of the birds with the adjective "sage": Greater Sage Grouse, Sage Sparrow and Sage Thrasher.

A return to the lek the following morning gave us excellent looks at 33 male Greater Sage Grouse doing their mating dance and giving their bubble-popping "boom" for the benefit of one female, and more looks at Sage Sparrow and Sage Thrasher. Before leaving this beautiful area we made stops at a pond where we saw Mountain Bluebirds, various ducks, grebes and gulls, and Common Snipe doing their territorial calls and winnowing displays. A visit to a forested area produced recently-returning Red-naped Sapsuckers, drumming and setting up their territories in the aspens, and Ruby-crowned Kinglets displaying with their brilliant crests erected. Then we continued west, making a stop at the third site where we  found Williamson’s Sapsucker. Further west, in the one small area of Colorado where Sandhill Cranes breed, we saw a number of the stately birds.

Our first target for Friday morning was Blue Grouse, and we were not disappointed: a beautiful male displaying right by the side of the road gave all of us excellent looks. Another bird spotted this morning was the Spotted Towhee, singing and calling in the brush. We then set out for the Sharp-tailed Grouse lek, where we watched a dozen or more males give their wind-up-toy display: wings arched, head down, tail erect, rapidly stomping their feet. Elk and Pronghorn on the hillsides provided a fitting backdrop. 
We then traveled south towards Gunnison, choosing a route over Grand Mesa through topography which is quite different from that of the mountains further east. At the beginning of our ascent, the canyon was hot and dry, and we found Canyon Wren; White-throated Swift; Tree, Cliff and Violet-green Swallows; and a dipper foraging in the stream and feeding its loudly-calling chicks at the nest. Just an hour later we stopped and enjoyed the stunning scenery at the top of the mesa where it was still winter, and snowing! Upon our descent on the other side we visited an arid canyon where we found Rock Wren, Brewer’s Sparrow, Lark Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Green-tailed Towhee, and "Audubon’s" Yellow-rumped Warblers, impressive in their fresh breeding plumage.

Saturday, our last birding day and our last pre-dawn rise, we visited the lek for Gunnison Sage-Grouse, one of the rarest birds in North America and just recently recognized as a separate species distinct from Greater Sage Grouse. In spite of a gathering storm, 12 males came and displayed for a half hour before the snow started. We then headed back east, making a stop at Buena Vista ("Beautiful View"), where we had stunning views of pinyon-covered foothills and snow-capped mountain peaks. Our target bird here was Pinyon Jay. While looking for these elusive corvids we had our best looks of White-faced Ibis, plus Chipping and Brewer’s Sparrows, bushes full of Bushtits; Mountain Bluebirds; and both Western Scrub Jays and Steller’s Jays: everything blue-and-jay except our target. And then a Pinyon Jay was spotted in the distance, and the chase was on! We tracked down the wandering flock, and enjoyed great views of these nomadic birds. Continuing east we made our final birding stop along the Arkansas River where we found 6 species of swallows (Tree, Violet-green, Northern Rough-winged, Bank, Cliff and Barn), as well as some unexpected birds such as Green Heron.

Our total for the trip was 159 species (included in the cumulative bird-list for the tour). 

The "top birds" of the tour, as voted afterwards by the participants, were:

 1. Sharp-tailed Grouse
 2. Williamson's Sapsucker
 3. Lesser Prairie Chicken
 4. Greater Sage Grouse
 5. American Dipper (at nest)
 6. Northern Goshawk
 7. Blue Grouse
 8. Ferruginous Hawk
 9. McCown's Longspur
10. Pine Grosbeak
11. Green-tailed Towhee
12. Red-naped Sapsucker
13. Pinyon Jay
14. Greater Prairie Chicken
15. Prairie Falcon
16. "Audubon's" Yellow-rumped Warblers (in gorgeous breeding plumage)
17. Gray-crowned Rosy Finch
18. Common Merganser (pair)
19. White-tailed Ptarmigan
20. Brown-capped Rosy Finch

And honorable mention goes to:

Broad-winged Hawk, Mountain Bluebird, Barrow's Goldeneye, Black-billed Magpie, Franklin's Gulls with pink breasts, Ruby-crowned Kinglets displaying, Horned Larks displaying, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Golden Eagle, California Gull, Lark Sparrow, Sandhill Crane, Swainson's Hawk.

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COLORADO - April 2001 

Tour for Grouse and Other Birds

We all enjoyed our April 2001 tour of Colorado and nearby southwestern Kansas in search of grouse (7 species) and other regional specialties. 2001 was the second year for this FONT tour. Both were very successful and enjoyable.
Our aim was to find grouse during their spring lekking displays: Greater and Lesser Prairie Chickens, Greater and Gunnison Sage Grouse, Sharp-tailed Grouse, Blue Grouse (which display but do not lek), and White-tailed Ptarmigan (which do not display). Lesser Prairie Chickens and Gunnison Sage Grouse are among the rarer North American birds, and White-tailed Ptarmigan can be among the harder to find. We found and had excellent views of all our avian target, and nearly all of the "bonus birds" we had hoped for, as well. Our final tour count was 168 species, 175 birds including subspecies. We also saw a good variety of mammals.

During our first full day of birding, one of the first birds we found was a Mountain Plover (a threatened species rather related to dotterels). It was the ABA bird #650 for one of our tour participants. (Another participant topped 700 later in the tour). Also on day one we observed both Clark's and Western Grebes, and a good assortment of other waterbirds and shorebirds, including avocets and White Pelicans. Later, a brilliant male Vermilion Flycatcher, a flock of Evening Grosbeaks, and Pine Siskins. Among the species in southeastern Colorado canyons were: Canyon Towhee, Rock Wren, Ash-throated Flycatcher, and Black-chinned Hummingbird.
The short-grass prairie in adjacent Kansas produced: Scaled Quail, Swainson's Hawk, Golden Eagle, Prairie Falcon, Long-billed Curlew, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Lark Bunting, and about a hundred Chihuahuan Ravens.

Day two started at dawn with a visit to the Lesser Prairie Chicken lek. Ten males and one female came to the lek, and we watched the males puff up their purple air sacs, boom, dance and display for nearly an hour before breakfast (for us). The current population of Lesser Prairie Chickens is estimated at only about 2,000 birds. After our breakfast we headed for sewage ponds, making it a "real birding tour". We saw both the "Audubon's"  and the "Myrtle" Yellow-rumped Warblers, before heading north to the tall-grass prairie of northeastern Colorado, the home of the Greater Prairie Chicken. Along the way, and in a gathering storm (wind and rain turning to snow), we saw many Swainson's Hawks (both light and dark morphs), Ferruginous Hawk, and Pronghorn Antelope.
The next day we would be seeing lekking Greater Prairie Chickens on private property. Visiting the home of our kind hosts, this evening, we were treated to a presentation on dinosaurs! We were shown a Triceratops skull that had been excavated on ranchland in South Dakota, and had been assembled from hundreds (thousands?) of fragments, and we were given a vivid description of life in North America during the late Cretaceous period, 70 million years ago.

The next morning (day three) we were on the lek just after 5am for close-up views of Greater Prairie Chickens. Approximately 40 birds were present (2 females, the rest males). The red-rimmed yellow air sacs and the lower-pitched "booming" of the males was quite distinct from that of the Lesser Prairie Chicken. It was amusing to observe the contrast between the ardor of the males and the seeming indifference of the females! During the afternoon this day, in grasslands, we saw both McCown's and Chestnut-collared Longspurs.

On day four we headed west into the Rocky Mountains to search for White-tailed Ptarmigan in their exquisite snow-white winter plumage. And we found four of them, quite close to the road. We enjoyed leisurely looks, and then turned to see the stunning scenery at the pass on the Continental Divide. As we descended the mountain, we enjoyed foraging Dippers in a stream. As "dessert for the day", at a feeder, we observed 5 different subspecies of Dark-eyed Juncos, as well as the Rocky Mountain "Slate-colored" race of the Fox Sparrow.

During the morning of day five there were more mountain birds, starting with small friendly group of Gray Jays, and then all of the Rosy Finches: Gray-crowned (both the nominate and "Hepburns"), Brown-capped, and Black. Also there were Pine Grosbeaks, Cassin's Finches, and more juncos.
At a reservoir, during the middle of the day, both Barrow's and Common Goldeneye were seen. 
Mountain Bluebirds were seen long the road we traveled north into Sage Country. 
Bird-wise, this was a "three sage day" for us, with, first, Sage Thrasher being seen. Then, in the evening, we went to the site of a Greater Sage Grouse lek, where, at the appropriate time, the birds appeared and displayed until dark. There were 47 males and 4 females. Also in the area of the lek there were 4 species of raptors: Swainson's Hawk, Ferruginous Hawk, Golden Eagle, and American Kestrel. And there was the third of the species entitled "Sage", the Sparrow.

Day six began with a visit to a reservoir where there were all three Teal (Green-winged, Blue-winged, and Cinnamon), four members of the genus Aythya (Canvasback, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, and Lesser Scaup), plus other waterfowl and shorebirds.
In a nearby alpine-meadow area, we found Rough-legged Hawk and displaying Common Snipe, and in aspen and coniferous forests there were Red-naped and Williamson's Sapsuckers and Red Crossbills. At the forest edges, there were 4 Moose.
After driving further west, a final birding stop this day produced Sandhill Cranes, Marbled Godwit, and many Wilson's Phalaropes.

The morning of day seven was a "three grouse morning" for us. First, after a few minutes of looking and listening, we found a single Blue Grouse, then another, and four in all - two males and two females. A female being actively pursued by one of the males took flight - and came directly over our heads, so close we could feel the rush of the wingbeats - and then it landed just beyond us. The male followed immediately, flew over our heads, landed, and kept right on displaying. After 20 minutes or so of watching, we tore ourselves away and headed down the road to a Sharp-tailed Grouse lek, where we watched 12 males eagerly doing their wind-up-toy display before 3 females - wings outspread, tails cocked, head bowed, rapidly stamping their feet. Then, a bit further down the road, we watched 5 Greater Sage Grouse display, while Sandhill Cranes bugled overhead and landed on a hillside near a herd of 20 to 30 Elk.
We then did our long drive toward Gunnison, with a few birding stops on the Grand Mesa where, in the arid lower canyon, we found: White-throated Swift, Canyon Wren, Rock Wren, Black-throated Gray Warbler, and Say's Phoebe. Higher up, amid snow, there were Gray and Steller's Jays and Clark's Nutcrackers.
Closer to Gunnison, in the open country, before the day's end, there were Coyote and Badger, Horned Larks, Vesper Sparrows, and beautifully-singing Western Meadowlarks

Our last birding day began with us, at dawn, at the lek of the Gunnison Sage Grouse. There were 30 displaying males and 2 females. This bird was only recently recognized as a species distinct from the Greater Sage Grouse, and only about 4,000 are believed to exist. The birds arrived about 20 minutes after first light, diplayed for an hour, and then all flew away at once. That was our cue to go away for breakfast, before heading east toward the airport. At a stop along the way, we found two loose groups of Pinyon Jays - completing our sweep of Colorado Corvids (10 species in all). and yet another nice bird was to be seen this day, the Lewis' Woodpecker. We saw 4 of them, with their stunning green, white and rose in the afternoon sunlight. As the day ended, so did our fine birding tour in Colorado and Western Kansas, USA.  

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