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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

Colorado: Lekking Grouse

Monday 4 April to Thursday 14 April 2022
with Skye Haas as leader

Price Pending

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Greater Prairie-Chicken in full display, one of the natural world’s most amazing sights and sounds. Photo: Chris Wood

April is a spectacular time of year in Colorado. Late winter and early spring combine stunningly beautiful snowcapped peaks with the first blush of green on the river-edge cottonwoods and prairies. It’s also the time when the five lekking grouse species—Sharp-tailed Grouse, Greater and Gunnison Sage-Grouse, and Lesser and Greater Prairie-Chickens—are engaged in their amazing foot-stomping, cackling, hooting, and/or moaning displays.

Our travels to the grouse leks involve long drives, but what drives! We’ll travel along the Colorado River and the magnificent Black Canyon of the Gunnison, through montane spruce-fir forests and expansive sagebrush flats and grasslands, and past more than a dozen 14,000-foot mountain peaks. Along the way we’ll look for a variety of resident, early-arriving, or late-departing species, including White-tailed Ptarmigan and Dusky Grouse and all three species of rosy-finch. Mammals will be unusually well represented too: we may see Bighorn Sheep, Pronghorn, Elk, White-tailed and Mule Deer, Moose, Coyote, Red Fox, and, with great luck, Bobcat or even Mountain Lion.

Day 1: The tour begins at 6:00 p.m. at our hotel near Denver International Airport. Night in Denver.

Day 2: We’ll depart early for the foothills outside Denver, where we may see three species of nuthatch, Mountain and Western Bluebirds, and Williamson’s Sapsucker. If the weather cooperates, we’ll make our way to one of the high mountain passes in an attempt to locate the difficult-to-find White-tailed Ptarmigan, still white at this season. During some years rosy-finches linger into April, and occasionally we’re lucky enough to see all three species. In the afternoon we’ll have a few hours’ drive through spectacular mountain scenery before crossing the Monarch Pass and drop into Gunnison. Night in Gunnison.

Day 3: For our first grouse morning we’ll visit a lek of Gunnison Sage-Grouse. This highly localized bird was only recognized as a full species in the year 2000. We’ll absorb the ritual dance-displays of these wild looking grouse, and then we’ll head west out of Gunnison to the breathtaking Black Canyon of the Gunnison, where we’ll search for Dusky Grouse, Fox Sparrow, and others. Along the way we’ll pass the Blue Mesa Reservoir, which should harbor Barrow’s Goldeneye and other waterfowl. Night in Gunnison.

Day 4: If we haven’t encountered rosy-finches yet, we’ll head up to nearby Crested Butte where all three species can be found. From there we’ll meander our way east through the mountains, enjoying majestic scenery and stopping to look for Pinyon Jay, Clark’s Nutcracker, American Three-toed Woodpecker, Williamson’s Sapsucker, and others.  We’ll then arrive to the Canon City area in search of arid-loving species such as Juniper Titmouse and Rufous-crowned Sparrow. Night in Canon City.

Day 5: We’ll continue the next morning in our explorations of the dry brushlands looking for Scaled Quail Canyon Towhee,  Canyon Wren and Curve-billed Thrasher before starting a long drive for Kansas. We’ll take a few stops along the way looking for Clark’s and Western Grebes and huge numbers of migrating waterfowl. Night in Scott City, Kansas.

Day 6: This morning we will visit a new blind for Lesser Prairie-Chicken, a species that has undergone dramatic population declines across its already limited range. We’ll arrive early to the blinds and observe these handsome birds court while being serenaded by both species of meadowlarks. We’ll make our way north for the afternoon enjoying spring unfolding on the prairies. Night in McCook, Nebraska.

Day 7: Thanks to the help of the Red Willow County Visitors Bureau in McCook, we’ll witness sunrise at a Greater Prairie-Chicken lek. We’ll likely hear the eerie calls that accompany the magnificent dance of this species even before we can make them out in the dim light. After the birds have finished displaying, we’ll head west for Fort Collins, taking a birding break in the renowned and expansive prairies of Pawnee National Grasslands. Night in Fort Collins.

Day 8: We’ll return to the splendid Pawnee Grassland, where we’ll spend the morning in rolling short-grass prairies with good chances for early-returning Chestnut-collared and McCown’s Longspurs, Long-billed Curlew, and Mountain Plover, as well as breeding Ferruginous Hawks. In the afternoon we’ll make the drive to our hotel in Walden. Night in Walden.

Day 9: We’ll rise early to witness the extraordinary display of the largest North American grouse, Greater Sage-Grouse. As we watch the lek, we’ll pay particular attention to the plumage and behavior that distinguish this species from Gunnison Sage-Grouse we observed at the start of the tour. After leaving the lek, we’ll spend the rest of the day exploring the nearby wetlands and sagebrush flats of North Park, where Sage Thrashers might already be in residence. We may see the courtship of newly arrived Cinnamon Teal and American Avocet, and perhaps lingering winter birds like Rough-legged Hawk and Northern Shrike. We’ll also look for Moose as Walden is reputed to be the Moose capital of Colorado. Wolves are also known to be in North Park. Night in Steamboat Springs.

Day 10: We’ll have an early start to search for Sharp-tailed Grouse, one of the more difficult of the “chickens” on this tour. With some luck we’ll witness the wonderful foot-stomping display of this species. Then hopefully if the weather conditions will allow for it we’ll make another attempt for White-tailed Ptarmigan and any remaining Rosy-finches we may still need. Because early spring weather in Colorado can be unpredictable and we are unable to get the snowy peaks of ptarmigan country, we’ll spend one last afternoon birding the foothill forests or some of the many fine reservoirs or migrant traps along Colorado’s Front Range. We’ll make our way southeast, arriving in Denver in the late afternoon. Night in Denver.

Day 11: The tour concludes this morning in Denver.

Updated: 30 December 2020

Prices

  • 2022 Tour Price Not Yet Available

Notes

Questions? The Tour Manager for this tour is Stephanie Schaefer. Call 1-866-547-9868 or 520-320-9868 or click here to email.

* Tour invoices paid by check carry a 4% discount. Details here.

This tour is limited to 7 participants with one leader or up to 14 participants with two leaders

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