USA - Colorado:
Grouse Leks, the Rockies and Great Plains
A 8-day, small group bird and wildlife watching tour through the deserts, prairie grasslands, high-elevation forests and alpine tundra of Colorado and neighbouring Kansas.
Our spring tour of Colorado takes us to some of the most enjoyable birding locations in North America. We will be looking for the region’s most sought-after specialities among more widespread residents and an exciting host of migrants at the peak of spring migration. The highlights will undoubtedly include the extraordinary displays of up to five species of grouse as they gather at communal leks. We will explore desert canyons, prairie grasslands and private ranches, ascending into high-altitude grasslands via mountain passes still surrounded by snow-capped peaks. We will visit known leks of Lesser and Greater Prairie-chickens, Greater and Gunnison Sage-grouse and Sharp-tailed Grouse, also hoping to see Dusky Grouse and White-tailed Ptarmigan, accompanied by Williamson’s Sapsucker, Lewis’s Woodpecker, Woodhouse’s Scrub-jay, Pygmy Nuthatch, Clark’s Nutcracker, Boreal Owl, Thick-billed and Chestnut-collared Longspurs, Mountain Plover, Scaled Quail, Curve-billed Thrasher, Greater Roadrunner and much more, all against some magnificent wild landscapes with warblers in summer plumage and plentiful mammals throughout.
25 April - 2 May 2021
with Leio De Souza
24 April - 1 May 2022
with Leio De Souza
Duration: 8 days
Maximum group size: 8 with 1 leader
2021: £ tba (Denver/Denver)
2022: £ tba* (Denver/Denver)
Single room supplement 2021: £ tba
Single room supplement 2022: £ tba*
Deposit: £ 500
Estimated flight costs: £ 550
Estimated visa costs: £ 10
Best time: April to May
2021: from £ tba per person
2022: from £ tba per person*
[prices are per person based on 2 people travelling together; costs for other group sizes on request]
*2022 costs provisional
Tour grading: Easy. Most birding will be on foot along quiet, paved roads or park trails; the tour is intensive in terms of time spent in the field with some pre-dawn starts. Note we bird to 3655m where altitude makes walking more strenuous.
Accommodation: Comfortable good to medium standard hotels/motels throughout, all with private facilities.
Photography: Good to excellent
Key species: Greater Prairie-chicken, Lesser Prairie-chicken, Greater Sage-grouse, Gunnison Sage-grouse, Sharp-tailed Grouse, Dusky Grouse, White-tailed Ptarmigan, Brown-capped, Grey-crowned and Black Rosy-finches, Mountain Chickadee, Juniper Titmouse, Clark's Nutcracker, Woodhouse's (Western) Scrub-jay, Steller's, Pinyon and Gray Jays, Western and Mountain Bluebirds, Townsend's Solitaire, Williamson's Sapsucker, Lewis's Woodpecker, American Three-toed Woodpecker, Pygmy Nuthatch, Thick-billed (McCown's) and Chestnut-collared Longspurs, Mountain and Piping Plovers, Sage and Curve-billed Thrashers, Black-throated Sparrow, Canyon and Green-tailed Towhees, Rock, Canyon and Bewick's Wrens, Scaled Quail, Greater Road-runner, Ferruginous Hawk, Prairie Falcon, Boreal and Burrowing Owls, Northern Pygmy-Owl, Great Horned Owl, American Black Bear, Coyote, Moose, Bighorn Sheep, Mountain Goat, Pronghorn, Raccoon, Black-tailed Prairie-Dog, North American Beaver.
more Bird/Mammal tours...
Day 1: Denver to Walden via Loveland Pass
Arrivals this morning into Denver international airport. Drive west to spend most of the day birding the high altitudes around Loveland Pass (3655m) in search of White-tailed Ptarmigan and a selection of mountain finches, including Cassin’s Finch, Pine and Evening Grosbeaks, Red Crossbill and the chance of all three species of rosy-finch at feeder stations. Later drive north to Walden for the night, with time for some late afternoon birding around our hotel and the possibility of Boreal Owl and Northern Pygmy-owl after dark.
Days 2: Greater Sage-grouse lek and North Park, Rabbit Ears Pass to Craig
The first of many early starts will take us to an active Greater Sage-grouse lek at first light. Later, we’ll explore North Park, where high-altitude grasslands and sage-brush hold Long-billed Curlew, Black-billed Magpie, Sage Thrasher, Brewer’s Sparrow and Townsend’s Solitaire, and the Walden reservoir for an introductory selection of waterbirds, including Bufflehead, Canvasback, Redhead, Cinnamon Teal, and the possibility of a late Barrow’s Goldeneye. Leaving Walden, we stop briefly atop Rabbit Ears Pass looking for Williamson’s Sapsucker, and will encounter a good selection of species such as Sandhill Crane, Vesper and Fox Sparrows, and Violet-green Swallow as we drive on through the Yampa River Valley making our way to Craig for the night.
Day 3: Sharp-tailed Grouse lek, birding Grand Junction en-route to Montrose
Another pre-dawn start will take us to a special viewing area to see the energetic and vocal displays of lekking Sharp-tailed Grouse. By late morning we will begin the long drive south to Montrose for the night, birding along the journey in the Grand Junction area and in the Dominguez-Escalante Conservation Area, where scenic desert canyons, sage-brush and juniper habitats host Prairie Falcon, Cooper’s Hawk, Rock and Canyon Wrens, Grey Flycatcher, Virginia’s Warbler, Sagebrush Sparrow, Lewis’s Woodpecker, Gambel’s Quail and small numbers of the elusive resident breeder but non-native Chukar.
Day 4: Black Canyon, Gunnison National Park to Gunnison
Spend the early morning amidst the spectacular canyon scenery of the impressive Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park. Here, we’ll look for individual displaying Dusky Grouse and Wild Turkey, as well as Woodhouse’s Scrub-jay, Green-tailed and Spotted Towhees, Hermit Thrush, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Juniper Titmouse and Pygmy Nuthatch. Drive on to Gunnison for the night.
Day 5: Gunnison Sage-grouse lek, montane birding at Monarch Pass, the Arkansas River Valley and Pueblo to Bent’s Fort
Another pre-dawn start, this time to view the range-restricted and endangered Gunnison Sage-grouse at an active lek. Once the birds depart the area we’ll be free to continue our journey east towards Bent’s Fort for the night. Along the journey we will cross Monarch Pass (3448m), one of the most scenic mountain passes in Colorado with a panoramic view over the southern end of the Sawatch range and a good site for American Three-toed Woodpecker and Clark’s Nutcracker, as well as Bighorn Sheep. Descending through the foothills we’ll drive along the scenic cliffs and junipers of the Arkansas River Valley, home to Pinyon Jay, Gray Flycatcher, Bushtit, and American Dipper at Royal Gorge. Finally, we’ll reach the plains around Pueblo, where we will encounter a new selection of desert species in the arid landscape, some at the northernmost extent of their range, including Scaled Quail, Canyon Towhee, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Curve-billed Thrasher and Greater Roadrunner.
Day 6: SE Colorado to W Kansas
The south eastern corner of Colorado hosts various productive habitats that we will explore on our drive eastwards into neighbouring Kansas today. We will start the morning looking for marsh species including Black and Virginia Rails and Marsh Wren along the shores of John Martin reservoir, following up with the potential to add shorebirds, migrant songbirds and nesting grassland species throughout the day. Following part of the historic Santa Fe trail we head east to Scott City for the night.
Day 7: Prairie-chickens and the high plains of NE Colorado
We start the morning pre-dawn at a private ranch, visiting our final lek to enjoy both Greater and Lesser Prairie-chickens displaying. After breakfast, we head back west into the short grass prairie of Colorado, with time to add species such as Mountain Plover, McCown’s and Chestnut-collared Longspurs, various sparrows including Grasshopper, Field, Harris’s and Brewer’s, Loggerhead Shrike, Swainson’s and Ferruginous Hawks and Burrowing Owl. Drive north to Fort Collins for the night.
Day 8: Pawnee National Grasslands & depart Denver
Today will be flexible, allowing us the chance to return to Loveland Pass for White-tailed Ptarmigan, but we are more likely to spend the day in the Great Plains at Pawnee National Grasslands looking for grassland species we may so far have missed. These may include Lark Bunting, Chipping and Savannah Sparrows as well as smaller numbers of Lark, Clay-coloured and Cassin’s Sparrows, Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers and Eastern Phoebe. We will leave Pawnee National Grasslands by mid-morning to drive back to Denver. Departures from Denver international airport this evening.