Greater Prairie Chicken, Colorado by Christian Hagenlocher: The Birding Project

Tour Dates: Wednesday 12th – Thursday 20th April 2023 (Denver to Denver) 
Tour Price: £3,295pp plus flights
Estimated Flight Price: London to Denver approx. £700 return
Deposit: £500 per person
Conservation Donation from Wise Birding: £150 – £200
Minimum Number: 7 people
Maximum Group Size: 7 people

Target Species
Birds: Greater Prairie-Chicken, Lesser Prairie-Chicken, Greater Sage-Grouse, Gunnison Sage-Grouse, Sharp-tailed Grouse, Dusky Grouse, White-tailed Ptarmigan, Gambel’s Quail, Mountain Plover, American Three-toed Woodpecker, Williamson’s Sapsucker, Clark’s Nutcracker, Curve-billed Thrasher, Canyon Towhee, Greater Roadrunner, Brewer’s Sparrow, Black-throated Sparrow, McCown’s and Chestnut-collared Longspur Brown-capped and Grey-crowned Rosy-finch, Black Rosy-finch and more!
Mammals: Pronghorn, Bighorn Sheep, Elk, Coyote, Prairie Dog. Possibilities for Bobcat and outside chance of American Badger.

Tour Summary
April is a great time of year to visit Colorado. Early to mid April is a time when the late winter snow blends with the first signs of Spring greenery and the mountain scenery can be simply spectacular! Of course the main reason for timing our tour at this time of year is to experience one of North America’s most incredible avian spectacles, dancing Grouse!!
On this tour we will be focusing much of our time on trying to see seven species of grouse, of which five species we hope to see at their lekking grounds where the activity and noise from the leks is quite simply amazing! These are the Greater and Lesser Prairie-Chickens, Greater Sage-Grouse, Gunnison Sage-Grouse and Sharp-tailed Grouse. We will also look for Dusky Grouse and White-tailed Ptarmigan at other sites.
Our journeys to each of the grouse leks involve a lot of travelling but across some of the most impressive scenery and landscapes in North America. Our route will take us along the Colorado River into the stunning Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, across sagebrush and remnant native prairie grasslands, through beautiful Pinyon-Juniper slopes and up into alpine tundra above the tree line in the Rockies to the Loveland Pass at 3,600M.

Of course, we won’t only be looking for Grouse as there will be plenty of other birds to see as we travel across the state. Some of the key birds we hope to find include the very localised Mountain Plover, Clark’s Nutcracker, American Three-toed Woodpecker, up to three species of Rosy-Finch as well as McCown’s and Chestnut-collared Longspur. As with most Wise Birding Holidays, we will also have good opportunities for mammals too. We may see Bighorn Sheep, Pronghorn, Elk, Coyote and maybe Bobcat too!

ACCOMMODATION: 8 nights in Colorado & 1 in Kansas
1 night Denver, 1 night Walden, 2 nights Craig, 1 night Montrose, 1 night Gunnison, 1 Pueblo, 1 night Oakley (KA) and 1 night Brush
Inclusive Meals: Breakfast only

Lesser Prairie-Chicken and Greater Sage Grouse by Christian Hagenlocher: The Birding Project

DAY 1: Arrival Denver
Arrive at Denver International Airport during the early evening where we will transfer to our hotel near Cherry Creek. Overnight Denver

DAY 2: High Montane birding: Loveland Pass and Steamboat Springs
Early starts will be the normal routine on this tour and this morning we will meet our local guide pre-dawn. We will drive fro around two hours heading west up into the mountains to try for various high altitude species. Our birding day will begin near the Loveland Pass at an altitude of around 3,600M for some excellent birds and impressive scenery.

Our main targets in these areas include White-tailed Ptarmigan and Mountain finches, with Brown-capped Rosy-Finch, Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch expected and with luck Black Rosy-Finch too! We will also be looking for Cassin’s Finch, Red Crossbill, Pine Grosbeak and Evening Grosbeak. During the late afternoon we will head north to our hotel in Walden, just east of Steamboat Springs. Here, we should easily find and enjoy views of a number of local breeding species before dinner such as Bald Eagle, Sandhill Crane, Mountain Bluebird and Sage Thrasher. Overnight Walden.

DAY 3: North Park – Rabbit Ears Pass – Steamboat Springs – Yampa River Valley
We will begin before first light to be in position for a fabulous morning viewing Greater Sage-Grouse displaying at a lek near Walden. There are several areas that the Sage-Grouse use and we will try the best spots for seeing and hearing the incredible display of this impressive species.

After a celebratory breakfast in town, we will then explore the high altitude grasslands of North Park for more birds and some mammals too. Key birds here include Golden Eagle, Long-billed Curlew, Black-billed Magpie, Sage Thrasher and Brewer’s Sparrow. North Park is also known as the Moose viewing capital of Colorado, so we may get lucky with a sighting during the morning. Walden Reservoir is nearby and is usually a good site to see a selection of water birds including American White Pelican, Western Grebe, Bufflehead, Cinnamon Teal, Willet and California Gull. Less common species such as Franklin’s Gulls and Bonaparte’s Gulls are also likely and flocks of migrating Yellow-headed Blackbirds provide a great spectacle!

By late morning we will depart North Park and head to the west and Steamboat Springs. En route we will make a brief stop at the top of Rabbit Ears Pass where we have a great chance of finding Williamson’s Sapsucker. After lunch in Steamboat Springs, we will continue our journey west through the Yampa River Valley. We will have time to make a number of random birding stops during the journey where we should find species such as Sandhill Crane, Violet-green Swallow, Vesper Sparrow and Slate-coloured Fox Sparrow. Overnight Craig

Mountain Plovers, Colorado

DAY 4: Sharp-tailed Grouse Lek and Craig Area
Once again we will be departing before dawn, but the early start will be well worth it as we visit a special viewing area to see lekking Sharp-tailed Grouse. The sight of these dancing grouse is sure to be one of the day’s highlights and all before returning to our hotel for breakfast!

We will spend the rest of the day birding in and around the Craig area for new species that may include Mountain Bluebird and Sandhill Crane as well as many others. Overnight in Craig.

DAY 5: Craig – Meeker 
Today we begin the long journey to Montrose. Despite much of the day being a travel day, we will still make a couple of birding stops en route as we pass through different habitats. Evening Grosbeak and Cassin’s Finch will be two key species we will try for and then later in the day a stop near Grand Junction can produce some a great selection of species. Here, we hope to find Gambel’s Quail, Prairie Falcon, White-throated Swift, Gray Flycatcher, Gray Vireo, Rock Wren, Juniper Titmouse, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Virginia’s Warbler, Sagebrush Sparrow and Black-throated Sparrow.

After lunch we will then make another birding stop to look for any target species that we may be missing as we drive along the impressive Dominquez-Escalante Conservation Area. Overnight in Montrose

DAY 6: Gunnison National Park
We will now be used to getting up very early, so another pre-dawn departure should be no problem for us! Today, we we head out to visit the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park where at dawn, we will be in position to witness the impressive displays of Dusky Grouse and Wild Turkeys. Other expected species during the morning may include Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay, Clark’s Nutcracker, Western Bluebird, Green-tailed Towhee and Spotted Towhee.

After breakfast in Montrose, we will take a short but very scenic drive to Gunnison. This is an amazing national park with steep canyons and plenty of great wildlife. The Pinyon-Juniper woodland here is good for species such as Gray Flycatcher, Canyon Wren, Pinyon Jay and Gambel’s Quail. Numerous birding opportunities present themselves here, and we will focus the whole day enjoying birding and looking for any new species. Overnight Gunnison

Greater Sage Grouse at the lek, Colorado

DAY 7: Gunnison Sage Grouse – Montane birding along Arkansas River
This morning we will visit the one and only Gunnison Sage-Grouse lek with public access. This species is now very scarce and it is very important that we minimise any disturbance so we will arrive at the viewing area before sunrise and we must remain until the birds depart the area. Therefore, our breakfast will be a little later than normal though it should not be too much of a hardship with such great birds to keep us entertained!

We hope to have breakfast at around 9am in Gunnison before heading east. As usual we will be making numerous birding stops on our route as we travel through the Arkansas River Valley.
A stop near Monarch Pass is often a good spot to find American Three-toed Woodpecker and as we drive down into the Arkansas River Valley we should also find Pinyon Jay. We continue our journey following the river into the Chihuahuan Desert ecosystem, which hosts a totally different suite of birds and we will try for some specialities such as Scaled Quail and Greater Roadrunner.
A brief stop by the Arkansas River should reveal American Dipper and at the Royal Gorge we should find Gray Flycatcher, Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay, and Juniper Titmouse. Overnight Pueblo.

Pawnee National Grasslands

DAY 8: Pueblo – Oakley
This morning we will enjoy a leisurely start! There is no need to start early as we will spend much of the day very locally birding around Pueblo, including the Pueblo Reservoir State Park. This area features the Arkansas River watershed and Pinyon-juniper grassland habitat of the high Chihuahuan Desert system. Unique species in this part of Colorado include Scaled Quail, Curve-billed Thrasher, Black Phoebe, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Greater Roadrunner, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Canyon Towhee and many more species that we will spend time looking for.

As we head east, we will stop around the Pueblo Reservoir. The reservoir attracts a good wide variety of gulls grebes, loons and other waterbirds as well as rarities. Areas around the reservoir edge can also be great for finding some of the tougher species if we have been unsuccessful elsewhere on the tour. We will try for Bewick’s Wren, Curve-billed Thrasher and Canyon Towhee. These areas often reveal a few unexpected birds, so the birding is always exciting.

Later in the day we head through southeast Colorado and up and over the amazing landscape to Oakley in the state of Kansas where we will spend the night. This is around a 200 mile drive and depending on how long we spend at Pueblo Reservoir, we may have time for some birding along the way. We have the potential to add more localised species such as Red-bellied Woodpecker, Eastern Phoebe, and Cassin’s Sparrow. We should also see a good selection of waders such as Long-billed Curlew, Willet, Whimbrel, American Avocet and Black-necked Stilt. Plus an assortment of migrant songbirds that should be passing through the area. Overnight Oakley, Kansas

Grey-crowned Rosy-Finch and Dusky Grouse, Colorado

DAY 9: Prairie-Chickens and High Plains of Northeast Colorado
Today should be one of the highlights of the tour as we begin our morning before dawn at a private ranch. Here, we will watch the fabulous displaying Lesser Prairie-Chickens and Greater Prairie-Chickens at their lek.

We will return to the hotel for breakfast and then head back west towards the short grass prairies of Colorado. There will be plenty of time today to add more shorebird and grassland species to our growing list including a number of highly sought after species which we will certainly look for. These include the localised Mountain Plover, McCown’s Longspur, Chestnut-collared Longspur and Burrowing Owl. Overnight Brush, Colorado

DAY 10: Pawnee National Grasslands
Today, if we have missed Greater Praise Chicken we have another site we can visit for this species. We will then visit the vast Pawnee National Grasslands. This wonderful native shortgrass prairie ecosystem is full of amazing wildlife and aside from birds there should also be plenty of mammals to see. We will be keeping a lookout for Pronghorn, Prairie Dogs, Mule Deer, and if we are very lucky, Bobcat or even American Badger. Our bird targets today will be another chance for Mountain Plover and both McCown’s Longspur and Chestnut-collared Longspur.
We will have the whole day for birding as we are within an hour of Denver airport and will arrive in good time for our late evening flight back to the UK. 

Please note this is a flexible itinerary which may need to be adjusted slightly dependent on arrival / departure times, weather conditions and the most recent information from our local guides

Leaders: Wise Birding leader and local guides
Included in cost: Accommodation in twin en-suite rooms, breakfasts only, all ground transport, Grouse blind fees, National Park entrance fees and services of leaders
Not included in cost: International airfare, travel insurance, meals other than breakfast and any airport/visa fees.
Single Supplement: £500pp
Transport: Minivan 15 seater with last row removed for luggage therefore allowing 12 seats.
Difficulty: Easy
Most birding is from flat roads or trails. Much of this tour is spent above 1,000M with some days spent above 2,300M. Please note, there may some more demanding optional walks at Loveland Pass. All grouse lek viewing is either from our vehicle or a blind.
Climate: Extremely variable. Dependent on the year, the early morning temperatures for the grouse leks can be as low as -18°C and daytime temperatures only getting up to -9°C. In contrast, some years the early morning temperatures hover around 0°C and daytime temperatures can be as high as 19-20°C. Rain is unusual and snow more likely.
Tour Start Point: Denver airport, USA
Tour End Point: Denver airport, USA
Suggested Airlines: United Airlines or British Airways

Black Canyon, Gunnison National Park