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

Tour Dates: Sunday 10th – Wednesday 20th April 2022 (Denver to Denver) Dates to be confirmed
Tour Price: £3,075pp plus flights
Estimated Flight Price: London to Denver approx. £650 return
Deposit: £500 per person
Conservation Donation from Wise Birding: £150 – £200
Minimum Number: 6 people
Maximum Group Size: 7 people

Target Species
Birds: Lesser Prairie-Chicken, Greater Prairie-Chicken, Mountain Plover, Greater Sage-Grouse, Sharp-tailed Grouse, Gunnison Sage-Grouse, Dusky Grouse, White-tailed Ptarmigan, American Three-toed Woodpecker, Williamson’s Sapsucker, Clark’s Nutcracker, Brewer’s Sparrow, Black-throated Sparrow, McCown’s and Chestnut-collared Longspur Brown-capped and Grey-crowned Rosy-finch and a possibility of Black Rosy-finch too.
Mammals: Pronghorn, Bighorn Sheep, Elk, Coyote, Prairie Dog. Plus possibilities of Swift Fox, American Badger or Bobcat.

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: 10 nights in Colorado
1 night Denver, 1 night Scott City (Kansas), 1 night Wray, 1 night Walden, 1 night Steamboat Springs, 2 nights Gunnison, 1 night Buena Vista, 1 night Silverthorne and 1 night Denver
Inclusive Meals: Breakfast only

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

DAY 1: Arrival Denver – Local Birding
Arrive at Denver International Airport where we will meet our local guide. Dependent on our arrival time. We may visit a number of local birding locations. Denver is a good place to access many of the Pawnee National Grassland speciality species such as Longspurs, Burrowing Owls and maybe Mountain Plovers. We may also visit some of the excellent migrant traps and waterbird hotspots to look for ducks and herons or early arriving migrants. Overnight Denver

DAY 2: Garden of the Gods – Scott City, Kansas
After breakfast we will travel to Kansas where we will visit the spectacular Garden of the Gods where red rock pinnacles formed millions of years ago form an impressive landscape for our birding. Here our target species will be Prairie Falcon, Juniper Titmouse, “Woodhouse’s” Scrub-Jay, and numerous other montane and Pinyon-Juniper species such as Gray Flycatcher, Pinyon Jay, Bewick’s Wren, Bushtit, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Black-throated Sparrow. After lunch we will make a number of birding stops en route as we head east into the adjacent state of Kansas and spend the night in Scott City, Kansas. Overnight Scott City

DAY 3: Lesser Prairie-Chickens – Wray
Today will be an early start as we need to be away by 4:30 am so we can be in position before sunrise. We will spend the morning at a blind where we have an excellent chance of observing Lesser Prairie-Chickens on the lek. When the birds have finished displaying and have left the area, we will depart for a much needed breakfast and coffee!
After breakfast and feeling re-fuelled we will head back into the state of Colorado towards Wray. We will make a number of birding stops en route and will be looking for prairie raptors including Ferruginous and Swainson’s hawk, Longspurs, and the very localised Mountain Plover. Overnight Wray

Mountain Plovers, Colorado

DAY 4: Greater Prairie-Chickens – Walden
Another early start, as once again we need to be in position before sunrise. Again we will be using a blind where we hope to enjoy some great views of displaying Greater Prairie-Chickens at the lek on a private cattle ranch. After viewing the birds, we will enjoy a good breakfast before continuing our travels north west to Walden.
We will make a number of stops whilst travelling through the Pawnee National Grasslands. Pawnee is a native shortgrass prairie ecosystem full of amazing wildlife and aside from birds there should be plenty of mammals to see too. We will be keeping a lookout for Pronghorn, Prairie Dogs, Mule Deer, and if we are lucky, Swift Fox or even American Badger or Bobcat. Our bird targets today will be another chance for Mountain Plover and both McCown’s Longspur and Chestnut-collared Longspur. Overnight Walden

DAY 5: Greater Sage-Grouse – Steamboat Springs
We will now be used to getting up early, so another early departure should be no problem for us! This time the early start is to visit a Greater Sage-Grouse lek, using our vehicle as a hide. 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 very rare species. After lunch we will continue westwards birding from Walden to Craig in the hops of finding other grouse species, such as Sharp-tailed Grouse. Overnight Steamboat Springs

Greater Sage Grouse at the lek, Colorado

DAY 6: Sharp-tailed Grouse – Gunnison National Park
This morning we will depart at around 4 am to a private lek where we should see the amazing dancing displays of Sharp-tailed Grouse at sunrise. After the birds finish displaying, we will have breakfast.
During late morning we will head south where we will make a number of birding stops en route to Montrose. From Montrose we are just twenty minutes drive from the impressive Black Canyon in the Gunnison National Park. This is an amazing national park with steep canyons and plenty of great wildlife. The Pinyon-Juniper woodland is good for species such as Gray Flycatcher, Canyon Wren, Pinyon Jay and Gambel’s Quail. We will also be looking for Dusky Grouse. Overnight Gunnison

DAY 7: Gunnison Basin Birding
This morning we will return to Gunnison National Park where we hope to find Dusky Grouse displaying, sometimes as close as 3-5 metres! We will then return to Gunnison for breakfast and drive through the basin area where we will look explore the sagebrush habitat. Here, we have the chance of seeing Gunnison Sage-Grouse. Other species we may encounter include Sage Thrasher, Golden Eagle, and other mountain birds. In the afternoon we will visit a ski area with feeders for Grey-crowned Rosy-finches. Overnight Gunnison

Pawnee National Grasslands

DAY 8: Gunnison Sage-Grouse – Buena Vista
Another early-morning wake up as we drive to a Gunnison Sage-grouse lek. We will view birds at distance from our vehicle. Usually by around 10am activity has gone quiet and we will drive east over the impressive Monarch Pass (3,400m) and then to our final destination of Buena Vista. We will make some stops along the way to search for montane specialties such as Gray Jay, Clark’s Nutcracker, and American Three-toed Woodpecker. Overnight in Buena Vista

Grey-crowned Rosy-Finch and Dusky Grouse, Colorado

DAY 9: Mountain Specialties
Today we will have a much needed later start and a leisurely breakfast!
We then explore the nearby beautiful mountain valley where we hope to find mountain specialties such as American Dipper, Lewis’s Woodpecker, Pinyon Jay, Northern Goshawk, Williamson’s Sapsucker and more!
After lunch, we will drive up to 3,600M on the Loveland Pass. Depending on conditions we will then search for White-tailed Ptarmigan and make a stop at Silverthorne for Grey-crowned Rosy-finches. Overnight in Silverthorne

DAY 10: Mountain Birding – Denver
We will have another leisurely morning birding with another opportunity to look for other Rosy-finch species, Pine Grosbeak, and other winter finches and Red Crossbills. If unsuccessful with White-tailed Ptarmigan from the previous day, we will return to the Loveland Pass. We will then slowly travel towards Denver, stopping at the scenic Red Rocks and some local parks for possibilities for Long-eared Owl, Great Horned Owl and Western Screech Owl. Overnight Denver Airport Hotel

DAY 11: Departure
Dependent on flight times we may have time during the morning for some local birding for species such as Burrowing Owl, Ferruginous Hawk and Long-eared Owl.

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, alcoholic drinks other than water and any airport/visa fees
Single Supplement: To be confirmed
Transport: Minivan
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 the grouse lek viewing is either from our vehicle or from 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