Colorado: The Grouse Leks of the High Plains & Rocky Mountains

Grouse, Prairie Chickens and much more

At a Glance

FOCUS:

Birds, mammals, scenery and photography.

WHERE:

Denver (USA) – exploring Colorado – Denver

SAMPLE WILDLIFE:

Five species of lekking grouse plus other ‘game birds’ including Dusky Grouse, White-tailed Ptarmigan, many other resident, winter and summer visitors.  A good list of potential mammals including Coyote, Elk, Moose, plus a chance of Bobcat and Mountain Lion (Puma).

Dates and Prices:

Dates: April 2022 (TBC)

Leader: Dick Filby (TBC)

Prices: TBC

Additional info: Travel will be by 15 seat passenger van with the group limited to seven participants. Generally staying in typical American motels in rooms with private facilities. One night ranch stay and one night 'self catering' at a ski-resort.

Client quote: ‘WildWings don’t just do it – they do it right!” Colorado B.B. May 2017


Travel to the USA is currently not advised by the UK government as the country is on the "amber list". Hopefully travel will be possible in 2022 without too many restrictions and until there is greater clarity we do not recommend making bookings.

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  • Greater Sage Grouse, Colorado
  • Greater Sage Grouse, Colorado
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  • White-tailed Ptarmigan, Colorado
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  • Greater Sage Grouse, Colorado
  • Moose, Colorado
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Tour overview

This extremely popular tour led by Dick Filby has been running for well over a decade and combines great birding and incredible scenery making it one of WildWings’ most popular sell-out trips.

Many birds and mammals are found more easily in Colorado than anywhere else and as Dick typically spends several months each year in Colorado, he knows where to find them. The primary focus of this trip are the grouse leks for which Colorado is rightly famous, with more grouse species found here than anywhere else in North America. Indeed, there is no better place to view them!!

The leks are totally spellbinding with some of the most incredible display rituals in the avian world with each species having its own unique and bizarre performance which involves ritualised dancing, inflation of brightly coloured air sacs, curious vocalisations and extraordinary posturing.

As we travel around the state in search of the different species, we will position ourselves at each lek prior to dawn and thrill to a new spectacle unfolding as the sun rises. We will spend an hour or more spellbound until the frenzied activity of the males diminishes, the visiting females have departed, and we too head off for breakfast.

We plan to visit leks of Greater Sage Grouse, the recently split Gunnison Sage Grouse, Sharp-tailed Grouse, Greater Prairie Chicken and Lesser Prairie Chicken. In addition, we will seek displaying Blue Grouse and Wild Turkeys, coveys of Scaled, Gambel’s and Northern Bobwhite Quails and, subject to permissions and weather, will seek the enigmatic and beautiful White-tailed Ptarmigan.

As we search for the ptarmigan, you will be truly on the roof of North America as we expect to reach an altitude of 12,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains. Nearby peaks are over 14,000 feet.

We will look for numerous other exciting birds, some of which are not readily seen in much of the rest of the USA including American White Pelican, White-faced Ibis, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Bufflehead, Hooded Merganser, Bald Eagle, Swainson’s Hawk, Prairie Falcon, Sandhill Crane, Mountain Plover, American Avocet, Willet, Long-billed Curlew, Marbled Godwit, Franklin’s Gull, White-throated Swift, Black-chinned and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds, Belted Kingfisher, Lewis’s, Red-bellied, Ladder-backed, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, Northern Flicker, Williamson’s and Red-naped Sapsuckers, Say’s Phoebe, Cassin’s and Western Kingbirds, Violet-green and Cliff Swallows, Grey, Steller’s, Western Scrub and Pinyon Jays, Clark’s Nutcracker, Mountain Chickadee, Juniper Titmouse, Bushtit, White-breasted and Pygmy Nuthatches, Rock, Canyon, Bewick’s and Marsh Wrens, American Dipper, Western and Mountain Bluebirds, Townsend’s Solitaire, Sage and Curve-billed Thrashers, Cedar Waxwing, Loggerhead Shrike, Green-tailed and Canyon Towhees, Cassin’s, Rufous-crowned, Chipping, American Tree, Brewer’s, Vesper, Lark, Savannah, Grasshopper, Fox, Song, Lincoln’s, and White-crowned Sparrows, Chestnut-collared and McCown’s Longspurs, Brewer’s and Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Western Meadowlark, Grey-crowned, Brown-capped and Black Rosy Finches, Pine Grosbeak, Cassin’s Finch, Lesser and American Goldfinches and Evening Grosbeak.

This tour offers an excellent chance to see many of these species in summer plumage on their breeding grounds and we will also have the opportunity, if the weather co-operates, to seek several species of owls including Burrowing, Western and Eastern Screech and Great Horned. If luck is truly on our side, we may also again find a Northern Saw-whet Owl or Boreal (Tengmalm’s) Owl.

Another fantastic aspect of this trip is the scenery with the endless vistas of the High Plains giving us a sense of freedom and space that is difficult to find in many other parts of the world. In the Rocky Mountains, we will see dramatic peaks still capped in snow towering over great forests and deep gorges carved by gushing rivers.

Whilst this tour is not designed specifically for photographers, it offers some good chances for bird photography at some (but not all) leks and elsewhere, although longer lenses are generally needed to maximise on the opportunities. Digi-scoping can be excellent, as can the scenic photography.

The trip is intended for birders who are prepared to go to bed early and get up very early. Basic fitness is essential, but with no long walks planned, this is not a physically demanding tour apart from the early starts. We will generally be birding from, or close to the vehicle.

Travel: is by 15 passenger van, with a maximum of seven participants.  Whilst there are some days with longer drives between overnight stays, this is balanced with days where we plan to have shorter drives, of around 100 miles or less.

Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive Denver. Overnight hotel.

Day 2: The Eastern Plains.  Drive to Wray, birding en route.

Day 3: Greater Prairie Chicken lek, then drive to SE Colorado.

Day 4: Lesser Prairie Chicken lek then drive to private ranch adjacent to the Comanche Grasslands.

Day 5: Birding on private ranch, then drive into the Rocky Mountains over Monarch Pass to Gunnison.  

Day 6: Gunnison Sage Grouse lek then birding our way to overnight in Montrose.

Day 7: Looking for more Western specialities including Dusky Grouse. Overnight Grand Junction area.

Day 8: Colorado River and valleys of the Central Rockies including looking for nesting Bald Eagles.

Day 9: Snowmass and private areas in the Roaring Fork Valley for Rosy Finches, Barrow’s Goldeneye etc.

Day 10: Sharp-tailed Grouse lek, Sandhill Cranes etc in the North Park Basin.

Day 11: Greater Sage Grouse lek, then to the roof of the Rockies in search of White-tailed Ptarmigan.

Day 12: Ponderosa Forest specialities and other ‘Front Range Hills’ birding, then back to Denver.

Day 13: Final morning of birding concluding at Denver Airport.  Departure from Denver with overnight flight.

Day 14: Arrive back in UK.

NB: the exact itinerary will be subject to weather and local conditions and is subject to government and local permissions.

Potential Birds (selected species only)

American White Pelican, White-faced Ibis, Snow Goose, Ross’s Goose, Wood Duck, Blue-winged Teal, Cinnamon Teal, Canvasback, Redhead, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Bufflehead, Hooded Merganser, Bald Eagle, Swainson’s Hawk, Ferruginous Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Prairie Falcon, Scaled Quail, Gambel’s Quail, Northern Bobwhite, Greater Sage-Grouse, Gunnison’s Sage-Grouse, White-tailed Ptarmigan, Dusky Grouse, Sharp-tailed Grouse, Greater Prairie-Chicken, Lesser Prairie-Chicken, Wild Turkey, Virginia Rail, Sandhill Crane, Mountain Plover, Killdeer, American Avocet, Willet, Long-billed Curlew, Marbled Godwit, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Baird’s Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, Wilson’s Snipe, Wilson’s Phalarope, Franklin’s Gull, Bonaparte’s Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Western Screech-Owl, Eastern Screech-Owl, Great Horned Owl, Northern Pygmy Owl, Burrowing Owl, Boreal (Tengmalm’s) Owl, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Common Poorwill, Chimney Swift, White-throated Swift, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Belted Kingfisher, Lewis’s Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Williamson’s Sapsucker, Red-naped Sapsucker, Eastern Phoebe, Say’s Phoebe, Cassin’s Kingbird, Western Kingbird, Horned Lark, Tree Swallow, Violet-green Swallow, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Cliff Swallow, Grey Jay, Steller’s Jay, Blue Jay, Western Scrub Jay, Pinyon Jay, Clark’s Nutcracker, Black-billed Magpie, Chihuahuan Raven, Black-capped Chickadee, Mountain Chickadee, Juniper Titmouse, Bushtit, Red-breasted Nuthatch, White-breasted Nuthatch, Pygmy Nuthatch, Rock Wren, Canyon Wren, Bewick’s Wren, House Wren, Marsh Wren, American Dipper, Eastern Bluebird, Western Bluebird, Mountain Bluebird, Townsend’s Solitaire, Sage Thrasher, Curve-billed Thrasher, American Pipit, Cedar Waxwing, Loggerhead Shrike, Green-tailed Towhee, Spotted Towhee, Canyon Towhee, Cassin’s Sparrow, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, American Tree Sparrow, Brewer’s Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, Lark Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Grasshopper Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Lincoln’s Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Chestnut-collared Longspur, McCown’s Longspur, Red-winged Blackbird, Brewer’s Blackbird, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Western Meadowlark, Great-tailed Grackle, Grey-crowned Rosy Finch, Brown-capped Rosy Finch, Black Rosy Finch, Pine Grosbeak, Cassin’s Finch, Pine Siskin, Lesser Goldfinch, American Goldfinch, Evening Grosbeak.


Potential Mammals (selected species only)

American Pika, Desert Cottontail, Eastern Cottontail, Mountain Cottontail, Snowshoe Hare, Black-tailed Jackrabbit, White-tailed Jackrabbit, Least Chipmunk, Colorado Chipmunk, Yellow-bellied Marmot, Wyoming Ground-Squirrel, Golden-mantled Ground-Squirrel, Spotted Ground-Squirrel, Thirteen-lined Ground-Squirrel, Rock Squirrel, White-tailed Antelope-Squirrel, Gunnison Prairie-Dog, Black-tailed Prairie-Dog, Abert’s Squirrel, Fox Squirrel, Pine Squirrel, Ord’s Kangaroo-Rat, American Beaver, Common Muskrat, Common Porcupine, Coyote, Swift Fox, Red Fox, Grey Fox, Black Bear, Ringtail, Raccoon, American Marten, Ermine (Short-tailed Weasel), Long-tailed Weasel, Mink, American Badger, Northern River Otter, Western Spotted Skunk, Eastern Spotted Skunk, Striped Skunk, Mountain Lion, Bobcat, Elk, Mule Deer, White-tailed Deer, Moose, Pronghorn, Mountain Goat, Mountain Sheep.