Welcome to Birdquest

COLORADO

Wednesday 29th March - Monday 10th April 2017

MIKE WATSON

Sharp-tailed Grouse (Mike Watson).

Sharp-tailed Grouse (Mike Watson).

Our 2017 ‘Ultimate Grousequest’ to the Rocky Mountains and High Plains of Colorado (plus a detour into each of neighbouring Kansas, Oklahoma and Utah) marked our seventh clean sweep in a row of the ‘magnificent seven’: White-tailed Ptarmigan (I still haven’t missed it yet!); Greater and Lesser Prairie Chickens; Dusky Grouse; Sharp-tailed, Gunnison and Sage Grouse. Again we experienced some dramatic weather as warm air from the Gulf of Mexico, which caused havoc in the form of torrential rain as well as the usual winter snowstorms. As ever, Colorado is not just about chickens and our tally included plenty of other sought-after Nearctic birds including Cackling Goose, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Scaled, Gambel’s and Northern Bobwhite Quails; Wild Turkey; Barrow’s Goldeneye; Western and Clark’s Grebes; Ferruginous Hawk; Rough-legged Buzzard (or Hawk); Prairie Falcon; Sandhill Crane; Mountain Plover; Bonaparte’s, Franklin’s and California Gulls; Greater Roadrunner, Great Horned and Burrowing Owls; White-throated Swift, Lewis’s and American Three-toed (5) Woodpeckers; Williamson’s Sapsucker; Grey, Pinyon and the recently-split Woodhouse’s Scrub Jays; Clark’s Nutcracker; Chihuahuan Raven; Black-capped and Mountain Chickadees; Juniper Titmouse; Rock, Canyon and Marsh Wrens; Pygmy, Red-breasted and White-breasted Nuthatches; Sage and Curve-billed Thrashers; the pretty bluebird trio of Eastern, Western and Mountain; Townsend’s Solitaire; American Dipper; the four Rosy Finch forms (Hepburn’s, Grey-crowned, Black and Brown-capped); Cassin’s Finch; Pine and Evening Grosbeaks; Harris’s (six), Sagebrush, Black-throated and Rufous-crowned Sparrows; Cassiar, Pink-sided and Grey-headed Juncos and finally both Chestnut-collared and McCown’s Longspurs on the prairie. Five ‘write-ins’ for this tour included: Virginia Rail, American Barn Owl, Black Phoebe, Field Sparrow and (at last!) Northern Pygmy Owl. However, there were hardly any spring visitors and we were warbler-free again. Colorado is great for mammals and an American Marten was new for us on this itinerary. Back after an absence of 10 years, an American Badger watched catching a Wyoming Ground Squirrel is also worth a mention. Our 2017 road trip clocked up more than 3000 miles in less than two weeks through some of the most spectacular scenery on the continent. We love Colorado in spring! We are always thinking about reasons to visit somewhere sooner rather than later and there are a couple of good reasons not to leave Colorado until later. First of all Gunnison Grouse has been uplisted to ‘endangered’ and the numbers we see at the only public access lek continue to dwindle and move further away. Secondly, we are now on our fourth Lesser Prairie Chicken lek within ten years as the previous three have collapsed completely and now numbers at the fourth and latest lek have more than halved in one year. No doubt we will be looking for another lek soon. One only has to look at the blue pins on eBird disappear as you move the date range forwards to follow its decline and I expect this species to be uplisted soon as well.

Sage Grouse (Mike Watson).

Sage Grouse (Mike Watson).