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Colorado - Grouse Leks

AT A GLANCE

FOCUS

Bird and Mammal Tour:
Birds, mammals, scenery & photography.

WHERE

Denver (USA) – exploring Colorado – Denver

SAMPLE WILDLIFE

5 species of lekking grouse plus other ‘game birds’ including White-tailed Ptarmigan, many other resident, winter and summer visitors. A good list of potential mammals including Coyote, Elk, Moose, plus a chance of wild cats.

CLIMATE

Temperature winter to spring (-10C to +25C).

ACCOMMODATION

travel will be by 15 seat passenger van, generally staying in typical American motels, rooms with private facilities.  Plus one night ranch stay and one night self catering at a ski-resort.

Dick has been running this very popular trip for over a decade now. Incredible scenery and great birding make this spring trip to Colorado one of the best birding experiences in North America, indeed clients in previous years have always raved about it.  Many birds and mammals are found more easily in Colorado than anywhere else and as your guide Dick Filby spends several months each year in Colorado, he knows where to find them.  What’s more, the endless vistas of the High­ Plains give a sense of freedom and space that is difficult to find in many parts of the world whilst the Rocky Mountains, their dramatic peaks still snow capped after 300 inches or more of snow from the winter, tower above great forests and deep gorges carved by gushing rivers.  The focus for this trip are the grouse leks for which Colorado is famous, with more grouse species to be found here than anywhere else in North America. There is no better place to view them.  The leks are totally spellbinding, and in addition to the displays, also offer unusually prolonged viewing of the cryptic plumage of these otherwise shy and retiring species.  We visit private leks for all the grouse and prairie-chickens. The supporting cast of other birds and mammals is impressive in its own right.

The grouse leks are some of the most incredible display rituals in the avian world and we will get amazing and close-up views.  Each species has its own unique and bizarre performances, which involve ritualised dancing, inflation of brightly coloured air sacs, curious vocalisations and extraordinary postures.  As we progress 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.  Captivated, we will spend an hour or more spellbound until the frenzied activity of the males diminish, the visiting females have departed, and we too head for breakfast.  We 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 – we will seek the enigmatic and beautiful White-tailed Ptarmigan.  As you search for the latter, a notoriously difficult-to-find species, you will be truly on the roof of North America, atop the Rocky Mountains, having driven up into the Arctic Alpine zone to park at 12,000 feet. Like the rest of the tour, we will look for the ptarmigan close to the road. It is set to be a fantastic culmination to an amazing tour.

 


We will seek 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, any lingering Snow and Ross’s Geese, Wood Duck, Blue-winged and Cinnamon Teals, Canvasback, Redhead, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Bufflehead, Hooded Merganser, Bald Eagle, Swainson’s, Ferruginous, Rough-legged and Red-tailed Hawks, Prairie Falcon, 10 spp of grouse and grouse-like birds as noted above, Virginia Rail, Sandhill Crane, Mountain Plover, Killdeer, American Avocet, Willet, Long-billed Curlew, Marbled Godwit, Semipalmated, Least, Western and Baird’s Sandpipers, Long-billed Dowitcher, Wilson’s Snipe, Wilson’s Phalarope, Franklin’s, Bonaparte’s and Ring-billed Gulls, Chimney and White-throated Swifts, 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, Eastern and Say’s Phoebe’s, Cassin’s and Western Kingbirds, Horned Lark, Tree, Violet-green, Northern Rough-winged and Cliff Swallows, Gray, Steller’s, Blue, Western Scrub and Pinyon Jays, Clark’s Nutcracker, Black-billed Magpie, Chihuahuan Raven, Black-capped and Mountain Chickadees, Juniper Titmouse, Bushtit, Red-breasted, White-breasted and Pygmy Nuthatches, Rock, Canyon, Bewick’s, House and Marsh Wrens, American Dipper, Eastern, Western and Mountain Bluebirds, Townsend’s Solitaire, Sage and Curve-billed Thrashers, American Pipit, Cedar Waxwing, Loggerhead Shrike, Green-tailed, Spotted and Canyon Towhees, Cassin’s, Rufous-crowned, Chipping, American Tree, Brewer’s, Vesper, Lark, Savannah, Grasshopper, Fox, Song, Lincoln’s, and White-crowned Sparrows, Dark-eyed Junco, Chestnut-collared and McCown’s Longspurs, Red-winged, Brewer’s and Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Western Meadowlark, Great-tailed Grackle, Gray-crowned, Brown-capped and Black Rosy Finches, Pine Grosbeak, Cassin’s Finch, Pine Siskin, 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.  We will also seek several species of owls, including Burrowing, Western & Eastern Screech and Great Horned Owl. We may also, with great luck, find a Northern Saw-whet Owl and/or a Boreal (Tengmalm’s) Owl.

We start in the Great Plains, continuing to the Rocky Mountains before the tour closes near to Denver, in search of the specialities of the Ponderosa forests and, weather and permits allowing, White-tailed Ptarmigans by the roadside atop the Rockies.

Full bird and mammal lists, and tour reports from previous years, are on this website or contact the office.  2016 yet again yielded all the target birds and experiences (except Lesser Prairie Chicken due to appalling weather). There is also chances of seeing Bobcat, and our 2013 group even enjoyed a Mountain Lion (Cougar/Puma). 2016 added Brown Bear, American Marten and River Otter to our multi-year mammal list. 

Our 2017 departure came home with all the main target birds seen again, please see the report above. 

Whilst this tour is not designed specifically for photographers, it will offer some good birding photographic opportunities at some (not all) leks and elsewhere, most especially if long lenses are used.  Digi-scoping opportunities can be excellent, as are the scenic photo opportunities.

The trip is designed for the birder who is 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, this is balanced with days where we have shorter drives, of around 100 miles or less.

Day 1: Fly Heathrow – 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 Grand Junction area

Day 7: Colorado River and valleys of the central Rockies including nesting Bald Eagles

Day 8: Snowmass and private areas in the Roaring Fork valley for Rosy Finches, Barrow’s Goldeneye etc

Day 9: Sharp-tailed Grouse, Sandhill Cranes, North Park basin

Day 10: Greater Sage Grouse, North Park basin. White-tailed Ptarmigan

Day 11: Ponderosa Forest specialities and other ‘Front Range Hills’ birding then drive to Denver.

Day 12: Final morning birding. Afternoon at leisure. Departure from Denver, overnight flight.

Day 13: Arrive back at Heathrow.

NB. Parts of the itinerary (eg White-tailed Ptarmigan) subject to US Forest Service permits, weather and other local conditions at time of travel etc.  Itinerary may be run in a different order.

Please note: All itineraries are subject to weather, local conditions and final approval by the relevant authorities.

14th – 26th April 2018

Leader: Dick Filby

£2955 - per person sharing a twin room (or £2,355 without flights)

£339 - per person – single supplement

£900/£500 – Deposit with/without flights (plus flight supplement if applicable).

Group size: 7 plus leader

2019 Dates: 13th -25th April.  You may advance register for only £50pp.

Price includes: Flights London-Denver-London in economy class, including airport taxes with British Airways non-stop* (deduct £600 if you wish to make your own way to Denver), all ground transportation by mini-bus, accommodation on a room only basis in twin bedded en-suite rooms. Lek visits, services of WildWings leader, pre tour information pack and a day-by-day bird checklist. (* you may also fly from some UK regional airports eg Icelandair, please enquire)

Price excludes: Travel insurance, all meals, drinks, souvenirs, gratuities, laundry charges and other items of a personal nature. Allow approximately U$30-40 per day for food and drinks (or more if you choose to celebrate in style).  Food is generally at local diners and restaurants, with packed breakfast/lunch on some days.  Most of the tour is based in small towns so the restaurant opportunities are adequate and satisfying.
    Photo

    Tour Leader

    Dick has been leading birding and wildlife trips for WildWings for over 20 years in the Polar Regions, Oceania, Alaska, the Russian Far East, Spitsbergen, Galapagos, Colorado and Poland.

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‘A very enjoyable trip made especially so by the excellence of Dick Filby’

A.H. April 2015 Colorado

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‘Thanks again for a great tour, it was an excellent - birds, mammals and scenery’

Colorado - J.G. May 2016

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“We really enjoyed the excellent birds, wildlife and fantastic scenery. Dick had an amazing workload, guiding, driving, shopping, organising, loading minibus – how does he do it all and keep cheerful!” 

Colorado - May 2016 - P & M.L. May 2016

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‘WildWings don’t just do it – they do it right!” 

Colorado’ B.B. May 2017

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‘We both enjoyed our tour enormously – well done Dick Filby’

W&V.O. April 2015 Colorado

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