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Skull Guy
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We are planning to visit friends near Boulder next year and I am trying to focus my time for the "best" birding. We have never birded west of the Mississippi except for Houston and Hawaii, so many birds will be new. We have flexibility in the month we go, I am thinking mid May to mid June would be best for maximizing birds but am open to suggestions (migration?). We will be doing a lot of birding during the visit so can travel a distance from Boulder. Any advice is welcome!

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  • 5 months later...

Well I have very little experience birding in Colorado, perhaps @Phalarope713 or someone else can give you more info!

However, I would suggest going in early to mid June and focusing on seeing breeding birds. It might still be snowy at the higher elevations in May, by June all the breeding birds will be present, roads in the mountains should be open, etc...

From Boulder, there are 2 primary areas I would suggest going.

First, I would suggest going into the northeast portion of the state, such as Pawnee National Grassland, in the shortgrass prairies. Here, you can look for grassland birds such as Mountain Plover, Lark Bunting, Prairie Falcon, Golden Eagle, McCown's Longspur, etc...

Second, I would suggest birding in Rocky Mountain National Park. Up at higher elevations, there are a few different habitats - coniferous forest, where you can look for birds like American Three-toed Woodpecker, Red Crossbill, Steller's and Canada Jays, Dark-eyed Juncos, Mountain Chickadees, and breeding warblers such as Yellow-rumped, MacGillivray's, and Wilson's Warbler. There is also alpine tundra, where you can look for the prized Rocky Mountain specialty birds, White-tailed Ptarmigan and Brown-capped Rosy-finch. Your best chance for these birds is up on Trail Ridge Road. Mountain Bluebirds are also found in alpine tundra.

Other birds of interest for you (as someone who hasn't birded in the west) may be Black-billed Magpie, Clark's Nutcracker, American Dipper - all possible in the Rocky Mountains. Black-billed Magpie is pretty easy to find up there but you may want to do some research on eBird for tougher birds, for example I find American Dipper can be kind of tough to find.

 

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2 hours ago, AlexHenry said:

Well I have very little experience birding in Colorado, perhaps @Phalarope713 or someone else can give you more info!

However, I would suggest going in early to mid June and focusing on seeing breeding birds. It might still be snowy at the higher elevations in May, by June all the breeding birds will be present, roads in the mountains should be open, etc...

From Boulder, there are 2 primary areas I would suggest going.

First, I would suggest going into the northeast portion of the state, such as Pawnee National Grassland, in the shortgrass prairies. Here, you can look for grassland birds such as Mountain Plover, Lark Bunting, Prairie Falcon, Golden Eagle, McCown's Longspur, etc...

Second, I would suggest birding in Rocky Mountain National Park. Up at higher elevations, there are a few different habitats - coniferous forest, where you can look for birds like American Three-toed Woodpecker, Red Crossbill, Steller's and Canada Jays, Dark-eyed Juncos, Mountain Chickadees, and breeding warblers such as Yellow-rumped, MacGillivray's, and Wilson's Warbler. There is also alpine tundra, where you can look for the prized Rocky Mountain specialty birds, White-tailed Ptarmigan and Brown-capped Rosy-finch. Your best chance for these birds is up on Trail Ridge Road. Mountain Bluebirds are also found in alpine tundra.

Other birds of interest for you (as someone who hasn't birded in the west) may be Black-billed Magpie, Clark's Nutcracker, American Dipper - all possible in the Rocky Mountains. Black-billed Magpie is pretty easy to find up there but you may want to do some research on eBird for tougher birds, for example I find American Dipper can be kind of tough to find.

 

Yeah, I definitely agree with this. You should be able to find magpies fairly frequently in the farmlands and open spaces anywhere around Boulder. Rocky Mountain NP is a good spot for most of the mountain species. Brainard Lake can also be a good spot for species such as crossbills and especially three-toed woodpeckers. American Dipper is fairly reliable around the town of Lyons (try Bohn Park). Pawnee is probably the best locations for prairie species such as burrowing owls and longspurs as AlexHenry mentioned. If you are thinking of coming in May, I’d definitely go to Walden/Sawhill ponds for migrant songbirds and waterfowl (you can get upwards of fifty species there on a good day). Hope this helps, and I’d be glad to answer any other questions about local birding as I live in the Boulder area. 

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I agree with the above.I birded CO last June and had most of the prairie species such as Mountain Plover, Golden Eagle, Ferruginous Hawk, Prairie Falcon, Burrowing Owl, Lark Bunting, longspurs, Cassin’s Sparrows, etc at Pawnee and the fields around CO Springs and most of the mountain species in Rocky Mountain NP such as White-tailed Ptarmigan, Brown-capped Rosy-Finch, Canada Jay, Clark’s Nutcracker, Mountain Bluebird, Olive-sided Flycatcher, etc... The lower elevations in the park are very reliable for things like Wilson’s and MacGillvray’s Warblers, Lincoln’s Sparrow,  Green-tailed Towhee,  woodpeckers, etc...

The town at the base of the park, Estes Park, is crawling with magpies. We stayed in a cabin and had things like a Mountain Chickadees and Pygmy Nuthatches right outside the window, in addition to the omnipresent elk.

If you bird around CO Springs you can get things like Virginia’s Warblers, Cinnamon Teal, Hammond’s Flycatcher, etc. 

If you’ve never birded west of the Mississippi and you’re birding for a month, I’d expect 80-100 lifers. I’m jealous.

Good luck.

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  • 1 year later...

All of the above are great suggestion! If you make it Brainard Lake go early (dawn) and you may see Moose. I believe you have to hike a bit to get to Brainard Lake but it is worth it for the view. See photo below.

If you go to Rocky Mtn. National Park and want the White-tailed Ptarmigan I suggest you find the Medicine Bow Trail. It is at the very top of Trail Ridge Road just a bit past the Visitors Center at the summit. Trail Ridge road makes a hair pin curve right where the trail is to take you down the other side. Park in the wide spot there. Walk out on the short trail and look for them. They will be well into there summer plumage by the time you are going so look carefully because they blend in big time with the rocks etc. Bring a coat, hoodie... and gloves it can be cold and windy even in June. As you go up look for Elk and Marmots. Also on the way up there is a parking lot with two brick structures on the right side of the road. Stop here and walk across the road. Look down in the rocks below for Pika. Photo below.

Pawnee National Grasslands is kind of divided in two by Weld County Rd. 77. At the corner of WCR 77 and Hwy 14 is a place called Crow Valley Campground. This is a migrant trap and you really never know what you may find. I suggest birding it if you do Pawnee.  Take WCR 77 just a bit further north to WCR 96. This is a auto birding trail and is a great place to find McCown's Longspurs at the time of the year you are going. Also look for Burrowing Owls. Look for both these birds on the ground or on wire fencing. You may also see Golden Eagles, Lark Bunting and Horned Larks. 

While you are at Pawnee try WCR 100. Drive east on WCR 100 from WCR 77 until you see a change in the landscape subtle change but change on the south side. If you get Keota you have gone too far. This is a good place to find Mountain Plover and Grasshopper Sparrows. I got distant views of the Plover here. You may want to bring a scope. I have gotten better views of them in another location. Let me know if you want that information. It is not in Pawnee. Look for Badgers here also. For Chestnut-collared Longspurs you may have to go nearly to Nebraska. Sharp-tailed Grouse also extreme north. Let me know if you want more info. on these two species. I haven't lived there in a couple of years so you may want to check ebird for recent sightings as well.

A word about Pawnee: Take food and water there is not much out there.

Mtn. Evans is awesome but the road up is not in good shape or wasn't last time I was there. That said it is still a wonderful place to visit look for American Pipit, White-tailed Ptarmigan at the top. Mountain Goat and Big-horned Sheep are both very likely also. Don't leave your car doors open or one might just jump in.

I love and miss Colorado so much! It is a beautiful State! Have a wonder filled time on your trip. Let me know if you want more information. Oh and Black-billed Magpies are known as trash birds by local birders not just because they are very common but because you can often find them hanging out around trash cans and dumpsters.

 

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I’m from Colorado and grew up in Boulder, actually about a mile from Walden Ponds (which was referenced in an earlier post), and I’ll be back there this July. I plan on attempting to meet an old nemesis in RMNP (White-tailed Ptarmigan) and would be happy to help answer any questions you may have, now or down the road. Just let me know.

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