Monday, March 25, 2013

Travel: Colorado Birdwatching Trails and Festivals

From the snow-capped Rocky Mountains to the dry grasslands of the short-grass plains, more than 450 species of birds inhabit Colorado’s diverse landscape. Visitors can explore 27 designated birding trails that also highlight the state’s beautiful scenery and enjoy festivals celebrating various avian species across the state. A sampling of birding trails and upcoming festivals are below. For additional birding information, visit

Birding Trails:

The Colorado Birding Trail is a major public and private initiative linking outdoor recreation sites into a network of bird and wildlife watching sites, as well as archaeological and paleontological features. The Colorado Birding Trail features designated trails in three regions of Colorado: Eastern Plains, Rocky Mountains and Western Colorado. The site also provides driving routes, maps and more.

Comanche Trail. The Comanche Trail is quintessential Southeast Colorado, where the unspoiled views of prairie, hill, and canyon country stretch on for miles, and the sounds of insects and wildlife softly hum instead of car motors. Lucky visitors can catch a glimpse of the Lesser Prairie-Chicken’s rare mating ritual in the dawn’s light or see Cassin’s Sparrows skylarking. Comanche National Grassland is one of two nationally designated grasslands in Colorado.

Snow Goose Trail. The reservoirs, lakes, and ponds near Burlington are home to many species of water and shorebirds. Mountain Plovers, sandpipers, Sandhill Cranes and egrets are among the most-spotted birds during migration. Ring-necked Pheasants, Bald Eagles, Burrowing Owls and Great Horned Owls can often be spotted with a sharp eye.

Greater Prairie-Chicken Trail. Whooping, cackling and puffing out their necks as they leap into the air, the male Greater Prairie-Chickens aim to impress their female counterparts each spring in a mating ritual unrivaled in the animal kingdom. They share the sandsage prairies of Yuma County with Blue Jays, cardinals and even Wild Turkeys.

Spanish Peaks Trail. Both the birds and the scenery can be equally breathtaking along this trail, as it passes through almost every type of habitat Colorado offers. Water birds and dryland species alike share this stretch of land, where loons, swans, Pygmy Nuthatches and Ptarmigan can all be found along the Highway of Legends Scenic Byway.

Headwaters Trail. This trail begins high in the Sawatch Range at the upper portions of the Arkansas River in central Colorado. In addition to spotting Pinyon Jays and Ptarmigans, visitors will also pass by the highest peak in the state (Mount Elbert), the largest peak in the state (Mount Massive) and one of the most distinctive peaks in the state (Mount Princeton).

Black Swift Trail. Though known for being elusive, a Black Swift sighting is almost guaranteed during the summer in the heart of Colorado’s majestic San Juan Mountains. The “coolest bird” only clings to vertical surfaces and typically builds its nest in close proximity to waterfalls, which makes for spectacular viewing opportunities.

Fruitgrowers Trail. One of the best places on the Western Slope to see water birds, the Fruitgrowers Trail is home to flocks of Sandhill Cranes, ducks and other shorebirds. Sagebrush flats and towering canyon walls house Chukars, while American Three-toed Woodpeckers can be found among the spruce woods.

Upcoming Birding Festivals:

Greater Prairie-Chicken Viewing Tour (March 29 – April 21, 2013) The tours began in 1994 – when the Greater Prairie-Chicken was endangered – in an effort to educate the public on these magnificent creatures. The species is no longer endangered, but the tours still serve as an opportunity to learn from wildlife experts and witness the Greater Prairie-Chicken mating ritual on the protected lands of the Eastern Plains.

Karval Mountain Plover Festival (April 26 – 28, 2013) Half of the population of Mountain Plovers nest in Colorado, and this festival provides optimum viewing opportunities on private ranch tours. Guests will enjoy a weekend of bird watching, wildlife viewing tours, entertainment, history, arts and crafts, a chuck wagon dinner, and a chance to mingle with local farmers and ranchers.

Ute Mountain/Mesa Verde Birding Festival (May 8 – 12, 2013) Birdwatchers will gather in Southwest Colorado this May in hopes of spotting more than 150 birds on the Colorado Plateau. Spring migrants and early nesters are the main attraction at this 9th annual event, which takes place in the diverse habitats of Mesa Verde Country®. Several of the birding field trips visit archaeological areas such as Mesa Verde National Park and the Ute Tribal Park.

Yampa Valley Crane Festival (September 6 – 9, 2013) The Greater Sandhill Crane is an iconic species in the Yampa Valley. For the second year, the festival will include daily crane viewings, expert speakers, films, art exhibits, workshops, family activities and more in celebration of the flock joining local birds to feed and rest as they journey south.

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