Join us on our Colorado grouse & Utah canyons birding tour to experience an amazing wildlife spectacle – the foot-stomping, cooing and cackling of lekking grouse!
April in Colorado is a wonderful time of year. Snow-capped peaks straddling the Continental Divide, immense prairies and plains, wildlife-rich riparian corridors, and magnificent canyons and remarkable rock formations. And April is the time when Greater and Gunnison Sage-Grouse, and Lesser and Greater Prairie-Chickens are foot-stomping, cooing and cackling, as the males try to impress females and dominate rivals.
Travel around Colorado and Utah is usually easy (as long as we do not experience a late snowfall!), with fine accommodations, and although there are several long drives, we travel through superlative and photogenic scenery. Mesas along the Colorado River, extensive grasslands and sagebrush, many snow-capped peaks over 4000 metres, magnificent canyons and wonderful vistas, alkaline lakes, and beautiful montane spruce-fir forests. Target species include Mountain Plover, all three rosy-finches, Dusky Grouse, Pinyon Jay, Thick-billed Longspur, and a host of mammals: Bighorn Sheep, Pronghorn, Elk, Mule Deer, Coyote and Red Fox.
Day 1: Arrival in Denver, CO
Our Colorado grouse & Utah canyons birding tour starts in Denver, where we gather for a welcome dinner. Night in Denver.
Day 2: Drive to Holly
Our first target grouse is Lesser Prairie-Chicken, which is sadly in steep decline across its breeding range. Our travels take us southeast as we drive via Colorado Springs to Pueblo, then on to Holly. Near Pueblo we visit Valco Ponds and Pueblo Reservoir. At the ponds, we look for Black and Say’s Phoebes, Bewick’s Wren, Osprey and Ladder-backed Woodpecker, and the reservoir should yield grebes, including Eared and possibly Clark’s, several waterfowl and gulls, as well as Great Horned Owl, Rock Wren, Townsend’s Solitaire, Canyon Towhee and Curve-billed Thrasher.
After lunch we turn east towards Granada. En route we make stops to scan for Burrowing Owl and we will spend some time at John Martin Reservoir State Park. Cinnamon Teal and Clark’s Grebe are good possibilities here. Night at Holly.
Day 3: Lesser Prairie-Chicken lek and Cottonwood Canyon
We get up very early to visit the Lesser Prairie-Chicken lek south of Holly. Drought in recent years has severely reduced the numbers of this species, making viewing on public lands nearly impossible, but we will be escorted onto private land and should see a nice display. Afterwards we enjoy a well-deserved breakfast at a ranch, where we also could find Scaled Quail, Barn and Great Horned Owl.
Next we head south, where we will spend the rest of the day at Cottonwood Canyon and environs. The canyon is located in the extreme southeast of the state and is home to a few species that are hard to find elsewhere in Colorado, such as Greater Roadrunner, Chihuahuan Raven and possibly Rufous-crowned Sparrow. Overnight at Holly.
Day 4: Greater Prairie-Chicken lek
We make the long drive from Granada to Wray, through the sparsely-populated eastern edge of the state. En route we may find Swainson’s Hawk, Long-billed Curlew, Burrowing Owl and Great-tailed Grackle. A stop at Bonny Reservoir could be productive, even though the reservoir is almost dry: Wild Turkey, Barn Owl, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Eastern Bluebird and Townsend’s Solitaire are all possible.
Just north of Wray we will make an afternoon visit to a Greater Prairie-Chicken lek, located on a private ranch. Greater Prairie-Chickens have done well recently and we should be treated to lengthy and very close views of males dancing on the lek. There should be great photo opportunities. Overnight at Wray.
Day 5: Pawnee Grasslands.
If we missed the Greater Prairie-Chicken yesterday, then we will try again early this morning. We then head west to the Pawnee Grasslands. The famed short-grass prairie holds Ferruginous Hawk, Golden Eagle, Mountain Plover, Long-billed Curlew, Prairie Falcon and Thick-billed Longspur and we will spend much of the day covering the area. Weather permitting, we will have a picnic lunch at nearby Crow Valley.
Before heading into Ft. Collins, our destination for the evening, we will check out a number of ponds for waterfowl.
Day 6: Drive to Walden
Today’s route takes us west to Walden, through a variety of habitats, from stream valleys to high mountain passes. Along the rivers we will look for American Dipper, while Bighorn Sheep may be spotted on the slopes above us. At Cameron Pass we are in high country, and Northern Goshawk, American Three-toed Woodpecker, Pine Grosbeak and rosy-finches are possible. Near Walden we may encounter Golden Eagle and we should see Pronghorns; with luck, we may spot Moose. Walden Reservoir is often good for waterfowl, so we will visit it and we will also scout out the Greater Sage-Grouse lek area before heading to the hotel. Overnight at Walden.
Day 7: Greater Sage-Grouse lek and drive to Steamboat Springs.
Before dawn we visit the nearby Greater Sage-Grouse lek, where we will watch the antics of both males and females. The males put on a great display; one male will usually attract most of the females. We may then check a nearby feeder for rosy-finches and give Walden Reservoir another scan. Afterwards we continue our drive west, in the direction of Steamboat Springs. Here we will check a few locations for Sharp-tailed Grouse. Greater Sage-Grouse and Dusky Grouse are also possible in this area. Night at Steamboat Springs.
Day 8: Sharp-tailed Grouse and drive to Gunnison.
In the morning, we will look for lekking Sharp-tailed Grouse, if we missed them yesterday. Then we start the long drive south, to Gunnison, through broad valleys and past high mountains, stopping in various spots. Night at Gunnison.
Day 9: Gunnison Sage-Grouse lek.
Our last very early morning will be at the Waunita lek, where we hope to see Gunnison Sage-Grouse. Currently this is the only public lek where this rare species can be seen. We will be viewing from a trailer, with the birds quite far off, so photography opportunities are not great.
Afterwards, if we haven’t had luck with rosy-finches so far, we may visit Crested Butte and Mount Crested Butte. There will be some time to relax in the afternoon. Night at Gunnison.
Day 10: Gunnison Sage-Grouse and Black Canyon
This morning, if weather prevented us from seeing the Gunnison’s Sage Grouse yesterday, we may make a second attempt.
Late in the day we visit the spectacular Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Besides stunning scenery, the main attraction for birders is Dusky Grouse, but we can also expect White-throated Swift, Western Scrub-Jay, Juniper Titmouse and more. In the past, we’ve had good luck with Northern Goshawk here. Night in Grand Junction.
Days 11 and 12: Canyons of Colorado and Utah
We travel to southeastern Utah through Colorado National Monument for two days of exploring this amazing area. Colorado National Monument not only provides stunning scenery, but should deliver Golden Eagle, Gambel’s Quail, Western Scrub-Jay, Juniper Titmouse and Black-throated Sparrow. Arches National Park is an area of astonishing natural rock formations. Birds include Turkey Vultures and White-throated Swifts circling above the formations, and juncos and White-crowned Sparrows foraging around trees and shrubs. Arches owes much of this diversity to riparian corridors like Courthouse Wash and the Colorado River (which forms the park’s southern boundary). Animal life concentrates around riparian areas in the deserts, and during spring and summer, mornings in these areas can be filled with birdsong, from Spotted Towhees, Canyon Wrens, to Black-throated Gray and Lucy’s Warblers. Near Monticello we search for Pinyon Jay and we should find Gray Flycatcher, Plumbeous Vireo, Townsend’s Solitaire, both Western and Mountain Bluebird, Mountain Chickadee, Black-throated Gray Warbler and possibly Grace’s Warbler. Time permitting, we may visit parts of Natural Bridges National Monument and we will drive through Capitol Reef National Park. Scenery along our route will be spectacular. Nights on Day 11 at Monticello, Day 12 at Salina.
Day 13: North to Salt Lake City
We head north to Salt Lake City, stopping at wetlands near Yuba, maybe Utah Lake State Park and at Antelope Island State Park, to look for Cinnamon Teal, Long-billed Curlew, Snowy Plover and Black-necked Stilt, Loggerhead Shrike and California Quail. From the causeway to Antelope Island we scan for Eared Grebe, White-faced Ibis, shorebirds and gulls. The island itself has a fine Interpretive Centre, well worth the visit. Rocks around the building are a favourite haunt of Chukars. Antelope Island hosts a number of mammals, including bison, coyote and pronghorn. Wooded areas near the south end of the island act as migrant traps; who knows what may show up. We will also look for nesting Barn Owls. Night in Salt Lake City.
Day 14: Departure
Our Colorado grouse & Utah canyons birding tour ends today, we can depart anytime for home.
Departures & Prices
Tour Price Includes
- All accommodations
- Breakfast and lunches
- Ground transportation
- One guide and vehicle with 4 - 7 participants, 2 guides and vehicles with 8 - 12
- All park, conservation and entrance fees
Tour Price Does Not Include
- Flights to and from start / end location
- Travel Insurance
- Items of a personal nature
What to Expect
What to Expect
On our Colorado Grouse & Utah Canyons birding tour, you can expect very early morning starts on at least four days – the other days we aim to be on the road by 8am. We will be viewing the leks from vehicles or from a viewing trailer, which will be positioned in a way for all to see and appreciate the grouse. Many days involve a considerable amount of driving as we move from one hotspot to the next; we break up the drive with many frequent stops. Walking will usually be on well-maintained trails or along roads. We do not anticipate any prolonged hikes.
Weather conditions during the trip should include warm and sunny days, possibly some rain and snow at higher altitudes and nights will be cool, and sometimes cold, in the mountains. Sometimes weather impacts our itinerary, and we have to modify our daily plan. Clothing should be appropriate for cold, such as gloves, scarves and warm headgear, and we recommend dressing in layers. High altitude can pose problems from altitude sickness; those with heart or respiratory conditions should consult their physicians. In the evening, over dinner at the hotel or a local restaurant, we discuss the day’s activities, review the list of birds and mammals seen and heard, and prepare for the next day.
Even though we cannot guarantee a sighting of the animals below, we feel quite confident that an encounter with the ones listed below is quite likely.
- Gunnison Sage-Grouse
- Greater Sage-Grouse
- Lesser Prairie-Chicken
- Greater Prairie-Chicken
- Thick-billed Longspur
- Mountain Plover
- Pinyon Jay
- Brown-capped Rosy-Finch
- Bighorn Sheep
Past Tour Checklists
Past Tour Checklists
View the list of birds and other wildlife we encountered on our past tours.