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Grouse and Rosy-finches 2014

Courtesy of Ray Grace,
James P. Smith and Tony Sawbridge

The title of this tour “Grouse and Rosy-finches” certainly lived up to reputation. Snow in Denver on the first day of the tour was soon to burn off and by the following morning we were enjoying a magical pre-dawn experience with Lesser Prairie-chickens near Holly, close to the Kansas State line. From that moment on, the scene was set for an all-out assault on the gamebirds of Colorado. We enjoyed the leks of Greater and Gunnison Sage Grouses, Sharp-tailed Grouse and Greater Prairie-chicken whilst Wild Turkey, Ring-necked Pheasant, Scaled Quail and Northern Bobwhite were all noted on the tour list. Two key gamebirds did elude us, however. Dusky Grouse was a complete no-show despite a huge group effort in Hayden, and a freak accident with avalanche mitigation equipment prevented our access to Loveland Pass on what should have been an immaculate day for high elevation birding. Tony Sawbridge stayed an extra day and returned to Loveland Pass where he was successful seeing and photographing White-tailed Ptarmigan. His photo can be seen in this gallery.

On the other hand, we had massive success with rosy-finches when we found some feeders in a ski village very close to Interstate 70 that not only held all three species of North American Rosy-finch (including a spectacular male ‘Hepburn’s Grey-crowned) but also attracted over a dozen Evening Grosbeaks. The latter was bird of the trip for many in our group and this magical site provided some of the best birding of the entire tour.

It’s possible that the lingering winter disrupted the arrival of summer migrants and we found few on our trip with two Franklin’s Gulls and a White-eyed Vireo being the most notable. It was also hard to envisage Rough-legged Hawks outnumbering Swainson’s Hawks but that’s exactly how things developed with a fine showing of the former. This tour, however, belongs to the grouse and prairie-chickens that can be found only on the lekking grounds in early spring and this comprehensive itinerary provides a realistic opportunity to see them all at an affordable price.

Thanks go to Peter Lansdown for his co-leadership on this tour.

Good birding

James P. Smith

White-tailed Ptarmigan Sharp-tailed Grouse
Sharp-tailed Grouse Sharp-tailed Grouse
Greater Prairie-chicken Greater Prairie-chicken
Greater Prairie-chicken Greater Prairie-chicken
Lesser Prairie-chicken Lesser Prairie-chicken
Golden Eagle Sandhill Cranes
Burrowing Owl Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker Northern Flicker
Western Scrub-jay Clark's Nutcracker
Horned Lark Horned Lark
Black-capped Chickadee Mountain Bluebird
American Robin Spotted Towhee
White-crowned Sparrow Dark-eyed Junco
Common Grackle Hepburn's Grey-crowned Rosy-finch
Brown-capped Rosy-finches Red Crossbill
Evening Grosbeak Evening Grosbeak
Evening Grosbeak Least Chipmunk
Hide at Lesser Prairie-chicken Lek
Gunnison Sage-grouse lek
Greater Prairie-chicken

Greater Prairie-chicken