On the afternoon of July 7, 2016, 28 young birders, parents, grandparents, friends, and volunteers embarked on a one-of-a-kind family birding adventure to Colorado. We’d been waiting for this moment since February, so excitement was in the air as we gathered in the breakfast room of the Quality Inn and Suites in Ft. Collins. The scouting reports said birds were active and the weather forecast looked perfect for the weekend.
After a brief introduction and distribution of new equipment to the young birders, which included a brand new copy of the Field Guide to the Birds of Colorado (personally signed by author Ted Floyd), a Rite-in-the-Rain Birder’s Journal, and an Iowa Young Birders Nalgene water bottle, we wasted no time and headed out to Gateway Natural Area near Ft. Collins for some foothills birding. Soon after we exited the vans, we spotted a Lazuli Bunting singing in a tree near the parking lot. We quickly set up the scopes for a closer look, and many of the young birders had their first life bird after only ten minutes of Colorado birding! Soon after, a Lesser Goldfinch was found perched on a power line near the parking lot. We continued walking down the trail and were not only greeted by gorgeous views of the foothills, but also found multiple Violet-Green Swallows, Western Tanagers, Spotted Towhees, and Bullock’s Orioles as well as a single Red-naped Sapsucker, Black-headed Grosbeak, and Rock Wren among the other birds. What a great start to our weekend! After dinner, many of us ventured out at dusk to Maxwell Natural Area on the edge of Ft. Collins to listen for Common Poorwills. Unfortunately, the birds were not cooperative and we were unable to add this species to our trip list.
On Friday morning, we loaded the vans at 6:30 to begin our trip into the mountains of Rocky Mountain National Park. We traveled to the park on Highway 34 which follows the scenic Big Thompson River. Along the way, we lucked into close-up views of Bighorn Sheep along the highway. Despite being a bird trip, we were just as excited about the mammals! Our plan was to travel up to the alpine tundra (approximately 12,000 feet elevation) for Brown-capped Rosy-Finch and White-tailed Ptarmigan. Our first stop was Lava Cliffs for the Brown-capped Rosy-Finch, and it wasn’t long before someone spotted one on the ground. After quick views in the scope, and a few minutes enjoying the entertaining Yellow-bellied Marmots, we continued up the mountain. Our next stop was Medicine Bow Curve, a regular location for White-tailed Ptarmigan. Despite searching for several minutes, we were unable to locate a ptarmigan. However, views of several White-throated Sparrows and American Pipits were a nice consolation. We headed back down the mountain en route to Endovalley for lunch, with a quick stop at Rainbow Curve to add Clark’s Nutcracker to our list. Upon arrival at Endovalley, we were treated to a fantastic lunch prepared by Linda Bendorf as well as great birds including several Broad-tailed Humminbirds, Stellar’s Jays, and Violet-Green Swallows as well as Hammond’s Flycatcher, Mountain Chickadee, and Western Wood-Pewee. We then moved to the Alluvial Fan area near Endovally on a quest for American Dipper, which was successful. On our return to Ft. Collins we stopped at the Wild Basin Area of Rocky Mountain NP. Although it wasn’t extremely “birdy”, we got fantastic looks at a cooperative Williamson’s Sapsucker and multiple Pygmy Nuthatches. Our last stop was Fawn Brook Inn in Allenspark, a location known to host several hummingbirds, and we were not disappointed. We saw several Broad-tailed and Black-chinned Hummingbirds as well as a single male Rufous Hummingbird. It was a long, but very successful day!
We started early again Saturday morning with the Pawnee National Grasslands and a short list of target grassland species on our agenda. We stopped at various locations with the Grasslands and were highly successful, adding Burrowing Owl (including fun views of owlets), Chestnut-collared and McCown’s Longspurs, Lark Bunting, Loggerhead Shrike, Mountain Plover (including a color-banded bird), and Ferruginous Hawk to our list. An exciting part of the day was another fantastic lunch (prepared again by Linda B.) and close-up views of several Common Nighthawks at Crow Valley Campground. On our return to Ft. Collins, we stopped at Fossil Creek Reservoir and were greeted by a cooperative juvenile Say’s Phoebe. We also added several waterbirds to our list including several Western Grebes and a single Clark’s Grebe, a nice opportunity for young birders to see the differences between these similar species. Another great day in the books!
Our first stop on Sunday morning was Union Reservoir near Longmont with hopes of adding more waterbirds to our trip list. A family group of Cinnamon Teal, several Yellow-headed Blackbirds, and singing a singing Common Yellowthroat and Savannah Sparrow were the highlights at this location. We then headed for Old South St. Vrain Road, a well-known location for foothills birding. Before arriving there, we made a quick detour to Heil Ranch along Red Gulch Road to see Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jays. Not long after starting our walk down Old South St. Vrain Road, we were joined by Ted Floyd, Editor of the American Birding Association’s (ABA) Birding magazine, author of our new field guides, and Colorado birding expert. It was great fun to bird Ted at one of his favorite birding locations as well as see some of our target birds including Cordilleran Flycatcher and White-throated Swift. We finished our day at Hall Ranch for the last fantastic lunch and a brief presentation by Ted. We also thanked Iowa Young Birders Board Members Ross Silcock and Bill Scheible for their dedication to and support of Iowa Young Birders as the complete their terms on the Board.
We have several people to thank for this amazing experience. First and foremost, we thank Carl and Linda Bendorf, who put forth tireless effort to plan a memorable experience and feed us very well! Our volunteer leaders and chauffeurs Ross Silcock, John Rutenbeck, Bill Scheible, and Linda Rudolph made this trip possible and we appreciate their leadership. We are grateful to Ted Floyd for joining us on Sunday and for signing our new field guides. Lastly, we are extremely grateful to the parents and grandparents for allowing their young birders to join us for this weekend of fun with friends and great birding.
Click here to view photos from our trip. You can also view our bird lists from our various stops below:
Gateway Natural Area
Rocky Mountain NP - Rainbow Curve
Rocky Mountain NP - Lava Cliffs
Rocky Mountain NP - Medicine Bow Curve
Rocky Mountain NP - Endovalley
Rocky Mountain NP - Alluvial Fan area
Rocky Mountain NP - Wild Basin area
Fawn Brook Inn - AllensparkPawnee National Grasslands - Raptor Alley
Pawnee National Grasslands - County Road 45
Pawnee National Grasslands - Crow Valley Campground
Pawnee National Grasslands - County Road 99/100
Fossil Creek Reservoir
Heil Ranch - Red Gulch Road
Old South St. Vrain Road