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Colorado “Chicken Odyssey”

greater-sage-grouse-lek This special trip to Colorado focuses on seeing the spring mating rituals of grouse, among the most fascinating behavior in the bird world.  Our visit is timed to witness the particular courtship displays of Greater Prairie-Chicken, Lesser Prairie-Chicken, Greater Sage Grouse, Gunnison Sage Grouse and Sharp-tailed Grouse on their display grounds or “leks.” With chests puffed enormously and long tail feathers spiked straight up, the proud Sage Grouse struts in remarkable display, giving everything they’ve got to out-compete rival males and attract a female’s attention.

This ultimate “chicken odyssey” also includes searching for Dusky Grouse, Scaled and Gambel’s Quail, Northern Bobwhite and the introduced Chukar.  Above the treeline, amidst snow-blown peaks, we’ll look for the elusive White-tailed Ptarmigan; perfectly camouflaged against the white-blanketed terrain, it will require our best efforts to locate it.

The staggering beauty of Colorado serves as a steady backdrop as we travel around the state through plains, grasslands, canyons, wetlands and the majestic Rocky Mountains.  These diverse habitats are home to a wide variety of bird species, and numerous mammals, including Pronghorn, Prairie Dogs, Moose and Bighorn Sheep.  In the Pawnee National Grasslands, we’ll admire McCown’s Longspur, Chestnut-collared Longspur and Mountain Plovers in breeding plumage, as well as Ferruginous Hawks and Golden Eagles soaring overhead.  Rosy-finches flock to feeders in the foothills in search of an easy food source.  Myriad waterfowl crowd the reservoirs, including Barrow’s Goldeneye and Eared Grebe.  We’ll see species associated with the southwest such as Chihuahuan Raven, Canyon Towhee, Western Scrub Jay and possibly even Greater Roadrunner and Vermilion Flycatcher.

Amazing birds, spectacular scenery and impressive wildlife make this one of our most popular trips, year after year.

Focus: Birds, Mammals, Scenery, Photography

Chickens close on the leks were the most unique N. American birding experience we have ever had, even after birding for about 40 years.” – Bill and Sally F., DE

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  • Tour Cost
  • Number of Days (Length of Tour)

    11 days / 10 nights

     

    Dates & Cost

    April 2-12, 2018   (dates to be confirmed)

    $2750.00 per person, based upon double occupancy, from Denver, CO.

     

     

    Single Supplement

    If a single room is preferred, or we are unable to get a roommate for you, a single supplement fee of $425 will be assessed.

     

    What is Included / Not Included

    Included in the cost are all accommodations, transportation, entrance fees and permits, from Denver, Colorado. You will be responsible for purchasing all lunches, dinners and some breakfasts. One breakfast is included as part of the Greater Prairie Chicken package. Most of our motels offer a free continental breakfast.

     

    Deposit

    $500.00, check, paypal or credit card, along with your completed Registration Form

     

    How to Book

    In order to hold your space, you must complete the Registration Form found on-line, and submit it to us on-line, or download a copy and mail it to us, along with a $500.00 deposit per participant.

     

    Final Payment

    Full payment, by check, is due 120 days prior to the departure date

  • Itinerary
  • Brief Itinerary:

    Day 1: AM Arrival in Denver; Front Range

    Day 2: White-tailed Ptarmigan; Arkansas River

    Day 3: Temple Canyon; Royal Gorge; Rosy-Finches

    Day 4: Gunnison Sage Grouse; Dusky Grouse

    Day 5: Chukar; Yampa Valley

    Day 6: Sharp-tailed Grouse; North Park

    Day 7: Greater Sage Grouse; Eastern Plains

    Day 8: Pawnee National Grasslands Mountain Plover and Longspurs

    Day 9: Greater Prairie-chicken

    Day 10: Lesser Prairie-chicken

    Day 11: AM Departure from Denver

     

    Note:  The itinerary, based upon weather conditions, permits, group viewing permits, is subject to change.

     

    Itinerary:

    Day 1  ~ Morning arrival in Denver; Front Range

    Heading into the Rockies, our first stop will be at Genesee Mountain Park where we’ll search the Ponderosa Pines for Pygmy Nuthatch, Western Bluebird, Mountain Chickadee, Red Crossbill and Williamson’s Sapsucker. If there are any local reports of Northern Pygmy-Owl we’ll make an effort to locate this small raptor.

     

    Day 2  ~  White-tailed Ptarmigan; Arkansas River

    We begin this morning searching the feeders in town in the hope of coming up with any Rosy-finches, Evening Grosbeak and Cassin’s Finch. In areas of Subalpine Fir and Aspen we’ll look for Gray and Stellar Jay, Clark’s Nutcracker, Fox Sparrow, Red-naped Sapsucker and possibly Three-toed Woodpecker, while American Dipper can be seen along mountain streams. Our next target will be White-tailed Ptarmigan, an alpine species that resides above the timberline.

     

    Heading south along the scenic Arkansas River, Bighorn Sheep are often seen on the hillsides, and we will search for our targets, Western Scrub Jays, Bushtits, Juniper Titmouse and Pinyon Jays amongst the Pinyon-Junipers. On the outskirts of sprawling suburbia we should be able to locate Scaled Quail and Curved-billed Thrasher.  In the evening we will look for Western Screech Owl.

     

    Day 3  ~ Temple Canyon; Royal Gorge; Rosy-Finches

    This morning we begin in Temple Canyon searching for any of Pinyon-Juniper specialists that we may have missed. Local ponds often hold a nice variety of waterfowl, Black Phoebes flitting about the edges and swallows hawking insects above. A stop at Royal Gorge should yield Peregrine, Canyon Wren and White-throated Swifts before we head west to Gunnison. The remainder of the afternoon will be spent at upper elevation feeders looking for the 3 species of  Rosy-finches as well as the ‘Hepburn’s’ race of Gray-crowned, along with other montane species.

     

    Day 4  ~  Gunnison’s Sage Grouse; Dusky Grouse

    This morning we visit the lek of the endangered Gunnison Sage Grouse. Smaller in size but just as stunning as the Sage Grouse, we’ll notice the subtle differences in calls as well as plumage as they strut on their display grounds.

     

    From here we head west searching the sagebrush for Sagebrush Sparrow; the banks the Blue Mesa Reservoir for any early arriving shorebirds and lingering waterfowl. We will listen for the booming calls of the Dusky Grouse, which should lead us to good views. We finish the day searching for the localized Lewis's Woodpecker amongst stands of Cottonwoods.

     

    Day 5  ~ Chukar; Yampa Valley

    The day starts with a scenic walk in Coal Canyon, searching for Chukar, an introduced species that is well established in the west. The canyon is also good for Black-throated Sparrow, Gray Flycatcher, Lazuli Bunting, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Canyon Wren as well as Black-chinned and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds, though we may be a little early for some of these.

     

    Gambel's Quail inhabit this part of the state and we'll look for beautiful bird before making our way north to the Yampa Valley. Here Bald Eagle patrol the river and pairs of Sandhill Cranes can be seen in the adjacent wet meadows.

     

    Day 6  ~ Sharp-tailed Grouse, North Park

    Another pre-dawn start in order to witness the most amazing of North America’s avian dance rituals, that of the Sharp-tail Grouse. It will soon become apparent where the origins of the Native American spring and fertility dances, known as ‘chicken dances’ came from. With wings bowed to the side and tails cocked; feet stomping, sounding like a drum roll; bent over and bowing, they perform their dance while rotating in circles.

     

    Before reaching Walden we’ll look for such mountain species as Cassin’s Finch, Pine Siskin, Evening Grosbeak, Stellar’s Jay, Townsend Solitaire, Band-tailed Pigeon, Gray Jay and any Rosy-finches.  The area around Arapaho will provide a good variety of waterfowl including Redhead, Cinnamon Teal and Eared Grebe. Sage Thrashers will be signing from the tops of the sage, Golden Eagles will be hunting ground squirrels and we may even be lucky enough to see an American Badger.

     

    Day 7  ~ Greater Sage Grouse; Eastern Plains

    This morning we visit the lek site of the largest and most beautiful of North America’s Grouse, the Greater Sage Grouse. Here, sometimes in large groups, they strut with wings drooped, white chests puffed out, inflating two yellow-green air sacs, raise and spread their long spiky tail, then throw their heads back on their shoulders as the air sacs are deflated with a bubbling, popping sound. Other birds to look for in the area are Mountain Bluebirds and Rough-legged Hawks.

     

    It will be hard to leave snow-capped peaks, sagebrush flats and meadows of the North Park mountain valley, but we have a long drive to get to the Pawnees. On the way we visit Windy Gap where Barrows Goldeneye and American White Pelican are possible.  As we descend from the Front Range to the Plains, Horned Larks, Western Meadowlarks and Black-billed Magpies will be evident.  At ponds, reservoirs and the surrounding wet meadows, we’ll get our first looks at a number of waterfowl and gulls including Western and Clark’s Grebe, Franklin’s Gull, Yellow-headed Blackbird and Cinnamon Teal.

     

    Day 8  ~ Pawnee National Grasslands

    We spend the morning exploring parts of the 775,000-acre Pawnee National Grassland where Golden Eagles, Ferruginous and Swainson Hawk’s abound. We’ll search the short Buffalo grass prairie for our target birds, McCown’s and Chestnut-collared Longspurs and Mountain Plover, all in breeding plumage. Sparrows including Brewer’s, Cassin’s and Grasshopper along with Lark Bunting should be seen along fence-lines, while Pronghorn, Coyote and White-tailed Jackrabbits are likely in these grasslands.

     

    Continuing west we reach the sand hills of Wray, where we will attend an introductory program on the Greater Prairie-Chicken.

     

    Day 9  ~ Greater Prairie-Chicken; Bonny Lake; Nee-Noshe Reservoir

    Another pre-dawn start, this time to witness Greater Prairie-Chickens on their dancing grounds. Here males inflate then deflate their bare orange sacs, creating a deep booming sound that can be heard a great distance away, all the while performing an intricate ‘dance’ as they take a few tiny steps, then rapidly stamp their feet.

     

    We then depart for the long ride south, breaking up the journey with stops for American Avocet, Black-necked Stilt with the possibility of a Baird’s Sandpiper or Snowy Plover, Ross’s and Snow Geese, Sandhill Crane and Long-eared Owl.

     

    Day 10  ~ Lesser Prairie-Chicken; Comanche Grasslands

    At dawn we visit the last of our ‘chickens’, the Lesser Prairie-Chicken. Smaller and paler that the Greater, their dances are similar, but the booming notes are higher pitched and the Lesser fans its tail only at the beginning of the display sequence.

     

    Day 11  ~ Departure from Denver

    Morning departure from Denver Airport.

     

  • Accommodations
  • We stay in a different motel each night, chosen for their proximity to viewing the grouse leks and wildlife. The accommodations are standard, ensuite and comfortable; two of our lodgings are more basic than the others. Wherever possible, we support establishments that implement eco-friendly policies.

  • Additional Info
  • National Geographic Birds of NA 6thRecommended Field Guide:

    National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America

    (6th Edition, 2011, National Geographic)

    by Jon Dunn and Jonathan Alderfer

     

     

    This trip is for non-smokers only. Smoking is not permitted at any time during our tour.

     

    We cover a great deal of territory during this trip, staying in a different location nightly and traveling about 2500 miles, but as you will see it is well worth it. Luck plays a great part in the overall success of this trip, as the weather conditions (and birds) will need to cooperate.

     

    We will be visiting several different leks to view the grouse displaying. This means an early start on all ‘lek days,’ as we have to be there at least one hour before sunrise. We must view all leks from either a blind, or from inside our vehicles. In both cases, we will need to sit quietly in one spot, nearly-motionless, and exposed to the weather elements for several hours, so as to not disturb the birds. We are not allowed to leave the lek until the last ‘chicken’ has left the lek. This also means that toilets are not available for the period that we view the lek.

     

    As with all tours, we highly recommend purchasing Travel Insurance to cover your investment. Please see our section on Travel Insurance

     

    Participants arriving from a foreign country may need to get a travel visa to enter the United States. Be sure to check the requirements for your country of origin.

     

    The trip itinerary is developed many months ahead of time. Occasionally, despite our best planning, changes may occur during the trip, or we may be forced to alter our plans. Changes may occur because of weather, road conditions, group viewing permits, safety concerns or other circumstances. In these situations, it is the leader(s) responsibility to carefully consider and implement appropriate alternatives. Any additional costs incurred because of changes will be the responsibility of each individual participant. Refunds will not be issued as a result of itinerary changes.

     

    Wildside Nature Tours is an equal opportunity service provider and an authorized permittee of the Pawnee National Grassland.

     

    Point of Departure (Getting There and Back)
    The tour begins and ends in Denver, Colorado. You will need to make your own arrangements to arrive on Day 1, and depart on Day 11.

    Note, the itinerary may change. Please do not book flights before checking upon the final arrival and departure days and time.

     

    Climate / Weather
    Temperatures and weather conditions vary widely during the trip, and even throughout a day. Overnight lows in the 20’s (F) and daytime highs in the 50-60’s (F) are average; 90-degrees on the eastern plains is not unheard of! Sitting nearly-motionless in a blind for several hours can be extremely cold. Higher elevations will be colder and precipitation at these altitudes is likely to be snow. Rain is certainly possible, and windy days are inevitable. Come prepared for all kinds of weather!

     

    Physical Requirements (Walking, Pace of the Tour)
    Walking will be minimal on this tour. Occasionally, we may choose to walk several miles searching for Chukar, and/or possibly have a short, steep climb. Some walking areas are graded dirt roads, or gravel paths. The eastern plains are situated at approximately 4,500 ft elevation, and we will drive up to 12,000 ft. to search for White-tailed Ptarmigan. Participants should be aware of high altitudes, and possibly walking in snow and icy conditions. A reasonable degree of fitness is required.

     

    Group Size
    The group is limited to a maximum of 14, with a maximum ratio of 7 people per van / leader.

     

    Final Information
    Detailed General Information will be sent to each registrant upon booking. Final Information about the trip, including lodgings, contacts, meeting locations, etc., will sent about 2 weeks prior to the trip departure, or after final payment is received for late registrants.