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Birding Report: Pawnee National Grasslands

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So here's that report from our birding trip to the Pawnee National Grasslands. I hope it will help others decide if/when a trip to Pawnee might fit their birding exploits. Smiley Happy

 


A group of seasoned birders took DH and me out to the Pawnee National Grasslands Easter weekend to see if we could spy the secretive Mountain Plover. We were successful, —indeed we spotted 43 species that day— because our guide knew that the plovers had moved from previous mating grounds, so he took us to their new digs, and there we were treated to two males vying for a female while a Burrowing Owl looked on. The plovers chased one another in the air, they ran at one another on the ground. In between times they flapped wings in one another's general direction. They gifted us with their courtship moves for about an hour. As for the female, she mostly sat, gazing into the distance as if to say "Just tell me when it’s over."

 

The Mountain Plover was a life bird for most of the group. While DH and I have casually watched birds for years, last summer we decided to get serious and start a list of the birds we’ve ID’d. As of this trip our life list numbers slightly over 200 species. Colorado has 499 species, according to wikipedia. The world record life list is 9,000. Yeah, let me admit right here, right now: I have no intention of catching that record. Smiley Happy

 

But we were fortunate to add 6 species to our life list on this trip. Those birds are:

 

McCown’s Longspur
Wilson’s Phalarope
Mountain Plover
Say’s Phoebe
Horned Grebe
Vesper Sparrow 

 

Other birds of note from this trip: (of note meaning birds we’ve seen fewer than 5 times)

 

Ruddy Ducks
Burrowing Owl
American Advocets
Bonapart’s Gulls
Horned Larks 

 

And the rest. Don’t get me wrong, this list contains some beautiful, interesting and unique birds, however we’ve been seeing them nearly every outing, so while it’s always a joy to watch a male Bufflehead try to capture the attention of his girl, we have witnessed that behavior dozens of times. By contrast, we’ve only seen Burrowing Owls three or four times.

 

These are in the order of appearance on my field notes.
Great Horned Owl
Loggerhead Shrikes
Starlings
Ravens
Kingbirds
Northern Harriers
Scrub Jays
Robins
Eared Grebes
Western Grebes
Buffleheads
Canvasbacks
Red Wing Blackbirds
Rock Wren
Swainson’s Hawks
Northern Shovelers
Meadowlarks
Mourning Doves
European Collared Doves
Redtail Hawks
Kestrels
Pintail Ducks
Canada Geese
Green-winged Teals
Mallard Ducks
Coots
California Gull
Pelicans
Blackbirds
Kingfishers
Stellar Jays
Ferruginous Hawks


We also saw two pheasant farms (with hundreds of pheasants) as well as 250 robust pronghorn and one hungry looking coyote. We heard Yellow-headed Blackbirds, but try as we might, were unable to actually see them.

 

One thing: I’d heard previously that camping in the Grasslands for birding purposes was a bucket list item, due to the variety of birds and the hopes of witnessing expansive wildflower blooms. While I have seen Pawnee’s wildflower events before, and can attest to the joyful magnitude of the experience, this time we were too early for flowers. So maybe the May suggestion one reads on the Web is still a good one.

 

And about camping on location: the northern selvages of the Grasslands are often used to produce energy. There’s a large wind farm and expansive oil fields in that area. This energy production creates noise, traffic and lights that may detract from the camping experience. Members of our group suggested camping in or around Briggsdale, Colorado to avoid the energy production zones.

 

 

"The key to success is to keep growing in all areas of life - mental, emotional, spiritual, as well as physical." Julius Erving
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Re: Colorado's Pawnee National Grasslands: Birding Hot Spot

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@HammH wrote:

Sometime i want to camp out here to watch the migration. I know some of the local birding groups do camp outs.


@HammH. We have friends that spent the early part of the summer out here birding.

 

I didn't know any of the local birding clubs did weekend-long events; I'll have to scour the events calendars. Smiley Happy 

"The key to success is to keep growing in all areas of life - mental, emotional, spiritual, as well as physical." Julius Erving
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Re: Colorado's Pawnee National Grasslands: Birding Hot Spot

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Sometime i want to camp out here to watch the migration. I know some of the local birding groups do camp outs.

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Colorado's Pawnee National Grasslands: Birding Hot Spot

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Conventional wisdom is that May and June are the best months to bird at Pawnee National Grasslands, however a group of us are going in mid-April because it has been so warm. This may be folly; we shall see. Smiley Happy

 

Birding Tour Route

https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5318485.pdf

 

 

More about birding at Pawnee National Grasslands

 

From: http://www.mendosa.com/fitnessblog/?p=12136

 

"This and other national grasslands exist because of the tragedy of the Dust Bowl. The U.S. government created the national grasslands in the 1930s after a long drought withered the Great Plains and the Great Depression left farm families destitute. The program purchased submarginal Great Plains grasslands and resettled farm families. About 3.8 million acres of the 11.3 million acres purchased became the original nineteen national grasslands in 1960. The Pawnee National Grassland consists of 193,060 of those acres intermingled with private land in two separate sections of Weld County in northeast Colorado."

 

wikis mountain plover.jpgwikipedia's mountain plover image

 

From Cornell: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/birding-escapes-pawnee-national-grasslands-colorado/

 

"Endless vistas of rolling hills carpeted with colorful wildflowers— that’s Pawnee National Grasslands in spring. Located just 35 miles northeast of Fort Collins, Colorado, this internationally known birding area is home to dozens of bird species, as well as pronghorns, mule deer, coyotes, and prairie dogs.

 

Covering more than 193,000 acres, Pawnee National Grasslands is divided into two adjacent parcels, traversed via county roads and vehicle travel routes marked with numbered posts. Grassland species can be quite skittish if you approach them on foot, but driving slowly along the auto trails yields close-up views of most species.

 

The best time to visit is in May and June, when migrants are passing through and resident breeders are arriving on their nesting grounds. In late spring the birds are bustling at the height of nesting season and the grasslands are in full bloom.

 

With as many as 301 species of birds using these windswept plains, the Pawnee is a bird-watcher’s paradise. Early mornings and evenings provide the best opportunity to see and photograph birds and other wildlife.

 

Because of its importance to migrants and breeding grassland species, the National Audubon Society has recognized the Pawnee National Grasslands as an Important Bird Area.

 

Resident birds include the Lark Bunting, Horned Lark, Burrowing Owl, Mountain Plover, Vesper Sparrow, and numerous raptors. In riparian areas, you can also find Mourning Doves, Red-headed Woodpeckers, Blue Jays, Black-billed Magpies, and Gray Catbirds."

 

 

 

 

 

"The key to success is to keep growing in all areas of life - mental, emotional, spiritual, as well as physical." Julius Erving
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