Colorado “Chicken Run”

This tour is led by me, for NatureScape Tours.

Dates: Apr 20-30, 2017  (Filled)
Price: ~$1995/person.

Colorado is one of the most diverse states in the Union. It holds deserts, high and cool—or low and warm—prairies, deciduous, pine and stunted tree-line forests, 14,000 foot peaks with alpine tundra and every habitat in between. With such marvelous variety of habitats, Colorado has something to capture everyone’s attention.

April-May is an exceptional time to visit Colorado. Winter and Spring co-mingle with breathtaking results. Winter still reigns atop striking snow-capped mountains providing a magnificent backdrop to Spring’s first blossoms appearing along river banks and prairies. Like the landscape, avifaunas are also mingled. Winter residents linger across the brightening landscape and thawing lakes harbor new Spring migrants and more summer residents arrive each passing day. This is also the best month to view grouse gathering at their communal leks

Five species are to be found on these leks (traditional display or ‘dancing’ arenas) in full display. An extraordinary set of histrionics—tail-raising, wing-fanning, foot-stomping, air-sac inflating, moaning, groaning, cackling, hooting, pacing, spinning and jumping—that has to be seen to be believed. Greater and Gunnison Sage-Grouse, Lesser and Greater Prairie-Chicken and Sharp-tailed Grouse are the lek performing headliners, but we’ll also search for Dusky Grouse and the charming White-tailed Ptarmigan (still garbed in elegant white) as we crisscross the state. Our Colorado ‘Chicken Run’ offers participants the opportunity to see these highly sought, charismatic and often hard to find grouse and prairie-chickens while enjoying our journey across the state…

In addition to those wonderful ‘chickens,’ we’ll search for many of Colorado’s special birds: Clark’s Nutcracker, Brown-capped, Gray-crowned and Black Rosy-Finches and Boreal Owl (after dark) in the mountains; Swainson’s and Ferruginous Hawks, Mountain Plover, Long-billed Curlew and Chestnut-collared and McCown’s Longspurs on the prairies; Lewis’s Woodpecker, Williamson’s Sapsucker and Mountain and Western Bluebirds in the foothills and Chukar, Scaled Quail, Greater Roadrunner, Curve-billed Thrasher, Canyon Towhee and Sage, Rufous-crowned and Black-throated Sparrows in the desert. Many other western species and early spring birds will be found along the way and early migration is a good time to turn up something unusual or out of place. Examples from recent tours include Vermilion Flycatcher, Summer Tanager, Northern Parula, Golden-crowned, White-throated, Black-chinned and ‘Eastern’ Fox Sparrow along with a first confirmed record of Cactus Wren!

Interesting mammals are plentiful: prairie landscapes bustle with captivating Black-tailed Prairie Dogs and scurrying ground-squirrels. Elsewhere we should encounter a nice assortment of larger mammals with Pronghorn, Bighorn Sheep, Elk, Mule and White-tailed Deer, Moose, Coyote, Red and Swift Fox being found on previous tours. With a bit of good fortune something rare, like Bobcat or Mountain Lion, may be spotted.


Tour Itinerary:



Day 1: Arrival at Denver International Airport quickly departing for Holly. As we draw near to Holly, the landscape changes and we’ll savor an afternoon of birding amid the Arkansas River Valley’s arid landscape. While searching for desert birds approaching the northernmost extent of their range—Scaled Quail, Greater Roadrunner, Curve-billed Thrasher, Rufous-crowned Sparrow and Canyon Towhee—we’re likely to find more widespread species like Burrowing Owl and Say’s Phoebe. Nearby areas often produce Juniper Titmouse, Bushtit, Western Scrub Jay and Spotted Towhee.

During dinner, our first as a group, we’ll make introductions, discuss tour details so participants know what to expect during the tour (pace, conditions, daily routine, etc.), illustrate our planned route and hand out checklists. Night Holly

Day 2: The first of our pre-dawn starts in order to arrive at a chicken lek in the darkness. Sitting on the pre-sunrise prairie listening to Lesser Prairie Chickens is an experience like no other. Waiting for enough light so you might put pictures with the decidedly odd sounds emanating from the lek can be difficult for the inpatient. Luckily it’s worth waiting for…and the sun rises quickly on the prairie.

We’ll enjoy the chickens performing their spring rituals, departing only after we’ve had our fill. After breakfast, we’ll travel back roads looking for migrant sparrows along brushy field margins. Vesper, Lark, Cassin’s, Grasshopper and Brewer’s Sparrows along with Lark Bunting are the usual suspects. Searching the grasslands may turn up nesting birds such as Ferruginous Hawk, Burrowing Owl, Long-billed Curlew, Loggerhead Shrike or Chihuahuan Raven.

Our tracks soon turn northward as we begin our long trek northward to the little town of Wray. Our trip is broken by plenty of stops to look for birds and chances to walk around. There are several migrant traps and reservoirs that demand checking during migration. These will be our best chance to add birds with a decidedly eastern flavor to our list. Red-bellied Woodpecker, Blue Jay, the eastern form of White-breasted Nuthatch, Eastern Bluebird and Northern Cardinal are likely additions.

Before supper we’ll visit a private ranch to view one of many leks located on the property. We’ll be able to view several Greater Prairie-Chickens in a more subdued evening performance. Night Wray

Day 3:
Following our now well established pattern of rising before sunrise, we’ll return to our Greater Prairie-Chicken lek to enjoy the manic sunrise activities of these prairie grouse. One final intimate experience with these vanishing symbols of America’s Great Plains.

After breakfast, our travels take us north and west crossing the Pawnee National Grasslands. Habitats change a bit each mile and we’ll be in search of Mountain Plover, Golden Eagle, Prairie Falcon, Burrowing Owl, McCown’s and Chestnut-collared Longspurs and a host of possible migrants.

Late afternoon finds us climbing through foothills to reach the charming North Park village of Walden. As we ascend, our surroundings quickly change as do our birds. After a quick stop to view American Dipper we’ll continue upward into the mountains. These transitional foothills enroute to montane forest is home to Red-naped and Williamson’s Sapsuckers, three species of nuthatches and Mountain and Western Bluebirds, among others. Hopefully we’ll arrive in at our lodge in time for a short walk to view a collection of bird feeders that have been good for rosy-finches in past years. An after dark search for Boreal Owl and Northern Pygmy-Owl is possible. Night Walden

Day 4:
Only the pre-dawn darkness greets us as we arrive atop a sage covered hilltop that Greater Sage-Grouse have declared perfect for their lek. Weather cooperating, we should be treated to an amazing show by these large, somewhat odd looking birds. While their displays aren’t as manic as the closely related Gunnison Sage-Grouse, they remain a riveting spectacle.

After breakfast we’ll tour North Park visiting several lakes & water impoundments that my be bustling with a surge of newly arrived spring migrants, wet grasslands and sage covered hillsides that may hold their own migrants. The journey around North Park is quite scenic. Along the way, we should be able to locate Sage Thrasher, Townsend’s Solitaire and Mountain Bluebird with other possibilities including Dusky Grouse, Clark’s Nutcracker, Evening Grosbeak, Red Crossbill and Pine Grosbeak. This part of North Park is also the best area in Colorado to view Moose. With luck we may see several of these decidedly odd creatures before our day ends.

We may visit Loveland Pass in pursuit of White-tailed Ptarmigan, still attired in angelic white even this late in the Spring. After lunch, we’ll search for any Barrow’s Goldeneye that may have delayed their departure from the area and an assortment of newly arriving waterfowl. With luck we may see Cinnamon Teal performing their first courtships of the spring. There is great potential for migrants and mountain birds before returning to North Park. Another after dark search for Boreal Owl and Northern Pygmy-Owl is possible if necessary. Night Walden

Day 5: As the sun brightens the forest around Walden, we’ll visit nearby feeders hoping for Brown-capped, Gray-crowned and Black Rosy Finches. Many resident birds will be in full song with Pine Grosbeak, Mountain Chickadee, Pygmy Nuthatch and Cassin’s Finch leading the way.

The balance of our day has several options, depending upon what birds we’ve seen and what kind of weather the region has enjoyed this early spring. Lunch may be a picnic atop a windswept pass or at the head of a sage brush covered valley. What’s promised is fun birding and a good time! Night Craig

Day 6: Pre-dawn departure toward Hayden whose hills and valleys harbor Dusky Grouse, Greater Sage-Grouse and Sharp-tailed Grouse. We’ll begin by searching traditional areas for Dusky Grouse before visiting a nearby lek of Sharp-tailed Grouse. Much like Greater Sage-Grouse, Sharp-tailed Grouse are frantic, energetic and vocal during their displays—even more so! Everyone witnessing their antics enjoys the show. While it may be hard to leave these charismatic birds, we must soon begin our drive west and south.

Thankfully, changing scenery and birding stops make the drive an enjoyable one and we’ll search wetlands and water areas for Cinnamon Teal and Barrow’s Goldeneye en route to lunch near Rifle. We’ll enter the White River National Forest seeking Pinyon Jay, Bushtit and Juniper Titmouse after we enjoy our lunch.

Our final birding break is a beautiful desert canyon near Cameo where we can search for the elusive Chukar. A short hike through scenic Coal Canyon may produce Black-throated Sparrow, Rock and Canyon Wrens, Gray Flycatcher, Lazuli Bunting or Wild Horses! Night Grand Junction.

 Day 7: Our return to the desert canyons near Cameo won’t begin until the eastern skies have begun to brighten. Recent years have shown that a sunrise visit to these beautiful, rocky canyons produce good experiences with oft-difficult-to-find Chukars. (Last year’s tour found nine, several that were able to be photographed!) We’ll travel over the scenic Blue Mesa with a chance to find several montane species of interest—Clark’s Nutcracker, Williamson’s Sapsucker, Pygmy Nuthatch among others. As we travel off of the mesa, we’ll be greeted by fabulous views of the Gunnison Basin and one of Colorado’s most reliable locations for Lewis’s Woodpeckers. We continue to Montrose, Colorado, gateway to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park where we’ll have a late afternoon visit to search for Dusky Grouse. Night Montrose

Day 8: After breakfast, we’ll travel a short distance to the impressive Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. The canyon scenery, particularly from overlooks suspended above the canyon, is spectacular beyond belief and there are few places where it’s easier to find Dusky Grouse—the Rocky Mountain split from Blue Grouse—Pinyon Jay and Juniper Titmouse from established paths and roadways. Weather allowing, we’ll enjoy a picnic lunch in the park. After lunch, we’ll travel through the heart of the Curecanti National Recreation Area. Home to Blue Mesa Reservoir (Colorado’s largest body of water) and Morrow Point Reservoir (origin of the Black Canyon), the area usually holds a variety of waterbirds and shorebirds.

In the afternoon, we’ll visit snowy Crested Butte in search of lingering winter finches like Evening Grosbeak and rosy-finches—if we’re lucky, we may find all three species! The East River joins with the Taylor River near Almont forming the scenic Gunnison River. On our return, we’ll bird riparian woodlands along these river courses for migrants and Williamson’s Sapsuckers. Night Gunnison

Day 9: One last pre-dawn departure, this time to enter blinds for viewing the last of our lekking chickens—Gunnison Sage-Grouse. Our blind is operated by Sisk-a-Dee, a conservation group dedicated to the conservation of the Gunnison Sage-Grouse. While the birds are a bit distant, spotting scopes allow us to witness their action packed displays without affecting the birds.

Once the birds have left their lek, we’ll depart for breakfast and begin our return to Denver. Along the way we’ll stop at Monarch Pass for one last look for montane birds like Clark ’s Nutcracker, Pine Grosbeak and Red Crossbill. Our journey to be broken by birding, a lunch break and to stretch our legs. Night Dillon

Day 10: After breakfast, we’ll have several options depending upon which birds we may still need to see. We’ll have time to search for White-tailed Ptarmigan at Loveland Basin if previous visits resulted in no sightings, a final search for Dusky Grouse should we need one or for a leisurely walk in search of spring migrants in one of Denver’s many foothill parks. The Tour concludes at Denver’s airport in plenty of time for departing flights.





A deposit of $650.00 and completed registration form are required to confirm space. Without these, no one is considered registered. Registrations are taken on a first-come first-served basis with priority based on the postmark date.

TOUR COST: All amounts quoted are in U.S. Dollars. The costs of this trip are detailed below from Denver, Colorado.

$1875.00/person + share of actual gas expenses
Based on a minimum of four participants

COST INCLUDES: Accommodations based on two persons sharing a two bedded room. We select good hotels convenient to our birding destinations. For single rooms a single supplement will be charged. We try to supply roommates when possible, but we can’t always find one. If we can not find you a roommate, you will be charged the added cost of single accommodations. All meals as outlined in the group itinerary. All transportation, including internal segments described in the itinerary. Transportation may be by private or chartered car, station wagon, van or bus, and by canoe, boat or ferry. Taxes & Local Fees. All group admissions, park entry fees and access fees are included in the tour price.

COST DOES NOT INCLUDE: Not included are transportation to or from Denver, Colorado, each participants actual share of gasoline, excursions not included in the itinerary, laundry, personal tips, alcoholic drinks, soft drinks, juices, mineral waters and other beverages away from included meals, room service charges, souvenirs, insurance of any kind, telephone calls and use of TV not included in the room rate and overweight baggage fees.

MEAL COSTS: Only meals indicated in the itinerary are included in the cost of this tour (included hotel breakfasts.) Because a person can eat quite well for as little as $25 per day or they can choose to spend three or four times that amount for a single day, depending upon your choices, we do not include meals where we cannot control the costs. NatureScape Tours has a policy of NOT overcharging one person to cover another’s POTENTIAL meal choices—which we would have to do if all meals were budgeted into the cost of this tour.

TIPS: All expected gratuities encountered during your tour (restaurant wait staff, luggage porters, bus drivers and local guides) is included in the cost of your tour. However, if you feel your NatureScape leader, local guide or lodge personnel have given you exceptional service, it is perfectly suitable for you to bestow any gratuity you elect. We strongly stress that such tips are completely optional and solely at your discretion.


DATE OF COST QUOTATION: February 5, 2015

We can only quote current costs. Tour planning begins more than a year before the tour runs. While we try to arrive at our best estimates, we can’t predict fluctuation of currency exchange rates, increases in hotel or vehicle rates outside of our negotiated contracts, etc. Therefore, we reserve the right to increase the tour cost when there are justifiable reasons. However, we make a sincere effort to arrive at the closest possible estimate and have even absorbed small increases at times to avoid raising tour costs to participants. Many of our suppliers have gone to surcharges in their contracts withNatureScape Tours as a means to offset the uncertainties inherent in such long distance planning. The two most prevalent are:

FUEL: In today’s volatile oil market, it’s difficult, nay, impossible, to accurately project fuel costs into the distant future. Prices for our tours are based upon fuel rates reasonably expected at the time of your tour’s start. While NatureScape Tours does everything possible to maintain the quoted price of your tour, with a dramatic shift in fuel prices, it may be necessary to charge a fuel surcharge. If such a surcharge is levied, every effort will be made to minimize the cost passed along to you. In almost all cases, these are additional charges being assessed NatureScape Tours by our service suppliers and vendors who have exercised their right, under their contracts with NatureScape Tours, to increase prices caused by substantial changes in their cost of fuel.

EXCHANGE RATES: As with oil, it’s impossible, to accurately project foreign currency exchange rates into the distant future. Prices for our tours are based upon the rate of exchange reasonably expected at the time of your tour’s start. While NatureScape Tours does everything possible to maintain the quoted price of your tour, with a dramatic shift in exchange rates, it may be necessary to charge a surcharge. If such a surcharge is levied, every effort will be made to minimize the cost passed along to you. In almost all cases, these are additional charges being assessed NatureScape Tours by our service suppliers and vendors who have exercised their right, under their contracts with NatureScape Tours, to increase prices caused by substantial changes in foreign currency exchange rates.

PLEASE NOTE: In more than 25 years of running tours, we’ve NEVER had to assess an additional charge or surcharge to a client. We feel strongly that our staff’s careful planning and negotiation will continue our unblemished record.

UNANTICIPATED COSTS: Rarely we have had unexpected costs. Cancellation of a flight or train has required staying in a hotel an extra night, hiring vehicles for extra excursions and other services. At times schedule changes or route changes have been necessary. If such changes are proposed and accepted by participants, it is with the understanding that they accept the obligation to pay any extra unanticipated costs.
On all of our tours, participants are responsible for any extra expenses incurred from deviations to our scheduled tour itinerary which result from events out of our control (additional hotel nights, transfers and transportation by air, water or ground). During spring in the western mountains this could be a rare weather related event (heavy snows are possible into July!), or could be a result of flight or rail cancellations, labor strikes, acts of God and the like.

Our cancellation policy is generous, but because we negotiate with each of our providers and have contracted payment dates with them, to cover the work and expense of handling registrations and canceling them, $125.00 will be deducted from payments received if we are notified in writing at least 91 days before departure date. Payments made on your behalf to purchase nonrefundable tickets may result in the loss of that cost should you decide to cancel. In some cases, if you can find a replacement to take your spot, we can change the name on the tickets for a much smaller cost. In such cases, the difference would be refunded to you provided enough notice has been given. Fees deducted for later cancellations are: 90 to 61 days before departure date, all inseparable costs (i.e. vehicle rental, charter costs and leaders expenses); due to contractual obligations with our hotels, trains, bus and van rentals, boat charters and other costs where we have contracted payment dates there can be no refunds for cancellations within 60 days prior to our departure. Some participants have lost substantial sums when illness or other circumstances prevented them from taking atour. Therefore, we advise you to buy trip cancellation insurance which may reimburse the entire unrecovered amount if it is necessary for you to cancel.

UNUSED PORTIONS OF A TOUR: We can’t offer refunds for unused portions of a tour unless agreed to before the tour. If you fail to show up or meet the tour regardless of the reason, we are under no obligation to provide any refund. Trip cancellation insurance may reimburse losses if you must leave a tour early for illness or other valid reason.

COMPLETION OF PAYMENT: Foreign travel agents, hotels, boat operators etc. require advance payment. We can offer better rates on our toursbecause of contracted payment dates and your cooperation helps avoid problems with your arrangements. For this tour we require final payment to be received in our office 90 days before the start of the tour.