In north-central Colorado, the North Park (above) is a gorgeous area of high mountain valley with sage brush flats and meandering streams, lined with red-and-orange willows -perfect habitat for Moose. This is the best place to observe Greater Sage-Grouse.
The full moon melted below the rockies and once again the North Park was in darkness. Dawn was an hour away but during all this time Greater Sage-Grouse were displaying on the lek (above) – a narrow strip of very short grass surrounded by sage brush. Our arrival did little to stop any activity, witnessing a most majestic beginning to the morning. Nine males strutted about, occasionally making sure that any subordinate male that ventured into his prime real estate, would be chased away. We watched the dominant male challenge his closest rival, slapping each other with their wings, and for a moment it looked as though there would be a new king of the hill. Three females put in an appearance, and for a while watched as the males blew up their huge yellow-green air sacs, and flicked their heads forwards as they made a ‘pop-pop‘ sound, upon releasing the air…….and then, just like that, they took to the skies, vanishing into the sage landscape. It was only 6:30am, dawn had not yet broken, and a Golden Eagle flying low had scattered the group.
On our second visit, we had a similar situation. There were eight males and eleven females, seven more than our previous visit. We even watched a copulation! A female giving the signal, with wings outstretched and crouching, that she was ready to mate. At 6:10am, something that we could not see got their attention. They all crouched down for about three minutes, and then flew off into the sage brush. Ten minutes later, two males began to walk back towards the lek and four others could be seen displaying in deep in the sage brush about 200 yards away.
There is a long stretch of route 14 north of Rabbit Ears leading to Walden, that I call raptor alley. The telegraph poles, wooden rail fences and occasional tree are excellent perches for Golden Eagles, all morphs of Swainson’s Hawks (below top), Red-tailed Hawks and dark and light morph Rough-legged Hawks (below bottom). Northern Harriers can be seen quartering over the fields and a Prairie Falcon put on a wonderful show for the second tour.
East of Walden is the Colorado State Park Moose Creek Visitors Center, in the foothills of the Medicine Bow Mountains. The feeders were very active and noisy with many Pine Siskins, and a handful of Red-breasted Nuthatch, Mountain Chickadee and Black-capped Chickadees. The first group saw at least a 100 Brown-capped Rosy-finches along with one Black, as well as a couple of Pine Grosbeaks (below). A week later the Brown’s were gone and all we had were 4 Gray-crowned and at least ten Pine Grosbeaks. We also had our only Yellow-rumped Warbler of the trip, as well as four Gray Jays along the road.