Sunday, 25 April 2010

Colorado: the final countdown

Greater Prairie-chicken (top) and Mountain Plover (below) were two big target species on my last full day in Colorado.

It's over. After some 2,550 miles on the road (and 9,400 in the air), the Colorado chicken run has reached its conclusion. We cleaned up on all of the state's big gamebirds, the last and most impressive in many ways - mainly because we watched 27 birds lekking within 30 metres of the van - being Greater Prairie-chicken. After a group vote, however, White-tailed Ptarmigan still came out as bird of the trip; the other speciality chickens rounded up were Greater Sage-grouse, Gunnison Sage-grouse, Dusky Grouse and Lesser Prairie-chicken, with the introduced Chukar definitely an also-ran which was outplaced by dapper Scaled and Gambel's Quail.

In total, the group saw at least 200 species - the final figure needs confirmation as they were still birding when I left to catch an earlier flight home (see the Sunrise Birding website for more details in due course). That is an excellent figure for any spring tour of Colorado (bear in mind, for example, that one leading tour company advertises only 140-150 likely species). My personal total was 198 species - no one ever manages to see everything on a long group trip, do they? For a bit of fun we also had a lifers competition, with Trevor the clear winner on 41 new species; everyone got into double figures, with the obvious exception of leaders Luke 'Harris' Tiller and Joe 'Don't mess with the' Bear, who being old hands on this route (and elsewhere) didn't score - and wouldn't qualify anyway!

At the beginning of the trip I said a dozen ABA ticks would be good, though 14 was my real target because that's what the same tour produced last year. In the event I clocked up a high 17, with Greater Prairie-chicken the 600th species for my ABA list and the final lifer (ABA number 601) being McCown's Longspur - a fine bird to round off proceedings. All in all it was a superb tour, and I just managed to sidestep volcano-induced chaos on the way out (by five hours) and return journey. Now I have almost 1,400 images to sort through; here's a few of Colorado in the meantime to give a flavour of this wonderful state and its birds.

Below: the Rockies distantly from the east; Colorado National Monument; and Loveland Pass, the highest point of the trip and home to White-tailed Ptarmigan.

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