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Colorado Birding Trail

HUERFANO/LAS ANIMAS — Bird-watching is a popular hobby, generating income for nature-related businesses and attracting tourists to out-of-the-way places. The idea for statewide birding trails originated in Texas in 1996 and has spread across the country, with forty states now participating. Colorado Parks and Wildlife began building the Colorado Birding Trail in 2000, in conjunction with several federal agencies and such non-profit organizations as Colorado Audubon. It is made possible by a grant from Great Outdoors Colorado. The last section, which covers the northwestern part of the state, was recently completed. Not an actual trail, it is a network which links outdoor recreation sites, public and private, by a designated driving route. The points along the route are rich in bird and wildlife and often include paleontology and archaeology sites. The network is described as a “major nature tourism initiative to promote non-consumptive outdoor recreation, conservation of resources by private landowners, and a diversified income for rural economies.” According to the American Birding Association, the trails provide “gateways to conservation and adventure.” Colorado ranks fifth among states for the number of bird species observed here. There are four areas of the Colorado Birding Trail, and each area has numerous trails. Two of the trails in Southeastern Colorado are the Spanish Peaks and Greenhorn trails. The Greenhorn Trail covers the southern end of the Wet Mountain Range, where eagles, hawks and owls are plentiful. The Spanish Peaks Trail follows much of the Highway of Legends, circumventing the Spanish Peaks and including prairie, rimrock canyons, riparian cottonwood habitats, and several lakes. It contains 20 sites, and nearly runs the gamut of Colorado habitats and biodiversity. The birding trail leads through Walsenburg, Lathrop State Park, La Veta, MacDonald’s Reservoir, Wahatoya Valley, Devil’s Stairsteps, Cucharas Creek Road to Trinchera Peak, Cordova Pass, North Lake, Stonewall, Bosque del Oso State Wildlife Area (SWA), Spanish Peaks SWA, Trinidad Lake, Lake Dorothy SWA, Trinidad, Welch Ranch, Rancho Largo, Roberts Cordova Ranch, Apishapa SWA, and Tim Williams Ranch. The Masonic Cemetery at Walsenburg is a good place to see a variety of migrant songbirds. At Lathrop State Park, where two lakes are tucked alongside a hogback ridge, one might spot white pelicans, snow geese, canvasback ducks, American avocets and a host of other water birds. South of the lakes there are ladder-backed woodpeckers, and greater roadrunners may be seen on the north side. The town of La Veta , which lies in a river valley lush with cottonwood and other trees, is a good place to see hummingbirds, warblers, downy woodpeckers, and flycatchers, as well as ravens, great horned owls, and turkey vultures. Several nearby lakes draw a variety of dabbling and diving ducks and other waterfowl, and bald eagles may be spotted. At nearby MacDonald’s Reservoir there may be Grace’s warblers and hepatic tanagers, and at Wahatoya Valley dusky grouse, nuthatches, kinglets and three-toed woodpeckers are good possibilities. Heading south on Hwy 12, one passes the Devil’s Stairsteps, where golden eagles, prairie falcons, and white-throated swifts may soar. Red-winged blackbirds are common sightings in this area. Continuing on Hwy 12 toward the mountains, Steller’s jays may be spied, and if you follow the Cucharas Creek Road and hike up to Trinchera Peak, you might even get a peek at ptarmigans. North Lake SWA is a good place to see American dippers, and at night one can hear the calls of flamulated or saw-whet owls. Elk, porcupines and pine martins also live in this area. The Stonewall area offers a chance to see from the road pygmy nuthatches and plumbaceous vireos. At the Bosque del Oso SWA there are Lewis’ woodpeckers, turkeys, and northern goshawks. The remote and beautiful southern flank of the mountains, seen at the Spanish Peaks SWA, hosts a number of species, including all three nuthatches, and in ponderosa pine forests, the rare Abert’s squirrels. Trinidad Lake and Lake Dorothey offer views of ducks and marsh birds. For a $10 fee one can visit several ranches to view birds. Rancho Largo provides access to grasslands where breeding long-billed curlews have been spotted, as well as curve-billed thrashers. Amid the canyonlands of Roberts Cordova Ranch, scaled quail, greater roadrunners, and curve-billed thrashers may be seen. At Apishapa Canyon SWA one might view black phoebes, common poor-wills, scaled quail, and burrowing owls, as well as bighorn sheep and, in the river, possibly soft-shelled turtles. The diversity and abundance of bird life along the many sections of the Spanish Peaks Birding Trail is amazing. The trail provides a mecca for nature lovers willing to go a bit off the beaten path.

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