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Taking Flight

There’s no need to migrate very far to reach six of Colorado’s top birding spots.

flightmapEach spring, millions of birds follow the mountains north from Central America and South America to their breeding grounds in the United States and Canada. Metro Denver is so perfectly positioned beneath this migration route (or “flyway”) that even a novice birdwatcher can spot unique feathered creatures—if she knows where to look. Wake up early—like, 5:30 a.m. early—find the binoculars and a field guide,* and head to any of these nearby birding superhighways for an avian adventure.

1. Chatfield State Park , Littleton
flight1Skip the main attraction—the big lake—and head to the wetlands at the southwest edge of the park. Quiet paths (try the Wetlands Connector Trail) wind along the South Platte River, where birders can spot waterfowl, songbirds, and birds of prey such as the red-tailed hawk.

Within Reach: The Audubon Society of Greater Denver runs a bird-banding station in May, allowing visitors to see the songbirds up close.

2. Barr Lake State Park, Brighton
flight2More than 350 species have been spotted around Barr Lake, where a wide gravel trail follows the shoreline around the waterway for 8.8 miles, giving visitors sweeping views of nearby fields and plenty of spotting opportunities.

Native: Walk southwest toward the gazebo, and, if you’re lucky, you’ll see a bald eagle nesting across the lake.

3. Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, Commerce City
flight3Once a chemical weapons manufacturing site, this refuge now boasts 15,000 acres of habitats. Scan just below the treetops for yellow-rumped warblers, and look toward the fields for soaring swainson’s hawks.

Beyond Birds: Coyotes, prairie dogs, and bison also call the refuge home.

4. Cherry Creek State Park, Aurora
flight4This park isn’t just for cyclists and boaters: At Cherry Creek’s Wetlands Area, you can identify 173 winged water, woodland, and marsh species—such as the bright yellow western meadowlarks, whose melodious warbling provides a near-constant soundtrack.

Prime Time: Visit shortly after sunrise to see more birds and fewer people.

5. Sawhill Ponds and Walden Ponds, Boulder
flight6These side-by-side sites northeast of Boulder have 4.8 miles of trails that travel around more than 10 ponds. Follow the unnamed trail around Cottonwood Marsh, where you can see colorful yellow-headed and red-winged blackbirds perched on reeds near the water’s edge.

Vantage Point: These ponds are also a good place to look for ospreys, which are large, fish-eating raptors.

6. Red Rocks Park, Golden
flight7You wouldn’t expect a concert venue to be a wildlife hot spot, but this is Colorado. Mornings at Red Rocks are filled with birdsongs, especially along the 1.4-mile Trading Post Trail loop, where you might catch prairie falcons, western scrub-jays, and canyon wrens waking up.

Eat Up: Feeders behind the Trading Post building attract ground birds by the dozens.

Ten birds to look out for along the Front Range.

? Yellow-rumped warbler

? Red-winged blackbird

? Western bluebird

? Western meadowlark

? Great blue heron

? Black-capped chickadee

? Tree swallow

? American goldfinch

? Red-tailed hawk

? Bald eagle

*We recommend Birds of Colorado by Stan Tekiela or the Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America by David Allen Sibley.


Audubon Society of Greater Denver

Denver Field Ornithologists

Advice on Choosing Binoculars

Bird Guide from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

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Taking Flight

Bats have long been demonized as symbols of Halloween lore (or worse), but the critters themselves have been dying of disease at an alarming rate in parts of the country—and the problem could spread to the Rockies. Colorado is home to 18 species of bats, and in a twist fit for a Batman movie, wildlife officials fear that humans may be transmitting a disease called white-nose syndrome—fatal to bats (not to people)—via fungal spores carried on shoes, gear, and clothing. The white fungus infects bat appendages and awakens the animals prematurely from hibernation, which ultimately causes starvation because the spring insects on which they feed have not emerged. So, much to the disappointment of high-country spelunkers, the U.S. Forest Service issued a protective emergency order in July to close all caves and abandoned mines on National Forest land in the Rocky Mountain region for a full year. Long live the Bat Cave.