Colorado: Fall 2017

Fall 2017: August 1November 30

Dean Shoup     

Recommended citation:

Shoup, D. 2021. Fall 2017: Colorado. <> North American Birds.

Temperatures for the season were much above average for much of the state. For the western half of the state, November provided record warm temperatures. Precipitation was below average for much of the season except for September, which experienced above average precipitation in the eastern half of the state and much above average in the southeast quadrant. These warmer temperatures may have encouraged some species to linger longer during migration, including some warblers and others. Fall of 2017 was also notable for an irruption of montane species further out on the eastern plains than in recent years.

Highlights of the season included a variety of rare migrants concentrated into one small stretch of an urban creek in Boulder. Yellow-throated Warbler, Varied Thrush, Black-throated Blue Warbler, and Black-throated Gray Warbler were all found here during a one-week span in mid-November. A Swallow-tailed Kite (fifth) and Crested Caracara (fifth) were also nice finds, as were the first and second state records of Tropical Kingbird.

Contributors (sub-regional compilers in boldface)

James Beatty, Josh Bruening (JBr), Jack Bushong (JBu, Ryan Bushong (RBu), Dan Brooke, Coen Dexter (west-central Colorado), David Dowell, Kathy Mihm Dunning (KMD), John Drummond, Joey Kellner, Dave Leatherman, Forest Luke (northwest Colorado), Jan Leonard, Bill Maynard, Michael McCloy, Steven G. Mlodinow (SGM), Nick Moore, Stanley Oswald, Mark Peterson, Brandon K. Percival (BKP) (Pueblo area), John Rawinksi (San Luis Valley), Gene Rutherford, Ira Sanders, Dave Silverman, Jane Stulp, Cheryl Teuton, Janeal W. Thompson (JWT), Glenn Walbek, Brenda Wright.

Abbreviation: “West Slope” denotes locations west of the Rockies.

Waterfowl through Hummingbirds

Snow Geese and Ross’s Geese arrived in typical fashion in Colorado, with the West Slope reporting seven Ross’s in the six counties of Chaffee, Delta, Garfield, Mesa, Moffat, and Montezuma. An early flock of Greater White-fronted Geese was first noted on 27 Sep at Prewitt Res., Washington (N. Korte). The lone West Slope report occurred in Cortez, Montezuma 14 Nov (JB). The season’s only Brant was found at Bar CCC Park, Douglas 11-29 Nov (C. Phillips, m.ob.), it moved around to other nearby locations in Parker, Douglas, during this time. Colorado had three reports of single Trumpeter Swans, with one continuing from the spring at Stagecoach Res., Routt 18 Mar–19 Nov (K. Weeks, M. Ahlgren, m.ob.), one in Montrose, Montrose 18 Oct (B. Ackerman, J. Horn), and one e. of Fort Collins, Weld 26 Oct (L. Pivonka). Tundra Swan highlights included the season high count of 26 at Highline Lake S.P., Mesa 13 Nov (K. McGinley, J. Riggle), and as many as 25 at Antero Res., Park 25 Nov (NM, JBu, RBu). Many more reports throughout the state came in from 12 counties, 26 Oct-27 Nov. A male Eurasian Wigeon was found at Pueblo Res., Pueblo 31 Oct (BKP, et al.). Surf Scoters were present throughout the state in good numbers: 18 near Kim, Las Animas 5 Oct (GW, D. Hadersbeck), ten at Miramonte Res., San Miguel 22-27 Oct (E. Hynes, m.ob.), and 22 at Elevenmile Res., Park (JK, et al.), with other reports from 21 counties, 5 Oct- 28 Nov. White-winged Scoters were also present in good numbers this year. As many as six were present at Miramonte Res., San Miguel 23-18 Nov (BW, CD), as many as six at Elevenmile Res., Park, 28 Oct-19 Nov (GW, m.ob.), eight at Prewitt Res., Washington 5 Nov (SGM, DD), and up to six at Vega Res., Mesa 8-19 Nov (D. and M. Vollmar, m.ob.); there were reports from ten more counties from 24 Oct-28 Nov. Black Scoter was found with less frequency. A season high count of three were reported from Antero Res., Park, 28 Oct-14 Nov (GW, m.ob.), two were found at Pueblo Res., Pueblo 31 Oct-8 Nov (JD, BKP, BM), and singles were noted at Cherry Creek S.P., Arapahoe 2 Nov (GW), Elevenmile Res., S.P., Park 11-15 Nov (MM, m.ob.), Spinney Mountain Res., Park 11 Nov (MM), Wheat Ridge Greenbelt-Tabor Lake, Jefferson 21-23 Nov (B. Snyder, m.ob.), and Aurora Res., Arapahoe 22 Nov (DD). Long-tailed Ducks were observed at eight locations in six counties from 4-22 Nov (m.ob.). Red-necked Grebes were present with a slightly higher than usual frequency at nine locations across eight counties from 27 Sep-30 Nov (m.ob.). Rare to the state, a Black-billed Cuckoo was discovered at Melody Tempel Grove, Bent 8 Sep (L. Miller, J. Mitchell, JD)., and another was seen at Upper Queens Res., Kiowa 10 Sep (SGM). Also rare to the state, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird was seen in Lamar, Prowers 2 Sep (ph. JWT).


Black-bellied Plovers experienced higher totals than in the previous five years across the state. Ninety were tallied during the week of 22 Sep (eBird data), whereas two at Summit Res., Montezuma 4 Oct (E. Hendrickson) were the only of their kind for the West Slope. Two at Antero Res., Park 8 Oct (JD) were rare for the county. Other reports throughout the Front Range and eastern plains were more typical from 12 Aug-5 Nov. American Golden-Plover was also more common than usual, with 52 seen during the week starting 15 Sep, more than four times the highest total in recent years for the fall! A total of 35 Mountain Plover were noted near Arriba, Lincoln 29 Aug (GW), and a spectacular scene was a season high count of 102 Mountain Plover near Lycan, Baca 10 Oct (ph. JWT). Rare to the state, Ruddy Turnstone had a nice showing, with five reports: one at Jumbo Res., Sedgwick 22 Aug (S. Larson), one at Lower Queens Res., Kiowa 2 Sep (SGM, DD), one at John Martin Res., Bent 16 Sep (JB, RB), and one at San Luis Lakes S.P., Alamosa 18 Sep (L. Rawinski). Even rarer, a Red Knot was seen at Chatfield S.P., Jefferson 20 Sep (M. Clark, m.ob.), and another was at Lower Queens Res., Kiowa 7-8 Oct (SGM, m.ob.). Dunlin also had a good showing with four reports: one at Neenoshe Res., Kiowa 19 Aug (SGM), two at Barr Lake S.P. Adams 16-23 Sep (T. Sanders, IS), one at Prewitt Res., Washington 1 Nov (N. Lewis), and one at Adobe Creek Res., Bent 4 Nov (CT, ph. DB). A rare fall report of a White-rumped Sandpiper was noted at Adobe Creek Res., Bent 4 Nov (CT, ph. DB). This is one of just two fall reports in the state for the species, the other being in 2011 in Washington. Buff-breasted Sandpiper had four fall reports: one at 18 Island Res., Jackson 27 Aug (SGM), as many as three at Prewitt Res., Washington 8 Sep-1 Oct (GW, m.ob.), two at Lower Queens Res., Kiowa 10 Sep (SGM), and one at Neenoshe Res., Kiowa 20 Sep (SGM). Five Red Phalaropes visited Colorado in as many counties, including a long-staying bird at Chatfield S.P., Douglas 11 Sep-4 Oct (F. Farrell, m.ob.). This species continues to make annual appearances throughout the state each fall.

Jaegers through Terns

The only Pomarine Jaeger sightings were one at Neenoshe Res., Kiowa 19 Sep (SGM) and one dark-morph juvenile at Cherry Creek S.P. Arapahoe 20 Oct (D. Hill, C. Madsen). Three reports of Parasitic Jaeger were good: one in the unusual location of Comanche N.G. Las Animas 2 Oct (GW), one dark-morph juvenile at Timnath Res., Larimer 3-4 Nov (JBr, m.ob.), and one dark-morph juvenile at Windsor Lake, Weld 6-10 Nov (K. Buckley, JBr). Three Long-tailed Jaegers were observed: first, a juvenile (dark gray) bird was reported from Antero Res., Park 26 Aug (SGM); then, at the same location, a juvenile (light gray) bird was observed 31 Aug-4 Sep (KMD, m.ob.); and finally a third juvenile was seen at Pueblo Res., Pueblo 9-11 Oct (BM, BKP, m.ob.). Black-legged Kittiwakes were seen in three locations: one adult at Lake Beckwith, Pueblo 28 Oct (D. Silverman), one adult at Lake Henry, Crowley 4 Nov (SO), and one adult at Jumbo Res., Sedgwick 14-16 Nov (C. Wild, m.ob.). Sabine’s Gulls begin to show up with regularity by early September, and this year was no exception to that rule. Interesting sightings that were rare for their respective counties were one at Buena Vista Ice Pond, Chaffee 1 Oct (C. Hagenlocher) and one at the remote Miramonte Res., San Miguel 18-21 Nov (E. Hynes); other reports came from 17 more counties from 1 Sep-20 Oct. An amazing all-time high count of seven juvenile Little Gulls were seen and photographed at Upper Queens and Lower Queens Res., Kiowa 13-14 Aug (ph. SGM, DD, ph. JWT). Two juveniles were seen and photographed at Pueblo Res., Pueblo 16 Aug (ph. J. Withgott, m.ob.). Although not on the review list for the counties observed, Laughing Gull is a rare find in the state. Two were seen this fall; one immature at Upper Queens and Neenoshe Res., Kiowa 9 Jul-21 Oct (SGM, m.ob.) and one at LUNA Res., Weld 29 Sep (SGM, GR). Mew Gull was detected at five locations in the three counties of Arapahoe, Larimer, and Pueblo from 14 Aug-25 Nov (m.ob.). A Great Black-backed Gull returned to Pueblo Res., Pueblo, for the 24th consecutive year, 7 Nov+ (BKP, m.ob.). Another was seen at Black Hollow Res., Weld 28 Nov (SGM). Very rare to the state, an Arctic Tern was identified at Union Res., Weld 17-19 Oct (SGM, DD).

Bitterns though Flycatchers

A rare Least Bittern was at Stewart’s Pond near La Salle, Weld 1 Aug (T. Leukering, SGM). Equally rare, a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron was found at Stalker Lake, Yuma 15 Sep (JK, et al.). Colorado’s fifth Swallow-tailed Kite was seen by many in Lamar, Prowers 10-24 Aug (B. Will, m.ob.). The lone Snowy Owl report for the season was one seen near Fort Morgan, Morgan 25 Nov (ph. DD, ph. S. Rash). With only four accepted records, a Crested Caracara found and photographed in the Denver Metro area was a great find. It was first seen and photographed near Chatfield S.P., Douglas 24 Aug (P. Wait). It flew north and was re-found and photographed the next day at First Creek at Denver O.S. near Rocky Mountain Arsenal N.W.R., Denver 25 Aug (J. Breitsch). A handful of local birders were able to get on the bird before it moved on. With only fifteen accepted records of Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, two reports were good for the season, one at Melody Tempel Grove, Bent 7 Sep (D. Nelson, ph. JWT, ph. JS) and one banded at Chico Basin Ranch, El Paso 20 Sep (ph. G. Levandoski, et al.). An immature male Vermilion Flycatcher was found and photographed near the town of Norwood, San Miguel 7 Oct (CD, ph. BW, G. Steele). The state’s first and second record of Tropical Kingbird were both documented this fall in Colorado. The first one was found at Chico Basin Ranch, El Paso 17 Sep (ph., vr. D. Tønnessen), and the second at Nucla Sewage Lagoons, Montrose 2-3 Oct (CD, ph. BW). Scissor-tailed Flycatcher was found in three locations: one at Upper Queens Res., Kiowa 2 Sep (SGM, DD), two at Picture Canyon, Baca 6 Sep (J. Webster), and one in Comanche N.G., Las Animas 4 Oct (GW).

Nuthatches through Thrushes

This fall will be remembered for an eruption of montane species out on the eastern plains and near the Front Range. Exemplifying this were the sheer numbers of Red-breasted Nuthatches found at locations where typically just a few are found during migration. Impressive numbers of Red-breasted Nuthatches were: 18 at Brett Gray Ranch, Lincoln 4 Sep (JK, et al.), 16 at Mitchek Ranch, Cheyenne 21 Sep (GW), 20 at Grandview Cemetery, Larimer 26 Sep (DL), as many as 56 at Glenmere Park in Greeley, Weld 3 Oct-21 Nov (SGM, NM), and 11 at Fairview Cemetery, Kit Carson 15 Oct (JK, et al.). Pygmy Nuthatches were also found in unusual locations away from the mountains: two at Thompson Ranch, Lincoln 27 Aug-15 Oct (MP, GW), two at Jackson Res., Morgan 30 Sep (SGM, DD), one at Pawnee N.G., Weld 1 Oct (GR), as many as six at Glenmere Park, Weld 3 Oct+ (SGM, et al.), one at Flagler Res. S.W.A., Kit Carson 12 Oct (MP), one at Rocky Ford Cemetery, Otero 16 Oct (SO), and three in Holyoke, Phillips 4 Nov (H. and R. Morris). Two Pacific Wrens were documented, including one that was banded at Chico Basin Ranch, El Paso 23 Sep (A. Yappert, ph. BM, et al.) and another at Brett Gray Ranch, Lincoln 23-39 Sep (SGM, MP, ph. GW). Carolina Wren was found in six counties from 17 Aug+ (m.ob.). Golden-crowned Kinglets showed up with more frequency in the eastern half of the state with reports from 14 eastern plains counties from 10 Sep-28 Nov. The lone Wood Thrush of the season was seen at Thompson Ranch, Lincoln 3-7 Oct (MP, m.ob.). Varied Thrush was detected twice, one in Boulder, Boulder 11-14 Nov (T. Martinez, m.ob.) and one near Greeley, Weld 28 Nov (S. Mason).

Waxwings through Sparrows

Colorado has not had a good year for Bohemian Waxwings since around 2005, so a report of 80 at Stagecoach Res., Routt 16 (T. Litteral) was notable. Singles were also seen in Longmont, Boulder 16 Nov (SGM) and near Hygiene, Boulder 17 Nov (R. King) and Rocky Mountain N.P., Larimer hosted 22 on 21 Nov (S. Riffe). Sprague’s Pipits were scarce this year, with only three reports: one near Flagler, Kit Carson 26 Sep (GW, MP), two at Hale/Pipit Hill area, Yuma 15 Oct (JK, et al.), and one north of Deer Trail, Arapahoe 25 Oct (MP). A Purple Finch was a good find in Stratton, Kit Carson 17 Oct (GW). Cassin’s Finch, Common Redpoll, and Red Crossbill were all seen with much more frequency, especially out on the eastern plains, away from their typical mountain locations. White-winged Crossbills were observed at three locations: six at Franktown, Douglas 12 Aug (K. Dressel), one near Evergreen, Jefferson 26 Sep (C. Aid), and two near Ridgway, Ouray 24 Oct (IS). A first county record of Chestnut-collared Longspur was recorded at Rito Hondo Res., Hinsdale 28 Sep (KMD). LeConte’s Sparrow has become very rare in the last ten years, two reports were noted this year., one south of Siebert, Kit Carson 18 Oct (GW) and one at Brett Gray Ranch, Lincoln 20 Oct (MP). A Golden-crowned Sparrow was in Centennial, Arapahoe 2-3 Oct (J. Del Rosso). Rare for the West Slope, it was good to have two reports of Harris’s Sparrow, one north of Craig, Moffat 19 Nov (JL) and the other in Craig, Moffat 20-22 Nov (J. Orton, JL).


Golden-winged Warbler was noted twice: one in Steamboat Springs, Routt 19-22 Aug (M. San Miguel, M. Keithler) and one at Ridgway Banding Station, Ouray 8 Sep (L. Rowse). The only Blue-winged Warbler for the season was seen at Pawnee N.G., Weld 4 Sep (GR). A Prothonotary Warbler was found at Two Buttes S.W.A., Baca 5 Sep (BKP). A Tennessee Warbler was at Twin Lakes in Gunbarrel, Boulder 17 Nov (Leslie S.), with other reports 2 Sep-4 Oct. Very rare to the state, a Connecticut Warbler was seen at Thompson Ranch, Lincoln 3 Oct (MP). Also rare to the state, and seen more in the fall than spring, two Mourning Warblers were reported: one at Thompson Ranch, Lincoln 27 Aug (GW, MP) and two at Mitchek Ranch, Cheyenne 29 Aug (GW, MP). A first fall county record of Hooded Warbler was discovered at Rocky Ford S.W.A., Otero 22 Oct (DD, JK, KMD). One of just four fall reports in the last ten years, a Bay-breasted Warbler was a nice find at Prewitt Res., Washington 8-9 Sep (JK, et al.). Three reports of Blackburnian Warbler were good for the state: one at Neenoshe Res., Kiowa 11 Sep (GW), one at Grandview Cemetery, Larimer 28-30 (DL, m.ob.), and one at Barr Lake S.P., Adams 7 Oct (M. Miller). Black-throated Blue Warbler also had a good showing with four reports: one at Pastorius Res., La Plata 20 Aug (JB), one at Stulp Ranch, Prowers 5 Oct (JS), one at Waterton Canyon, Jefferson 19 Oct (T. Wilberding), and one at Skunk Creek/Basemar in Boulder, Boulder 13-15 Nov (W. Kaempfer, m.ob.). Palm Warbler was detected at six locations in the six counties of Arapahoe, Boulder, Custer, Kiowa, Kit Carson, and Lincoln from 10 Sep-23 Oct (m.ob.). Yellow-throated Warbler was found in five locations in the four counties of Boulder, El Paso, Jefferson, and Pueblo from 24 Sep-14 Dec (m.ob.). Black-throated Gray Warbler is occasionally seen in fall migration along the Front Range and further east on the plains. This was this case this year with three reports from Boulder, Fremont, and Weld from 17 Aug-13 Nov (m.ob.); other reports on the West Slope from 1 Aug-10 Sep more typical.

Acknowledgements: Many thanks to David Dowell for his central role in compiling sightings for the Colorado Birds Journal.

Report processed by Byron Swift, 31 Jan 2021.

Photos–Colorado: Fall 2017
Hover or click on each image to read the caption.