Colorado: Spring 2017

Spring 2017: 1 Mar–31 May

Dean Shoup

Recommended citation:

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

Temperatures for March were much above average in the east and record warmest in the west. April cooled down a bit, with the state recording above average temperatures. May cooled off even further, with the state experiencing near average temperatures and even below average in the sw. quadrant. Precipitation ranks were below average or near average for most of the state in March and April. Late April and most of May was much above average, with rain and even snow falling. The extra rainfall filled playas making for good shorebird habitat. Whimbrels were found often and in high numbers. Red-necked Phalaropes were recorded in the thousands in the San Luis Valley.

Some exceptional rarities were found this season, including the state’s fourth Crested Caracara, the state’s second Bronzed Cowbird, a Louisiana Waterthrush, and the state’s second Red-faced Warbler. Other species that were more prevalent this year were White-eyed Vireo and Northern Parula. Black Phoebe continues to expand its range further n. than previously documented. Another species that is on the watch list for possible range expansion is Curve-billed Thrasher, which showed up in more northerly locations than usual.

Contributors (subregional editors in boldface)

Mark Chavez, Coen Dexter, Kathy Mihm-Dunning, Austin Hess, William Kaempfer, Joey Kellner, Nick Komar, Dave Leatherman, Jan Leonard, Forest Luke, Steven G. Mlodinow (SGM), Brandon K. Percival (BKP), Mark Peterson, Lisa Rawinski, John Rawinkski, Sue Riffe, JoAnn Riggle (JRi), Gene Rutherford, Dave Silverman (DSi), David Suddjian (DSu), Janeal W. Thompson, Van Truan, David Wade, Glenn Walbek, Walter Wehtje, Vic Zerbi.


Greater White-fronted Goose was noted four times w. of the Front Range: one at Monte Vista N.W.R., Rio Grande 3 Mar (B. Schmoker), one near Rifle, Garfield 9–11 Mar (A. Dahl, VZ, JRi), two w. of Delta, Delta 1 Apr (G. Pearson). Other reports from the Front Range were more typical, from 3 Mar–1 May. A continuing Brant (Black) was at Indian Tree Golf Course, Jefferson 26 Jan–8 Mar, (D. Faulkner, m.ob.). Another was found at Columbine Lakes ponds, Arapahoe 27 Mar (D. Carstensen, m.ob.). Trumpeter Swan was present, with a total of eight in the five counties of Delta, Douglas, Mesa, Jefferson, and Routt from early March+. Tundra Swan was more prevalent than Trumpeter, as usual, with multiple reports from Boulder, Chaffee, Delta, Park, Pueblo, Rio Grande, and Weld 1 Mar–3 Apr. A Eurasian Wigeon was found at Stewart’s Pond, near La Salle, Weld 14 Mar–11 Apr (SGM, m.ob.). An American Black Duck at Woods Lake, Weld 25 Feb–4 Mar (SGM, m.ob.), was the first spring sighting since 1990. Surf Scoter was noted twice: one at Walden Res., Jackson 28 Apr (C. Nunes) and one at Spinney Mountain S.P., Park 2 May (DSu). A group of four White-winged Scoters delighted a group of birders at Aurora Res., Arapahoe 1 May (DSu, m.ob.). This was the first spring sighting in three years. Long-tailed Duck was noted twice in March, with one at Lory State Park, Larimer 3 Mar (C. Teuton, D. Brooke) and one in Pueblo, Pueblo 19 Mar (K. Carragher, MP, BKP). Rarer in April, one near Greeley, Weld 11 Apr (J. Olson) was notable. Red-necked Grebe continued at Pueblo Res., Pueblo from 30 Oct–22 Apr (m.ob.). Two additional reports of singles were at Elevenmile S.P., Park 3 Apr (DSu) and Lake John, Jackson 26 May (C. Hunter).

Lesser Nighthawk was a surprise in two different locations this season. One was at Van’s Grove near John Martin Res., Bent 5 May (JK et al.) and another about a week later at Flagler S.W.A., Kit Carson 13 May (BKP et al.). Just past the record early date of 19 May (in 2011), a group of 16 Black Swift at Nucla Sewage Lagoons, Montrose 21 May (CD, B. Wright) was notable for the early date, and an apparent first for the location (eBird data). Rare to the state, two sightings of Ruby-throated Hummingbird were good: one at Stulp Ranch near Lamar, Prowers 5–7 May (J Stulp, m.ob.) and another in Lamar, Prowers, 14 May (JWT). A record early date for Rufous Hummingbird was noted in Coal Creek Canyon, Boulder 20–21 Apr (A. Jack). Black-bellied Plovers were noted in Adams, Bent, Boulder, Crowley, Kiowa, Larimer, Morgan, and Weld 15 Apr–20 May; rarer on the West Slope, one at Fruitgrowers Res., Delta 15 May (J. Beason) was of interest. Snowy Plover turned up in their typical haunts of Bent, Crowley, Kiowa, and Otero 23 Mar–31 May. They also turned up more frequently in more uncommon locations around the state: one at Baseline Res., Boulder 1 Apr (P. Gent, m.ob.); one initially followed by as many as three at Union Res., Weld 11 May (MC, KMD, T. Leukering, m.ob.); one se. of Burlington, Kit Carson 15 May (GW); and one at Cobb Lake, Larimer 19–20 May (NK, DW, AH, m.ob.). Piping Plover also showed around the state in locations not typically expected. One was found at Schafer Res., Lincoln 4 May (N. Moore), another at Boyd Lake, Larimer 9–13 May (NK, WW, m.ob.), and one at Union Res., Weld 10–11 May (SR, m.ob.).

Whimbrel was found in many locations this season and in higher numbers than usual as well. High counts were 26 at Jackson Res., Morgan 23 Apr (DD), 22 at Pawnee N.G., Weld 27 Apr (Cole Wild et al.), and 32 near La Salle, Weld 4 May (GR). Also, one at the West Slope location of Fruitgrowers Res., Delta 4 May (A. Robinsong) was of interest. Other reports from 22 different locations in Bent, Boulder, El Paso, Jefferson, Kiowa, Larimer, Lincoln, Pueblo, and Weld 18 Apr–21 May. Rare to the state, a Ruddy Turnstone was found at Stewart’s Pond and Behrens Res. near La Salle, Weld 30 Apr–6 May (A. Davis, SGM, m.ob.). Individual Dunlin reports came in from the four counties of Alamosa, Bent, Kiowa, and Sedgwick 23 Mar–21 May, one more sighting than the previous year. White-rumped Sandpiper typically passes through the state in May, peaking in late May; one at San Luis Lake, Alamosa 17 Apr (LR) was earlier than usual. Short-billed Dowitcher was found four times with a total of five from 23 Apr–1 May. Continuing from January, an American Woodcock was seen twice in early March at Bobcat Ridge N.A., Larimer (DW, C. Wild, KMD, M. Hoerner, m.ob.). Red-necked Phalarope eclipsed the previous high count of 6650 from 2008, Alamosa, with an astounding 8000 at Blanca Wetlands, Alamosa, also an impressive 3200 at San Luis Lake, Alamosa 23–24 May (LR, JR) were noted.

Three Mew Gull reports from 12 Mar–5 Apr were all immature birds, tying the number found in 2015. A state review species, Glaucous-winged Gull, was found twice: a first-year bird at Union Res., Larimer 12 Mar (GR, DW, SGM) and another first-year bird at Horseshoe Res., Larimer 30 Apr–1 May (NK, AH, D. Ward). Great Black-backed Gulls continued from their winter locations in both Pueblo and Larimer, with the latest date being 1 Apr at Horseshoe Res., Larimer (DW, A. Bankert, M. McCloy, m.ob.). A Least Tern was found at Blanca Wetlands, Alamosa 12 May (LR), while other reports from Bent and Prowers, 12–15 May, were expected, being near their typical breeding grounds. More common in fall than spring, Common Tern was found at four locations from 25 Apr–26 May, with one report of two from the West Slope location of Corn Lake, Mesa 26 May (PB) being especially rare for the location. Adding to just four previous spring sightings in the last ten years, two reports of Arctic Tern were good for the season: one being an adult at Jumbo Res., Sedgwick 21 May (J. Gregg) and another adult at Union Res., Weld 27 May (SGM).


A Lewis’s Woodpecker was a surprise at the location of Crow Valley C.G. at Pawnee N.G., Weld 13 May (KMD, m.ob.), this being just the second ever sighting at this location and only the third for the county. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is typically a rare winter visitor, and rarer in spring; three reports were good, the latest being one at Denver City Park, Denver 1 Apr (m.ob.) marking a seasonal county first. A one-day wonder Crested Caracara was found and photographed along the Poudre River Trail near Greeley, Weld 15 Apr (acc., ph. S. Mason), adding to just three previously accepted records for the state. Only a few more undocumented records occur for the state. Eastern Wood-Pewee was noted twice, with one at Brett Gray Ranch, Lincoln 21 May (SGM) and one in Pueblo, Pueblo 28 May (VT). Previously very rare to the state, and still a review species, Alder Flycatcher reports have increased dramatically in the last few years, this year was no exception with a total of 16 from eight counties 16 May–30 May. Black Phoebe reports were many, with more reported in the Front Range than usual. Beginning in 2013, Boulder has hosted at least one, with up to two being found at Boulder Creek near Walden Ponds, Boulder 22 Mar–28 May (J. Montgomery, m.ob.), Colorado’s second Breeding Atlas project noted the species has dramatically expanded its range since the first Atlas project (Wickersham, 2016). One wonders whether this species could be expanding its breeding range even further n. than already documented. Hybrids with Eastern Phoebe are also a possibility, as was the case with one w. of Hygiene, Boulder 14 Apr–23 June (J. Rutenbeck, m.ob.). Other Front Range sightings included one at First Creek at Denver O.S., Denver 25 Mar (D. Hill, C. Madsen). Furthering the notion that the species may be expanding its range, multiple reports further n. than typical included sightings at Lower Brush Creek, Eagle 22 Apr (K. Carstensen), another in the town of Meeker, Rio Blanco 25 Apr (JL), two in Carbondale, Garfield 28 Apr–28 May (M. Harris, D. Filby, VZ, m.ob.), one nw. of Hygiene, Boulder 4–11 May (SR), and one at Frank S.W.A. Weld 30 May+ (G. Lefko, m.ob.). Other reports from an additional 15 counties 7 Mar–31 May. A male Vermilion Flycatcher was se. of Burlington, Kit Carson 23 Mar (GW), another male visited a suburban backyard in Aurora, Arapahoe 1 Apr (L. Gurzick, T. Gurzick), both being county firsts (eBird data). Scissor-tailed Flycatcher was noted in four counties 15–21 May.

White-eyed Vireo was prevalent more than usual with many sightings scattered throughout the state in eight counties. Yellow-throated Vireo also had a good showing with seven reports in six counties 7–22 May. While more common in fall than spring, Cassin’s Vireo was seen in five counties 7–17 May, about average for the Region. A Blue-head Vireo was the only of its kind for the season at Chico Basin Ranch, Pueblo 28 May (MC et al.). Philadelphia Vireo was noted twice, with one at Lake Hasty, Bent 6 May (JK et al.) and another at Brett Gray Ranch, Lincoln 14 May (SGM). Aside from the more expected locations of Purple Martin in Garfield, Gunnison, Mesa, Montrose, and Routt 5–30 May; two at Neenoshe Res., Kiowa 18 May (J. Drucker) were a surprise. A continuing Pacific Wren from 19 Jan was still present in Durango, La Plata up to 1 Mar (R. Votta, m.ob.). Another seen up Poudre Canyon, Larimer 15–18 Mar (vr. F. Commercon et al.) was just the second seasonal record for the county. Four Winter Wrens were noted in three counties; one continued from winter, while the others were newly reported in March, with the latest being one in Pueblo, Pueblo 18–31 Mar (VT, m.ob.). Carolina Wren has become increasingly annual in the se. corner of the state; sightings in Baca, Las Animas, Prowers, and Pueblo continued this trend throughout the season. More unusual were reports of singles in Burlington, Kit Carson 20 Apr (C. Cox, m.ob.) and at Bonny S.W.A., Yuma 20 Apr (D. Tankersely, E. Harper). A Bewick’s Wren set an elevation record at 8800 ft. in Telluride, San Miguel 30 Mar (E. Hynes). Gray-cheeked Thrush totals were five in four counties 14–28 May. A Wood Thrush was photographed at Melody Tempel Grove, Bent 8–12 May (ph. JWT, m.ob.). Curve-billed Thrashers were found outside their normal se. territory in nine locations across six counties 6 Apr–26 May. Bohemian Waxwings were reported with as many as 96 in State Forest S.P. and Gould area, Jackson 19 Mar–12 Apr (R. Beauchamp, KMD, m.ob.), another 45 were reported near Chambers Lake, Larimer 22 Mar (KMD).


Eastern Towhee, rare to the state, continues to turn up annually. Three reports were noted: one at Tamarack Ranch S.W.A., Logan 24 Apr (R. Siebert), one at Flagler Res., S.W.A., Kit Carson 18–23 May (GW, MP, m.ob.), and one at Jean K. Tool S.W.A., Morgan 29 May (B. Walker). Rufous-crowned Sparrow is also annual in its usual locations in Baca, Fremont, Las Animas, and Otero 4 Mar+, but one at Brett Gray Ranch, Lincoln 4 May (MP) was a surprise. A Field Sparrow was out of place far sw. of its typical e. plains locations at Lake Beckwith, Pueblo 17 Apr (DSi). Sagebrush Sparrows occasionally turn up outside their typical w. and sw. territory to the Front Range in spring; that was the case this year, with one at Ken Caryl, Jefferson 1 Mar–30 (S. Majlinger). Baird’s Sparrow was detected with as many as six at Soapstone Prairie N.A., Larimer 15 May+ (WW, m.ob.) and also as many as six at Meadow Springs Ranch, Weld 26 May+ (E. Youngberg, WW, m.ob.). Fox Sparrow (Red) reports continued from winter in some cases, while others were newly reported as late as 2 Apr in Arapahoe, El Paso, Larimer, and Prowers. White-throated Sparrows are rare on the West Slope, making one at Grand Junction Wildlife Area, Mesa 10–20 Mar (M. Henwood, m.ob.) and one near Paonia, Delta 30 Apr (J. Beason) good for the season. Another at Monte Vista, Rio Grande 18 May (J. Poe) was also rare for the county. A single Eastern Meadowlark was well documented in Boulder, Boulder 7–8 Apr (vr., ph. T. Floyd, GW). A state-second Bronzed Cowbird was found in Lamar, Prowers 6 Apr (acc., ph. J.W. Smith).

Quite a few rare Warblers showed up this season along with an interesting hybrid. Three reports of Worm-eating Warbler in Bent, Denver and Weld 27 Apr–26 May were good. A very rare Louisiana Waterthrush came in under the radar at Brett Gray Ranch, Lincoln 14 May (SGM). A Golden-winged Warbler was at Chico Basin Ranch, Pueblo 14–15 May (m.ob.). Black-and-white Warblers are typically common in spring migration along the Front Range and out on the e. plains, one from Alamosa Golf Course, Alamosa 7 May (J. Stump) and one near Vail, Eagle (RB) were rare for their respective counties. Mourning Warbler was found twice, with a high count of two at Brett Gray Ranch, Lincoln 21 May (SGM) and a single at Bonny S.W.A., Yuma 29 May (SGM, DD). Kentucky Warbler was found three times in Bent, Jefferson, and Pueblo 10–14 May. Hooded Warbler was noted nine times in eight counties 27 Apr–23 May. A rare Hooded x Yellow Warbler (hybrid) was found and photographed at Roxborough Park, Douglas 21 May (ph. A. Shipe). The same hybrid combination was seen and photographed in the same general area in 2014. No other records are known of this particular hybrid. A Cape May Warbler was found at Chico Basin Ranch, Pueblo 28 May (A. Hudak, ph. MC, D. Starbuck). Northern Parula was quite prevalent as it was 2016, including a West Slope report near Craig, Moffat 10 May (FL, JL); one at DeWeese Res., Custer 30 Mar (C. Smith) appears to be a county first (eBird data); one at Alamosa Golf Course, Alamosa 7 May (J. Stump) was also rare for the county. Other reports came from 29 locations in 17 counties 15 Apr–29 May.

Bay-breasted Warbler was found three times: one at Crow Valley C.G. Weld 11 May (R. Vernon, m.ob.), one at Fountain Creek Regional Park, El Paso 21 May (T. Stuart, m.ob.), and one at Flagler S.W.A., Kit Carson (J. & D. Adams). Blackburnian Warbler was found only once, at Crow Valley C.G., Weld 16 May (SGM, GR). Chestnut-sided Warbler had a good showing with 11 reports from nine counties 2–26 May. Three reports of Black-throated Blue Warbler were about average for the season 5–31 May. Palm Warbler was present in ten counties 16 Apr–21 May. A singing male Yellow-throated Warbler was found in Pueblo, Pueblo 21 Apr–26 May and then two were detected 27–28 May at the same location (VT, m.ob.), another was in Akron, Washington 13 May (H. Morris, R. Morris, D. Shoffner). Adding to just five reports in the last five seasons, a Prairie Warbler was discovered at Flagler Res. S.W.A., Kit Carson (JK et al.). Townsend’s Warbler was found in four counties 6–21 May. The lone Black-throated Green Warbler for the season was at Pawnee N.G. Norma’s Grove, Weld 15 May (GR). By far, the rarest warbler of the season, was the state-second Red-faced Warbler near the town of Dolores, Montezuma 4 May (acc. R.C. Vest). Summer Tanager was found in 13 counties 16 Apr–28 May. A female-type Painted Bunting was found in Kit Carson, Cheyenne 12 May (WK et al.). Two adult males were at Picture Canyon, Baca 13 May (WK et al.), where they have become somewhat regular.

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

Literature cited: Dowell, D. 2018. Colorado Birds Vol. 51/52 No. 4/1 Colorado Field Ornithologists

Wickersham, L. 2016. The Second Colorado Breeding Bird Atlas. Colorado Bird Atlas Partnership and Colorado Division of Wildlife, Denver, Colorado.

Report processed by Eric DeFonso, 26 Mar 2021.

Photos–Colorado: Spring 2017

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