Colorado Summer Birding Hotspots w/ Flammulated Owls

July 15-17, 2024

Colorado’s varied topography makes it special and a haven for birders of all levels. The Great Plains cover the eastern part of the state. The Rocky Mountains bisect the state from north to south and the Colorado Plateau covers much of the western side. This diversity of habitats, from expansive plains to majestic peaks, provides homes for a rich array of bird species, placing Colorado in the Top 10 States for number of birds recorded.

This 3-day itinerary showcases Colorado summer birding hotspots in a wide variety of habitat types. We’ll travel over Guanella Pass, one of Colorado’s Scenic Byways, that takes us through montane forest, then up over alpine tundra that’s home to White-tailed Ptarmigan, and down through spruce/fir and mixed coniferous/aspen habitats for birds like Golden-crowned Kinglet and American Three-toed Woodpecker. We’ll explore Pinyon-Juniper woodlands in search of jays, hummingbirds, warblers, flycatchers, and swifts. We’ll make our way through the high-elevation grassland of South Park to awe-inspiring Eleven-Mile Canyon, with Ponderosa and Lodgepole pine and mountain riparian homes of American Dippers, towhees, bluebirds, warblers and swallows. We’ll also visit a ranch improving wildlife habitat through bird-friendly ranching techniques.

A trip highlight is sure to be our field visit with Dr. Brian Linkhart and his research team. Dr. Linkhart has been studying Flammulated Owls for decades. This trip is scheduled during peak nesting season for “flams,” and we’ll get an up-close look at this season’s field work. The chance to observe this elusive forest owl alongside experts doesn’t get much better than this.

We’ll travel in a custom American safari van with a conversion pop-top and spacious seating. This is not the traditional passenger van you may have traveled in on past trips. This one-of-a-kind vehicle has been specially designed by two wildlife biologists to allow for optimal viewing. It makes a perfect ‘blind’ and there’s ample room for everyone to view at the same time. Join Reefs to Rockies for this unforgettable summer birding trip through colorful Colorado!


Chip ClouseAbout Your Expedition Leader: Chip Clouse is a long-time bird tour leader and Reefs to Rockies’ Lead Naturalist Guide. He’s also ProStaff for Opticron Optics and Former Manager of Front Range Birding Company. Originally enamored with tooth and claw predators, his fascination with birds started by volunteering with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission to monitor Peregrine Falcon nest sites. His fascination and love for birds was cemented once he saw his first Western Tanager while working for the Peregrine Fund in Oregon. Chip’s experience includes 20 years of bird research and project management experience in nine states and the Caribbean nation of Grenada, a Masters in Conservation Biology from Colorado State University, five years with the American Birding Association, two years as a rep with Novagrade Digiscoping adapters and stints guiding at 15+ different US birding festivals. Chip is excited to share his love of Colorado birds and natural this summer.


Day 1 (Mon, July 15): West Denver, Guanella Pass, and Buena Vista ~ Morning departure from West Denver. As we make our way to Buena Vista, we’ll cross over Guanella Pass with stops at a variety of montane elevations before ending in pinyon juniper (P/J) woodlands. We will try for Pine Grosbeak, Cassin’s Finch, sapsuckers and woodpeckers on the way up before arriving on top for chances at Wilson’s Warbler, American Pipit, Horned Lark and ptarmigan. The way down should provide opportunities for Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned kinglets and maybe an American Goshawk, if we are lucky, before descending to P/J habitat for a chance at Pinyon Jay, Black-throated Gray Warbler, and Juniper Titmouse. Evening arrival to Buena Vista.

Accommodations: Best Western Vista Inn

Meals: Lunch and Dinner

Day 2 (Tues, July 16): South Park, Eleven-Mile Canyon, Manitou Experimental Forest and Woodland Park ~ Today, we’ll make our way to Woodland Park passing through the southern end of South Park en route to Eleven-Mile Canyon. We will first visit high-elevation grassland habitat, with bison and American Pronghorn possible, for a chance at Mountain Plover before skirting Eleven-Mile Reservoir with breeding California Gull, American White Pelican and Western Grebes. Eleven-Mile Canyon offers stunning views and harbors American Dipper, Violet-green, Tree and Cliff swallows, Green-tailed Towhee, Black-headed Grosbeak and Western Tanager among the myriad of other possibilities. This afternoon, the group will meet Dr. Brian Linkhart and accompany him and his research team to a Flammulated Owl study area for an in-depth look into ongoing field work in the area. With luck, we’ll get up close with adult flams and this year’s owlets.

Accommodations: Microtel Woodland Park

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner

Day 3 (Wed, July 17): Garden of the Gods and Kiowa Creek Ranch ~ We’ll head east today with a quick morning stop in Green Mountain Falls for a try at Band-tailed Pigeon before continuing to Colorado Springs’ famous Garden of the Gods Park. Prairie Falcon, White-throated Swift, Canyon Wren, Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay, and more are possible here. Our day continues with birding in shortgrass prairie and the Black Forest at Kiowa Creek, the first ranch certified by Audubon’s Conservation Ranching Initiative. Amidst habitat fragmentation close by, Kiowa Creek has become an important refuge for wildlife. Grassland birds like Western Meadowlarks, Vesper Sparrows, and Lark Sparrows nest in the open prairie. Amid the ponderosa pines, forest species like Pygmy Nuthatches, Western Bluebirds, and Wild Turkeys forage for insects and seeds. Elk, deer, coyote, mountain lion, and black bear also move through the ranch. We’ll see firsthand how Kiowa Creek’s conservation ranching measures benefit local flora and fauna. Early evening return to West Denver.

Meals: Breakfast and Lunch


Price: $1495* per person based on two people sharing a double occupancy room. Add $260** if you prefer a private, single occupancy room.

Includes: accommodations; Expedition Leader (Driver/Guide Chip Clouse); transportation in a custom-designed Roaming Bison safari van w/ hydraulic pop-top and 4WD; daily guided birding with spotting scope available; special access fee to Kiowa Creek Ranch; entrance fees; all meals starting with Lunch on Day 1 through Lunch on Day 3; gratuities for your Expedition Leader and at restaurants for included meals. A donation to support ongoing Flammulated Owl research in Colorado will be made on behalf of all participants.

Excludes: transportation to/from meeting point in Golden; activities not listed; travel insurance; gratuities for hotel staff; personal items.

*Reflects payment by check or ACH. Credit card fees, if applicable are assessed at time of payment.

**If you are a solo traveler that prefers to share a double occupancy room, we will try to pair you with another traveler. If we can’t find a suitable roommate for you, the private room surcharge will apply.

Group Size: min of 4 and max of 7 participants + Expedition Leader. We are known for smaller group sizes with a better participant to guide ratio than most companies offering similar itineraries. This trip starts and ends in Golden at RTD’s Jefferson County Government Center-Golden Station.

A Note About Gratuities: Your trip cost includes gratuities for your Expedition Leader, as well as at restaurants for included meals. This allows us to reliably and equitably compensate everyone working so hard to keep you happy, healthy, and safe during your trip.

Level of Difficulty: Moderate. Ability to climb up and down from a passenger van (stool provided) is required. Birding will be on trails at a variety of elevations. Some trails will include some gradient. Some sections of mountain trails may be steep and have loose dirt, tree roots, rocks, or similar to step over. Elevations will range from 5,280 ft – 11,700 ft. Walking distances will mostly be up to a 1-2 miles at a time and could add up to 3-5 miles per day.

Reserve Your Spot Now!
by Sheridan March 17, 2024