Southeast Colorado Wildlife Weekend – Fall Migration and Tarantula Walkabout

September 23-25, 2022

Comanche National Grassland - La Junta, Colorado.  Aerial Drone Photo

The Plains and Canyons of Southeast Colorado offer visitors unique historical, cultural, and natural wonders. A region of far-ranging contrasts with a rich heritage, this is one of the least changed areas of the state. Much of the terrain looks as it did centuries ago and wildlife are plentiful here, especially during migration.

This trip is timed to maximize opportunities to observe a diversity of Southern Great Plains icons including Burrowing Owl, the 2022 ABA** Bird of the Year, black-tailed prairie dogs, swift fox, and pronghorn, as well as the famed ‘tarantula migration’. In addition to a variety of wildlife hotspots, we’ll also visit rock art sites and points along the historic Santa Fe Trail.

Join Reefs to Rockies for this unforgettable weekend getaway highlighting what makes Southeast Colorado so special.

ABOUT YOUR GUIDE: 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’s natural history in this trip.

ITINERARY

Day 1 (Fri, Sept 23): Denver to La Junta ~ Morning departure from Denver. As we make our way to La Junta, we’ll make several stops at birding hotspots that showcase the importance of grassland and riparian habitats for resident and migratory species alike. To maximize our time wildlife viewing today, a hearty picnic lunch will be provided.

After a quick stop at our hotel to check in and drop luggage, we’ll continue south for our late afternoon wildlife drive.

Oklahoma brown tarantulas are a common species in undisturbed grasslands of southeast Colorado. Every fall, adult males set out in large numbers in search of female tarantulas who stay close to their burrows for their entire lives. Males use their senses of touch and vibration to locate females.  

Often incorrectly referred to as a migration, this walkabout of males across the southern plains is a remarkable wildlife spectacle. This will also be our best chance to spot swift fox, a species whose numbers are declining.  As we make our way back to our hotel along county roads after dark, we’ll keep an eye out for additional nocturnal species that call these grasslands home. 

Accommodations: Holiday Inn Express La Junta

Meals: Lunch

Day 2 (Sat, Sept 24): La Junta and John Martin Reservoir State Park ~ Most of today will be spent exploring John Martin Reservoir State Park. Sometimes called a sapphire on the plains, John Martin is a refuge for an array of species. Close to 400 species of birds have been recorded here so we’ll take our time exploring the reservoir’s shoreline, as well as adjacent grassland and riparian habitats. We’ll also visit sites within the park that showcase the area’s rich human history.   

Dinner will be early enough so that we can embark on another late afternoon wildlife drive in the heart of the tarantula walkabout.

Accommodations: Holiday Inn Express La Junta

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Day 3 (Sun, Sept 25): La Junta, Rocky Ford, and Pueblo to Denver ~ As we make our way back to Denver, we’ll pass through Rocky Ford, a small agricultural haven famous for its melons. There’s time for a stop at a Rocky Ford farm stand before we continue west along the Arkansas River. The Arkansas River Valley is packed with top-notch wildlife viewing hotspots so we’ll have plenty of options to choose from this morning.

Lunch will be at a farm to table deli in Pueblo.

Our final wildlife viewing location of the trip will be selected based on recent sightings and what we’ve found up to this point. Early evening return to Denver.

Meals: Breakfast and Lunch

DETAILS

Price: $995* per person based on two people sharing a double occupancy room. Add $180* if you prefer a private, single occupancy room. 

Inclusions: accommodations, transportation in a 12-passenger Ford Transit or similar, driver/guide (Chip Clouse), daily guided wildlife viewing with spotting scope available, entrance fees, and meals as listed.

Exclusions: one dinner, travel insurance, optional gratuities, and activities not listed in the itinerary.

*Reflects payment by check. Credit card fees assessed based type of card used at time of payment.

Group Size: Min 6 and Max 9 participants + Chip Clouse. We are known for having smaller group sizes with a better participant to guide ratio than most companies offering similar itineraries. 

Level of Difficulty: Easy to Moderate. This trip involves multiple short daily walks on varied terrain with most walks between 1.5-2.5 miles in length and a total distance of up to 3-5 miles on a given day.

**ABA – American Birding Association