Bird Watching

Prowers, Bent, Baca, and Kiowa Counties can boast over 400 species of birds that will visit, reproduce, or even stay all year in these counties. It is a Mecca for both the serious birder and the casual observer. Birding is a perfect activity for individuals and families. Each county has at least one hotspot place that is notorious for finding not only expected species but also the occasional rare or unexpected flyer.

If these words could carry the song of the meadowlark or the insistent yell of the dickcissel, you would want to bend your ear to the page and ask for more. Since they can't, you should just visit the southeast Colorado prairie where meadowlarks and dickcissels can be heard over great distances along almost every country road each spring and summer. And these birds are only one reason to travel the roads, prairies, canals, canyons, and riparian areas in southeast Colorado counties.

A meadowlark stands on a wooden post and sings. Nature Made Photography, Jill White Smith
A dickcissel sings from its perch atop a wooden post. Nature Made Photography, Jill White Smith

Prowers, Bent, Baca, and Kiowa Counties can boast over 400 species of birds that will visit, reproduce, or even stay all year in these counties. It is a Mecca for both the serious birder and the casual observer. Birding is a perfect activity for individuals and families. Each county has at least one hotspot place that is notorious for finding not only expected species but also the occasional rare or unexpected flyer.

Lamar Community College Nature Trail

A Prowers County site that should not be missed is the Lamar Community College Nature Trail that runs along Willow Creek behind the college.

This riparian dirt trail is approximately 1.5 miles long and begins at the north end of Lamar Community College and, going south, ends at College Road. The first section of the hike has a wide trail and is an easy walk. Other parts present a bit more of a challenge during some seasons. Every season except winter encourages the walker to wear long sleeves and/or use a good insect repellent. If that is annoying, realize that it is the abundant insect life that feeds a wonderful diversity of birds throughout the trail. During the summer months, the kochia weed can reach your shoulders, but remember, this is what feeds a great little group of birds all winter. The trail is well worth the extra effort.

Just a few little pretties that are typically found here:

A Nashville warbler perches atop a thin branch. Nature Made Photography, Jill White Smith
A northern waterthrush prepares for flight. Nature Made Photography, Jill White Smith
Two Mississippi kites perch together in a cottonwood tree. Nature Made Photography, Jill White Smith

John Martin Reservoir State Park

A Bent County birding hotspot that should never be missed is John Martin Reservoir, especially the down side of the dam, Hasty Lake, and campground. An entire day can be filled in the spring and summer, beginning with quietly walking in the campground shortly after sun-up when the birds become most active. Driving on top of the dam in the summer can give you a bird's eye view of raptors: turkey vultures, red-tailed hawks, and American kestrels—not to mention thousands of swallows!

A first-year bald eagle takes to the skies. Nature Made Photography, Jill White Smith
An American kestrel takes shelter in a tree. Nature Made Photography, Jill White Smith
A red-tailed hawk spies something of interest. Nature Made Photography, Jill White Smith
A turkey vulture lands on a tree branch. Nature Made Photography, Jill White Smith
A roadrunner stands at attention. Nature Made Photography, Jill White Smith

There are trails that can be walked to look for road runners and birds that love the shrubs. During the winter months, thousands of snow geese, Ross's geese, mergansers, mallards, and other ducks will dot or even cover the reservoir on the west side of the dam, while eagles soar above the dam and dive for fish right in front of your eyes.

The Great Plains Reservoirs in Kiowa County are a collection of waterways that provide irrigation for nearby farms. These bodies of water should not be missed by anyone who finds birds fascinating. Upper and Lower Queens as well as Nee Noshee Reservoir are especially active during spring and fall migrations. Shorebirds love the sandy beaches and rich sediments along the shore lines. Plovers, sandpipers, longbilled dowitchers. Marbled godwits can be seen sharing the shorelines.

During winter, hundreds to literally hundreds of thousands of snow geese are known to rest there. Keep in mind that some winters are too cold, and the water freezes, making water resting impossible. Even when that happens, you will often find the geese gleaning the nearby milo and corn fields before returning to a watering place that is not frozen.

Baca County Canyons

The canyons of Baca County are one of the best kept secrets in Colorado! When people think of southeast Colorado, they think of great expanses of agricultural fields and ranch land. But nestled between these fields are deep canyons that harbor diverse species in a setting of sheer cliffs of red rock. In Cottonwood Canyon blue grosbeaks, tanagers, wild turkey, and many more can be found.

A blue grosbeak hangs from a branch and eyes its surroundings. Nature Made Photography, Jill White Smith
A summer tanager perches high atop a tree. Nature Made Photography, Jill White Smith

It is important to note that all of the property in the canyons is private property, part of many Centennial farms. The county road is, of course, fair access, but land just past road easements is all private and should not be trespassed. That's okay. You should never need to go beyond the road to see everything that you want.

It is also important to note that, in the summertime, these canyons are very isolated and can be up to 10 degrees hotter than the land above the canyon in the summertime. For the person who wants a primitive adventure, this is it. There are no facilities and only sporadic cell phone service if you have a carrier that will link with Viaero. So go with lots of water, a snack and a dependable vehicle.

The melodious songs, whistles, hoots, whispers, calls, and chips of birds are the comforting and dependable sounds that can be heard across the southeast plains. Come smile with us as we enjoy our feathered friends.