Author(s): Andrew Spencer, Nathan Pieplow
County Seat: Fairplay
County Size: 2,192 square miles
Low Elevation: 7,118 ft. - South Platte River on the Teller border
High Elevation : 14,286 ft. - Mount Lincoln
Best Birds : Pyrrhuloxia (1996), Glaucous-winged Gull (1981)
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Introduction: Park County is essentially synonymous with South Park. This vastly under-birded county has started to receive more birding attention due to the discovery of the potential of its three big reservoirs during migration. Habitat in the county varies widely, including Ponderosa forest in the east and south, grassland on the valley floor, all sorts of high-mountain forests, alpine tundra, bogs, and large reservoirs. Hopefully the increased birding attention will not only result in an increase the coverage of the reservoirs, but all the other varied habitats in the county.
Description - This tiny town is the southern terminus of the Guanella Pass road. Its main claim to fame is the second state record of Pyrrhuloxia that showed up near here one summer. The Park County portion of the Guanella Pass road can be good for typical mountain birds, but beware--it is irregularly maintained in winter.
Habitat - Urban/Suburban, Mountain Meadow, Streamside Willow, Stream, Mixed Conifer Forest
Directions - Grant is along US 285, 39 miles southwest of the junction of US 285 and C-470 in southwest Denver.
Delorme - 49 A5
Roads of Colorado - 71 E4
Ponds along US 285
Aliases - Como Lake, Kenosha Pass
Description - The small ponds around Kenosha Pass and Como can be good for an assortment of ducks during migration. A Surf Scoter spent one spring at the pond 100 yards north of Kenosha Pass.
Habitat - Pond/Lake/Reservoir
Directions - Kenosha Pass is along US 285 about seven miles southwest of Grant. Como Lake is just south of the town of Como, about ten miles southwest of Kenosha Pass.
Delorme - 48 B3-A4, 49 A5
Roads of Colorado - 71 E4, 87 D1
Georgia Pass Road
Aliases - Michigan Creek Campground, Teter State Wildlife Area
Description - The aspen and willow habitats along the lower stretches of this road can be excellent for sapsuckers and the other cavity-nesting birds (bluebirds, swallows, and possibly small owls), as well as Empidonax flycatchers. The willows are a good place to look for breeding Veery. Up the road is the Michigan Creek Campground, another good place for willow birds, and beyond it the spruce-fir forests can be productive for Three-toed Woodpecker, among other high-elevation specialties. The nearby Teter State Wildlife Area has more wetland willow habitat.
Habitat - Mountain Meadow, Streamside Willow, Aspen Grove, Stream, Spruce-Fir Forest
Directions - From the hamlet of Jefferson, about five miles southwest of Kenosha Pass, head northwest on CR 35. In three miles, bear right onto FR 400 (CR 54) to get to Michigan Creek Campground and Georgia Pass. To get to Teter SWA, stay on CR 35 for a couple more miles as it loops back around towards US 285 again.
Delorme - 48 A3-A4
Roads of Colorado - 71 D4
Boreas Pass Road (FR 404)
Aliases - Tarryall Creek
Description - This road can be good for a number of high-elevation species, including Three-toed Woodpecker and Pine Grosbeak. Boreal Owl has been heard along the upper parts of this road, around the campground. Higher still, the road gets rougher and heads above treeline. Lower down, where FR 404 crosses Tarryall Creek, the extensive willow habitat harbors breeding Hermit and Swainson's Thrush and Veery as well as Fox Sparrow and other willow birds.
Habitat - Streamside Willow, Mountain Meadow, Spruce-Fir Forest, Alpine Tundra
Directions - From US 285 about seven miles southwest of Jefferson, turn right (northwest) on FR 404 towards the tiny town of Como. This is the road to Boreas Pass.
Delorme - 48 B3
Roads of Colorado - 87 D1, 71 D4
Description - While the county seat is not, in general, a good birding town, it is the best place in the county to look for city birds. Rosy-Finches have also been seen a few times at feeders in town, but are only likely to be present during heavy snowstorms or when there is very deep snow in the high mountains.
Habitat - Urban/Suburban
Directions - Fairplay is along US 285 at its junction with CO 9, 67 miles southwest of the junction of US 285 and C-470 in southwest Denver.
Delorme - 48 C2
Roads of Colorado - 86 C2
Fourmile Creek Road and Weston Pass Road
Aliases - Weston Pass Road
Description - These two roads offer some of the best access to high-elevation mountains in Park County. Both roads start at the valley floor and go up to over 12,000 feet. Williamson's Sapsuckers can be fairly easy to get along the middle portions of both roads, and practically every species typical to the mountain woodlands can be seen along these roads. Willow Flycatcher has been seen along Four Mile Creek Road just below treeline. While both roads go over tree line, the Weston Pass road goes through habitat of a much higher quality, with Brown-capped Rosy-Finches and Fox Sparrows, and maybe even White-tailed Ptarmigan.
Habitat - Mixed Conifer Forest, Lodgepole Forest, Spruce-Fir Forest, Streamside Willow, Stream, Krummholz, Alpine Tundra, Aspen Grove, Mountain Meadow
Directions - The Fourmile Creek Road (CR 18/FR 421) heads west from US 285 one mile south of Fairplay, just south of the southern divergence of CO 9 and US 285. The Weston Pass Road (CR 5/FR 425) heads west from US 285 about 3.5 miles farther south.
Delorme - 48 C1-D2
Roads of Colorado - 86 C2-C3
Description - This very large reservoir can be a very hot spot! In particular, this lake is better for shorebirds and waders than either Spinney or Eleven Mile. Snowy Plover and Burrowing Owl have bred here, and mixed flocks of shorebirds can be seen during migration. The best shorebird habitat can often be found on a couple of small ponds right around the entrance to the reservoir off of US 24. Rarities that have been seen at Antero include Red-throated Loon, Short-billed Dowitcher, Glaucous-winged Gull and Red Phalarope. Large numbers of ducks, geese, and loons can also be seen here during migration, including South Park's signature scoters. Scanning this reservoir is hard, as the west side is inaccessible, but the other three sides can be scanned from various pullouts and parking lots. After being drained due to drought, Antero is once again filling up and open to the public, and the birds are back too!
Habitat - Pond/Lake/Reservoir
Directions - From Antero Junction, head east on US 24 about six miles to the entrance road to the reservoir (CR 78) on the left.
Delorme - 60 A3
Roads of Colorado - 87 D3-D4
Spinney Mountain State Park
Description - Spinney Mountain Reservoir is a great waterbird hotspot. It has hosted tens of thousands of waterbirds, double-digit scoters of three species, swans, and even some good shorebirds! Spinney's main claim to fame is probably the large (for Colorado) number of scoters that show up here each fall. Surf is almost always the most common, followed by White-winged, and Black as a distant third. Red-necked Grebes and Tundra Swans have been seen here multiple times, and practically every species of duck that has occurred in Colorado has been seen here. Loons also appear in large numbers, with Common and rarely Pacific present. Other goodies that have been seen include Glaucous Gull, Eurasian Wigeon, and Black-necked Stilt. Lapland Longspur and Snow Bunting (quite rare) have been seen around the grassy area near the dam.
URL - Spinney Mountain State Park
Habitat - Pond/Lake/Reservoir
Directions - From Colorado Springs, follow US 24 55 miles west. Turn left (south) on CR 23 and continue about three miles to CR 59 (592). Turn right (west). The entrance road to the park is on the left in about a mile. From Antero Junction, follow US 24 east to the town of Hartsel. On the east side of Hartsel, follow CR 59 east out of town. The entrance to Spinney is on the right in about eight miles.
Delorme - 61 A5
Roads of Colorado - 87 E3-F4
Eleven Mile State Park
Aliases - Plamann Lake
Description - Another large South Park reservoir just east of Spinney, Eleven Mile State Park & Reservoir can be better for deep-water birds and shorebirds than Spinney, but usually has smaller numbers overall. Double-digit scoter numbers have also been recorded here, and adult males of all three species have even been seen. The mudflats at the NW end of the reservoir can often hold large flocks of shorebirds, and gulls often abound in this area as well. Look for flocks of Horned Larks that sometimes have Lapland Longspurs among them in any of the grassy areas along the SW shore of the lake. Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch has been seen around the lake in winter. Rarities that have been seen at Eleven Mile include Red Phalarope, Red-necked Grebe, Snow Bunting, Thayer's Gull, and even Yellow-throated Warbler.
The road between Lake George and Eleven Mile passes through the most extensive ponderosa pine forest in the county. All the birds normally associated with ponderosa pine can be found, with very good chances for Clark's Nutcracker and Williamson's Sapsucker. The small pond called Plamann Lake along this route can occasionally have a few interesting birds on it, and often has a few Western Grebes and dabblers in the fall. Even a rarity or two could show up here, as two Cattle Egrets demonstrated on a November day, so keep an eye out!
URL - Eleven Mile State Park
Habitat - Pond/Lake/Reservoir, Ponderosa Forest
Directions - From Colorado Springs, head 38 miles west on US 24 through the town of Lake George to CR 90 (FR 247). Turn left (south) on this road and follow it about five miles, then turn left (south) onto CR 92 (the continuation of FR 247). From here it is about five miles to the reservoir.
Delorme - 61 A6
Roads of Colorado - 87 F4
Description - This small lake occasionally suffers from the South Park scoter effect, so if you are in the area, check it out. During the spring and fall there are usually numerous divers and dabblers on the lake, but usually not large numbers of grebes and loons as in the larger Park County lakes. The large marshy area at the south end of the lake can have numerous sparrows including the occasional Swamp Sparrow as well as Wilson's Snipe.
Habitat - Pond/Lake/Reservoir
Directions - The town of Lake George is along US 24, thirty-seven miles west of Colorado Springs. The best scanning of the lake is from CR 245 just southwest of town.
Delorme - 61 A7
Roads of Colorado - 88 A4
Description - The area around this small town in southern Park County can be the best area to look for some birds that are otherwise found nowhere else in the county. Pinyon Jays have been seen more than once, usually in the ponderosa forest just north of the county line, and Common Poorwills and Bushtits are possible. Even Chihuahuan Raven might occur.
Habitat - Pinyon-Juniper Forest, Ponderosa Forest
Directions - From the junction of CO 9 and US 50, head north on CO 9 for 18 miles to the Park County line. Anywhere from here to the town of Guffey, in 4.5 miles can be good. From the junction of CR 59/102 with CO 9, follow the CRs through Guffey, and bear left when CR 59 splits off from CR 102. This road will eventually bring you to the southern end of Eleven Mile Reservoir.
Delorme - 61 B6-C6
Roads of Colorado - 103 F2
High Creek Fen
Description - This is a large Nature Conservancy Preserve, comprising 2,360 acres of permanent springs and lush wet meadows and bogs. There are no established trails, but visitors can walk across the bog if they have waterproof or disposable footwear. The fen can be very buggy. One of a very few "extreme rich fens" in the United States, High Creek is home to fourteen rare plant species and nesting Wilson's Phalaropes. Mountain Plovers may nest on the drier, surrounding uplands.
Habitat - Wet Meadow
Directions - From Fairplay, head 8.5 miles south on US 285, to a gravel road heading east a quarter mile south of mile marker 175. Take this road about a mile east to the parking area and kiosk.
Delorme - 48 D3
Roads of Colorado - 86 C3