San Miguel County
Author(s): Coen Dexter
County Seat: Telluride
County Size: 1,287 square miles
Low Elevation: 5,305 ft. - Dolores River on the Montrose border
High Elevation : 14,017 ft. - Wilson Peak
Best Birds : Painted Bunting (2000)
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Introduction: San Miguel. This remote county is little-birded but rewarding. From the low desert sage and redrock canyons in the west to the high mountains that cradle Telluride in the east, with a good-sized reservoir in the middle, San Miguel has a little bit of everything.
Description - (submitted by Andrew Spencer) This aptly named canyon along SR-141 in northern San Miguel County is covered in pinyon-juniper forest, and Gray Vireo and Scott's Oriole have both been seen here. To look for there, however, it is likely you will need to hike into the forest; public access is possible from SR-141 from about 1/4 to 2.5 miles south of the Montrose County line.
Habitat - Pinyon-Juniper Forest, Sagebrush
Directions - Broad Canyon is along SR-141 about 6 miles south of the junction with SR-145 near Naturita.
Delorme - 65 C4-D4
Roads of Colorado - 113 E2
Description - Though it is labeled on good maps, Slick Rock isn't a town; it's just a bridge over the Dolores River. A huge pullout marks a private boat launch where the owners request a user access fee. Birding here usually produces Black Phoebe in summer, though you might have to walk a little to find it. Cliff birds like Canyon Wren and White-throated Swift are reliable.
Habitat - Rimrock/Mesa
Roads of Colorado -
Colorado Roads & Recreation - 108 B3
Description - This large, shallow reservoir lies totally within the Dan Noble State Wildlife Area. Roads give access to scan all areas of water and mudflats. Spring and fall are good for waterbirds. Fall is the best for shorebirds. The reservoir is frozen in winter. Gunnison Sage-Grouse does occur around the reservoir. Vesper and other sparrow species are common in the sagebrush.
Habitat - Pond/Lake/Reservoir, Marsh, Sagebrush
Directions - From Norwood drive east of town on CO 145 for nearly two miles. Turn right (south) on CR 44 Z and drive for 14 miles. At the intersection turn right (west) on CR L 40 and drive to the reservoir in 3 miles.
Delorme - 75 A6
Roads of Colorado - 113 F3-F4
Big Gypsum Valley
Description - This large sagebrush and grass steppe valley is bordered on either side by a ridge of low mountains. At the west end of the valley the Dolores River cuts the valley perpendicularly. Spring and early summer is the best time to find specialties for San Miguel County. Sparrows are common in the sagebrush and grass steppe including Black-throated Sparrow. Where pinyons and junipers are present look for Gray and Ash-throated Flycatcher and Gray Vireo. At the river lowland riparian species are present. Yellow-breasted Chat, Lazuli Bunting, and Bullock's Oriole all nest along the river. The red rocks walls have both Rock and Canyon Wrens. Black Phoebe can be found near the bridge. Even a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher was found just west of the river. Watch for Northern Mockingbird, Scott's Oriole, and Indigo Bunting in the area near the river.
Habitat - Sagebrush, Grassland/Prairie, Pinyon/Juniper Forest, Lowland Riparian, Cliff Face
Directions - From the intersection of CO 145 and CO 141 four miles east of Naturita drive south on CO 141 for 23 miles. Turn right (northwest) on CR 20 R. Look for the sign "Big Gypsum Valley". Stay on this graveled county road until the Dolores River is reached in 15 miles. Birding the road is a good way to find many of the specialties.
Delorme - 64 D2
Roads of Colorado - 112 C2-C3
Dry Creek Basin State Wildlife Area
Description - This area is managed for big game and Gunnison Sage-Grouse. There is a good population of Sage Thrasher and Sage Sparrow along the dirt roads that pass through the wildlife area. Most of the species tied to pinyon/juniper are present where roads pass through this habitat. Gunnison Sage-Grouse are present but difficult to find. In winter both Bald and Golden Eagles are present. The only known population of Burrowing Owl in San Miguel County can be found in this area.
Habitat - Sagebrush, Grassland/Prairie, Pinyon/Juniper Forest
Directions - At the intersection of CO 145 and CO 141 four miles east of Naturita drive on CO 141 for 12 miles to Basin. Several side roads give access into the wildlife area. Try CR U29 (west), CR 29U (south), or CR 28T (south). The main highway, CO 141, bisects the wildlife area and has little traffic, therefore birding is possible from the road. Note: There is a good birding road, CR 31U, that connects Dry Creek Basin State Wildlife Area with Miramonte Reservoir.
Delorme - 65 D4
Roads of Colorado - 113 D3-E3
Woods Lake State Wildlife Area
Description - This high mountain area lies in the shadow of Mount Wilson and Dolores Peak. All spruce/fir birds are present. A hike towards Mount Wilson up trail 406 gives access to alpine tundra/ subalpine meadow and the species associated with those habitats. Note: The same species can be found on Lizard Head Pass on CO 145 between Telluride and Rico.
Habitat - Pond/Lake/Reservoir, Spruce-Fir Forest, Alpine Tundra, Mountain Meadow
Directions - At the intersection of CO 145 and CO 62 at Placerville drive towards Telluride on CO 145 for three miles. Turn right (south) on CR 57P and in five miles this road becomes FR 608. Continue on another five miles to the campground and lake.
Delorme - 76 A1
Roads of Colorado - 114 B4
Bridal Veil Falls
Description - This large waterfall is the home of a large nesting colony of Black Swift. The large willow carrs along the creeks have Swainson's Thrush, Wilson Warbler, and Lincoln Sparrow present.
Habitat - Cliff Face, Streamside Willow, Spruce-Fir Forest
Directions - Drive through Telluride for three miles to the Bridle Veil Falls overlook. Good birding can be found by hiking the trails or roads along the east of Telluride.
Delorme - 76 A3
Roads of Colorado - 115 D4
Lone Cone and the Uncompahgre National Forest
Description - The forest that surrounds Lone Cone is mixed conifer. The lower elevation is dominated by ponderosa pine. Ponderosa species are present and easy to find. Northern Goshawk, Pygmy Nuthatch, Western Bluebird, and Grace's Warbler nest in the pines. In fall Cassin's Vireo and Townsend's Warbler are present. At higher elevations aspen becomes the most common tree species. Dusky Flycatcher, Warbling Vireo, Purple Martin, House Wren, Western Tanager, and Green-tailed Towhee dominate especially where mid elevation riparian is also present. It is possible to gain elevation until the spruce/fir habitat is reached. Birds to look for are Dusky Grouse, American Three-toed Woodpecker, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Gray-headed Junco, Red Crossbill, and Evening Grosbeak. In late summer a hike to the top of the cone is possible. On the way up Pine Grosbeak and American Pipit are present and near the top Brown-capped Rosy-Finch nests.
URL - Lone Cone and the Uncompahgre National Forest
Habitat - Ponderosa Forest, Mixed Conifer Forest, Spruce-Fir Forest, Streamside Willow, Aspen Grove
Directions - From Norwood drive two miles east of town on CO 145. Turn right (south) on CR 44Z and drive for 10 miles. When the Uncompahgre National Forest is reached look for FR 642. Turn right and drive a couple of miles until good pines are reached. Return to CR 44Z after birding the pines. Turn left (north) back towards Norwood for about half a mile. Look for CR 45M and turn right (east). This is the road to Lone Cone and points beyond. Stay on CR 45M until it becomes FR 611. Bird along the roads. Stop anywhere birds are seen or heard or where the habitat looks good. Spend as much times on the roads as they seem productive.
Delorme - 75 A6-A7
Roads of Colorado - 113 F3, 114 A4
San Miguel River South Fork Preserve
Aliases - South Fork Preserve
Description - One of three Nature Conservancy Preserves along the San Miguel River, this pretty little patch of 67 acres is an excellent example of mid-elevation riparian habitat, featuring narrowleaf cottonwood, blue spruce and black twinberry. The 180-foot boardwalk with interpretive signage and the half-mile gravel trail make this one of the most handicapped-accessible birding sites in the area. Listen in summer all along this road for breeding Swainson's Thrush and Fox Sparrow, among many other birds.
URL - San Miguel River South Fork Preserve
Habitat - Mixed-Conifer Forest, Stream, Aspen Grove
Directions - From Telluride, head north on CO 145 approximately 2.5 miles past the turnoff to Rico, and turn left onto Illium Valley Road (FR 625). The preserve is approximately five miles from the highway along this road.
Delorme - 76 A2
Roads of Colorado - 114 C4
San Miguel River Canyon Preserve
Aliases - Naturita Canyon, Canyon Preserve
Description - This Nature Conservancy Preserve includes two miles of the San Miguel River as it passes through magnificent Naturita Canyon. There are no trails, but you can walk into the area from the north. Along the river you can find a nice riparian community of narrowleaf cottonwood, Blue Spruce and thinleaf alder. Look for American Dipper and Peregrine Falcon in addition to Black Phoebe and River Otter. Note that the river and the canyon here run parallel to the Montrose/San Miguel County line and just to the south of it; the road in is primarily in Montrose County, while the canyon itself and the river are in San Miguel County.
URL - San Miguel River Canyon Preserve
Habitat - Rimrock/Mesa; Lowland Riparian Forest; Stream
Directions - From the town of Norwood, head north/west on CO 145 approximately four miles to the preserve sign on the left (south). You can park at any pullout for the next two miles and walk south towards the canyon.
Delorme - 65 C6
Roads of Colorado - 113 F2