Author(s): Nathan Pieplow, Andrew Spencer
County Seat: Wray
County Size: 2,365 square miles
Low Elevation: 3,320 ft. - Arikaree River on the KS border
High Elevation : 4,440 ft. - Yuma Corner
Best Birds : Groove-billed Ani (1976 & 1982), Louisiana Waterthrush (1977), Swallow-tailed Kite (1984)
Checklist : Download pdf | View HTML
Introduction: Yuma County. This large plains county has a lot going for it. Its long specialty species list includes Greater Prairie-Chicken, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Bell's Vireo, Eastern Bluebird, Sprague's Pipit, Field Sparrow, Harris' Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, and Baltimore Oriole. Its woodlots and river bottoms are well-known for eastern migrants, and Bonny Reservoir ranks with the best of the large Colorado reservoirs. At almost any time of year, time spent in this county will be well rewarded.
Lazy LW Ranch (The Wilson Ranch)
Aliases - Wilson Ranch
Description - Nestled in the sandhills northwest of Wray, the Lazy LW offers hiking and birding among the sandsage in Greater Prairie-Chicken country. The Wilsons have a Greater Prairie-Chicken lek on their property and have developed a grazing system to encourage nesting. The shelterbelts around the homestead offer good birding and are a reliable spot for Loggerhead Shrike and Northern Bobwhite. To schedule a lek viewing or go birdwatching/hiking please call Dee Wilson at (970) 332-5407 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit www.lazylw.com for more information and directions.
Habitat - Grassland/Prairie, Shelterbelt
Directions - To inquire about access to this ranch and to get directions, please call Dee Wilson at (970) 332-5407 or email email@example.com a minimum of 48 hours in advance of your potential visit. Please remember that this is a working ranch as well as a private residence, and there may be times when the landowner cannot accommodate visits. While you are on the ranch, remember to stay on roads, leave gates as you find them (whether open or closed), and refrain from taking anything off the ranch or leaving trash behind.
Roads of Colorado -
Description - Yuma is a fairly large plains town and has lots of mature deciduous trees for birders (and birds) to choose from. The city park in the north part of town might be a good place to start—it has only a few large trees, but they shade a good-sized duck pond. Northeast of town, the Yuma cemetery has medium-sparse vegetation, but its isolation may help it concentrate migrants better than the town. South of the cemetery is one of the nicest sets of sewage ponds on the Eastern Plains—not to be missed by anyone traveling the US 34 corridor.
Habitat - Urban/Suburban, Pond/Lake/Reservoir, Park/Cemetery
Directions - Yuma is along US 34 at its junction with CO 59. To get to the park with the duck pond from US 34, turn north on CO 59 and go about half a mile. The park is one block west of CO 59, just south of the railroad tracks. To get to the cemetery, continue north on CO 59 to CR 39 and turn right (east). The cemetery is about a mile from this intersection on the north side of the road. To get to the sewage ponds, turn south on CR G just east of the cemetery; they are on the east side of the road about three quarters of a mile south, and a quarter mile north of US 34.
Delorme - 95 D7
Roads of Colorado - 61 F2
Greater Prairie-Chicken areas
Description - The sandsage prairie just north of Wray contains the vast majority of Colorado's Greater Prairie-Chickens. This species only displays on private land in Colorado. Several groups operate tours to see the chickens on their leks in spring, and this is by far your best shot at seeing the birds. If you are dead set against paying for a tour, you can look for the birds along the county roads north of Wray and east of US 385 just after dawn in April and May. The chickens are easy to hear from the road but often difficult to see—most of the leks are on the far side of the numerous hills! No matter how close the birds sound, DO NOT LEAVE THE ROADS. The landowners patrol these roads at this time of day and year. They have a reputation for being very gracious to birders who have respected their property boundaries—and rightfully hostile to those who haven't. Please keep the reputation of the birding community sound.
Habitat - Grassland/Prairie, Yucca
Directions - To get to the densest concentration of leks, drive north on US 385 from Wray about eleven miles and turn right (east) onto CR 45. This road winds around, eventually looping south to become CR PP, which goes all the way south to US 34 east of Wray. Chickens could be seen all along this route, though the northern half is better. Other leks might be seen along the adjacent stretch of CR RR and along roads KK and 42, south of CR 45.
Delorme - 102 D2
Roads of Colorado - 62 C1-C2, 63 D1-D2
Aliases - Rainbow Park, Stalker Lake State Wildlife Area, Sandsage State Wildlife Area
Description - The area around Wray has great birding potential and really should be more of a destination than it is. Eastern specialties like Red-bellied Woodpecker, Eastern Bluebird and sometimes Northern Cardinal can be found here year-round, Bell's Vireo breeds, and migrant land- and waterbirds can be numerous.
The best birding in Wray is in Rainbow Park and along the river nearby. Rainbow Park contains a small but dense cluster of coniferous and deciduous trees that has hosted wintering sapsuckers and could attract migrants. The park also provides access to a small patch of beautiful riparian habitat along the North Fork Republican River. To get to it from the northeast corner of the park, cross the ditch on the metal plank and follow the signs that say "No Vehicles." Look along the next seventy-five yards of the river for Red-bellied Woodpecker and almost any migrating warbler. Respect "No Trespassing" signs when you encounter them. The accessible riparian habitat continues on the other side of the highway, albeit in somewhat skimpier form.
Other parts of town can also be good for landbirds. In summer, keep an eye out for Mississippi Kite, which has bred. The cemetery just southeast of town is fairly mediocre, but its numerous small conifers (mostly junipers) might be worth a check especially in winter.
Although Wray is very nice, the best birding in the area is northwest of town. In particular, the hedgerows at Wray State Fishing Unit are a terrifically underbirded migrant trap. Driving into the unit, be sure to check out the large hedgerow and cottonwood trees along the entrance road (which could have roosting owls in the winter, breeding Bell's Vireos in the summer, and Northern Cardinal at any season), as well as the small cement-lined containment ponds (which usually only have swallows flying over them). Upon reaching the houses near the end of the road, check out the brushy habitat for sparrows (a Golden-crowned was seen here once). On your way back out, the pond across from the fishing unit entrance is also worth a check.
Just south of the Wray State Fishing Unit is Stalker Lake State Wildlife Area. The lake is larger than its neighbor across the street and more likely to attract diving ducks, grebes and other waterbirds. Below the dam are weedy fields good for sparrows, including diverse winter flocks of Zonotrichia. The small marshes here may harbor rails in summer and Swamp Sparrows or other goodies in winter, and during migration the riparian Russian-olive tangles might divulge a vagrant or two.
Southwest of Wray is the Sandsage State Wildlife Area, which consists mostly of weedy grassland but has a few trees along a minor creek and an intermittent marsh. Keep an eye out for Eastern Bluebird and flocks of sparrows.
Habitat - Urban/Suburban, Lowland Riparian, Stream, Hedgerow/Shelterbelt, Pond/Lake/Reservoir, Grassland/Prairie, Marsh
Directions - Wray is at the junction of US 34 and US 385. Rainbow Park is in the northwest corner of town, on the south side of US 34 just where it enters town. To get to the cemetery, continue east through town on US 34 to Cemetery Road and turn south, going about a mile. To get to Stalker Lake SWA and the Wray SFU, head west from town on US 34 about a mile and a half to CR FF and turn north. The entrance road to Stalker Lake is on the left (west) about a mile north of 34. The entrance road to the State Fishing Unit is just a little farther north, on the other side of the draw.
Delorme - 102 D1-D2
Roads of Colorado - 62 C2-C3
Beecher Island area
Aliases - Simmons State Wildlife Area
Description - The Beecher Island Battleground, a National Historic Site, is on private land that permits public access. The site contains a memorial, an informational display, a beautiful picnic area in the middle of mature riverbottom cottonwoods, and a one-mile nature trail through native sandsage prairie, river bluffs, and trees. The Arikaree River bottom mostly lacks underbrush, but some junipers around the buildings provide cover, and the tall trees are likely to host woodpeckers, nuthatches, owls and migrant passerines in season. Keep an eye and an ear out for Northern Bobwhite and possibly Northern Cardinal.
Downstream, another stretch of the Arikaree can be accessed via Simmons State Wildlife Area just east of Beecher Island. The forest here is much less dense, although there are some medium-sized willows worth checking. To the south, the SWA stretches far into the sandsage bluffs. It is seasonally closed.
Habitat - Lowland Riparian, Grassland/Prairie, Yucca
Directions - From US 36 a few miles west of the Kansas line, drive north on CR LL about 10 miles to Beecher Island Battleground, on the west side of the road and the north side of the Arikaree River. To get to Simmons State Wildlife Area, head north from Beecher Island a little over a mile to CR 22 and turn right (east). Follow CR 22 two miles to where it turns south and crosses the Arikaree; the parking lot for the SWA is on the east side of the road and the south side of the river.
Delorme - 102 A4
Roads of Colorado - 63 D4
Sandy Bluffs State Trust Land
Description - A large and beautiful piece of state land north of Idalia, Sandy Bluffs overflows with sandsage, yucca slopes, and eroded outcrops. Watch for Rock Wren, raptors, and sparrows (Cassin's, Lark and Vesper in the warmer months, White-crowned and possibly White-throated and Harris' in the colder months). The land is bisected by the Arikaree River, and a good deal of the mature cottonwood forest along the river bottom is accessible on foot. Look here for migrants and woodpeckers. Like most State Trust Lands, this one is seasonally closed.
Habitat - Grassland/Prairie, Yucca, Lowland Riparian
Directions - Drive north from the town of Idalia on CR DD about eight miles to the property, which is on both sides of the Arikaree River. Obey posted limits on access.
Delorme - 102 A3
Roads of Colorado - 78 C1
Description - This small town has some nice big trees, both deciduous and coniferous, and so may function as something of a migrant trap, possibly worth a stroll in fall or spring. Collared-Doves are numerous, and Great-tailed Grackles may breed.
Habitat - Urban/Suburban
Directions - Idalia is along US 36 two miles west of US 385.
Delorme - 102 B3
Roads of Colorado - 78 C2
Bonny Lake State Park
Aliases - Foster's Grove Campground, Wagon Wheel Campground
Description - Together with the adjacent Hale Area (q.v.), this large reservoir and adjacent riparian woodland reign supreme among the central plains migrant traps. Even with the not insignificant attention it gets, Bonny State Park (fee area) is among the most underbirded locations in Colorado, since most Colorado birders concentrate on either the northeast or southeast parts of the state in spring and fall. An enormous and amazing list of rarities has been seen at Bonny Reservoir, including things like Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Pomarine Jaeger, Mew Gull, Arctic Tern, Groove-billed Ani, and practically every rare eastern passerine that has occurred in Colorado. Between the reservoir, woodland, and some (relatively) high-quality prairie, almost anything could show up here.
As with all reservoirs in Colorado, Bonny's water level can vary enormously, and when the water is low the western parts can be very good for shorebirds. The reservoir itself can have all sorts of ducks, including the odd scoter, gulls, terns, and occasionally a rarity or two. During the winter almost the entire reservoir freezes, and this can be the best time for gulls, especially on the edges of the ice by the dam. When thoroughly covering the reservoir, be sure to check it from all angles, including from the southwest side (park along the road which heads east through the trees on the south side of the reservoir, and walk out), from the dam (park at one end and walk out), and from the north side (hard to access in some areas, and often involving a long walk from the northside road).
The woods around the reservoir can be good for migrants, though sometimes Bonny suffers from having too much habitat. Generally, the more limited trees on the northern side of the lake concentrate the birds somewhat better, but the south can be good too. The best area on the north side is the large hedgerows and cottonwood groves by the Foster's Grove Campground, and the best area on the south side is along the aforementioned road that accesses the southwestern part of the reservoir. In addition to migrants, the woods around Bonny can also be good for a number of uncommon breeding species, such as Eastern Screech-Owl (common, but nocturnal), Baltimore Oriole (often fairly easy), Bell's Vireo (ditto), Field Sparrow (a little harder), Red-bellied Woodpecker, Northern Cardinal (sometimes hard to find here), and Eastern Bluebird (can vary from quite common to uncommon). In winter, various isolated hedgerows, especially those along CR 3 about a mile from US 385 and one near the Wagon Wheel Campground, can hold sparrows including Harris', White-throated, and others, and an occasional Long-eared and maybe even Short-eared or Saw-whet Owl. It may be worth checking these areas out for migrants as well. The trees along the river below the dam are also worth birding.
In summer Cassin's Sparrows breed in areas around the reservoir with lots of Yucca. During the winter it is often easy to find Lapland Longspurs in flocks of Horned Larks that abound on the nearby prairie. The dam manager's residence just north of the dam has a large collection of hedgerows that sports the occasional (albeit hard to find) wintering Saw-whet Owl. There is also a productive hedgerow just below the DOW bunkhouse that can at times also hold this tiny owl. Be sure to also bird the large cattail marshes just below the dam, where you may find Marsh Wren, Virginia Rail, and Sora, sometimes even in the winter. Once, a Woodcock was heard here. Other large cattail marshes can be found around the western and southwestern edges of the reservoir.
URL - Bonny Lake State Park
Habitat - Lake/Pond/Reservoir, Lowland Riparian, Marsh, Hedgerow/Shelterbelt, Grassland/Prairie, Yucca
Directions - Bonny State Park (fee area) is just east of US 385 about 22 miles north of Burlington. Two entrance roads head east from US 385, one just south of the Republican River and the other just north. The northern access road (CR 3) heads east from US 385 to Foster Grove Campground, then winds a long distance around the north side of the reservoir to the dam road just north of the dam. The southern road (CR 2) heads straight east for a little over a mile before turning south to cross Landsman Creek. Where CR 2 bends south, an old access road, now blocked off, heads east to one of the best marshes at Bonny--you can't drive to it but it's an easy walk. Following CR 2 south across the creek and back to the east, you will see the unmarked dirt access road to the southwest part of the reservoir heading off to the left. Past this is the Wagon Wheel Campground and subsequently the south end of the dam.
Delorme - 102 B4
Roads of Colorado - 79 D2
Aliases - Hale Ponds State Wildlife Area, South Republican State Wildlife Area, South Republican Wildlife Easement
Description - Below the dam at Bonny Reservoir is the old Hale townsite. If you want to see the king of all hedgerows, this is where to go. These large rows (perhaps 8-10 in all) can be especially productive in the winter, when (with the appropriate number of people) you are likely to see at least one Long-eared Owl. The past few winters there has been a Barn Owl hanging out here, and there are usually sparrow flocks that can contain Harris' or White-throated Sparrows. These hedgerows can also be good during migration, when anything can show up (well, not a Great Green Macaw). Keep an eye out for Northern Cardinal; this is just about the best area around Bonny to find one. If the hedgerows are hopping, it may be worth your while to head north along the road and bird the trees just past the hedgerows. PLEASE do not trespass on the private property here.
North of Hale, just across the river, is the South Republican Wildlife Easement. Rock Wren breeds here, and Sprague's Pipit has been found in fall migration. To look for the pipits, drive through the entrance gate in late September or October and follow the road about a mile to the next gate, which marks the end of public land. Park before going through this second gate and hike up the hill to the right of the road. Walk the ridgeline between the fence and a windmill to the northeast, listening for the characteristic calls of flushed pipits and watching to see where they land. If this fails, keep searching the ridgeline from the windmill east back to the end of the high ground, near the easement entrance.
Hale Ponds State Wildlife Area along the South Fork of the Republican River can be good for migrants and some breeding species, but is seldom birded. All of the uncommon breeders listed for Bonny occur here, and some are easier to find. Look for Yellow-billed Cuckoo in summer and Eastern Screech-Owl at any season.
South Republican State Wildlife Area is another large wooded area along the South Republican. The same birds that can be seen at Hale Ponds occur here, though the lack of ponds make for fewer waterbirds. Walking the river between here and Hale Ponds is usually dull, but can greatly increase your chances of finding any of the breeding species you still need, or of finding an uncommon sparrow or a Winter Wren during the colder months.
Habitat - Lake/Pond/Reservoir, Lowland Riparian, Marsh, Hedgerow/Shelterbelt, Grassland/Prairie, Yucca
Directions - See Bonny Reservoir for directions to the dam. At the south end of the dam CR 2 winds down below the dam to the DOW headquarters and from there east to a T intersection with the north-south CR LL.5. Directly ahead of you, to the east of this intersection, are the Hale hedgerows. To check the other spots, turn left (north). In a short distance, CR 4 heads east; this is the access road for the South Republican SWA, which stretches along the road and the river for several miles, and for Hale Ponds SWA, which is on the left a few miles farther east, just shy of the Kansas border. Much of the wooded area along CR 4 is open to birders; obey posted access signs. Finally, to get to the South Republican Wildlife Easement (Sprague's Pipit spot), continue north on LL.5 from "Hale"across the S. Fork Republican River and take the first left into the property.
Delorme - 102 B4
Roads of Colorado - 79 D2