High Country Birding: Best places to bird in Summit County
High Country Birding
Compared with other outdoor activities such as skiing or fishing, birding requires less equipment and burns fewer calories. And unless you’re on a quest to see all of the world’s 10,000 species, it’s also a lot cheaper. In fact, with clear windows and a few feeders, you can enjoy birds from the cozy comfort of your own home, although you’ll eventually have to venture outside if you want to find the 218 species eBird lists for Summit County.
Jointly coordinated by Cornell University’s Laboratory for Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, eBird is a massive, real-time online checklist program that collects bird observations from citizen scientists around the world. Anyone can register as an observer for free, submit bird sightings from anywhere in the world and review the collected data in a number of convenient ways. The system permits online recording of observations both at one’s own personal sites, such as your own home, or at established “hotspots,” bird-rich sites open to the public.
I use eBird regularly, both to document my own birding experiences and to research potential locations for birding and writing. For this article, I turned to eBird to find all of the “hotspots” listed for Summit County and, surprisingly, found no less than 30. You can view these data as a summary list of hotspots in order by the number of species documented or each site individually, with the bird species detailed and ranked by those most recently seen. You can further explore the results by looking at individual observers’ dated checklists, with the actual number of each species recorded. In some cases, photographs are included, often to support sightings of unexpected or rare birds.
The top 10 eBird hotspots for Summit County, with total year-round species count, are Dillon Reservoir (125 species), Silverthorne Water Treatment Plant (119), Wildernest/Silverthorne area (107), Green Mountain Reservoir (101), Alfred M. Bailey Nesting Area (83), Dillon Reservoir — Frisco Marina (77), Loveland Pass (60), Lower Cataract Lake (50), Shrine Pass Trail (46) and Dillon Marina Park (45).
Some of the other 20 sites include Ute Pass Road, Snake River bicycle path, Breckenridge, Keystone, Copper Mountain and Arapahoe Basin ski resorts and the Blue River Campground. The ease of access to these sites ranges from very easy (Silverthorne Water Treatment Plant, the ski resorts, bike paths, campgrounds and marinas) to moderate (Lower Cataract Lake) to more challenging (Loveland and Shrine Pass trails, Alfred M. Bailey), so there are good birding opportunities for all levels.
Recent sightings at Dillon Reservoir, not surprisingly, include many water birds, such as Bonaparte’s gull, green-winged and cinnamon teal, green heron, eared grebe and American white pelican. Silverthorne Water Treatment Plant is another good spot for water birds, but recent sightings here also include bald eagle, yellow warbler, three species of swallow and ruby-crowned kinglet. A short distance away at Wildernest, the habitat changes and current checklists show forest birds such as downy woodpecker, pine siskin, mountain chickadee, Clark’s nutcracker and red crossbill. And if you continue higher to Loveland Pass, you find white-tailed ptarmigan, brown-capped and gray-crowned rosy finches, gray jay and American pipit.
In other words, the freely accessible recorded checklists in eBird will lead you to great birding sites in Summit County or, for that matter, anywhere in the world. A future column will show you exactly how to use eBird to find birding hotspots, to locate any specific species or to document and maintain your own “life list” of birds.
Bob Bowers is a naturalist and freelance writer specializing in nature and travel articles. He writes a monthly birding column for an Arizona newspaper, lives in the mountain foothills near Tucson and spends much of his summer in Keystone. He writes a birding and travel blog, http://www.birdingthebrookeandbeyond.com, and his email is email@example.com.
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