Hotspots Near You

18. Audubon Center at Chatfield, Littleton, Colorado

Rich habitat along the South Platte River just southwest of Denver boasts over 350 species.
By Hugh Kingery | Published: 4/20/2007

The South Platte River flows out of the foothills southwest of Denver into rich riparian habitat. For 40 years, I’ve found the stream bottom inspiring, the birds intriguing, the bird behavior absorbing.

April and May draw migrating landbirds — warblers, flycatchers, tanagers, buntings. The Platte’s riparian tangles have produced four first state records (Thick-billed Kingbird, Blue-winged and Prairie Warblers, and Harris’s Hawk). Breeders abound. On cloudy, rainy, spring days, hundreds of swallows throng the river and gravel pits — five or six species.

On May 11, 2006, we counted 164 Yellow Warblers and 85 House Wrens. When I walk east from the Audubon Center to the river cottonwoods, I can sometimes pick out an American Redstart’s sibilant song. Say’s Phoebes nest on a nature center building, and American Dippers breed along the river (March to June) — look under the Waterton Road bridge.

In fall I look for migrating White-crowned Sparrows that lurk in the yellow-topped rabbit brush, and for Song Sparrows that filter into the brushy streamsides. In winter, the river teems with dippers, kingfishers, and birds of prey. Once we watched a Bald Eagle fly over a mile to take a prairie dog from a Ferruginous Hawk that had stolen it from a Red-tailed Hawk. Earlier, we had had front-row seats as the Red-tail did its hunting. — Hugh Kingery

Hugh Kingery is the author of the Falcon guide Birding Colorado (2007) and the editor of the Colorado Breeding Bird Atlas (1998). He writes the column “Backyard Birds” for The Warbler, the newsletter of the Audubon Society of Greater Denver.

 

18. Audubon Center at Chatfield, Littleton, Colorado

Directions

The Audubon Center is located southwest of Denver at the south end of Chatfield State Park. From C470, exit at S. Wadsworth Blvd. (Colo. 121) and drive south 4.2 miles. Pass the main park entrance. When the road swings to the right, turn left on W. Waterton Rd. Then take the first left into the parking lot.

At a Glance

Click on the coordinates below to view location:
39°29’36.50N 105°5’33.20W

Audubon Center at Chatfield State Park
9308 S. Wadsworth Blvd., Littleton, CO 80128
(303) 973-9530

Habitat

Woodlands and shrubby thickets, river, cattail marshes, ponds, grassland, and shrubs.

Terrain

Level but rough dirt paths. One trail OK for wheelchairs.

Birds

More than 240 species. Chatfield State Park adds 115. Joint checklist has 353. In spring and fall, migrant landbirds. In summer, breeding riparian species. In winter, some landbirds, hawks, eagles. Rarities: Gray, Vermilion, and Great Crested Flycatchers; 22 warblers; Summer and Scarlet Tanagers; Orchard, Scott’s, and Baltimore Orioles.

When to go

Year-round, but spring and summer have more variety. Chatfield Reservoir, accessible from the park’s main entrance, hosts masses of grebes and other waterbirds in October and November. The park’s South Platte and Plum Creek riparian stretches attract many spring and fall migrants.

Amenities

Audubon Society hosts a hike the first Sunday of each month. Meet in Audubon Center parking lot at 8 a.m. April-September, 9 a.m. October-March. Chatfield State Park also has a walk on the last Saturday. Meet in the park at bridge across the South Platte, an hour earlier than Audubon walks.

Access

Audubon Center open only for scheduled classes. Admission and parking free. Chatfield State Park open 5 a.m.-10 p.m. Daily pass $6, annual pass $55. Read about Colorado park passes.

Tips

Skip the scope (except at Chatfield). Wear long pants, and bring water.

For more info

Audubon Society of Greater Denver, (303) 973-9530
Chatfield State Park
Colorado County Birding
Colorado Rare Bird Alert, (303) 659-8750

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