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
Woodlands and shrubby thickets, river, cattail marshes, ponds, grassland, and shrubs.
Level but rough dirt paths. One trail OK for wheelchairs.
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; Summerand 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.
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.
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.
Skip the scope (except at Chatfield). Wear long pants, and bring water.