When I relocated to Denver, I selected a home close to the Sand Creek Greenway. It runs from eastern suburb Aurora to the confluence with the South Platte River. A multi-use trail (for walking, biking, and horse riding) runs its entire length. Don’t get me wrong: Sand Creek is not a pristine waterway. It’s an urban stream healing from a century of insult, but it offers great views of the Front Range and choice birding.
Red-tailed Hawks nested last year in the greenway’s largest cottonwood forest, which happens to be a stone’s throw from a gigantic UPS center. Near the midpoint of the greenway, the 123-acre Bluff Lake Nature Center preserve hosts nesting Swainson’s Hawks, waterfowl, and shorebirds.
My birding highlight on Sand Creek came last autumn in the shallows of runway tunnels at the old Stapleton Airport. A flock of six Lesser Yellowlegs stayed there for almost two weeks. To me, the sighting showed that rehabilitation works. Sand Creek is my urban sanctuary. — Donny Roush
Second-growth riparian forest with mature cottonwoods, fallow fields, and weedy remnants of concrete channeling and conduits. Old uncovered runway tunnels just west of Smith Rd. trailhead. Ponds and wetlands in adjacent parks.
Mostly flat. Hills only at underpasses and Bluff Lake. Wheelchair-accessible.
Ducks, shorebirds, rails, Green-tailed Towhee, Lark Bunting, Red-bellied Woodpecker, American Woodcock, Say’s Phoebe, Western Tanager, Eastern and Western Kingbirds, White-crowned and Lark Sparrows. Warblers and hummingbirds in spring. Colonies of Cliff Swallows beneath bridges between Quebec and Havana Streets.
When to go
Spring and fall for migrants. Winter: Bald Eagles at Bluff Lake Nature Center and Sand Creek Park, falcons and buteos where Westerly Creek flows into Sand Creek.
Nature centers with restrooms and blinds at Bluff Lake and Morrison (nature AT auroragov.org). Both offer regular bird walks.
A public-private ecosystem-restoration project. Free from 6 parking lots and 12 street access points. Non-motorized traffic only.
A spotting scope will help at ponds and wetlands. A new beaver pond less than 100 yards upstream from where the Smith Rd. trailhead joins the main trail should be an active and accessible spot this spring. Use caution after dark.