Free wildlife and birding events captivate adults and children
Sometimes I feel as if my Boulder backyard hosts its own little wildlife festival — birds on the feeders and in the heated birdbath, squirrels browsing for scattered seeds under the feeders, hummingbirds arriving in spring, raccoons in summer, the occasional fox, backyard deer, plus even elk, coyote and sometimes mountain lions nearby. But there’s more to Colorado wildlife than my backyard. The state has seven national wildlife refuges, plus assorted privately run sanctuaries for endangered, ill or injured animals, and zoos where people can view and learn about species from all over the world.
But I’m especially intrigued by the state’s many free festivals focusing on one species at a time with experts, artists, viewing opportunities, entertainment and perhaps country fair-type fun too. Many of these events have been going on for years. Many take place in terrific little towns that otherwise are often overlooked.
February 15. 9th annual Bighorn Sheep Day, Colorado Springs. Visitors peer through high-powered telescopes st up at on- and off-site viewing station at the Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center to see the state animal of Colorado in its natural habitat. Close-up activities include guided nature walks, animals from the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, children’s activities and refreshments.
February 20-23. 12th annual Snow Goose Festival, Lamar. Music, ranch tours, Colorado Birding Trail sites and of course, snow geese. See more than 70 different species, and learn about these birds while sightseeing and listening to expert speakers.
March 7-9. 31st annual Monte Vista Crane Festival, Monte Vista. In late February, sandhill cranes begin their annual journey from south to north. Before they get to their northern destination, the cranes stop near the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge for a little break. Come see the cranes, speak with a wildlife expert or take a bus tour to see the 20,000 cranes that come back every year. Also expect to see eagles and elk.
April 25-26. 8th annual Karval Mountain Plover Festival, Karval. The rare Mountain Plover arrive on Colorado’s Eastern Plains for an annual spring visit. Along with bird watching, visitors enjoy learning the community’s history, mingle with local farmers and ranchers and learn and eat a lot of delicious food in an authentic Western environment.
May 7-11. Ute Mountain-Mesa Verde Birding Festival, Mesa Verde National Park and adjacent Ute Tribal Park. Writer of several guidebooks on Arizona birding, Rick Taylor speaks at the Archeological Center of America, while spring migrants settle on Ute-Mountain and in Mesa Verde. Bird watchers from all over the nation gather in the spectacular settings of Mesa Verde National Park and Ute Tribal Park for birding field trips.
May 10. Hummingbird Festival, Colorado Springs. In mid-April, hummingbirds return from Mexico to Colorado Springs’ Cheyenne Cañon for the summer/fall. This event is held so that more people can learn more about these delicate yet powerful little birds. The festival includes live hummingbirds up-close, hummingbird expert speakers and artisan vendors.
May 16-18. Bent on Birding*, Las Animas. One of the best places for bird watching is in Bent County in Southeast Colorado. Birds such as pelicans, Piping Plover, Least Tern, Black Rail and more can all be found here after migrating back when the winter has ended. History re-enactments are held during the event, and birding experts offer guided tours to private ranches that also feature Native American rock art. *Note that this link is to the 2013 event; double check for 2014.
June 7. Front Range Birding Festival, Littleton. The Front Range Birding Company presents an opportunity to get up close and personal with a live Bald Eagle, Great Horned Owl, Peregrine Falcon and Harris Hawk. The event will also honor first responders, as Denver fireman, helicopter pilots and flight nurses will be in attendance.
July 26. Grand Mesa Moose Day, Grand Junction area. Hosted by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the US Forest Service at the USFS Visitor Center on the top of Grand Mesa, see one of Colorado’s most fascinating wildlife species. Reintroduced to the Mesa in 2005, the moose population up there is estimated at about 1,500 animals. Learn how to spot moose and how to view them safely at this 5th annual event.
September 12-15. 3rd annual Yampa Valley Crane Festival, Steamboat Springs. As cranes migrate back south via Steamboat Springs, Craig and Hayden, join experts for crane viewing. Nature walks and family activities will also be part of this festival.
September 27. NoCo Nature Festival, Fort Collins. Live animals, live music, interactive activities and more will all be featured at the Fossil Creek Reservoir Regional Open Space for this lively nature festival with presentations, bird walks and a wildlife camera walk through the Rocky Mountain Cat Conservatory. This event was canceled last year due to sodden ground after the September floods.
October 4-5. 17th annual Elk Fest. Estes Park. When the call of bull elks fill the Estes Valley, Bond Park in downtown Estes Park celebration central with activities including the Mountain Man Rendezvous, an event where mountain men will demonstrate their skills and the Elk Bulging Contest, a contest to see who sounds the most like an elk bulging. Visitors also head into Rocky Mountain National Park in the late afternoon to watch herds of elk during the rut.
October 12. The Big Sit!, Littleton. Nicknamed the “birding’s most sedentary event,” this annual event in Chatfield State Park draws birders from far and wide who sit in a 17-foot-diameter circle in Chatfield State Park to count how many birds are seen or heard, while eating breakfast, lunch or dinner and meeting new people.
November 8. Georgetown Bighorn Sheep Festival, Georgetown. This easy-access festival just off I-70 provides opportunities to watch one of Colorado’s largest bighorn herds. Visitors can learn about Colorado’s state mammal from expert speakers and short educational programs. Georgetown shop owners will also display their wildlife related artwork, gifts and crafts.