Sylvan Dale Ranch Birding Guide
By Dr. Ron Harden, Loveland, Colorado
Member, Foothills Audubon Club
Fort Collins Audubon Society
Main Ranch Grounds
Birding is a popular activity at Sylvan Dale Ranch. The bridge crossing the Big Thompson River makes a grand entrance to the Main Ranch. Right away you can look for the Cliff Swallow that nest under the bridge. Walking the grounds, watch in the trees for Western Wood-Peewee, Blue Jay, House Wren, Lesser Goldfinch, Mourning Dove, Bullock’s Oriole, Warbling Vireo, Yellow Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler, McGillivray’s Warbler, White-breasted Nuthatch, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, and of course the ubiquitous House Sparrow and Common Grackle. Evening Grosbeak and Rose-breasted Grosbeak have been seen here. American Robins and the Common (Red-shafted) Flicker forage on the ground.
On the lawns are quite likely to be Canada Goose and Mallard. Look in the air for Violet-green Swallow. Double-crested Cormorants often stand on the rocks around Rainbow Lake, hanging their wings to dry. Near the river watch bushes for Black-headed Grosbeak, Cedar Waxwing, Song Sparrow, and Grey Catbird.
At night look for Common Nighthawks (as well as bats) over the Big Thompson. On the river itself, and its banks, there are American Dippers. Look for their nests fairly low to the water on the red rock cliffs east of the river.
At the north end of the main grounds listen and watch for Plumbeous Vireo, and in the cattails—Red-winged Blackbird. Near the Horsebarn look for Barn Swallow and Rock Doves (pigeons).
Sulzer Gulch Trail
Take a trail ride, or hike the Sulzer Gulch Trail to the northwest on the Main Ranch, towards Echo Rock, Eagle’s Nest Rock, and past the Wilderness Pastures. First you pass through the open pastures and grasslands. Look there for Western Meadowlark, Western Kingbird, Black-billed Magpie, and Say’s Phoebe.
When the trail starts to head up Sulzer Gulch, listen for Warbling Vireo and Western Wood-Peewee. Black-headed Grosbeak, Cordilleran Flycatcher, House Wren, and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher are also possible. In the brush above the riparian corridor, look for Spotted Towhee, Lazuli Bunting, and Bushtit.
Passing through the ponderosa pine woodland, watch and listen for Steller’s Jay, and on the rocky outcroppings and cliffs, Rock Wren and Canyon Wren. There, but higher up, expect Common Raven and Turkey Vulture—and keep an eye out for Red-tailed Hawk and the high-soaring Golden Eagle pair that often uses one of several historic nest sites on the Ranch.
If you get as far up as the Upper Wilderness Pasture, keep a look out for Mountain Bluebird, Dusky Grouse, and Wild Turkey.
Eagle Ridge is east of the Big Thompson and the Main Ranch grounds. Some species have been recorded there but not elsewhere on the Ranch: Lark Sparrow, Rock Wren, and Common Poorwill. Watch for Golden Eagle that frequently fly along the ridge, even at eye-level!
A walk along the Old Canyon Road (County Road 22H) toward Chasteen’s Grove provides excellent birding.
Violet-green Swallow and White-throated Swift nest in fissures in the cliff walls and Cliff Swallows build their nests under overhangs. Spotted Sandpiper hunt the shorelines of the river as do Great Blue Heron. American Dipper fly onto the river’s surface, then disappear under water to hunt for hellgrammites (larval dobsonflies) and other insect prey. Then they fly to their dome-shaped nests on cliffs low to the water to feed their young. On the canyon walls watch and listen for Canyon Wren.
In the trees along the road and beside the river look for American Goldfinch, Lesser Goldfinch, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Song Sparrow, Yellow Warbler, Western Tanager and Plumbeous Vireo. On the river Mallard, Common Merganser, and Double-crested Cormorant may be seen. Osprey have been sighted in migration and Bald Eagles are occasional.
We hope you enjoy the birdlife at Sylvan Dale. If you see bird species not mentioned, please stop by the Ranch Office in The Heritage to let us know so we can add them to our bird checklist—THANKS!