Author(s): Andrew Spencer, Nathan Pieplow
County Seat: Dove Creek
County Size: 1,077 square miles
Low Elevation: 5,150 ft. - Cross Canyon in the SW spike
High Elevation : 14,246 ft. - Mount Wilson
Best Birds : Hooded Warbler (2001)
Checklist : Download pdf | View HTML
Introduction: Dolores County. This remote western county is the farthest from Denver by car. It has every kind of scenery possible in SW Colorado, but it is probably one of the least explored counties in the state, and its bird potential remains largely untapped. The county has three distinct geographical areas, with the PJ canyons, sagebrush and agricultural fields in the west; the mid-elevation Ponderosa Pine and oak woodland in the central part of the county; and the high-country spruce-fir area in the east.
Fish Creek SWA
Description - Set just off the beautiful Dolores River Valley, this small and remote SWA contains perhaps the best publically accessible mid-elevation riparian patch in the county. Look for species such as Cedar Waxwing, Lazuli Bunting, Black-headed Grosbeak, and other birds that can be hard to find in the county. The ponderosa and scrub oak on the hillsides contain Grace's Warbler, and the very large stands of aspen look good for just about all the specialists. The drive into the SWA passes many excellent riparian groves, but they are all private, so stay on the road.
Habitat - riparian, aspen groves, ponderosa
Directions - Take the Dunton Road (FR 535) to FR 726 (9 miles south of Dunton, and 12.5 miles from the junction of the Dunton Road with SR 145), and turn north. Follow this road for about a mile and a half to the property.
Delorme - 75 B7
Roads of Colorado - 129 F1
Description - Just south of Cedar Point, this area of agricultural fields and sagebrush supports many of the same birds, and can be especially good for raptors. Great-tailed Grackle has been seen in the area, and the good stands of sagebrush along CR P could contain Gunnison Sage-Grouse. The only known location for Burrowing Owl in Dolores County is along CR 4 about a quarter-mile north of CR N, and the entirety of CR 4 is good for sparrows.
Habitat - agricultural, sagebrush
Directions - from Dove Creek, drive west on CR J for one and a quarter miles, and turn south onto CR 6. Follow CR 6 south for four and a half miles to CR N and bird the county roads to the west of this intersection.
Delorme - 74 C1
Roads of Colorado - 128 B2
Aliases - Canyons of the Ancients National Monument (Dolores section)
Description - Part of Canyon of the Ancients National Monument, Squaw Canyon is, along with Cross Canyon, the best place in Dolores County for PJ birds. The hillsides on the drive in, and the extensive PJ along the canyon floor are excellent for Gray Vireo, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Pinyon Jay, Juniper Titmouse, and just about every other PJ species. Even Scott's Oriole has been seen here. The floor of the canyon has a fairly extensive riparian section that may be good for migrants (Hooded Warbler was seen here once), and the small pools of permanent water can attract a number of species. Access is by a steep and somewhat rough dirt road that in dry weather is passable in a passenger car.
The extensive hedgerows along the county roads on the drive into Squaw Canyon should be checked for migrants and sparrows in season. Cassin’s Kingbird, rare in Dolores County, has been seen along here as well.
URL - Squaw Canyon
Habitat - Pinyon-Juniper Forest, Rimrock/Mesa, Lowland Riparian, Sagebrush
Directions - Note: distances are approximate. From Dove Creek, drive west on CR J.00. Turn left on CR 6.00 (1.5 m); right on CR P.00 (5.5 m); left on CR 6.00 again (.25 m); right on CR S.00 (2 m); left on CR 5.00 (.5 m); right on CR S.00 (.5 m); left on CR 5.00 (.5 m); right on CR T.00 (1 m); left on CR 4.00 (1 m); right on CR U.00 (1 m), and right on CR T.50, which snakes around past some farmsteads. At 0.7 miles, bear left onto an inconspicuous side road that drops down into the canyon; it may be necessary to open a barbed-wire gate at the entrance to public lands. The entire canyon floor is part of Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.
Delorme - 74 C1-D1
Roads of Colorado - 128 A2-B2
Description - Like Squaw Canyon, the flats above Cross Canyon have extensive PJ and sagebrush. The same species that can be seen in Squaw Canyon can be seen here, in addition to Sage Sparrows. Keep an eye out for Scott's Oriole, Black-throated Sparrow, and Gray Vireo, which have not to our knowledge been seen here, but are certainly possible.
Habitat - Sagebrush, Pinyon-Juniper Forest
Directions - Cross Canyon is close to Squaw Canyon and the two should be visited together. Follow directions as to Squaw Canyon, but instead of turning right on Rd U.00, continue south on Rd 4.00 to its end in PJ habitat (about 3 m). More good habitat can be reached by turning west on Rd V.00 one mile south of Rd U.00, then turning left onto Rd 3.00 (1 m), which curves around to the west and becomes Rd W.00 before terminating (1 m). The lower slopes of Cross Canyon are part of the National Monument, but pay careful attention to property boundaries before leaving roads in this area.
Delorme - 74 C1-D1
Roads of Colorado - 128 B2-B3
Description - The isolated stands of sagebrush west of Dove Creek are not particularly large, but Brewer's Sparrow, Sage Thrasher and Rock Wren are reliable. We live in eternal hope of seeing one of the rare Gunnison Sage-Grouse that supposedly inhabit this area.
Habitat - Sagebrush, Prairie/Grassland
Directions - All of the roads west of Dove Creek have small patches of sagebrush along them, but the best sections are along CR 2.00 between CR J.00 and G.00, and along CR J.00 from CR 3.00 to 1 mile east.
Delorme - 74 B1-C1
Roads of Colorado - 128 A1-B1
Aliases - Alkali Draw
Description - Birds that can be seen in Dolores County's largest town include Rock Pigeon (a rarity in Dolores County--check the silos); Eurasian Collared-Dove (check large trees around town, especially along Dove Street); four species of hummingbirds in migration, with Black-chinned Hummingbird breeding; and migrant landbirds in season. Cooper's Hawk has nested in town, and Say's Phoebe can usually be seen along the main road in the east part of town. Dove Creek has a single but fairly large sewage pond, at the north end of College, where there is a large dirt pullout on the east side of the road. To view the pond, either stand on your car, on the base of the water tower, or on the large piece of concrete in the pullout area. Though it doesn't look like much, in duck-starved Dolores County this is a must hit spot for any lister.
There are also two tiny wet areas on private land near Dove Creek, one just west of town on CR J (difficult to view from the road), and one south of town along US 491 (formerly US 666) at Alkali Draw near Cahone. As water is rare in western Dolores County, these spots are worth checking out, but you must bird from the road. Alkali Draw is particularly good, having produced Sora and breeding Black Phoebe.
Habitat - Urban/Suburban, Lowland Riparian, Pond/Lake/Reservoir
Directions - Dove Creek is along the newly renamed Highway 491 between Cortez, CO and Monticello, UT. The fastest way to get here from Denver is to take I-70 west all the way past Grand Junction into Utah and then head south through Moab to US 491 at Monticello. This route takes about seven hours to drive.
Delorme - 74 B1
Roads of Colorado - 128 B1
Gunnison Sage-Grouse areas
Description - Although the habitat looks marginal to our eyes, a few small areas of sagebrush with scattered juniper and oak north and east of town have produced most of the recent Dolores County reports of Gunnison Sage-Grouse. You will be very lucky to find one. Scanning roadsides at dawn is your best bet. Other species that might be seen in the area include Brewer's Sparrow, Sage Thrasher, Spotted Towhee and both bluebirds.
Habitat - Sagebrush, Pinyon-Juniper Forest, Grassland/Prairie
Directions - From Dove Creek, drive north on CR 8.00 to CR C.00 (about 5 m). The majority of recent grouse sightings have been along CR 8.00 or along CR C.00 just east of 8.00.
Delorme - 74 B1
Roads of Colorado - 112 B4, 128 B1
Description - The scenery in this canyon will make up for any birds you miss! There are two areas from which the canyon can be seen and birded. The first is down a rough but passable road that goes to the canyon floor. The Ponderosa Pines along the road and the river are sparse, but reach amazing size, and can have calling Flammulated and Saw-whet Owls in season. Spotted Owl is a remote possibility in some of the larger (inaccessible?) stands of Ponderosa in the canyon; a float trip would be required to conduct an adequate search. Canyon Wren, Common Poorwill, Gray Flycatcher and Plumbeous Vireo can all be found along the upper portion of the road, and Rock Wren can also be seen farther down. The campgound at the canyon floor has a nice patch of oak and riparian habitat. The second part of the canyon worth checking is the Dolores Canyon Overlook, which has both awesome scenery and White-throated Swifts. A fire in the overlook area in 2003 may have created some good woodpecker habitat.
Habitat - Cliff Face, Rimrock/Mesa, Pinyon-Juniper Forest, Stream, Lowland Riparian
Ownership - private
Directions - To get to the canyon floor, drive SE out of Dove Creek along US 491 about 0.5 miles and turn left on CR J.00, then left onto CR 9.00 soon thereafter. Turn right on CR H.00 (.4 m) and left on CR 10.00 (1 m). Follow CR 10.00 to the canyon bottom. This route is signed, but be careful in following CR 10.00 so as not to end up in the driveway of the last house along the route. To get to the overlook, start as above but remain on CR J.00 through various twists to a left turn (about 5.5 m) which should be signed. The overlook is at the end of the road (about 3 m).
Delorme - 74 B2
Roads of Colorado - 128 C1
Colorado Roads & Recreation - page one-fifty-seven
Lone Dome State Wildlife Area
Description - The vireos you hear in the PJ here are never Gray Vireos, as we have spent much effort to discover! However, the riparian habitat here is unique in Dolores County and supports Gray Catbird, Downy Woodpecker, Yellow-breasted Chat, Lazuli Bunting, Yellow Warbler, and Western Bluebird. The best habitat is south of the road. It is the only place where we have seen Great Blue Heron in the county. Northeast of the bridge, Road 504 continues up a steep hillside which is great for Ash-throated Flycatcher, Rock Wren, Virginia's Warbler, and other species typical of oak and PJ habitat. If you follow Road 504 southeast along the Dolores River, you will find even better riparian habitat just before the Montezuma County border. By far the best parts of this SWA are in Montezuma County and are covered on that county page.
Habitat - Lowland Riparian, Pinyon-Juniper Forest, Stream
Directions - From Dove Creek: drive south along US 491 to the little hamlet of Cahone (10 miles). Turn left (east) on CR R.00, then right on CR 16.00 (3 miles). Turn left on CR S.00 (1.3 miles). The SWA is on both sides of the road on the west side of the river (about 1 mile). From Cortez: drive north on US 491 about 17 miles to its intersection with CR 16 (about 3 miles past Yellow Jacket and 1 mile short of Pleasant View). Turn right (north) on CR 16 and right again on CR S.00 (4.7 miles) to the SWA.
Delorme - 74 C3
Roads of Colorado - 128 C2
Description - Glade Lake is remote, intermittent, and not to be missed. It has the best waterbird potential in the county and perhaps the best shorebird potential as well. Breeders here include Eared Grebe, Pied-billed Grebe, Cinnamon and Green-winged Teals, Northern Shoveler, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, and lots of Yellow-headed Blackbirds. Other species that have been seen here include Virginia Rail, Bufflehead, Willet, Least Sandpiper and Red-necked Phalarope. The road south of Glade Lake is good for ponderosa birds including Grace's Warbler and Lewis's Woodpecker. Orange-crowned and MacGillivray's Warblers also breed along this road. Williamson's Sapsucker and Flammulated Owl are almost certainly in the area.
Habitat - Pond/Lake/Reservoir, Ponderosa Forest, Wet Meadow
Directions - From Lone Dome SWA, continue east across the river to the junction with FR 504 (<.5 miles); turn left. Glade Lake is on the east side of 504, about 1 m past the turnoff to FR 514, some ten miles from Lone Dome.
Delorme - 74 B3
Roads of Colorado - 129 D1
Forest Road 514 (Dolores County)
Description - The various isolated aspen groves along FR 514 east of Glade Lake are good for a number of species, including Plumbeous Vireo, Warbling Vireo, Red-naped Sapsucker, Western Wood-Pewee, Hammond's and Dusky Flycatchers, and both Bluebirds. Beware: parts of FR 514 retain impassable snowdrifts until very late in the spring; caution is advised if you visit this area in spring or late fall.
Habitat - Aspen Grove, Scrub Oak Forest, Mountain Meadow
Directions - The west end of FR 514 can be accessed from FR 504 about 1 mile south of Glade Lake. The east end of FR 514 can be accessed from FR 526 between the town of Dolores and Groundhog Reservoir.
Delorme - 74 B3-C3, 75 C4-C5
Roads of Colorado - 129 D2-E2
Groundhog Reservoir State Wildlife Area
Description - The largest body of water in the county, this lake always seems like it should have more birds than it does. It can sometimes be good for ducks and occasionally shorebirds. However, this lake does not thaw until early May at the earliest, so fall would be the best time to bird it. Species that have been seen at this location, but are difficult to find elsewhere in the county, include Western Grebe, Common Merganser, White-faced Ibis, Peregrine Falcon, Black Tern, Franklin's Gull, and Marbled Godwit. The aspen groves on the eastern end of the reservoir hold a small population of Purple Martins, while the wet meadows just beyond have breeding Fox Sparrows, Red-naped Sapsucker, Lincoln's Sparrow, and Northern Pygmy-Owl, as well as other birds typical of aspen groves, wet meadows and spruce forests.
Habitat - Pond/Lake/Reservoir, Aspen Grove, Wet Meadow, Mixed Conifer Forest
Directions - From the town of Dolores, drive north on CR 31, which is also FR 526. Turn right onto CR H.00, which is also FR 533, at a signed intersection after roughly 25 miles. Groundhog Reservoir SWA is on the left at about 4 miles.
Delorme - 75 B6
Roads of Colorado - 129 E1
Description - Just north of Groundhog reservoir, this small lake can hold a few diving ducks in season, and is worth checking out when you are in the area.
Habitat - Pond/Lake/Reservoir
Directions - From the intersection of CR 31 (a.k.a. FR 526) and CR H.00 (a.k.a. FR 533), drive north on 31. The lake is on the right at about 4 miles.
Delorme - 75 B6
Roads of Colorado - 129 E1
Black Mesa Area
Aliases - Forest Road 611 (Dolores County)
Description - This area has some nice spruce-fir habitat, possibly too fragmented for Boreal Owl, but good for most of the other high mountain birds, including Blue Grouse. FR 611 is particularly good just east of the mesa, where large flocks containing just about any and all of the high-elevation species can be found. Williamson's Sapsucker and Northern Goshawk have been seen on this stretch as well, so keep an eye out. The roads are inaccessible from approximately late October to early May due to deep snow.
Habitat - Spruce-Fir Forest, Mountain Meadow
Directions - Continue east on CR H.00/FR 533 past Groundhog Reservoir. The road reaches high country in a few miles and ends at FR 611. Turn right on 611 and follow it to its intersection with FR 535 just north and east of Dunton.
Delorme - 75 B7, 76 B1
Roads of Colorado - 130 A1
Dunton Road (FR 535)
Aliases - Calico Trail
Description - The wet meadow and willow habitat along this road have produced Evening Grosbeak, Wilson's Warbler, Western Bluebird, Lincoln's Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, Red-naped Sapsucker, Olive-sided Flycatcher, and Cassin's Finch. The Calico Trail, off the eastern part of the Dunton road before it hits CO 145, is good for Three-toed Woodpecker. It probably represents the best easily-accessible roadside spruce-fir habitat in the county. Boreal Owl may be present. The lower portions of the road near the Montezuma County line pass some truly excellent riparian groves, some of which are private property and must be birded from the road, and some of which can be publicly accessed.
Habitat - Spruce-Fir Forest, Streamside Willow, Wet Meadow, Mountain Meadow
Directions - The west end of FR 535 heads north from CO 145 just west of Stoner; the east end rejoins CO 145 about 5 miles north of Rico.
Delorme - 75 D6-B7, 76 B1
Roads of Colorado - 130 A1-A2, B2
Description - If you visit this small mountain town in the winter you will be forgiven for thinking it is a ghost town. In the summer it is Telluride South, with a great restaurant and abundant feeders. Cruise the newer housing developments on the west side of the river and check for hummingbird and seed feeders. Dippers and kingfishers can be seen downstream from Rico along the highway. The sewage-type ponds just north of town look good but have not yet produced any birds of interest.
Habitat - Mixed Conifer Forest, Stream, Streamside Willow
Directions - Rico is along CO 145 between Cortez and Telluride.
Delorme - 76 C1
Roads of Colorado - 130 B2
Bolam Pass Road
Description - The upper part of this rough, high mountain road has by far the best-looking roadside habitat for Boreal Owls in Dolores County, though a search of this area in September 2003 did not produce any. The pass can be reached in a passenger car, but not by the faint of heart; high-clearance vehicles are recommended.
Habitat - Spruce-Fir Forest, Streamside Willow, Mountain Meadow
Directions - From CO 145 about 4.5 miles north of Rico (about 0.5 miles south of the FR 535/Dunton turnoff), turn east onto FR 578. It is about 6 miles to the pass.
Delorme - 76 B2-C2
Roads of Colorado - 130 B1-B2, C2
Navajo Lake Trail
Description - It's about a four-mile hike up this beautiful trail to Navajo Falls, the only publicly accessible nesting site in Dolores County for Black Swift. The swifts are best found here at dawn and dusk, so an overnight trip may be required in order to see them. The falls themselves are well off the trail and it is difficult and dangerous to reach them, so we strongly recommend looking for the swifts from the trail.
The spruce-fir forest, aspen and willow habitats between the trailhead and the falls will produce things like Brown Creeper, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Hammond's Flycatcher, Fox Sparrow and Swainson's Thrush. Above the falls, the trail gets very steep for a short while, but if you can make it up there, you will be rewarded with beautiful views of Navajo Lake and the north face of El Diente Peak. Rosy-finches can be found on cliffs above the lake, and ptarmigan are in the grassy areas about a mile up the valley.
Habitat - Spruce-Fir Forest, Aspen Grove, Stream, Streamside Willow, Mountain Meadow, Krummholz, Lake, Alpine Tundra
Directions - The trailhead is on a small spur road that heads north from the Dunton Road at a hairpin curve about five miles west of CO 145 near Rico.
Delorme - 76 B1
Roads of Colorado - 130 B1
Description - This lake is a little smaller than Glade Lake, but very similar in habitat, and closer to the road, so it is a highly recommended birding spot. Breeding birds here are similar to those at Glade Lake, though more cattails may mean a higher likelihood of finding rails.
Habitat - Lake, Marsh, Mountain Meadow, Ponderosa Forest
Directions - From Lone Dome SWA, continue east across the river to the junction with FR 504 (<.5 miles); go south (straight) on 504, not left. In about a hundred yards you will reach another left turn, which is FR 521; turn left here. About eight miles from this intersection, FR 521 will be joined by FR 520 coming in from the right at an acute angle in a meadow. Ferris Reservoir is just southeast of this intersection.
Delorme - 74 C3
Roads of Colorado - 129 D2