Author(s): Dave Silverman
County Seat: Walsenburg
County Size: 1,584 square miles
Low Elevation: ,225 ft. - Cucharas River on the Pueblo border
High Elevation : 14,320 ft. - NE Ridge of Blanca Peak
Best Birds : Brown Pelican (2002), Painted Bunting (2002)
Checklist : Download pdf | View HTML
Introduction: The name of this county, pronounced "WAR-fa-no", comes from the Spanish word for "orphan", which was used to describe the lonely butte standing beside I-25 north of Walsenburg. Huerfano County contains nearly every Colorado habitat from the low dry grasslands in the east up to the tundra along its southwest boundary, but much of the county is private land, especially at the lower elevations.
Description - Three-toed Woodpeckers, Pine Grosbeaks, Dusky Grouse, Northern Goshawks and Calliope Hummingbirds are all regularly seen near Greenhorn Peak, but only before you reach timberline. The birds above timberline are pretty routine: American Pipits, Wilson's Warblers, and White-crowned Sparrows. No ptarmigan have been found here. The main birds of interest on the peak are Brown-capped Rosy-Finches which feed on the edge of snow fields when present. But these birds can be pretty irregular up there in summer and early fall--the only time the peak is accessible.
Habitat - Alpine Tundra, Krummholz, Spruce-Fir Forest
Directions - From the north (Rye and Westcliffe): From CSH 165, turn onto FR 400 (also called Ophir Creek Road or Gardner Road) at the small village of Fairview, about 6 miles NW of San Isabel. Fairview is on most maps including Delorme. Greenhorn Mountain Road (FR 403) heads southeast to the peak from FR 400 about 7 miles south of CSH 165 (Delorme 72 D2). From the south:The turnoff to Greenhorn Mountain Road can also be reached by heading north about 20 miles on 634 Road (=FR 400) from CSH 69 about two miles west of Gardner. Note: Greenhorn Mountain Road starts in Custer County, then snakes back and forth across the ridgeline, which is also the county line. Everything to the south of the ridge is in Huerfano County.
Delorme - 82 A2-3
Roads of Colorado - 137 D1, 136 C1, 120 C4
Aliases - Masonic Cemetery in Walsenburg
Description - There are a couple of good areas in Walsenburg, the county seat. The Masonic Cemetery located in the northwest end of town is reached by going west one block on Elm Street from its junction with Walsen Ave. at the Middle School. The cemetery is not large but often quite birdy. A Red-eyed Vireo was seen here in May, 2004. The Cucharas River flows through Walsenburg and provides some good riparian habitat. Most of its banks are privately owned, but some access can be reached on the west side of town. From US 160 go west to the City Park and turn left (south) on S. Ysidro Street. Cross the Cucharas River, and there will be a dirt road immediately on the left. This public road, over 1/2 mile in length, runs along the south side of the River through some good habitat. It can be walked or driven and eventually comes out on Main Street near the downtown area. There is a lot of access to the river on this road but if any properties are posted, please do no not trespass. This area is not often birded, but the habitat has much potential.
Habitat - Urban/Suburban, Stream, Lowland Riparian, Park/Cemetery
Directions - Walsenburg is at the junction of Interstate 25, US 160 and CO 10, about 40 miles south of Pueblo.
Delorme - 83 C4
Roads of Colorado - 137 E3
Description - This lake is one of the best places in Huerfano County for waterfowl, but there are two restrictions to always keep in mind. First, this lake is PRIVATE PROPERTY, posted, and the owners mean business. PLEASE do not trespass on this property. Second, the lake is on CSH 10 where traffic is generally light. But 18 wheelers & other traffic often push the limit on this highway, so always park and walk in safe places. Parking is safest at the small cemetery on the east side of the lake.
The bird list at Lake Maria is a good one: loons, scoters, and Long-tailed Ducks have all been found here especially from late October to mid-December. Up to 600 Canvasback stage on the lake at this time. The lake is also noted for its swans. As many as eleven Tundra & Trumpeters have been seen here in November. The best time to view the lake is early in the morning. From the cemetery you can walk down the fence line and have good lighting. Since a lot of the birds are at considerable distance, a scope is practically a necessity.
Habitat - Pond/Lake/Reservoir, Grassland/Prairie
Directions - The lake is reached by going east on CO 10 six miles from its junction with I-25. The highway passes through some good pastureland especially on the south, where geese and cranes can sometimes be found in migration. White-fronted Geese have been found about 3 miles east of I-25.
Delorme - 83 C5
Roads of Colorado - 137 F2
Lathrop State Park
Description - The diverse habitat of this park makes it the best place in Huerfano County to find the widest variety of birds. Martin and Horseshoe Lakes are good-sized bodies of water where Pacific Loons & scoters have been seen. Swans have also been seen here, and one summer a Brown Pelican graced the lakes for several days. Riparian habitat abounds for good passerines. There are two good hikes. A fairly long one (up to 1.5 miles) begins at North Martin Inlet parking area on the north side of this lake. Walk north along the paved trail through dense riparian habitat. Northern Waterthrushes and even an Alder Flycatcher have been seen in this area. At the picnic ground (1/4 mile) with canopy covered tables, take a paved left fork off the main trail to the paved road between Martin & Horseshoe Lakes. Take the road north a short distance to the dam parking area. From here there is a trail south through dense riparian habitat, a cattail pond, and public viewing area at the pond. It's great for both Sora & Virginia Rails, more easily heard than seen. South of the pond the trail gets a little rougher but is still easily walked below Horseshoe Lake Dam. It's a good idea to walk into the riparian area on the left (east) where there is access. Summer Tanagers, American Redstarts, and Black & White Warblers have all been found below the dam. As you approach its south end, there are several trails going left (east) back to the paved road and North Martin Inlet parking area.
A shorter walk (about 1/2 mile) starts at the south end of Horseshoe Lake. From the dam parking area at the southeast end of the lake, drive west a short distance to the next parking area with a masonry restroom on the right. A pond (a marsh if dry) is on the left. Check it and then walk a short distance (about 100+ yards) west to the Horseshoe Lake intake ditch. Walk above the east side of the ditch to the lake through excellent riparian habitat. At the lake turn east through more riparian habitat until it's too dense to walk. Climb up the small berm and walk east back to the parking area. You may want to go back to the dam's south end and walk a short distance where Green Herons and Great-tailed Grackles are sometimes found, if you missed them on the hikes described above.
Dryland birds can also be found on either side of the lakes. On the north side, scan the hogback ridge for Greater Roadrunners & Pinyon Jays. There is a parking area and trail to the ridge on the north side of the park. On the south side of the lakes, there are good stands of yucca where Ladder-backed Woodpeckers can sometimes be found.
There are many other areas, both wet and dry, in the park too numerous to describe. It's a great place to enjoy and explore.
URL - Lathrop State Park
Habitat - Pinyon-Juniper Forest, Pond/Lake/Reservoir, Lowland Reservoir, Marsh, Yucca
Directions - Lathrop State Park is about three miles southwest of Walsenburg along US 160.
Delorme - 83 D4
Roads of Colorado - 137 E3
Aliases - Town Lakes, Wahatoya State Wildlife Area
Description - This small town about 16 miles west of Walsenburg also has some good birding spots. It's a good place to drive or walk around, especially neighborhoods with big trees and lots of shrubs. Please respect people's property and privacy as you bird. Cherry Street on the west side of town can often be productive for warblers and finches. In winter, both Harris's & White-throated Sparrows are regularly found in La Veta, particularly at feeders. There are several public areas for birding. First, a Public Nature Area on the southeast corner of Garland & Birch is located east of CSH 12 which bisects the town. Second, the Town Lakes located just southeast of town are reached by going on Cuchara Street, located at the far south end of town just before CSH 12 bends west at a convenience store. Go east on Cuchara up the hill. The road bends south to the lakes about about 1+ miles from town. These lakes can be good for waterfowl and Bald Eagles in fall & winter. Bobolinks were once seen here in spring. Finally, the Wahatoya State Wildlife Area east of town is reached on Moore Ave. just south of the railroad tracks which cross CSH 12. From the highway, go east on Moore about 6-7 blocks and watch for its junction with Spruce Street, which bends left. Stay on Moore up a hill and go a short distance (about 1 mile) to the wildlife area. Daigre Reservoir is on the left, and Wahatoya Lake is on the right side of the road.
Habitat - Urban/Suburban, Lowland Riparian, Pond/Lake/Reservoir
Directions - To reach the town of La Veta, go west on US 160 from Walsenburg. At about 13 miles, take the left branch of the Y intersection, following CO 12 south about five miles to the town.
Delorme - 82 D2
Roads of Colorado - 137 D4
Description - A good side trip is from La Veta to the towering monumental spine of rock known as the Devil's Stairsteps. This formation extends for miles and the view is worth the trip. Golden Eagles, Prairie Falcons, and other raptors often perch and soar along the formation. It's also a reliable place to view White-throated Swifts. CO 12 is a narrow winding road, so please find safe places to park and walk while viewing the Stairsteps.
Habitat - Cliff Face
Directions - Continue south and west thru La Veta on CO 12 about 6-7 miles to the Stairsteps.
Delorme - 92 A2
Roads of Colorado - 136 C4, 152 C1
Description - Big Mac burgers are scarce here, but you may find some good birds on the pond and marshes. The lake is private but easily viewed from the road. If you continue on this road for several miles, you'll reach some dead ends in good scrub oak/ponderosa habitat. These areas might be explored for Grace's Warblers and Hepatic Tanagers. They have been found amidst this habitat in other parts of Huerfano County, but please respect private property while exploring.
Habitat - Pond/Lake/Reservoir, Ponderosa Forest, Scrub Oak Forest
Directions - From the Town Lakes described above continue a short distance south to a " T" (or " Y" ?) intersection. Turn right on CR 361 and go about 2.5 miles to the pond on the right.
Delorme - 92 A2
Roads of Colorado - 137 D4
Description - Another good side trip is into the Wahatoya Valley. CR 360 parallels Wahatoya Creek up into its lovely valley. After about 4 miles on this road watch for a sign that marks a parking area and trailhead into the Spanish Peaks Wilderness Area. A day's hike on this trail could turn up Dusky Grouse, Three-toed Woodpeckers, sapsuckers, and other mountain specialties. Past the trailhead, the road drops into the dense spruce canyon of Cuchara-Wahatoya Camps. In winter the area is often only accesible by snowshoe, because the road is plowed to a point just before dropping into the camps. The camps are a delightful blend of old log cabins and big spruce and fir, where nuthatches and kinglets can be found. The area is heavily shaded by big trees and canyon walls, and may be good for owls. As you return to La Veta, look to the west where you can get good views (though distant) of the back side of the Devil's Stairsteps.
Habitat - Spruce-Fir Forest, Cliff Face
Directions - From the Town Lakes described above continue a short distance south to a " T" (or " Y" ?) intersection. Go east on CR 362 (Delorme) about 0.5 mile to a junction. Turn right on CR 360.
Delorme - 92 A3
Roads of Colorado - 137 D4
Cucharas Creek Road
Description - (Submitted by Nathan Pieplow) Some of the premier road-accessible high-elevation habitats in the county can be found along Cucharas Creek near Cucharas Pass. Willow and aspen habitats are well-represented along with spruce-fir forest. The road also provides access to a trailhead for the 13,517-foot Trinchera Peak, where ptarmigan may await the determined hiker.
Habitat - Spruce-Fir Forest, Aspen Grove, Streamside Willow, Stream, Krummholz, Alpine Tundra
Directions - Cucharas Creek Road (FR 413/FR 422) heads west from CO 12 about two miles north of Cucharas Pass.
Delorme - 92 B2
Roads of Colorado - 152 C1
Cordova Pass Road
Description - (Submitted by Nathan Pieplow) More high-elevation habitats, mostly spruce-fir, can be found along FR 415 between Cucharas Pass and Cordova Pass. Keep an eye out for things like Gray Jay, Hammond's Flycatcher and Dusky Grouse. The Las Animas County section of this road continues down through various habitats to the Apishapa River.
Habitat - Spruce-Fir Forest, Mountain Meadow
Directions - FR 415 heads east from CO 12 at Cucharas Pass on the Las Animas/Huerfano county line.
Delorme - 92 B2
Roads of Colorado - 152 C1
Ideal Canyon Road
Description - (Submitted by Tony Leukering) This route starts at the south end of Walsenburg and winds through the low foothill country heading south. It climbs slowly through pinyon-juniper country, often with scatted Ponderosa Pines, up to a stretch that is mostly Ponderosa Pine forest. Grace's Warblers were found summering here in 2003.
Habitat - Pinyon-Juniper Forest, Ponderosa Forest
Directions - From the intersection of Ideal Road (called 330 Road on the Roads of Colorado Atlas) and Main Street on the south side of Walsenburg (just south and east of the crossing of the Cucharas River), go south on Ideal Rd (330 Rd) to the first pullout across from the cemetery on the left. Zero your trip meter and then drive ~10.5 miles (r) south on 330 Rd. The site that had Grace's Warbler in 2003 is on the left (east) side of the road and is an obvious patch of tallish Ponderosa Pines (most of the habitat on the way south is pinyon-juniper). If you go past the spot, in 0.2 miles you will pass a sign for the Schultz Wildlife Management Area and at 0.4 miles you will hit a Y-intersection, with the left fork being 310 Road that will take you to the Hepatic Tanager spot at Santa Elena Creek.
Delorme - 83 D4; 93 A4
Roads of Colorado - 137 E3-E4
Santa Clara Creek
Description - (Submitted by Tony Leukering) Most of the land here is private, so birding has to be done from the road. Even with this restriction, this site is worth visiting. The convergence of riparian and PJ habitats here attracted Great Crested Flycatcher in 2001 and breeding Hepatic Tanagers in 2003. Hybrid buntings and (in late summer) up to four species of hummingbird make the site even more interesting.
Habitat - Lowland Riparian, Pinyon-Juniper Forest
Directions - From I-25 in southern Huerfano Co., take exit 42 and go west on 310 Rd to the point where the RR tracks cross the road. Pull over, as this is the spot. The creek is to your south and the ridge the Hepatic Tanagers probably nested on is to your north and northwest under the word " Monson" on the DeLorme.
Delorme - 83 D5
Roads of Colorado - 137 F4
Roberts Cordova Ranch (Huerfano section)
Description - Tim Roberts' ranch is mostly in Las Animas County (q.v.), but it also encompasses an area of rimrock buttes across the Huerfano line. This private land is probably the only option for Huerfano County listers looking for Rufous-crowned Sparrow in the county, and a darn fine place to get your roadrunner, your Cassin's Kingbird, and so on.
Habitat - Pinyon-Juniper Forest, Rimrock/Mesa, Grassland/Prairie, Cholla
Directions - To inquire about access to this ranch and to get directions, please call Tim Roberts at 719-738-2453 a minimum of 48 hours in advance of your potential visit. The fee for access is $10 per person per day. Please remember that this is a working ranch as well as a private residence, and there may be times when the landowner cannot accommodate visits. While you are on the ranch, remember to stay on roads, leave gates as you find them (whether open or closed), and refrain from taking anything off the ranch or leaving trash behind.
Delorme - 83 C7, 100 B1
Roads of Colorado - 138 B2-B3
Medano Pass Road (east side)
Description - (Submitted by Nathan Pieplow): The first 6.9 miles of this road are private, fenced and abundantly posted--do not trespass! On the other hand, do not go by the good-sized cattail marshes half a mile west of the highway without stopping to listen for rails, nor skip Creager Reservoir, home to breeding coots, Pied-billed Grebes and Ruddy Ducks in addition to waterbird migrants. The private land along the road has some decent PJ and ponderosa. Bird off the road only past the National Forest boundary, where you will find a very nice mix of white fir, douglas-fir and aspen that looks like great Flammulated Owl country. Passenger cars can make it as far as the informal campground about 1/3 mile past the National Forest boundary.
Habitat - Pond, Marsh, Pinyon-Juniper, Ponderosa Forest, Mixed-Conifer Forest, Aspen Grove
Directions - From CO 69 about nine miles west of Gardner, head left on 559 Road towards Medano Pass.
Delorme - 81 B7
Roads of Colorado - 136 A1
Orlando and Clark Reservoirs
Aliases - Clark Reservoir
Description - (Submitted by Nathan Pieplow): Big in wet years, gone in dry ones, Orlando is a difficult but rewarding reservoir to bird. The public road is high above it and far enough away that small shorebirds can be difficult to identify with a scope even when they are on the near shore. On the other hand, ducks, gulls and herons are often numerous here.
Smaller but equally far from the public road, Clark can be great for ducks in both spring and fall and can serve up some pretty good shorebird habitat in some late summers. It makes a good combination stop with Orlando for birders heading north at the end of a good day of birding!
Habitat - Lake
Directions - From I-25 exit 60 between Walsenburg and Colorado City (and just north of Huerfano Butte), take the east-side frontage road north about a mile and a half to CR 104 and turn right. This road runs past Orlando Reservoir in about a mile. To get to Clark Reservoir, continue north on the frontage road three and a half more miles to CR 110 and turn right. The reservoir will be visible on the left in half a mile.
Delorme - 83 B4
Roads of Colorado - 137 E1-E2