Your Guide to Birding

in Rio Grande County

County Map Rio Grande County
Author(s):  Virginia Simmons
County Seat: Del Norte
Size: 913 square miles
Low Elevation: 7,591 ft. - SE border of the Monte Vista NWR at Alamosa
High Elevation: 13,203 ft. - Bennett Peak
Best Birds: Cerulean Warbler (1997), Vermilion Flycatcher (1950)
Checklist: Rio Grande County Checklist
Introduction: Located in the San Luis Valley in south-central Colorado, Rio Grande County includes part of the flat basin, adjacent foothills, and mountains. Elevations range from about 7,600 feet to 13,200 feet and annual precipitation includes, on average, 6-8 inches to about 100 inches depending on the elevation. Habitat types vary from grassland and irrigated agricultural land in the Valley floor up dry foothills through montane and subalpine zones in the mountains. The Rio Grande and several of its tributaries offer riparian habitats, as well as road access to the higher country. Native vegetation types, from lowest to highest elevations, are grasses and greasewood, pinyon/juniper/shrubs in foothills, brush/willow/cottonwood in riparian areas, shrubs/aspen/ponderosa/fir on moist mountain slopes, and scattered scrub/aspen/spruce/bristlecone and meadows at the higher locations. Irrigation ditches, impoundments, small brooks and lakes, and rock outcrops add to the variety. Among human activities that have altered natural habitats are irrigation, extensive farming and grazing, mining, timber-cutting, towns and rural home development, while a National Wildlife Refuge has increased several species. Because political boundaries of Rio Grande County are irregular except on the east side, access to some areas requires routes through other counties. Several Forest Service roads and trails enter the San Juan Mountains from the east and north in Rio Grande County, and others reach the La Garita Mountains from the south, but Forest Service roads are not maintained in winter, and mud or high water may limit access in any season. Lakes, even on the Valley floor, are usually frozen over from December into March or May, depending on elevation. Many 4x4 roads exist, but most of the birding locations listed here can be reached in passenger cars.

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Birding Sites

Alamosa River
Habitat: Stream, Streamside Willow, Mountain Meadow, Mixed Conifer Forest, Spruce-Fir Forest
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Alder Creek
Habitat: Ponderosa Forest, Mixed Conifer Forest, Stream, Streamside Willow
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Beaver Creek Reservoir State Wildlife Area
Habitat: Pinyon-Juniper Forest, Ponderosa Forest, Mixed Conifer Forest, Aspen Grove, Stream, Streamside Willow, Pond/Lake/Reservoir, Spruce-Fir Forest, Mountain Meadow
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Del Norte
Habitat: Urban/Suburban, Park/Cemetery
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Del Norte West to South Fork
Habitat: Stream, Pond/Lake/Reservoir, Streamside Willow, Pinyon-Juniper, Cliff Face
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Dry Creek
Habitat: Pinyon-Juniper Forest, Mixed Conifer Forest
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Embargo Creek
Habitat: Lowland Riparian, Pinyon-Juniper Forest, Pond/Lake/Stream, Aspen Grove, Mixed Conifer Forest
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Home Lake State Wildlife Area
Habitat: Pond/Lake/Reservoir, Hedgerow/Shelterbelt
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Monte Vista
Habitat: Urban/Suburban, Park/Cemetery
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Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge
Habitat: Pond/Lake/Reservoir, Marsh, Wet Meadow
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Old Woman Creek
Habitat: Grassland/Prairie, Sagebrush, Ponderosa Forest, Aspen Grove, Pinyon-Juniper Forest
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Park Creek
Habitat: Mixed Conifer Forest, Stream, Streamside Willow, Mountain Meadow, Spruce-Fir Forest
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Pinos Creek
Habitat: Pinyon-Juniper Forest, Stream, Streamside Willow, Lowland Riparian, Mixed Conifer Forest, Mountain Meadow, Spruce-Fir Forest
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Rio Grande State Wildlife Area
Habitat: Lowland Riparian, Marsh
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Rock Creek
Habitat: Pinyon-Juniper Forest, Lowland Riparian, Rimrock/Mesa, Mixed Conifer Forest
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San Luis Valley Floor (Rio Grande County portion)
Habitat: Sagebrush, Grassland/Prairie, Wet Meadow
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South Fork to Coller State Wildlife Area
Habitat: Ponderosa Forest, Aspen Grove, Urban/Suburban, Stream, Streamside Willow, Mountain Meadow
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eBird Seasonal Bar Chart

Latest Unusual Birds (eBird) in Rio Grande County


CBRC Accepted Records from Rio Grande County

SpeciesAccession No.Date(s)
Brant (Black)8-92-734/1/1992
Brant (Black)2015-030 04/05/2015
Eurasian Wigeon8-81-104/5/1981
Eurasian Wigeon8-88-294/14/1988
Eurasian Wigeon8-91-173/25/1989
Eurasian Wigeon8-93-714/4/1993
Eurasian Collared-Dove2000-072 
White-winged Dove25-96-375/26/1996
Yellow Rail2022-033 12 Jul 2022
Red Phalarope21-75-645/28/1975 - 6/1/1975
Little Blue Heron5-74-535/26/1974
Little Blue Heron1988-0017/5/1988
Crested Caracara2021-025 7 Mar 2021
Black Phoebe2012-201 07/19/2012
Black Phoebe2021-008 21 Jun 2021
Vermilion Flycatcher1950-0015/16/1950
Vermilion Flycatcher2014-082 05/08/2014
Bendire's Thrasher2003-0875/11/2003
Common Redpoll2014-102 01/02/2013
Prothonotary Warbler52-96-785/25/1996
Cerulean Warbler1997-0945/25/1997 - 5/26/1997
Prairie Warbler2012-082 6/16/2012
Scarlet Tanager2000-1455/20/2000