Audubon Nature Center
- Jefferson County
Ownership: None Listed
The Nature Center operated by Audubon Society of Greater Denver (ASGD) opened 1999, on land and buildings leased from Chatfield State Park. Prior to that time, many bird trips started at the bridge over the South Platte River – Waterton Bridge – both downstream and upstream.
The Nature Center has a native plant garden and bird feeders that attract Western Scrub-Jays, chickadees, nuthatches, House Finches, White-crowned Sparrows, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Lesser Goldfinches. ASGD sponsors a 3-mile walk from the Nature Center on the first Sunday of every month (8 a.m in spring and summer, 9 a.m. in winter).
During late April and May, ASGD and Rocky Mtn. Bird Observatory operate a banding station about a quarter mile east, close to the river. Volunteers from Univ. of Colorado/Denver built a modern, flood-plain-proof, pavilion to house the banding operation.
Birds caught most often (in order of frequency): Yellow Warbler (twice as many as any others), House Wren, Gray Catbird, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Common Yellowthroat, Dusky Flycatcher, White-crowned Sparrow, Swainson’s Thrush, Hermit Thrush, and Red-winged Blackbird.
It also picks up rarities each spring; over the years, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, White-eyed and Cassin’s vireos, Tennessee, Blackpoll, Black-throated Gray, and Mourning warblers, Northern Parula, Black-throated Sparrow.
A series of trails provide excellent birding opportunities. Near the Nature Center, two connected gravel pits have between them, a boardwalk through cattails where occasionally birders spot a Virginia Rail.
From the banding station, trails go downstream deeper into the park, through the cottonwood/box elder/riparian forests. From Waterton bridge, a trail downstream parallels the river and, in 1.5 miles, arrives near the banding station.
Upstream, a well-used road/trail starting at a Division of Wildlife parking area, goes up the river all the way to Strontia Springs dam – about 10 miles. The first mile lies in plains riparian zone, then goes into a foothills canyon. Birds in the canyon include Canyon Wren and American Dipper. A herd of bighorn sheep frequents the area. See County Birding Site, “Waterton Canyon.”
The ASGD monthly walks see the typical riparian birds: in spring and summer, besides the breeding birds listed for the banding station, Common Merganser, Osprey, American Kestrel, Downy Woodpecker, Western Wood-Pewee, Plumbeous Vireo, Black-capped Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, Cedar Waxwing, American Redstart, Song Sparrow. In winter American Dippers often come downstream to show off. During spring migration, flocks of swallows swarm over the river.
Rarities seen over the years include the state’s first Common Black-Hawk, Thick-billed Kingbird, Blue-winged and Prairie warblers. Also, Vermilion Flycatcher, many warblers, Scarlet, Summer and Hepatic tanagers, Scott’s Oriole and many others.
Habitat: Riparian, stream, gravel ponds, shrubland, grassland.
Elevation: 5350 feet
Directions: Take the Wadsworth exit off C-470 and follow it south, past the entrance for Chatfield, for about 4 miles to a left turn onto Waterton Road (turn lane). AT the first road, on the left, turn into the Audubon Center.
Restrictions/Hazards: Some of the trails have rough surfaces or gaps, particularly those right next to the stream.
Other Wildlife: Deer, beaver, a rare bear
Other Attractions: Colorado Trail, Highline Canal Trail and the Platte River Greenway Trail start at Discovery Pavilion, in front of the Nature Center.