Site Details

descriptions and directions

Cottonwood Marsh photo by Peter Burke

Accessible Pawnee National Grasslands (western section) - Weld County
Aliases: Murphy's Pasture, Central Plains Experimental Range
Ownership: None Listed
Description: This finest remnant of Colorado's native prairies is one of the most accessible and productive areas in which to see the remnant populations of Colorado's native prairie birds. Mountain Plover, Burrowing Owl and McCown's and Chestnut-collared Longspurs can be found on the Pawnee from early April to October (or to August, in the case of the plovers). McCown's Longspur is locally common to abundant and easy to locate when performing display flights. Chestnut-collared Longspur is here in much smaller numbers and can be quite local--look especially in areas with slightly longer grass. Burrowing Owls inhabit most good-sized prairie-dog towns, but are not always visible above ground, especially during the middle of the day or when it is very windy. Mountain Plovers are both local and uncommon in short grass and prairie dog towns, though a concerted search should turn them up.

One of the prime areas on the Pawnee is Murphy's Pasture, along CR 96 west of CR 77, just northwest of Briggsdale. All the specialties listed above can be seen here. The Chestnut-collared Longspurs are most likely starting 3.0 miles west of CR 77. Another good spot for the plover and both longspurs is a few miles west, along CR 65 in its first mile north of CO 14. Also check for the owl around the intersection of CO 14 x CR 57, and for the owl and the plover at CO 14 x CR 51.

Another prime area is farther west, north of the town of Nunn, around the Central Plains Experimental Range. The pasture on the southeast corner of US 85 and CR 114 is an excellent spot for Chestnut-collared Longspur. McCown's is regular along CR 45 south of CR 122, and a seasonal wet spot on the west side of the road there can be good for waterbirds.

Although the spots mentioned above are among the best known and the most frequently visited, it should be stressed that almost any road can be productive in the enormous area bounded by US 85 to the west, CO 14 to the south, CR 77 to the east, and the Wyoming border to the north. Explore and enjoy it well, keeping in mind that the PNG is a patchwork of private and public lands--when in doubt, stay on the road. Also keep in mind that many of the dirt roads in the Pawnee can become impassable after heavy rains, that mud traps can persist long after the rain has passed, and that the resulting dry mud can hang up passenger vehicles. Be prepared to backtrack and detour if necessary.

Besides the above specialties, other birds that can be found on the Pawnee during the breeding season include Long-billed Curlew (rare), Upland Sandpiper (rare), Swainson's and Ferruginous Hawks, Prairie Falcon, Golden Eagle, Say's Phoebe, Loggerhead Shrike, Rock Wren (usually around eroded washes, occasionally human habitation), Sage Thrasher, Lark Bunting, Grasshopper Sparrow, Cassin's Sparrow (usually near yucca--populations fluctuate yearly), Lark Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, Brewer's Sparrow, and Western Meadowlark.

In winter look for raptors (Rough-legged Hawk, Merlin, and all summering species except Swainson's Hawk), Northern Shrike, Horned Lark, Lapland Longspur, and (if you are very lucky) Snow Bunting or Snowy Owl.

Habitat: Grassland/Prairie, Yucca, Pond/Lake/Reservoir
Directions: A map is essential for exploring this area, and chances are you will get lost without one. A good rule to remember is that in Weld County roads with even numbers run east west, and roads with odd numbers run north south, so if you subtract the numbers of two roads that run the same direction, and divide by two, you have the distance between the roads. To get to Murphy's Pasture, turn north off of SR 14 onto CR 69 (18.5 miles east of Ault, 4 miles west of Briggsdale) and drive for 3 miles to CR 96. Turn right (east) onto CR 96. Murphy's Pasture is considered to be from here to CR 77, 4 miles to the east. To get to the Central Plains Experimental Range, drive north from Nunn on US-85 for 7.5 miles to CR 114. CR 45 is 8 miles west of this intersection, and CR 122 is 4 miles north of the CR 45 and CR 114 intersection.
Other Wildlife:
Other Attractions:

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Other Sites in Weld County
eBird Seasonal Bar Chart

Latest Pawnee National Grasslands (western section) Sightings from eBird


CBRC Records from Pawnee National Grasslands (western section)

SpeciesAccession No.Date(s)
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck8-91-147/11/1991
White-winged Dove25-95-506/17/1995
Snowy Owl2012-14 2/14/2012
Snowy Owl2022-005 20 Feb 2022
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher1999-996/18/1999
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher2005-47 5/14/2005
Philadelphia Vireo2008-108 9/19/2008
Connecticut Warbler52-79-165/19/1979
Mourning Warbler2006-78 5/21/2006