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Cottonwood Marsh photo by Peter Burke

Chatfield State Park - Jefferson County
Aliases: Massey Draw, Kingfisher Bridge, Catfish Flats, Plum Creek Delta, Waterton Parking Lot, Discovery Pavilion
Ownership: None Listed
Description: (Submitted by Andrew Spencer): Chatfield is a place of many distinctions. It has the largest bird list of any single location in Colorado, and a larger list than a couple of states. It has the most reliable breeding locations for Least Flycatcher and American Redstart anywhere in Colorado. Not only have multiple state firsts been seen here, but this is the only location that can claim two species of murrelet and one of the few that can claim all three jaegers. The county line situation can be somewhat complicated, especially on the lake. Generally, the county line is far closer to the east side of the lake than one would expect. Everything west of Kingfisher Bridge and the South Platte River is in Jefferson County, while the rest of the park and the reservoir is in Douglas.

Thoroughly scanning the lake requires checking it from multiple viewpoints, though scanning from three or four spots on the west side will usually do the job. In the NW corner of the lake is the North Marina, which is the best place from which to scan that corner of the lake. Midway along the west side, the Swim Beach is the classic spot from which to scan that portion of the lake, and provides a decent view of most of the reservoir.

Kingfisher Pond, at the southern end of the lake, can produce not only its namesake, but also a multitude of gulls and ducks. By walking north along the eastern edge of the pond you can reach the Platte River Delta, one of the two good shorebird areas in Chatfield.

On the east side of the lake, the southernmost spot from which to scan is the New Heron Overlook, which provides a great view of the entire southern third of the lake. The next viewpoint for the lake is the Old Heron Overlook, which provides a good vantage for the middle third of the lake.

The Sand Spit, just north of the marina, is arguably the best location in the park. When the water is high on other parts of the reservoir, covering the mudflats, this may be the only location where shorebirds can be found. The trees on the spit are surprisingly productive, and tend to concentrate migrants more than anywhere else in the park. When the water is low there are often large flocks of gulls and even terns on the exposed sandbars. This can also be a good area from which to scan the lake, with almost the entire northern third of the lake in view.

The other contender for best location in the park is the nearby Plum Creek Delta. The main reason to come here in most birders' minds is the extensive mudflats that often form here in fall. Large flocks of shorebirds often gather here, and a dozen or more species can sometimes be found, with the occasional rarity. To view them well you may need to walk out onto the flats, acquainting yourself with the famous carnivorous mud of Plum Creek (a couple of Colorado birders were almost lost to this terrible menace). Usually if you don't go too far out onto the flats you will be okay.

The riparian habitat that surrounds the delta makes up one of the best migrant traps on the Front Range. The majority of the riparian corridor can be reached from the Plum Creek Nature Area parking lot. There are a multitude of trails here, one of which even crosses Plum Creek and follows the railroad tracks for a long ways.

When it comes to riparian habitat in Chatfield, the area along the South Platte River, on both sides, is unbeatable (well, maybe Plum Creek compares). This is area is usually referred to as "Upstream from Kingfisher Bridge," with the east side being in Douglas County, and the west in Jefferson County. Starting with the east side, follow the paved trail through the first patch of large trees (which usually has little else other than starlings) to where a small dirt trail continues south. It is here that the birding gets better, with migrant flocks in the spring or fall producing many a warbler species including the occasional rarity (Kentucky, Worm-eating, and Mourning have been seen, among other species).

The west side usually gets more coverage from the admiring birding public. A paved trail goes south for a little ways, and then a multitude of dirt trails continues on. This area is probably the best in the park for the local American Redstarts and Least Flycatchers, with at least one pair of each hanging out along the paved trail, and further down. If you continue south you will eventually come to a large cattail marsh, which has Marsh Wren and rails in season.

Probably the most neglected area in the park is below the dam, which has extensive riparian habitat as well as some ponds.

While you are at Chatfield, be sure to check out the Waterton Parking Lot area. The area around that parking lot provides little access to areas in Chatfield (though that is where you park to hike up Waterton Canyon), but the nearby Discovery Pavilion parking lot is the trailhead for trails heading downstream along the Platte River. It is here that the trail starting at the Kingfisher Bridge comes out. This area is often underestimated, but as the first state record of Prairie Warbler, or the second state record of Scott's Oriole, or the first park record of Fox Sparrow can attest, it can be quite productive. There is often a nesting American Dipper under the Waterton Bridge, though they also move upstream later in the summer.

Finally, just by driving the roads in and around Chatfield, you can often find Ferruginous, Swainson's, and Red-tailed Hawks, Golden Eagle, and Prairie Falcon in the summer, and in the winter all of these minus Swainson's but plus Rough-legged and Harlan's Hawks.

Habitat: Pond/Lake/Reservoir, Lowland Riparian, Stream, Grassland/Prairie, Hedgerow/Shelterbelt, Marsh
Directions: From C-470 in southwest Denver, take Wadsworth Boulevard (CO 121) south to the main (Deer Creek) entrance, which is on the left (east) about a mile south of C-470. To get to the east (Plum Creek) entrance, from C-470 take Santa Fe Boulevard (US 85) south about four miles and turn right (east) on Titan Road/Parkway. Go about two miles and turn right (north) on Roxborough Park Road (CR 3) to the entrance.
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CBRC Records from Chatfield State Park

SpeciesAccession No.Date(s)
Brant (Atlantic)2011-173 11/30/2011 - 12/4/2011
Tundra Swan2007-130 11/24/2007
Dusky Grouse2003-156 4/11/2001
Red-necked Grebe2-95-412/16/1995
Red-necked Grebe2001-9610/26/2001
White-winged Dove25-96-3810/23/1996
Piping Plover2001-203 8/9/2001
Buff-breasted Sandpiper19-89-159/3/1989
Red Phalarope21-82-389/20/1980
Red Phalarope2005-104 10/9/2005
Red Phalarope2006-143 10/8/2006
Jaeger sp.22-77-719/17/1977
Jaeger sp.22-85-439/7/1985
Pomarine Jaeger2000-4510/13/2000
Pomarine Jaeger2003-116 11/8/2003
Pomarine Jaeger2011-168 11/19/2011 - 11/28/2011
Parasitic Jaeger2000-4610/9/2000 - 10/13/2000
Parasitic Jaeger2009-101 11/7/2009 - 11/9/2009
Long-tailed Jaeger22-92-185/28/1992 - 5/29/1992
Long-tailed Jaeger2008-120 10/11/2008
Long-billed Murrelet24-96-3311/2/1996
Ancient Murrelet24-95-4812/5/1995
Black-legged Kittiwake2000-6510/27/2000
Black-legged Kittiwake2002-14/24/2001 - 5/14/2001
Black-legged Kittiwake2002-152 11/23/2001
Black-legged Kittiwake2007-112 11/21/2007
Black-headed Gull1998-5810/20/1998
Little Gull2010-95 9/8/2010
Little Gull2020-034 11 Sep 2020
Laughing Gull23-82-235/16/1982
Laughing Gull2005-107 10/9/2005
Short-billed Gull2001-204 11/23/2001
Western Gull2011-81 6/1/2011 - 6/18/2011
Lesser Black-backed Gull23-91-3412/14/1991
Glaucous-winged Gull2001-1463/8/2001
Great Black-backed Gull23-93-375/10/1993
Arctic Tern2000-6610/8/2000 - 10/9/2000
Red-throated Loon1-83-0212/18/1982
Red-throated Loon1-91-212/2/1991
Red-throated Loon1-93-44/8/1993
Red-throated Loon1998-112/1/1995
Red-throated Loon2004-6310/31/2004
Red-throated Loon2006-150 11/2/2006
Red-throated Loon2010-144 11/10/2010 - 11/27/2010
Arctic Loon2005-100 9/28/2005
Yellow-billed Loon1-82-212/19/1981
Yellow-billed Loon1-83-112/18/1982
Yellow-billed Loon1-91-312/2/1991
Yellow-billed Loon1997-510/13/1997 - 12/6/1997
Yellow-billed Loon2005-135 12/3/2005 - 12/4/2005
Brown Pelican3-91-66/23/1991 - 6/26/1991
Little Blue Heron5-81-608/21/1981
Little Blue Heron5-92-625/22/1992
Common Black Hawk10-80-836/20/1980
Red-shouldered Hawk10-79-411/18/1978
Black Phoebe2008-50 5/5/2008
Vermilion Flycatcher34-90-354/4/1990
Vermilion Flycatcher1999-975/15/1999
Vermilion Flycatcher2001-254/12/2001
Vermilion Flycatcher2006-43 4/28/2006
White-eyed Vireo1997-698/25/1997
White-eyed Vireo1998-955/24/1998 - 5/26/1998
White-eyed Vireo1999-1028/25/1999
White-eyed Vireo2000-9510/27/2000
Yellow-throated Vireo51-90-465/26/1990 - 6/5/1990
Yellow-throated Vireo1999-1045/12/1999
Yellow-throated Vireo2002-165 5/15/2001
Philadelphia Vireo2012-175 10/07/2012
Long-billed Thrasher43-93-11/6/1993
Purple Finch56-90-771/15/1990 - 1/27/1990
Golden-winged Warbler1999-1238/24/1999
Prothonotary Warbler52-89-4510/29/1989
Kentucky Warbler2002-2045/7/2002
Blackburnian Warbler2013-276 10/07/1987
Blackburnian Warbler52-89-4011/4/1989 - 11/5/1989
Yellow-throated Warbler52-82-255/21/1982
Yellow-throated Warbler1999-1345/16/1999
Prairie Warbler2019-046 8 Sep 2019
Canada Warbler52-89-5010/29/1989