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descriptions and directions

Cottonwood Marsh photo by Peter Burke

Jackson Reservoir - Morgan County
Ownership: None Listed
Description: A birding trip to Morgan County almost inevitably centers on Jackson Reservoir. Its proximity to the Denver metro area and easy interstate highway access make it one of the most convenient Eastern Plains reservoirs for northern Front Range birders to visit. The area has hosted some spectacular rarities (see Best Birds above).

Landbirding is best in fall, when utilization of the vast Russian Olive groves is at its maximum. Insectivores are abundant from late August into early October, as evidence by such high counts as 474 Yellow-rumped Warblers (25 Sep), 131 Wilson's Warblers (10 Sep), and 95 Yellow Warblers (5 Sep). From late Sep into winter sparrows take over the place, with counts of White-throated Sparrow reaching 15 and Harris's reaching 5. As for rarities, during the last three falls alone, such rarities as Yellow-bellied Flyatcher, Blue-headed and Philadelphia Vireos, Wood Thrush, and Mourning Warbler have been found here. 

Waterbirding quality depends on exposed mud during the warmer months and exposed water (that is, ice free) during the colder months. The possibilities are exemplified by the mud-rich autumns of 2012 and 2013 which produced Curlew Sandpiper, up to 8 Buff-breasted Sandpipers and 38 American Golden-Plovers, Piping Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, Laughing Gull, and Least Tern. During the same two falls, extraordinary numbers such as 4700 Baird's and 1500 Least Sandpipers have been tallied as well as 505 Lesser Yellowlegs and 211 Pectoral Sandpipers. Winter waterbirding is a gamble, but has paid off with Black Brant, American Black Duck, Iceland Gull, and Great Black-backed Gull. 

For landbirding, the best success is had by starting at the visitor center and stroling around the trees in front of, and behind. Then, proceed across the street, weaving your way north through russian olive thickets and pockets of cottonwoods to, and even past, the boat ramp. For shorebirding, it all depends on where the mud is. Access is often best from the dam/outlet channel at the southeastern corner of the lake. Be most careful if you decide to walk down the dam face and onto the mud, though the navigation is not that difficult with a bit of care. If the mud is quite low, then access via the state wildlife area at the north side of the reservoir is the best approach. Sometimes, the more marshy habitat at the northeastern part of the reservoir can be tasty; this area is best accessed from the day use parking at the Northview Campground north of the boat launch. 

Searching for ducks and gulls is often best from the boat launch area of the state park or from the northside, accessed via the state wildlife area. 

Some specialty birds include Long-eared Owl in the dense Russian Olives from fall into spring (less frequent during recent years), Sabine's Gulls (not daily, but not unexpected, mostly mid-August into early October), and Mountain Plovers (fields just north of the northwestern portion of the reservoir, viewed from the reservoir, and accessed by walking west from the state wildlife area), mostly during August (not annual, but sometimes in large numbers).

Habitat: Lake/Pond/Reservoir, Lowland Riparian, Hedgerow/Shelterbelt, Marsh, Grassland/Prairie
Directions: From I-76, take exit 66A. Head north on Hwy. 39 for 7.25 miles through Goodrich, then go west on Y5. After crossing the outlet canal, you have the option of turning north, following the canal to the outlet area of the dam. This is a fee area- a state parks pass (annual or daily) is required to park here. To reach the west side of the lake, keep on Y5, which will turn to the north as CR 3 and lead to the State Park entrance station after crossing the inlet canal and passing a mobile home community tucked on the SW corner of the lake. There is also access to the west end of the dam if you turn on the road south of the entrance canal. Jackson Lake SWA is on the north side of the lake. To access the SWA, backtrack to the junction of HWY 39 & Y5. Continue east through the intersection. Turn north on CR 5, which skirts the reservoir to the east. At CR CC turn west. Enter the SWA by turning south at the intersection with CR 4. Parking here is free, but beginning in 2006 a state habitat stamp will be required to enter SWA lands.
Other Wildlife:
Other Attractions:

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Latest Jackson Reservoir Sightings from eBird


CBRC Records from Jackson Reservoir

SpeciesAccession No.Date(s)
Brant (Black)2013-013 12/23/2012
American Black Duck8-86-211/29/1985
American Black Duck2012-018 2/19/2012
Common Ground Dove1999-18111/20/1999
Greater Roadrunner2011-099 7/10/2011
Ruddy Turnstone1998-0479/11/1998
Red Knot19-74-1149/29/1974
Red Knot2000-0339/23/2000
Red Knot2003-128 9/18/2003 - 9/19/2003
Curlew Sandpiper2012-103 8/23/2012
Curlew Sandpiper2013-192 08/30/2013
Buff-breasted Sandpiper19-77-679/4/1977
Buff-breasted Sandpiper19-95-329/5/1994
Buff-breasted Sandpiper2000-0389/12/2000
Buff-breasted Sandpiper2006-138 10/1/2006
Buff-breasted Sandpiper2012-100 8/21/2012 - 9/3/2012
Buff-breasted Sandpiper2013-193 08/30/2013
Buff-breasted Sandpiper2013-210 09/13/2013
Buff-breasted Sandpiper2014-018 08/21/2013
Short-billed Dowitcher19-76-899/6/1976
Red Phalarope21-88-89/14/1987
Red Phalarope2000-04110/3/2000
Red Phalarope2001-09410/14/2001
Red Phalarope2002-1978/11/2002 - 8/12/2002
Red Phalarope2004-0499/17/2004 - 9/27/2004
Pomarine Jaeger22-86-4210/5/1985
Pomarine Jaeger2007-064 10/1/2000
Pomarine Jaeger2008-116 10/4/2008 - 10/5/2008
Parasitic Jaeger2015-114 10/11/2015
Parasitic Jaeger2015-120 10/03/2015
Long-tailed Jaeger2001-209 9/5/2000
Long-tailed Jaeger2009-118 10/4/2008
Long-tailed Jaeger2020-050 19 Jul 2020
Laughing Gull2013-191 08/31/2013
Iceland Gull2012-021 2/19/2012
Least Tern2014-180 05/28/2014
Little Blue Heron5-90-44/25/1990
Reddish Egret2020-031 18 Sep 2020
Great Crested Flycatcher2004-06910/1/2004
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher2013-203 09/10/2013
Blue-headed Vireo2013-206 09/02/2013
Philadelphia Vireo2012-110 9/9/2012
Varied Thrush2000-1161/9/2000
Henslow's Sparrow56-85-559/10/1985
Mourning Warbler2012-105 8/31/2012
Mourning Warbler2013-212 09/02/2013