Sterling, Colo. – Calling all birders, hawk-watchers, and nature enthusiasts! Fall migration is upon us, and North Sterling State Park is an excellent place for visitors to see migratory hawks and sandhill cranes on the plains. Come on your own and see what you can find, or join one of the six raptor workshops throughout the fall and winter for a ranger-guided experience.
The North Sterling State Park Raptor Workshops, held one Saturday per month between October and March, will start at the park’s visitor center with an indoor presentation of the current raptor species that can be found in the park.
We’ll have hot drinks and cookies on hand, or bring your own snacks and beverages, and binoculars will be available to borrow. Then, the group will head out into the park, following the rangers in your own vehicles to different locations where hawks and eagles can frequently be seen.
Come for just the presentation or just the park tour, stay as long as you’d like, or venture off to explore on your own! Last year’s late-winter workshops were very successful, with a great turnout by both people and eagles! This year’s workshop schedule is:
Oct. 22: p.m. to 4 p.m.
Nov. 12: 10 a.m. to noon
Dec. 17: 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Jan. 7: 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Feb. 4: 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
March 17: 10 a.m. to noon
Workshops will be held rain or shine, but will be rescheduled in the event of a snowstorm. In the late October and early November workshops, we expect to see migrating hawks and possibly sandhill cranes. From November through February, we expect to see winter residents, including juvenile and adult bald eagles. In March, an early thaw might send the winter residents on their way, while the spring courtship and nesting seasons begin. Special workshops at different days and times can be arranged for school classes, youth groups, or other interested clubs and organizations. For more information: call the park at 970-522-3657 or email the park at [email protected]
A variety of raptor species are just arriving from the north or preparing to head south any day, including the departing Swainson’s hawks, turkey vultures, and Cooper’s hawks, or the arriving rough-legged hawks, northern harriers, and merlins. Year-round residents include bald eagles, golden eagles, ferruginous hawks, prairie falcons, American kestrels, and of course, red-tailed hawks.
Sandhill cranes normally stop over at North Sterling during their southward migration in the fall, typically in October. Listen for the cranes’ distinctive rattling call, and remember, their short migration window can be as little as two to four weeks. Bald eagles in particular made North Sterling Reservoir their winter home last year, with as many as forty counted in a single day.
The winter residents won’t begin to arrive until mid-October, but our adult eagle nesting pair and this year’s fledged offspring can occasionally be seen hunting in the region. And don’t forget about the owls – great horned owls, long-eared owls, barn owls, and Eastern screech owls can often be found on the park. Check the Birding section on the Park Activities page of the North Sterling State Park website http://parks.state.co.us/parks/NorthSterling for the most current updates on migratory and winter resident sightings.
Where and when are the best times to view hawks and eagles at North Sterling? As all birders know, early morning is the best time to view our feathered friends, but many hawks and falcons can be seen perched or hunting in and around the park throughout the day. Look for migrating birds riding the warm thermal winds on the dam and Sunset Point – nearby trails offer excellent views and comfortable benches to sit and watch, or take a stroll and you might find yourself at eye-level with a soaring hawk!
The eagles at North Sterling will generally avoid areas where people are most active, so as the park quiets down and the boat ramps, swim beach, and Inlet Grove Campground facilities close for the winter, you’re more likely to see eagles perched in tall trees in these areas early in the morning. Once ice begins to form, look for eagles sitting on the edges, eating a meal of fish or waterfowl. Don’t expect to get close-up eagle photos without a telephoto lens – these wary birds will take off when people get too close – but you can get an excellent look at them through a good pair of binoculars.
Be certain to prepare for the weather conditions on your visit to North Sterling! Wear warm, layered clothing, with gloves, hats, and earmuffs. This broad, open prairie park has plenty to offer for the hawks and eagles, but humans don’t enjoy the wind as much as our feathered friends.
Also be aware of the hunting seasons and designated hunting areas in the park, which you can find on North Sterling’s webpage, www.parks.state.co.us/parks/NorthSterling, and the 2011 Waterfowl and Small Game hunting brochures. Hunting at North Sterling is restricted to archery and shotgun only and is limited to specific areas of the park, which minimizes the risk to other visitors. Waterfowl hunting is the primary fall sport on the park, with blinds and decoys set up near the shoreline and shots aimed towards the sky. Wear brightly colored clothing, and check with a ranger if you’re not sure where hunters are active on the day of your trip.
Looking for other fun activities at North Sterling? Visit our website at www.parks.state.co.us/parks/NorthSterling for more detailed information, ideas, and printable activities. North Sterling State Park now has web pages dedicated entirely to Family Activities, Boating, Fishing, and Hunting, with more to come this winter. Take a look at the FREE equipment you can borrow at the North Sterling Visitor Center, check the Calendar for upcoming events, get the most current update on our resident bald eagles, and more.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife gets everyone outdoors! Attracting more than 12 million visitors per year, Colorado’s 42 State Parks are a vital cornerstone of Colorado’s economy and quality of life. Colorado State Parks encompass 224,447 land and water acres, offering some of the best outdoor recreation destinations in the state. Colorado Parks and Wildlife is a leader in providing opportunities for outdoor recreation, protecting the state’s favorite landscapes, teaching generations about nature and partnering with communities. Colorado State Parks also manage more than 4,300 campsites, and 63 cabins and yurts. For more information on Colorado State Parks or to purchase an annual pass online, visit www.parks.state.co.us.