Sunday, September 05, 2021

Travelogue: Labor Day - Birding in Steamboat Springs

I've been reading Steve Burrows' Birder Murder mystery series for a few years now and so when I happened to see that he was a special guest speaker at this year's Yampa Valley Crane Festival, I suddenly knew what we were doing this Labor Day weekend.

Four days in beautiful Steamboat Springs (which I hadn't visited in probably 12 or more years) with day trips north and west to track down migrating Sand Hill Cranes. A few years ago, we went to Kearney, NE for the spring SH Crane migration and were expecting to see fields with 1000s of birds as we saw in Kearney. Not so for the fall migration, where the lovebirds (they mate for life) head south in small family units and are much more difficult to find.

Carbo-loading for the long trip south

The first day we did a pontoon boat excursion on Steamboat Lake and saw a couple of cranes as well as pelicans and a Black Tern (mostly white, but then common bird names are almost always misleading) and various other water fowl. 

Crane and pelican sharing the same shore

We then headed back to Steamboat for Steve Burrows' talk, which was exceptionally good. Nice dry humor as befits a Birmingham-born writer. He talked about birding in Canada and Asia and the genesis and evolution of his Birder Murder series. Newsflash: a TV series (joint Canadian/UK production) is in the works for release next year. And, he is working on book 7, with a contract for books 7, 8, and 9. I'm currently reading book 5, A Tiding of Magpies, and picked up book 6, A Dance of Cranes. I suspect this title put him on the short list of guest speakers for the Crane Festival!

Day 2 involved an early morning trip to the ghost town of Mt Harris where the museum curator from Hayden gave a talk on the leveled former coal-mining town while birding guides helped the group find some amazing birds, including a gorgeous Golden Eagle, a flotilla of 36 Common Mergansers cruising the Yampa River, and a dogfight between a Magpie and a Cooper's Hawk. 

How many mergansers does it take to fill a river?

Today we decided to sleep in and got a late start (9 am) after breakfast and tracked cranes on our own, with surprising success. Plus we visited the Yampa Valley State Park for a lovely walk along the river, and then searched high and low for a lunch place that was open (on Sunday) and not fast food. We ended up at the Yampa Valley Brewing Company with sandwiches from the local market and a couple of glasses of their own Sand Hill Crane Red.

Adult Osprey feeding two juveniles who clearly should be fending for themselves by now.

Speaking of food, we have had spectacular luck with our dining choices in Steamboat. Here are my favorites should you venture this way.

Besame - Latin tapas with great ambiance, first rate--my favorite way to eat, share small plates

Table 79 - also a winner for dinner, with ice-cold Prosecco to start

Salt and Lime - tacos for lunch, yummm

Creekside Cafe and Grill - absolutely great breakfast, lattes, benedicts, corned beef hash, yes, please!


  1. What a fabulous getaway! Thanks for sharing the photos, too. We were in CO in 2016 for a wedding outside of Denver. Went up into Rocky Mt National Park afterwards, then spent a couple of days in Steamboat... an amazing trip. Unfortunately we didn't see any cranes. But I do remember a cute independent bookstore ;-)

    1. Yes, we stopped in at Off the Beaten Path and bought 4 books, some cards, and a notebook. Very cute indie bookstore!

  2. This sounded like a lovely 4-day trip Jane. I love watching the osprey and peregrine falcons that return to their nests year after year.

  3. What a great birding adventure! I love that the cranes mate for life. thanks for sharing your photos! :)

  4. Beautiful photos. Sounds like you had a perfect mini-vacation. :D

  5. Wow! Sounds like a fun trip. What a beautiful place...and great food too. Glad you enjoyed it.

  6. I'm so jealous of your getaway! Beautiful pics and the food sounds yummy too. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Nice report from Steamboat. Seems a success seeing the lovely birds. I have been to Steamboat ... but it's been many years now, perhaps over a decade .... nice place to go!