American Birding Podcast



2013 Camp Colorado: The Experience of a Lifetime

By Sam Brunson

Sunday, July 21, 2013, I landed in Denver, arriving with a group of young birders from Georgia to attend the ABA’s Camp Colorado 2013. The moment the plane’s landing gear touched the runway, a seemingly 144+ hour birding marathon began. I had never birded in the western bastion for birds of Colorado, and couldn’t wait to start seeing all the birds, going to all the amazing locations, and getting to know all the leaders and my fellow campers.

I knew before going that the trip was going to be amazing; however, it turned it out to be more than just amazing. Camp Colorado was the experience of a lifetime.

Camp Colorado was the experience of a lifetime for a plethora of reasons, but three things will always shine bright in my memory: the birds I saw, the places I went, and most of all, the people I met.

Image 2

Black-billed Magpie (Photo by Caden Haines)

The Birds I Saw

We woke up relatively early every morning, with some days having earlier starts than others. For some, waking up at 4 a.m. might seem a bit tedious and exhausting, but the thought of seeing all the new birds and exploring new areas always helped everyone get up and at ’em in the wee hours of the morning.

Usually we ate breakfast at the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, Colorado, where we stayed for the duration of camp, but for the days when we had to get up early we dined on the go. Speaking of food, we had one of our best birds of camp while we were all stopped for a brief snack: the Black Swift.

While most of us campers were snacking on granola bars and trail mix, Steve Howell, one of our fantastic leaders, called out a pair of Black Swifts circling high in the sky.

Right then I, along with my fellow campers, learned an important lesson: you are always birding. When you are in the field, you are birding. When you are taking a break, you are birding. When you are eating a snack, you are birding. If you lose you focus while birding, you might miss seeing an amazing bird, such as a Black Swift.

The Places I Went

One of my favorite birding spots of the week was high up in Rocky Mountain National Park at Medicine Bow Curve. After driving for a while through the park and making a few stops, we arrived at our destination to find one of the target birds of the day: the White-tailed Ptarmigan.

We didn’t have to wait long on our mini-hike along the tundra as we spotted the well-camouflaged birds lurking around a large hill. The ptarmigans were tough to see, but with our army of binoculars, spotting scopes, and birders, the entire group was able to get great looks at the elusive species.

A group of us kept going in search of more ptarmigans, but only saw Mountain Bluebirds, American Robins, and a lone Horned Lark. As we headed back, we noticed that those in the group that had stayed behind were all looking intently around a wide-spread bush, and once we were within talking distance learned that an adult White-tailed Ptarmigan and her four chicks were walking around the bush. Everyone rushed as fast as they could (making sure to stay quiet and not disturb the birds), so that they could look at the birds.

Earlier in the week, we had an amazing experience seeing a Golden Eagle. We driving on the highway on the way to the Pawnee National Grassland in northeastern Colorado, and spotted a raptor sitting on a fence post 5-10 feet from the road. From far off we campers assumed that it was some type of hawk, but it turned out to be much more than just “some hawk.” As we got closer and closer to the raptor, everyone realized at the same time that the bird wasn’t a hawk, but an eagle. A Golden Eagle. A mad scramble for binoculars and cameras soon ensued as all the campers plunged to the right side of the vehicle trying to get closer looks at the amazing bird.

Image 1

Golden Eagle at Pawnee National Grassland (Photo by Marky Mutchler)

The van was able to get parallel with the massive bird, who proceeded to allow photos for only a few seconds until it flew off in the opposite direction. Thankfully, it didn’t go too far off so everyone was still able to get to see the beautiful bird.

The People I Met

Without a doubt the leaders were one of the highlights of Camp Colorado. Camp Directors Bill Stewart and Jennie Duberstein did an extraordinary job keeping the week running smoothly and organizing every day of camp. Joining Bill and Jennie on staff were Jeff and Liz Gordon, Jeff Bouton, David La Puma, and Steve Howell. We also were able to bird with Ted Floyd, the editor of Birding Magazine, and many other great birders during the week.


Common Nighthawk at Crow Valley Campground (Photo by Sam Brunson)

All of the leaders did a fantastic job of teaching us about birding and without them, camp would not have been the same. The numerous talks, pieces of advice, lessons, and tips given by each leader helped shape every single camper into a better birder

Another highlight of the camp was having the opportunity to meet other birders my age. I made life-long friends at Camp Colorado and can’t wait to bird with them in the future.

Finishing Up

Camp Colorado wasn’t just about seeing as many new birds as we could. Camp Colorado was much, much more than that. It was about learning to become a better all around birder: learning how to identify birds better than before, learning how to fully utilize a field guide, learning about bird behavior, learning about the amazing world of radar ornithology, learning how to lead a bird walk, learning about the importance of bird conservation, learning how to digiscope, and learning about what it means to be a birder.

American Three-toed Woodpecker

American Three-toed Woodpecker in Rocky Mountain National Park (Photo by Ben Thesing)

If you ever have the opportunity to go to Camp Colorado, go! You won’t regret it, I can tell you that for sure. Another thing I can tell you for sure is that I will never forget Camp Colorado, because without a doubt, it was the experience of a lifetime.

About the author: Sam Brunson, 17, lives in Savannah, Georgia and has really gotten into birding in the past four years. He and his cousin run their blog, Two Birders and Binoculars, a website dedicated to helping others become better birders. This post is cross-posted at The Eyrie