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I didn’t expect to see a peregrine falcon five minutes into my bird-watching excursion with Eric Hynes. And I certainly didn’t expect to see a bald eagle before we even began our foray into Dan Noble State Wildlife Area, located about an hour’s drive outside the mountain town of Telluride, Colo.
But sharp-eyed Hynes is, after all, a bird expert.
So, when Hynes suddenly stopped the car halfway to the wildlife area and drew his binoculars to his face, our small tour group went quiet.
“Bald eagle — in the tree, to your 11 o’clock,” he said matter-of-factly, handing me the binoculars without ever taking his eyes off the majestic creature.
A Telluride-based bird expert and guide, Hynes — who is also an international guide for birding tour operator Field Guides — told us he was first drawn into his career by the ghostly wail of the common loon more than 30 years ago at a summer camp in Maine.
Since then, and with an education in environmental studies and wildlife biology, Hynes has traveled extensively in the U.S. and abroad as a “bird hobo” to study the creatures. With an easygoing personality, a dry sense of humor and a profound passion for birds, Hynes is the perfect leader for “Wings Over Telluride,” a new bird-watching package from The Hotel Telluride.
Designed for everyone from “twitchers” (hardcore birders) to novice bird-watchers, the excursion takes guests through Telluride and its surrounding areas to observe the native and migratory birds that flit through Colorado’s San Juan Mountains each year. And our group featured a delightful range of birders — from one woman who had started multiple birding meetup groups in her hometown of Sante Fe, New Mexico, to another woman who enjoyed watching hummingbirds in her backyard, to me, a non-birder with a healthy fear of the animals after being chased by a goose as a toddler.
Our motley crew was more than enthused to spot birds including an American coot, a great blue heron, Western and spotted sandpipers, a turkey vulture, an American kestrel, brewer’s sparrows, a red-winged blackbird, violet-green swallows, cliff swallows, a red-tail hawk, a Lewis’s woodpecker and — my pick for coolest discovery — a cedar waxwing. With its soft, ombre-like coloration of grays, browns and yellows, the bird looks like a painting, and it also features a striking black swath across its eyes. Hynes called it a “Zorro mask.”
In all, we saw about 30 kinds of birds during our half-day trip, and we even sighted other kinds of wildlife, such as prairie dogs atop their burrows and a mule deer doe and her fawn bounding through Dan Noble park. We discussed how climate change is impacting the birds of Colorado and the world in general, causing them to change their traditional habits. Hynes taught us how the peregrine falcon chick we spotted would grow into a large raptor and eventually use its talons and tomial tooth (a sharp protrusion on the beak) to pummel prey. He relayed how golden eagles return to the same nest each year, and that building the nest is their foreplay.
Though I haven’t always been fond of birds, I was fascinated by the up-close and hands-on learning experience with Hynes. While the bald eagle sighting was certainly the highlight of our excursion, the overall trip was engaging, educational and even a little silly.
And as we ate our packed lunches in front of a sparkling-blue lake, discussing our favorite birds, I felt like a giddy kid on a school field trip — eager to learn everything I could, and excited to share my knowledge once back home.
The Hotel Telluride’s “Wings Over Telluride” package starts from $1,099 (half-day birding excursion) or $1,249 (full-day birding excursion), based on double occupancy. Available from June 1 to Dec. 20, it includes a three-night stay in a Signature King or Double room, daily breakfast for two, the guided birding excursion with Hynes (gratuity included) with packed picnic lunch for two, use of binoculars and/or a spotting scope and more.
The DetailsThe Hotel Telluridewww.thehoteltelluride.com