Spotlight on Parks: Pueblo Lake State Park

It’s been warm the last week or two, but overall it’s been a cold winter, so a nice distraction from that cold weather was a jaunt south to Pueblo Lake State Park. Pueblo Lake, named for the reservoir at its heart, is a great winter destination to look for gulls, ducks, and resident birds reliant on the area’s pinyon-juniper woodland, riparian, and short grass prairie ecosystems. In addition to birds, the park is also home to mule deer, coyotes, several species of turtles, and prairie rattlesnakes.

Pueblo dam at Pueblo Lake State Park. Photo by Jamie Simo.

Pueblo dam, which created the reservoir, was finished in 1975 by the Bureau of Reclamation as a way to provide water for irrigation, drinking, and recreation, as well as to prevent floods. Because the rushing waters of the dam prevent the area below the dam from freezing, it’s a good place for waterfowl and the willows growing amongst the sand and rocks harbor small songbirds like Bewick’s Wren and Ruby-crowned Kinglet. The dam itself is used for nesting by birds like Rock Pigeons and White-throated Swifts. Fishermen seem to find the area equally good habitat for fish.

Bewick’s Wren among the willows at the base of Pueblo Dam. Photo by Jamie Simo.

My primary objective at the park was to look for rare gulls as we were just learning about them in my Audubon Master Birder class. The lake did not disappoint. In among the more common Ring-billed and Herring Gulls roosting near the boats in the marina, I was able to pick out a Lesser Black-backed Gull and a Glaucous Gull. The latter was particularly striking with its all white primary feathers.

After leaving the South Marina, I did some hiking along some of the trails in the park. As well as being a great place for wintering and resident birds, Pueblo Lake is known for its diversity of plant life. According to the park’s website, it is home to 5 rare plant species:  Arkansas Valley evening Primrose, golden blazing star, Pueblo goldenweed , dwarf milkweed and round–leaf four-o’-clock. While none of these plants were in bloom during my visit, I did get to take in the cholla cacti and the spectacular buttes surrounding the reservoir. It was very easy to imagine a mountain lion prowling among those craggy bluffs.

Cholla cactus. Photo by Jamie Simo.

The park is huge at over 10,000 acres and it boasts 400 campsites and year-round camping due to the usually mild winters. Boating, hiking, biking, and horseback riding are just a few of the activities Lake Pueblo offers.

While my trip unfortunately had to be kept short, you can spend a weekend at Pueblo Lake and still not see or do everything there is to see and do. I’d hoped to see a Scailed Quail after hearing about them from some fellow birders, but ultimately left empty-handed. Guess I’ll just have to come back!

When visiting the park you’ll want to either purchase an annual pass for $70 or pay the daily $7 entry fee. Information about additional fees for camping and other activities is available on the park’s website.

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