A Quiet Hour on Barr Lake

Barr Lake is a birder’s paradise and this excursion brought us close to some of the park’s iconic waterbirds.

Sunset-Barr Lake

Sunset Serenity at Barr Lake State Park. Photo by Sue O’Shields

It was a beautiful early summer evening—perfect for a boat ride on the lake at Barr Lake State Park. Eight of us met at the park’s boat ramp, donned life vests and settled in the comfortable seats. Ranger Jake Zanetell backed the boat into the lake and we were off!

The evening light was soft, the clouds pastel and the breeze pleasant. It was fun to be among the waterbirds instead of looking at them from the shore. For an hour we glided across the nearly mirror-smooth lake, tucking in near shore to watch for wildlife. Buoys swayed gently in the water, some topped with gulls. These buoys mark the boundary between the waters of the park’s wildlife refuge and those where boating is permitted.

According to Michelle Seubert, park manager, Barr Lake has offered pontoon boat rides for about a decade. “The park’s boating safety program has received funding from the U.S. Coast Guard,” she explains. “This enabled us to purchase the boat and the life vests—and to help visitors who don’t own boats to learn about the park and enjoy the lake.”

Ranger Jake Zanetell provides a guided tour of Barr Lake State Park. Barr Lake offers pontoon boat tours throughout the summer.

We peppered Ranger Jake with questions about the park, lake, waterfowl, fishing, boating and more. He graciously answered every one. We learned that the lake is 2,000 surface acres, about evenly divided between wildlife refuge and boating waters. Colorado Parks and Wildlife secured a recreational lease for the park in 1975 from the Farmer’s Reservoir and Irrigation Company. Water is released from the lake every summer and fall to irrigate farmers’ fields. In wet years, like 2016, the lake remains high enough to keep the boat ramp open through October. Drought years nearly drain the lake, as I saw a few years ago when I was able to walk out on what is now beneath the waters of the lake.

Barr Lake is a birder’s paradise and this excursion brought us close to some of the park’s iconic waterbirds. A specially constructed tall platform at the water’s edge attracted an osprey couple who, I’ve since learned, successfully hatched three chicks. What I first thought were cormorants were actually western grebes. The long neck of this elegant diving freshwater bird is tuxedo black and striking white. A long, thin yellow bill is a perfect spear for catching fish. I’ve seen their courtship display on PBS, a perfectly synchronized dance across the water with bodies raised out of the water and necks arched skyward. Spring is the season to see these exuberant courtship displays.

The osprey nest at Barr Lake. Photo by Chris Humphreys/CPW.
Grebe-Barr Lake
A western grebe. Photo by Bill Hutchinson.
The ride’s end. Photo by Linda Pohle.

There were cormorants on the lake, too. Adult birds have long, dark necks that have earned them the nickname “snake birds.” Interestingly, cormorant feathers are not waterproof, so they only go into the water to feed and bathe.

But for sheer enjoyment, there is nothing like watching pelicans bobbing on the lake surface, running across the water to gain speed for liftoff into the air, flying in formation close to the water and hobnobbing in groups on the shoreline. In “The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America,” Sibley describes them as “A very large and ponderous bird” and they are that.

All too soon we were back at the boat ramp and our lovely hour on the lake was done. But the park will continue to offer these excursions on Fridays through October, alternating them with two other evening programs—a bike tour and a campfire program. Reservations for all programs may be made by calling the Barr Lake State Park Nature Center at 303-659-6005. There is no charge for the programs, but there is a $7 per vehicle charge for a daily park pass. An annual parks pass may be purchased HERE.

Written by Linda Pohle. Pohle is a freelance writer and is a volunteer at Castlewood Canyon State Park.

3 Responses

  1. The Osprey hatched 4 chicks this year. The photo I took shows them all. Not sure if anyone will actually look that close in the photo.
    Thank you for posting this great article too!
    It’s my shot….

  2. FYI you guyz should post where the park is right off the bat! Like Barr state park located…….just say’in?

    1. Ted,

      Thanks for your comment. I always add links to the Park’s main webpage. The first sentence in this story links back to Barr’s main webpage with an address, etc. Just click on the “Barr Lake State Park” in the first line.



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