Our flight touched down in Denver at 12:20pm. We grabbed our luggage, picked up the rental car, and hopped on I-70 west to our first destination, Genesee Park. It didn't take all that long to find our target bird here: a male WILLIAMSON'S SAPSUCKER. The bird was working the pine trees and telephone poles near the picnic area at the end of the park road. Other birds included a few Pygmy Nuthatches and Western Bluebirds. A sweet Abert's Squirrel was the coolest mammal of the day.
We continued west on I-70 to Loveland Pass for White-tailed Ptarmigan. As far as I know, this is about the only car-accessible winter location for this species unless you want to strap on snow shoes and hike a few miles. On the way up we saw a couple Gray Jays from the car. This was a sunny Sunday afternoon and there were quite a few skiers around the pass. We stopped at the first pulloff past the summit and started scanning. After just five minutes of looking, Bill spotted one WHITE-TAILED PTARMIGAN down the slope. Given how difficult we were told this species could be, we were almost beside ourselves at our good luck. We really enjoyed this bird for several minutes until it walk out of sight behind a knoll.
We made a quick stop in the small town of Georgetown to look for Dippers in the stream through town, but we didn't turn any up.
On to Buena Vista before dark, where we found a stunning LEWIS'S WOODPECKER in a residential neighborhood. We enjoyed the bird, chatted with the friendly neighbors, and went into town for dinner. The nice couple with the Lewis's Woodpecker in their backyard directed us to a sports bar in town that would be showing that night's UCONN/Kentucky Final Four game. We enjoyed dinner and drinks while watching UConn beat KY for the second time this year and advance to the National Championship game. That was about as perfect a Day 1 as we could have drawn up.
After the game we drove two more hours to Gunnison for the night.