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Five top Colorado birding spots from Mark Obmascik, author of The Big Year

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The Big Year, based on a 2004 book by former Denver Post writer Mark Obmascik and starring Steve Martin, Jack Black, Owen Wilson, Rashida Jones, Anjelica Huston and Rashida Jones, among others, debuts in theaters nationwide today. But before The Big Year got the big Hollywood treatment, it was an honest, fascinating tale about obsessed bird watchers competing against one another to see who could spot the most bird species in a year. And Obmascik, who primarily covered environmental issues for the Post, is a bit of a birder himself.

Here are his five favorite birding spots in Colorado:

1. Barr Lake Adams County

"This is the oldest, most continuously birded spot in Colorado," Obmascik says of this state park and nature preserve. Home to the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory and dozens of bald eagles, Barr Lake is also a metro-area destination for birders of all ages, who can see up to 350 different species here over the course of a year.

2. Cherry Creek Reservoir Arapahoe County

Obmascik was doing his fatherly duty, having Thanksgiving lunch at one of his son's school cafeterias, when he made the mistake of checking his e-mail. Someone had let him know that a Ross's Gull -- a resident of the Arctic, but almost never seen in the lower 48 -- had just been sighted at the Cherry Creek Reservoir. Obmascik pulled his son out of lunch and flew out to the reservoir. Afterward, he told the boy that he might be the youngest person ever to see a Ross's Gull in Colorado -- or even in the contiguous states.

3. Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge Rio Grande County

Perhaps the best-known birding spot in Colorado, the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge hosts an annual crane festival in March, when more than 20,000 Sandhill cranes stop over on their migration north, along with many other species of waterfowl.

4. Cottonwood Canyon Huerfano County

Far from just about everything, Cottonwood Canyon is a birding hot spot by the New Mexico border. Still, it's a popular place (relatively speaking) to see the Mississippi kite, Lewis's woodpeckers and Rufous-crowned sparrows.

5. Crow Valley Campground Weld County

Located near the Pawnee National Grasslands, this area is a regular stopover spot for migrating birds during the spring and fall, and can attract a random assortment of other birds as well. Some of the species seen here include the Varied Thrush, Common Redpoll, Lewis's Woodpecker, Burrowing Owl, Long-eared Owl and Bohemian Waxwing.

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