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From the Field

July 11:

Derek Lovitch on his just-completed tour, Maine and New Hampshire

We recorded 157 species, including 19 species of warblers, eight species of flycatchers, seven thrushes, five terns, and four alcids. Saltmarsh and Nelson’s Sparrows in the coastal salt marshes and Bicknell’s Thrushes at 5,000 feet highlighted the first two days. Boreal birding yielded specialties such as Spruce Grouse before we ventured offshore to visit with Atlantic Puffins, Razorbills, Black Guillemots, and so much more. Breathtaking scenery. Great food, especially lots of fresh lobster. A couple of Moose, too. Yes, this is how the birding life should be!


Spruce Grouse males are arguably the most stunning of all the grouse


Atlantic Puffins and Razorbills taking a short break from their breeding responsibilities


These Northern Gannets, here with Common Murres, may be prospecting a new breeding site


The perfect dinner...lobster steamed for 12 minutes and served outside with melted butter and lemon


Moose are in steep decline in northern New England so we felt lucky to see this one

July 10:

Gavin Bieber, Jon Dunn and Jake Mohlmann on the Alaska Majesty Extensions: The Pribilofs and Barrow

The Pribilof Islands were amazingly productive both for the diverse and stunning complement of breeding alcids, fulmars and kittiwakes that clog the island cliffs in the summer, and for wanderers from Asia.  Views of birds like Tufted Puffin or the diminutive Red-legged Kittiwake are daily occurrences here. 


The unparalelled Tufted Puffin


Handsome Red-legged Kittiwakes, here with a Black-legged Kittiwake, are a north Pacific specialty

Certainly not a daily occurrence was this lingering Marsh Sandpiper, perhaps the best of a great suite of vagrants including Common Snipe, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Tufted Duck and Hawfinch.

 
This long-staying Marsh Sandpiper was a welcome sight.

Our post tour extension to the high arctic north slope around Barrow was superlative, with repeated views of all four species of Eider in excellent plumage including dazzling Steller’s and vaudevillian King, a ghostly white male Snowy Owl, and foraging Sabine’s Gulls just feet away from our van.


King Eider males are extraordinary


Steller's Eider populations have declined in recent years but they still grace the tundra at Barrow

Here though it is the shorebirds which dominate, as they are in active display during the onset of their breeding season.  Watching the astonishing Pectoral Sandpipers call and strut around like grouse, or the very approachable Red Phalaropes in their gaudy summer dress is always a treat. 


Courting Pectoral Sandpipers add a dramatic aspect to a species we normally see creeping around muddy pools

These two outposts act as a perfect complement to the mainland tour, offering excellent views of some of the hardest to find breeding species on the continent, and truly unique scenery.

July 5:

Gavin Bieber on his and Jake Mohlmann's tour, Alaska: Majesty of the North

A very mild winter coupled with the apparent failure of many Arctic breeders made a few species hard or impossible to find but, as if in compensation, above average sunshine and temperatures virtually everywhere made for a gloriously comfortable tour.  We started with a drive to Denali National Park, finding both Black-backed and American Three-toed Woodpeckers feeding in a recent burn. The Park itself was as always extraordinary with stunning landscapes at every turn and a wilderness that seems to stretch on forever.  Here we found mammals of the north such as Grizzly Bear, Reindeer and Moose, and as well several cooperative Spruce Grouse. Nome combined the best of Alaska with riveting scenery and great birds. We had close Long-tailed Jaegers, point blank views of Willow Ptarmigan, an unusually high number of range-restricted Aleutian Terns, lots of Arctic Warblers...and very few mosquitoes.  Resurrection Bay, this year with ample sun, was almost impossibly beautiful with Humpback Whales, Orcas and Bald Eagles really putting on a show, and close sightings of Kittlitz’s Murrelets. The towering forests around Seward were filled with the song of Townsend’s Warblers, Varied Thrushes and pugnacious little Golden-crowned Kinglets.

The variety and abundance of birds and other wildlife on this tour is staggering, and contribute to what must be one of the most spectacular birding tours in the world.


The Denali Highway offers endless and spectacular scenery


A herd of Reindeer stroll through Denali National Park


Moose are common and often hard to see...but not in this case


Spruce Grouse, once you find them, are not shy


Elegant Long-tailed Jaegers dot the tundra at Nome


This year, Nome's Aleutian Terns gave particularly good views


Our day on Resurrection Bay is always a highlight


A Kittlitz's Murrelet at close range


Townsend's Warblers are common in the Sitka Spruce around Seward


It's not every day one sees the full crown on Golden-crowned Kinglet

June 19:

Evan Obercian on his just-concluded tour, Minnesota and North Dakota: North Woods to Prairies

This year’s Minnesota and North Dakota tour was a delight, with lovely summery weather and a great abundance of breeding birds in full form.  In a little over a week’s time we covered a wide range of habitats, from eastern broad-leaf forest, to boreal bogs and fens, to short-grass prairies and cattail-filled pothole lakes.  Among the many highlights were stunning views of singing Connecticut Warbler, a daytime singing Northern Saw-whet Owl, multiple Ferruginous Hawks, close scope views of Baird’s and Henslow’s Sparrows, a Chestnut-collared Longspur nest with eggs, and a fledgling Sprague’s Pipit flushed from the grass while an adult sang overhead.  We also had a great encounter with a wolf!

We thank Peter Schneekloth for providing the following images from the tour.

 

A few pairs of Great Gray Owls nest in the bogs north and west of Duluth.  We were particularly lucky this year to locate a family group on our first evening in Sax-Zim Bog, even witnessing two fledglings being fed by an adult. 

Among the more sought-after boreal zone species, this Yellow-bellied Flycatcher provided a wonderful study.

It’s not always easy to find Sharp-tailed Grouse in June, but this one seemed reluctant to enter the wet grass one morning, remaining in the road for prolonged views

Of the 23 species of breeding warblers encountered on our tour, it’s difficult to say which is the most remarkable, but the Cape May, being a bird of true boreal spruce forest, is always among the most exciting.  We find them on only one day of our tour, in the spectacular forests of Lake County, Minnesota, where they are quite numerous. 

Upland Sandpiper is an increasingly scarce bird of America’s grasslands.  It wasn’t until our final day of birding that we managed to locate several in a well-managed prairie in western Minnesota.  

May 31:

 Paul French reports from Mongolia

After a week of camping in the wilds of the Mongolian Gobi desert, the Sunbird/WINGS tour to Mongolia has arrived in Arvaikheer after completing the southern loop of the tour. The Gobi delivered all of our hoped for species, with some incredible experiences to match.

Koslov's Accentor, a near-endemic to Mongolia, was pleasingly easy to find in the juniper valleys at the very end of the Tien Shan mountains. 

Oriental Plover is an enigmatic shorebird that breeds in the semi-deserts of Mongolia and northern China and remains a dream bird for many. We were treated to the rocking and clicking display flight of one male for near on 30 minutes, plus great looks at several other individuals. 

One of the more sought-after gulls, Relict Gull is unusual in that it breeds in saline steppe and semi-desert lakes of Mongolia and Kazakhstan, but the whereabouts of any breeding colonies are currently unknown! Our site for this species has consistently produced one or two birds, but these are assumed to be passing through to lakes elsewhere and as yet undiscovered...

A 2nd calendar year Pallas's' Fish Eagle buzzed the group, intent on getting to the huge numbers of cormorants and ducks at the river mouth. It was accompanied by at least 3 other birds, including a stunning adult.

Seeing several Asian Dowitcher in full summer plumage was a highlight for many.  

Is Mongolian Lark possibly the best lark in the world? It's certainly one of the most striking. 

Migration this year has been good, and this male Amur Falcon showed off his underwings at our first Ger camp in the Gobi. 

May 23:

Gavin Bieber on his just-concluded tour, Arizona: Owls and Warblers

Our tour coincided with a period of unseasonably cool, overcast weather (including some highly unusual May rainfall), but we very much enjoyed birding in seventy degree temperatures. The many highlights scattered throughout our 209 species ranged from gaudy Scott’s Orioles coming in to grape jelly, to Buff-collared Nightjar with its arresting calls, and from a Five-striped Sparrow in the rocky borderlands to a Rufous-capped Warbler in Florida Canyon and a dazzling Blue-throated Hummingbird in the incomparable Chiricahua Mountains.  


Scott's Oriole, a bird with both beautiful plumage and song


Five-striped Sparrow at one of its very few known breeding locations in the U.S.


The chatty, perky Rufous-capped Warbler, still very scarce but now a resident in several southeastern Arizona Canyons


Blue-throated Hummingbird, beautiful and a fierce protector of its nectar source

Wonderful birds presented at every turn but as is often the case, bird of the trip laurels fell to Montezuma Quail, which we saw on multiple occasions this year.  


Montezuma Quail; some years we can't find any but thankfully not this year

Perhaps as expected for a tour with "Owls" in the title, we saw nine species of these sleep-robbers and heard a 10th.


Whiskered Screech-Owls are remarkably common in the oaky canyons

There  are few places in North America where one can combine such a wide array of spectacular birds, fascinating mammals and reptiles and endless stunning desertscapes. It's a truly excellent tour!


The extraordinary Antelope Jackrabbit, an Alice in Wonderland moment


The grassy approaches to Madera Canyon

May 19:

Paul Lehman summarizes the highlights of his three April-May 2017 West Coast cruises, two to British Columbia and one to Alaska

All three WINGS West Coast cruises during April and May 2017 were successful in recording multiple Laysan Albatrosses and Pterodroma petrels. The late April trip aboard Holland America from San Diego to Vancouver recorded good numbers of both Murphy's and Cooks Petrels, while the early May trip from Los Angeles aboard Princess Cruises recorded good numbers of Murphy's and several Hawaiian Petrels. And the San Francisco to Southeast Alaska roundtrip in mid-May recorded good numbers of Murphy's and a surprise immature Short-tailed Albatross.

 Murphy's Petrel.  Image: Bruce Rideout

Murphy's Petrel  Image: Bruce Rideout

Short-tailed Albatross.  Image: Bruce Rideout

Not rare, but always enjoyable, were the fine views obtained on all three cruises of large numbers of Fork-tailed and Leach's Storm-Petrels, hundreds of Black-footed Albatrosses, many groups of Red Phalaropes and Sabine's Gulls in breeding plumage, smaller numbers of Long-tailed Jaegers and Tufted Puffins, as well as many Humpback Whales and Dall's Porpoise, several Fin Whales, and even a few Orcas and Baird's and Cuvier's Beaked Whales. The "repositioning" cruises off California also added Black-vented Shearwaters, whereas the cruise to southeast Alaska recorded Kittlitz's and Ancient Murrelets, Aleutian Terns, and Short-tailed Shearwaters.

May 9:

Gavin Bieber on his and Evan Obercian's just-completed tour, Florida: The South, the Keys and the Dry Tortugas

We just wrapped up a fun week exploring from Fort Myers to Key West. We started with a day in the dry pine forests and upland scrub of the central peninsula and fantastic views of a pair of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers. A day trip out to the unique Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas was sunny and hot but still produced 13 species of warblers and some other spectacular migrants such as Scarlet Tanager. The colony of Masked Boobies continues to grow on Hospital Key, and we even managed views of two passing Audubon’s Shearwaters on the way out to the fort. Some of Florida’s most special birds,like Mangrove Cuckoo and White-crowned Pigeon posed for us nicely this year. We even lucked into two excllent vagrants; Bananaquit and Fork-tailed Flycatcher, both on Key Biscayne just south of downtown Miami. As always, Florida isn’t all about the birds, and this year we had unusally good views of two American Crocodiles, and some scenes that would be hard to replicate outside the state like this trio of Black Vultures devouring the remains of an American Alligator. I look forward to this tour every year, as it combines great eastern migration birding with Florida's highlight species, a chance for rarities from the Caribbean and a wealth of reptiles, amphibians, butterflies and even fish!  


A well-researched Red-cockaded Woodpecker showed well


Of our 13 migrant warblers, the Blackpolls may have traveled the farthest


Always a knock-out, this Scarlet Tanager brightened up the Tortugas


Masked Boobies seem to grow in strength on the small sandy keys of the Dry Tortugas


Mangrove Cuckoo is never assured but this year one was remarkably confiding


The subtily beautiful White-crowned Pigeon


Two infrequently seen American Crocodiles


The recycling brigade - Black Vultures dine on a dead American Alligator

May 5:

Gavin Bieber on his and Evan Obercian's recently completed tour, Colorado: Lekking Grouse

Early spring in Colorado is dynamic both for weather and for birds.  This year we found the prairies and even the mountains to be warmer than average, with many trees already leafing out.  Over much of the Rockies there was little snow, and no appreciable precipitation during our tour, although persistent winds were an issue on a couple of the days. Of course the top prize of any spring Colorado trip must fall to the grouse.  This year we had exceptional views of all five lekking species, and excellent looks at a male Dusky Grouse that seemed utterly oblivious to our presence, even allowing us to sit down next to it!  White-tailed Ptarmigan performed perfectly in their picturesque alpine home, with two birds casually feeding in a small clump of willows that were protruding from the rapidly thinning snowpack.  The stately but somehow supercilious displays of Greater and Gunnison Sage-Grouse provided a great contrast to the frenetic and comical antics of the three prairie chickens.  The supporting cast was wonderful as well; from all three species of Rosy-Finches including several dazzling male Black Rosy-Finches perched above a feeder in Crested Butte, to luminous male Mountain Bluebirds and the roosting Barn Owl that showed well for us as it circled overhead.  It was a wonderful voyage around the scenic and bird-rich state of Colorado, with a two-day side trip out into the prairies of Kansas and Nebraska, and even a short excursion into southern Wyoming!


A delightfully accommodating Dusky Grouse. Image: David Fisher


With the diminshed snow pack, White-tailed Ptarmigan were a bit easier to find this year


A Greater Sage Grouse in all his pompous splendor.  Image: David Fisher


Greater Prairie-Chicken, still the champion 'stomper'.


Feeding stations bring rosy finches like this Black down to our level. Image: David Fisher


Mountain Bluebird, one of the most arresting birds in North America. Image: David Fisher


This Barn Owl briefly shelved its nocturnal habits and gave stunning views. Image: David Fisher

May 5:

Paul Holt on his just-completed tour, Taiwan

We saw all 26 of the island's endemics and noted all but five of the island's 55 endemic subspecies. Swinhoe's Pheasant won the end of tour 'Bird of the Trip' though Mikado Pheasant and Taiwan Partridge pushed it hard. Besides the endemic taxa we all also saw Fairy Pitta, Black-faced Spoonbill, Malayan Night Heron (hence the images), Slaty-breasted Rail, and Japanese Paradise Flycatcher as well great studies of shorebirds that included Grey-tailed Tattler and Long-toed Stints aming many others.


Swinhoe's Pheasant


Mikado Pheasant


Malayan Night Hero

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