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From the Field

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

April 19:

Rich Hoyer on his and Luke Seitz's recently completed tour, Costa Rica

No one could be blamed for choosing Resplendent Quetzal as their favorite bird on the Costa Rica in Spring tour. We had wonderful views of this magnificent species on three different days, one all to ourselves on a quiet trail near the famous town of Monteverde. 

But in reality it was very difficult to choose favorites when we saw so many species, so many of them colorful gems, and so many of them well.  Red-headed Barbet is never a guarantee, so seeing a pair with a group of Speckled Tanagers at a feeder on our third day was a treat.

 

Another bird of the highlands, often the favorite of the day was Collared Redstart, and some were incredibly confiding.

 

In the cool highlands of Cerro de la Muerte we marveled at the blue and opal iridescence on a Spangle-cheeked Tanager that seemed to be fighting its reflection in the windows of the hotel restaurant.

 

In the warm lowlands of the Osa Peninsula we had huge bird lists each day, with Scarlet Macaw and Yellow-billed Cotingas among the top favorites. A Lesson's Motmot was often right around the lodge.

 

The only bats we identified to species were those on their day roosts, offering wonderful photographic opportunities, such as a Greater Sac-winged Bat in the eves of the lodge.

 

A female Black-throated Trogon on the trails at Bosque del Rio Tigre could not have been more confiding.

 

We completed the tour on the Caribbean slope where we had our first rain. But this allowed us to look for a very special frog. Finally, after some searching to find the pond, close inspection revealed two stunning Red-eyed Treefrogs.

 

Night rains can bring out some nice moths to our hotel lights, but this huge Rothschildia lebeau was just over-the-top gorgeous.

 

The rain came to an end, and at our lunch stop near Arenal Volcano, a Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth stretched out to dry out.

 

The rain had also bottled up phenomenal kettle of hundreds of Swainson's and Broad-winged Hawks that drifted right over us on our next-to-last afternoon.

 

A pair of White-whiskered Puffbirds entertained us for some time on the same afternoon walk.

 

Our final morning gave us a last chance for some early morning birding, though relaxing and enjoying the birds visible from the lodge restaurant was not at all a bad idea.

April 14:

Will Russell on WINGS' first Cuba tour

The first WINGS Cuba tour under Jon Dunn’s leadership was birdy and fascinating.  We saw all the expected Cuban (and regional) endemics, saw them well (Cuban Nightjar gave only flying, flashlight-lit views) and in most cases repeatedly. Several feeding stations maintained by entrepreneurial Cubans gave us access to species normally either  scarce or reclusive. Lots of wintering North American warblers were especially pleasing to some of us. We had several interesting conversations with Cuban ornithologists and artists, got a modest sense of the place through our interactions with ordinary Cubans, and had exposure to Cuba’s history both in Havana and Camaguey.


The ever-present and beguiling Cuban Tody.


After poling down a narrow waterway, and several attempts...


...we got reasonable looks at Zapata Wren.


Loggerhead Kingbird was one of a number of Antillean endemics with representation in Cuba.


The stunning Gray-fronted Quail-Dove was one of the species we might not have seen were it not for local in-habitat feeding stations...


...and while we saw Bee Hummingbird in the wild, our views in a Zapata-area back yard were slightly better.


A Swainson's Warbler, one of a number of wintering warblers, was so busy rearranging leaves that it seemed unconcerned with our presence.


The Cuban field guide author, Orlando Garrido, signs his book and holds forth on 70 years of experiences.

 


Beginning our bicycle tour of the wonderful city of Camaguey

Definitely a cultural highlight for some of us as Jon Dunn convinces a very good singer/quitarist combo to try a Leonard Cohen song

April 11:

Gavin Bieber on his recently completed tour, Puerto Rico

This gem of a Caribbean island, known for its excellent weather (which was wonderfully cool this year), beautiful beaches, and fine local seafood is also an excellent island for the visiting naturalist.


Puerto Rico's northeast coastline

Over the course of our five days we encountered all 17 of the island's endemics, including the critically endangered Puerto Rican Parrot, plus two more that will surely be split soon. The highlights were many, with birds like the dazzling Puerto Rican Woodpecker, jewel-like Puerto Rican Tody (selected bird of the trip for the 9th straight year!), a cooperative Mangrove Cuckoo, stunning Red-legged Thrushes, and perky little Adelaide’s Warblers. 


Puero Rican Woodpecker


Puerto Rican Tody


Mangrove Cuckoo


Red-legged Thrush


Adelaide's Warbler

The long-staying lone American Flamingo, dubbed “Mr. Pinky” put on a nice showing for us again this year, and we enjoyed multiple views of the gaudy Key West Quail Dove (and Ruddy as well). 


"Mr. Pinky"


Key West Quail Dove

A surprise American Avocet, some gaudy Lizards like this Puerto Rican Ameiva and a few colorful exotics including Blue-and-Yellow Macaws filled out our triplist of 126 species overall.


Puerto Rican Ameiva

For such a small island, Puerto Rico certainly has a wealth of natural history to offer the visiting birder!

April 11:

Jake Mohlmann on his recently-completed tour, Nebraska: The Sandhills and the Platte River

Signs of an early spring were apparent as we covered just under 1,000 miles of Nebraska’s (mostly) backroads. The mature hardwood forests of the Missouri River had yet to push out leaves allowing great views of resident species as well as many lingering wintering individuals. Typical forests birds including Black-capped Chickadees, Northern Cardinal, and White-breasted Nuthatch were abundant. A northbound Golden-crowned Kinglet even came in at eye level to investigate our curious optics, replete with flaming yellow head stripe. Waterfowl numbers were excellent and we came across 27 species with highlights including several day’s encounters with Wood Ducks, Blue-winged Teal, Common Goldeneye and all 3 merganser species.


An inquisitive female Golden-crowned Kinglet displaying its golden crown

The brushy verges of eastern Nebraska’s woodlands host an impressive array of sparrows; Song, American Tree, “Red” Fox, and the Midwestern specialty Harris’s Sparrow all perched nicely for extended viewing opportunities

 
A perched Harris’s Sparrow, a Midwestern U.S. specialty

To say we saw many Sandhill Cranes would be an understatement. There’s really no words to describe the spectacle that is their migration through central Nebraska. Wave after wave, thousands upon thousands, of Sandhill Cranes poured over constantly at both sunset and sunrise. These weren’t the only birds utilizing this rich environment. Other species including Snow and Ross’s Goose, Canada and Cackling Geese, and both Trumpeter and surprise Tundra Swan were all passing through this amazing stretch of river.

 
Countless Sandhill Cranes pouring in at sunset

Mullen Nebraska lies in the middle of the vast Sandhill country in the northwestern part of the state. Here we had another unforgettable experience as we watched the debonair dance moves of both Greater Prairie Chickens and Sharp-tailed Grouse. The chickens hooted loudly while expanding their yellow throat sacks and strutted back and forth sizing each other up on their lek. The fighter jet display of the Grouse was taking place even before the sun came up. With tails raised the males stomped their feet and glided by one another only occasionally fighting over the perfect piece of land.


Male Sharp-tailed Grouse in full regalia 

Our group was filled with locals and far flung visitor’s alike and everyone enjoyed the unseasonably warm temperatures, great conversation, excellent food, and constant avian presence over the five days we were together. Perhaps this is why 101 species of birds were seen in such a short amount of time.

April 11:

Steve Howell on his recently completed tour, Mexico: Oaxaca and Western Chiapas

The biogeography of this region is complex, with much still to learn, as we found out. Species ranged from blatant, such as this Red Warbler...

 

...this dazzling Green Shrike-Vireo...

 

...and the gasp-inspiring Rosita’s Bunting, ...

 

...to the cryptic, such as these Pine Siskins (huh?). Well, actually a separate species, yet to be formally split—perhaps to be named Chiapas Siskin or Ash-breasted Siskin...

 

...plus this Sclater’s Woodcreeper (a vocally distinct but as-yet-unsplit taxon of Strong-billed Woodcreeper)...

 

...and this Ridgway’s Flycatcher, hidden in plain view within Nutting’s Flycatcher (the two taxa differ strikingly in voice, as well as in habitat and plumage).

 

Birding in the sun on quiet backroads in Mexico, the  land of wrens, jays, and sparrows...

 

...produced many great birds, including this impressive Giant Wren...

 

...the diminutive Dwarf Jay...

 

...and the very local Oaxaca Sparrow.

All in all, an amazing trip.

April 11:

Gavin Bieber on his recently completed tour, The Dominican Republic.

This year's Dominican Republic tour was a great success.  We managed to encounter 30 endemics (seeing 28 of them) and most of the distinctive subspecies that may be split in the future, but beyond the endemics we found a host of birds restricted to islands in the Caribbean. This region may not hold the same diversity of species as a trip to the mainland tropics, but we managed fine views of some unique and often dazzling birds from the consistently encountered but undeniably cute Broad-billed Tody, charismatic Palmchats and striking Black-crowned Palm-Tanagers,

 
Broad-billed Tody


Palmchat


Palm Tanager

to the elegant pair of Hispaniolan Trogon and wonderfully eloquent Rufous-throated Solitaires in the mountains near the Hatian Border and comical Hispaniolan Lizard-Cuckoos, birds entertained and amazed us at every turn.


Hispaniolan Trogon


Rufous-throated Solitaire


Hispaniolan Lizard-Cuckoo

I think most of the participants will long remember the raucous and gaudy Hispaniolan Woodpeckers that were near daily companions! 


Hispaniolan Woodpecker

We took three short boat trips this year, which enabled us to get incredibly close to birds like White Ibis, Least Bittern and American Flamingo and also allowed us to find the first Yellow-breasted Crakes (and a surprise Spotted Rail) for our WINGS tours here. 


White Ibis

From the arid cactus-clad forests and rocky headlands of the southwest to the lush broadleaf forests of the high sierra and Los Haitises National Park it seemed as if a journey of a couple of hours was always able to bring us to another world. Add to this the friendly atmosphere, excellent accommodations and varied and tasty cuisine, and it's clear why the DR makes for a delightful holiday!

March 20:

Gavin Bieber reports from our Panama in Spring tour

Our visit to the justifiably famous Canopy Tower and Canopy Lodge was a few weeks earlier than usual this year. This made for a different array of migrant bird species than we usually see, with a passage of American Swallow-tailed Kites being (over 50 in one group!) being especially well received. It is always a pleasure to return to these fantastic and unique lodges, surrounded by an excellent mix of habitats and a great diversity of birds. The local birds put on their customary show, with a wide array of species being selected at our final dinner as “Bird of the Trip”. Some of my favorite sightings included:

the very cooperative Cinnamon Woodpecker from atop the tower,

dazzlingly bright Shining Honeycreepers at Cerro Azul,

a close female Blue Cotinga in Gamboa,

Blue-throated Toucanets and

Orange-bellied Trogons at Altos del Maria on the extension.

We even had excellent views of Panamanian Night Monkeys along the tower road. In all we tallied 360 species of birds, along with 19 mammals including a day-active Northern Tamandua and two Rothschild’s Porcupines!  This tour continues to impress me, as the diversity and richness of the region, paired with ease of access and the comforts of the lodge make for a truly wonderful experience.

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