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From the Field

January 31:

Jake Mohlmann on his just-completed tour to Southern Argentina

We had an exciting journey through southern Argentina, seeing 244 species of birds and 16 mammal species, all the while being treated to nearly perfect weather, excellent lodging, and wonderful regional cuisine.


A secretive Curve-billed Reedhaunter found us intriguing.

Our route out to San Clemente through the Pampas was dominated by vast grasslands peppered with extensive marshes filled with thousands of ducks, shorebirds, and terns. Greater Rheas stood tall along the roadsides and White-rumped and Buff-breasted Sandpipers relaxed, their long journey north still several months away.


A fine male Brazilian Teal floats by, just one of the 16 duck species seen.

The wind-swept shrubby steppe and endless dry desert of the Patagonia region is home to a few endemic birds and we succeeded in finding three of them. At Punta Tombo a family of White-headed Steamer Ducks swam in an out of the throngs of Magellanic Penguins returning to feed their squawking young. In the creosote flats near the coast Carbonated Sierra Finches were in full display ascending to the proper height and fluttering back down to their respective perches. We had as well amazing views of a White-throated Cachalote which came in and perched on a debris pile right in front of us.

 
The White-throated Cachalote resides in the bleak Patagonian desert.

In Tierra del Fuego National Park we tried many spots for the majestic Magellanic Woodpecker and after a wonderful hike along an isolated bay we were thrilled to find a family group foraging on the ground mere meters from our cameras.


A majestic male Magellanic Woodpecker searching for grubs...


...and here a female.


An Austral Parakeet perched in perfect light.

El Calafate sits perfectly in the transition zone between the desert and the rain forests, and harbors one of the most spectacular glaciers on earth.  At  three miles wide there’s a lot to take in as this massive river of ice stretches for miles towards Chile and the Patagonian ice field. Birding is particularly good in this area and we watched Andean Condors soaring high overhead, Spectacled Ducks defending their tiny breeding ponds, and Thorn-tailed Rayaditos on every (other) tree.

 
Our happy group at the extraordinary Perito Moreno Glacier.

 
The sprite Thorn-tailed Rayadito adorns trees in the southern Beach forests.

All in all, and from my perspective, this was a lovely tour.

January 22:

Steve Howell reports from the recently concluded San Blas tour in western Mexico

As always this trip entertains with its avian diversity—such as a Bat Falcon soaring with a Wood Stork, a Ladder-backed Woodpecker on a beach fence post only a few feet from a confiding Wilson’s Plover, and a pile of rotting tomatoes and avocadoes that hosted seven species of warblers, two orioles, and three thrushes as we watched a morning feeding frenzy. And of course, superb food and hospitality at our friendly, family-run hotel make this trip even better.


Bat Falcon and Wood Stork

 
The magic fruit pile, here with Fan-tailed Warbler and Bullock’s Oriole

Among the many other highlights were a showy Lesser Ground-Cuckoo,


Confiding and beautifully sunlit Orange-fronted Parakeets,


Fierce little Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls,


Bizarre Northern Potoos on our evening boat trip,


And plenty of colorful tropical birds, including numerous Citreoline Trogons. But all too soon it was over, and I’m already ready to go back!

January 6:

Rich Hoyer on his just-completed Christmastime tour to Oaxaca

What a delightful time of year to visit Oaxaca, with Christmas decorations, festivities, and really fun birding. We visited three different Zapotec ruins, including Monte Albán on the first day.

 

The Noche de Rábanos, or the Radish Festival, has to be seen to be believed, with the amazing creativity of Oaxacans on display around the town square.

 

We also visited a rug weaving cooperative in Teotitlán del Valle, including a demonstration on how some of the natural dyes are created.

 

We birded up until lunch every day, seeing well over 275 species of birds, many endemic to Mexico and local to the Oaxaca region. It was still fun to see “our” breeding birds spending winter here including daily Wilson’s Warblers and a few Black-and-white Warblers.

 

Gray Silky-flycatchers decorated the mistletoe-filled oaks in the higher elevations.

 

On our side trip to the more tropical Tuxtepec, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls were at every stop, but it was unusual to have a pair come in together.

 

Among the many tour favorites was a cooperative Golden-olive Woodpecker.

 

We more than doubled the tour’s master list of butterflies this year, and Northern Green Longwing elicited more oohs and ahhs than any other.

 

The botany of Oaxaca is fascinating, and our last morning was in an area famous for its diversity of giant cactus species.

 

We added many new species here, including several adorable White-lored Gnatcatchers.

December 13:

James Wolstencroft reports from our recent Tanzania tour.

This year our November Tanzania group had the extreme fortune (for the participants anyway) of witnessing two different kills while on tour in Ngorongoro Crater. The following amazing photos were taken by Linda Bushman, a participant on the tour.

#1: A wildebeest was chased into a hippo pool by a huge pack (23) of hyenas who live in that part of Ngorongoro Crater. We watched the whole event as the wildebeest was chased in a great arc where it eventually ran up against our car and plunged into the pool where it was soon attacked and punctured in the belly by one of the hippos (shown here) then struggled out. The hyenas came around from the other side and brutally attacked its hind quarters before mercifully dragging the ill-fated beast into deep rushes where we could no longer watch.

#2: A pair of lionesses executed their entire zebra hunt by using our car as a blind in order to cross the raised track unseen by seven zebra. One unlucky zebra didn't survive the encounter. This was only three hours after the incident at hippo pools!

December 12:

Rich Hoyer on his just-completed tour, Mexico: The Yucatan and Cozumel

For such a short tour, we certainly packed in the sightings and wonderful experiences. Among the more than 230 species of birds in six days, a bold and inquisitive Ruddy Crake on Cozumel was the group’s favorite sighting,


Ruddy Crake

and an even more confiding Cozumel Raccoon that same afternoon will be remembered fondly.


A relaxed racoon

Our morning boat ride through the Ría Lagartos estuary and mangroves was delightful, highlighted by blindingly pink American Flamingos and  a Bare-throated Tiger-Heron.


American Flamingoes 


Bare-throated Tiger-Heron

A Turquoise-browed Motmot on a power line earlier that same morning was also among the tour favorites.


Turquoise-browed Motmot

The incredibly birdy Vigia Chico road was worth every visit, and one of our first stops featured a huge Pale-billed Woodpecker that foraged for several minutes at close range.


Pale-billed Woodpecker

We also identified more than thirty species of butterfly, such as the Mayan Crescent, a fitting name as we wandered the Maya ruins of Tulum and Chichén Itzá, admiring the structures and pondering the history between distractions provided by birds.


Mayan Crescent


Chichén Itzá

December 1:

Paul Holt on his just-completed tour to Goa, India

Highlights of this year’s 17th tour to the former Portuguese colony of Goa included a good number of South Indian/Sri Lankan specialities such as spectacularly close views of a Sri Lankan Frogmouth, a male Malabar Trogon, several normally recalcitrant Blue-faced Malkohas and no less than five Malabar Pied Hornbills.


Malabar Trogon


Blue-faced Malkoha

We’d revelled in an enchanting encounter with a male Greater Painted-snipe and his three tiny chicks and had seen no less than eight species of kingfisher including two stunning Blue-eared Kingfishers, the second of which we walked away from satiated at the exceptional views we’d had and one Oriental Dwarf.


Blue-eared Kingfisher

Some delighted in the very fine collection of wintering (and other) shorebirds totalling more and 30 species and including Common Redshank, Great Knot and Little Pratincole.


Common Redshank


Great Knot


Little Pratincole

Our first ever Goan Crab-plover won the end of trip ‘Bird of the Tour’ poll with other gems such as Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Pallid Harrier, Heart-spotted Woodpecker and Nilgiri Woodpigeon all featuring highly.


Heart-spotted Woodpecker

We’d had some deliciously varied food, gorgeous weather and seen some stunning sites – all from the comfort of just one, yes just one, charming hotel. Brilliant!

November 28:

Paul Holt reports from NW India

We’ve been having a fantastic time here in northwest India. Highlights so far have included hundreds of harriers –  mostly Montagu’s (pictured below) but quite a few ghostly male Pallid – at the Velavadar Black Buck Sanctuary, the site of the world’s largest harrier roost. Also seen were hundreds of pelicans, thousands of larks, a cooperative Painted Francolin, a juvenile Eastern Imperial Eagle and both Paddyfield and Sykes’s Warblers. We’ve also stumbled across a whole host of mammals including Indian Wolf, Jungle Cat and over 1400 Black Buck! Brilliant!

Montagu’s Harrier

Rufous-tailed Lark

Juvenile Eastern Imperial Eagle

Black Buck

Leaving Velavadar we headed south to Gir. We had five game drives inside the Lion Sanctuary and National Park and saw two separate Lions, one of them uncomfortably close, plus single Leopards (pictured below) on a remarkable three safaris. Other highlights included good numbers of Indian Stone-curlews, Jungle Prinia and seven White-bellied Minivets (pictured below). From there we headed west to the port city of Jamnagar where massive numbers of both Lesser (3400) and Greater Flamingo (1620), Common (1025) and Demoiselle Cranes (800) awaited. For many of us the two parties totalling 135 Indian Skimmers were an undoubted highlight. The local forest department lent us a motor launch and we headed out in to Marine National Park where we were enthralled by exceptional close-range looks at specialities such as Crab-plover (1550) and Great Knot. We’re moving still further west – beyond Bhuj and closer to the Pakistan border today where we’re hoping to see Grey Hypocolius and White-naped Tit among others so watch this space…

Leopard

 

White-bellied Minivets

Crab-plovers

November 28:

Jon Feenstra reports from his recently completed Southern Ecuador tour.

After birding mostly the eastern slope (Amazon watershed) of southern Ecuador, we’re now in the dry forest of the lowland west. The changes in habitats have been incredible as we’ve gone from above treeline to the low rainforest foothills, back into the highlands, crossing rain shadow valleys and zigzagging the continental divide. The birds have been equally diverse and the highlights many. Some of the favorites have been: Pale-headed Brushfinch (one of the rarest birds in the world) eating bread, the ancient look of the Gray Tinamou, Fiery-throated Fruiteater, and, of course, the Jocotoco Antpitta. 

The gang watching a Streak-throated Bush-Tyrant from the roadside near Reserva Tapichalaca

The Gray Tinamou creeps out of the forest too close for long lenses.

Sometimes we need to share the road with llamas.

Pale-headed Brushfinch slums it with the bread-eating crowd.

Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager in Podocarpus National Park

November 21:

Steve Howell reports from our Chile tour

Fabrice Schmitt and Steve Howell report from the mid-point of the Chile tour, following some great birding in windswept Patagonia and the towering temperate rainforests of the Lake District, where we successfully sought all of the notoriously skulking tapaculos,

even an Ochre-flanked Tapaculo, which eventually hopped into the open.

The growing King Penguin colony on Tierra del Fuego included big ‘wooly’ youngsters for the first time,

and was celebrated by endemic Patagonian beer.

Other highlights have included the stunning White-bridled (née Black-throated) Finch,

a beautiful female Magellanic Woodpecker that flew in right above us,

point-blank Austral Parakeets feeding outside the bus window,

the understated and highly endangered Ruddy-headed Goose,

and the endearing little White-throated Treerunner.

Now in central Chile and getting ready for our Humboldt Current pelagic.

November 21:

Gavin on his recently completed Australia Queensland and New South Wales tour

Our 2016 Eastern Australia Tour that covers Queensland and coastal New South Wales kicked off with a very nice week around Cairns and the Atherton Tablelands. From a surprisingly cooperative Azure Kingfisher that allowed close approach by our boat on the Daintree River to a fantastic experience with a pair of Southern Cassowaries in the rainforests near Kuranda, there was a wealth of birds at every turn.

 

Azure Kingfisher

Southern Cassowary

On our first afternoon we enjoyed close views of the oddly plumaged Rajah Shelduck at the Cairns Botanical Gardens.

Radjah Shelduck: photo by Tim Dolby

Our time up in the rainforest patches on the Atherton Tableland was spectacular, with very cooperative Victoria’s Riflebirds and Spotted Catbird among our best finds.

Victoria’s Riflebird

Spotted Catbird: photo by Tim Dolby

A special mention must go to the areas many species of mammals, especially this day-active Lumholtz’s Tree-Kangaroo, and the very extroverted Platypus that we found near Yungaburra.

 

Lumholtz’s Tree-Kangaroo

Platypus: photo by Tim Dolby

The dry forests on the north side of the tablelands provided a great contrast to the humid rainforests, and produced excellent views of our hoped for Australian Bustards.

Australian Bustards: Photo by Tim Dolby

After nearly a week inland from Cairns we then returned to the coast… Once back on the coast we spent a great day out on the Great Barrier Reef where we found courting pairs of Brown Boobies and thousands of Sooty Terns and Brown Noddies, as well as a surprising immature Red-footed Booby and great views of Bridled Tern.

Brown Booby: photo by Tim Dolby

Michaelmas Bay

 

Torresian Imperial-Pigeon: photo by Tim Dolby

The next day we bade farewell to the tropical north and its gaudy Torresian Imperial Pigeons and flew south to Brisbane and the famous O’Reilly’s Lodge.

O’Reilly’s Lodge

The birds around O’Reilly’s are almost tame, with forest birds often coming to investigate your shoelaces. Even normally very shy birds like Eastern Whipbird can be easy to spot here, and more bold birds like the perky Eastern Yellow Robin can be positively pushy.

Eastern Whipbird

 

Eastern Yellow Robin

The gorgeous Regent Bowerbirds are common visitors around the lodge, with some even hand-tame.

 

Regent Bowerbirds

Our scheduled pelagic trip out of Sydney was a no-go this year due to high winds and swell, but our backup visit to Barren Grounds National Park gave us superlative views of Eastern Bristlebird. Royal National Park was a great and scenic backdrop for our final day and a half, with Superb Lyrebird showing well. We finished the Eastern Tour with 281 species, and an amazing 411 species for the two tours combined. It is always with a touch of sadness that I board the plane to leave this amazing continent, and I very much look forward to next year’s duo of tours! (Photos by Gavin Bieber unless otherwise listed)

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