From the Field
Fabrice Schmitt and Steve Howell on their just-completed cruise, Valparaiso to Los Angeles
Covering 60 degrees of latitude—a third of the planet’s surface—exposed us to many different habitats, both on land and at sea, as exemplified by a total of 32 tubenose species (and 57 species for this and the preceding cruise combined!).
The unique Inca Tern, icon of the Humboldt Current, was a feature of the first week at and around our coastal stops.
Our first day at sea was filled with Juan Fernandez Petrels, as well as excellent views of this Bryde’s (pronounced “Bru-duh’s”) Whale.
The fancy White-bellied Storm-Petrel was also seen this first sea day, a taste of the storm-petrel show soon to come.
Off southern Peru, in one day we saw 1000+ De Filippi’s (or Masatierra) Petrels, 600+ Hornby’s (or Ringed) Storm-Petrels, and 250 White-faced Storm-Petrels. The white underwings and fluttery, kicking flight of the White-faced (here) contrasted with...
The floppy, sailing and wheeling flight of the Hornby’s, with its striking dark underwings.
In Pisco, Peru, a highlight was great views of Humboldt Penguins, here panting in the heat.
Landbirds at our widely scattered stops between Chile and Mexico ranged from superb views of Andean Tinamou in Peru...
To displaying Long-tailed Manakins in Nicaragua.
The relaxing, warm blue tropical waters...
Featured numerous dolphins, turtles, and boobies, here a Brown Booby resting on an Olive Ridley Turtle, ...
And here a Nazca Booby that flew by at arm’s length!
Flyingfish added another dimension, here a Pied-tailed Necromancer.
Our birding group aroused curiosity among many passengers, and even the captain came to visit us, here posing graciously for a photo.
Our last day off the Baja California Peninsula brought us back to cooler waters, home to Laysan Albatross, here, plus Craveri’s and Guadalupe Murrelets.
Birding with beers at the end of the last day—what a trip!
Susan Myers on her recently completed tour, Cambodia
Cambodia was fabulous as always! The weather was a little hotter and drier than usual but the birds, mostly, cooperated. On top of the great birds, Angkor was amazing, the Cambodian people were charming and the food was delicious, exotic and memorable.
We started our tour in Siem Reap, a charming city located on the doorstep of the World Heritage site, the incomparable Angkor Wat and its many associated temples. Using Siem Reap as our base we explored various birding sites, including a visit to Prek Toal, a waterbird sanctuary located on the east side of Tonle Sap Lake. Tonle Sap is the largest lake in Southeast Asia and one of the most remarkable in the world due to its unique flow reversal from the Tonle Sap River. The lake is the food bowl of Cambodia and its vastness has to really be seen to be believed! The diverse and abundant birdlife to be found at the sanctuary is also astounding and exploring this area was an unforgettable experience.
Greater (right) and Lesser Adjutants and a Painted Stork Image: David Fisher
Venturing further afield, we journeyed out for a three day stay in the remote village of Tmatboey - an experience with a very different place and culture. We birded out and around the rice fields dotted through the dry forests here, spying White-shouldered Ibis, seven species of woodpecker including the fancy Black-headed Woodpecker and a wonderful family of Great Slaty Woodpeckers, the diminutive Collared Falconet, and a host of others special birds. On our journey back to Siem Reap, our local guy Mony expertly spotted a White-rumped Falcon, a much hoped for rarity that we were able to observe at length.
Watching and waiting as the sun comes up over the Tmatboey woodlands
Later during our tour, we spent a day around the ancient ruins of Angkor, an unforgettable experience; this really is living history! Angkor means Capital City in Khmer, the language of Cambodia, and its centerpiece is Angkor Wat, the immense temple that is Cambodia’s most famed symbol (it’s depicted on the national flag). But there are many other remarkable ancient buildings and religious sites, including Bayon, known for its many serene, smiling stone faces as shown in this photo, and Ta Prom, popular for its atmospheric overgrown appearance. And there’s an added bonus of some excellent birding throughout the whole ancient city.
the stone faces of Ta Phrom
From Siem Reap we continued east to the delightful town of Kratie to look for the near endemic Mekong Wagtail, stopping to buy some jackfruit en route. It’s the world’s largest fruit.
A jackfruit stand
Kratie is perched on the banks of the Mekong River, the 12th longest in the world, and in terms of human civilization, unarguably one of the most important. It’s also immensely important for the ecology of Southeast Asia, and remarkably home to an endemic bird described as recently as 2001 – the Mekong Wagtail. In order to find this attractive species we took a small boat out amongst the braided islands where the bird makes its home. We soon found a pair and watched them quietly at close quarters before turning our attention to the pod of Irrawaddy Dolphins cavorting nearby.
Mekong Wagtail Image: David Fisher
Our final destination was the beautiful forest of Bokor, a former hill station and now a national park. We searched the forest trails for a whole different suite of mid montane birds, unsuccessful in our search for the elusive Cambodian Partridge, we were nevertheless very satisfied with great list of exciting birds including a superb male Silver Pheasant, a young Rufous-bellied Eagle practicing its mid air catching skills, prehistoric-looking Wreathed Hornbills, and more Asian Fairy Bluebirds than I’ve ever seen. A fitting end to a memorable tour!
Sunrise over Bokor National Park
Rich Hoyer and Gavin Bieber on their just-completed tour, Jamaica.
For the 18th tour in a row, we managed to see all 27 currently recognized Jamaican endemic birds. Equally if not more satisfying we had wonderful views of all, plus so many other species, critters, and plants in this tropical paradise. One of our first endemics was the Jamaican Lizard-Cuckoo, sometimes one of the scarcer birds that waits until near the end of the tour to show itself. We completed the set with great views of the scarce Blue Mountain Vireo, which had us a bit worried when it didn’t appear on the first four days. Jamaican Tody was voted the tour favorite, as it was seen every day, often very well, and like all todies is endowed with an inimitable charm. Close behind in votes was Crested Quail-Dove, which after having been only glimpsed in the best sites unexpectedly walked out on the lawn at Marshall’s Pen in front of the entire group. Other favorites were Jamaican Woodpecker, the two forms of Streamertail, the distinctive and very common Orangequit, an elegant and very close White-tailed Tropicbird, an amazing three Spotted Rails and a Barn Owl that emerged well before dusk at the Upper Black River Morass, the many migrants such as lovely Prairie Warblers and two Swainson’s Warblers seen unusually well, a breeding colony of Cave Swallows in the storage beneath the floor of our accommodation, several pairs of Jamaican Becards (the only becard in the Caribbean), and a last-minute Greater Antillean Elaenia that appeared suddenly where it was least expected.
We had great views of Jamaican Oriole on our first day, the only bird with Jamaica in its name that’s not a true endemic.
The unique Jamaican Euphonia was seen nearly every day.
Jamaican Tody is almost always a top favorite of the tour.
Jamaican Woodpecker is not hard to see, especially when feeding on orange halves.
Orangequits come to feeders with oranges as well as open cups of granulated sugar.
Jake Mohlmann on his just-completed tour, Nebraska: The Sandhills and the Platte River
We breezed through just over 1,000 miles of America’s Heartland in search of the last lingering waterfowl, early spring migrants, an unbelievable crane show, and a legitimate chicken dance. It started out along the deciduous forests of the Missouri River Valley where residents such as Pileated Woodpecker, American Woodcock, and Carolina Wren were starting to set up shop on their breeding grounds.
A Carolina Wren announcing the borders of its territory
Heading west we meandered through the tallgrass prairies successfully finding many sparrow species such as Fox, American Tree, and Harris’s as well as both Eastern and Western Meadowlarks.
Eastern Meadowlark in full song
Scattered throughout were scads of ponds and lakes which held an impressive array of waterfowl and we had great looks at Wood Duck, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, and all three merganser species. A smattering of geese were still loafing about and we took time to enjoy Cackling Geese mixed with their Canada cousins as well as point-blank views of Greater White-fronted Geese.
Greater White-fronted Geese soaking in the sun
Sandhill Cranes were abundant and we watched at sunset as many of the 270,000 estimated birds came pouring in overhead - a mind-boggling visual and aural experience - landing to roost along the Central Platte River. Usually it’s not until early April that a few Whooping Cranes start showing up, but we were delighted with our great good luck when one of these very rare birds landed upriver just before the sun went down.
Sandhill Cranes en mass
Our last exploration lead us to the famous Sandhills region of Central Nebraska which covers about one quarter of the state. Our main goal here was to view the extravagant courting rituals of the Greater Prairie-Chicken. We succeeded in capturing this mind-blowing phenomenon on film, at close range, from our comfortable blind set amongst the hills.
Greater Prairie-Chickens: inquisitive female checks out courting males
Our group’s chemistry was amazing and we all had a wonderful time sharing stories along the way which added to a truly memorable experience. Cheers!
Gavin Bieber on his recently completed tour, The Dominican Republic
From the arid cactus-clad forests 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 always brought us to someplace new and interesting. Along the way we were treated to 30 of the island's bird endemics (seeing 29 of them), most of the distinctive subspecies that may be split in the future, and a host of birds restricted to islands in the Caribbean. We had wonderful views of some stunning birds from the mating Hispaniolan Parakeets and maniacal Hispaniolan Lizard-Cuckoos in the Botannical Gardens on our first morning to the fantastic La Selle Thrush and Hispaniolan Trogons in the mountains near the Hatian Border, and the truly scarce Ridgway’s Hawk on the last morning at Los Haitises National Park. I'm confident most of us will long remember the perky and impossibly cute Broad-billed Todies that were near daily companions but also the island's friendly atmosphere, excellent accommodations and varied and tasty cuisine. The DR was as always a delight.
La Selle Thrush
Fabrice Schmitt and Steve Howell on their just-completed Buenos Aires to Valparaiso cruise.
Viewing from the stable platform of a cruise ship is remarkable...
Each day has been so different, starting in the warm waters of the Brazil Current, home to Yellow-nosed Albatross...
...then passing into the cold waters of the Falkland Current and Cape Horn, home to the majestic Southern Royal Albatross.
Photo opportunities of smaller species can also be surprisingly good—such as of this Slender-billed Prion...
...and even this diminutive Gray-backed Storm-Petrel.
Marine mammals have shown well, including four species of dolphins plus good numbers of the usually scarce Sei Whale, shown here.
On land, birds at the varied landings along our route have included the handsome White-throated Hummingbird in Uruguay...
...the cryptic Elegant Crested Tinamou in Argentina...
...and stunning King Penguins on a beautiful sunny and warm day in the Falklands...
...before we circled Cape Horn (shown here) and headed into the sheltered waters of the Beagle Channel.
Of the 32 species of tubenoses we saw, the aptly named great albatrosses stood out as highlights, including numerous Antipodes Wandering Albatrosses that gave great views, here an immature at eye level...
...and here a close-up of another individual.
About as far as you can get in the bird world from Wandering Albatrosses, this confiding Magellanic Tapaculo showed well on Tierra del Fuego...
...where we enjoyed beautiful weather and a fine picnic lunch.
Our search for Magellanic Plover turned up a remarkable flock of 47 birds (!), here an immature with its legs changing from orange to bubblegum-pink, its eyes from amber to ruby-red.
Chilean Skuas were a frequent sight as we headed north through Chilean waters.
Approaching Puerto Montt, among the swarms of Fuegian Storm-Petrels we found some Pincoya Storm-Petrels, a species described as recently in 2013!
After 7 species of albatross one day, the next day featured 4 species of shade-haunting tapaculos, along with this fierce little Austral Pygmy-Owl.
Our last day at sea produced numerous Sperm Whales and Fin Whales, as well as near constant bird action, including two of the region’s specialty petrels—the slender-billed Stejneger’s Petrel in worn plumage near the end of its breeding season...
...and the bulkier, bigger-billed De Filippi’s (or Masatierra) Petrel, completing wing and tail molt prior to breeding. What a great way to finish up a remarkable cruise!
Paul Holt from his on-going tour, China: Yunnan Province
We're just five days into our Yunnan tour in south-westernmost China. The weather's been great (as you'd expect at this time of year) and we're just moving on from Yingjiang to the historic town of Tengchong nestled amid an attractive volcanic region. Highlights around Ruili, a thriving town on the China-Myanmar border, included several Stripe-breasted Woodpeckers, two Grey-bellied Wren Babblers, a pair of vociferous Spot-throated Babblers, several gorgeous Scarlet-faced Liocichlas, both Pale-billed and Rufous-headed Parrotbills, Black-breasted Thrush and prolonged looks at a White-gorgeted Flycatcher while star birds near Yingjiang included great looks at three species of hornbill, Collared Myna and a male Grey Peacock-pheasant that we all watched for six minutes! We've also stumbled across Chinese rarities such as an adult Rufous-bellied Hawk-eagle, a party of five Great Slaty Woodpeckers, a female Blossom-headed Parakeet and a solitary Yellow-vented Flowerpecker...
More in a few days...there's been a cooperative Gould's Shortwing at Baihualing where we'll be for three nights from midday tomorrow...
Gavin Bieber on his just-completed tour, Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico is a gem of an island, known for its excellent weather, perfect Caribbean beaches, and fine local seafood. it's also an excellent island for the visiting naturalist and over the course of our five days we encountered 16 of the 17 island endemics (plus two more that will surely be split soon) including the dazzling Puerto Rican Woodpecker, jewel-like Puerto Rican Tody ("bird of the trip" for the 8th straight year) and the perky little Adelaide’s Warbler. Our attention also wandered to the admittedly more drab Caribbean Elaenia, showy species of butterflies like the splendid Malachite, and to several species of sprightly lizards. The long-staying lone American Flamingo, dubbed “Mr. Pinky” showed well for us again this year, and we found some truly scarce species such as Masked Duck, Limpkin and American Avocet among some 126 species overall.
The striking Puerto Rican Woodpecker
Puerto Rican Tody, everyone's favorite
One of Puerto Rico's two endemic warblers, the Adelaides's
The brilliant Malachite
Lonely "Mr Pinky"
Fabrice Schmitt and Steve Howell with a brief note on their pre-cruise tour to Iguazú Falls.
The first day was spent in the bird-rich Ceibas area, home to the impressive Scimitar-biled Woodcreeper, before a short flight north to Iguazú, on the border with Brazil.
Our visit to the falls was marked by rainy weather, which kept the weather pleasantly cool, the numbers of other tourists pleasantly low, and the volume of water spectacularly high.
Here we are in the mist.
A group of Great Dusky Swifts, keeping out of the rain.
Toco Toucans fell at the other end of the spectrum from the swarms of swirling swifts.
Our first afternoon in Iguazú, this spectacular Swallow-tailed Hummingbird posed in sunlight...
As did this roosting Common Potoo near our hotel, on the morning we flew back to board the ship for our cruise and our two week dventure around the tip of South America.
Fabrice Schmitt on his just-concluded tour, Colombia: The Santa Marta Mountains
How can one find a better way to escape the boreal winter than spending a week in the tropics, enjoying wonderful Caribbean food, staying in fantastic lodges, and seeing around 300 birds species? Well..., I'm not sure you can.
A sunset at El Dorado Lodge
The Sierra Nevada Cordillera and the Guajira Peninsula are home to an amazing list of restricted-range species, and we had excellent views of (just to name a few…) Black-fronted Wood-Quail, White-whiskered Spinetail, Chestnut Piculet, Vermilion Cardinal, White-tailed Starfrontlet, Orinocan Saltator, White-lored Warbler, Black-backed Antshrike and a long list of “Santa Marta” species, such as SM Screech-owl, SM Blossomcrown, SM Parakeet, SM Antbird, SM Tapaculo,SM Foliage-gleaner, and SM Brushfinch!
The superb White-tailed Starfronlet
Black-billed Wood-Quail enticed from their forest retreat
Beside these very local species, we also encountered a brilliant Red-billed Scythebill, Black-and-white Owls on their day roost, lovely Blue-naped Chlorophonia coming to the fruit feeders, the charismatic Russet-throated Puffbird, colorful Keel-billed Toucans, and a superb male of Golden-breasted Fruiteater, among many others!
The handsomeRusset-throated Puffbird
A party of conversing Keel-billed Toucans
A curious Golden-breasted Fruiteater
In addition to the birds we found endless pleasure in a huge selection of butterflies and moths, nice reptiles including good views of Green Iguana, and mammals such as Colombian Howler and Red-tailed Squirrel.
Just one of many spectacular butterflies
Dots and stripes work well together on this small lizard with a long name, Cnemidophorus arenivagus
The tour has great accommodations, some of them with amazing hummingbird feeders attracting literally hundreds of these extraordinary birds.
Some of the hummingird feeders were tumultuous
Last but definitely not least the Caribbean food presented to us was simply outstanding.