From the Field
Steve Howell on the conclusion of his tour, Mexico: Colima and Jalisco
This region always impresses with its avian diversity, and finding over 300 species in a week of warm and sunny ‘mid-winter’ weather is hard to beat, plus great scenery, delicious food, and friendly people everywhere—I’m ready to head back right now!
Birds ranged from numerous northern migrants, such as this Louisiana Waterthrush...
To resident endemics, like this unmistakable Red Warbler,
And a very obliging Happy Wren.
Our birding sites included quiet tropical canyons...,
And of course the forested slopes of the active Fuego Volcano,
Where we had great views of Elegant Trogon...
And this point-blank singing Canyon Wren.
Seekers of subtlety enjoyed this non-singing Botteri’s Sparrow
And, on our last afternoon, the poorly known White-throated Flycatcher, one of 10 species of Empidonax flycatchers possible on the route!
Jake Mohlmann on his and Evan Obercian's just-completed tour, Texas: The Rio Grande Valley
Over the last week, the lower Rio Grand Valley of Texas produced many amazing birds. Common residents like Green Jay, Altamira Oriole, and Plain Chachalacas were seen daily at the many feeder arrangements scattered throughout this region. Less common were both Green and Ringed Kiingfishers seen through the fog at Santa Ana NWR; an ultra-cooperative Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet at Bentsen State Park; and the pair of White-collared Seedeaters which we watched through scopes at Salineño. This winter was one of those years that everyone hopes for when heading to the "Valley as Mexican vagrants were spread all over our planned route allowing multiple opportunities for some of them. This list included Northern Jacana, Blue Bunting, and Crimson-collared Grosbeak. From the coast to the desert every habitat was covered by our intrepid participants, and somehow we managed to scrape together an amazing 220 species of birds! This of course included our extension for Whooping Cranes where our boating adventure yielded at least 10 of these emblematic birds.
Ringed Kingfisher in the fog
A particularly accommodating Northern Beardless Tyrannulet
A female or young male Crimson-collared Grosbeak
A magnificent Whooping Crane
Jon Feenstra on his just-completed tour, Ecuador: Mindo and the Northwest Andes
“Maria! Venga!” and somehow, impossibly, a Giant Antpitta comes bouncing out of the dark undergrowth of the forest, gobbles up some worms, and poses for a cluster of birders. That was, of course, a special moment, but only one of many on our week of birding all sorts of woodland habitats from high elevation to low, some with antpittas, though most without, but all touched by Ecuador’s signature diversity and short distances between epic birding experiences. Though the antpittas were hard to beat, we had our fair share of classic cloud-forest birds including Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan, Hooded, Scarlet-bellied, Blue-winged, Black-chested and Black-chinned Mountain-Tanagers, and thirty-nine species of hummingbirds from the ridiculous Sword-billed Hummingbird to the feisty little Booted Rackettails. Our week was certainly filled with color.
Giant Antpitta (and the back of Angel Paz's head)
Overlooking Ecuadorian Cloud Forest
Our group under the Cock-of-the Rock statue outside of Mindo...
...and practicing 'civilized' birding at Mirador del Rio Blanco
Steve Howell from his ongoing tour, Mexico: Colima and Jalisco
We got off to a great start the first morning when a pair of Lilac-crowned Parrots decided to land in a tree right above us, bathed in the early sunlight. An obliging Flammulated Flycatcher and Red-breasted Chat were other highlights, along with stunning Orange-breasted Buntings and Citreoline Trogons. After a siesta we enjoyed Ridgway’s Rail and Mangrove Warbler, the former split recently, the latter not yet ‘officially’ split. And now off to the volcanoes and a whole suite of different birds.
One of the Lilac-crowned Parrots that landed above us—you can even see the lilac crown!
The enigmatic Flammulated Flycatcher showed very well...
...as did this ‘buff-breasted’ (female) Red-breasted Chat, formerly a warbler, now a bunting...
...and a handsome male Mangrove Warbler, split by most people, still lumped with Yellow Warbler by others.
Rich Hoyer on his just-completed tour, Peru: The Cloud Forests of the Rio Mayo and Abra Patricia
What a wonderful tour we had to north-central Peru! With a super, convivial group and fantastic birding throughout, the only downside was that the time passed so quickly. We started our first evening with a surprise Mottled Owl (the rarer Amazonian form with a radically different song, surely to be split as a species from the northern one). As a write-in on our list, it was a harbinger of what was to come – a clean sweep of all the remaining owls on the list, making for five heard and five seen. A very cooperative Cinnamon Screech-Owl was a high-quality consolation prize for those who missed the Long-whiskered Owlet the first time. Thankfully the latter was equally cooperative on our second attempt for this tiny rarity. A Stygian Owl on a roost was a stroke of luck, thanks to a local park guard who showed it to us.
Mottled Owl of the very different sounding Amazonian population
The tiny and highly prized Long-whiskered Owlet Image: Ken Havard
Stygian Owl: Sometimes it's better to be lucky.
Highlights from highway stops on our way to and from the Owlet Lodge were the world’s easiest Oilbirds, with two birds brooding a chick in plain sight; a Green-and-rufous Kingfisher exactly where we had one two years ago, an unusual find so close to a busy highway and visible while standing on terra firma; Ornate Flycatchers in plain sight and building a nest; and the monotypic Black-capped Donacobius in a grassy clearing in hilly cloud forest. Up at the owlet lodge we enjoyed how colorful some of the tiny tyrant-flycatchers can be, especially the super confiding Johnson’s Tody-Tyrant. A Maroon-chested Ground-Dove was one of the top highlights there: this rarely seen skulker of cloud forests was a lifer for everyone, including the leader and was clearly taking advantage of the big patches of seeding bamboo in the area, with many Slaty Finches nibbling overhead.
The tiny, confiding and handsome Johnson's Tody-Tyrant
Top honors for most-voted favorite bird of the tour had to go to the Marvelous Spatuletail, and we are so grateful to Santos Montenegro and the donors who have made the Huembo Reserve and its feeders possible. This stunning hummer was one of forty-five species we saw in just nine days of birding, and two new feeding stations made for a total of seven wonderful experiences (and an eighth is in the making, with birds just starting to come to the feeders, promising an even greater list in the future). Other hummingbird highlights worth mentioning were a briefly seen but thrilling Napo Sabrewing and several utterly adorable Rufous-crested Coquettes.
Marvelous...just Marvelous Image: Ken Havard
Original punk: Rufous-crested Coquette
The natural history of the region was also spectacular – three species of monkey, including the megarare Yellow-tailed Woolly Monkey; a gorgeous Three-striped Poison Frog on our first day; countless blooming orchids, including one by the trail that smelled something like chocolate liqueur mixed with Chanel No. 5. as well as a “captive” blooming Phragmipedium kovachii; and innumerable moths at the lights each night, from huge silk moths, to tiny emeralds, and some really colorful tiger moths.
The stunning Three-striped Poison Frog
A tiger moth: In the cloud forests of Peru, beauty is everywhere...
Jake Mohlmann on his just-completed winter tour of Southeast Arizona
The week was much colder than usual with snow and ice.
The Huachuca Mountains were lovely with their snowy coat
It reached a low of eight degrees one morning, which turned our courtyard fountain into an ice sculpture!
But this made our five nights of amazing meals and top-notch comfort even more delightful.
Casa de San Pedro is a superb place to come home to after a chilly day in the field
Despite the frigid temperatures and snowy conditions the birds performed famously. We began by looking for a very rare visitor to North America and successfully connected with a Rufous-backed Robin that ended up feeding at our feet!
Rufous-backed Robin at (almost) arm's length
An amazing 21 species of sparrows were seen well including the range-restricted Rufous-winged, fleet-footed Sagebrush, and often unseen Fox Sparrow.
A handsome "Red" Fox Sparrow, not often seen in southeastern Arizona
The Patagonia area was surveyed through intermittent snow squalls that did not seem to effect bird activity one bit. On the contrary, the birds seemed to be low down and easily viewed including close-ups of several Wilson’s Snipe, Cassin’s and Plumbeous Vireos, and our exciting find of several Black-capped Gnatcatchers. Perhaps the highlight of the tour for some was when our host at Casa de San Pedro spotted two male Montezuma Quail feeding 20 feet from where we were having breakfast, only the second time in 10 years these beauties have been seen at our lodge!
Montezuema Quail from our breakfast window, perhaps driven to our feeders by the cold and snow.
Portal is a must-see for any visiting birder to southeast Arizona and it didn’t disappoint. Cave Creek Canyon produced Blue-throated Hummingbird, Arizona Woodpecker, and a pair of Mexican Chickadees. Six distinct regions were explored and produced and amazing141 species of birds…not bad for the middle of winter!
Fabrice Schmitt and Luke Seitz from their just-concluded tour to Guyana
The “top-five” birds elected by the group illustrate the amazing variety we encountered: a massive Harpy Eagle that perched for half an hour got all the votes for “Bird of the trip”
Our very accommodating Harpy Eagle Image: Luke Seitz
followed by a superb male Guianan Cock-of-the-rock seen at his lek, a mimetic Great Potoo seen on his day roost, the unique Capuchinbird displaying at a lek and giving that so bizarre song,
Capuchinbird Image: Luke Seitz
and a pair of the splendid Crimson Fruitcrows seen from the garden of one of our lodges tied with a cooperative White-bellied Antbird, coming very close to let us appreciate how handsome he was!
White-bellied Antbird Image: Luke Seitz
Guyana is known to be the best place to see trumpeters and we succeeded with repeated and good views on Gray-winged. We also had fantastic views of several other Guyanan specialties such as Black Curassow, Rufous Crab Hawk, Scarlet Ibis,
Scarlet Ibis Image: Luke Seitz
White-winged Potoo, Blood-colored Woodpecker, Dusky Purpletuft and Pompadour Cotinga, just to name a few! We also confirmed this is a wonderful tour for parrots as we saw no less than 18 different species, including many that are rare or local; Red-fan, Dusky, Caica and Blue-cheeked for example. We were also lucky to find an army-ant swarm attracting a group of stunning White-plumed Antbirds!
White-plumed Antbird Image: Luke Seitz
It was also a fine tour for other wildlife including several species of monkeys, a Pale-throated Three-toed Sloth, a Giant Otter, and reptiles including mutiple species of caimans including the rare Dwarf and several snakes.
Dwarf Caiman Image: Luke Seitz
We can also report that great accommodation can now be found on most of the tour and the Guyanan food is simple excellent.
Paul Holt from his ongoing tour of Myanmar
Highlights so far have included all of the country's traditional endemics. Around the historic and visually staggering town of Bagan we had superb and repeated encounters with Jerdon's Minivet and White-throated Babbler, and while on Mount Victoria White-browed Nuthatch and Burmese Bushtit were both much easier to find than we'd ever dared hope. Other notables along our way included White-rumped Falcon, brilliant telescope studies of Hodgson's Frogmouth, White-bellied Woodpecker, Chin Hills Wren Babbler, and Hume's Treecreeper among many other. Besides the birds there have been endless fascinating scenes of Myanmar life. Now we're moving on to Inle lake with its famous leg rowers, Jerdon's Bushchats, Collared Mynas and Chinese Grassbirds...
The great temple array at Bagan
A very cooperative male Jerdon's Minivet
Jared Clarke on the conclusion of his Winter Newfoundland tour
Winter is a fun and special time to go birding in Newfoundland and every year a WINGS group braves the cold weather, and I have the pleasure of sharing with them the wonderful birds and beautiful scenery of the eastern Avalon Peninsula.
Yes, it's chilly....
The tour is based out of St. John’s, one of the oldest cities in North America and located at its easternmost reaches. A variety of really interesting birds can usually be found around St. John’s during winter, and this year did not disappoint. Among the nine species of gulls found were Black-headed, Lesser Black-backed and European Mew (Common) Gulls, and of course hundreds of Iceland Gulls.
...but there are lots of gulls...
...which give very good views
...and include species scarce elsewhere in North America like Black-headed Gull
...and Mew Gull of the European subspecies, canus
We had great views of Tufted Ducks, several Eurasian Wigeon and two handsome Eurasian (Common) Teal, all three uncommon to rare in most of winter North America, amid an array of the more expected North American waterfowl.
We saw quite a number of Tufted Ducks...
...and two attractive Eurasian Green-winged Teal
...and a drake Barrow's Goldeneye nestled in a flock of Common Goldeneye.
We traveled outside the city on several occasions. Dovekie is always a key target during this tour and this year they were present in excellent numbers, including a few cooperative birds that lingered just meters away.
Dovekies were relatively common...
...and a few were very close
We also encountered Black-legged Kittiwakes during strong onshore winds – a species not often seen from shore in winter. Purple Sandpipers and Great Cormorants put in an excellent showing, posing on the coastal rocks. Boreal Chickadees, White-winged Crossbills and Pine Grosbeaks gave us amazing looks, as did at least two Northern Goshawks and a very surprised Willow Ptarmigan.
Purple Sandpipers were well distributed...
...as were White-winged Crossbills.
It was a fantastic tour with exciting birds, great people, and of course a magnificent setting.
Steve Howell on his just-completed tour to San Blas, Mexico
It was another ‘wonderful as usual’ San Blas tour in West Mexico. From great views of eponymous San Blas Jays the first morning to an amazing Lesser Ground-Cuckoo our last morning the birds kept us busy, but in a relaxed way based at a very comfortable hotel with excellent food. The area’s diversity was typified our first morning in San Blas, when we found Russet-crowned Motmot, Cassin’s Sparrow, and Surfbird within walking distance of the hotel! The mangrove boat trips with Boat-billed Herons, Northern Potoos, and Rufous-necked Wood-Rails were a favorite, and among many other highlights were Mexican Woodnymphs, Purplish-backed Jays, Squirrel Cuckoos, some large American Crocodiles, and of course the color-clashing male Painted Bunting. The weather was near perfect—warm and sunny except for one cool early morning, but just hot enough to make siestas a good idea. The range of habitats, from mangroves and cool pine-oak forest to deserted beaches and shade-coffee plantations, produced over 250 species in a week of birding, but all too soon it was over.
Compare this immature San Blas Jay on our first morning...
...With an adult Purplish-backed Jay, later in the week.
Birding in the shade-coffee forest we found many species, including...
This Lesser Ground-Cuckoo, which sunned itself at point-blank range!
The second of two Cassin’s Sparrows we found, a very rare migrant in the area.
White-eared Hummingbird was the commonest hummer on our day trip into the nearby mountains.
And as usual we saw good numbers of gaudy Painted Buntings, here an adult male.