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From the Field

February 2:

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

Been shopping...

January 26:

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... were White-winged Crossbills.

It was a fantastic tour with exciting birds, great people, and of course a magnificent setting.

January 24:

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.

January 23:

Evan Obercian from his not quite begun Minnesota in Winter tour

We don't begin until this evening but a quick run through produced a gray Gyrfalcon in the docks area of Duluth/Superior and the following young Ivory Gull which dropped in literally at our feet given that the attached image by Matt Brooks was taken with a cell phone at a distance of five feet!

December 19:

Jake Mohlmann on the conclusion of his tour to Southern Argentina

We covered thousands of miles fueled by stunning and varied scenery, excellent food, and sensational birding. The expansive grasslands of the Pampas held several great finds including glowing Scarlet-headed Blackbirds, the range-restricted Olrog’s Gull, and plentiful Greater Rhea. Brown-and-Yellow Marshbirds joined Yellow-winged Blackbirds in the marshes as hundreds of Snail Kites soared overheard and Long-winged Harriers coursed slowly over the wetlands. A major highlight came when the group found at least six South American Painted Snipe while slogging through one of these wet spots.

Happy group in Tierra del Fuego

The shrubby arid lands surrounding the Valdez Peninsula provided several regional specialties including two endemics, the Rusty-backed Monjita and White-throated Cachalote. The elegant Burrowing Parakeet was seen at its nesting site and we eventually got good views of Darwin’s Nothura, a very cryptic species of this dry area.

White-throated Cachalote

The verdant coastline in this region is home to thousands of breeding sea mammals and seabirds that we had a very nice sampling of. We could almost touch gigantic Southern Elephant Seals as they basked in the waning sunlight while endemic White-headed Steamer-Ducks stared in amazement at our bravado. The most entertaining bird around these colonies is the odd Snowy Sheathbill, of which we saw 25 on the tour.

Snowy Sheathbill awaits whatever the colonies provide

Southern Patagonia, with its windswept plains and short shrubs, was absolutely wonderful this year and gave us views of Chocolate-vented Tyrants, Patagonian Tinamous, and both Tawny-throated and Rufous-chested Dotterels.

In Ushuaia we nailed all of our targets like male and female Magellanic Woodpecker, White-throated Treerunner, Thorn-tailed Rayadito, and a family of entertaining Austral Pygmy-Owls. Our boat trip was blissful down the Beagle Channel with super close views of hundreds of both Southern Giants Petrels and Black-browed Albatross. Ultimately we saw our most wanted specimens when Magellanic, Gentoo, and mighty King Penguins were all in attendance at an island breeding colony nearby.

Austral Pygmy-Owl stands guard by her fledglings

There were even some complete surprises along the way, including no less than five Blackish Cinclodes, one of which landed on our boat. This recently established breeder was unexpected and will hopefully stick around for years to come!

Blackish Cinclodes onboard our boat

December 12:

Rich Hoyer on the completion of his tour to Brazil: The Southeast Atlantic Rainforest

The birding on our Southeastern Brazil tour started spectacularly and continued to be so through the very last day. In the state of Rio de Janeiro a fourth and final attempt for the Long-trained Nightjar on our lodge grounds was fabulously successful, as the magical bird flew over us a few times before settling on the ground. Though many wonderful birds and experiences were to follow, this bird remained a favorite of the tour for many.

Long-trained Nightjar

We were enchanted by a Red-legged Seriema that had become habituated to people, even singing (or rather proclaiming)  from an exposed perch on a fence.

Red-legged Seriema

On a longer drive in the same region we amassed a large day list on which we saw Firewood-gatherer and Blue-winged Macaw, but the star of the day were Three-toed Jacamars, seen easily from the highway pullout where we parked.
Three-toed Jacamar

At Itatiaia National Park, some of the best birds were from the road, where we had Fork-tailed Pygmy-Tyrant, Rufous-crowned Motmot, and Red-ruffed Fruitcrow. From a trail we saw the strange Slaty Bristlefront, a very confiding Large-headed Flatbill, and White-bibbed Antbird. But the best photo opportunities were at our hotel’s feeders where Saffron Toucanet, Brazilian Ruby, and Burnished-buff Tanager were most photogenic.

Saffron Toucanet

Brazilian Ruby

Burnished-buff Tanager

We also ventured to the highest elevations of Itatiaia, where Black-and-gold Cotinga and Mouse-colored Tapaculo showed well, but most unforgettable were the Green-crowned Plovercrests on their lek. Just five days later we watched its sister species (only recently split), the Violet-crowned Plovercrest.

Before leaving this amazing national park, the biologist at the visitor center let us in on a secret. She had been keeping a window-struck Surucua Trogon quiet, and I offered to release it in the woods, but she warned me not to release it near the pair of vipers that were roosting outside the center. What vipers!? I exclaimed.  She led us to a gorgeous, quietly resting Bothrops jararaca, tautologically named the Jararaca Lancehead in English.

Green-crowned and Violet-crowned Plovercrests

Jararaca Lancehead

Then we were off to the coasts of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo states, where a host of specialties awaited us. Two kinds of attilas, a lovely Black-hooded Antwren, and Buff-throated Purpletuft were some of the highlights. Spot-breasted Antvireo was one that we ended up seeing again and again.

Another amazing sighting was of a Tooth-billed Hermit tidying up and then settling on her nest.

Spot-breasted Antwren

Tooth-billed Hermit

A bit further south we visited Jonas d’Abronzo’s feeders, as all birding groups do, and we were gobsmacked by the numbers and variety, especially by the filthy common Festive Coquettes. One male sat apart from the feeders to preen for a while.

Festive Coquette

On the southernmost coast of São Paulo we caught up with the Red-tailed Parrots almost too quickly, with the only perched birds right over our hotel within 15 minutes of our arrival. We also saw the Restinga Tyrannulet and Azure Jays quite well, but an even rarer sighting here was of a family group of the extremely localized Black-backed Tanagers.

Black-backed Tanager

We completed the tour at the avian symphony known as Intervales State Park. Bare-throated Bellbirds, White-browed Warblers, tyrannulets, tapaculos, and trogons combined to make an auditory backdrop complex enough to humble any Messiaen. We continued to find some amazing birds such as Temminck’s Seedeater, White-bearded Antshrike, Giant Antshrike, the aforementioned Violet-crowned Plovercrest alongside displaying Dusky-throated Hermit, and Spot-billed Toucanet. A real treat possible only by having a local guide in the form of Luis Avelino was a roosting or possibly even nesting Common Potoo.

Having sharp-eyed participants doesn’t hurt either – one of the most amazing sightings was of a spider wasp having already stung its victim, a ctenid spider that would become the multi-day rations for its developing larva.

Common Potoo

Next year’s tour follows the same itinerary on almost exactly the same dates, and we’re certain to have some amazing and wonderful encounters.

December 4:

Gavin Bieber on the completion of his tour to Panama: Fall at the Canopy Tower

I’ve just returned from a fantastic 12-day tour to Panama's central canal-zone based for a week in the famous Canopy Tower and 4 nights in the Canopy Lodge.  As always this November tour was packed with birds and several charismatic mammals.  From atop the Canopy tower we found a very close Cinnamon Woodpecker that cooperatively foraged in a nearby Cecropia tree on several of our morning vigils. 

Cinnamon Woodpecker

A great afternoon spell from the tower top revealed two soaring King Vultures, a screaming White Hawk, countless migrant Turkey Vultures and a nice array of swifts, not to mention a loafing Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth basking in the afternoon sun.

Three-toed Sloth

Pipeline Road produced wonderful views of Ocellated and Bicolored Antbirds attending a large antswarm, and in the forests around the tower we located a stunning male Rosy Thrush-Tanager which remained in full view for a lengthy encounter. 

Rosy-thrush Tanager

Our day-trip out to Cerro Azul brought us a wealth of tanagers and hummingbirds, with really close views of gaudy Shining Honeycreepers and the scarce Violet-capped Hummingbird.

Shining Honeycreeper

Violet-capped Hummingbird

The lodge provided a great contrast to the tower, with about 100 additional species of birds including both Blue-throated and Yellow-eared Toucanets, and two of the truly snazzy birds in Panama – Tody Motmot and Lance-tailed Manakin. We were even treated to a wonderful Panamanian-style Thanksgiving feast! 

Thanksgiving - Canopy Lodge style

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.

November 27:

Jon Feenstra on the completion of the second half of his tour, Ecuador: The South

After the first half on the Amazon slope of the Andes, it felt like a whole new tour when we crossed the Continental Divide and got into the birds of the Pacific slope. First of all, we went from the cool, humid cloud forest of Reserva Tapichalaca to the hot, dry (even though it did rain on us a little), deciduous forest of Reserva Jorupe. Then after a couple of days birding around there, we made another transition to humid low foothill rainforest at Reserva Buenaventura. And, finally it was back into the dry country for coastal thornscrub, more dry forest, and even a little bit of scoping mudflats and the ocean to round out the bird list and sample the last zone of biodiversity. Just like the first half on the Amazon slope, this Pacific stretch had some great highlights. We started off our first day with a flock of Scarlet-fronted Parakeets, a beautiful, noisy, and little known bird in Ecuador.

A blurry image of Scarlet-fronted Parakeets; they were close...and fast

Some of the common flock birds we saw in this habitat were Collared Antshrikes, Tawny-crowned Pygmy-Tyrants, and seemingly every Tropical Gnatcatcher in the world. At Reserva Jorupe, we saw at least two Pale-browed Tinimous as they poked out of the forest to grab some corn behind the lodge, and flashy White-tailed Jays were also there being a lot less subtle.

White-tailed Jay

In the humid forest of Buenaventura we had no problem finding the critically endangered El Oro Parakeets now that they're nesting in a box near the top of the reserve. We also saw a few Gray-backed Hawks, Broad-billed Motmots, Chestnut-headed Oropendolas, Rufous-winged Tyrannulets, and marveled at the impossible tootling of Song Wrens. Last but not least, certainly not least, and a contender for Bird Of The Trip was the Long-wattled Umbrellabird displaying in the forest below the lodge. It's booming voice (somewhere between a fog horn and a cow) and seemingly impractical appendage make it a thing of superlatives and must be seen to be believed.

Long-wattled Umbrellabird

We finished the trip along the coast with Necklaced Spinetails in the bushes, Chilean Flamingos in the ponds, Peruvian Boobies flying by the bluffs over the Pacific Ocean and some spectacular aerobatics by Magnificent Frigatebirds.

Magnificent Frigatebird choreography

November 25:

Rich Hoyer on the second half of his tour to Peru: The Manu Biosphere Reserve and Machu Picchu

The latter half of our SE Peru tour saw us boating for seven delightful hours down the Upper Madre de Dios from the uppermost port of Atalaya to the Manu Wildlife Center. For some, this relaxing ride in the hands of our skilled boatmen Horacio and Luis was a highlight of the tour. Along the way we saw several Fasciated Tiger-Herons, unexpected Sungrebes (usually in shady, calm waters; not on big open rivers), and many others. One of the more surprising birds was a migrant American Golden-Plover on the rocky shore.

American Golden Plover

Our five days and six nights at the fabulous ecolodge of Manu Wildlife Center flew by. Our visit to the clay lick on a cloudy, rain-threatening morning was a bit odd, as the usual hoards of parrots and parakeets only made brief appearances in the trees overhead before flying off. But the Red-and-green Macaws gathered gradually and descended for a spectacular show of well over a hundred noisy, feathered bundles of primary colors.

Red-and-green Macaws

Two more of the tour’s most enjoyable outings were also by boat, these on a quiet floating platform as we were peacefully paddled around oxbow lakes by Horacio and Luis. On one we had the local and rare Pale-eyed Blackbird and Great-billed Seed-Finch, and an abundance of Purus Jacamars.

Purus Jacamar

On the other boat ride we came close to a heard-only Paint-billed Crake, finally caught up with Lesser Kiskadee, and had amazing views of a Green-and-rufous Kingfisher.

Green-and-rufous Kingfisher

Then there were the trails at Manu Wildlife Center, which revealed many treasures as we walked them slowly. An army ant swarm had a several birds, the most conspicuous of which was a pair of Black-spotted Bare-eyes. Gilded Barbet popped in a few times for excellent views, and a pair of Bat Falcons announced their presence from an exposed dead tree in the middle of the forest. Absolute trip highlights for some were a Cream-colored Woodpecker foraging quietly very low over the trail, a pair of Red-necked Woodpeckers doing the same and completely unconcerned with our presence, and a very seldom encountered Collared Puffbird that conveniently chose a perch we could see from the trail.

Cream-colored Woodpecker

Red-necked Woodpecker

Collared Puffbird

The canopy platform revealed several treasures of the treetops that we would have never seen from the trails below. Peruvian Spider Monkeys lounging in distant tree tops, Ivory-billed Aracaris hopping around in the canopy, and tanager flocks at and below eye level are just some examples. Most memorable was a pair of Blue Dacnis just feet away, glowing in the morning sunlight, and electric Paradise Tanagers in the same tree were hard to forget.

Paradise Tanager

Even the gardens around our cabins were worth watching, with the porterweed hosting a White-chinned Sapphire, Sapphire-spangled Emeralds, a Reddish Hermit, and a male Festive Coquette, providing wonderful viewing opportunities.

Festive Coquette

We finished at the incomparable Machu Picchu with Vilma, a wonderful guide who clearly takes pride and interest in the story of this wonder. She can also take a mean group photo.

Group at Machu Picchu - Photo: Vilma Zuñiga

We also had some excellent and memorable birding here at Machu Picchu. A Collared Inca looking almost more like a glittering jacamar was a most stunning specimen, and a pair of Inca Wrens duetting and showing off their beautiful plumage were unforgettable. We walked along the tracks to find the charming White-capped Dipper, and a female Torrent Duck dipped into the river several times at very close range, eventually resting on a rock just below us to re-waterproof her plumage.

Torrent Duck

I can’t guarantee we’ll be able to keep the species count down to a more reasonable number next year (nearly 600 species is hard to keep track of!), but no matter what we see, I look forward to some exciting and truly memorable experiences.

November 21:

Paul Holt on the completion of his tour to Goa, India

Highlights of this year's tour, our 16th to this balmy South Indian paradise, were many and varied but included regional specialities such as Black-capped Kingfisher (voted ‘Bird of the Tour’), Indian Pitta, Sri Lanka Frogmouth and Brown Wood Owl; a large number of gorgeous south Asian species such as Indian Roller, Green Bee-eater and Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher and even a few local rarities such as a Red-headed Merlin.

Bird of the tour - Black-capped Kingfisher

Sri Lanka Frogmouth

Brown Wood Owl

Indian Roller

I love this tour. The birding is superb and we stay a remarkable, stress free, 14 consecutive nights in the same hotel! Can any other bird tour anywhere say the same? With comfortable, well-appointed rooms, an immaculately clean swimming pool, great food and superbly friendly, attentive service, it was all the more remarkable that we did as much birding as we did! Combine all this with Goa’s gorgeous weather, and one has the ingredients for a fabulously successful tour.


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