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From the Field

February 14:

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... 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.

February 11:

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...

February 7:

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!

February 6:

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.

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.

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