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From the Field

March 22:

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.


Hispaniolan Parakeet


Hispaniolan Lizard-Cuckoo


La Selle Thrush


Hispaniolan Trogon


Ridgeway's Hawk


Broad-billed Tody

March 21:

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!

March 12:

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...


Scarlet-faced Liocichla


Pale-billed Parrotbill


Grey Peacock-pheasant

March 11:

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


Caribbean Elania


The brilliant Malachite


Lonely "Mr Pinky"

March 10:

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.

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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.

March 2:

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.

February 27:

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!

February 25:

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

February 17:

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


Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan


Orange-breasted Fruiteater


Our group under the Cock-of-the Rock statue outside of Mindo...


...and practicing 'civilized' birding at Mirador del Rio Blanco

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...


...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.

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