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From the Home/From the Field

January 26:

Jake Mohlmann reports from Argentina

We just wrapped up another WINGS tour through southern Argentina covering several distinct habitats like the vast wind-swept steppe, southern beech forests, and the dry monte desert.

Our excited group in front of the Perito Moreno Glacier in Calafate.

One of the reasons to come to this part of the world is to see the Magellanic Plover, the only member of its unique family resembling a tiny dove pirouetting on wind-swept shorelines. Not only did we have the best views ever of this species in the morning light, we quickly realized the reason we got so close was because of two golf ball-sized chicks running for cover amongst the rocky substrate.

An adult Magellanic Plover with chick nearby.

Waterfowl is a constant presence no matter which habitat we explore, with flocks of some species into the hundreds. Roughly 30 species were encountered on the trip. This year was by far the best year for not only viewing numbers of Spectacled Ducks, but getting extremely close too.

 

Spectacled Ducks in Tierra del Fuego National Park.

The Nathofagus forests of southern Patagonia host a unique palette of species endemic to this particular habitat. Perhaps the most sought after is the Magellanic Woodpecker, South America’s largest and darn good looking too! We had searched for over half the day for this species in Los Glaciares National Park and just before we were going to throw in the towel, our driver mentioned seeing a pair fly in near where he had parked. Lucky for us they were still in the area and we were able to take endless pictures of both male and female of this coveted creature.

This male Magellanic Woodpecker aflame atop a snag.

Argentina doesn’t boast the numbers of endemic bird species that some South American countries do, but the ones they have are quite special. We were excited to see the endemic White-throated Cacholote, a large member of the furnariid family, defending its well-constructed nest with gusto just outside Puerto Madryn. After walking through a nesting colony of thousands of pairs of penguins, the trail at Punta Tombo led us to the coast where another pair of Argentine endemic White-headed Steamer-Ducks rested on the rocks.

The endemic White-throated Cacholote near its nest.

 

A pair of White-headed Steamer-Ducks endemic to this region.

Mammals are always a highlight on any trip through Patagonia. There were several highlights among the 17 species we saw including a very confiding Argentine Gray Fox. A pair of these ‘false foxes’ were stretched out across the road outside Punta Tombo. They were so approachable in fact those who wanted got out of the van and got quite close for a serious dose of photographs.

 

an Argentine Gray Fox lounging in the road.

Most of the reptiles, especially the snakes, that we see tend to be roadkill at some point during the trip meeting their demise from unsuspecting drivers. Due to the temperatures being in the perfect range this year we got to see a couple live ones, including a monte desert endemic Mousehole Snake crossing the road at Punta Piramides.

A docile Mousehole Snake on a dusty road.

A constant wanderer around the breeding Southern Sea Lion and Elephant Seal colonies is the Snowy Sheathbill. This odd bird is the custodian of the mammal groups, frequently cleaning up scraps of afterbirths and carcasses. It was a good year for this species. A sign of good times, or maybe bad?

Snowy Sheathbill walks through the Sea Lion colony.

January 25:

Jared Clarke reports from our recent Newfoundland in Winter 2023 tour

The first of two “Newfoundland in Winter” tours this year was held January 7-13, with five excited birders braving the elements to enjoy some wonderful winter birding. Participants traveled from across the United States to enjoy the diversity of northern species that call this island home, and they were not disappointed. Dovekies had been scarce so far this season, but our group’s persistence paid off and we eventually found several throughout the week – including close-up views of one very obliging bird in a sheltered boat harbour. 

We also enjoyed great looks at a Thick-billed Murre loafing on the waters of Conception Bay, and several Razorbills battling much rougher seas of the open North Atlantic. Sought-after birds like Purple Sandpiper, Tufted Duck, Black-headed Gull and Great Cormorant were on full display almost daily, and Boreal Chickadees popped in to visit as we strolled forest trails. 

A Pink-footed Goose, a rare visitor from Europe, was an added highlight everyone and a “lifer” for most. 

We enjoyed seeing numerous seals, including two extremely handsome Harp Seals lounging at a yacht club. 

An exciting encounter with three Willow Ptarmigan and a beautiful Rough-legged Hawk on the snow-covered tundra rounded off a fantastic week of winter birding at the edge of the continent!

Also seen on this tour were:

Bohemian Waxwings

Eurasian Wigeon

Black-headed Gull

January 17:

Steve Howell reports from the completion of his ever-popular San Blas, Mexico, tour.

Cloudless blue skies every day and warmer than usual temperatures made for a wonderful remedy to the cold and rain across much of North America and Europe. One day we started with this pair of Collared Forest-Falcons posing on a palm frond,

 

Followed by this elegant male Elegant Quail.

 

While another day ended with close-up and personal views the bizarre Northern Potoo.

 

The boat trips are always fun, this year with good numbers of Bare-throated Tiger-Herons

 

And great views of nesting Wood Storks...

 

Plus the bonus of Yellow-breasted Crake, only discovered in the area in 2022.

 

Colima Pygmy-Owls were more numerous than usual, and we had to walk away from this endearing fluffball.

 

Bat Falcons continue to maintain their presence in the area and were one of 20 species of raptor we encountered in a fabulous and fun winter getaway, which was over all too soon—I’m already ready to go back in 2024!

December 21:

Steve Howell and Luke Seitz report from their recent Tasman Sea Cruise between New Zealand and Australia.

Before the actual cruise our pre-extension around Melbourne introduced us to many austral delights, such as the aptly named Superb Fairy-Wren...

 

And the bizarre Tawny Frogmouth, here on a nest with its young.

 

Then to the cruise proper, which proved highly successful, with birds ranging from gadflies to parrots, and often we were able to watch from the bow...

Where seeing this Wandering Albatross one minute...

And this Red-tailed Tropicbird only three minutes later reinforced the mixed pelagic habitats we traversed.

 

Notably notable were the 11 species of gadfly petrels (genus Pterodroma) we encountered (of some 36 tubenoses in total), including the handsome White-headed Petrel

Here with Striped Dolphins in the background

 

And the poorly known Pycroft’s Petrel,

 

Here in direct comparison with the notoriously similar Cook’s Petrel.

 

On land we enjoyed close views of two iconic New Zealand Parrots, the notorious Kea...

 

And the subtly multicolored Kaka

 

Plus the vocally arresting and visually stunning Tui, a large honeyeater.

 

Various other species ranged from the elegant Royal Spoonbill

To the scarce New Zealand Falcon,

 

But ultimately it was mostly about seeing oceanic birds in their element, the Southern Ocean, from a stable platform.

December 16:

Gavin Bieber reports from the Canopy Tower in Panama

Our short fall 2022 trip to the famous Panama Canopy Tower was packed with birds and several charismatic mammal species (an amazing 20 species) including almost daily visits to the tower from Geoffrey’s Tamarins, Kinkajous and a Western Lowland Olingo. 

Around the tower we located well over two hundred species of birds, including gaudy and overtly tropical birds such as White-whiskered Puffbird, Blue Cotinga, a day-roosting Black-and-White Owl and Black-cheeked Woodpeckers, as well as a host of interesting non-avian things like this rather regal looking Spiny-tailed Iguana.

The day trip up to the (relative) highlands of Cerro Azul produced a wonderful female Yellow-eared Toucanet, a very responsive Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker, and a great array of hummingbirds including handsome White-necked Jacobins and Blue-chested.  Our other full day away from the tower explored the Atlantic slope on the west side of the canal, where, among over 100 species we found Spot-crowned Barbets to be particularly prevalent this year.

This tour continues to impress me, as the diversity and richness of the region, paired with ease of access and the comforts and uniqueness of the tower make for a truly wonderful experience.

Black and White Owl

Black Spiny-tailed Iguana

Black-cheeked Woodpecker

Blue Cotinga

Blue-chested Hummingbird

Kinkajou

Shiny Honeycreeper

Spot-crowned Barbet

Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker

White-necked Jacobin

White-whiskered Puffbird

Yellow-eared Toucanet

November 21:

Jon Feenstra reports after his recent Southern Ecuador tour

We just finished another epic visit to southern Ecuador. In just over two weeks we traveled from the mangroves of the coast to the Amazonian foothills of the Cordillera del Condor on the border of Peru and everything in between: deserts and paramo, dry forest, and rain forest. We found nearly 550 species, and from all of that it was hard to pick just a few highlights for this!

Recently discovered (5 years ago), Blue-throated Hillstar is now a regular bird on the tour. It’s a long bumpy ride to get there, and on a mountaintop in the middle of nowhere, and usually cold and windy, but it’s worth it. (And it was pleasantly warm and sunny.)

 

The scenery was pretty great, too, with views of neighboring mountains in all directions.

 

No trip to Southern Ecuador is complete without the hike into Reserva Tapichalaca to see the Jocotoco Antpitta, one of Ecuador’s most famous birds. It’s on billboards and statues and stamps.

It’s so famous, it sometimes even sits atop the tree for Christmas.

A flashy highlight of the Amazon foothills was this Coppery-chested Jacamar waiting outside its nest burrow along the Rio Bombuscaro in Podocarpus National Park.

And, this tiny Black-and-white Tody-Flycatcher was just over the border into Peru, on a remote road through the Cordillera del Condor. There probably wasn’t a Peruvian for 100km, but the map said we were in Peru, so we added some extra international birding flavor to the tour.

Days ended with a round of cold beers after a good day in the field. Here we are, not long before the beers, but just after seeing a Long-wattled Umbrellabird at the Buenaventura Reserve.

November 10:

Rich Hoyer reports from our Bolivia: Northern Andes, Madidi National Park, and Barba Azul tour

The second of our two Bolivia tours took us to some stunningly beautiful and remote areas, and the fabulous birds and landscapes made for a memorable and enjoyable trip. It was also wonderful that everyone was interested in pausing for fascinating flowers, showy butterflies, damselflies at 15,000 feet elevation, and of course a Maned Wolf on our last morning at Barba Azul. We had two excellent drivers with the Lijerón brothers who treated us very well with their long hours on difficult roads and busy La Paz traffic, and we certainly enjoyed their refined picnic breakfast and lunch skills.

 

It was a trip highlight to have such wonderful views of Blue-throated Macaw at Reserva Barba Azul. It wasn’t our only target bird there, but it did garner the highest score in our favorite birds of the tour. The name of the reserve is the local name for the bird, after all, and it is one of the rarest parrots of the world. We had to cross the Rio Omi by boat to see them, but on our last morning a small group chased a Hook-billed Kite halfway across the river, and we even saw them from the dining hall.

 

The second ranking highlight of the tour, also at Barba Azul, was our morning experience with the fabulous Cock-tailed Tyrants of the tall, old-growth grasslands. We watched one male courting a female at close range, when he then switched to hawking insects, and then interacted with another male, while in the far distance, yet another male could be seen displaying.

 

A close encounter with a Tropical Screech-Owl at Barba Azul was also among the tour favorites.

 

Our time in the Andes was also spectacular. We spent a fair amount of time in the valley above Sorata where we finally managed to connect with the super local endemic Berlepsch’s Canastero.

 

The highest elevations were exhilarating, and here we had amazing views of nesting Giant Coots, Silvery Grebes, charming Andean Geese, and several ground-tyrants, among many others.

 

The eastern slope of the Andes offered something new at every stop, with tanagers in mixed flocks and butterflies puddling in the road. On our return after dark, we were flagged down by a young Dutch birding couple who alerted us to a group of Oilbirds coming to a roadside hot spring. Seeing and hearing them in our lights overhead was an unforgettable experience. On our way down the east slope we stopped at a bridge over a side creek and were delighted by an amazingly cooperative Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper.

 

At the lower elevations near Apolo, we spent a day in Madidi National Park where we targeted the near-mythical Inti Tanager. We eventually heard one singing, which was better than nothing, but we scored big on our day in the opposite direction, with Swallow-tailed Cotinga being one of the first birds of the day. Even the difficult Green-capped Tanager showed well. It was a special day to see two of South America’s most range-restricted birds in the same location.

October 30:

Gavin reports from Victoria and Tasmania, Australia Part 2

The other half of the Victoria and Tasmania tour concentrates on the incredibly scenic Victoria coastline, from famous spots like the Bay of Islands and the Twelve Apostles, to the heathlands south of Melbourne and the stunning coastline of Tasmania.  We started off around Melbourne, getting to know a few common but flashy birds like Superb Fairywren, Rainbow Lorikeet and New Holland Honeyeater, as well as a few more reticent one such as Rufous Bristlebird.  Our final few days of the tour are spent in Tasmania, where we located all of the Tasmanian endemics, including the staid Dusky Robin, skulky Scrubtit, brilliant (and not so green) Green Rosella, hulking Tasmanian Native-Hens, and endangered Forty-spotted Pardalote.  We also enjoyed intimate views of the critically endangered Swift Parrot, seeing perhaps as much as 20% of the extant global population.  Mammals were prevalent on Bruny, with daily view of several species like Bennet’s Wallabies, Tasmanian Pademelons, Common Brushtail Possums and several Eastern Quolls.  We wrapped up the trip with 260 species of birds and 17 mammals.  With the breadth of wildlife and scenery this tour never fails to deliver, and I very much look forward to returning to this corner of the country in 2024.

Superb Fairywren

Rainbow Lorikeet

New Holland Honeyeater

Rufous Bristlebird

Dusky Robin

Scrubtit

Green Rosella

Tasmanian Native-hen

Forty-spotted Paradote

Swift Parrot

Bay of Islands

Bennet's Wallaby

Bruny Island, Tasmania

Cape Bruny

October 30:

Gavin reports from Victoria and Tasmania, Australia Part 1

On our 2022 tour of Southeastern Australia covered a large loop around the state of Victoria (and a bit of New South Wales).  Our first few days around Melbourne were unfortunately caught by a passing storm, with blustery winds and rain.  As we headed inland though conditions improved greatly, and by the time we returned to the coast it felt much more like spring.  The wet forests around Healesville produced our hoped-for birds like Superb Lyrebird, Satin Bowerbird and Gang-Gang Cockatoo, as well as some extreme close ups of Common Bronzewings, Fan-tailed Cuckoo, Spotted Pardalote, and Sulphur-crested Cockatoos.  The comparatively arid plains of central New South Wales were kind to us, with a brilliant pair of Plains-Wanderers showing very well and a muppet-like Tawny Frogmouth sitting on a roadside nest.  In the giant mallee parks of Northwestern Victoria, we enjoyed a near-perfect day in the field, with Striated Grasswren performing extremely well, showy Pink Cockatoos, a perched Chestnut Quailthrush that lingered for over five minutes, perched Regent Parrots, nesting Red-capped Robins and stunning Splendid Fairywrens; always a crowd-pleaser. As the temperatures climbed, we began to spot a few non-avian species as well, like a handsome Central Bearded Dragon and  quizzical looking Shingleback. 

Tawny Frogmouth

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo

Striated Grasswren

Spotted Paradote

Splendid Fairywren

Shingleback

Regent Parrot

Red-capped Robin

Plains-wanderer

Major Mitchell's Cockatoo

Fain-tailed Cuckoo

Common Bronzewing

Chestnut Quail-Thrush

Central Bearded Dragon

October 28:

Gavin reports from Queensland and New South Wales, Part 2

The second half of our Eastern Australia kicked off on the idyllic Lady Elliot Island, on the southern edge of the Great Barrier Reef.  Here we marveled at nesting Black Noddies just feet from our lenses, as well as a host of other seabirds and a wide array of marine life, including several gorgeous reef fish like Lagoon Triggerfish.

A stop in at Inskip Point a bit to the south of Lady Elliot revealed some very cooperative Beach Thick-Knees and stunning Blue-faced Honeyeaters that were busily eating winged ants that were emerging from the ground in a small city park. A little to the south around the famous O’Reilly’s Lodge the birds are almost tame, and forest birds often come to investigate your shoelaces.  Normally shy Eastern Whipbirds, Crimson Rosellas and gorgeous Regent Bowerbirds are common visitors around the lodge, where they look over (or from) your shoulder for any dropped tidbits.

After O’Reilly’s we flew down to Sydney where we spent some time in the stunning and large Royal National Park that lies just a little to the south of the city. This park provided a great and scenic backdrop for our final day and a half, with a family group of Powerful Owls on a day roost and a repeated and excellent views of the aptly named Superb Fairywren.  Our pelagic was unfortunately cancelled this year, but we spent the day well, birding around Sydney and connecting with our first Australian Reed-Warblers and this handsome Eastern Blue-tongued Skink.  We finished the Eastern Tour with an impressive 281 species, and an amazing 413 species for the two tours combined.  It is always with a touch of sadness that I board the plane to leave this amazing continent, and I very much look forward to next year’s duo of tours!

Australian Reed Warbler

Beach Thick-knee

Black Noddy

Blue-faced Honeyeater

Eastern blue-tongued skink

Eastern Whipbird

Lagoon Triggerfish

Powerful Owl

Regent Bowerbird

Superb Fairywren

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