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From the Field

December 9:

Paul French on his recently finished tour, Ghana

Ghana represents by far the easiest and most comfortable way to access West Africa's Upper Guinea rainforests and their host of endemic and special birds. Our tour took in the rainforests of the south and the savannah woodland of the north, resulting in nearly 370 species and some very special experiences. Here's a look at one of our days.


Our first foray into the hot and humid rainforest world was in the nation's most famous national park, Kakum, and its even more famous canopy walkway.

At 350 meters long and suspended over 30 meters high, Kakum's canopy walkway is one of only three canopy walkways in Africa. It's a great place to see many species that are otherwise very difficult to find, and just hanging around in the branches of canopy giants is a breath-taking experience.

From here, birds are seemingly more fearless of humans and can approach quite closely. This Black Bee-eater demonstrates that in good light, it is actually not black at all!

Little Grey Flycatcher is often missed on Ghana tours, being unobtrusive and often high up. We enjoyed prolonged views of this tiny flycatcher.

A pair of Violet-backed Hyliotas clambered around the flowering branches above us, showing us that they are one of the few species where the orange-breasted female is more brightly coloured than the male.

Overhead, a multitude of Common Swifts contained a good number of Pallid Swifts, but as soon as this Cassin's Spinetail appeared, all other swifts were forgotten!

Bird of the day however, was not actually a bird! Initially mistaking its long, hanging tail for a large snake, the scales soon gave away that this belonged to a Long-tailed Pangolin! It crept into view, and then proceeded to give a great show in a tree close to one of the platforms. Depressingly rare nowadays, this was a real treat, and its just a shame all the photos were looking into the sun...

At the end of the day, a pair of Black-casqued Hornbills drifted lazily over the forest on their way to roost.


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December 3:

Steve Howell reports from this year’s recently concluded tour, Chile: Tierra del Fuego to the Atacama Desert.

As well as incredible scenery, good food, and good company, our trip was blessed with mostly good weather. Covering the length and breadth of Chile, this trip always impresses with its contrasts. From stately King Penguins at a bleak beach in Tierra del Fuego to the tiny and critically endangered Chilean Woodstar in the Atacama Desert; from majestic Andean Condors soaring over the snow-capped Andes to Royal Albatrosses sailing over the Humboldt Current; from ultra-confiding Diademed Sandpiper-Plovers at an Andean bog to the iconic Magellanic Woodpecker in impressive southern beech forests; from shady bamboo thickets ringing with the songs of tapaulcos to wide-open Andean vistas with snow-capped volcanoes; and from the subtlety of earthcreepers to the flashy patterns of Chocolate-vented Tyrant, this was simply a great tour. The following images tell a small piece of the tale:

“Bird of the Trip” went to the incomparable little Diademed Sandpiper-Plover, a family group of which approached us to within about 10 feet, after we had posted ourselves 100 yards away to watch!

The Lake District weather was truly astonishing, with cloudless blue days and great vistas.

Magellanic Plover (aka “Ruby-eyed Pluvianellus”) showed well in the south...

As did the striking Chocolate-vented Tyrant.

Our Humboldt Current pelagic is always a highlight of the tour.

Here a Chatham Albatross flying by, with Salvin’s Albatross, Sooty and Pink-footed Shearwaters also in the frame...

Here the huge Northern Royal Albatross, a young bird,...

And here the dashing De Filippi’s Petrel, several of which showed very well.

A happy group at the breath-taking 15,000-foot elevation Chungará Lake.

Spectacular swarms of the poorly known Raimondi’s Yellow-Finch were enjoyed on the last day of the tour—here just a small cross-section of one flock. Photo by tour participant Gordon Bills.

Along with the critically endangered—and tiny—Chilean Woodstar, a fitting finale to a wonderful tour.

November 24:

Gavin Bieber on week two of his tour, Western Australia and Northern Territory

Our second week covered the tropics of the Top End around Darwin and the outpost town of Kununurra, back in Western Australia near the East end of the Kimberley Mountains.  Such diverse habitats yielded an amazing array of birds and mammals. The humid and comparatively lush lands surrounding Darwin seemed stuffed with new birds at every turn.  Waterbird concentrations were excellent, with hundreds of Magpie Geese and lots of Rajah Shelduck surrounding the remaining patches of water and waiting for the arrival of the rainy season. 


Rajah Shelduck

Rainforest patches around Darwin hosted gorgeous and somewhat approachable Rainbow Pittas and lots of gleaming Forest Kingfishers, and in the Botanic Gardens we had a cooperative Barking Owl on a day roost. 


Rainbow Pitta


Forest Kingfisher


Barking Owl

Kununurra has the feel of a real outback town, with isolated and very beautiful grottos, and almost comically swollen Baobab Trees dotting the savannahs.  Out on the savannahs we found the remaining waterholes to be quite active, with wheeling flocks of Galah and Red-collared Lorikeets coming in to drink, and the occasional Blue-winged Kookaburra staring down from an isolated tree. 


Galah


Rainbow Lorikeet


Blue-winged Kookaburra

We capped the trip off with a boat ride on Lake Argyle, where in addition to the hoped-for Yellow Chats we enjoyed excellent views of White-quilled Rock-Pigeons, and several Australian Bustards.


Australian Bustard


White-quilled Rock-Pigeon

November 15:

Gavin Bieber on his recently completed first week of our Western Australia and Northern Territory tour

We spent the first week birding around Perth and the southwest corner of the country.  A wetland park in central Perth provided our first waterbirds, including a very approachable Australian Grebe, this fine drake Hardhead, cute Little Pied Cormorants and a roosting group of Tawny Frogmouth. 


Australian Grebe


Hardhead


Little Pied Cormorant


Tawny Frogmouth

The drier forests around Dryandra and the Stirling Ranges were very productive, with repeated views of the aptly named Splendid Fairy-Wren and a nice array of honeyeaters including the handsome White-cheeked.


Spendid Fairy-Wren


White-cheeked Honeyeater

The gorgeous coastline near Cheyne’s Beach was our backdrop for several days, where we enjoyed especially good views of Common Bronzewing, all three of the coastal heathlands infamous skulkers and some foraging Rock Parrots. 


Common Bronzewing


Rock Parrot

Leaving the temperate SW corner behind we then visited the heart of the country around Alice Springs.  This beautiful desert landscape was heavily gripped by drought and above average temperatures, but here we found an array of fantastic species such as this striking Red-backed Kingfisher, and a Western Bowerbird here seen in mid display at a bower in the botanical gardens


Red-backed Kingfisher


Western Bowerbird

November 11:

Jake Mohlmann on his recently completed tour, Argentina: The North - High Andes, the Chaco and Iguazú Falls

On our recently finished tour through some of Argentina’s northern sections we scoured misty cloud-shorn Yungas forests, meandering Monte scrub, dry thorny Chaco stands, arid endless Altiplano and exceptionally wet southeast Brazilian rainforest. We noted 470 species of birds setting a new record for this ever-evolving and extremely exciting itinerary. There was however one clear highlight I should probably mention first...

 

The Harpy Eagle battling for a nest stick.

While in Calilegua National Park, a local guide stopped and showed us a picture of a Harpy Eagle on her phone. We thought that was exciting for her but sadly of no direct interest to us until we realized she had JUST taken the picture about three kilometers down the road from where we were standing. Needless to say we kicked up some dust as we shot off to the aforementioned area in time to see this unbelievably regal rainforest predator in all its glory! After our initial viewing we managed to track it again further down canyon and watch as it struggled but ultimately succeeded in removing a sturdy branch it was determined to use for its nest.

 

An elated group after seeing the mega predator Harpy Eagle!

Of the 14 species of hummingbirds on the tour it was difficult to pick a favorite, but all agreed it was hard to beat the gaudy rectrices of the male Red-tailed Comet. This bird also happened to be the hummingbird we encountered on the most days of the tour.

 

A metallic male Red-tailed Comet defending a flower patch.

Even though this tour is unique in South America because there is only a single Antpitta that we typically try for, we do tend to see it very well. Among the 15 or so White-throated Antpittas we heard one day, a particularly bold individual couldn’t resist checking us out at close range.

 

This year we had very close views of the White-throated Antpitta.

The scenery at Iguazu Falls never ceases to amaze and witnessing such a huge quantity of water crashing into the depths below is awe inspiring. It’s also amazing how birds, like the Great Dusky Swifts, manage to find nesting substrate in the raging torrent.

 

Eye level views of Great Dusky Swifts at Iguazu Falls

Another bird voted (second) best of the trip by some was the endangered Black-fronted Piping Guan we saw extremely well in northern Misiones Province. Thanks to the expert knowledge of our local guide we watched as one of these spectacular creatures flew in right on time and fed on mossy rocks within 50 feet of the group!

 

This endangered Black-fronted Piping Guan posed for pictures.

September 17:

Susan Myers on her recently completed tour, Borneo: Sabah

As we’ve come to expect over many years, our Borneo experience was full of fabulous bird sightings, as well as amazing mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects and plants. In this incredibly biodiverse part of the world it’s very difficult to choose highlights - there are just too many to list here. What a great problem to have! We divided our time on this fourth largest island between four main sites: the montane forests of Mount Kinabalu, the lowland swamp and riparian forests of the Kinabatangan River and lastly in the hill forests of Tabin and the Danum Valley.

On Mount Kinabalu we sort of managed the Whitehead’s hat trick, although one of them, the spiderhunter, was a brief flyover. But the Whitehead’s Trogon and Broadbill more than made up for that minor disappointment!

Whitehead’s Trogon

We encountered most of the montane endemics as well. Birds with evocative names such as Golden-naped Barbet, Bornean Stubtail, Mountain Wren-Babbler and Crimson-headed Partridge, to name but a few.
Moving on to our next site on the Kinabatangan, we made a detour to check out the three species of swiftlet nesting in the Gomantong Caves. We waited until dusk to see the incredible spectacle of thousands and thousands of bats exiting the caves for their nocturnal forays only to be preyed upon by the waiting Bat Hawks.

Bat Hawk

During our two days on the river, we birded by boat and found healthy numbers of the extraordinary Proboscis Monkeys, endemic to the swamp forests of Borneo.

Proboscis Monkey

Of course, there were many birds, too and standout amongst them were the crazy-looking White-crowned Hornbills, a very lovely Hooded Pitta and gem-like Blue-eared Kingfishers.

Hooded Pitta

Blue-eared Kingfisher


White-crowned Hornbill

On top of that, and for the first time in a few years, we had fantastic views of a Bornean Pygmy Elephant as she fed and then swam across the river. A very memorable experience indeed!

Bornean Pygmy Elephant

In the Tabin Wildlife Reserve we spent two days exploring the excellent forest and found much excitement in the form of Red-naped Trogon, Blue-headed Pitta and multiple species of spiderhunter - Thick-billed, Long-billed, Yellow-eared and Spectacled.
[
Red-naped Trogon


Blue-headed Pitta

A big highlight was this stunning beauty, a female Bornean Keeled Pit Viper.

Bornean Keeled Pit Viper.

Our last destination was the incomparable Danum Valley, where we enjoyed a number of night drives the highlight of which was a Sunda Frogmouth, surely one of the world’s weirdest group of birds.

Sunda Frogmouth

During our day time birding, we had pheasants, pittas, wren-babblers, barbets, woodpeckers and so much more. And that’s just the birds - we also had an array of frogs, reptiles, insects (especially butterflies) and mammals. So much excitement. This area is surely one of the best places to be a naturalist anywhere - I wish I could spend a year here!

Striped Wren-Babbler

Bornean Crested Fireback (Pheasant)


Diard’s Trogon


Harlequin Flying Frog


Twin-barred Tree Snake eating a Yoshii’s Bent-toed Gecko


Triangle Keelback

Borneo is an unforgettable experience and there is literally never a dull moment. There really are very few places in the world that can match the extraordinary biodiversity of this amazing island!

August 11:

Derek Lovitch on his recently completed tour, Maine and New Hampshire

Covering over 1300 miles in eight full days of birding (all in Maine except for about 20 hours in New Hampshire), we tallied 158 species of birds. While this was a few species below our long-term average – mostly due to an afternoon limited by high winds and a morning lost to heavy rain – none of our priorities were missed. Twenty-three species of warblers (including Mourning and Bay-breasted), 13 sparrows (including Nelson’s and Saltmarsh), seven thrushes (yes, including Bicknell’s), six flycatchers, five terns (including lots of Roseate and Arctic), five vireos, and four alcids were recorded.


Palm Warbler


A mix of Alcids on Machias Seal Island

All of the major resident boreal species (e.g. Black-backed Woodpecker, Spruce Grouse, Boreal Chickadee, and Canada Jay) were exceptionally well-seen.  We caught up with a Little Egret – a species (perhaps an individual) that has become a fixture in summer in southern Maine for the last five years.

 
A female Black-backed Woodpecker peering from a nest hole


Canada Jay


Little Egret

With many species reaching the northern limits of their breeding range in southern Maine, and many species reaching the southern or southeastern limits of their breeding range in Western and Eastern Maine, we covered a remarkable diversity of habitats in order to record as many of them as possible. We started in the saltmarshes and dunes of Maine’s southwestern Coast, surrounded by Saltmarsh and Nelson’s Sparrows (and hybrids thereof), Roseate Terns, Piping Plovers, and a variety of wading birds at the absolute northernmost limit of their breeding range.  By the end of the second day, we are almost 6000 feet higher, being serenaded by Bicknell’s Thrushes and Blackpoll Warblers near the top of Mount Washington on an exclusive after-hours tour.

 
The White Mountains of New Hampshire


One of more than 60 lighthouses, most of them active, on the Maine coast

Then, we worked our way across the state – through boreal forests and lowland lakes and marshes – to arrive “Downeast” where we saw Spruce Grouse and Bay-breasted Warblers and visited an offshore island to get up close and personal with the region’s famous breeding seabirds. 

 
Atlantic Puffin


A Razorbill and Common Murres.

Oh, and plenty of lobster was consumed!

 
Yum...

July 29:

Gavin Bieber and Jake Mohlmann on the main section of their recent tour, Alaska: Majesty of the North

Our Alaska Majesty Tour found above average temperatures and a very advanced spring throughout the state, with remarkably nice weather for the entire trip.  We started around Nome, which was, as ever, amazing; an excellent wildflower show, point blank views of birds like Rock Ptarmigan, Harlequin Duck, Gyrfalcon, Aleutian Tern, and the dazzling Bluethroat (still in its active song flight courtship stage) as well as a good showing by a pair of Bristle-thighed Curlews on the Kougarok Road. 


Wildflowers in Nome


Rock Ptarmigan


Harlequin Duck


Aleutian Tern

We then moved inland, traveling through the amazingly scenic Alaska range and the Denali region.  Here we found Smith’s Longspurs on territory, a cooperative (with quite a bit of searching) Northern Hawk Owl perched atop a roadside spruce tree and both Black-backed and American Three-toed Woodpeckers lurking in a recent burn.


An Alaska scene


Smith's Longspur


Northern Hawk Owl

Our final area for the main tour was Seward, where we found the beautiful Resurrection Bay under full sun, with flying Humpback Whales, many close Orca, and an amazing 10 species of alcids including more than a dozen Kittlitz’s Murrelets.

 
Resurrection Bay


Hump-backed Whale

In all we tallied about 166 species on the main tour, and 189 including the extensions to Saint Paul Island and Barrow.  The variety and abundance of birdlife and wildlands on this tour is staggering, and make it arguably the most exhilarating birding and natural history tour available in North America if not the world.

July 17:

Susan Myers on her recently completed tour, Japan in Spring

Our spring Japan tour is all about the endemics which means a lot of island hopping! We started our journey at Karuizawa on Honshu. In spring the forests resonate with the songs of newly arrived migrants. We had great luck with handsome Japanese Green Woodpeckers and Yellow Bunting. Exploring nearby fields, we found a number of species that prefer more open areas, including Green Pheasant, Chestnut-eared Buntings, Bull-headed Shrikes, and Eurasian Skylarks.

 
Green Pheasant

Our next destination was that Japanese icon, the almost perfect Mount Fuji. This year she was magnificent during our stay as she burst through some early morning cloud. We explored the slopes of Fujisan and found Japanese Accentors, as well as many gorgeous Red-flanked Bluetail in stunning breeding plumage.

 
Red-flanked Bluetail

Heading to Miyakejima in the Izu Islands we were ably assisted by my friend Hitomi san and found all our targets– Izu Thrush, Iijima Leaf Warbler, Japanese Wood Pigeon, Japanese Robin, Winter Wren and Owsten’s Varied Tit. The highlight of our stay here was the highly restricted Styan’s Grasshopper Warbler, which showed amazingly well.

 
Styan’s Grasshopper Warbler

On Okinawa we immersed ourselves in the quiet and very beautiful forests of Yanbaru National Park that protects so much of the island’s unique flora and fauna. Our two main targets – the Okinawa Rail and Pryer’s Woodpecker cooperated very nicely, with a total of 17 rails seen!

 
Okinawa Rail

Our next island hop was further south to the delightful island of Ishigaki. Here we met up with a local naturalist, Kobayashi san who knew all the spots and we drove right up to Ryukyu Scops Owl and Northern Boobook, Malaysian Night Heron and Ryukyu Serpent Eagle, which all posed perfectly for us. Ruddy Kingfishers seemed to be everywhere!

 
Ryukyu Serpent Eagle

Our last stop was the lovely, laid back island of Amami ƌshima where we explored the convoluted backroads meandering through the forests not just for birds but for the remarkable short-eared Amami Black Rabbit. We found elegant Ryukyu Flycatchers (split from Narcissus, and rightly so), Ryukyu Minivets, and Red-capped Green Pigeons as well as Lidth’s Jay and a family group of five Amami Woodcocks.

 
Amami Woodcock

July 16:

Fabrice Schmitt and Pierre Defos Du Rau on their recently completed tour, France: Birding à la Française - Birds, Wine and Cheese in Southern France

After years of scouting little restaurants and testing local wines, we finally decided we were ready to propose a ‘Birding à la française’ tour...and it has been great fun!

We had fantastic encounters including stunning views on a male Black Grouse displaying atop a little pine tree in the Vercors, an impressive Eurasian Eagle Owl hunting by daylight, a group of Great Spotted Cuckoo surprising us with amazing views at very short distance in Camargue,

 
Great Spotted Cuckoo

superb views of the colorful European Bee-eater, elegant Scopoli’s Shearwaters seen so well from our ferry on the way to Corsica, and finally fantastic views of the very local Corsican Nuthatch and Marmora’s Warbler in Corsica. 

Greater Flamingo

European Bee-eater

Corsican Nuthatch

Beside birds, we also had great memories of our splendid picnics during which we tested more than 15 different kind of cheese, several pâtés, hams, sausages and other sort of charcuterie, always coming with excellent bread and, obviously, fantastic wines.


A splendid picnic

The stunning flowering alpine meadows, the vast Camargue marshes and the dramatic Asco valley in Corsica were just a few of the many scenic places we travelled through during this succulent tour. We are already looking forward to the next edition!

The Asco valley

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