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From the Home/From the Field

March 16:

Gavin Bieber has recently returned from a successful trip to northern Colombia

We started off in the Caribbean lowlands of far North Colombia, where in the arid scrub at the base of the Guajira Peninsula we found this handsome White-fringed Antwren to be quite cooperative.  Some feeders put out nearby allowed us excellent views of the quite local Orinocan Saltator

as well as a greedy Green Iguana that really seemed to like Papaya. 

Around our tranquil lodge at Finca la Jorara

we were surrounded by forest, and among many birds we were happy to find this quietly perched Russet-throated Puffbird

and busy Red-tailed Squirrels.  In the foothills of the Santa Marta Mountains we stayed at a small ecolodge with excellent feeders.  Here we found our first Steely-vented Hummingbirds

and White-necked Jacobin

as well as the flashy Yellow-tailed Oriole,

several almost unbelievably colourful Blue-naped Chlorophonia

and some bright and tropical looking butterflies like this Clysonymus Longwing.

The second half of the trip covered the upper stretches of the San Lorenzo Ride, a series of peaks that lie just off the central ranges of the Santa Marta, topping off at a little over 9000 feet.  Our lodge for this section of the trip is the ProAves owned and operated El Dorado, a wonderful location with a newly constructed ridgetop restaurant

that offers amazing views of the mountains.  

The lodge feeders were always busy, with tanagers such as Black-capped Tanager, and an array of hummingbirds, such as the very common but stunning Crowned Woodnymph,

and the endemic and spectacular White-tailed Starfrontlet. 

Near the lodge we enjoyed multiple views of the near endemic White-tipped Quetzal

at a staked-out nest site, quite tame Sickle-winged Guans

and daily encounters with a family group of Masked Trogons. 

Along the ridgetop we found virtually all of the accessible Santa Marta endemics including the furtive but colourful Santa Marta Warbler. 

As always in the tropics there is life abounding at all strata in the forest, and in the understory we often came across interesting creatures as well, from this amazing wasp mimic Moth in the genus Isanthrene,

this Leopard Moth,

an array of endemic frogs such as this Ground Robber Frog

and the rarely encountered Savage’s Mushroomtongued Salamander. 

In all we tallied over three hundred species of birds in a very enjoyable week of birding, accompanied by some very comfortable lodges, excellent food and a really fun group of participants.

March 14:

Rich Hoyer updates us on his recent Costa Rica tour

We had a wonderful tour to Costa Rica this spring. Every day brought us so many wonderful sightings of beautiful birds, stunning botanical delights, and fascinating other forms of life.

On our first morning’s stop just outside Tapantí National Park the barrage of new birds was overwhelming, but everyone was certain to claim this Elegant Euphonia as one of their favorite birds. But then we saw one amazing species after the next, such as soaring Barred Hawks, an Ornate Hawk-Eagle right over our heads, Prong-billed Barbets duetting, and on and on – and the euphonia was all but forgotten save for this lucky photo.

 

Our three days on the Osa Peninsula were full of wonderful experiences, one being our short afternoon hike up Quebrada Pizote, wading in the refreshingly cool water.

 

It was here we spotted two elusive White-tipped Sicklebills, one on its nest and another already on its evening roost by 3:00 in the afternoon.

 

Farther up the west coast we had two different Pacific Screech-Owls on their day roosts in unbelievably open perches.

 

A birding group with friends from Indiana told us about an army ant swarm just down the road from our hotel at Arenal. It had moved farther down the road from the previous day but was still in the area. We were able to see several species in attendance, including five or six Bicolored Antbirds and as many as ten or more Ocellated Antbirds, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The swarm had moved into the territory of a pair of these adorable Spotted Antbirds, which don’t often attend such swarms.

 

Our full morning at La Selva Biological Station was a rich experience with many highlights, thanks to the help of our excellent local guide Octavio. We caught sight of this Black Hawk-Eagle at the very beginning of its morning soar, so it was very low over the treetops as it began its whistled song and circled high out of sight.

 

We had some serious odonate watchers in our group, which added a lot to the tour.

 

At La Selva we all enjoyed watching this normally quite shy Blue-winged Helicopter at close range as it munched on a spider, a truly fabulous damselfly and one of the largest in the world.

 

While looking for more damselflies, Norm spotted this Great Tinamou bathing below a footbridge, totally unafraid of our presence.

A short video, including the bathing Great Tinamou can be found at https://youtu.be/TsDV9MoY4UQ

 

We also visited a few feeding stations throughout the tour, which offered some excellent photo opportunities. This incomparable Red-legged Honeycreeper was one of many colorful species at our last lunch stop.

February 23:

Steve Howell reports from our recent Honduras tour...

... which started on a great note with the regional endemic Bushy-crested Jay at our first hotel.

 

In the cloud forest of La Tigra Nation Park, here the watchers...

 

And here the watched, the tiny but dazzling Wine-throated Hummingbird.

 

Arguably the rarest bird of the tour was the very poorly known puncticollis (appropriately meaning ‘spot-necked’) taxon of Black-banded Woodcreeper, endemic to northern Middle America and surely a species split—when somebody gets around to it.

 

No birding trip to the country is complete without seeing Honduran Emerald, the only bird species endemic to Honduras.

 

Although other hummers may be flashier, such as this male Crowned Woodnymph... Photo by tour participant Anthony Collerton

 

Or the simply stunning White-necked Jacobin. Photo by tour participant Anthony Collerton

Honduras is the land of motmots, and we enjoyed excellent views of four species, including the local Keel-billed Motmot...

 

And the diminutive Tody Motmot. Photo by tour participant Anthony Collerton

 

Non-avian highlights included this Wilson’s Montane Pit Viper at La Tigra...

 

Prolonged views of this Northern Tamandua...

 

And an impressively large American Crocodile, too big to fit all of it in the frame! Photo by tour participant Anthony Collerton

February 1:

Jake Mohlmann reports from sunny Arizona.

We just wrapped up another successful WINGS Arizona in Winter tour through the southeastern portion of the state. Just over 1,000 miles of scenic roads were covered, exploring an assortment of habitats from the cactus-studded Sonoran Desert to the snow-capped peaks of the surrounding sky island mountain ranges.

Our excited group ready to explore Cave Creek Canyon

A major highlight for the group was chasing down birds in the upper reaches of the Chiricahua Mountains. The 2-track that leads up to the pine forests here gave us a chance to find a major target bird for any North American birder. Eventually some call notes led us to a flock that contained our quarry as we enjoyed eye level views of a small group of Mexican Chickadees in the only place that’s publicly accessible to see this very local species.

Birding the Chiricahua pine forests is the only accessible spot … 

… to see the Mexican Chickadee, of which we saw 4.

Being based out of an extremely comfortable bed and breakfast for the week was a nice feature, and gave us refuge at the end of the days to have home cooked meals and a fireplace to sit next to for reviewing the checklist every night. It also gave us lots of time to enjoy the showy birds that call this part of the country home, such as numerous days viewing both female and bright male Pyrrhuloxias at the feeders.

 

A male Pyrrhuloxia in the morning light.

To say the Sandhill Crane spectacle we witnessed was amazing would be an understatement. Our perfectly timed outing had us standing on a berm abutting a giant wetland where thousands of cranes came pouring in for hours, filling the skies of the giant Sulphur Springs Valley with a cacophony of bugling adults and whistling young.

 

Sandhill Cranes filled the skies of Sulphur Springs Valley

Both young and adult cranes flew by extremely close

Even the numerous parks around Tucson hold highlights this time of year. One never knows what will show up in these urban oases, but usually there’s something exciting to track down. As was the case this year when a couple of ‘pip pip pip’ notes led us right to the location of a wintering Greater Pewee seeking refuge from the wind near Reid Park, placed in the heart of the city.

 

This Greater Pewee was utilizing a small pond in the middle of Tucson.

January 31:

Steve Howell reports from San Blas, Mexico

Steve is heading home after finishing two consecutive tours to this wonderful destination. Both tours were the same in that they were similar yet also quite different—you never see ‘everything’ on a single tour, but with two combined we really didn’t miss much.

 

Just another day birding in tropical sunny Mexico (photo by Luke Seitz)

 

Highlights of both included classic species such as Russet-crowned Motmot

 

the stunning Black-throated Magpie-Jay

 

the handsome Laughing Falcon

 

and the tiny Bumblebee Hummingbird. Photo by participant Li Li.

 

The first group enjoyed close studies of Lesser Ground-Cuckoo...

 

And the understated yet distinctive Flammulated Flycatcher

 

Whereas the second group drank in a point-blank, male Red-breasted Chat

 

And was lucky enough to encounter the little-known White-fronted Swift, seen only a handful of times since being described as new to science in 1992. Photo by participant Li Li.

 

Non-avian highlights included numerous colorful butterflies, such as this Common Banner...

 

And some extremely large American Crocodiles.

 

Here, our last picnic lunch in the field after a wonderful getaway to sunshine, great food, friendly people, and colorful birds before reluctant return to Covid madness in the “real world”

January 25:

Gavin Bieber just finished up a very enjoyable winter Florida tour

We began our winter Florida tour this year in Orlando, which allowed us access to the central and northern parts of the state which our normal spring tour doesn’t cover.  On the famous Space Coast we connected with out of range Black-headed Gull and Cinnamon Teal, and enjoyed our first views of such iconic Florida species as Wood Stork and American Alligator.

A day trip up around Gainesville produced absolutely phenomenal views of an unusually cooperative Henslow’s Sparrow as well as close views of hunting Snail Kites, brassy coloured Fulvous Whistling Ducks and a seemingly inexhaustible number of Palm Warblers

On the drive down to Fort Myers we cut through the middle of the state and were successful at tracking down a pair of stately Whooping Cranes, as well as this handsome Crested Caracara.  This Painted Bunting and several Short-tailed Hawks put on a show in the Fort Myers area as well. Enroute to the deep south of the state we stopped in near the south end of Lake Okeechobee to look at a few Tricoloured Munias that seem to be nesting in the thick grasses that ring the lakeshore.

For the final leg of the trip we birded around the Everglades National Park and suburban Miami, where we finally had warm enough weather for a few lively insects like this handsome Halloween Pennant, as well as some decidedly tropical looking birds like Purple Gallinule and the introduced Red-whiskered Bulbul.

We covered quite a bit of ground during the week, seeing a wide array of Florida’s habitats and birds; 182 species to be exact.  As always, Florida isn’t just about the birds, and this year we enjoyed excellent views of American Alligator, a distant frolicking pair of River Otter, lots of introduced but colourful lizards, a good number of butterflies (thanks Greg Greene), odonates and even a few fish!  It was a welcome respite from the cold grey winter that gripped much of the country! 

Black-headed Gull

Cinnamon Teal

Wood Stork

American Alligator

Henslow’s Sparrow

Snail Kite

Fulvous Whistling Duck

Palm Warbler

Whooping Crane

Crested Caracara

Painted Bunting

Short-tailed Hawk

Tricoloured Munia

Halloween Pennant

Purple Gallinule

Red-whiskered Bulbul

January 21:

Jake Mohlmann reports from a successful return to Argentina

We just navigated through a hugely successful trip across the southern cone of South America on our latest Argentina expedition. This extensive tour covered the vast pampas grass and wetlands, wind-swept Patagonian steppe, and southern beech forests enshrouding the southern tip of the continental Americas. The scenery was always stunning, and many of the abundant varied habitats offered were thoroughly explored providing an amazing array of regional specialties. One such rarity was the near-endemic Band-tailed Earthcreepers seen on multiple days at Punta Tombo and along the dusty 2-tracks outside of El Calafate. Visiting the barren landscapes around Rio Grande on the island of Tierra del Fuego provided up close and personal views of both juvenile and adult Magellanic Plovers. This year we saw them from the comfort of our comfortable sprinter van as we pulled up to a lakeshore and closely observed this unique shorebird of the southernmost reaches of the planet. The famed Valdez Peninsula seems barren, but the shoreline is filled with life including several colonies of breeding Southern Sea Lions and the bird species that utilize the chance at this ephemeral meal source, such as the 20 Snowy Sheathbills we tallied. Our unforgettable boat trip down the Beagle Channel was filled with nesting pelagic birds including thousands of Magellanic and Imperial Cormorants raising their sea-bound young. Raptors were seen daily and often next to the roadsides. One particularly photogenic species was Cinereous Harrier, sometimes at eye level and quite close. As one heads south the tree line gets lower in elevation. As a result obtaining views of birds normally seen high up with little oxygen are much easier to accomplish. As was the case for an unbelievable encounter with a male Yellow-bridled Finch braving the steep scree slopes outside of Ushuaia. All this makes it hard to believe we packed in so many amazing experiences in just 2 short weeks in southern South America.

Our excited group after seeing an enormous ice chunk slough off the Perito Moreno Glacier

Near-endemic Band-tailed Earthcreepers crossed our paths

Magellanic Plover; A Magellanic Plover feeds on the shores of a salty lagoon

Snowy Sheathbill and Southern Sea Lions; A Snowy Sheathbill feeds on an afterbirth in a Southern Sea Lion colony

Imperial Cormorants and Ushuaia; Productive Imperial Cormorant colonies along the Beagle Channel

A Cinereous Harrier gave us multiple amazing photograph opportunities

This Yellow-bridled Finch came within a meter of some lucky tour participants

January 7:

Rich Hoyer completed his wonderful Christmas in Oaxaca tour recently.

It can’t have been a surprise that the Red Warbler was mentioned by the most participants as one of their favorite birds on this year’s Oaxaca at Christmastime tour – it’s always an arresting sight to see such a jewel in the pine-oak forests.

The first one we saw was up high and difficult, the second was a bit better but in the dark forest understory, the third was brilliant and gorgeous, the fourth was just as cooperative, and then we saw a fifth and realized that there might be too much of a good thing.

 

So we turned our attention instead to a Golden-browed Warbler and flock of Dwarf Jays until we were drawn by the stunning beauty of a pair of Princely Tiger Moths mating in the middle of the road.

 

Birds from the drier parts of the Oaxaca Valley included great views of the Mexican endemic Boucard’s Wren, not quite as cactus-bound as our own Cactus Wren, but certainly reminiscent of its close cousin.

 

The Covid situation in Mexico was taken very seriously, even though case numbers were quite low during our visit. As a result, the radish carving competition of Noche de Rábanos was officially canceled only a day before the event on December 23. Nevertheless, at the last minute, we heard that some were being displayed at various hotels and cafés, and we got to visit three and learn from their creators about the process and symbolism portrayed in their art.

 

Presumably another casualty of the pandemic was the non-announced closure of Yagul ruins, but we did get to enter the fascinating and more modern ruins of Mitla.

 

The studio of the master rug weaver Nelson Perez Mendoza was open for business, and we gratefully received a brief explanation of the natural fibers and dyes he uses in the yarn for his award-winning and truly inspirational weavings, some of which we then either coveted or bought.

 

Our three-day side trip to Tuxtepec was marred only by sunny weather – such beautiful conditions certainly make for comfortable birding, but they also result in a lack of flock activity at higher elevations. No matter the weather, birds at the lower elevations were as busy as ever, and the sun also created perfect soaring conditions, allowing for the addition of a rare Gray-headed Kite to the master list for this tour, which now includes 17 years of data.

December 16:

Gavin Bieber completed his 3-tour traverse of Panama with a stay in the Darien region

Our 2021 Panama Darien tour immediately followed the western trip through the Chiriqui Highlands and Bocas del Toro.  The vast and sparsely populated Darien Province in the far east of the country contains some of the most remote and wild lowland and montane wilderness remaining in Central America.  Our base for the week was the very comfortable Canopy Camp.  We spent several days exploring the camp trails and various spots along the end of the Pan-American highway, where patches of forest and more open fields revealed widespread birds such as Chestnut-headed Oropendola and the hard-to-actually-see Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant as well as more localized ones such as the impressive Barred Puffbird, Greater Ani, and the globally scarce Dusky-backed Jacamar.  Near the town of Yaviza which sits at the terminus of the Pan-American Highway we tracked down the only known pair of Bicolored Wrens on the continent and enjoyed a vocal and visual show from the always charismatic Donacobius.  The grounds around the camp were excellent for hummingbirds, and we enjoyed multiple views of species such as Long-billed Starthroat, Violet-bellied Hummingbird and the incredibly cute Rufous-crested Coquette.  A few stray non-birds crossed our path too, such as this incredibly attractive pair of Rainbow Ameivas, and a host of interesting insects like this pair of Carmine Skimmers.

On one day we took boats out into Embera territory past the end of the road which gained us access to a recently discovered Harpy Eagle nest, surely the highlight species of the trip for most.  Over the course of the week we encountered 263 species of birds including 15 species of antbirds, an impressive 13 species of herons and 35 species of everyone’s favorite bird family; the new world flycatchers!  These areas in the Darien are little explored and I am sure that the creation of a comfortable lodge here will produce a lot of new discoveries.  I very much look forward to returning next fall!

Canopy Camp Common Area

Chestnut-headed Oropendola

Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant

Barred Puffbird

Greater Ani

Dusky-backed Jacamar

Bicolored Wren

Donacobius

Long-billed Starthroat

Violet-bellied Hummingbird

Rufous-crested Coquette

Rainbow Ameivas

Carmine Skimmers

Harpy Eagle

December 16:

Gavin Bieber has concluded our recent Panama: Western Highlands and Bocas del Toro tour

The 2021 WINGS trip to Western Panama wrapped up to great acclaim.  It’s surely a testament to the diversity of habitats and of birds that exist in this relatively small geographic area that over the course of eight birding days we detected 341 species between the Caribbean lowlands and Pacific-slope Highlands.  We started out in the Bocas del Toro Archipelago, where the semi aquatic town of Bocas served as our access point to the idyllic Tranquillo Bay Ecolodge.  Traveling largely by boat we ventured out to other islands and the adjacent forested lowlands where we were introduced to a wealth of birds and other animals amid the picturesque archipelago and humid Caribbean foothills.  A few of the trip highlights from Bocas and the lowlands this year include the displaying pairs of Red-billed Tropicbirds at a small offshore colony, a male Three-wattled Bellbird just a few hundred yards from the lodge, and the Collared Plovers on the beach at the mouth of the Changinola River.  

The second half of the trip found us exploring the cool and heavily forested highlands around the impressive 11400-foot Baru Volcano where new birds like Resplendent Quetzal, White-throated Mountain-Gem, Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher and Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl and a fantastic Panama-style Thanksgiving feast awaited.  Our last day was down in the pacific lowlands where we eventually caught a return flight to Panama City from the town of David, but not before finding a wealth of pacific slope birds and such local specialties as Lesson’s Motmot, Spot-crowned Euphonia and Silver-throated Tanager.  I very much look forward to returning to this dynamic and bird-rich region annually!

semi aquatic town of Bocas, Panama

travel is by boat

Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth

Red-billed Tropicbird

Three-wattled Bellbird

Collared Plovers on the beach at the mouth of the Changinola River

Resplendent Quetzal

White-throated Mountain-Gem

Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher

Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl

Panama-style Thanksgiving feast at Los Quetzales Lodge

Lesson’s Motmot

Spot-crowned Euphonia

Silver-throated Tanager

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