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From the Home/From the Field

February 24:

Gavin Bieber on his recently completed cruise, New Zealand, the Tasman Sea and Australia

Seabirding from the comfortable open bow on deck eight gives one a remarkably good view of the surrounding waters. On our at-sea days we tallied an impressive 38 species of tubenose.

Some, like Buller’s Shearwater, Cook’s Petrel, and Australasian Gannet were plentiful and seen on most days in the field.

Around New Zealand waters we found a few Cape Petrels as well as a nice selection of albatrosses including Northern Royal and Salvin’s (here with a Northern Royal).

Crossing the Tasman Sea we picked up species like White-headed and Gould's Petrels and a few interesting mammals including these incredible Southern Right-Whale Dolphin.

And on our days off of the Australian Coast we enjoyed lots of Grey-faced Petrels and our last of nine species of albatross, the small and colorful Yellow-nosed.

February 20:

Jake Mohlmann on his just concluded tour, Texas: The Rio Grande Valley in Winter

We just wrapped up another winter tour through the southern tip of Texas. One hundred ninety-three species of birds were detected over our 9 days together. 

 
Our group enjoying sunny south Texas weather.

Towards the end of our week in the Lower Valley our third attempt at Morelet’s Seedeater was a success. We watched at length through the scope as a pair fed on grass seeds. 

This male Morelet’s Seedeater showed nicely.

Our morning at Chapeno holding vigil at sunrise was a highlight of the tour. Terns were soaring by, a Ringed Kingfisher hovered above, and a male Hooded Oriole glowed in the early morning rays. We knew this was a good decision when we first arrived and had an American Pipit sit within 20 feet of us on the rocks and pose for some really great views.

 
An American Pipit on the banks of the Rio Grande.

Finding shorebirds is always a fun part of this tour. We hit the tides right a couple of times and as a result birds were very close to the roads. A striking and much banded American Oystercatcher landed at our feet near Bahia Grande and proceeded to show us the process of oyster eating. 

 
Oysters beware; this birds looking for you.

At Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge we huddled around a dense willow thicket in awe of an amazing songster that was able to mimic at least 6 other species as we tuned in. Everyone had a guess for the ID and most thought perhaps a thrasher. We were much amazed when our singer revealed itself as a White-eyed Vireo.

 
A White-eyed Vireo sang melodiously and with startling variety, and showed well too.

We found rare birds in the mix along the way. Amongst a flock of dowitchers a Pectoral Sandpiper sat quietly trying to blend into the crowd. Maybe it was confused why it wasn’t in Argentina where it should be.

 
A winter Pectoral Sandpiper was quite rare.

I have to admit a lot of people come on this tour to see Whooping Cranes, and this year proved once again why we visit these birds by boat. Using radar, we headed out through the foggy bay to reach Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and eventually crept ever so close to a pair of Whooping Cranes as they slowly walked through the muddy marsh successfully consuming blue crabs, their winter prey of choice. 

 
Whooping Cranes hunt in family groups in winter.

 
A Blue Crab is no match for a Whooping Crane.

February 11:

Steve Howell and Luke Seitz on their just-completed cruise, Antarctic Peninsula and around Cape Horn

Steve Howell and Luke Seitz report on the inaugural WINGS tour on a Princess cruise ship to Antarctica and around Cape Horn, which definitely exceeded expectations—from Snow Petrel and Emperor Penguin to Magellanic Woodpecker and Andean Condor; from intense blue icebergs dotted with penguins to tens of whales feeding all around the ship amid icy scenic grandeur; and switching oceans from Atlantic Petrel and Yellow-nosed Albatross in the South Atlantic to Juan Fernandez Petrel and Buller’s Albatrosses in the Humboldt Current. Such a trip is impossible to convey in words or even in a few images. But we’ll try...

 

Just another Antarctic vista as we scanned for penguins and whales.

 

Seeing 12 of the world’s 24 albatross species on the trip was notable, from the almost daily but always handsome Black-browed...

 

...to the huge Wandering Albatrosses, at times almost sailing past at arm’s length and allowing great comparisons of the various taxa—here a (presumed) Snowy Wandering...

 

... and here, within the same minute, a distinctive Antipodes Wanderer.

 

Penguins of course are synonymous with this region, whether Adelie Penguins on icebergs...

 

...the up-close-and-personal colony of King Penguins at the Falklands...

 

...or Chinstrap Penguins porpoising in their marine element.

 

Some Humpback Whales feeding amid scenery. © Luke Seitz

 

Snowy Sheathbills flew out to visit the ship a few times... © Luke Seitz

 

...distracting us from the infinite shapes and shades of glaciers and icebergs.

 

It wasn’t all seabirds, and here the group enjoyed an obliging male Magellanic Woodpecker

 

This young Burrowing Owl in Uruguay was another non-seabird highlight.

 

And lastly, the tour coincided with the first Patagonian Wetlands Birding Festival in Punta Arenas, where we added an international flavor to the event, held on International Wetlands Day.

 

 

February 4:

Jake Mohlman on his recently completed tour, Arizona: A Winter Week in the Southeast

Our winter week in Southeastern Arizona covered just over 1,000 miles of mostly paved, scenic roads while searched for any wildlife that would allow viewing. Some highlights of the 143 species of birds seen included a very cooperative male Hepatic Tanager in Madera Canyon, a petite Western Screech-Owl catching the first rays of sun in its roost hole, and a family group of Mexican Chickadees at 8,000 feet in the stunning Chiricahua Mountains.

 

A male Hepatic Tanager showed nicely.

This Western Screech-Owl blended in perfectly.

Mexican Chickadee was the target on our day in Portal.

We always round out the trip with a run through the parks in and around Tucson where there are usually a few rare birds to be seen. This year a wintering Greater Pewee was found at Reid Park, and not too far away a Plumbeous Vireo came in for close looks.

 

Greater Pewee was a rare winter treat.

A Plumbeous Vireo came in for inspection.

Although temperatures weren’t too cold this year, birds were huddled close in the early mornings at our very comfortable Bed & Breakfast. Inca Doves sat two abreast in order to ward off the chill, and the emblematic Cactus Wren greeted us daily before we headed out on our adventures.

 

A pair of Inca Doves couldn’t get closer.

Cactus Wrens were seen daily.

There were many ID challenges that we worked on throughout the week. One such case is differentiating the Curve-billed and Bendire’s Thrashers. After looking at about a dozen Curve-billed, and much to our delight, we finally tracked down a much rarer Bendire’s. In this same valley we experienced the unbelievable experience of watching as many as 8,000 Sandhill Cranes come in to loaf mid-day in the famed Sulphur Springs Valley.

Curve-billed Thrasher, not to be confused with the much rarer...

 

…and harder to find Bendire’s Thrasher.

Just a few of the thousands of Sandhill Cranes seen in one day.

 

Our group excited to visit Cave Creek Canyon waiting in the distance.

January 19:

Jared Clarke on his recently concluded winter tour in Newfoundland

Our popular “Newfoundland in Winter” tour has drawn to a close for yet another year, with five intrepid birders braving the elements to score some wonderful winter birds. Participants came from throughout the United States to enjoy the diversity of northern species that call this island home – and they were not disappointed. Early surprises came in the form of rare visitors from very different directions – a Pink-footed Goose from Europe and a Hermit Warbler from western North America! Always a highlight, Dovekies (aka “bullbirds” to local Newfoundlanders) put in an excellent showing and even allowed some very (very!) close encounters. After a couple early misses, we also connected with two flocks of Purple Sandpipers – a special moment for several of our guests. Local celebrities such as Great Cormorants, Eurasian Wigeon and several dozen Tufted Ducks were of course on full display. Extra time spent exploring the sub-arctic tundra were rewarded with great views of some of the world’s southernmost caribou foraging in the snow. A beautiful encounter with two Willow Ptarmigan on our last afternoon rounded off a fantastic week of winter birding in the North Atlantic!


Pink-footed Goose

 
Dovekie


Purple Sandpiper


Caribou


Willow Ptarmigan


Winter birding in Newfoundland is a wonderful experience

January 16:

Steve Howell on his recently completed Mexican tour to San Blas

As always, the birds kept us busy, but in a relaxed way based at a very comfortable hotel with excellent food and hospitality. From colorful trogons and warblers to cryptic potoos and feisty pygmy-owls; from flashy endemic jays and impressive Military Macaws to elegant Elegant Quail and dapper Black-capped Vireos; from poetry and a sunset beers to large crocodiles and colorful butterflies in tropical green forest, it was a very special week and a great group to be with. A few images capture some of the story.

 

After unseasonal cold weather the first few days our last day turned out hot and we enjoyed a shady scenic picnic overlooking the Pacific.

 

Northern Potoo is always a highlight, and this bird showed wonderfully.

 

Wading birds were well represented as usual, including this Roseate Spoonbill amid nesting Wood Storks.

 

The typically elusive Blue Mockingbird showed well one afternoon...

 

And a point-blank Ivory-billed Woodcreeper was another highlight.

 

After a little searching, Colima Pygmy-Owl (which was being mobbed by Happy and Sinaloa Wrens!) put on a fine show.

 

The group celebrating ‘just another great day in the field’ before another fine dinner.

January 7:

Gavin Bieber on his recently completed tour, Australia: Queensland and New South Wales

Our Eastern Australia Tour kicked off with a fantastic week around Cairns and the Atherton Tablelands.  This region hosts the highest biological diversity in the country, including a number of the continent’s signature species, and this year we had incredible experiences with many of them. Just a sampling of our favorite sightings included...

a family group of Southern Cassowaries walking around near a stunning white-sand tropical beach...

White-browed Crakes in the open in a small roadside marsh...

Azure Kingfishers sitting along a mangrove laden creek...

Brown Cuckoo-Doves scarfing fruit in the rainforest...

and a pair of Noisy Pittas just a few feet away from our sumptuous breakfast at Kingfisher Park. 

Our views of feeding Spangled Drongo...

Squatter Pigeon...

and Laughing Kookaburra in the drier forest to the west of the tablelands were excellent. 

As always, tours to Australia are never solely about the birds;and in particular our lengthy views of Platypus near Yungaburra (one of an impressive 25 species of mammals for the tour) were a real highlight for many.

The second week kicked off on the idyllic Lady Elliot Island, on the southern edge of the Great Barrier Reef.

Here we marveled at nesting Black Noddies...

and Red-tailed Tropicbirds just feet from our lenses, as well as a host of other seabirds and a wide array of marine life, including an impressive 9-foot wide stingray. 

A stop in at Inskip Point a bit to the south of Lady Elliot revealed some very cooperative Beach Thick-Knees...

a couple of large Lace Monitors...

and a family group of Variegated Fairywren (amazingly the 10th species of these charismatic birds we found over the 2019 tours; a clean sweep of the Australian group). 

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...

 

...and gorgeous Regent and Satin 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 nice array of waterbirds including our first Chestnut Teal. 

A pelagic trip out of Sydney harbor proved bucolic, with nearly flat seas and great viewing conditions.  Hundreds of dolphins danced around the boat at times,

and we enjoyed repeated views of Campbell Albatross and Providence Petrels.

We finished the Eastern Tour with 299 species, and an amazing 451 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!

December 20:

Rich Hoyer on his recently concluded tour, Brazil: Minas Gerais

It’s hard to imagine a long week of birding with such a variety of habitats. Going from a shrubby cerrado and seasonally dry woodland at Cipó, to wet Atlantic Rainforest at Caraça, then to a curious mix of woodland, gallery forest, and savannah-like grassland at Canastra, we tallied 263 species of birds, only seven of which were heard. This was all in just eight days plus a couple hours, and even in those last couple hours we kept seeing new species. The grand hallelujah of the tour were the Brazilian Mergansers which at first were inexplicably elusive during a long day of searching, during which we still happened to see over 100 other species. But we eventually caught up with them, and we had excellent views of this super rare duck.

Burrowing Owls, close to the road and very common at Canastra, made it close to the top of the favorites...

...as did a male Horned Sungem that perched at close range, showing some incredible colors in those horns. 

Other species mentioned as particularly memorable included a female Frilled Coquette building a nest right over the road at Caraça...

...an unbelievably cooperative Collared Crescentchest (after I had warned everyone to be ready for an impossible-to-see skulker)...

...two King Vultures sitting in a tree...

...and a pair of Black-capped Donacobius duetting and doing their moves, proving what a taxonomic oddity they really are. And of course mammals featured prominently.

Maned Wolf appeared early and at great length on our first evening at Cipó...

...and Crab-eating Fox came the second evening. Giant Anteater was something everyone really wanted to see, and finally in the late afternoon a very distant animal was spotted by our driver Marcelo. We spent a long time on the roadside watching it through the spotting scope as it thoroughly searched the distant slopes, wandering back and forth. We were perfectly happy though, so it was quite a surprise on our last full day to be walking a woodland trail and have one nearly at arm’s length right next to the trail.

We had a fun group that worked well together so everyone got on every bird as best as possible, and our always friendly driver Paulo contributed with his own spotting skills and interest and knowledge of local birding spots.

December 13:

Gavin Bieber on his recent tour, Panama: Bocas del Toro and the Western Highlands.

It’s surely a testament to the diversity of habitats and birds that exist in this relatively small geographic area that over the course of eight birding days we detected 335 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 through the picturesque archipelago and to the humid Caribbean foothills...

...where we were introduced to a wealth of birds including Collared Plover

...and Golden-collared Manakin...

...and other animals like this handsome Red-eyed Treefrog.  

Perhaps the highlight birds of the first few days were the ethereal Red-billed Tropicbirds that we witnessed doing display flights at a small offshore colony. 

The second half of the trip visited the cool and heavily forested highlands around the impressive 11400 foot Baru Volcano...

...where new birds like Resplendent Quetzal...

...and the impressive Violet Sabrewing awaited. 

Is it any surprise that I very much look forward to my next tour here?

December 11:

Gavin Bieber comments on his recent tour to Panama's Darien Lowlands

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 newly constructed and 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 Great Potoo, here on a roadside day roost...

...and more localized ones such as the impressive Barred Puffbird...

...and the beautiful Spot-breasted Woodpecker. 

Taking dugout canoes out to a small Embera village out past the end of the road system...

...allowed us to find a cooperative pair of Dusky-backed Jacamar, another globally range-restricted species...

...and a wonderfully cooperative nesting pair of Harpy Eagles with a fuzzy two-month old chick. 

Over the course six days in the field we encountered 242 species of birds including 14 species of antbirds and 29 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 attraction of a comfortable lodge will produce a lot of new discoveries...

...not all of the avian kind. 

I very much look forward to returning next fall!

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