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From the Field

December 13:

James Wolstencroft reports from our recent Tanzania tour.

This year our November Tanzania group had the extreme fortune (for the participants anyway) of witnessing two different kills while on tour in Ngorongoro Crater. The following amazing photos were taken by Linda Bushman, a participant on the tour.

#1: A wildebeest was chased into a hippo pool by a huge pack (23) of hyenas who live in that part of Ngorongoro Crater. We watched the whole event as the wildebeest was chased in a great arc where it eventually ran up against our car and plunged into the pool where it was soon attacked and punctured in the belly by one of the hippos (shown here) then struggled out. The hyenas came around from the other side and brutally attacked its hind quarters before mercifully dragging the ill-fated beast into deep rushes where we could no longer watch.

#2: A pair of lionesses executed their entire zebra hunt by using our car as a blind in order to cross the raised track unseen by seven zebra. One unlucky zebra didn't survive the encounter. This was only three hours after the incident at hippo pools!

December 12:

Rich Hoyer on his just-completed tour, Mexico: The Yucatan and Cozumel

For such a short tour, we certainly packed in the sightings and wonderful experiences. Among the more than 230 species of birds in six days, a bold and inquisitive Ruddy Crake on Cozumel was the group’s favorite sighting,


Ruddy Crake

and an even more confiding Cozumel Raccoon that same afternoon will be remembered fondly.


A relaxed racoon

Our morning boat ride through the Ría Lagartos estuary and mangroves was delightful, highlighted by blindingly pink American Flamingos and  a Bare-throated Tiger-Heron.


American Flamingoes 


Bare-throated Tiger-Heron

A Turquoise-browed Motmot on a power line earlier that same morning was also among the tour favorites.


Turquoise-browed Motmot

The incredibly birdy Vigia Chico road was worth every visit, and one of our first stops featured a huge Pale-billed Woodpecker that foraged for several minutes at close range.


Pale-billed Woodpecker

We also identified more than thirty species of butterfly, such as the Mayan Crescent, a fitting name as we wandered the Maya ruins of Tulum and Chichén Itzá, admiring the structures and pondering the history between distractions provided by birds.


Mayan Crescent


Chichén Itzá

December 1:

Paul Holt on his just-completed tour to Goa, India

Highlights of this year’s 17th tour to the former Portuguese colony of Goa included a good number of South Indian/Sri Lankan specialities such as spectacularly close views of a Sri Lankan Frogmouth, a male Malabar Trogon, several normally recalcitrant Blue-faced Malkohas and no less than five Malabar Pied Hornbills.


Malabar Trogon


Blue-faced Malkoha

We’d revelled in an enchanting encounter with a male Greater Painted-snipe and his three tiny chicks and had seen no less than eight species of kingfisher including two stunning Blue-eared Kingfishers, the second of which we walked away from satiated at the exceptional views we’d had and one Oriental Dwarf.


Blue-eared Kingfisher

Some delighted in the very fine collection of wintering (and other) shorebirds totalling more and 30 species and including Common Redshank, Great Knot and Little Pratincole.


Common Redshank


Great Knot


Little Pratincole

Our first ever Goan Crab-plover won the end of trip ‘Bird of the Tour’ poll with other gems such as Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Pallid Harrier, Heart-spotted Woodpecker and Nilgiri Woodpigeon all featuring highly.


Heart-spotted Woodpecker

We’d had some deliciously varied food, gorgeous weather and seen some stunning sites – all from the comfort of just one, yes just one, charming hotel. Brilliant!

November 28:

Paul Holt reports from NW India

We’ve been having a fantastic time here in northwest India. Highlights so far have included hundreds of harriers –  mostly Montagu’s (pictured below) but quite a few ghostly male Pallid – at the Velavadar Black Buck Sanctuary, the site of the world’s largest harrier roost. Also seen were hundreds of pelicans, thousands of larks, a cooperative Painted Francolin, a juvenile Eastern Imperial Eagle and both Paddyfield and Sykes’s Warblers. We’ve also stumbled across a whole host of mammals including Indian Wolf, Jungle Cat and over 1400 Black Buck! Brilliant!

Montagu’s Harrier

Rufous-tailed Lark

Juvenile Eastern Imperial Eagle

Black Buck

Leaving Velavadar we headed south to Gir. We had five game drives inside the Lion Sanctuary and National Park and saw two separate Lions, one of them uncomfortably close, plus single Leopards (pictured below) on a remarkable three safaris. Other highlights included good numbers of Indian Stone-curlews, Jungle Prinia and seven White-bellied Minivets (pictured below). From there we headed west to the port city of Jamnagar where massive numbers of both Lesser (3400) and Greater Flamingo (1620), Common (1025) and Demoiselle Cranes (800) awaited. For many of us the two parties totalling 135 Indian Skimmers were an undoubted highlight. The local forest department lent us a motor launch and we headed out in to Marine National Park where we were enthralled by exceptional close-range looks at specialities such as Crab-plover (1550) and Great Knot. We’re moving still further west – beyond Bhuj and closer to the Pakistan border today where we’re hoping to see Grey Hypocolius and White-naped Tit among others so watch this space…

Leopard

 

White-bellied Minivets

Crab-plovers

November 28:

Jon Feenstra reports from his recently completed Southern Ecuador tour.

After birding mostly the eastern slope (Amazon watershed) of southern Ecuador, we’re now in the dry forest of the lowland west. The changes in habitats have been incredible as we’ve gone from above treeline to the low rainforest foothills, back into the highlands, crossing rain shadow valleys and zigzagging the continental divide. The birds have been equally diverse and the highlights many. Some of the favorites have been: Pale-headed Brushfinch (one of the rarest birds in the world) eating bread, the ancient look of the Gray Tinamou, Fiery-throated Fruiteater, and, of course, the Jocotoco Antpitta. 

The gang watching a Streak-throated Bush-Tyrant from the roadside near Reserva Tapichalaca

The Gray Tinamou creeps out of the forest too close for long lenses.

Sometimes we need to share the road with llamas.

Pale-headed Brushfinch slums it with the bread-eating crowd.

Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager in Podocarpus National Park

November 21:

Steve Howell reports from our Chile tour

Fabrice Schmitt and Steve Howell report from the mid-point of the Chile tour, following some great birding in windswept Patagonia and the towering temperate rainforests of the Lake District, where we successfully sought all of the notoriously skulking tapaculos,

even an Ochre-flanked Tapaculo, which eventually hopped into the open.

The growing King Penguin colony on Tierra del Fuego included big ‘wooly’ youngsters for the first time,

and was celebrated by endemic Patagonian beer.

Other highlights have included the stunning White-bridled (née Black-throated) Finch,

a beautiful female Magellanic Woodpecker that flew in right above us,

point-blank Austral Parakeets feeding outside the bus window,

the understated and highly endangered Ruddy-headed Goose,

and the endearing little White-throated Treerunner.

Now in central Chile and getting ready for our Humboldt Current pelagic.

November 21:

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

Our 2016 Eastern Australia Tour that covers Queensland and coastal New South Wales kicked off with a very nice week around Cairns and the Atherton Tablelands. From a surprisingly cooperative Azure Kingfisher that allowed close approach by our boat on the Daintree River to a fantastic experience with a pair of Southern Cassowaries in the rainforests near Kuranda, there was a wealth of birds at every turn.

 

Azure Kingfisher

Southern Cassowary

On our first afternoon we enjoyed close views of the oddly plumaged Rajah Shelduck at the Cairns Botanical Gardens.

Radjah Shelduck: photo by Tim Dolby

Our time up in the rainforest patches on the Atherton Tableland was spectacular, with very cooperative Victoria’s Riflebirds and Spotted Catbird among our best finds.

Victoria’s Riflebird

Spotted Catbird: photo by Tim Dolby

A special mention must go to the areas many species of mammals, especially this day-active Lumholtz’s Tree-Kangaroo, and the very extroverted Platypus that we found near Yungaburra.

 

Lumholtz’s Tree-Kangaroo

Platypus: photo by Tim Dolby

The dry forests on the north side of the tablelands provided a great contrast to the humid rainforests, and produced excellent views of our hoped for Australian Bustards.

Australian Bustards: Photo by Tim Dolby

After nearly a week inland from Cairns we then returned to the coast… Once back on the coast we spent a great day out on the Great Barrier Reef where we found courting pairs of Brown Boobies and thousands of Sooty Terns and Brown Noddies, as well as a surprising immature Red-footed Booby and great views of Bridled Tern.

Brown Booby: photo by Tim Dolby

Michaelmas Bay

 

Torresian Imperial-Pigeon: photo by Tim Dolby

The next day we bade farewell to the tropical north and its gaudy Torresian Imperial Pigeons and flew south to Brisbane and the famous O’Reilly’s Lodge.

O’Reilly’s Lodge

The birds around O’Reilly’s are almost tame, with forest birds often coming to investigate your shoelaces. Even normally very shy birds like Eastern Whipbird can be easy to spot here, and more bold birds like the perky Eastern Yellow Robin can be positively pushy.

Eastern Whipbird

 

Eastern Yellow Robin

The gorgeous Regent Bowerbirds are common visitors around the lodge, with some even hand-tame.

 

Regent Bowerbirds

Our scheduled pelagic trip out of Sydney was a no-go this year due to high winds and swell, but our backup visit to Barren Grounds National Park gave us superlative views of Eastern Bristlebird. Royal National Park was a great and scenic backdrop for our final day and a half, with Superb Lyrebird showing well. We finished the Eastern Tour with 281 species, and an amazing 411 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! (Photos by Gavin Bieber unless otherwise listed)

November 11:

Gavin Bieber on his recently completed Australia: Victoria & Tasmania tour.

Our inaugural 17-day tour of Southeastern Australia encompassed an amazing variety of landscapes and over 270 species of birds.  We started around the cosmopolitan city of Melbourne, where we spent a productive day along the coastal wetlands which held a wealth of waterfowl like this Australian Wood Duck and local leaders helped us track down birds like Powerful Owl and nesting Tawny Frogmouths. 

 
Australian Wood Duck


Powerful Owl


Tawny Frogmouth

Then we headed north through the Great Dividing Range where we enjoyed a Superb Lyrebird stomping through the tree-fern clad temperate rainforests. 


Superb Lyrebird

Around Chiltern we found conditions to be extremely wet, but these Sugar Gliders seemed warm and snug in their nest box. 


Sugar Gliders

The wet and unseasonably cold weather persisted throughout the entire spring of 2016, but at Deniliquin we were able to access the right paddocks to locate this beautiful female Plains-Wanderer despite the conditions. 


Plains Wanderer

We then headed west towards the more wild Northwest corner of Victoria and its large Mallee and desert parks, stopping to admire gems like this striking White-winged Fairy-Wren and this stunning Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo along the way. 


White-winged Fairy-Wren


Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo

We found NW Victoria still locked in the grips of an extended winter, with repeated cold fronts dropping unprecedented rains and high winds across much of the region.  The birds were still around though, and many seemed to be in full breeding mode, such as this handsome Malleefowl. 


Malleefowl

Reaching the Victoria coastline, truly one of the most scenic parts of the country, we sought out birds like this skulking Rufous Bristlebird in the heathland, and enjoyed repeated views of the surprisingly common Rainbow Lorikeet. 


Victoria coastline


Rufous Bristlebird


Rainbow Lorikeet

The tour wrapped up with a short but excellent trip to Tasmania, where  we located all of the Tasmanian endemics such as this Green Rosella, enjoyed intimate views of the ethereally white form of Gray Goshawk, and scoured the beautiful coastline for shorebirds like Black-faced Cormorant (our 5th species of Cormorant for the tour) and the menacing Pacific Gull. 


Tasmanian Coast


Green Rosella


Gray Goshawk


Black-faced Cormorant


Pacific Gull

Although we were admittedly hampered a bit by the highly unusual weather it was a fantastic trip, with 272 species of birds and 18 mammals including Koala, Echidna and Greater Glider and one that I am very much looking forward to repeating in 2018.

October 29:

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

We just completed the 2016 northern Argentina tour tallying 409 species of birds and 16 species of mammals. Somehow the weather ended up being perfect throughout with cool nights for sleeping, and mild days for birding. Our expert drivers and local guides knew this route well and the abundance of wildlife encountered shows just that.


The group at Calilegua

In the Northwest part of the country we drove 2,188 km through several distinct ecological regions including the Yungas cloud forests, pre-Puna, Altiplano, and dry Chaco Woodland.


A brief hike before our picnic lunch on the Bishop's Slope

The Yungas harbored a quick trio of lifers we’ll never forget. Just before sunset we discovered a Rufous-throated Dipper, Torrent Ducks, and Red-faced Guan all utilizing the same stretch of river giving us all ample opportunities for extensive picture taking.


Rufous-throated Dipper surveying for supper.

Altiplano birding in Argentina is very rewarding with great looks at many different birds rarely encountered. At Pozuelos we walked right up to the water’s edge to view Andean, Chilean, and James’ Flamingoes as well as Puna Plovers, Andean Negritos, and Giant Coots.


A Puna Plover shoots by at close range,

In Yavi we finished our ground dove sweep after getting great views of Golden-spotted, Black-winged, Bare-faced, and the endemic Bare-eyed. A male Wedge-tailed Hillstar stood alone above town, where this species' range barely enters the country, and a huge flock of Citron-headed Yellowfinches fed in a barren pasture.


A Bare-eyed Ground Dove near nest.

Ending the tour with three days at Iguazu National Park was a welcome change from the driving. We had lengthy strolls around rainforest paths, walkways on the edge of the falls, and many lifebirds for all.  A pair of Robust Woodpeckers escorted us down the Obera Road beyond Black-throated and Surucua Trogons, singing Spot-backed Antshrikes, and displaying Swallow-tailed Manakin. Black-fronted Piping Guan showed well near the famed falls and we eventually ran into a range-restricted Creamy-bellied Gnatcatcher. Seeing breeding Great Dusky Swifts plummet into the raging waterfalls to tend to their needy young is one of the highlights of this remarkable tour.


Great Dusky Swifts nest behind the roaring Iguazu Falls.


Iguazu Falls raging full volume.

October 26:

Susan Myers on her recently-completed tour, Borneo

I’ve just returned from another fabulous tour in Sabah, on the island of Borneo. As always, our birding and general naturalizing was thoroughly enjoyable, successful and full of adventure! We started on the Tambunan Pass, our only mid montane site on the tour. First some dapper Bornean Bulbuls showed up, apparently attending a nest, followed by great views of two endemic barbets – Mountain and Bornean, with a fabulous finale in the form of the elusive Whitehead’s Spiderhunter, which was greeted with much excitement.

 We passed the next few days exploring superb upper montane forests of the Mount Kinabalu National Park. With the remarkable mountain as our backdrop, we strolled the roads and trails in search of mixed feeding flocks and ground birds. Some standout sightings included bizarre Bare-headed Laughingthrushes, an ultra cute Bornean Stubtail, a pair of noisy Mountain Wren-Babblers, and a remarkable Whiteheads Pygmy Squirrel.


Mountain Wren-Babbler

 On the Kinabatangan River, Sabah’s longest, we spent a few days exploring the river and its tributaries by boat. Here we found Scarlet-rumped Trogons, gem-like Blue-eared Kingfishers, brighter than bright Hooded Pittas, and confiding, not to mention spectacular, Crested Firebacks. On the more expansive parts of the river we saw flocks of gorgeous Blue-throated Bee-eater, many raptors including Grey-headed Fish-Eagle and Wallace’s Hawk-Eagle, the rare Storm’s Stork, and a remarkable six species of hornbill – Oriental Pied, Black, Bushy-crested, Wrinkled, the usually elusive White-crowned and Rhinoceros. Primates were a feature, too – Long-tailed Macaques patrol the river banks, while Red Leaf-Monkeys perch high in the trees and Proboscis Monkeys with their beautiful pelage and comical noses feed quietly.


Black Hornbill


Red-leaf Monkey

 The jewel in the crown of Borneo is Danum Valley. This large reserve is just overflowing with a mind-boggling array of plants and animals. Amongst the many highlights were a fantastic pair of Helmeted Hornbills (which along with sightings of Wreathed rounded out our list to include all the possible hornbills on Borneo), stunning Diard’s and Red-naped Trogons, a bevy of broadbills and a bagful of babblers as well as a number of neat woodpeckers, spiderhunters, and many less glamorous bulbuls. The bird that I am probably most often asked about when it comes to Borneo is the strange Bornean Bristlehead. Sightings of this super interesting bird are by no means a certainty so it was both a relief and a joy to find a small group of them high in the canopy. 


Bornean Bristlehead

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