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From the Field

December 13:

Gavin Bieber on his recently completed tour, Panama: The Darien Lowlands.

The vast and sparsely populated Darien Province in the far eastern part of Panama 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 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, the beautiful Spot-breasted Woodpecker, and globally scarce Black Oropendola. 

Taking dugout canoes into Embera territory past the end of the road allowed us to find a cooperative pair of Dusky-backed Jacamar, another globally range-restricted species and a wealth of kingfishers including Amazon and American Pygmy. 

Over the course of the week we encountered 280 species of birds including 19 species of antbirds and 31 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 bring more ornithologists and birders to the region resulting in a lot of new discoveries.  I very much look forward to being a part of the discovery process. 

December 12:

Gavin Bieber on his recently completed tour, Panama: Bocas del Toro and the Western Highlands

It’s surely a testament to the diversity of habitats and of birds that exist in this relatively small area of Western Panama that over the course of eight birding days we detected 337 species including a whopping 31 species of hummingbird.  We began in the Bocas del Toro Archipelago, where the semi-aquatic town of Bocas served as our access point to the idyllic Tranquilo Bay Ecolodge.

Traveling by small boat from Tranquilo Bay we ventured out to other islands and the adjacent forested lowlands where we found birds as varied as Golden-collared Manakin, Black-crowned Tityra (from Traquilo Bay's canopy tower) and the ethereal Red-billed Tropicbird. 

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 Violet Sabrewing awaited at every turn. 

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 flock of Fiery-billed Aracaris! 

I very much look forward to returning to this dynamic and bird-rich region.

November 27:

Rich Hoyer on his recently-completed tour, Peru: Rainforest Lodges of the Madre de Dios

We had some marvelous experiences on our short tour visiting just two lodges in the rainforests of Peru's Madre de Dios department. At the wonderfully welcoming Los Amigos Biological Station, daily companions included a trio of Undulated Tinamous foraging on the open lawn, often right around our cabins. Nearby, sticking closer to the forest edge was an immature Rufescent Tiger-Heron as well, a very unusual occurrence in that habitat.

We rarely had to venture far from our rooms before stumbling into some really fun bird activity – either a mixed flock or a mob looking for an owl to harass, but some of our better finds were when things seemed very quiet at first – such as the covey of Starred Wood-Quail that nearly attacked us in response to an imitation whistle of a chick in distress. Or a nightjar flushed off the side of the trail, later determined to have been a rare Silky-tailed Nightjar. One of the favorite birds of the tour happened just like this when a lone Chestnut-capped Puffbird flew past the leader and landed just off the trail halfway past the group.

A totally different habitat was offered during our boat rides on the Madre de Dios and Tambopata rivers as we traveled to and from the lodges. One particularly memorable sighting was the sudden appearance of well over a hundred Sand-colored Nighthawks feeding over the river. On another day we had spectacular views of a pair of Horned Screamers very close on the shore.

We had two different boat rides on old oxbow lakes, both providing some of the most delightful and peaceful birding on the trip. A Sungrebe and multiple kingfishers were highlights at one, and a Western Striolated-Puffbird (the Obama-bird, we called it, as it was only recently described and named after him) was very cooperative on the other lake. At both, however, we were treated to many views of the most bizarre but beautiful Hoatzin.

We had one early morning at a parrot lick, and while macaws didn't visit this morning, we still saw several species of parrots at close range, including a noisy mob of Dusky-headed Parakeets.

At Explorer's Inn, we kept seeing new birds and wonderful mammals every time we wandered down the trails. On our very first outing, a ridiculously cooperative Black-faced Antbird found a low perch we could all see well and sang from it for at least 10 minutes.

On our last day we passed by a stretch of trail not far from our cabins for the umpteenth time, but we obviously still hadn't seen everything, as suddenly there was a pair of fabulous Pavonine Quetzals right over the trail that hadn't been there on any other pass. They stayed long enough for those who had hung back at the lodge to return and see them in their resplendent beauty.

November 27:

Rich Hoyer on his just-completed tour, Peru: Machu Picchu and the Manu-Kosñipata Road

Breathtaking views of Machu Picchu were just the beginning of this year’s highlights of the tour to the department of Cusco, Peru. We had a full morning’s tour at the ruins with a delightful local guide who didn’t mind our interruptions to see Inca Wren and scan the skies for swifts.

After our tour of the ruins, a walk along the Urubamba River resulted in many great birds, such as Andean Motmot, White-tipped Swift, and Collared Inca, with a pair of Torrent Ducks particularly memorable.

Then began our drive over the mountains and down the Kosñipata Valley, darting in and out of the boundary of Manu National Park – and thence began a daily barrage of lovely scenery and some truly memorable bird experiences. At Wayqecha Biological Station some new hummingbird feeders were already starting to attract customers, and the most common species was the exquisite Amethyst-throated Sunangel.

Mixed flocks at these higher elevations contained many colorful birds such as Golden-collared Tanager and the favorite Grass-green Tanager, which we each saw just once. But the equally stunning Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager was in nearly every flock, often posing for great views and photos.

At our mid-elevation stop, mentionable highlights were two Solitary Eagles – one flying by quickly over us and another soaring at length below – and the Buff-tailed Sicklebill that appeared at staked-out clump of pendant Heliconia flowers (something which you always try but rarely succeed at). A big surprise was a Rufous-breasted Antthrush that had been singing below the road behind a curtain of impenetrable foliage. But a lucky hole and a well-pitched whistle made it pop up where we could even put the spotting scope on it.

One of the main attractions at our mid-elevation lodge is the Andean Cock-of-the-rock lek, and we paid an early morning visit and experienced one of the world’s most amazing products of evolution.

Our stay at Villa Carmen was a treat with the very comfortable rooms and great food. Perhaps the most mind-blowing thing we witnessed there was the Pheasant Cuckoo that flew towards us over a hundred yards across the Piñi Piñi River at Los Amigos, landing in a bamboo thicket just a few yards away from our astonished faces. No one expected that to happen! We added a huge number of species from the garden, the main road, and the trails passing through bamboo and other types of forest. A quietly calling trogon with an odd voice teased us for several minutes before we discovered a motionless fledgling Blue-crowned Trogon just a few feet right over our heads.

The butterflies were out of this world, for example the Panacea prola (Red Flasher) that landed on most of the participants as we paused on one of the trails.

Another fun surprise find was a Black Hawk-Eagle on our last day as we began the drive back to Cusco. It was perched at eye-level just a few yards off the road, and it sat there rather indignantly as we tried to get perfect photos between the passings of noisy motorbikes and local taxis that drove between our parked bus and the bird.

It was a particularly fun group of participants, and our wonderful driver Eliazar did a great job of keeping the bus clean and working and us safe and on time.

November 14:

Steve Howell on his and Jake Mohlmann's ongoing tour, Chile: Tierra del Fuego to the Atacama Desert

From King Penguins and Royal Albatrosses to Magellanic Woodpeckers and Many-colored Rush-Tyrants, we’ve enjoyed a wonderful trip in Southern and Central Chile. Carpets of wildflowers and choruses of birdsong have marked our days here in Central Chile, interspersed with a fabulous pelagic trip into the Humboldt Current, surrounded by record numbers of albatrosses and petrels. Here are a few images to date:

Our picnic lunch in the wilds of Tierra del Fuego, after seeing the enigmatic Magellanic Plover, and...


... before heading on to view King Penguins at the recently founded colony on Useless Bay.


Within minutes of leaving our rooms the iconic Magellanic Woodpecker appeared wonderfully, right beside the road!


This year, the very local (and recently split) Ticking Doradito showed very well.


A handsome Chilean Skua passed right overhead in the Humboldt Current, ...


And we enjoyed repeated studies of five albatross species, included this stunning Southern Buller’s.


Yesterday an Andean Condor perched on a ski lodge greeted us in the Andes, before sailing off right over our heads—wow!


And today we found the incomparable Diademed Sandpiper-Plover in record time—less than a minute, with this image taken from the van window! Now on to the finale in Northern Chile.

November 13:

Gavin Bieber on his recently completed tour to Western Australia and Northern Territory

We spent the first week around Perth and the southwest corner of the country. A wetland park in central Perth provided our first waterbirds, including a very approachable Yellow-billed Spoonbill, a fine Buff-banded Rail and a roosting family group of Tawny Frogmouth.

The drier forests around Dryandra and the Stirling Ranges were very productive, with repeated views of Carnaby’s (Short-billed) Black-Cockatoos and the aptly named Splendid Fairy-Wren.

The gorgeous coastline near Cheyne’s Beach was our backdrop for several days, where we managed especially good views of Brush Bronzewing and all three of the coastal heathlands infamous skulkers.

Leaving the temperate SW corner behind we traveled to the heart of the country around Alice Springs where stunning desert landscape hosted an array of fantastic species such as the comical Spinifex Pigeons, charismatic Dusky Grasswren and intricately patterned Western Bowerbirds, here seen in mid display at a bower in the botanical gardens. 

Our second week covered the tropics of the Top End around Darwin and the outpost town of Kununurra, near the East end of the Kimberley Mountains.  These diverse habitats yielded aremarkable array of birds and mammals and the humid and comparatively lush lands surrounding Darwin seemed especially stuffed with new birds.  Waterbird concentrations were excellent, with hundreds of Magpie Geese surrounding the remaining patches of water and waiting for the arrival of the rainy season.  Rainforest patches around Darwin hosted gorgeous and somewhat approachables Rainbow Pittas, and in the Botanic Gardens we located both Barking (below) and Rufous Owls on day roosts.

Kununurra had the feel of a real outback town, with isolated and very beautiful grottos, and almost comically swollen Baobab Trees dotting the savannahs.  Although it was very dry this year, we still found 10 of 11 species of finches possible in the area (including the fabulous Gouldian (below) and the scarce Yellow-rumped Mannikin), and the day trip out to Lake Argyle went extraordinarily well, with dozens of Yellow Chats, a few White-quilled Rock Pigeons and tame Short-eared Rock Wallabys. 

We wrapped up the 17 day itinerary back in Darwin, with an amazing 325 species seen!

Since my camera failed early in the tour, I owe thanks to my co-leader Tim Dolby and especially Bob Pease (Bush Bronzewing,Rainbow Pitta, and Yellow Chat) for the use of their images.

November 12:

Jake Mohlmann on his just-completed tour to Northern Argentina - High Andes, Chaco and Iguazú Falls

On our recently completed tour through northern Argentina we encountered 429 species of birds as we scoured lush cloud forest, arid altiplano, dense Chaco thickets, and riverine rainforest.

Our group was delighted to have Iguazú Falls all to ourselves

Four days based in the Yungas forest produced a fine list of birds and one particular experience had us all slapping high fives at the end. While quietly watching a Rufous-throated Dipper carefully hold on to the slick rocks while somehow foraging in the raging waters of the Yala River, we noticed a family of Torrent Ducks, including 2 recent youngsters, struggling upriver within a few meters of our group and setting off a picture-taking frenzy. We were wondering why they were so 'tame' when we realized we're weren't the most feared creatures on the river bank. A hungry Tayra, a three foot long member of the weasel family, was working the riverbank nearby. Immediately after this encounter several range-restricted Red-faced Guans hurled overhead and perched on moss covered branches for a trifecta of specialties.

A Tayra lurks on the riverbank

Hummingbirds were in good supply this year with 16 species visiting an abundance of flowering plants; highlights included the dainty Slender-tailed Woodstar, the jet Black Jacobin, the near Bolivian endemic Wedge-tailed Hillstar, and the ridiculously colorful Red-tailed Comet.

A male Red-tailed Comet poses for pictures

With 99% of its range in Bolivia this Wedge-tailed Hillstar was a welcome treat

The high Andean altiplano hosted a horde of species including three varieties of flamingo including Andean, Chilean, and James’s. At one of the high elevation bogs near the Bolivian border, a pair of Diademed Sandpiper Plovers appeared (before we could get out of the car!) and foraged very closely before taking flight far down the canyon. Nearby another high altitude specialty was heard, then seen, and we watched a trio of Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe work through a moist vegetation.

Diademed Sandpiper Plover

We spent several days in the unique Chaco habitat where this year we encountered both members of the highly sought after family Cariamidae: we watched at length both Red-legged and Black-legged Seriemas taking breaks from screaming their dog like ‘songs’. Other birds unique to this region were the vibrant Many-colored Chaco Finch, the enormous Great Rufous Woodcreeper, and the docile Spot-backed Puffbird.

It’s also worth noting that we actually saw five species of tinamous, quite a feat for any birding trip. These included bright-billed Tataupa, Ornate, Red-winged Huayco, Andean, and the regal Elegant Crested, with young in tow.


An adult Elegant Crested Tinamou stands guard with chicks nearby

Our final days were spent exploring the various roads and trails weaving through Iguazu National Park and getting exposure to an entirely new set of birds. Having the upper falls trail all to ourselves before the masses arrived one morning was a wonderful experience we’ll not soon forget!

October 10:

Susan Myers on her on-going tour, Indonesia: The Moluccas

The inaugural Wings tour to the far flung islands of the Moluccas in east Indonesia is about half over and so far it’s been nothing but an outstanding success! I’m writing this from my comfortable hotel room on the little known island of Kai Kecil, from where we ventured out this morning to the neighboring island of Kai Besar. Our main target was the diminutive Little Kai White-eye, sometimes perhaps more romantically known as Pearl-bellied White-eye. A speedy boat trip took us to the sleepy town of Bombai and we climbed on board the little local bus that took us for a bumpy, but fun, ride up to Bukit Indah – the Beautiful Hill. The hill is still cloaked in wonderful floristically diverse tropical rainforest and we soon connected with the small island endemic whilst taking our morning tea. We then turned our attention to some other fancy specialties of these islands of Wallace fame, which are such hotbeds of faunal diversity shaped by millennia of natural selection. All the while we were accompanied by an astounding array of different and fancy butterflies. An early encounter with the scarce Kai Cicadabird (or Cuckooshrike) created much excitement and we chased this very handsome member of the caterpillar-eater family as it flitted through the trees – presumably living up to its name, disappearing and then reappearing on cue.  Later we found our first Varied Trillers (a possible future split?), Black-faced Friarbirds, Island Monarchs, Kai Coucal and very cute Yellow-capped Pygmy-Parrots. Maybe the biggest hit for the morning, though was a stunning White-tailed Monarch, another fascinating endemic of the amazing islands of Maluku!

The fast boat to Kai Besar

An unknown but spectacular orchid emblematic of the natural richness of the Moluccas

Morning tea in the field with our helpful crew

Searching for the Kai Coucal

Mistletoebird, or Salvadori’s Flowerpecker if split

White-tailed Monarch

October 9:

Rich Hoyer on his recently completed tour, Ecuador: The Amazon Lowlands

There may not be any pronounced dry season on the Equator in the Amazon Basin, but if there was one week-long dry spell this year, we found it. It was hot as usual in the tropics, but that was an even tradeoff for not being forced to take time off due to rain. It was a wonderful week that passed by all too quickly, filled with great birds and some incredible tropical diversity in the way of lizards fighting on trees, killer mushrooms invading insect brains, and a very friendly, almost even loving, Amazon Tree Boa. We saw some marvelous birds at the canopy platform, such as a perched Orange-breasted Falcon and Yellow-billed Nunbirds, while along the various trails elusive species such as Collared Puffbird, Wire-tailed Manakin, and Black-faced Antbird performed well. Super delightful were the several boat rides on the lake (cocha) and stream (yacu), where rare kingfishers such as American Pygmy and Green-and-rufous were ridiculously abundant and easy to see. But we didn’t have to go far from our rooms (or the lodge’s bar) to enjoy some of the best birding in the area – with the exception of the Orange-breasted Falcon, all of the following photos were taken right around the lodge’s buildings.

Orange-breasted Falcon

Scarlet-crowned Barbet


American Pygmy Kingfisher

White-eared Jacamar

Masked Crimson Tanager

October 7:

Rich Hoyer on his recently completed tour, Costa Rica

Costa Rica in July was the perfect summer getaway offering an amazing selection of tropical species in an agreeable climate. We had nearly flawless weather throughout, beginning and ending in refreshingly cool higher elevations.  There were so many wonderful experiences with the birds we saw that there was no outstanding favorite. Great Tinamous singing their haunting songs (audible from our rooms), Snowcaps darting amongst the porterweed flowers, a Crested Owl called into view at Celeste Mountain Lodge, and adorable Pied Puffbirds near Maquenque received high votes. This exquisitely cute Central American Pygmy-Owl took the prize with the most votes on the tour, but just barely.


We had one of the most unexpected birds of the tour within the first hour of birding and just down the street from our San José area hotel when a juvenile Bicolored Hawk flew in and landed for extended views.


In the Cerro de la Muerte Highlands, we soon connected with several Resplendent Quetzals, getting our best views right from our rooms.


The recently split Northern Emerald-Toucanet was one of the highlights we came across in our quest for the quetzal.


The hummingbirds at Rancho Naturalista were tops, including both Black-crested and the very rare White-crested Coquette, as well as the incomparable Snowcaps. Our time in Tortuguero National Park began with a wonderful night boat ride on the canals where we our capitán showed off his skills at spotting many roosting birds, including a juvenile Rufescent Tiger-Heron and this sleeping American Pygmy-Kingfisher.


There was nothing wrong with the one morning downpour we waited out at Tortuguero, especially when the clearing of the skies was coupled with a Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle leaving the park’s forest for its morning soar. The weather held out for our memorable viewing of a Green Sea Turtle laying eggs in her laboriously excavated nest that same night. One of the most-viewed and liked videos leader Rich Hoyer ever posted to Facebook was of this Bare-throated Tiger-Heron going into its “sun salutation” pose from the roof of the boat dock at our jungle lodge. The video can be seen here:


And thanks to our boatman’s amazing vision we were able to see a handsome Black-and-white Owl on its day roost.


Maquenque Lodge’s dining hall was a great place to get your fill of gaudily plumaged birds, such as Purple Gallinules feeding chicks just below the building or like this Crimson-collared Tanager at the bananas.


The tour was so much more than just birds – the moths at Rancho Naturalista were out of this world, with a the huge and gorgeous silk moth Copaxa rufinans the highlight.


We didn’t see many snakes, but the most memorable encounter was a tiny Cope's Vine Snake gingerly threading its way through the vegetation at Tenorio National Park.


And finally, this mother and her baby Hoffmann's Two-toed Sloth were spotted by our driver, who was birding with us for the morning. The video of them cuddling was also one of Rich’s most watched videos, which can be seen here:

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