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From the Field

October 1:

Fabrice Schmitt on his just-completed tour, Colombia

It was another fantastic tour to Colombia! Visiting the three cordilleras, crossing both the Magdalena and Cauca valleys, birding from sea level to 15,000 feet elevation, and even adding a few days in the isolated Santa Marta and Guajira Peninsulas, we had an amazing overview of the Colombian avifauna.

Our group at 15,000 feet in Nevado del Ruiz National Park

Superb cloud forest in the Western Cordierra

Sunset in the Santa Marta Cordillera

 It’s hard to pick the best birds of the trip amongst hundreds of wonderful species, but here are the top ten as voted by the group: Santa Marta Screech-Owl, Rosy Thrush Tanager, Ocellated Tapaculo, White-whiskered Spinetail, Buffy Helmetcrest, Santa Marta Antpitta, White-headed Wren, Chestnut Piculet, Munchique Wood-Wren, and tied for ninth place, Dwarf Cuckoo and Blue-naped Chlorophonia.

Santa Marta Screech-Owl - Image: Bruce Sorrie

Rosy Thrush-Tanager

Munchique Wood-wren

Dwarf Cuckoo

We visited more than 10 different hummingbird feeding stations and saw no fewer than 57 species of these fascinating birds!

Tourmaline Sunangel

Long-tailed Sylph

Violet-tailed Sylph

Velvet-purple Coronet

We also visited several antpitta feeders, allowing great views of several members of this secretive group.

Chestnut-crowned Antpitta

Santa Marta Antpitta

Bicolored Antpitta

We were amazed as well by the remarkable range of flowers, orchids, grasshoppers, butterflies, moths, etc. Colombia is definitely THE biodiversity country!

One of the numerous glass-winged butterflies

One among many, many species of orchid

August 1:

Rich Hoyer on his recently completed tour, Brazil: Marvelous Mato Grosso

This year’s Marvelous Mato Grosso tour was amazing. Each of the four areas we visited provided indelible memories of fabulous birds, mammals, and other critters. On our first stop at the Chapada dos Guimarães we connected with most of the cerrado specialties such as Coal-crested Finch and Chapada Flycatcher and enjoyed the marvelous scenery and the best food of the tour at our wonderful lodge nestled in the middle of the national park. Among the favorite birds we saw there was the stunning Helmeted Manakin.

Helmeted Manakin

Cristalino Jungle Lodge was even more amazing, and we’ll probably never repeat this year’s unbelievable sightings of Crested and Harpy Eagles in the same week. The former we discovered perched in large trees close to a trail, being mobbed by toucans, aracaris, and woodpeckers, and we had it in the spotting scope right over our heads before it flew, landing on an open branch for an even better view. Three days later, the Harpy was found by two of the boatmen running an errand, and guide Diego sped 20 minutes upriver to fetch us; remarkably the bird stayed on its riverside perch for at least 45 minutes, and we got there just in time  (one minute!) to marvel at this monster of a raptor.

Crested Eagle

Harpy Eagle

Then came our time in the Pantanal, with so many birds and animals, and all so much easier to see than those in the Amazonian forests. The Jaguar experience was unbeatable and the best we’ve ever had – on three outings upriver from our hotel we spotted five different individuals, with excellent views of all, one even successfully catching a small caiman as we watched. With each animal’s spots like an individual fingerprint, we were amazed to discover that these were all different individuals than any of those seen on the previous seven tours we’ve taken here – now totaling 24 jaguars. The birding was fabulous too, with White-naped Xenopsaris, Hyacinth Macaw, and Great Rufous Woodcreeper among the favorites, but we were especially lucky to have one stunning Scarlet-headed Blackbird perch next to the Transpantaneira on our way back north.


Scarlet-headed Blackbird

We finished the tour with an extension to Foz do Iguaçu, then transferring to the Argentinean side for birding and visiting Iguazú Falls. The falls were as spectacular and beautiful as imagined, as we birded our way to three different viewpoints. A Blond-crested Woodpecker, Creamy-bellied Gnatcatcher, Rufous-capped Motmot, and Black-fronted Piping-Guan were some of the highlights in the area, but we saw many other attractive, more common birds such as the stunning and unusual Magpie Tanager in the national park where they have become acclimated to people on the trails below.

Iguazú Falls

Magpie Tanager

In the end we saw or heard a mind-boggling 560 species, and I’m already looking forward to next year.

July 11:

Derek Lovitch on his just-completed tour, Maine and New Hampshire

We recorded 157 species, including 19 species of warblers, eight species of flycatchers, seven thrushes, five terns, and four alcids. Saltmarsh and Nelson’s Sparrows in the coastal salt marshes and Bicknell’s Thrushes at 5,000 feet highlighted the first two days. Boreal birding yielded specialties such as Spruce Grouse before we ventured offshore to visit with Atlantic Puffins, Razorbills, Black Guillemots, and so much more. Breathtaking scenery. Great food, especially lots of fresh lobster. A couple of Moose, too. Yes, this is how the birding life should be!

Spruce Grouse males are arguably the most stunning of all the grouse

Atlantic Puffins and Razorbills taking a short break from their breeding responsibilities

These Northern Gannets, here with Common Murres, may be prospecting a new breeding site

The perfect dinner...lobster steamed for 12 minutes and served outside with melted butter and lemon

Moose are in steep decline in northern New England so we felt lucky to see this one

July 10:

Gavin Bieber, Jon Dunn and Jake Mohlmann on the Alaska Majesty Extensions: The Pribilofs and Barrow

The Pribilof Islands were amazingly productive both for the diverse and stunning complement of breeding alcids, fulmars and kittiwakes that clog the island cliffs in the summer, and for wanderers from Asia.  Views of birds like Tufted Puffin or the diminutive Red-legged Kittiwake are daily occurrences here. 

The unparalelled Tufted Puffin

Handsome Red-legged Kittiwakes, here with a Black-legged Kittiwake, are a north Pacific specialty

Certainly not a daily occurrence was this lingering Marsh Sandpiper, perhaps the best of a great suite of vagrants including Common Snipe, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Tufted Duck and Hawfinch.

This long-staying Marsh Sandpiper was a welcome sight.

Our post tour extension to the high arctic north slope around Barrow was superlative, with repeated views of all four species of Eider in excellent plumage including dazzling Steller’s and vaudevillian King, a ghostly white male Snowy Owl, and foraging Sabine’s Gulls just feet away from our van.

King Eider males are extraordinary

Steller's Eider populations have declined in recent years but they still grace the tundra at Barrow

Here though it is the shorebirds which dominate, as they are in active display during the onset of their breeding season.  Watching the astonishing Pectoral Sandpipers call and strut around like grouse, or the very approachable Red Phalaropes in their gaudy summer dress is always a treat. 

Courting Pectoral Sandpipers add a dramatic aspect to a species we normally see creeping around muddy pools

These two outposts act as a perfect complement to the mainland tour, offering excellent views of some of the hardest to find breeding species on the continent, and truly unique scenery.

July 5:

Gavin Bieber on his and Jake Mohlmann's tour, Alaska: Majesty of the North

A very mild winter coupled with the apparent failure of many Arctic breeders made a few species hard or impossible to find but, as if in compensation, above average sunshine and temperatures virtually everywhere made for a gloriously comfortable tour.  We started with a drive to Denali National Park, finding both Black-backed and American Three-toed Woodpeckers feeding in a recent burn. The Park itself was as always extraordinary with stunning landscapes at every turn and a wilderness that seems to stretch on forever.  Here we found mammals of the north such as Grizzly Bear, Reindeer and Moose, and as well several cooperative Spruce Grouse. Nome combined the best of Alaska with riveting scenery and great birds. We had close Long-tailed Jaegers, point blank views of Willow Ptarmigan, an unusually high number of range-restricted Aleutian Terns, lots of Arctic Warblers...and very few mosquitoes.  Resurrection Bay, this year with ample sun, was almost impossibly beautiful with Humpback Whales, Orcas and Bald Eagles really putting on a show, and close sightings of Kittlitz’s Murrelets. The towering forests around Seward were filled with the song of Townsend’s Warblers, Varied Thrushes and pugnacious little Golden-crowned Kinglets.

The variety and abundance of birds and other wildlife on this tour is staggering, and contribute to what must be one of the most spectacular birding tours in the world.

The Denali Highway offers endless and spectacular scenery

A herd of Reindeer stroll through Denali National Park

Moose are common and often hard to see...but not in this case

Spruce Grouse, once you find them, are not shy

Elegant Long-tailed Jaegers dot the tundra at Nome

This year, Nome's Aleutian Terns gave particularly good views

Our day on Resurrection Bay is always a highlight

A Kittlitz's Murrelet at close range

Townsend's Warblers are common in the Sitka Spruce around Seward

It's not every day one sees the full crown on Golden-crowned Kinglet

June 19:

Evan Obercian on his just-concluded tour, Minnesota and North Dakota: North Woods to Prairies

This year’s Minnesota and North Dakota tour was a delight, with lovely summery weather and a great abundance of breeding birds in full form.  In a little over a week’s time we covered a wide range of habitats, from eastern broad-leaf forest, to boreal bogs and fens, to short-grass prairies and cattail-filled pothole lakes.  Among the many highlights were stunning views of singing Connecticut Warbler, a daytime singing Northern Saw-whet Owl, multiple Ferruginous Hawks, close scope views of Baird’s and Henslow’s Sparrows, a Chestnut-collared Longspur nest with eggs, and a fledgling Sprague’s Pipit flushed from the grass while an adult sang overhead.  We also had a great encounter with a wolf!

We thank Peter Schneekloth for providing the following images from the tour.


A few pairs of Great Gray Owls nest in the bogs north and west of Duluth.  We were particularly lucky this year to locate a family group on our first evening in Sax-Zim Bog, even witnessing two fledglings being fed by an adult. 

Among the more sought-after boreal zone species, this Yellow-bellied Flycatcher provided a wonderful study.

It’s not always easy to find Sharp-tailed Grouse in June, but this one seemed reluctant to enter the wet grass one morning, remaining in the road for prolonged views

Of the 23 species of breeding warblers encountered on our tour, it’s difficult to say which is the most remarkable, but the Cape May, being a bird of true boreal spruce forest, is always among the most exciting.  We find them on only one day of our tour, in the spectacular forests of Lake County, Minnesota, where they are quite numerous. 

Upland Sandpiper is an increasingly scarce bird of America’s grasslands.  It wasn’t until our final day of birding that we managed to locate several in a well-managed prairie in western Minnesota.  

May 31:

 Paul French reports from Mongolia

After a week of camping in the wilds of the Mongolian Gobi desert, the Sunbird/WINGS tour to Mongolia has arrived in Arvaikheer after completing the southern loop of the tour. The Gobi delivered all of our hoped for species, with some incredible experiences to match.

Koslov's Accentor, a near-endemic to Mongolia, was pleasingly easy to find in the juniper valleys at the very end of the Tien Shan mountains. 

Oriental Plover is an enigmatic shorebird that breeds in the semi-deserts of Mongolia and northern China and remains a dream bird for many. We were treated to the rocking and clicking display flight of one male for near on 30 minutes, plus great looks at several other individuals. 

One of the more sought-after gulls, Relict Gull is unusual in that it breeds in saline steppe and semi-desert lakes of Mongolia and Kazakhstan, but the whereabouts of any breeding colonies are currently unknown! Our site for this species has consistently produced one or two birds, but these are assumed to be passing through to lakes elsewhere and as yet undiscovered...

A 2nd calendar year Pallas's' Fish Eagle buzzed the group, intent on getting to the huge numbers of cormorants and ducks at the river mouth. It was accompanied by at least 3 other birds, including a stunning adult.

Seeing several Asian Dowitcher in full summer plumage was a highlight for many.  

Is Mongolian Lark possibly the best lark in the world? It's certainly one of the most striking. 

Migration this year has been good, and this male Amur Falcon showed off his underwings at our first Ger camp in the Gobi. 

May 23:

Gavin Bieber on his just-concluded tour, Arizona: Owls and Warblers

Our tour coincided with a period of unseasonably cool, overcast weather (including some highly unusual May rainfall), but we very much enjoyed birding in seventy degree temperatures. The many highlights scattered throughout our 209 species ranged from gaudy Scott’s Orioles coming in to grape jelly, to Buff-collared Nightjar with its arresting calls, and from a Five-striped Sparrow in the rocky borderlands to a Rufous-capped Warbler in Florida Canyon and a dazzling Blue-throated Hummingbird in the incomparable Chiricahua Mountains.  

Scott's Oriole, a bird with both beautiful plumage and song

Five-striped Sparrow at one of its very few known breeding locations in the U.S.

The chatty, perky Rufous-capped Warbler, still very scarce but now a resident in several southeastern Arizona Canyons

Blue-throated Hummingbird, beautiful and a fierce protector of its nectar source

Wonderful birds presented at every turn but as is often the case, bird of the trip laurels fell to Montezuma Quail, which we saw on multiple occasions this year.  

Montezuma Quail; some years we can't find any but thankfully not this year

Perhaps as expected for a tour with "Owls" in the title, we saw nine species of these sleep-robbers and heard a 10th.

Whiskered Screech-Owls are remarkably common in the oaky canyons

There  are few places in North America where one can combine such a wide array of spectacular birds, fascinating mammals and reptiles and endless stunning desertscapes. It's a truly excellent tour!

The extraordinary Antelope Jackrabbit, an Alice in Wonderland moment

The grassy approaches to Madera Canyon

May 19:

Paul Lehman summarizes the highlights of his three April-May 2017 West Coast cruises, two to British Columbia and one to Alaska

All three WINGS West Coast cruises during April and May 2017 were successful in recording multiple Laysan Albatrosses and Pterodroma petrels. The late April trip aboard Holland America from San Diego to Vancouver recorded good numbers of both Murphy's and Cooks Petrels, while the early May trip from Los Angeles aboard Princess Cruises recorded good numbers of Murphy's and several Hawaiian Petrels. And the San Francisco to Southeast Alaska roundtrip in mid-May recorded good numbers of Murphy's and a surprise immature Short-tailed Albatross.

 Murphy's Petrel.  Image: Bruce Rideout

Murphy's Petrel  Image: Bruce Rideout

Short-tailed Albatross.  Image: Bruce Rideout

Not rare, but always enjoyable, were the fine views obtained on all three cruises of large numbers of Fork-tailed and Leach's Storm-Petrels, hundreds of Black-footed Albatrosses, many groups of Red Phalaropes and Sabine's Gulls in breeding plumage, smaller numbers of Long-tailed Jaegers and Tufted Puffins, as well as many Humpback Whales and Dall's Porpoise, several Fin Whales, and even a few Orcas and Baird's and Cuvier's Beaked Whales. The "repositioning" cruises off California also added Black-vented Shearwaters, whereas the cruise to southeast Alaska recorded Kittlitz's and Ancient Murrelets, Aleutian Terns, and Short-tailed Shearwaters.

May 9:

Gavin Bieber on his and Evan Obercian's just-completed tour, Florida: The South, the Keys and the Dry Tortugas

We just wrapped up a fun week exploring from Fort Myers to Key West. We started with a day in the dry pine forests and upland scrub of the central peninsula and fantastic views of a pair of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers. A day trip out to the unique Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas was sunny and hot but still produced 13 species of warblers and some other spectacular migrants such as Scarlet Tanager. The colony of Masked Boobies continues to grow on Hospital Key, and we even managed views of two passing Audubon’s Shearwaters on the way out to the fort. Some of Florida’s most special birds,like Mangrove Cuckoo and White-crowned Pigeon posed for us nicely this year. We even lucked into two excllent vagrants; Bananaquit and Fork-tailed Flycatcher, both on Key Biscayne just south of downtown Miami. As always, Florida isn’t all about the birds, and this year we had unusally good views of two American Crocodiles, and some scenes that would be hard to replicate outside the state like this trio of Black Vultures devouring the remains of an American Alligator. I look forward to this tour every year, as it combines great eastern migration birding with Florida's highlight species, a chance for rarities from the Caribbean and a wealth of reptiles, amphibians, butterflies and even fish!  

A well-researched Red-cockaded Woodpecker showed well

Of our 13 migrant warblers, the Blackpolls may have traveled the farthest

Always a knock-out, this Scarlet Tanager brightened up the Tortugas

Masked Boobies seem to grow in strength on the small sandy keys of the Dry Tortugas

Mangrove Cuckoo is never assured but this year one was remarkably confiding

The subtily beautiful White-crowned Pigeon

Two infrequently seen American Crocodiles

The recycling brigade - Black Vultures dine on a dead American Alligator

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