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From the Home/From the Field

November 28:

Luke Seitz on the second part of his and Fabrice Schmitt's tour, Chile: Tierra del Fuego to the Atacama desert

After adjusting to stable dry land once again, we continued our Chilean adventure by driving high into the Andes – quite a change of scenery from the Humboldt Current! Here, with beautiful snow-capped peaks towering above us and shrubby slopes extending below, we enjoyed the oversized feet of Moustached Turcas running around in plain view…

Moustached Turca, the real Big Foot

 …and higher up, a simply astonishing show with at least a dozen Andean Condors soaring at eye-level and perching on various hotel rooftops!

Part of our group being monitored by an Andean Condor

Our time in Central Chile was nearly over, but not without a search for the much-desired Diademed Sandpiper-Plover. The bogs in the Yeso Valley high above Santiago provide perfect habitat for this special shorebird, and it didn’t take us long to find an incubating male that we enjoyed at close range. Surely one of the highlight birds of the trip, with a spectacular backdrop to boot…

Diademed Sandpiper-Plover

Magnificent Andes scenery

A flight north over the Atacama Desert brought us to Arica, ready for a new suite of birds in very different habitat. The drive from Arica to Putre through dry, lifeless desert was interesting more for geology than birds, but perhaps most incredible was the speed at which our bus traveled uphill – I could have made it to Putre faster by handstand-walking with my eyes closed. Upon arrival, however, we settled in to a surprisingly comfy hotel surrounded by flocks of Mourning Sierra-Finches, skulky White-throated Earthcreepers and Canyon Canasteros, and stealthy Ornate Tinamous running through the nearby fields. The following days of high-elevation birding held a great number of highlights, including a trio of Puna Tinamou, over a dozen Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe, great views of three species of flamingo (Andean, Chilean, and James’s), well-named Giant Coots, Andean Avocets…the list goes on and on.

Giant Coot

All too soon it was time to head back to the coast, but not without a final day of birding before the end of our tour. The critically endangered Chilean Woodstar was seen very well on our morning in the Camarones valley – who knows how much longer we’ll be able to find this species? We then visited the Lluta Estuary on our final afternoon, where we were treated to a breathtaking spectacle of 12,000+ Elegant Terns (a sizeable percentage of the world population!) and gobs of Gray Gulls, Franklin’s Gulls, and various migrant shorebirds. What a way to finish a great tour!

Gray Gull

November 26:

Jake Mohlmann on his recently completed tour, Northern Argentina: High Andes, the Chaco and Iguazú Falls

We recently completed another successful tour around Northern Argentina and ended up finding 462 species of birds as we travelled just over 2000 kilometers through the Yungas cloud forests, arid Altiplano, dry Chaco Woodlands, and wet lowland Rainforest. Birds, butterflies, and mammals abounded as we enjoyed near perfect weather with cool nights for sleeping and warm days for hiking.

Our group ready to tackle the Andes

It’s really no surprise why the Red-crested Cardinal, actually a tanager, graces the cover of Argentina’s most popular field guide. At Costanera Sur we all got great pictures as one sat and sang very close for several minutes as the light was slowly fading.

The striking Red-crested Cardinal

It's worth noting that we saw the entire family of Cariamidae, or the Seriemas. In the transition zone between the hot steamy Yungas forest and dense Chaco a group of four Red-legged Seriemas popped out of the trees right beside our van and we watched in amazement as they slowly stalked through the short grass looking for lizards. Nearby below the towering cliffs of scenic Juramento Canyon we ran into a Black-legged Seriema and watched as it repeatedly burst into treetop ‘song’ in territorial defense.

Red-legged Seriema searching for food

We got goose bumps hearing this Black-legged Seriema scream

Hummingbirds were one group that put on quite the show this year. An amazing 19 species were recorded including the small but bright Slender-tailed Woodstar, no less than five Giant Hummingbirds, and several gaudy male Red-tailed Comets. We even added the electric Blue-tufted Starthroat to the cumulative species list.

A brilliant male Slender-tailed Woodstar

We lucked into spotting a Black-and-chestnut Eagle nest high on a hillside and watched as the adult tended to the recently hatched young. Perhaps a young of last year from this very nest was the individual that kept us in awe as it soared overhead catching a thermal.

A Black-and-chestnut Eagle glides overhead.

As we gained elevation in the high Puna habitat we scoured several side canyons each with their own interesting species. A short stroll down a two-track on the Bishop’s Slope caused us to flush 30 Bare-eyed Ground-Doves that left in a flurry. Luckily one of them decided to check us out before leaving and posed on a rock wall long enough for all to see the vibrant orange facial skin of this Argentine endemic.

The endemic Bare-eyed Ground-Dove

At elevations exceeding 12,000 feet saline lakes harbored an abundance of birds that choose to breed in this remote location. Three species of Flamingos; Andean, Chilean, and James’s all fed shoulder to shoulder in the briny brew. Puna Teal, Puna Ibis, and Puna Plovers were only found here and a major highlight was a roadside Andean Avocet with drastically curved bill.

The amazing bill of an Andean Avocet.

Spending our last three days amidst the moist rainforests around Iguazu was a great way to end our trip. The flow rate of the Iguazu River was the highest I’ve seen and provided a dramatic setting as it poured over the hundreds of cascades. It always amazes me how the Great Dusky Swift manages to shoot in through the torrent and find their nest’s location every time.

Great Dusky Swifts cling to the rocks behind Iguazu Falls.

A slight change in itinerary this year gave us access to the hill-country east of the falls and ended up allowing us to add 10 new species to the cumulative list! Such delights here were Araucaria Tit-Spinetail, White Woodpecker, Planalto Tapaculo and surprisingly good looks at the secretive Riverside Warbler.

An unusually good look at a Riverside Warbler

November 16:

Gavin Bieber on his recently completed tour, Australia: Victoria and Tasmania

The first half of our tour involves taking a large loop around the state of Victoria (and a bit of New South Wales). For the inland portion of the tour we concentrated mainly on the giant mallee parks of Northwestern Victoria where we delightful and repeated views of Splendid and White-winged Fairywrens, as well as pairs of Major Mitchell’s Cockatoos prospecting for nesting sights, active Sand Goannas crossing the tracks in front of us, tame Emu and a few subtle but exquisitely colored Regent Parrots. 

Splendid Fairy-Wren   Image: Kent Andersen

White-winged Fairy-Wren

Major Mitchell Cockatoo

sanD Goanna    Image: Kent Andersen

Emu   Image: Kent Andersen

Regent Parrot   Image: Kent Andersen

On the arid Hay Plains of central New South Wales the historic drought was still in full swing.  Perhaps due to the incredibly dry conditions our hoped-for Plains-Wanderers had wandered off, but our time around Deniliquin was still well spent with an excellent sighting of Fat-tailed Dunnart and a very cooperative Inland Dotterel, as well as truly awesome desert sunsets. Before reaching the coastline we also spent a few days around Little Desert, where the beautiful Malleefowl performed well on its mound and a perky Scarlet Robin kept our cameras busy for quite some time.

Fat-tailed Dunnart

Inland Dotterel   Image: Kent Andersen

Inland sunset


Scarlet Robin   Image: Kent Andersen

The second half of the tour concentrates on the remarkably scenic Victoria coastline, a wonderful mixture of weathered cliffs and sea stacks like the famous twelve apostles, white sand beaches like Killarney Beach, and around the city parks of Melbourne, repeatedly voted the most livable city in the world. 

Twelve Apostles

Killarney Beach

We began the tour around the city, with signature Australian birds like the gaudy and inquisitive Rainbow Lorikeet, and the tame Laughing Kookaburra.  As always, the varied mammals of the continent feature prominently, from the huge male Eastern Grey Kangaroo to camps of Grey-headed Flying Foxes along an urban creek. 

Rainbow Lorikeet

Laughing Kookaburra   Image: Kent Andersen

Eastern Grey Kangaroo   Image: Kent Andersen

Grey-headed Fying Fox   Image: Kent Andersen

Our final few days of the tour are spent in Tasmania, where we located all of the Tasmanian endemics, enjoyed intimate views of the critically endangered Swift Parrot, found our only Little Penguins of the trip and a nice array of waterbirds that included a vagrant Hudsonian Godwit, this handsome Black-faced Cormorant (our 5th species of Cormorant for the tour), the menacing Pacific Gull and this diurnally active and undeniably cute Echidna. 

Swift Parrot   Image: Kent Andersen

Black-faced Cormorant

Pacific Gull

Echidna   Image: Kent Andersen

We wrapped up the trip with an impressive 284 species of birds and 21 mammals, both records for the trip.  With the breadth of wildlife and scenery this tour never fails to deliver, and I very much look forward to returning to this corner of the country in 2020.

November 14:

Gavin Bieber on the first part of his recently completed tour, Australia: Queensland and New South Wales

We kicked off with a fantastic week around Cairns and the Atherton Tablelands, the region which hosts the highest diversity of species in the country, including many of the continent’s signature birds.  We had wonderful experiences with many of these this year.  Just a sampling of our favorite sightings would includ a family group of Southern Cassowaries lounging in the afternoon sun, displaying Australian Bustard strutting on a lek site, glaring Metallic Starlings at a nesting colony, jewel-like Spotted Pardalotes attending a nest, multiple male Victoria’s Riflebirds gorging themselves on fruit on our first morning above the lodge carpark and a stunning Azure Kingfisher along the scenic Daintree River. Tours to Australia are never solely about the birds; this year around Cairns we found multiple Boyd’s Forest Dragons, incredibly tame and impossibly cute Mareeba Rock Wallabies and even a couple of the enigmatic Lumholtz’s Tree Kangaroos! 

Southern Cassowary Image: Kent Anderson

Australian Bustard Image: Kent Anderson

Metallic Starling

Spotted Pardalote

Azure Kingfisher

Boyds Forest Dragon Image: Kent Anderson

Mareeba Rock Wallaby Image: Kent Anderson

Lumholtz Tree Kangaroo Image: Kent Anderson

November 12:

Luke Seitz on his and Fabrice Schmitt's ongoing tour, Chile: Tierra del Fuego to the Atacama Desert

Fabrice and I are just over halfway finished with our Chile tour, and we’re having a great time. Birding started out hot on our first afternoon in Punta Arenas when this male Magellanic Woodpecker dazzled us with stunning views just along the roadside.

We then spent a couple days exploring the windswept Patagonian grasslands, seeing nearly all of our target birds in the process: Chocolate-vented Tyrant, Rufous-chested and Tawny-throated Dotterels, Magellanic Plover, and of course, the now-famous colony of King Penguins south of Porvenir. This unexpected Spectacled Duck was particularly photogenic…


…but we were also thrilled to find a trio of Patagonian Tinamous along a dirt road near Punta Arenas, one of which crouched down and allowed us to soak in its intricate pattern at leisure. This was the first time Fabrice had seen this species in Chile!


Flying north to Puerto Montt, we headed up into the rainy hills for some forest birding. Chile is well-known for its spectacular tapaculos (atypical of the family!), and our time searching for these skulky birds paid off. Chucao Tapaculo in particular performed brilliantly, zipping around nearly at our feet! Pardon the blurry photo, it’s dark in the bamboo-choked forest…

Heading further north, we had two days to check various spots along the coast. Highlights including White-throated Tapaculo, Great Shrike-Tyrant, and close Inca Terns kept us busy, but today was arguably one of the best days of the entire tour. We boarded a boat and headed into the cool waters of the Humboldt Current, where we were treated to a spectacular show of dozens of albatross (among other seabirds), including the rare Chatham Albatross pictured here. Check out that big yellow bill! We’re back in Santiago now, excited to head up into the Andes for more specialties in the coming days…

November 7:

Gavin Bieber on the second part of his recently completed tour, Australia: Queensland and New South Wales

The second half of our Eastern Australia set of tours kicked off on the idyllic Lady Elliot Island, on the southern edge of the Great Barrier Reef.  Here we marveled at nesting Black Noddies just feet from our lenses, as well as a host of other seabirds and a wide array of marine life.  A little to the south around the famous O’Reilly’s Lodge where the birds are almost tame, with forest birds often coming to investigate your shoelaces.  Wonga Pigeons and the gorgeous Regent and Satin Bowerbirds are common visitors around the lodge, where they look over (or from) your shoulder for any dropped tidbits.  We had some rain occluding our visit here (though it didn’t impact our bird list) which brought out an array of frogs including the colourful and impressively large Orange-eyed Treefrog. 

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 very approachable Sulphur-crested Cockatoos.  We finished the Eastern Tour with an impressive 300 species, and an amazing 436 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!

Black Noddy

An O'Riellys scene

Wonga Pigeon

Regent Bowerbird

Satin Bowerbird

Orange-eyed Treefrog - Image: Kent Anderson

PowerfulOwl - Image: Bob Pease

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo - Image: Kent Anderson

October 30:

Rich Hoyer on his recently completed tour, Bolivia: Barba Azul Nature Reserve, Sadiri Lodge, and the Apolo Valley

You can’t help but marvel at Bolivia’s diversity when you experience the extreme variety of landscapes and habitats as we did on our just completed inaugural tour of  the northern departments of La Paz and Beni. We started in the high Andes, visiting Lake Titicaca and the gradual pass of Pumasani on our way to and from the Apolo area – where we birded in the fog, snow, and sun, but happily without the usual annoying wind. Titicaca provided us with easy and delightful families of the flightless Titicaca Grebe, but it was a bold Plumbeous Rail that stole the show on our second morning there.


Plumbeous Rail Photo: David Fisher

The high Andes had some exciting ground-tyrants, earthcreepers, miners, canasteros, and others. A frequent sight along the roadsides (and at our picnic sites as we departed) were beautiful Mountain Caracaras.


Picnic Lunch N of Charazani Photo by Rich Hoyer

Mountain Caracara Photo:David Fisher

We had some truly incredible experiences with world-class birds during our time in the Apolo-Atén areas. Finding a pair of the endemic “Palkachupa” subspecies of Swallow-tailed Cotinga at our breakfast location was a bit of a surprise, as we hadn’t yet driven to the location where we were supposed to start looking for them.


Swallow-tailed Cotinga Photo: Rich Hoyer

Another exciting moment came when we found a bird that few people have seen, as its precise distribution and migratory behavior have yet to be fully determined, and it doesn’t even have a name yet. First discovered by Dan Lane and Gary Rosenberg while they were leading a WINGS tour in Peru in 2000, they saw it again in 2003, and that was the last time a birding group like ours had seen one until now. Rumor has that the final manuscript with the species description may be published within a year.


'San Pedro' Tanager Photo: David Fisher

Next came our time at the lovely Sadiri Lodge, with its wonderful food, delightfully hospitable staff, and super competent birding guides, where we experienced a mix of Amazonian and Andean foothill specialties. Band-bellied Owl, Sharpbill, and the scarce Yungas Tyrannulet were of  among the species belonging to the former community, while a lucky encounter with a pair of Hairy-crested Antbirds, Yellow-shouldered Grosbeaks, and a pair of  White-throated Woodpeckers in a flock near the lodge were some species with more Amazonian affinities.


White-throated Woodpecker Photo: David Fisher

Sadiri’s tanager flocks didn’t fail to delight us, and one particular mob assembled in a perfect display of riotous color.

Tanager Mob Photo: Rich Hoyer

Our group was the first such birding tour to visit the recently improved Barba Azul Nature Reserve. We saw our first Blue-throated Macaws the afternoon of our arrival, eventually seeing a flock of seven of these highly endangered birds.

Blue-throated Macaw Photo: David Fisher

The birding here was terrifically fun, especially along the marshes of the Omi River that runs through the property – complete with Long-winged Harrier, Least Bittern, and Ash-throated Crake.


Boat ride at Barba Azul Photo: Rich Hoyer

The ungrazed and unburned expanses of seasonally flooded savanna are home to some very scarce birds, such as Cock-tailed Tyrant, where we watched one do its astonishing flight display at a female.


Cock-tailed Tyrant Photo: David Fisher

This place is also home to a good variety of mammals, and we watched Black-and-gold Howler Monkeys grunt in the trees, a Six-banded Armadillo cross the airstrip, and a Giant Anteater gallop across a pasture.


Giant Anteater Photo: David Fisher

October 23:

Rich Hoyer on his recent tour, Bolivia: The Chaco, Valle Zone, and Central Andes

The first of our two back-to-back Bolivia tours was a breeze, thanks to wonderful support from our multi-talented driver Herman, our ground agent, a small group, and birds everywhere. Our first day in Santa Cruz wasn’t just breezy, but downright windy, though we still started off with a big day list, amongst which was a pair of Green-barred Woodpeckers at a nest.


Our time in the Chaco was brilliant, with all of the expected species and more. Crested Gallito, Crested Hornero, and Lark-like Brushrunner showed well, leaving us to wonder why so many birds here have crests. Black-legged Seriema was perhaps the most iconic target, and they didn’t disappoint, with several seen on our drive east from Boyuibe.


Another hoped-for species was Many-colored Chaco-Finch, and with effort we finally found a very cooperative individual of this lovely species.


Almost any little body of water was likely to hold wintering water birds, and we had marvelous views of Brazilian Teal and Ringed Teal on several occasions.


Exploring the habitats in the dry Valle Zone of the country’s center was a rich experience.


A close encounter with a Glittering-bellied Emerald here left an impression.


The most sought-after bird in this region is the rare endemic Red-fronted Macaw, and we had some great views of them.


We finished the tour in the central Andes, admiring the scenery and some special birds at elevations up to 14,400 feet. Here we saw Bright-rumped Yellow-Finches, Taczanowski’s Ground-Tyrant, many White-winged Diuca-Finches, Cordilleran Canastero, and a speedy Aplomado Falcon.


October 22:

Derek Lovitch on his recently completed tour, The Maine Coast in Fall, Monhegan Island.

From morning flights to diurnal migrants, from warblers to waterfowl, a week at on Monhegan Island, Maine, in the fall offers a variety of opportunities to observe migration. Thanks to changes in the weather and a late-week cold front, we witnessed the ebbs and flows of migration as we filled our time between delicious meals and island life.  Eighteen species of warblers included sought-after Mourning and Bay-breasted and the island-rare Pine.  Impressively, Cape May was one of our most common migrants on several days!  Our rarest birds for out here were Snow Geese (and Island Bird for me!) and a Broad-winged Hawk, but we also enjoyed regionally-rare Lark Sparrow and Dickcissels. Add to that a falcon flight of Peregrines and Merlins, impressive shows of Northern Gannets, Monarch butterfly migration, a craft brewery, and magnificent scenery and you can see why birding on Monhegan is so special!

Monhegan is a comfortable island to visit - we stay in the big hotel at the back...

...with birds to look at, here a Cape May Warbler...

...and lovely lanes from which to bird...

...and did I say birds to look at, here a Tennessee Warbler...

...and great Maine seafood...

...and, yes, birds to look at, here a Magnolia Warbler.

September 25:

Jake Mohlmann on his recent tour, Arizona and Utah: Fall Migration in the Canyonlands

Our 2018 Arizona and Utah Canyonlands tour just wrapped up with 198 species of birds seen in 13 days. We meandered 2,000 miles through everything from the hot, cactus-studded desert to Utah’s highest Alpine Valleys in search of all things wild.

The vast Grand Canyon at sunset.

Beginning and ending in Phoenix allowed us to see a suite of Sonoran Desert specialties such as the colorful Broad-billed Hummingbird, quirky Gambel’s Quail, and riparian-obligate Abert’s Towhee. Several wren species were encountered including very close views of Canyon Wren in Zion National Park’s River Walk, ratcheting Cactus Wren at Boyce Thompson Arboretum, and Rock Wrens perched on what else, rocks.

A confiding Rock Wren in Mt. Carmel

Endless Pine forests of Northern Arizona hosted such gems as 3 species of Nuthatch, Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets, and bright Green-tailed Towhees. Several deep canyons with walls towering thousands of feet overhead harbored Stellers Jays, Mountain Chickadees, and one particularly confiding American Dipper that ended up at arms length.

American Dipper as close as ever.

The vast Navajo Reservation had many memorable sites in the spire-filled Monument Valley and Canyon de Chelly National Monument, seemingly chiseled perfectly out of ancient sand dunes. Antelope Canyon, a well-used historical migration route for Pronghorn wowed us with its skinny swirling path through solid rock.

Our group in the fabulous Antelope Canyon.

Spending two entire days in the White Mountains of central Arizona allowed us to relax after our long journey and soak in several excellent bird sightings. At Luna Lake several surprises included a male Vermilion Flycatcher and pair of ‘Cactus’ Purple Martins very far from their normal desert haunts. Most surprising was a cooperative Blackpoll Warbler that mistakenly took the wrong route south after breeding in the far north.

A complete surprise vagrant Blackpoll Warbler.

On our final day we traveled from the high coniferous forests down the Mogollon Rim, through Arizona’s ‘Little Grand Canyon’ the Salt River Gorge, and back into the hot desert in search of anything we missed. After picking through yet another flock of querulous Bushtits a major highlight was revealed when a male Painted Restart sang closely to us while defending its Sycamore-lined canyon.

A Bushtit in for a close inspection!

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