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From the Home/From the Field

August 20:

Steve Howell recently joined our Costa Rica in July tour - as a participant!

Steve Howell reports from the recent summer Costa Rica tour, when he went along as a participant (!), a pleasant change from leading and a welcome escape from the drought in California. It was the rainy season, but the umbrellabirders were well prepared.

At this season there were lots of juvenile birds to enjoy, like these baby Northern Jacanas that took refuge under their dad when the rain got too heavy!

Or this adorable fluffball Black-throated Trogon, barely able to fly

Here with the adult male—otherwise we would have had trouble figuring what species it was!

Late summer also means molt, but even without full plumes this adult male Resplendent Quetzal was still absolutely stunning!

One morning a female Sungrebe sat and preened unconcerned for many minutes—look at those feet.

Until a Green Basilisk decided to chase her off!

Other highlights ranged from confiding Great Green Macaws...

To the tiny Blue-chested Hummingbird

And a majestic Jabiru close beside the road!

It wasn’t all rainy—here a beautiful morning in the high elevation oak forest on Cerro de la Muerte

And the many non-avian highlights included extended family groups of White-nosed Coatis. There are still spaces on the forthcoming October Costa Rica tour, so if you’re looking to see lots of great wildlife and escape the madness in the US...

August 17:

Jake Mohlman reports from a wet, green Sonoran Desert

Our second departure of our Arizona Second Spring tour recently wrapped up. The turbocharged van had no trouble covering 1143 miles of mountain roads, smooth highways, and water crossings as we tallied 185 species for the trip. Highlights were countless and included 13 species of hummingbirds, 14 sparrow species, and a quail sweep.

We worked hard to find some things including a 2 mile hike up Miller Canyon, gaining over 2,000 feet of elevation, in order to secure our viewing pleasure of a male White-eared Hummingbird defending a nest and territory. Other hummers encountered were a female Lucifer coming into a blooming agave in Box Canyon, and a true stunner when a male Berylline Hummingbird came into a perfectly placed feeder on a remote mountain trail. 

Non-avian highlights were aplenty including a sow Black Bear with 3 cubs in tow, a nocturnal Ringtail, and several range-restricted snake species including the rare Banded Rock Rattlesnake in Huachuca Canyon.

Other regional specialties couldn’t hide from our curious eyes and included a singing Five-striped Sparrow that came within 10 feet of our group in Box Canyon, close views of Mexican Chickadees as they came into and out of their nest cavity, and several Red-faced Warblers at eye level gleaning for insects on Mt. Lemmon.

Perhaps saving the best for last we had an amazing encounter with a pair of Montezuma Quail as they exploded at our feet and ran into and around our group undoubtedly trying to distract us from some nearby concealed young.

All photos by Jake Mohlmann except the Montezuma Quail (Jim Livaudais). 

Our excited group overlooking Cave Creek Canyon

A rigorous hike yielded this male White-eared Hummingbird.

We worked hard for Berylline Hummingbird, here the stunning male. 

This Rock Rattlesnake crossed our path in the Huachucas.

 

Red-faced Warbler was seen several days, sometimes quite close.

 

This adult Mexican Chickadee finally revealed its nest in the Chiricahuas.

The closest views I’ve ever had of Five-striped Sparrow.

A male Montezuma Quail almost walked on our feet in Sawmill Canyon. Photo by James Livaudais.

July 28:

Jon Dunn reports from his recent Birding the Civil War tour to Maryland and West Virginia:

Our trip in mid-June to Maryland and West Virginia experienced delightful and unseasonal cool temperatures. The heavy rains that had fallen in advance of the tour had ended and the weather did not factor much in our birding or in our touring of the Civil War battlefields, notably Gettysburg, Antietam (Sharpsburg), and Harpers Ferry. We recorded 113 species, including 25 species of warblers, missing only Blue-winged and Pine. These included excellent views of Worm-eating, Kentucky, Blackburnian and Cerulean, plus our best ever views of Swainson's, We watched one forage for an extended period at close range. Other highlights included side-by-side comparisons of calling Alder and Willow Flycatchers, a pair of Red-headed Woodpeckers, singing Eastern Whip-poor-wills, and nesting Peregrine Falcons at Harpers Ferry, the first nesting there in over a half century. Rarities included an adult Mississippi Kite near Harpers Ferry (in Maryland) and a territorial Sedge Wren in Canaan Valley, West Virginia. A beautiful Baltimore Checkerspot was also seen very well. 

Swainson's Warbler

Sedge Wren

Baltimore Checkerspot

July 13:

Jake Mohlmann reports at the end of a cracking good Alaska tour

We recently wrapped up the second of two Alaska Majesty tours where inclement weather largely missed us, exciting birds seemed never-ending, and new mammal species were a constant surprise. Every guide dreams of the chance to show a group a first North American record. We did just that as we tracked down a new bird for the country’s list…a cracking Rufous-Tailed Rock Thrush! This bird was only around for 1 day so we were all elated at the fortunate timing of our flight. That same day we were alerted to the presence of a Polar Bear just offshore on the sea ice. We hurried out and were able to find the massive beast as it tore chunks of meat from the melting saltwater.

The arctic breeders were in their gorgeous breeding plumages including stunning cherry-colored Red Phalaropes tending to nests with eggs. Eiders of all 4 species were seen both in Nome and Barrow, but perhaps the most exciting experience was approaching 2 pairs of Steller’s Eiders on foot as they rested up before a courting session. One of our days in Seward was a wash in the afternoon, but luckily in the morning we tallied a suite of temperate rainforest birds including an endless display from a bold Pacific Wren defending his territory. The constantly changing scenery was always inspiring, and on several occasions a Moose would be in the frame, sometimes quite close. One never really knows what might show up birding at the top of the world.

Our group thrilled with our successful trip.

Rufous-tailed Rock-Thrush…a first for North America.

An enormous Polar Bear coming in to feed.

Multiple stunning Red Phalaropes in breeding plumage seen.

Male Steller’s Eiders resting up on tundra pools.

The song of Pacific Wren rang through the rainforest.

Moose were seen almost daily, some quite close.

June 22:

Skye Haas has an update from his recent North Carolina tour

Shazam! WINGS just wrapped up an amazing run to coastal North Carolina for our 2021 Pelagics and Pineywoods tour. Highlighted by two back-to-back days aboard the Stormy Petrel II, we had an excellent selection of seabirds and cetaceans with highly desired species like Black-capped Petrel, Audubon’s Shearwater, Band-rumped Storm-Petrel, Bridled and Arctic Terns and all three Jaegers as well as Cuvier’s Beaked Whale, Spotted Dolphins and point blank looks at a resting Sperm Whale! We then continued along the coastal saltmarshes for killer looks at Seaside Sparrows, Clapper Rails, Eastern Willets and baby Least Terns, King Rails and Wilson’s Plovers. The Pineywoods birding proved to be delight with very cooperative Swainson’s, Prothonotary, Yellow-throated and Worm-eating Warblers, along with multitudes of Brown-headed Nuthatches and Red-cockaded Woodpeckers (including an active nest of woodpeckers!), while being serenaded by Bachman’s Sparrows, Painted Buntings and Chuck-will’s Widows. Palamedes Swallowtail Butterflies were everywhere and sightings of Black Racers, Mud Turtles and Sheep Frogs helped round out a dreamy visit to the naturalist’s playground that is the Carolina coast! (Photos by Skye Haas).

Black-capped Petrel


Great Shearwater


Red-cockaded Woodpecker at nest


Cuvier's Beaked Whale  


Swainson's Warbler


Scopoli's Shearwater


Sperm Whale


Bachman's Sparrow


Yellow-throated Warbler

Blue Grosbeak

June 21:

Ethan Kistler reports from the land of fire and ice. 

Iceland is famous for its dramatic landscape of volcanoes, glaciers, picturesque waterfalls, and stunning vistas. That in itself brings many tourists to this remote island nation. The first of two back-to-back Iceland tours has concluded where we had the stately White-tailed Eagle, a breeding pair of Gyrfalcons, bustling alcid colonies, copious breeding shorebirds, over a dozen Orcas, an Arctic Fox, and even a vagrant Black-and-white Warbler. Iceland never disappoints and I’m excited to begin the second tour tomorrow for a whole new group of birders!

Goðafoss "waterfall of the gods" is one of the most spectacular waterfalls of Iceland

Þingvellir National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has exposed North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. It is here that the world’s first democratically elected parliament that remains functioning, Alþingi, was formed in 930 AD.

Black-and-white Warbler was a nice bonus and only the 4th record for Iceland.

Hundreds or thousands of Northern Fulmars can be seen daily nesting on coastal cliffs.

This Atlantic Puffin was photographed during the midnight sun giving it an orange glow.

June 8:

Ethan Kistler reports from the Upper Midwest

From boreal forests and aspen parkland of Minnesota to the vast grasslands and prairie potholes of North Dakota, the Northwoods to Prairies tour concluded with great success! We had point blank views of Connecticut Warbler and Great Gray Owl, recorded over 20 species of warblers, and even crossed into Wisconsin to see the vagrant Arctic Loon before heading west where the grasslands were filled with the melodies of Chestnut-collared Longspurs and wetlands were teeming with waterfowl. You can say I’m already counting down to the 2022 tour!

This Upland Sandpiper sat on his post and sang his extraordinary song. 

The first of two Great Gray Owls we found at Sax-Zim Bog.

The final three crossing our makeshift bridge to a singing Connecticut Warbler. 

 

May 10:

Gavin Bieber reports from sunny Florida

After a year-long hiatus due to the pandemic it was fantastic to return to Florida for our 2021 Spring South Florida tour.  Although we only visit a small section of the state it’s a tour with a remarkably varied avifauna.  Several Caribbean species like Black-whiskered Vireo, Shiny Cowbird and White-crowned Pigeons reach the northern edge of their range in Florida and this year we were also treated to a true vagrant in the form of the wonderfully cooperative Black-faced Grassquit.

Black-whiskered Vireo

Shiny Cowbird

White-crowned Pigeons

Black-faced Grassquit

Out on the Tortugas we connected with Black Noddy, Bridled Tern, Masked Booby and even a surprise Audubon’s Shearwater.  Waterbirds abound in the wetlands of the southern Peninsula, perhaps none more unique than this Limpkin. 

Limpkin

Florida has its share of endemic subspecies too, such as the darker and more heavily spotted Burrowing Owl and smaller and paler Red-shouldered Hawk. 

Burrowing Owl

Red-shouldered Hawk

Of course, no trip around Miami could leave out the wealth of established exotics, such as this inquisitive Mitred Parakeet or these colourful Nanday Parakeets that we found near Tampa Bay on the first day. 

Mitred Parakeets

Nanday Parakeets

Add in the diversity of reptiles, butterflies and dragonflies and this short week in South Florida proved quite the wildlife spectacle!

(Photos by Gavin Bieber and Allen Codding)

April 21:

Steve Howell sends a closing report from his month in West Mexico, barely enough time to celebrate the diversity of birds there—around 400 species seen with pretty casual birding!

Arguably top ranked among birds of color is the stunning Rosy Thrush-tanager (a potential split as Mexican Thrush-tanager), here a male.

Although male Orange-breasted Bunting is also a strong contender!

And even a male Bronzed Cowbird in good light is really quite stunning

The male Red-breasted Chat is stunning in a different way, and rather easy to see here in spring.

The violet-blue mask highlights of Russet-crowned Motmot (a potential split, as Mexican Motmot, from Guatemalan birds) can be appreciated close-up, and they are amazingly COMMON here!

Another potential split, the West Mexican Vermiculated/Middle American Screech-Owl showed well, and Steve made some good recordings that may help resolve the taxonomic uncertainty.

The most surprising bird of the ten days at Rancho Primavera was this Long-eared Owl, watched chasing a Northern Potoo!

The next night, this obliging Mottled Owl was “all” we could find in the same trees.

Probably the rarest bird of the trip was Sinaloa Martin, seen a few times from the patio of Steve’s casita.

And here’s his Rancho Primavera “office” away from home, in late afternoon (beer time)—where, oddly, not much work was done!

April 12:

Steve Howell on Military Macaws

  1. While birding around northern Jalisco, Mexico, for the past ten days, Steve Howell and Luke Seitz found Military Macaws to be a daily occurrence—there is a healthy (but inevitably threatened) population of these magnificent birds in the region. In some places the birds could even be watched perched, rather than the more usual flight views.
  2. A couple of low-flying macaws from a few days ago, spectacular birds with their palette of emerald-green, turquoise, red, and golden yellow.
  1. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Mexican populations of Military Macaw look and sound somewhat different from the other (far distant) populations in the Andes of South America, and are a potential split (Mexican Macaw), making their conservation even more important.
  2. Fortunately, there are people passionate about conserving the macaws and their habitat. Luke and Steve met with macaw biologists Carlos Bonilla R. and Claudia Cinta M., who have been working in Jalisco for 10 years with conservation, research, and environmental education. Check their website www.macawforever.org for more information; like all such projects they always welcome donations—even a little money can go a long way in Mexico.

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