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From the Home/From the Field

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.

April 6:

Steve Howell reports from the quiet Rancho Primavera in West Mexico. 

Feeder Birds. Not everyone is lucky enough to live in Canada or the Northeast US where the winter cold and snow bring chickadees and sporadic invasions of finches to their feeders. Here at Rancho Primavera in West Mexico (an hour or so south of Puerto Vallarta, out in the hills) I have to live with Russet-crowned Motmot, here alongside a migrant Swainson’s Thrush, …

The occasional Yellow-breasted Chat…

And the usually skulking Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush,

Plus lots of Rufous-backed Thrushes (or Robins).

Streak-backed Orioles really like the oranges…

As do the Mexican (aka Yellow-winged) Caciques

And even the Golden-cheeked Woodpeckers.

It’s not all color, but the Grayish Saltator is attractive in its own subtle way,

Although outshone by a glowing male Yellow Grosbeak, a fan of papaya.

One of the regular feeder visitors is Blue Mockingbird, a great chance to see this typically shy and elusive species.

There are even sparrows, but only the rather fancy Stripe-headed Sparrow. So, if you ever feel like a winter break to escape the chickadees, this could be the spot!

March 30:

Steve Howell sends another update from San Blas, Mexico.

After 18 days in San Blas, Mexico (our regular tour is only 9 days!), Steve Howell reluctantly dragged himself away. The highlight of his stay was a small group of White-fronted Swifts one morning, a species described only in 1992 (!) and seen in life only a handful of times ever!

 

For the non-swift aficionados, there was plenty of color, including this Golden Vireo...

 

Groups of sociable Mexican Parrotlets...

 

And lots of Lineated Woodpeckers.

 

Elusive species included a confiding Lesser Ground-Cuckoo

 

And, after 40 minutes of patient sitting, a stunning Spotted Rail finally peeked out.

One of the San Blas signature birds, Boat-billed Heron, showed well (even if it tried not to!)...

 

And a remarkable record count of 39 Northern Potoos may have been due to dry season conditions concentrating birds along the river.

 

Speaking of records, along with Luke Seitz and Maili Waters (down in Mexico on a three-month trip), Steve helped set a new Big Day record for Mexico—290 species on 27 March, including Eared Poorwill (number 286)…

 

And a stunning fly-over Laughing Falcon…

 

But not including Surfbird, which had been a regular migrant in preceding days—the joy and unpredictability of birding!

March 18:

Steve Howell is back on home turf - Mexico!

  1. Steve Howell reports in from the field (not the home!) on his spring break to San Blas, just to check that there are still birds in Mexico—and there are! This Streak-backed Oriole was one of 95 species in an unhurried three-hour morning walk near the hotel.

  1. Rufous-bellied Chachalacas have become much easier to see here in recent years, and tamer. Four walked past my room at the hotel yesterday afternoon and fed on fruit over one of the cabins while people splashed in the pool nearby!

 

  1. Black-throated Magpie-Jay is too large to fit in the frame, so here’s just the head.

 

  1. A pair of White-fronted Parrots dropped in and landed briefly, just long enough for one camera snap.

 

  1. Russet-crowned Motmots are calling a lot more than in winter, and much easier to see!

 

  1. In contrast to the colorful birds, this Northern Beardless Tyrannulet was pelting out his song from the tree next to the motmot!

 

  1. Lots of weed-eating flocks included some cracking male Varied Buntings.

 

  1. And plenty of raptors included this Northern Crested Caracara—and that’s just a summary of 3 hours. Now time to relax, shrimp burger lunch, and back out after a siesta. It will be great when we can start running tours here again!

 

  1. Lunch of shrimp burgers and fresh-squeezed limonadas, with an “Australian vagrant” – our Australasian expert leader Susan Myers has joined me to escape the northern winter, her first time in Mexico!

January 14:

Susan Myers shares some amaing images from her time at Bosque del Apache in New Mexico

If you’re a WINGS leader the birding never stops! There isn’t a single day where I’m not birding in one way or another. I won’t lie-I’ve been missing so many aspects of my leading life, not least showing our guests the amazing birds and placeswhereI lead, as well as my friends(human and avian) in Asia and Australia. But I’m making the most of my time here and really getting to know the birds of America. Last December I enjoyed a very special week in New Mexico as guests of my good friends Liz and Maurice Southworth. Our aim was to photograph the Sandhill Cranes at the legendary Bosque del Apache reserve south of Albuquerque. While isolating in our bubble (of course), we visited the reserve daily. Unfortunately for everyone, cranes included, New Mexico has been experiencing a drought for the last couple of years so the usual photography point where one can get close to these beautiful birds was as dry as a chip. So, no joy there, photography wise... Nevertheless, there were still thousands of cranes, as well as Snow Geese, Ross’s Geese, Northern Pintails, and others. What an incredible sight as the cranes daily flew in and out of their feeding and roosting sites. And the soundscape was also remarkable. Anyone who has experienced cranes en masse must surely count their honking as one of their favourite sounds. It reminded me very much of my winter tours to Japan where we visit Arasaki in the south to see the massive congregations of White-naped and Hooded Cranes. In fact, we see Sandhill Cranes there every year, too. But only three or four of them. This was something else!So here are some images I managed to capture of these most iconic of birds. I hope you enjoy them. By the way, if you’d like to see some more, I’m on Instagram @wildwomanphotos. And thanks again Liz and Maurice...

 

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