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From the Field

February 26:

Jon Feenstra reports from his recent trip in the Ecuadorian Amazo

We returned from Sani Lodge, deep in the Amazon rainforest of eastern Ecuador. It’s way out beyond any roads and quite an adventure just getting there.

The avian diversity is epic and we had a nice sampling of screamers, guans, puffbirds, jacamars, toucans, antbirds, woodcreepers, flycatchers, cotingas, manakins, tanagers, and more. And, parrots! No trip to the Amazon is complete without a show from big, colorful parrots. We watched up to twenty Blue-and-yellow Macaws (pictured here), as well as a few Chestnut-fronted and Red-bellied Macaws chew up a dead tree.

We also saw up to eleven Scarlet Macaws visit a mineral spring in the jungle (here with Orange-cheeked Parrot).

The canoe rides through the flooded forest were serene and beautiful.

And, within this habitat we encountered the extremely local Cocha Antshrike, here the more striking female.

The canopy tower had its own specialties, like the tiny, colorful Yellow-browed Tody-Flycatcher.

There was a lot of walking though dark, primary rainforest.

Sometimes there were some very big trees.

And, sometimes we took a lesson from the Hoatzins and just hung out, looking out over the jungle from a good sturdy branch.

February 26:

Jake Mohlmann has just finished an amazing tour full of rarities in the lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas

We recently wrapped up another trip through the lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas. This year’s tour was truly unbelievable in not only the species diversity, but also the extreme rarity of so many of the birds we encountered. Resaca de La Palma State Park was hosting a serious suite this year. We packed our rarity list with highlights including Rose-throated and Gray-collared Becard, Roadside Hawk, Tropical Parula, and Dusky-capped Flycatcher.

 

This Gray-collared Becard was seen, a third record for North America

 

Tropical Parula picked bugs from leaves over our heads

Amazing Roadside Hawk hunting the resaca edge

The Santa Margarita Ranch has been red hot lately with rare birds. Some advanced planning acquired us access to this unique habitat abutting the meandering Rio Grande. From the bluffs here we scored a crowd pleaser when a passing illegal fishing boat flushed a Bare-throated Tiger-Heron up into a tree for us to observe in the scope. Later on, we got eye level with this 3rd North American record from the shores of the ranch directly across the waterway.

Our group on the bluffs at Santa Margarita Ranch

 

Bare-Throated Tiger-Heron seen well, another third record for North America.

The ranch has also become the only reliable spot north of Mexico that one can see the raucous Brown Jay. We lucked into 4 of these giant corvids coming in to the overflowing feeder array here.

 

BRJA-Brown Jay checking us out

We went back to Santa Margarita Ranch at nighttime to bag a huge score for any North American birder. Among the calling Eastern (McCall’s) Screech-Owls and Pauraques the deep hoots of a Mottled Owl were heard. We stood in amazement as it showed up, skillfully lit up by our local guide in the glow of the spot light.

Unbelievable looks at a Mottled Owl

The range expansion of the Limpkin made its way to Texas. We lucked into one of these colonizers in San Benito and watched it excise some huge clams from their formidable shells.

Limpkin with clam lunch

The Corpus Christi area always seems to please with its endless saltmarsh habitat, backwater bayous, and barrier beaches full of birds. In addition to a plethora of gulls and shorebirds, we boated by 25 Whooping Cranes on our trip through Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. This is the largest wintering population of this species in the world and it showed.

 

Whooping Cranes were well-represented

Also in Corpus we were treated to a first North American record conveniently located 2 blocks from our hotel. A long-staying Cattle Tyrant has taken up residence at the Water Street Oyster Bar. It didn’t take us long to track down the birders running, always an indication something exciting is nearby. Their actions led us right to the bird and, I must say, it was easily approachable as the hood ornament of a GMC pickup truck.

 

Cattle Tyrant adornment in Corpus Christi

February 14:

Jon Feenstra has just finished an excellent East Slope of the Andes tour in Ecuador

Tour completed and more than 10000 feet of elevation change later, we’re back from birding the Amazon slope of the Ecuadorian Andes. We began the tour at and above treeline in the high paramo.

 One of the favorites was Tawny Antpitta, “the nice antpitta” that was readily found wandering around out in the open.

Giant Hummingbird was truly amazing, shown here on a normal-sized hummingbird feeder for reference.

The scenery was pretty vast, as well. Here is the gang in front of the Antisana Volcano looming in the distance.

Further down the hill, the birds changed completely. Everyone liked Cinnamon Flycatcher – cute, easy to identify, and always accommodating.

Peruvian Racket-tail was also one of the favorites. Its puffy orange “boots” gave this little hummingbird an extra funny look.

We encountered Coppery-chested Jacamar on two days. It’s a local specialty in foothill rainforest (and, conveniently, often seen perched along the sides of roads).

Sometimes it was cold, wet, windy, a little short on air, and a lot of work.

But, a lot of time, it was just some good old chilling out and watching the birds that would come to us.

Check out the eBird trip report here: https://ebird.org/tripreport/203192

February 14:

Steve Howell reports from the conclusion of another great Week in San Blas, Mexico tour

It was full of sun, birds, great food, and great memories, from brilliant Military Macaws... Photo by participant Jim Vincent

 

To a cryptic Mottled Owl.Photo by participant Jim Vincent

We enjoyed some amazing sunrises (here, from the hotel balcony) and sunsets,

As well as birding on quiet backroads. Photo by participant Jim Vincent

 

Boat trips produced the bizarre Boat-billed Heron

 

And the equally—or more?—bizarre Northern Potoo,

 

Plus the tiny Yellow-breasted Crake, a recent discovery in the area. Photo by participant Jim Vincent

 

Russet-crowned Motmot kept us waiting till the 11th hour, but what views when we did find it!

 

And then there was this surprise Black Hawk-Eagle spotted on our drive to the airport, for which binoculars and cameras were hastily unpacked! Photo by participant Jim Vincent

Thanks to a great group for such a fun tour!

February 8:

Fabrice Schmitt reports from the Santa Marta (Colombia) tour

This was another fantastic tour to escape the boreal winter, spending a week in the tropics, enjoying wonderful Caribbean food, staying in fantastic lodges, and seeing around 300 birds species!!

The Sierra Nevada Cordillera and the Guajira Peninsula are home to an amazing list of restricted-range species, and we had excellent views of (just to name a few…) White-whiskered Spinetail, Chestnut Piculet, Vermilion Cardinal, Orinocan Saltator, White-lored Warbler and Black-backed Antshrike!

Female Vermilion Cardinal are as cute as their mates!

Obviously, we had a long list of “Santa Marta” species, such as Santa Marta Blossomcrown, Antbird, Tapaculo, Antpitta, Foliage-gleaner, Woodstar and Brushfinch!

The Santa Marta Brushfinch is a common endemic of the cordillera

This year two Santa Marta Antpittas were fed by the guard of the San Lorenzo biological station

Besides these very local species, we also enjoyed stunning encounters with Northern White-fringed Antwren, the lovely Blue-naped Chlorophonia coming to the fruit feeders, a pair of the critically endangered Blue-billed Curassow, the charismatic Russet-throated Puffbird, a beautiful pair of Rusty-breasted Antpitta, Golden-winged Sparrow, and so many more great sightings!

Blue-naped Chlorophonia is one of the cutest birds coming to the feeders at Mountain House Lodge 

While Crowned Woodnymph is one of the most sparkling ones!

Russet-throated Puffbird is common in the Guajira lowlands

Our eBird trip report can be seen here: https://ebird.org/tripreport/194030

A happy group birding the dry shrubland of the Guajira Peninsula 

Enjoying sunset and birds coming to the feeders at Mountain House Lodge

We also enjoyed an endless list of butterflies, moths, nice reptiles including good views of Green Iguana, and a few mammals such as Colombian Red Howler, and Cotton-top Tamarin.

Some of the plants and animals photographed during the tour can be seen on the iNaturalist trip report here: https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/wings-santa-marta-colombia-january-2024

The beautiful sunrise on the snow-capped peaks of the Santa Marta mountains

February 6:

Jake Mohlmann reports from the Arizona: A Winter Week tour

We just wrapped up another Winter Week tour through Southeast Arizona. The highlights were many, including perfect weather throughout. Our group got along swimmingly as we covered the vast desert valleys and snow-capped peaks scattered throughout the region.

Our group excited to bird Sweetwater Wetlands

Many of the resident species were enjoyed, especially the gregarious Bridled Titmouse, voted a favorite for one participant and a close second for others.

Bridled Titmouse allowed close approach

This tour is designed to visit areas where more tropical species reach the northern edge of their range. We were excited to get great views of a pair of Rufous-backed Robins in Patagonia, only confirmed breeding in the state since 2018.

A Rufous-backed Robin surveys from above

Another rare wintering species that we scored was a male Elegant Trogon. This bird was coming into a pyracantha bush full of berries and repeatedly sallied up to pluck the bright red fruit…almost as colorful as its own belly color.

A major highlight was this male Elegant Trogon

The Chiricahua Mountains are not to be missed for several reasons, most of which may be the fact that this range is the only place north of the Mexican border where the public can get access to this species. We lucked into a couple of them high up in the pine forests it prefers.

This Mexican Chickadee fed high in the conifers of the Chiricahua Mountains

We had fun with raptors on this trip. A multitude of Red-tailed Hawks of many flavors were seen daily, so we were excited to finally find a few regal Ferruginous Hawks in the mix in the Sulphur Springs Valley.

A Ferruginous Hawk sits in perfect light

In the San Pedro River Valley, we witnessed the rarest raptor of all. A seldom seen dark morph Northern Harrier was spotted hunting over the marshes of the Sierra Vista EOP.

The “Dark Ghost” hovers over the reeds

This was a good winter tour for seeing owls well. Among the highlights were both Whiskered and Western Screech-Owls in their natural habitats.

This Western Screech-Owl soaked in the morning sun

We spent time on several days looking for longspurs out in the desert grasslands. Finally, we scored a major highlight for some with fantastic looks (and photos) of a Thick-billed Longspur trying to blend in with cow pies.

A long-awaited Thick-billed Longspur finally showed

The Sandhill Crane show at Whitewater Draw often leaves visiting birders in awe as they watch swirling flocks of thousands of birds come in for an afternoon loaf. This year the birds got quite close.

…CRANES!

January 30:

Steve Howell & Luke Seitz report from their recent Antarctica and Cape Horn cruise.

This trip never ceases to inspire wonder at the sheer magnitude of the Great White South, impossible to capture with photos—although we all tried!

But there’s a lot more to the trip than that, including summer in Uruguay—with Giant Wood Rail feeding giant young…

As a handsome Gray Monjitawatches on.

Huge flocks of Great Shearwaters held both the sought-after Spectacled Petrel and little-known Cape Verde Shearwater (look carefully!)

Black-browed Albatross is pretty nice for the ‘common daily albatross’

But the giants such as this Snowy Wandering Albatross…

And this eye-level Antipodes Wandering Albatross are the real Southern Ocean icons

Our visit to the Falklands, here the Port Stanley waterfront, was blessed by sunny weather

Perfect for appreciating the sights and sounds (and smells!) of the amazing King Penguin colony.

While Dolphin Gulls on the waterfront needed to be watched carefully!

Back at sea, Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses marked our transition into cold Antarctic waters

And then it was three days of snow, ice, and penguins, some ‘flying’ through the water—like these Gentoos in their true element

Others ‘porpoising’ like these Chinstraps

And others just hanging out

Scenery…

And more scenery—oh, those blue icebergs!

Was interrupted at times by Killer Whales, here hunting an unfortunate Gentoo Penguin

Before crossing back across the Drake to see trees again, along with the majestic Magellanic Woodpecker

And then it was over to the Pacific Ocean with different oceanic birds, such as this handsome Chatham Albatross

Plus new mammals, like some very obliging Sperm Whales, before return to land and the so-called ‘real world’

And what a wonderful group of people to share the trip with!

January 26:

Rich Hoyer led a wonderful trip to Oaxaca over Christmas

The festive atmosphere, great food, cultural attractions, and above all, the great birds made Oaxaca a fabulous place to spend the last nine days of the year 2023. The ruins of Monte Alban and Yagul were complemented by a walk around the amazing carved radish displays for the 126th annual competition in the Oaxaca City square and a visit to an exquisite rug studio in Teotitlán del Valle. In between our cultural stops were bouts of birding where Elegant Euphonia, Red Warbler, Ocellated Thrasher, Slaty Vireo, Bridled Sparrow, Happy Wren, and White-tailed Kite were memorable sightings from the Oaxaca Valley and Cerro San Felipe north of the city. Our two-night side trip to the wetter Gulf of Mexico slope in the north of the state yielded Orange-billed Sparrow, Gray Hawk, Collared Trogon, and White-winged Tanager to name a few favorites among the more than 130 species that this side trip added to the bird list (almost doubling the total in just three days). To top it all off, we got to sample the rich local cuisine highlighted by several kinds of moles in a variety of local restaurants, tasted several varieties the locally produced mezcal, and enjoyed picnic breakfasts and lunches (and even one picnic dinner) in the field prepared by our wonderful driver Basilio.

The complex ruins of Monte Alban are fascinating unto themselves, but they are surrounded by native habitat with many interesting birds.

At the Noche de Rabanos festival, the 2024 winner in the open category was René Williams’ creation titled “Leviathan (The Great Monster of Destruction)”.

We got very lucky to see this Oaxaca Sparrow – not an endemic to the state, but the only bird bearing its name – normally a very shy and reclusive bird in the winter.

We had a marvelous demonstration of the different types of wool and the many natural plants used to dye them before we browsed the Perez studio and bought some of the exquisite rugs.

Boucard’s Wren charmed us from the columnar stems of the organ-pipe cactus Myrtillocactus schenkii below the fascinating ruins of Yagul.

In the pine-oak forests north of town, we scored Red Warbler, Dwarf Jay, Northern Pygmy-Owl and this very cooperative Crescent-chested Warbler.

January 16:

Jared Clarke reports from our recent tour to Newfoundland:

Our popular “Newfoundland in Winter” tour has drawn to a close for yet another year, with five intrepid birders braving the elements to score some wonderful winter birds. Participants came from points south, east and west to enjoy the diversity of northern species that call this island home – and they were not disappointed.

Early surprises came in the form of rare visitors from very different directions – an ABA-rare Ruff looking very out of place amongst the snow & ice (photo below), ...a long-staying Pink-footed Goose from Europe, and TWO Yellow-throated Warblers from much further south.

Always a highlight, Dovekies (aka “bullbirds” to local Newfoundlanders) put in an excellent showing and even allowed several very close views.

An encounter with three Willow Ptarmigan foraging on the snow white tundra was a special treat...

...as were other denizens of the north including Thick-billed Murre, Bohemian Waxwing (photo below) and White-winged Crossbill.   

Local celebrities such as Great Cormorants, Eurasian Wigeon and several dozen Tufted Ducks were of course on full display. After a couple early misses, we also connected with a flock of 60+ Purple Sandpipers at the easternmost edge of the continent – a special moment for several of our guests and a fun way to wrap up a great week of birding in the North Atlantic!

Group at Cape Spear

December 20:

Fabrice Schmitt reports from a recent tour to Oman

What a fantastic trip we had to Oman! Starting in Salalah, we were able to explore the magnificent wadis at the foot of the mountains that encircle the capital of Dhofar, finding some of the species that would eventually be voted as the best birds of the tour, such as Arabian Partridge, Arabian Eagle-Owl, Desert Owl and Yemen Serin. However, the sighting that made the biggest impression on the group was a close encounter with a flock of Hypocolius found in an oasis in the middle of the desert. On that same day, we also had a memorable sighting of hundreds of Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse coming to drink to a water hole while a few Greater Hoopoe-Lark quickly ran over the sand dunes!

The many estuaries we visited on this tour were full of migrating waders and larids, but it was at Bar-el-Hickam that we were all impressed by the thousands of wintering waders, including hundreds of Crab Plovers and Great Knots.

The pelagic trip from Mirbat was also very productive, with fine sightings of Jouanin's Petrel and Persian Shearwater, as well as a nice surprise Swinhoe's Storm-Petrel flying close to the boat.

In the north of the country, we also found some fine specialties, such as Plain Leaf Warbler, Persian Wheatear and Arabian Babbler. Also present were some uncommon migratory species, such as Eastern Orphean Warbler, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Pallas's Gull, and above all a vagrant Litle Bunting, found the exact same day and in the exact same location where Stephen Menzie found Oman’s first Reed Bunting 2019 during a similar WINGS tour! In addition to birds, we also enjoyed the interesting vegetation such as blooming Desert Roses and found some incredible creatures such as Carter’s Rock Gecko, the fast running ‘Sand Praying Mantis’, and even a Ruppell’s Fox. Oman is truly a fabulous destination to discover!

A report of the birds seen on the tour is available on eBird: https://ebird.org/tripreport/173625

A report of some of the plants and animals photographed on the tour is available on iNaturalist: https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/wings-oman-2023

The only species in its family, the Hypocolius was voted as best bird of the trip!

Dull is beautiful! Yemen Serin is one of the many Arabian Peninsula specialties we found during the tour.

A few of the hundreds of Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse seen coming to a water hole in the desert.

African Paradise Flycatcher is a common resident in the Dhofar region.

Persian Shearwater is almost guaranteed on our pelagic trip off Mirbat.

One of the many Steppe Eagles seen during the tour; here a first winter.

In addition to birds, Oman is a wonderful destination to look for amazing creatures such this Carter's Rock Gecko.

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