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From the Field

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!

September 22:

Rich Hoyer on his recent tour, Machu Picchu and the Manu-Kosñipata Road.

The numbers, variety, and rarity of birds on this year's tour to Machu Picchu and the Kosñipata Valley will be hard to beat. It was a fair bit cooler than usual, and with less rain than one might expect, and both made for great birding conditions.

 

On our first day’s drive we had time for several birding stops including for this stunning Many-colored Rush Tyrant in the valley below Cusco.

After our visit of Machu Picchu, birding began in earnest. 

Just upstream from the town of Machu Picchu we had time to enjoy a pair of Torrent Ducks in the Urubamba River.

 

We traveled over a high pass where a pair of the very handsome Andean Goose was quite a surprise right next to the road.

 

Then at the moderate elevations of San Pedro, our early morning visit to the very active Andean Cock-of-the-rock lek was an unforgettable highlight.

 

It was a nice surprise to learn that a Brown Tinamou recently has become acclimated to the bustling kitchen noise of our lodge near here, and we saw it twice during our stay.

 

One stellar day began with views of a White-throated Antpitta, a pair of White-crowned Tapaculos, and a pair of Solitary Eagles soaring low overhead, but seeing both Blue-banded and the rarer Chestnut-tipped Toucanet (here) on the same day was really unexpected.

 

At our final lodging at Villa Carmen Biological Station, our bird list exploded with all the bamboo and lowland tropical diversity. Another surprise here was a feeding station that has been attracting tinamous, and nowhere can one get better views of a Black-capped Tinamou than this.

 

An incredible morning here involved a sighting of a mega-rare Crested Eagle that at first vanished within a minute of our finding it. It then magically reappeared on a nearby perch a few minutes later where we all had extensive views of it. If that weren’t enough, we found it again over an hour later maybe a kilometer away while at the same time a Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle soared overhead and performed a upside-down dive display. We were pinching ourselves the rest of the day.

 

We did just a couple owling walks, but at Los Amigos we scored big, seeing Black-banded Owl, Tropical Screech-Owl, a Common Pauraque on a nest, two Black-headed Night Monkeys, and this Tawny-bellied Screech-Owl, all in about 45 minutes.

What surprises await us on our second tour to the jungle lodges on the Madre de Dios?

September 20:

Rich Hoyer on his just-finished tour, Oregon in Late Summer

It’s hard to imagine a more perfect tour than this year's Oregon in Late Summer. The weather was great, the birds always fascinating and captivating, and the group cohesion nothing short of phenomenal. The participants raved over the picnic lunches, the diversity of wildlife and scenery, and delicious dinners in some great restaurants. 

In the western part of the state we caught up with Sooty Grouse and Northern Pygmy-Owl before we arrived at the coast to beautiful conditions.

We enjoyed some beach time...

...where banded Snowy Plovers told a story of successful conservation efforts.

 

Unusual this year were the large numbers of Surf Scoters just offshore.

 

In a single day’s drive over the Cascade Mountains we found ourselves in a different world, in awe of the scenery and geology lessons provided by Fort Rock and many other formations.

 

The birds were quite different here as well, with this Ferruginous Hawk posing nicely along the highway.

 

Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and the surrounding areas were excellent. An American Redstart at the refuge headquarters was a fun rarity.

 

This Great Horned Owl at the refuge headquarters deigned to open one eye for us.

 

Mammals played a big part in this year’s tour: an American Pronghorn stood watch in a field of wildflowers.

 

We were surprised by a family group of Wapiti in the refuge’s main road while at the very same moment being awed by a Cooper’s Hawk, a Coyote, and a Long-tailed Weasel.

 

Springtime and early summer are better times for wildflowers, but this Cusick’s Monkeyflower persists in the driest and hottest time of year.

 

Closed much of the year by snow, the Steens Mountain road, Oregon's highest, provided a rare treat with the most unbelievable vistas.

 

White-headed Woodpecker is usually quite easy, but this year it played elusive until our last-minute opportunity on the drive back to Portland. Then a pair performed just beautifully, earning it favorite bird of the tour.

 

A final dinner in sight of the magnificent Multnomah Falls was a fitting end to the main tour.

 

Those who took part on the pelagic extension saw unbelievable numbers of birds up to 30 miles from shore, the highlight of which was this Great Shearwater, a third record for Oregon.

September 4:

Jon Dunn on his recently completed tour, Arizona: Second Spring

We experienced a weak monsoon this year and the lack of rain meant warmer than normal temperatures.  Still we saw nearly all of the expected species, more than 200 in all, and a few surprises; highlights included a pair of Rose-throated Becards nesting along the Santa Cruz River near Tumacocori National Monument, a cooperative male Elegant Trogon in Madera Canyon, Five-striped Sparrow in Box Canyon, five Black-capped Gnatcatchers around the Santa Rita Mountains, eleven species of hummingbirds including a half dozen Lucifer Hummingbirds, a pair of Montezuma Quail, excellent views of both Crissal and Bendire’s Thrasher, Rufous-capped Warbler, and dozens (mostly adult males) of Lazuli Buntings.  A Fulvous Whistling-Duck (Green Valley) and a Groove-billed Ani (Whitewater Draw) were rarities for Arizona.  Non avian highlights included a family of Ringtails, a White-nosed Coati, a Black-tailed Rattlesnake, Pronghorn, many lizards, and a Western Diamondback. 


Female Rose-throated Becard at nest


Male Elegant Trogon


Black-capped Gnatcatcher


Lucifer Hummingbird


Montezuma Quail


Crissal Thrasher


Rufous-capped Warbler


Groove-billed Ani


Black-tailed Rattlesnake


Pronghorn

August 28:

Luke Seitz on his recent cruise to Svalbard

The Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard is superb. Located between Norway and the North Pole, the rugged landscapes of glaciers and tundra are home to spectacular wildlife and remarkable scenery. We started in the small town of Longyearbyen, where we watched King Eiders in the harbor, Parasitic Jaegers coursing over the tundra, and a colony of entertaining Common Eiders. Among the many highlights was the abundance of Purple Sandpipers, singing and displaying and dotting the mudflats and tundra, a far different context from the rocky coastline of the northeastern United States in winter…

We boarded our ship, the M/V Ortelius, and started cruising north off the western coast of Svalbard. Our goal was to reach pack ice, which took some time to find. Once we did, however, we were treated to a courting pair of Polar Bears. The mating season is usually long over by the time cruises are here in June, so we counted ourselves very fortunate to watch the male and female for several hours. They chased each other, smelled each other, and occasionally just lay down facing each other, a few inches apart, gazing longingly into each other’s eyes. It was magical!

 

Although bird diversity is low in this part of the world, we spent plenty of time studying the abundant alcids, kittiwakes, and fulmars that were constantly in view. One morning, we took the zodiacs to the base of Alkefjellet, a long cliff that hosts tens of thousands of breeding Thick-billed Murres. The skies were darkened with an endless flow of murres, while the nearby ocean was carpeted with thousands more…

 

…and on another afternoon, we landed on a beach that hosted a haul-out of Walrus, lazily enjoying the endless Arctic sun…

 

Of course, I can’t talk about Svalbard without mentioning Ivory Gulls. Finding blindingly white birds in a vast expanse of blindingly white ice (and fog) is not the world’s easiest task, but we managed to find eight of these iconic Arctic gulls! I missed a few flyby photos, but here’s a juvenile resting on the ice…

 

All too soon, we found ourselves back in Longyearbyen after a wonderful Arctic experience. I can’t wait to return next year!

August 15:

Susan Myers and Greg Greene on their recent scouting trip to Peninsular Malaysa

We just wrapped up an informative scouting trip to Peninsular Malaysia and are excited about next year’s tour. While Borneo seems to draw most of the attention from regional birders (for good reason), Peninsular Malaysia is a gem by itself and should be considered one of the top destinations in Southeast Asia. 

Some of the highlights from our trip, and what you may see on next year’s tour, include Malaysian Rail-babbler, Malaysian and Mountain Peacock-pheasant, as well as seven species of pitta, 12 barbets, and nine hornbills. One shouldn’t forget the large diversity of kingfishers and woodpeckers, which are arguably some of the most spectacular in the world. With its system of well-protected nature reserves, modern infrastructure, and great food, Peninsular Malaysia should be on your list for the next birding adventure! To learn more about joining us in 2019, visit our website: https://wingsbirds.com/tours/peninsular-malaysia/ . A selection of images from our recent trip follows.


Rufous-collared Kingfisher


Chestnut-capped Laughingthrush


Dusky Leaf-monkey


Fire-tufted Barbet

 
Ferruginous Partridge


Garnet Pitta


Silver-eared Mesia

Mountain Peacock Pheasant


Water monitor

July 10:

Gavin Bieber on his and Jake Mohlmann's recently completed tour, Alaska Majesty

Our Alaska Majesty tour found everywhere below average temperatures and a lingering sense of a wintery spring. Despite the chill, or perhaps because of it, the trip was wonderfully mosquito free, and we experienced sunny conditions nearly throughout.  This year we started around Nome which was, as ever, amazing.  Here we enjoyed point blank views of birds like Rock Ptarmigan, American Golden-Plover, Arctic Warbler, and the dazzling Bluethroat (still in its active song flight courtship stage) as well as a surprise in the form of a nesting pair of White Wagtails out on the Teller Road.


Rock Ptarmigan - Image: P.Baum


American Golden-Plover - Image: J. Hopkins


Arctic Warbler - Image: J. Hopkins


Bluethroat - Image: G. Bieber


White Wagtail - Image: J. Mohlmann

We then moved inland, traveling through the extraordinarily scenic Alaska range and the Denali region.  Here we found Smith’s Longspurs on territory, a nesting pair of Northern Hawk Owls perched atop some roadside spruce trees and a strutting Spruce Grouse that scuttled off the road at our approach. 


View from the Denali Highway - Image: G. Bieber


Smith's Longspur - Image: J. Mohlmann


Northern Hawk-Owl - Image: P. Baum


Spruce Grouse - Image: J. Mohlmann

Our final area for the main tour was Seward, where we found the beautiful Resurrection Bay under full sun, with Humpback and Fin Whales, Orca and tame Bald Eagles really putting on a show. The towering forests here were filled with the song of Townsend’s Warblers, here at nearly the northern limit of their range. 


Townsend's Warbler - Image: J. Mohlmann

Our tour extensions were both incredible. Although we had to negotiate some transportation complications for the Pribilofs we managed to fly in and out on the appropriate days, and enjoyed a spell of reasonable weather while on the island.  The local breeders like Red-legged Kittiwake, Red-faced Cormorant, Rock Sandpiper and Crested Auklet all posed nicely for our cameras this year.  And in addition to these expected species, and a fine assortment of mammals including Northern Fur Seal and Arctic Fox we tracked down some nice rarities such as Terek Sandpiper, Oriental Cuckoo and Tufted Duck. 

 
Crested Auklet - Image: G. Bieber


Terek Sandpiper - Image: P. Baum


Oriental Cuckoo - Image: P. Baum.

On our post tour extension to Barrow we arrived to find much of the tundra still firmly locked in winter, although with temperatures in the low 50’s and bright sun our whole visit the snowbanks were melting rapidly.  This year’s trip was perhaps our best ever, as over parts of three days we reveled in close up views of the expected birds here including Snowy Owl, Steller’s and Spectacled Eiders and a host of shorebirds on their breeding grounds. 


Snowy Owl - Image: G Bieber


Steller's Eider - Image: Steve Howell


Spectacled Eider - Image: G Bieber


Pectoral Sandpiper - Image: G Bieber

Here too were elegant Sabine’s Gulls courting, a vagrant Gray-tailed Tattler that allowed us close approach, and perhaps the birds of the trip; a trio of blushing pink Ross’s Gulls that showed well for us on both days of our visit, marking the first time in 15 years that we have recorded this amazing species on our Alaska Majesty tour. 


Sabine's Gull - Image: J Mohlmann


Gray-tailed Tattler - Image: P. Baum


Ross's Gull - Image: J Hopkins

In all we tallied about 170 species on the main tour, and 192 including the extensions to Saint Paul Island and Barrow. The variety and abundance of birdlife, the great wildlife, and the extraordinary natural beauty make Alaska Majesty one of the best birding tours anywhere.

June 26:

Luke Seitz on his recently completed tour to Guatemala

Our first Guatemala tour in a number of years had wonderful experiences with a number of regional specialties alongside abundant Neotropical migrants. The trip started off with a bang, finding beautiful Pink-headed Warblers on just day two – like a strawberry dusted with snow, dipped in a fine Pinot Noir…

From the edge of the mixed pine-oak forests where the Pink-headeds reside, along with a long list of other fine birds including Blue-throated Motmot, Hooded Grosbeak, and Blue-and-white Mockingbird…

 

…we journeyed to the high volcanic peaks around Lake Atitlán, where a difficult hike provided Horned Guan for some, and outstanding views of Lesser Roadrunner.

The main tour ended with eye-melting views of the dazzling Garnet-throated Hummingbird; we soaked up at least ten individuals feeding unconcernedly in front of us for over an hour...

 

...in lush cloud forest, home to not only the Garnet-throateds but also Unicolored Jays, and many others!

 

The Tikal extension was excellent. Ocellated Turkeys such as this displaying male were easy to see around the entrance, and we were treated as well to stunning views of Royal Flycatcher with its crest fully raised (!!!), a hulking Black-and-white Owl, Orange-breasted Falcon, Black-throated Shrike-Tanager, and tons more…

…all set in a backdrop of incredible Mayan temples. Needless to say, this small Central American country has a lot to offer the birder –already looking forward to returning next year!

 

 

June 4:

Gavin Bieber on his recently completed tour, Arizona: Owls and Warblers

Our trip coincided with the first hot week of the year, with temperatures hovering a few degrees above average and many migrant birds quickly heading north for more pleasant climes and their respective nesting territories.  Despite the low numbers of migrants it was a fine week, tallying an impressive 211 species.  Our avian highlights were many: residents such as an inquisitive Whiskered Screech Owl peering down from its roost site in a roadside sycamore, a Five-striped Sparrow lurking in California Gulch, or the incomparable Montezuma Quails spotted in Ash Canyon were just some examples. 

Summer breeders such as dazzling Red-faced Warblers and handsome Blue-throated Hummingbirds were busy setting up their territories, and not all the wintering birds had departed as we were treated to views of a lingering Lewis’s Woodpecker, and a female Williamson’s Sapsucker, and several wandering Red Crossbills. 

This was an excellent year for 'Mexican' species, and we found nesting Rose-throated Becards and bathing Rufous-backed Robins along the Santa Cruz River, and a very cooperative Slate-throated Redstart in the beautifully scenic Chiricahua Mountains. 

When you can combine a wide array of spectacular birds with a nice supporting cast of mammals and butterflies, all in wonderful desertscapes, it's hard not to have a truly excellent tour!

May 8:

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

We just wrapped up a fun week exploring south Florida from Fort Myers to Key West. We started with a day in the dry pine forests and upland scrub of the central peninsula with fantastic views of an inquisitive Barred Owl, and a cooperative Florida Scrub Jay.

A day trip out to the unique Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas was sunny and hot but still produced the usual cloud of nesting seabirds, 16 species of warblers and a much appreciated Black Noddy.

Some of Florida’s most sought-after birds, like Mangrove Cuckoo and Limpkin, posed for us nicely and we even lucked into front row seating for a mating pair of Purple Gallinules in a marsh near Sarasota. 

As always, Florida isn’t all about the birds, and this year we had excellent views of a beautiful Sherman Fox Squirrel and a host of reptiles, amphibians, butterflies and even fish!

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