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From the Field

March 19:

Susan Myers reports from Japan in Winter

Our winter tour in Japan this year featured the usual array of fantastic birds – the incredible numbers of cranes, wildfowl and eagles never fail to impress. And then there are some special rarities such as Japanese Murrelet and Blakiston’s Fish Owl, that can only realistically be seen in this country that counts so many of their birds as National Treasures, an official title. We were also lucky this year to have encounters with several species that we always hope for but can’t necessarily count on, of note the Japanese Waxwings, Baikal Teal, Stejneger’s Scoter, Green Pheasant, and Siberian Crane. While the birds we encounter on our winter tour are always amazing, Japan's charm extends far and wide – from its serene temples and cozy inns to the exquisite culinary delights, ensuring that our tour offered an enriching experience in every aspect. 

On the far north island of Hokkaido, we spent plenty of time with the White-tailed Eagles… 

that keep company with the migratory Steller’s Sea Eagles that descend on Hokkaido in winter because it’s warmer here than on their breeding grounds! 

Amongst the overwintering passerines we found Hawfinches, that often come into feeders… 

as well as the white-bellied race of Eurasian Nuthatch… 

 stunning Daurian Redstarts… 

charming Chinese Penduline-tits… 

and cute Japanese Tits. 

Our nature cruise off the Nemuro Peninsula was super productive for Spectacled Guillemots and other alcids. 

Amongst the multitudinous White-naped Cranes (and Hooded Cranes) on the southern island of Kyushu… 

we were very lucky to encounter the Critically Endangered Siberian Crane. 

In our spare time we took in some cultural experiences, including a brief visit to the stunning Matsumoto Castle, steeped in history… 

a couple of spectacular feasts…  

and wonderful scenery. 

Happy Birding!

March 18:

Skye Haas reports from the recent Belize tour

Belize is a beautiful gem of a country with its extensive emerald-colored forests, pastoral farmlands and sparkling Caribbean beaches. WINGS had not been to this beautiful and birdy country since the Covid shutdowns had actually canceled our tour midstream, but as the nine participants on the spring 2024 tour quickly learned, it was worth the wait! Over the course of this twelve-day tour we traveled extensively across the country, starting out in the coastal mangrove groves on the outskirts of Belize City; onto the expansive marsh and Yuacatan savannas of the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary; up to the highlands of the Mountain Pine Reserve; and deep into the tropical jungles of La Milpa, Cockscomb Preserve, & Bocawina and Blue Hole National Parks among many other fantastic birding locals. We visited on several occasions Mayan ruins, including the uncovered fabled cities of Caracol and Chan-Chich. The overwhelming abundance and richness of avian life in this small nation is outstanding and our group consisted of participants exploring their first international trip, as well as long-time veterans of neotropics- and all got multiple lifers and incredible experiences they will treasure for years to come. We tallied in an impressive 351 species of bird, featuring 16 species of hummingbird, 33 diurnal raptors, 31 flycatchers, 24 warblers and 16 species of tanager! Some of our highlights included Orange-breasted Falcon, Lovely Cotinga, Pheasant Cuckoo, Keel-billed Motmot, Agami Heron, Yucatan Nightjar, Black-throated Bobwhite, Striped Owl, Gray-throated Chat and both Black-and-White & Ornate Hawk-Eagles at the nest!

Exploring the river for Boat-billed Heron.

Agami Heron

Orange-breasted Falcon

Rufous-tailed Jacamar

Butterflies were abundant and some of the standouts included Blue Morpho, Banded Peacock, Owl Butterfly and this Variable Cattleheart.

Pheasant Cuckoo

Black-headed Trogon

Looking for Yucatan Jays with our friendly canine escort unit.

March 11:

Gavin Bieber and Stephen Menzie report from the recent Tasman Sea and New Zealand cruise:

It was a fantastic two weeks aboard the Coral Princess, with scores of seabirds during our days at sea and a host of endemic landbirds during our onshore days in New Zealand. In contrast to previous tours, the cruise started in Brisbane this year, which gave the group opportunity to catch up with some warm-water species, such as tropicbirds and boobies – a distinctly different avifauna to the cold-water species found off New Zealand’s coasts. As expected, the pelagic birding on this trip was dominated by the tubenoses – the albatrosses, shearwaters, petrels and the like; in total, an impressive 40 species of tubenoses were logged by the group during the tour.
All photos by Stephen Menzie.

Our home for the duration of the tour: the Coral Princess.

The first days at sea saw us sailing through relatively mild seas, where we caught up with warm-water species such as this Red-footed Booby…

…and this Red-tailed Tropicbird.

As we reached colder water, albatrosses – such as this White-capped (Shy) Albatross – were a constant feature of the day’s birding.

Buller’s Albatrosses were seen in the waters off southern New Zealand, with many giving close fly-bys of the boat…

…as did squadrons of Buller’s Shearwaters.

A host of Pterodroma petrels were logged on the cruise, including Mottled Petrels…

…Black-winged Petrels…

…Cook’s Petrels…

…and the strikingly jaeger-like Kermadec Petrel. It even comes in different colour morphs and undertakes kleptoparasitism of other seabirds.

Birding the Fiordland national park by boat was as notable for the stunning scenery as it was for its birdlife.

On terra firma, we found a host of endemic landbirds. This one is a Tui.

And this one is a North Island Saddleback.

On a secluded forest river, we found a pair of New Zealand Blue Ducks.

On the coast, we enjoyed views of endemic shorebirds, such as the Critically Endangered Black Stilt and (depicted here) the Wrybill.

Famously full of character, we chuckled at the sight of a Kea stealing – and subsequently tucking into – a bag of potato chips at a café in the Southern Alps… even if the former owner of the bag of chips wasn’t so amused!

February 26:

Jon Feenstra reports from his recent trip in the Ecuadorian Amazon

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:

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:

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:

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.


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


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!

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