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From the Field

February 22:

Jared Clarke reports from the second Newfoundland 2023 tour.

Our second “Newfoundland in Winter” tour this year was held January 27 – February 2, with three excited birders braving the elements to enjoy some wonderful winter birding. Weather evolved throughout the week, from a mild start to a much colder (and more seasonal) wrap-up – all of which was fun to explore in! Our birding started with a bang – Dovekie and Purple Sandpiper being among the very first bird we spotted at Cape Spear, the most easterly point of land in North America.

Our luck continued all week with highlights including Willow Ptarmigan and Caribou hiding in plain sight on the tundra...

...a Northern Goshawk nabbing lunch over a city park, and Black-headed Gulls on both a quiet pond and the rolling ocean.

Tufted Ducks and Eurasian Wigeon were enjoyed daily, along with eighteen other species of duck seen during the week.

Boreal Chickadees and Canada Jays popped in for visits at the forest edge, and an ABA-rare Pink-footed Goose entertained us with a ridiculously close encounter. It was a fantastic week of winter birding at the edge of the continent!

Harbor Seal

Black Guillemot

Great Cormorant

February 14:

Jon Feenstra reports from NW Ecudaor

I'm freshly back from our week in northwest Ecuador, one of the most accessible havens of bird diversity there can be. Here's a pictorial summary of some of the many highlights of our day trips from home base in Mindo.

On our first day we were shocked and pleased by bumping into one of the world’s rarest hummingbirds, the enigmatic and nearly mythical Black-breasted Puffleg – a first for this tour in its nearly twenty year history. We don’t expect the unexpected, but sometimes it just happens.

Hummingbirds were a theme of this tour. One of the group favorites was Shining Sunbeam – beautiful, but a real jerk to the other hummers at the feeders.

We also visited the reserve run by Angel Paz, the famous Andean farmer turned sneaky-bird taming wizard. He showed us some tough forest birds including the iconic “Maria,” the Giant Antpitta.

Staying in Mindo gave us access to a number of fancy Choco endemics, birds that only occur in the forests of northwest Ecuador and southwest Colombia. Some were really flashy-looking like this Glistening-green Tanager.

Or this more subtle Moss-backed Tanager…

Or the striking Black Solitaire

Sometimes the exotic is a little familiar, like the North American vagrant Sora that was poking around the edge of a cloud forest pond.

Our day trips meant driving through lots of little Ecuadorian towns. And, driving through little Ecuadorian towns meant ice cream breaks (Magnum bars).

The windy roads around Mindo cross the Equator many times. On our last day, about three hundred species later, we took a break from birding and paused at the monument on The Line to see what all the fuss was about.

February 8:

Steve Howell reports from the recent Antarctic 2023 cruise.

Steve Howell and Gavin Bieber report from their recent Cape Horn and Antarctica Cruise, an amazing adventure to some remarkable places, here the group with its first view of the Antarctic—the legendary and dramatic Elephant Island, where Shackleton’s crew waited for their heroic rescue.

The wide range of oceanic birds exemplified the diversity of marine habitats we traversed, ending off Argentina with the handsome Spectacled Petrel...

Starting off Chile with Juan Fernandez (right) and Southern Giant-Petrels in gray Humboldt Current waters

And in between, Soft-plumaged Petrel (bottom) with dapper Pintado Petrels over sunny  blue subantarctic waters.

This year’s cruise was exceptional for its views of iconic southern seabirds, such as this Snow Petrel...

And this Light-mantled Sooty Albatross, which paralleled the ship for 46 minutes!

As well as for seabirds both small, like this Black-bellied Storm-Petrel...

And large, like this Antipodes Wandering Albatross.

There were plenty of penguins on ice...

Here a Gentoo leaping aboard!

And here a Chinstrap abandoning ship!

Scenery was, as expected, spectacular...

And the numerous marine mammals tallied included this Sperm Whale.

On shore at the Falklands, the many highlights included King Penguins,

The endemic, flightless Falkland Steamer-Duck,

And the handsome endemic population of White-bridled Finch (now a tanager!).

One last look in the wake—with (top to bottom) Northern Giant Petrel, Snowy Wandering Albatross, and Southern Royal Albatross...

And a happy group partaking of celebratory drinks on the penultimate evening.

February 6:

Jake Mohlmann reports from Arizona: A Winter Week in the Southeast 2023 tour

We just finished up another Winter Week Tour through southeast Arizona covering 900 miles of everything from highways to dusty 2-tracks. Five distinct zones were covered thoroughly, with several people’s favorite being the scenic Chiricahua Mountains, this year with lots of snow in its upper reaches adding to the natural beauty that this area already boasts.

Our group ready to visit Cave Creek Canyon.

Of course no trip to the ‘Chiris’ would be complete without a drive through the orange and green Cave Creek Canyon. This road shortly leads up into the pine forests and home to one of the most range-restricted birds north of the Mexican Border. With only a couple of hours to devote to finding them, we were elated to finally track some Mexican Chickadees foraging with a roving flock of Bushtits.

The Chiricahua Mountains host Mexican Chickadee, of which we saw 3.

One of the highlights this year was witnessing some of the major finch and thrush irruption happening across the state of Arizona right now. Scads of American Robins have been demolishing anything resembling a berry, right alongside larger than normal numbers of Western Bluebirds and Cedar Waxwings. At Cave Creek Ranch we encountered one of the rarest irruptors this year, when a female Evening Grosbeak came in to gorge on black oil sunflower seeds. At a well-placed fountain south of Tubac we were amazed to have not only a group of Lawrence’s Goldfinches come in to within feet, but also several Red Crossbills showing up to join the photo taking party. Even at our home away from home on the San Pedro River a Townsend’s Solitaire popped in a few times to utilize the opportune oasis.

Evening Grosbeak was added to the overall trip list.

Red Crossbills joined Lawrence’s Goldfinches at arms-length.

One morning a Townsend’s Solitaire greeted us at breakfast.

Not only is the San Pedro River a great place to base out of, but it also provides a suite of good birds rarely encounter elsewhere on tour. A particularly confiding Winter Wren was making its wintering home out of a debris pile choking the river near the San Pedro House. We also spent some time in the morning on foot from our lodge to track down the recently split Chihuahuan Meadowlark that resides in the National Conservation area just north of where we stay.

A Winter Wren spending time along the San Pedro River.

Chihuahuan Meadowlarks were seen multiple days.

In Madera Canyon the feeders were ripe with regional bird species like Hepatic Tanagers, Arizona Woodpeckers, and Yellow-eyed Juncos. One highlight here was an adult Painted Redstart foraging at eye level working the dead leaves on the dirty ground. The bird repeatedly flashed the white patches on its wings and tail in hopes of getting a specific type of prey to flush, the exact method of foraging this species is famous for.

Painted Redstart foraging at length near Madera Picnic Area.

Perhaps the most confiding bird of the trip came when we went to a park in Patagonia in search of a wintering Williamson’s Sapsucker. It took all of about 2 minutes to find the bird who was sticking close to his beautiful hole excavations in hopes it may attract some insects for easy pickings. He never moved for the 15 minutes we were there.

This male Williamson’s Sapsucker resting at his holes.

The Sandhill Crane show in the Sulphur Springs Valley is something that needs to be seen to believe. At Whitewater Draw WMA we watched as thousands of gray crane planes came swirling in their family groups and gently touched down right before our eyes. The sky was filled with black peppered crane dots as far as one could see to the north as we sat for hours enjoying the production both visually and auditorily.

A family group of cranes comes in for a landing.

January 26:

Jake Mohlmann reports from Argentina

We just wrapped up another WINGS tour through southern Argentina covering several distinct habitats like the vast wind-swept steppe, southern beech forests, and the dry monte desert.

Our excited group in front of the Perito Moreno Glacier in Calafate.

One of the reasons to come to this part of the world is to see the Magellanic Plover, the only member of its unique family resembling a tiny dove pirouetting on wind-swept shorelines. Not only did we have the best views ever of this species in the morning light, we quickly realized the reason we got so close was because of two golf ball-sized chicks running for cover amongst the rocky substrate.

An adult Magellanic Plover with chick nearby.

Waterfowl is a constant presence no matter which habitat we explore, with flocks of some species into the hundreds. Roughly 30 species were encountered on the trip. This year was by far the best year for not only viewing numbers of Spectacled Ducks, but getting extremely close too.

 

Spectacled Ducks in Tierra del Fuego National Park.

The Nathofagus forests of southern Patagonia host a unique palette of species endemic to this particular habitat. Perhaps the most sought after is the Magellanic Woodpecker, South America’s largest and darn good looking too! We had searched for over half the day for this species in Los Glaciares National Park and just before we were going to throw in the towel, our driver mentioned seeing a pair fly in near where he had parked. Lucky for us they were still in the area and we were able to take endless pictures of both male and female of this coveted creature.

This male Magellanic Woodpecker aflame atop a snag.

Argentina doesn’t boast the numbers of endemic bird species that some South American countries do, but the ones they have are quite special. We were excited to see the endemic White-throated Cacholote, a large member of the furnariid family, defending its well-constructed nest with gusto just outside Puerto Madryn. After walking through a nesting colony of thousands of pairs of penguins, the trail at Punta Tombo led us to the coast where another pair of Argentine endemic White-headed Steamer-Ducks rested on the rocks.

The endemic White-throated Cacholote near its nest.

 

A pair of White-headed Steamer-Ducks endemic to this region.

Mammals are always a highlight on any trip through Patagonia. There were several highlights among the 17 species we saw including a very confiding Argentine Gray Fox. A pair of these ‘false foxes’ were stretched out across the road outside Punta Tombo. They were so approachable in fact those who wanted got out of the van and got quite close for a serious dose of photographs.

 

an Argentine Gray Fox lounging in the road.

Most of the reptiles, especially the snakes, that we see tend to be roadkill at some point during the trip meeting their demise from unsuspecting drivers. Due to the temperatures being in the perfect range this year we got to see a couple live ones, including a monte desert endemic Mousehole Snake crossing the road at Punta Piramides.

A docile Mousehole Snake on a dusty road.

A constant wanderer around the breeding Southern Sea Lion and Elephant Seal colonies is the Snowy Sheathbill. This odd bird is the custodian of the mammal groups, frequently cleaning up scraps of afterbirths and carcasses. It was a good year for this species. A sign of good times, or maybe bad?

Snowy Sheathbill walks through the Sea Lion colony.

January 25:

Jared Clarke reports from our recent Newfoundland in Winter 2023 tour

The first of two “Newfoundland in Winter” tours this year was held January 7-13, with five excited birders braving the elements to enjoy some wonderful winter birding. Participants traveled from across the United States to enjoy the diversity of northern species that call this island home, and they were not disappointed. Dovekies had been scarce so far this season, but our group’s persistence paid off and we eventually found several throughout the week – including close-up views of one very obliging bird in a sheltered boat harbour. 

We also enjoyed great looks at a Thick-billed Murre loafing on the waters of Conception Bay, and several Razorbills battling much rougher seas of the open North Atlantic. Sought-after birds like Purple Sandpiper, Tufted Duck, Black-headed Gull and Great Cormorant were on full display almost daily, and Boreal Chickadees popped in to visit as we strolled forest trails. 

A Pink-footed Goose, a rare visitor from Europe, was an added highlight everyone and a “lifer” for most. 

We enjoyed seeing numerous seals, including two extremely handsome Harp Seals lounging at a yacht club. 

An exciting encounter with three Willow Ptarmigan and a beautiful Rough-legged Hawk on the snow-covered tundra rounded off a fantastic week of winter birding at the edge of the continent!

Also seen on this tour were:

Bohemian Waxwings

Eurasian Wigeon

Black-headed Gull

January 17:

Steve Howell reports from the completion of his ever-popular San Blas, Mexico, tour.

Cloudless blue skies every day and warmer than usual temperatures made for a wonderful remedy to the cold and rain across much of North America and Europe. One day we started with this pair of Collared Forest-Falcons posing on a palm frond,

 

Followed by this elegant male Elegant Quail.

 

While another day ended with close-up and personal views the bizarre Northern Potoo.

 

The boat trips are always fun, this year with good numbers of Bare-throated Tiger-Herons

 

And great views of nesting Wood Storks...

 

Plus the bonus of Yellow-breasted Crake, only discovered in the area in 2022.

 

Colima Pygmy-Owls were more numerous than usual, and we had to walk away from this endearing fluffball.

 

Bat Falcons continue to maintain their presence in the area and were one of 20 species of raptor we encountered in a fabulous and fun winter getaway, which was over all too soon—I’m already ready to go back in 2024!

December 21:

Steve Howell and Luke Seitz report from their recent Tasman Sea Cruise between New Zealand and Australia.

Before the actual cruise our pre-extension around Melbourne introduced us to many austral delights, such as the aptly named Superb Fairy-Wren...

 

And the bizarre Tawny Frogmouth, here on a nest with its young.

 

Then to the cruise proper, which proved highly successful, with birds ranging from gadflies to parrots, and often we were able to watch from the bow...

Where seeing this Wandering Albatross one minute...

And this Red-tailed Tropicbird only three minutes later reinforced the mixed pelagic habitats we traversed.

 

Notably notable were the 11 species of gadfly petrels (genus Pterodroma) we encountered (of some 36 tubenoses in total), including the handsome White-headed Petrel

Here with Striped Dolphins in the background

 

And the poorly known Pycroft’s Petrel,

 

Here in direct comparison with the notoriously similar Cook’s Petrel.

 

On land we enjoyed close views of two iconic New Zealand Parrots, the notorious Kea...

 

And the subtly multicolored Kaka

 

Plus the vocally arresting and visually stunning Tui, a large honeyeater.

 

Various other species ranged from the elegant Royal Spoonbill

To the scarce New Zealand Falcon,

 

But ultimately it was mostly about seeing oceanic birds in their element, the Southern Ocean, from a stable platform.

December 16:

Gavin Bieber reports from the Canopy Tower in Panama

Our short fall 2022 trip to the famous Panama Canopy Tower was packed with birds and several charismatic mammal species (an amazing 20 species) including almost daily visits to the tower from Geoffrey’s Tamarins, Kinkajous and a Western Lowland Olingo. 

Around the tower we located well over two hundred species of birds, including gaudy and overtly tropical birds such as White-whiskered Puffbird, Blue Cotinga, a day-roosting Black-and-White Owl and Black-cheeked Woodpeckers, as well as a host of interesting non-avian things like this rather regal looking Spiny-tailed Iguana.

The day trip up to the (relative) highlands of Cerro Azul produced a wonderful female Yellow-eared Toucanet, a very responsive Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker, and a great array of hummingbirds including handsome White-necked Jacobins and Blue-chested.  Our other full day away from the tower explored the Atlantic slope on the west side of the canal, where, among over 100 species we found Spot-crowned Barbets to be particularly prevalent this year.

This tour continues to impress me, as the diversity and richness of the region, paired with ease of access and the comforts and uniqueness of the tower make for a truly wonderful experience.

Black and White Owl

Black Spiny-tailed Iguana

Black-cheeked Woodpecker

Blue Cotinga

Blue-chested Hummingbird

Kinkajou

Shiny Honeycreeper

Spot-crowned Barbet

Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker

White-necked Jacobin

White-whiskered Puffbird

Yellow-eared Toucanet

November 21:

Jon Feenstra reports after his recent Southern Ecuador tour

We just finished another epic visit to southern Ecuador. In just over two weeks we traveled from the mangroves of the coast to the Amazonian foothills of the Cordillera del Condor on the border of Peru and everything in between: deserts and paramo, dry forest, and rain forest. We found nearly 550 species, and from all of that it was hard to pick just a few highlights for this!

Recently discovered (5 years ago), Blue-throated Hillstar is now a regular bird on the tour. It’s a long bumpy ride to get there, and on a mountaintop in the middle of nowhere, and usually cold and windy, but it’s worth it. (And it was pleasantly warm and sunny.)

 

The scenery was pretty great, too, with views of neighboring mountains in all directions.

 

No trip to Southern Ecuador is complete without the hike into Reserva Tapichalaca to see the Jocotoco Antpitta, one of Ecuador’s most famous birds. It’s on billboards and statues and stamps.

It’s so famous, it sometimes even sits atop the tree for Christmas.

A flashy highlight of the Amazon foothills was this Coppery-chested Jacamar waiting outside its nest burrow along the Rio Bombuscaro in Podocarpus National Park.

And, this tiny Black-and-white Tody-Flycatcher was just over the border into Peru, on a remote road through the Cordillera del Condor. There probably wasn’t a Peruvian for 100km, but the map said we were in Peru, so we added some extra international birding flavor to the tour.

Days ended with a round of cold beers after a good day in the field. Here we are, not long before the beers, but just after seeing a Long-wattled Umbrellabird at the Buenaventura Reserve.

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