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From the Home/From the Field

December 20:

Rich Hoyer on his recently concluded tour, Brazil: Minas Gerais

It’s hard to imagine a long week of birding with such a variety of habitats. Going from a shrubby cerrado and seasonally dry woodland at Cipó, to wet Atlantic Rainforest at Caraça, then to a curious mix of woodland, gallery forest, and savannah-like grassland at Canastra, we tallied 263 species of birds, only seven of which were heard. This was all in just eight days plus a couple hours, and even in those last couple hours we kept seeing new species. The grand hallelujah of the tour were the Brazilian Mergansers which at first were inexplicably elusive during a long day of searching, during which we still happened to see over 100 other species. But we eventually caught up with them, and we had excellent views of this super rare duck.

Burrowing Owls, close to the road and very common at Canastra, made it close to the top of the favorites... did a male Horned Sungem that perched at close range, showing some incredible colors in those horns. 

Other species mentioned as particularly memorable included a female Frilled Coquette building a nest right over the road at Caraça... unbelievably cooperative Collared Crescentchest (after I had warned everyone to be ready for an impossible-to-see skulker)...

...two King Vultures sitting in a tree...

...and a pair of Black-capped Donacobius duetting and doing their moves, proving what a taxonomic oddity they really are. And of course mammals featured prominently.

Maned Wolf appeared early and at great length on our first evening at Cipó...

...and Crab-eating Fox came the second evening. Giant Anteater was something everyone really wanted to see, and finally in the late afternoon a very distant animal was spotted by our driver Marcelo. We spent a long time on the roadside watching it through the spotting scope as it thoroughly searched the distant slopes, wandering back and forth. We were perfectly happy though, so it was quite a surprise on our last full day to be walking a woodland trail and have one nearly at arm’s length right next to the trail.

We had a fun group that worked well together so everyone got on every bird as best as possible, and our always friendly driver Paulo contributed with his own spotting skills and interest and knowledge of local birding spots.

December 13:

Gavin Bieber on his recent tour, Panama: Bocas del Toro and the Western Highlands.

It’s surely a testament to the diversity of habitats and birds that exist in this relatively small geographic area that over the course of eight birding days we detected 335 species between the Caribbean lowlands and Pacific-slope Highlands. 

We started out in the Bocas del Toro Archipelago...

...where the semi-aquatic town of Bocas served as our access point to the idyllic Tranquillo Bay Ecolodge. 

Traveling largely by boat we ventured out through the picturesque archipelago and to the humid Caribbean foothills...

...where we were introduced to a wealth of birds including Collared Plover

...and Golden-collared Manakin...

...and other animals like this handsome Red-eyed Treefrog.  

Perhaps the highlight birds of the first few days were the ethereal Red-billed Tropicbirds that we witnessed doing display flights at a small offshore colony. 

The second half of the trip visited the cool and heavily forested highlands around the impressive 11400 foot Baru Volcano...

...where new birds like Resplendent Quetzal...

...and the impressive Violet Sabrewing awaited. 

Is it any surprise that I very much look forward to my next tour here?

December 11:

Gavin Bieber comments on his recent tour to Panama's Darien Lowlands

The vast and sparsely populated Darien Province in the far east of the country contains some of the most remote and wild lowland and montane wilderness remaining in Central America. 

Our base for the week was the newly constructed and very comfortable Canopy Camp. 

We spent several days exploring the camp trails and various spots along the end of the Pan-American highway, where patches of forest and more open fields revealed widespread birds...

...such as Great Potoo, here on a roadside day roost...

...and more localized ones such as the impressive Barred Puffbird...

...and the beautiful Spot-breasted Woodpecker. 

Taking dugout canoes out to a small Embera village out past the end of the road system...

...allowed us to find a cooperative pair of Dusky-backed Jacamar, another globally range-restricted species...

...and a wonderfully cooperative nesting pair of Harpy Eagles with a fuzzy two-month old chick. 

Over the course six days in the field we encountered 242 species of birds including 14 species of antbirds and 29 species of everyone’s favorite bird family; the new world flycatchers!  These areas in the Darien are little explored and I am sure that the attraction of a comfortable lodge will produce a lot of new discoveries...

...not all of the avian kind. 

I very much look forward to returning next fall!

December 9:

Paul French on his recently finished tour, Ghana

Ghana represents by far the easiest and most comfortable way to access West Africa's Upper Guinea rainforests and their host of endemic and special birds. Our tour took in the rainforests of the south and the savannah woodland of the north, resulting in nearly 370 species and some very special experiences. Here's a look at one of our days.

Our first foray into the hot and humid rainforest world was in the nation's most famous national park, Kakum, and its even more famous canopy walkway.

At 350 meters long and suspended over 30 meters high, Kakum's canopy walkway is one of only three canopy walkways in Africa. It's a great place to see many species that are otherwise very difficult to find, and just hanging around in the branches of canopy giants is a breath-taking experience.

From here, birds are seemingly more fearless of humans and can approach quite closely. This Black Bee-eater demonstrates that in good light, it is actually not black at all!

Little Grey Flycatcher is often missed on Ghana tours, being unobtrusive and often high up. We enjoyed prolonged views of this tiny flycatcher.

A pair of Violet-backed Hyliotas clambered around the flowering branches above us, showing us that they are one of the few species where the orange-breasted female is more brightly coloured than the male.

Overhead, a multitude of Common Swifts contained a good number of Pallid Swifts, but as soon as this Cassin's Spinetail appeared, all other swifts were forgotten!

Bird of the day however, was not actually a bird! Initially mistaking its long, hanging tail for a large snake, the scales soon gave away that this belonged to a Long-tailed Pangolin! It crept into view, and then proceeded to give a great show in a tree close to one of the platforms. Depressingly rare nowadays, this was a real treat, and its just a shame all the photos were looking into the sun...

At the end of the day, a pair of Black-casqued Hornbills drifted lazily over the forest on their way to roost.


December 3:

Steve Howell reports from this year’s recently concluded tour, Chile: Tierra del Fuego to the Atacama Desert.

As well as incredible scenery, good food, and good company, our trip was blessed with mostly good weather. Covering the length and breadth of Chile, this trip always impresses with its contrasts. From stately King Penguins at a bleak beach in Tierra del Fuego to the tiny and critically endangered Chilean Woodstar in the Atacama Desert; from majestic Andean Condors soaring over the snow-capped Andes to Royal Albatrosses sailing over the Humboldt Current; from ultra-confiding Diademed Sandpiper-Plovers at an Andean bog to the iconic Magellanic Woodpecker in impressive southern beech forests; from shady bamboo thickets ringing with the songs of tapaulcos to wide-open Andean vistas with snow-capped volcanoes; and from the subtlety of earthcreepers to the flashy patterns of Chocolate-vented Tyrant, this was simply a great tour. The following images tell a small piece of the tale:

“Bird of the Trip” went to the incomparable little Diademed Sandpiper-Plover, a family group of which approached us to within about 10 feet, after we had posted ourselves 100 yards away to watch!

The Lake District weather was truly astonishing, with cloudless blue days and great vistas.

Magellanic Plover (aka “Ruby-eyed Pluvianellus”) showed well in the south...

As did the striking Chocolate-vented Tyrant.

Our Humboldt Current pelagic is always a highlight of the tour.

Here a Chatham Albatross flying by, with Salvin’s Albatross, Sooty and Pink-footed Shearwaters also in the frame...

Here the huge Northern Royal Albatross, a young bird,...

And here the dashing De Filippi’s Petrel, several of which showed very well.

A happy group at the breath-taking 15,000-foot elevation Chungará Lake.

Spectacular swarms of the poorly known Raimondi’s Yellow-Finch were enjoyed on the last day of the tour—here just a small cross-section of one flock. Photo by tour participant Gordon Bills.

Along with the critically endangered—and tiny—Chilean Woodstar, a fitting finale to a wonderful tour.

November 24:

Gavin Bieber on week two of his tour, Western Australia and Northern Territory

Our second week covered the tropics of the Top End around Darwin and the outpost town of Kununurra, back in Western Australia near the East end of the Kimberley Mountains.  Such diverse habitats yielded an amazing array of birds and mammals. The humid and comparatively lush lands surrounding Darwin seemed stuffed with new birds at every turn.  Waterbird concentrations were excellent, with hundreds of Magpie Geese and lots of Rajah Shelduck surrounding the remaining patches of water and waiting for the arrival of the rainy season. 

Rajah Shelduck

Rainforest patches around Darwin hosted gorgeous and somewhat approachable Rainbow Pittas and lots of gleaming Forest Kingfishers, and in the Botanic Gardens we had a cooperative Barking Owl on a day roost. 

Rainbow Pitta

Forest Kingfisher

Barking Owl

Kununurra has the feel of a real outback town, with isolated and very beautiful grottos, and almost comically swollen Baobab Trees dotting the savannahs.  Out on the savannahs we found the remaining waterholes to be quite active, with wheeling flocks of Galah and Red-collared Lorikeets coming in to drink, and the occasional Blue-winged Kookaburra staring down from an isolated tree. 


Rainbow Lorikeet

Blue-winged Kookaburra

We capped the trip off with a boat ride on Lake Argyle, where in addition to the hoped-for Yellow Chats we enjoyed excellent views of White-quilled Rock-Pigeons, and several Australian Bustards.

Australian Bustard

White-quilled Rock-Pigeon

November 15:

Gavin Bieber on his recently completed first week of our Western Australia and Northern Territory tour

We spent the first week birding around Perth and the southwest corner of the country.  A wetland park in central Perth provided our first waterbirds, including a very approachable Australian Grebe, this fine drake Hardhead, cute Little Pied Cormorants and a roosting group of Tawny Frogmouth. 

Australian Grebe


Little Pied Cormorant

Tawny Frogmouth

The drier forests around Dryandra and the Stirling Ranges were very productive, with repeated views of the aptly named Splendid Fairy-Wren and a nice array of honeyeaters including the handsome White-cheeked.

Spendid Fairy-Wren

White-cheeked Honeyeater

The gorgeous coastline near Cheyne’s Beach was our backdrop for several days, where we enjoyed especially good views of Common Bronzewing, all three of the coastal heathlands infamous skulkers and some foraging Rock Parrots. 

Common Bronzewing

Rock Parrot

Leaving the temperate SW corner behind we then visited the heart of the country around Alice Springs.  This beautiful desert landscape was heavily gripped by drought and above average temperatures, but here we found an array of fantastic species such as this striking Red-backed Kingfisher, and a Western Bowerbird here seen in mid display at a bower in the botanical gardens

Red-backed Kingfisher

Western Bowerbird

November 11:

Jake Mohlmann on his recently completed tour, Argentina: The North - High Andes, the Chaco and Iguazú Falls

On our recently finished tour through some of Argentina’s northern sections we scoured misty cloud-shorn Yungas forests, meandering Monte scrub, dry thorny Chaco stands, arid endless Altiplano and exceptionally wet southeast Brazilian rainforest. We noted 470 species of birds setting a new record for this ever-evolving and extremely exciting itinerary. There was however one clear highlight I should probably mention first...


The Harpy Eagle battling for a nest stick.

While in Calilegua National Park, a local guide stopped and showed us a picture of a Harpy Eagle on her phone. We thought that was exciting for her but sadly of no direct interest to us until we realized she had JUST taken the picture about three kilometers down the road from where we were standing. Needless to say we kicked up some dust as we shot off to the aforementioned area in time to see this unbelievably regal rainforest predator in all its glory! After our initial viewing we managed to track it again further down canyon and watch as it struggled but ultimately succeeded in removing a sturdy branch it was determined to use for its nest.


An elated group after seeing the mega predator Harpy Eagle!

Of the 14 species of hummingbirds on the tour it was difficult to pick a favorite, but all agreed it was hard to beat the gaudy rectrices of the male Red-tailed Comet. This bird also happened to be the hummingbird we encountered on the most days of the tour.


A metallic male Red-tailed Comet defending a flower patch.

Even though this tour is unique in South America because there is only a single Antpitta that we typically try for, we do tend to see it very well. Among the 15 or so White-throated Antpittas we heard one day, a particularly bold individual couldn’t resist checking us out at close range.


This year we had very close views of the White-throated Antpitta.

The scenery at Iguazu Falls never ceases to amaze and witnessing such a huge quantity of water crashing into the depths below is awe inspiring. It’s also amazing how birds, like the Great Dusky Swifts, manage to find nesting substrate in the raging torrent.


Eye level views of Great Dusky Swifts at Iguazu Falls

Another bird voted (second) best of the trip by some was the endangered Black-fronted Piping Guan we saw extremely well in northern Misiones Province. Thanks to the expert knowledge of our local guide we watched as one of these spectacular creatures flew in right on time and fed on mossy rocks within 50 feet of the group!


This endangered Black-fronted Piping Guan posed for pictures.

September 17:

Susan Myers on her recently completed tour, Borneo: Sabah

As we’ve come to expect over many years, our Borneo experience was full of fabulous bird sightings, as well as amazing mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects and plants. In this incredibly biodiverse part of the world it’s very difficult to choose highlights - there are just too many to list here. What a great problem to have! We divided our time on this fourth largest island between four main sites: the montane forests of Mount Kinabalu, the lowland swamp and riparian forests of the Kinabatangan River and lastly in the hill forests of Tabin and the Danum Valley.

On Mount Kinabalu we sort of managed the Whitehead’s hat trick, although one of them, the spiderhunter, was a brief flyover. But the Whitehead’s Trogon and Broadbill more than made up for that minor disappointment!

Whitehead’s Trogon

We encountered most of the montane endemics as well. Birds with evocative names such as Golden-naped Barbet, Bornean Stubtail, Mountain Wren-Babbler and Crimson-headed Partridge, to name but a few.
Moving on to our next site on the Kinabatangan, we made a detour to check out the three species of swiftlet nesting in the Gomantong Caves. We waited until dusk to see the incredible spectacle of thousands and thousands of bats exiting the caves for their nocturnal forays only to be preyed upon by the waiting Bat Hawks.

Bat Hawk

During our two days on the river, we birded by boat and found healthy numbers of the extraordinary Proboscis Monkeys, endemic to the swamp forests of Borneo.

Proboscis Monkey

Of course, there were many birds, too and standout amongst them were the crazy-looking White-crowned Hornbills, a very lovely Hooded Pitta and gem-like Blue-eared Kingfishers.

Hooded Pitta

Blue-eared Kingfisher

White-crowned Hornbill

On top of that, and for the first time in a few years, we had fantastic views of a Bornean Pygmy Elephant as she fed and then swam across the river. A very memorable experience indeed!

Bornean Pygmy Elephant

In the Tabin Wildlife Reserve we spent two days exploring the excellent forest and found much excitement in the form of Red-naped Trogon, Blue-headed Pitta and multiple species of spiderhunter - Thick-billed, Long-billed, Yellow-eared and Spectacled.
Red-naped Trogon

Blue-headed Pitta

A big highlight was this stunning beauty, a female Bornean Keeled Pit Viper.

Bornean Keeled Pit Viper.

Our last destination was the incomparable Danum Valley, where we enjoyed a number of night drives the highlight of which was a Sunda Frogmouth, surely one of the world’s weirdest group of birds.

Sunda Frogmouth

During our day time birding, we had pheasants, pittas, wren-babblers, barbets, woodpeckers and so much more. And that’s just the birds - we also had an array of frogs, reptiles, insects (especially butterflies) and mammals. So much excitement. This area is surely one of the best places to be a naturalist anywhere - I wish I could spend a year here!

Striped Wren-Babbler

Bornean Crested Fireback (Pheasant)

Diard’s Trogon

Harlequin Flying Frog

Twin-barred Tree Snake eating a Yoshii’s Bent-toed Gecko

Triangle Keelback

Borneo is an unforgettable experience and there is literally never a dull moment. There really are very few places in the world that can match the extraordinary biodiversity of this amazing island!

August 11:

Derek Lovitch on his recently completed tour, Maine and New Hampshire

Covering over 1300 miles in eight full days of birding (all in Maine except for about 20 hours in New Hampshire), we tallied 158 species of birds. While this was a few species below our long-term average – mostly due to an afternoon limited by high winds and a morning lost to heavy rain – none of our priorities were missed. Twenty-three species of warblers (including Mourning and Bay-breasted), 13 sparrows (including Nelson’s and Saltmarsh), seven thrushes (yes, including Bicknell’s), six flycatchers, five terns (including lots of Roseate and Arctic), five vireos, and four alcids were recorded.

Palm Warbler

A mix of Alcids on Machias Seal Island

All of the major resident boreal species (e.g. Black-backed Woodpecker, Spruce Grouse, Boreal Chickadee, and Canada Jay) were exceptionally well-seen.  We caught up with a Little Egret – a species (perhaps an individual) that has become a fixture in summer in southern Maine for the last five years.

A female Black-backed Woodpecker peering from a nest hole

Canada Jay

Little Egret

With many species reaching the northern limits of their breeding range in southern Maine, and many species reaching the southern or southeastern limits of their breeding range in Western and Eastern Maine, we covered a remarkable diversity of habitats in order to record as many of them as possible. We started in the saltmarshes and dunes of Maine’s southwestern Coast, surrounded by Saltmarsh and Nelson’s Sparrows (and hybrids thereof), Roseate Terns, Piping Plovers, and a variety of wading birds at the absolute northernmost limit of their breeding range.  By the end of the second day, we are almost 6000 feet higher, being serenaded by Bicknell’s Thrushes and Blackpoll Warblers near the top of Mount Washington on an exclusive after-hours tour.

The White Mountains of New Hampshire

One of more than 60 lighthouses, most of them active, on the Maine coast

Then, we worked our way across the state – through boreal forests and lowland lakes and marshes – to arrive “Downeast” where we saw Spruce Grouse and Bay-breasted Warblers and visited an offshore island to get up close and personal with the region’s famous breeding seabirds. 

Atlantic Puffin

A Razorbill and Common Murres.

Oh, and plenty of lobster was consumed!


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