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From the Home/From the Field

July 29:

Gavin Bieber and Jake Mohlmann on the main section of their recent tour, Alaska: Majesty of the North

Our Alaska Majesty Tour found above average temperatures and a very advanced spring throughout the state, with remarkably nice weather for the entire trip.  We started around Nome, which was, as ever, amazing; an excellent wildflower show, point blank views of birds like Rock Ptarmigan, Harlequin Duck, Gyrfalcon, Aleutian Tern, and the dazzling Bluethroat (still in its active song flight courtship stage) as well as a good showing by a pair of Bristle-thighed Curlews on the Kougarok Road. 

Wildflowers in Nome

Rock Ptarmigan

Harlequin Duck

Aleutian Tern

We then moved inland, traveling through the amazingly scenic Alaska range and the Denali region.  Here we found Smith’s Longspurs on territory, a cooperative (with quite a bit of searching) Northern Hawk Owl perched atop a roadside spruce tree and both Black-backed and American Three-toed Woodpeckers lurking in a recent burn.

An Alaska scene

Smith's Longspur

Northern Hawk Owl

Our final area for the main tour was Seward, where we found the beautiful Resurrection Bay under full sun, with flying Humpback Whales, many close Orca, and an amazing 10 species of alcids including more than a dozen Kittlitz’s Murrelets.

Resurrection Bay

Hump-backed Whale

In all we tallied about 166 species on the main tour, and 189 including the extensions to Saint Paul Island and Barrow.  The variety and abundance of birdlife and wildlands on this tour is staggering, and make it arguably the most exhilarating birding and natural history tour available in North America if not the world.

July 17:

Susan Myers on her recently completed tour, Japan in Spring

Our spring Japan tour is all about the endemics which means a lot of island hopping! We started our journey at Karuizawa on Honshu. In spring the forests resonate with the songs of newly arrived migrants. We had great luck with handsome Japanese Green Woodpeckers and Yellow Bunting. Exploring nearby fields, we found a number of species that prefer more open areas, including Green Pheasant, Chestnut-eared Buntings, Bull-headed Shrikes, and Eurasian Skylarks.

Green Pheasant

Our next destination was that Japanese icon, the almost perfect Mount Fuji. This year she was magnificent during our stay as she burst through some early morning cloud. We explored the slopes of Fujisan and found Japanese Accentors, as well as many gorgeous Red-flanked Bluetail in stunning breeding plumage.

Red-flanked Bluetail

Heading to Miyakejima in the Izu Islands we were ably assisted by my friend Hitomi san and found all our targets– Izu Thrush, Iijima Leaf Warbler, Japanese Wood Pigeon, Japanese Robin, Winter Wren and Owsten’s Varied Tit. The highlight of our stay here was the highly restricted Styan’s Grasshopper Warbler, which showed amazingly well.

Styan’s Grasshopper Warbler

On Okinawa we immersed ourselves in the quiet and very beautiful forests of Yanbaru National Park that protects so much of the island’s unique flora and fauna. Our two main targets – the Okinawa Rail and Pryer’s Woodpecker cooperated very nicely, with a total of 17 rails seen!

Okinawa Rail

Our next island hop was further south to the delightful island of Ishigaki. Here we met up with a local naturalist, Kobayashi san who knew all the spots and we drove right up to Ryukyu Scops Owl and Northern Boobook, Malaysian Night Heron and Ryukyu Serpent Eagle, which all posed perfectly for us. Ruddy Kingfishers seemed to be everywhere!

Ryukyu Serpent Eagle

Our last stop was the lovely, laid back island of Amami ƌshima where we explored the convoluted backroads meandering through the forests not just for birds but for the remarkable short-eared Amami Black Rabbit. We found elegant Ryukyu Flycatchers (split from Narcissus, and rightly so), Ryukyu Minivets, and Red-capped Green Pigeons as well as Lidth’s Jay and a family group of five Amami Woodcocks.

Amami Woodcock

July 16:

Fabrice Schmitt and Pierre Defos Du Rau on their recently completed tour, France: Birding à la Française - Birds, Wine and Cheese in Southern France

After years of scouting little restaurants and testing local wines, we finally decided we were ready to propose a ‘Birding à la française’ tour...and it has been great fun!

We had fantastic encounters including stunning views on a male Black Grouse displaying atop a little pine tree in the Vercors, an impressive Eurasian Eagle Owl hunting by daylight, a group of Great Spotted Cuckoo surprising us with amazing views at very short distance in Camargue,

Great Spotted Cuckoo

superb views of the colorful European Bee-eater, elegant Scopoli’s Shearwaters seen so well from our ferry on the way to Corsica, and finally fantastic views of the very local Corsican Nuthatch and Marmora’s Warbler in Corsica. 

Greater Flamingo

European Bee-eater

Corsican Nuthatch

Beside birds, we also had great memories of our splendid picnics during which we tested more than 15 different kind of cheese, several pâtés, hams, sausages and other sort of charcuterie, always coming with excellent bread and, obviously, fantastic wines.

A splendid picnic

The stunning flowering alpine meadows, the vast Camargue marshes and the dramatic Asco valley in Corsica were just a few of the many scenic places we travelled through during this succulent tour. We are already looking forward to the next edition!

The Asco valley

May 28:

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

This year’s May tour fell in the middle of a mild and wet spring with temperatures significantly lower than average and migrant birds dispersed widely at all elevations including the greener than usual desert floor. Since it’s an owls and warbler trip our highlights often come from those groups.  Among the nine species of owls detected, the cooperative Spotted Owl and inquisitive Whiskered Screech-Owl were memorably close.

Spotted Owl

Whiskered Screech-Owl

As always, the warbler show was excellent, with our favorite local species likely the Red-faced Warbler. 

Red-faced Warbler

We also managed excellent views of several scarce border species such as nesting Black-capped Gnatcatchers and Buff-collared Nightjars, as well as the handsome Five-striped Sparrow which showed well at the south end of California Gulch. 

Five-striped Sparrow

As usual, hummingbirds are a focus of the tour as well, and we found seven species including several showy Blue-throated Hummingbirds.

Blue-throated Hummingbird

We particularly enjoyed the nesting pair of Rose-throated Becards along the Santa Cruz River. 

Rose-throated Becard

Combining a wide array of spectacular birds – 206 species this year, I think ­- with a nice supporting cast of mammals, reptiles and butterflies, and with fantastic desert landscapes, Southeastern Arizona always seems to provide a truly excellent tour!

May 22:

Luke Seitz on his recent tour, Guatemala

Our tour to Guatemala this year was nothing short of spectacular – it’s difficult to articulate just how much fun we had. Of course, I always try to make my tours sound as good as possible in the write-up...maybe embellishing just a little bit, or glossing over the more challenging days. For this tour, the only challenge will be finding enough unique superlatives to use in describing our outrageous views of rare and difficult birds, the great sense of humor shared by everyone in the group, and the memories of a trip that will go down as one of the best I’ll ever do!

We started off with some easy highland birding around the historic city of Antigua (with regional specialties like Blue-throated Motmot, Blue-and-white Mockingbird, and our first Pink-headed Warblers) before heading west towards Huehuetenango. The weather on the high plateau is unpredictable but our time here was beautiful, allowing for a full morning of birding among the pines and junipers with abundant Goldman’s Warblers…

Goldman's Warbler

...and before long, it was time to head even further west, birding for two days on the slopes of Volcán Tacaná. The bamboo was seeding, so amazingly, we enjoyed mega views of a singing Maroon-chested Ground-Dove in the scope for fifteen minutes! Wow – arguably one of the most difficult and unpredictable species in the Neotropics. 

Maroon-chested Ground-Dove

One of the most sought-after species for any birder visiting Guatemala is the unique Pink-headed Warbler. It’s a fairly common bird, and it’s not too difficult to find a couple pairs in a morning of birding…but we were hardly expecting to see over SIXTY individuals in just a couple hours! We didn’t get bored of this stunner, though.

Pink-headed Warbler

Heading back east, we worked our way through various other birding locations in the highlands, with highlights too numerous to list…Fulvous Owls perched right over our heads, Azure-rumped Tanager singing in the scope, Bar-winged Orioles, Black-crested Coquette, outrageous views of White-faced and White-eared Ground-Sparrows, Slender Sheartail, Belted Flycatcher…our luck simply never ended. As our time in the highlands wrapped up, we looked forward to the Tikal extension…would our perfect trip continue? Unequivocally, yes, with cooperative Pheasant Cuckoos and Tody Motmots…

Tody Motmot

…and, most unexpected of all, JAGUAR! An adult quickly crossed the road in front of us, followed by this youngster, which paused for a solid 15 seconds as our group stared in disbelief. It’s difficult to describe the adrenaline rush and excitement that come with seeing a big cat in the Neotropics. Heart pounding, goosebumps, and nausea were all among my symptoms. Wow – I wonder what next year’s tour will hold?!


May 13:

Luke Seitz on his recent tour, Mexico: Oaxaca and Western Chiapas

Our tour through the varied habitats of western Chiapas and Oaxaca was, as usual, packed with memorable bird sightings and excellent Mexican food but a fun group helped a lot too.. Starting in the bustling city of Tuxtla Gutierrez, one of many highlights was the magnificent Sumidero Canyon……complete with views of the perky Belted Flycatcher.

Sumidero Canyon

Belted Flytcatcher

We then dropped down the Pacific slope, making sure to stop in the foothills above Arriaga to see the stunning and very range-restricted Rosita’s (or Rose-bellied) Bunting…one of the top birds of the tour, for sure!

Rosita's Bunting

We spent some time exploring the lowlands around Puerto Arista before heading west across the isthmus of Tehuantepec, where habitats and birds changed accordingly. One of the targets near Tehuantepec is Sumichrast’s (or Cinnamon-tailed) Sparrow, which performed very well alongside Orange-breasted Buntings and Citreoline Trogons.

Sumichrast’s Sparrow

The tour finished in the beautiful Oaxaca Valley, which is home to a whole new suite of special birds (and tasty mole sauce and string cheese, among other food…yum). Our three days here sampled a variety of habitats, including cool pine-oak forest home to Red Warbler and Fulvous Owl (one of which nearly took our heads off – wow!) and scrubby oak woodlands with Slaty Vireo and Ocellated Thrasher. I don’t have many bird photos from this part of the tour, but I made sure to document one of our picnic lunches, complete with fresh guacamole – this was right before a pair of Sclater’s (Strong-billed) Woodcreepers came zooming in to the pine trees above our heads! It was an action-packed ten days, and suddenly the farewell dinner was upon us – I’m already looking forward to next year!

A picnic lunch in the making...

May 2:

Gavin Bieber and Evan Obercian on their recent tour, Florida: The South, the Keys and the Dry Tortugas

We started with a day in the dry pine forests and upland scrub of the central peninsula with fantastic views of a perched Bachman’s Sparrow, and a cooperative Florida Scrub Jay.

Bachman's Sparrow

Florida Scrub Jay

Day two found us successfully chasing some Caribbean strays, with excellent views of Bahama Mockingbird and Key West Quail-Dove. 

Bahama Mockingbird

Key West Quail-Dove

A day trip out to the unique Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas was sunny and hot but still produced 17 species of warblers and good views of both Masked and Brown Boobies.

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Masked Booby

We ended the tour north of Miami with a wonderful visit to a large wetland providing close up views of a wide array of waterbirds, from glowing Roseate Spoonbills to the more sedately coloured Limpkin and lots of nesting species such as these Wood Storks. 

Roseate Spoonbill


Wood Stork

As always, Florida isn’t all about the birds, and this year we enjoyed excellent views of lolling West Indian Manatees, and a wealth of reptiles, amphibians, butterflies and even fish!  I look forward to this tour every year, as it combines great eastern migration birding with Florida's highlight breeding species and even the occasional stray rarities from the nearby Caribbean.

April 21:

Gavin Bieber on his recent tour, Panama: Spring at the Canopy Tower

It is always a pleasure to return to the Canopy Tower and the Canopy Lodge, surrounded as they are by an excellent mix of habitats and a great diversity of birds.  Some of the highlights this year around the tower included very confiding male Spot-crowned Ant-Vireo and Black-breasted Puffbird, a fantastic showing of the often reclusive Streak-chested Antpitta, displaying male Golden-collared Manakins, a dizzying array of hummingbirds including the superlative Crowned Woodnymph and even a group of Panamanian Night Monkeys peering out of their lofty roost cavity. 

Thanks to David Fisher for all the images below except for Gavin's Night Monkeys.

Spot-crowned Antvireo

Black-breasted Puffbird

Streak-chested Antpitta

Golden-collared Manakin

Crowned Woodnymph

Panamanian Night Monkey

Around the more montane forests surrounding the lodge we added nearly 100 more species to the triplist, with a few of the highlights being lengthy views of a pair of Brown-billed Scythebills and daily encounters with gaudy Orange-billed Sparrows.

Brown-billed Scythebill

Orange-billed Sparrow

In all we tallied just shy of 370 species of birds, including an amazing 50 species of flycatchers, as well as 15 mammals and 16 species of reptiles and amphibians in 10 days in the field! This tour continues to impress me, as the diversity and richness of the region, paired with ease of access and the comforts of the lodge make for a truly wonderful experience.

April 1:

Rich Hoyer on his Mar. 2019 tour to Baja California's Cape Region

Gorgeous weather, delicious food, amazing scenery, and a great group were highlights of this year’s Baja California tour. Belding’s Yellowthroat was one of the few serious target birds we hoped to see, and it was one of the first birds on our first morning at the San José Estuary.

Belding's Yellowthroat

Another hoped-for bird that showed well was the endemic subspecies of Northern Pygmy-Owl, which was mobbed by the endemic Xantus’s Hummingbird, providing for a very rare photo opportunity.

Northern Pygmy-Owl (Cape), Xantus's Hummingbird

Our non-endemic bird highlights were many – including an incredibly confiding and curious Greater Roadrunner that approached within a few yards of the group. A video of the bird can also be seen here:

Greater Roadrunner

The natural history of the Baja California peninsula is fascinating and beautiful. Rains earlier in the season had allowed for lush growth that attracted many butterflies, including this gorgeous Silver-banded Hairstreak.

Chlorostrymon simaethis sarita

One of the highlights was our whale watching boat trip on Magdalena Bay. Several whales cavorted near our boats, and one even swam right underneath us only a few feet deep.

Whale Watching on Bahia Magdalena

The food everywhere was excellent, especially the perfectly fresh seafood. Here at Puerto Magdalena, the chef shows us our spiny lobster lunch that he was about to prepare, perhaps the best meal of the trip.

Lunch at Magdalena Fishing Village.JPG

March 26:

Jake Mohlmann, Evan Obercian and Ethan Kistler on their just-completed tour, Nebraska: The Sandhills and the Platte River

We just finished covering 1,000 miles of mostly paved roads through America’s Heartland. Some of the worst flooding in the history of the state was witnessed as the mighty Missouri and Platte Rivers swelled to 8 feet over flood stage leaving lots of people homeless. On top of that a rare 'Bomb Cyclone' had just passed through leaving any bits inland open water completely frozen. Despite all this the tour went on with enthusiasm as we enjoyed birds en mass all week.


The rails of a bike path bridge show the high flood waters.

Every day we had a chance to run into several sparrow species including flocks of Tree, skulky Song, and stealthy Swamp Sparrows in the marsh vegetation. By far the highlight of the sparrow show was a very confiding Harris’s Sparrow that sat close by and sang at length for our delighted group. Also, despite most of the woods being flooded some early arrival Red-headed Woodpeckers greeted us at Fontanelle Forest.


This male Harris’s Sparrow was a highlight of the tour.


Red-headed Woodpeckers have already arrived.

Scattered throughout this region are scads of ponds and lakes which held a nice array of waterfowl with great looks at Wood Duck, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, and all three Merganser species. By far the most abundant fowl were the geese. Probably due to the recent weeks of plunging temperatures and lack of forage the Snow, Ross’s, Cackling, and Greater White-fronted Geese were passing over en mass and we were surprised to look up wherever we went and see hundreds pouring overhead.


Droves of Snow Geese abound this week.

Sandhill Cranes were abundant as we watched at sunset as many of the 300,000 estimated birds came pouring in overhead landing to roost along the Central Platte River. This is truly an indescribable experience that needs to be experienced to be believed!


Thousands of Sandhill Cranes flyby at sunset.

Our last days led us to the famous Sandhill region of Central Nebraska, a feature that covers about ¼ of the state. Our main goal here was to view the extravagant courting rituals of Prairie Chickens and Sharp-tailed Grouse. We succeeded in capturing both of these mind-blowing phenomenon on film, at close range, from our cozy bus blind set amongst the rolling hills.


A male Greater Prairie Chicken in full display. Image: Ethan Kistler


Group after witnessing Sharp-tailed Grouse displays.

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