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From the Field

May 26:

Ed Corey and Rich Hoyer report from a successful May cruise off the Pacific Coast

Our May repositioning cruise was a smashing success, with a great diversity of seabirds and marine mammals! As with our April tour, we were able to see all four of our "targets", with great looks at all three petrels AND Laysan Albatross! The Murphy's Petrels were a bit more scarce, but we had good numbers of Hawaiian and Cook's Petrels, including some fairly close to the ship. Our mammal list included Fin, Sei, Humpback and Sperm Whale; Cuvier's Beaked Whale; Orca; Dall's Porpoise; and several pinnipeds, including point-blank looks at Northern Elephant Seal!

We were also treated to spectacular views of the Aurora Borealis (see pictures at the end).

We're excited to offer a Fall tour this October, with a focus on seabird migration and rarities, as well as two more Spring trips in 2025!

Black-footed Albatross were present throughout the voyage, with well over 100 seen by the group. We had lots of opportunities to look at all age classes, too!

Fin Whales were our most numerous whale species, and several gave us up close views as they sounded near the bow.

The Hawaiian Petrel, or 'Ua'U, is a bird quite at home in the deep water off of the continental shelf.

Laysan Albatrosses hold the longevity record for birds, with a female named Wisdom having lived at least 73 years and STILL attempting to nest!

Murphy's Petrels were not nearly as numerous on our May trip, but still gave amazing looks as one passed within 20 meters of the bow!

Jaegers always add a bit of excitement to any pelagic trip, and this close adult Pomarine Jaeger was no exception!

Our ship tacked further offshore than is typical, to adjust for sea conditions. This put is in better range for the uncommon but astoundingly beautiful Red-billed Tropicbird. This is only the second time they've been seen on these repositioning cruises, and we were lucky to observe 4 individuals!

Phalaropes were in strong migration throughout our cruise, with fairly even numbers of Red and Red-necked (pictured here).

Gorgeous Sabine's Gulls were moving north along with us, and we were fortunate to see several hundred over the course of the voyage.

It is not unusual to see shorebirds far offshore in the Spring, though it was quite impressive to have these three Whimbrel keeping pace with the ship for over 2 hours!

May 24:

Skye Haas reports from our latest Pacific Coast cruise

The WINGS April 2024 West Coast Seabird Cruise was a total success with a great selection of both seabird and sea mammals observed. All four the "big targets" were seen well, and while Cook's & Hawaiian Petrels were a bit scarce, we did well for Laysan Albatross and had a fantastic total of 240 Murphy's Petrels for our time at sea. Other highlights included flocks of Sabine's Gulls, a pair of Brown Boobies, alcids like Tufted Puffins and Cassin's Auklets, multiple Pomarine and Long-tailed Jaegers, and a nice selection of Storm-Petrels with Leach's, Fork-tailed, Ashy and Black all being observed. The cetacean show was unbelievably good as well with Blue, Fin and Humpback Whales, Cuvier's & Baird's Beaked Whales, and on the last morning a trio of Orcas! Pinnipeds were well represented too with rarities like Elephant Seal and Guadalupe Fur Seal.

Common Dolphins were seen on multiple occasions 

A big surprise was a pod of 10 Baird's Beaked Whales that surfaced right next to the boat! 

Murphy's Petrels really stole the show on this cruise with 240 being observed!

In addition of several Laysan Albatrosses, we saw over a hundred Black-footed Albatrosses! 

A delicate little Short-Billed Gull trailing after the ship. 

A last minute surprise on our final morning of travel was a pod of Orcas that surfaced by us!

Several alcid species were seen, including these fetching Pigeon Guillemots

A Pacific Loon tries to flee the ship by crashing through a large group of Vellala (By-the-wind sailors) 

May 15:

Susan Myers reports from Vietnam

Once again, the Vietnam tour exceeded expectations, showcasing diverse birdlife, stunning landscapes, and rich cultural encounters. Beginning in Hanoi and ending in Saigon, each step revealed varied ecosystems, picturesque vistas, and fabulous birds. Our journey southward started at Cuc Phuong, Vietnam's premier national park, established in 1960, and led to remarkable bird sightings amidst limestone karst mountains and verdant valleys. Exploring Van Long Nature Reserve, we marvelled at its labyrinthine waterways and diverse bird species. Phong Nha, with its vast karst system and caves, provided sightings of elusive birds like the Sooty Babbler. In Khe Sanh area, site of an historic battle, we spotted many excellent birds, including Silver-eared Mesia and Black-crowned Barwing, and pursued the elusive Rufous-cheeked Laughingthrushes. Ngoc Linh offered sightings of Grey-bellied Tesia and Brown-crowned Scimitar-Babbler, while Yok Don showcased a mosaic of forests with species like the Black-headed Woodpecker. Di Linh’s unique fauna included the Blue Pitta and Bar-backed Partridge. Cat Tien National Park provided a finale with diverse habitats and remarkable bird sightings, rewarding us with encounters with endemic species like the Germain’s Peacock-Pheasant and Indochinese Green Magpie. From vibrant cities to remote villages, Vietnam offered an unforgettable birding experience, showcasing its rich biodiversity and natural wonders.

Black-breasted Thrush (female)
A widespread but uncommon and shy forest floor dweller, this thrush is very reliably seen in Cuc Phuong NP in North Vietnam where we begin our tour.

Fujian Niltava
This non-breeding migrant to Vietnam is a shy and unobtrusive forest dweller that we were very lucky to observe in N Vietnam.

Puff-throated Babbler
Although common and widespread throughout much of Asia, it’s always a delight to see this, and hear, this lovely little babbler whose favourite food is cockroaches! 

Indochinese Green Magpie
This captivating corvid is always a big hit! Although found in China and parts of Thailand, it’s most reliably found in Vietnam.

Blue Pitta
The Blue Pitta population in Vietnam and Laos, isolated from other populations, has led to the emergence of an endemic subspecies known as willoughby, distinguished by the distinct blush of red adorning its breast.

Collared Laughingthrush
Even amongst the wonderful laughingthrushes, the endemic Collared Laughingthrush stands out as a real beauty!

Germain’s Peacock-Pheasant
Germain’s Peacock-Pheasant, a shy ground-dweller, is found only in South Vietnam and just into Cambodia. Although typically considered rare elsewhere, it thrives in Cat Tien National Park, where it is happily still quite common.

Indochinese Blue Flycatcher
Despite its widespread presence throughout Southeast Asia, the charming Indochinese Blue Flycatcher never fails to be a welcome sight wherever it is found.

Scaly-breasted Partridge
The population of Scaly-breasted Partridge we encountered in South Vietnam is sometimes spilt as Green-legged Partridge.

Bar-bellied Pitta
Surely one of the most stunning birds in the world!

May 13:

Paul Holt reports from Taiwan

Once again we saw all of the island’s 31 endemics on this year’s Taiwan tour– with several Swinhoe’s and Mikado Pheasants, multiple Taiwan Thrushes, several Taiwan Blue Magpies, Rusty Laughingthrushes and four Chestnut-bellied Tits as well as umpteen Taiwan Yuhinas perhaps topping the bill. As is so often the case Taiwan Partridge proved the most awkward and required two visits to their preferred bird blind. Other goodies included the endemic race of Maroon Oriole, several close range Malayan Night Herons, two equally obliging Fairy Pittas and a whole host of migrant song (six Pechora Pipits) and shorebirds (think Red-necked, Long-toed and Little Stints, Great Knot, Grey-tailed Tattler, Terek and Broad-billed Sandpipers)… Despite a few small tremors than lingered after the early April earthquake and the effective closure of the spectacular road down through the Taroko Gorge we still saw some stupendous scenery…

Several Malayan Night Herons, here a second calendar year, were seen.

Several Black-faced Spoonbills lingered long enough for us to meet them…

Our ferry crossing to Lanyu Island was smooth and produced a few birds…

Once there the local goats vied for our attention...

...with flocks of Eastern Cattle and the occasional Chinese Egret.

 

Some of us enjoyed the local Flying Fish delicacy for dinner!

May 6:

Skye Haas reports from the recent Colorado: Lekking Grouse tour

WINGS has once again successfully completed yet another tour of Colorado, Kansas & Nebraska for the various lekking species of grouse. We observed 140 species of birds this year, including all our target grouse species as well as a bonus pair of White-tailed Ptarmigan. Other highlights include a Eurasian Wigeon, Barrow's Goldeneye, Mountain Plovers, American Goshawk, several Ferruginous Hawks, American Three-toed Woodpecker, Burrowing Owl, Pinyon Jays, Pine Grosbeaks, and all three species of Rosy-Finch- Gray-crowned, Brown-capped and Black! In addition to the fantastic list of birds observed, we enjoyed lots of charismatic mega-fauna such as American Bison, Pronghorn, Elk, Bighorn Sheep as well as the more demure such as Yellow-bellied Marmot, White-tailed Jackrabbit and the endangered Gunnison Prairie Dog. And of course, all of this was set against the incredible scenery that the Rocky Mountains provide around every corner!

Greater Prairie-Chicken

Lesser Prairie-Chicken

Greater Sage-Grouse

Ferruginous Hawk

Mountain Plover

Brown-capped Rosy-Finch

American Three-toed Woodpecker

Bison

May 1:

Jon Feenstra reports from the Upper Texas Coast

We just finished up a great week on the Texas coast, where it only takes the right kind of wind to turn a good place into a great place. Though south winds dominated, the north wind blew for two days and we were treated some to bird-filled woods. It was busy, and on one day we saw 24 warbler species.

The crowd favorite was Golden-winged Warbler, but it was too busy to get a photo, but the Prothonotary Warbler was also popular and posed nicely.

There were also dozens of Yellow-billed Cuckoos around: flying by on the highway, sitting on fence wires, eating huge caterpillars, and sometimes just hanging out.

When the south winds were blowing we spent time away from the woods and out in the fields for things like this Dickcissel, singing away…

…or this Upland Sandpiper, one of about 20 we saw that day. This one was exhibiting its ideal behavior of perching on a roadside fence post.

No matter how the winds are blowing, the resident birds are always around. Purple Gallinule was one that lurked across the marshland.

And, everyday was a picnic lunch. There was plenty of Cajun food for dinner, so sandwiches and salads were good, and we didn’t need to stop birding!

April 25:

From Alcatraz to Galapagos… in Mexico!

Steve Howell & Luke Seitz report from a brief research trip to Mexico’s Islas Marias, until 2019 a legendary, high-security prison but now a newly minted tourist destination! In the company of biologists Jonathan Vargas and Sinead Gomez Rosas, and with the gracious support of Biosphere Director Pablo Zamorano de Haro, of Mexico’s Commission of Protected Areas, Steve and Luke spent an intensive two days and managed to find all 24 (!) of the island’s currently recognized endemic bird taxa, some treated as full species (with several more that seem good species candidates), and some never encountered previously by birders! Almost all of the endemics vary from tame to absurdly tame, recalling the avifauna of the Galapagos Islands—Steve really should have had a zoom lens!

 

  1. From left to right the team: Sinead, Jonathan, Luke, and Steve under a mural in the reception area attesting to the island’s dramatic change in status.

Probably the biggest ‘danger’ on the island is having your food eaten by the big and bright endemic Streak-backed Orioles, one potential split (a pity the name ‘Golden Oriole’ is already taken).

 

Very local and mostly extirpated on the mainland, Yellow-headed Amazons are conspicuous right in town (and treated as a full species by some authorities)

Mexican Parrotlets look and sound different from mainland birds, another reasonable split.

Often challenging to see on the mainland, Blue Mockingbird (Long-billed Mockingbird?) is quite common and decidedly confiding.

 

The same applies to Happy Wrens—and yes, they also look different and behave differently. Leaf-litter Wren might be a better name!

 

Ironically perhaps, although now universally split as a species, Lawrence’s (or Tres Marias) Hummingbird is one of the least different-looking endemics, plus not the only hummingbird endemic to the islands such that some Mexican biologists favor using the original English name, Lawrence’s.

 

Another striking-looking endemic (yes, this is an adult male!) is the francescae race of Red-breasted Chat (Francesca’s Chat, anyone?), also quite common and easily seen.

 

Once considered an island subspecies but no longer, Elegant Trogons are nonetheless stunning, plus absurdly tame!

 

Another non-endemic, but a nice bird to have around town is Elf Owl, this one spotted from our kitchen window!

 

It says Welcome (Bienvenidos) but sadly this was our last view of Isla Maria Madre as we left the dock.

April 22:

Luke Seitz and Steve Howell report from Mexico: Oaxaca and Western Chiapas

Our Mexico: Oaxaca and Western Chiapas tour started in fine fashion near the bustling city of Tuxtla Gutierrez, where birding within an hour’s drive of the city produced many stunning Russet-crowned Motmots... 

...and an incredible Bearded Screech-Owl, roosting in the highland pine-oak forests near San Cristobal! How lucky could we get?! 

We spend two mornings at the gorgeous Sumidero Canyon, where a clear highlight this year was...

 

...this supremely cooperative Flammulated Flycatcher. 

 

Picnics feature strongly on this tour, often surrounded by great birds such as... 

...the range-restricted Giant Wren!

After several days in Chiapas, we drove across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and ended up in Oaxaca, where we birded cool montane forests...  

...where specialties like Dwarf Jay performed better than ever! 

The sought-after Oaxaca Sparrow was also abnormally cooperative this year.

 

It's difficult to choose a favorite bird in this fascinating part of the word, but surely the eye-melting Rosita’s Bunting must feature high on the list. We’re already looking forward to next time!

April 18:

Paul Holt reports from Bhutan

A fantastic encounter with four Blood Pheasants early in to the second half of our Bhutan tour stole the Bird of the Trip award although Satyr Tragopan (we saw three separate birds superbly well), a pair of Beautiful Nuthatches, a couple of gaudy Himalayan Monals, a solitary White-bellied Heron, four Ibisbills, umpteen Rufous-necked Hornbills and a flock of 20 Fire-tailed Myzornis all pushed it hard…But Bhutan’s far more than just impressive birds – there’s the spectacular mountain and forest scenery, the country’s unique culture and fascinating Buddhist heritage and of course our fabulous ground agents. Bhutan has so much to offer...

Blood Pheasant romped away with the 'Bird of the Tour' award...

 

but Black-tailed Crake pushed it hard...



Capped, one of three species of langur we saw.

Punakha dzong – one of the country's more spectacular fortress-monasteries

April 8:

Steve Howell and Luke Seitz report from the conclusion of their trans-equatorial odyssey on the Chile to California cruise.

This trip transits over 5000 miles through the waters of 12 countries (this year, with documented first country records for four of them!). Some 33 species of tubenoses, ranging from five albatrosses to a remarkable 12 storm-petrels, topped the pelagic bill, here the handsome Hornby’s (or Ringed) Storm-Petrel.

 

Although up-close Blue Whales several times...

And fancy Striped Dolphins weren’t too shabby either!

Point-blank Nazca Boobies joined us on several days...

Intent on hunting flyingfish (like this Pied-tailed Necromancer) that the ship flushed

From Humboldt Penguins...

And Olive Ridley Sea Turtles

To Guadalupe Furseals the trip was an eponymic delight!

Birds at our varied landings ranged from this curious White-throated Tapaculo

And cryptic Peruvian Thick-knees...

To the ultra-fancy Inca Tern

And the eye-burningly bright Orange-breasted Bunting.

Memories of this remarkable trip will last a lifetime—happy oceanic birding!

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