Jesse’s just posted some pics from the team in several status updates on our Facebook page (no need to be “on” FB–anyone can see our page). Looks like it’s going to be a photo finish with some great competition going to the wire! Check it out on our page here!
December 9th, 2013 by Jan Pierson · Add a Comment
December 8th, 2013 by Jan Pierson · Add a Comment
Our December e-mailing is online, this month with links to recent posts about our Northern Central America tours, Honduras, Team Field Guides in the World Birding Rally, and January to June tour openings. As ever, we’ve also got a fresh collection of great images in our Recent Photos gallery, plus recently posted triplists and itineraries. Click below to see it all — and enjoy!
December 6th, 2013 by Field Guides · Add a Comment
This just in from Jesse: “Very poor internet here, but quickly on day two Team Field Guides with a phenomenal 202 species recorded. I am very happy to be a part of this. Tired and now ready for a pisco sour!– Jesse Fagan, aka Motmot (with Daniel Lane and Fernando Angulo)”
Sounds like they are off to a great start. No pics yet but we’ll post any as we get them! Check out our full post about the event and our Team Field Guides participation (and how you can help, too, if you wish).
December 2nd, 2013 by Jesse Fagan · Add a Comment
In this post I summarize our Northern Central America (NCA) tour offerings, each of which is a great introduction to tropical birding as well as superb birding for anyone. All are convenient, relatively short trips (9 to 12 days) that work well with most schedules. In addition, travel to and from these countries is easy, with direct flights from major US cities like Miami, Houston, or Los Angeles.
Guatemala has a magical hold on those who visit — it’s the land of the quetzales, where active volcanoes still shape the terrain and descendents of proud Mayans sell wares in bustling, colorful markets. We offer a comprehensive tour to the country, and Guatemala is a country you don’t want to miss.
Our Guatemala: Shade-grown Birding tour focuses on the Pacific Slope, visiting six coffee plantations as well as making stops in historic Antigua and taking a boat ride across Lake Atitlan (a caldera lake and one of the most beautiful in the world). It’s no surprise that Guatemala has some of the best coffee on Earth: coffee is cultivated at mid-elevations along the Pacific Coast where the temperature, moisture levels, and fertile volcanic soils create ideal growing conditions. Many of the coffee plantations that dot the hillsides of Guatemala have set aside patches of forest as conservation easements or for erosion control. Birding on shade-grown coffee plantations is excellent (many birds take advantage of the canopy above the coffee), and it’s especially so when natural habitat has been preserved at various elevations throughout the farm.
What can we expect to see? Resident species that favor the coffee canopy or surrounding edge habitats include Blue-crowned Motmot, Rufous-capped Warbler, Prevost’s Ground-Sparrow, Bushy-crested Jay, and even Buffy-crowned Wood-Partridge; and there are common wintering visitors such as Tennessee and Wilson’s warblers, Warbling Vireo, Swainson’s Thrush, and Summer Tanager. Above the coffee belt, the humid semi-deciduous forest and coffee gives way to pine-oak and cloud forest. It is here that many specialty birds and regional endemics occur including Fulvous Owl, Highland Guan, Azure-rumped Tanager, Resplendent Quetzal (national bird of Guatemala), Blue-throated Motmot, Black-throated and Unicolored jays, and Wine-throated Hummingbird. Of the 40 NCA endemics, Guatemala has a fantastic 34.
Many dream of visiting the famous UNESCO World Heritage Site of Tikal, and that dream comes true on our pre-tour Tikal Extension. Imagine spending two days among other-worldly Mayan temples of the Classic period, where we might watch a pair of Orange-breasted Falcons nesting on Temple IV or a parading group of Ocellated Turkeys in the main plaza! Tikal offers some of the best birding in all of Central America, as the surrounding forest of the Peten (northern Guatemala) is one of the last large areas of intact lowland Caribbean rainforest in North America.
Honduras is the last birding frontier in NCA, and with its towering peaks, virgin rainforest, endemic hummingbird, and 738 species of birds (300 of which we see on the tour!), it is a compelling destination. Our Honduras: Land of the Emeralds tour begins in the highlands at La Tigra National Park and then cuts a comma-shaped path north to end along the north coast in the unexplored wilderness of Pico Bonito National Park.
Pico Bonito is a massive east-west chain of mountains between Tela in the west and La Ceiba in the east. The mountains rise from sea-level almost straight up — there are few foothills to speak of — and because of this rugged topography, the Cordillera Nombre de Dios (protected by Pico Bonito National Park) is covered in virgin forest, and all the large animals like Baird’s Tapir, Puma, and Jaguar are present. Fortunately, one of the nicest lodges in Central America sits at the base of this range: The Lodge at Pico Bonito, with its luxurious cabins and excellent restaurant, makes for an ideal base to explore the surrounding region. The lodge itself sits on approximately 400 acres, and trails behind the lodge are great places to see Keel-billed and Tody motmots, Lovely Cotinga, Sunbittern, Tawny-faced Quail, and Black-and-white Owl among the 417 other species that have been recorded at this site.
The Honduran Emerald, a medium-sized hummingbird of interior dry valleys and a Honduran endemic, is another important reason to visit the country. The species was largely unknown until 1988 when it was found to be locally common in the arid Aguan Valley. It has now also been found in several other interior valleys, including the Agalta Valley, where I saw my lifer in August 2003. Despite being locally common in a few areas, this species is still extremely rare (it’s listed as Critically Endangered by BirdLife International) and highly susceptible to continued habitat destruction.
If you are looking for a quick holiday getaway, we also offer a relaxed, one-site tour over New Year’s, Holiday in Honduras: The Lodge at Pico Bonito. This tour visits many of the sites on the north coast that we visit on the main tour, including a trip to the Aguan Valley for the Honduran Emerald, yet one returns each night to the same bed (and what a bed it is, as you will find the accommodations at the lodge quite satisfactory)!
Featuring a list of more than 550 bird species and with nearly 70 percent of the country covered in natural vegetation, Belize is a birder’s paradise. On our updated itinerary we’ll visit two standout sites that are sure to get your birding juices flowing: Lamanai Outpost Lodge and Hidden Valley Inn — together they optimize our Belize experience. Lamanai Outpost Lodge sits on the shores of the Northern Lagoon in Belize district. During the dry season when water levels are lower, numbers of waterbirds — from cormorants, herons, egrets, ibis, spoonbills, and Limpkins to even the rare Agami Heron and Jabiru — gather to take advantage of the concentrated food supply. Lamanai offers a superb diversity of other habitats within easy reach as well — from tropical hardwood forests to secondary scrub to open pine savannah — making it a premier birding destination in Belize! We can expect to see toucans, chachalacas, aracaris, jacanas, and many other tropical birds, and we’ll also seek regional specialties like Yucatan Jay, Gray-throated Chat, and Yucatan Woodpecker.
From Lamanai we’ll travel west into the Maya Mountains to visit two other important tropical habitats of Belize: broadleaf evergreen and mountain pine forests. From the comfort of Hidden Valley Inn on Mountain Pine Ridge, where both of these habitats are close by, we’ll enjoy a wealth of species that includes everything from Blue-crowned and Tody motmots, Gartered, Slaty-tailed, and Black-headed trogons, and Ivory-billed, Tawny-winged, and Olivaceous woodcreepers to Pale-billed, Lineated, and Chestnut-colored woodpeckers, Golden-hooded, Crimson-collared, and Blue-gray tanagers, Red-legged Honeycreeper, and many more on a long list of possibilities. With luck, we may even find three of the world’s scarcest raptors in the Mountain Pine Ridge area — Orange-breasted Falcon, Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle, and Solitary Eagle. Hidden Valley offers very comfortable accommodations with the wonderful advantage of being central to a number of birding locations within a 30-minute drive — and the grounds themselves are very birdy. For a quick trip only a couple of hours south of the US, Belize can’t be beat!
Our tours to Northern Central America are designed to see a great variety and number of birds and regional endemics (while learning more about them), to experience the rich local culture from Mayan to Spanish colonial, and to give us an appreciation of the countries we visit. (Did you know, too, that Jesse Fagan is hard at work wrapping up a new field guide to Northern Central America, and that Peter Burke is contributing some illustrations as well? Great stuff! An example of Peter’s lovely work is at right.)
From towering volcanoes to lush lowland rainforest to arid valleys and dry forest, let us show you why we love this region. Our December 2013 and calendar-year 2014 tours and guides in Northern Central America include:
November 30th, 2013 by Jesse Fagan · Add a Comment
Many birders ask me what their first Neotropical birding destination should be. You could, of course, dive right into Colombia or Ecuador with a 500-species triplist filled with multiple species of antbirds, antpittas, woodcreepers, tapaculos, and Tangara tanagers. My suggestion, however, given a little bit of patience (gosh, all those new birds!!), is to get to know these groups of birds instead by taking a couple of birding trips a bit farther north, where the avian diversity is a little less overwhelming and no less interesting.
In terms of endemism, in fact, Mexico and Northern Central America offer roughly 100 species found nowhere else, a number larger than Colombia and Ecuador’s endemics combined (about 80 species). Whereas a typical Ecuador triplist may offer 24 species of woodcreepers, 35 species of antbirds, and 129 species of flycatchers (!), a trip to Honduras, as an example, would offer 10, 8, and 51, respectively. It makes sense to get an initial grasp of these largely tropical groups with a more manageable number of possibilities – you’ll then be better prepared for the amazing diversity found in South America.
I think Honduras makes an ideal starting point: 738 species of birds, 23 regional endemics, and one country endemic (the very local Honduran Emerald). It also offers birding in spectacular natural areas. Our Field Guides tour cuts a comma-shaped route sampling the best the country has to offer, from rich pine- and oak-covered mountains at La Tigra National Park to humid tropical rainforest on the grounds of the lovely Lodge at Pico Bonito. Our tour typically observes around 300 species of birds out of a potential list of 450, with highlights often including Keel-billed Motmot, Buffy-crowned Wood-Partridge, Lesser Ground-Cuckoo, Resplendent Quetzal, Scaled Antpitta, Lovely Cotinga, Black-throated Jay, Blue-and-white Mockingbird, and of course the endemic Honduran Emerald. At just 9 days, the tour fits easily into any working schedule and offers a quick trip south of the border to satisfy that tropical birding urge.
On a long road trip through eastern Honduras in 2003, I was amazed at the beauty and wildness of the area. At that time, not a single major birding tour company was working in the country. That has changed as people have realized that Honduras offers some of the best birding in Central America. Why not experience the good infrastructure, excellent lodging, and superb birding opportunities in a variety of habitats for yourself – I’d love to show you around!
November 27th, 2013 by Field Guides · Add a Comment
Update from Day Two: Team Field Guides is up to 202 species!
Big news: Guides Dan Lane and Jesse Fagan are off to Peru for the 8-day World Birding Rally as they team up with Peruvian colleague Fernando Angulo to raise money for a great cause – the Marvelous Spatuletail and Peruvian conservation!
The Rally runs Dec. 3-10, and Jesse will be posting about their exploits on our Facebook page so we can all follow the action (and we’ll let you know here on our news page, too). Want to participate and help out? Support the team’s efforts with a pledge! Check out all the info below.
“Some great birding competitions have been launched in the past three decades or so, pitting different birding teams’ skills against one another. Among these are The World Series of Birding in New Jersey and the Great Texas Birding Classic, both familiar by now. A new birding event, the first such being run in South America (the Bird Continent), has joined the ranks: the World Birding Rally of Peru. This event, the brainchild of several folks from Inka Terra Association (of luxury hotel chain fame) and funded generously by PromPeru (the Peruvian Commission for Export and Promotion), first ran for six days in December 2012 with six international teams who scoured the forests of Madre de Dios, in southeastern Peru, and up the Andean slopes to above treeline and finally to the world-famous Machu Picchu area. I am proud to say that my colleagues on the LSU team were the winners of that event, finishing with 493 species! In June 2013, a second Rally was run, this time a long route from the coast at the northern Peruvian city of Chiclayo, across the northern Andes, and ending at the city of Tarapoto in the foothills near the Rio Huallaga, one of the larger Amazonian tributaries within Peru. This rally was eight days long and again comprised six international teams, including the LSU team, of which I was a member. It was a grueling and exhilarating experience, and we captured first place again with 636 species!
“So the pattern is set: the Rally promoters want to have two competitions each year, and the next is scheduled for this December 3-10 (2013), again in the south of Peru. For this competition, team members will include guides from tour companies, and Field Guides is among them! Peru tours veterans Jesse Fagan and I will be team members, along with our friend and Peruvian ornithologist Fernando Angulo. Fernando has been active in conservation and research in Peru for about two decades, working with the endangered White-winged Guan, as the in-country representative of BirdLife International, and now as one of the principal investigators of the Centro de Ornitologia y Biodiversidad (CORBIDI), a Peruvian institute based in Lima. Together, the three of us will be running hard to do Field Guides proud!
“The route will be an expanded eight-day run starting near Puerto Maldonado and ending at Machu Picchu. We’ll be scouring the lowland rainforests of Madre de Dios in southeast Peru for several days, then driving up and over the eastern slope of the Andes, stopping at various elevations to try to boost our list, then spending the last day and a half in the Urubamba valley below Machu Picchu. The potential list of species is around 800 (imagine that!), and we’ll do our best to get as many as we can. And you can participate in this competition, too!
“Much like the teams in the well-known North American birding competitions, we wish to raise money through per-species donations (we expect to observe around 550 species or so). Funds raised will go towards Peruvian conservation, helping to maintain the amazing and unique ecosystems and their birds that we enjoy so much while we’re birding in this incredible country. Specifically, pledges made in support of the Field Guides team will focus on the iconic Marvelous Spatuletail, Loddigesia mirabilis, a spectacular endemic Peruvian hummingbird listed as endangered on the current Red List, and a RARE Pride campaign . We invite you to support the spatuletail work through the Field Guides team’s efforts. More details are below.
Wish us luck!
[Also check out the Field Guides team page on the Rally website at this link.]
The RARE Pride Spatuletail campaign
The spatuletail is the object of a RARE Pride campaign coordinated by the BirdLife International collaborator in Peru, APECO. With its wonderfully extravagant spatulate tail and male courtship dances, this superb hummingbird is a flagship species for the paramo grasslands and forests in the higher part of the watersheds of the Tilacancha and Cruzhuayco rivers, as well as to the people in the rural communities of San Isidro de Maino and Levanto and the residents of the town of Chachapoyas who depend on these water resources.
The campaign intends to support a community reserve, the Private Conservation Area of Tilacancha, by raising its profile and encouraging the creation of reciprocal agreements for watershed conservation between users and landowners. All the funding raised by pledges in support of the Field Guides team during the Birding Peru Challenge will go towards assisting the project on the ground.
If you would like to make a pledge, either a per species contribution or a set amount, please contact the Field Guides office. We will acknowledge your pledge and contact you when the Rally is completed to let you know the Field Guides team’s results as well as provide you with information on how to make your tax-deductible contribution. In the meantime, keep watching this space or our Facebook page for updates on the Field Guides team’s exploits. And many thanks in advance!
November 20th, 2013 by Field Guides · Add a Comment
Our November 2013 issue has just mailed, but even if you’re not yet on our mailing list, you can still have a look! It’s full of fresh news (China, Puerto Rico, El Triunfo & the Horned Guan, plus loads of upcoming tours) and great photos from many of our recent trips.
Check out the PDF version at this link for all our latest!
November 11th, 2013 by Field Guides · Add a Comment
Our November e-mailing is online, with a short piece about our tour to Colombia’s Choco region and all its specialties, some cool bird news on Australian fairywrens, our Thailand II team of Dave Stejskal and Chris Benesh, last spots (2 holiday tours, Ghana), and January to April tour openings. Oh, and of course a fresh collection of great images in our Recent Photos gallery, plus recently posted triplists and itineraries. Click below to see it all — and enjoy!
October 18th, 2013 by Field Guides · Add a Comment
Guides Dave Stejskal and Pepe Rojas report that our inaugural Barrow, Alaska: Search for Ross’s Gull tour was a smashing success with approximately 1200 Ross’s Gulls seen! Loons, eiders, and three Polar Bears didn’t hurt either. Participant Bernie Grossman captured this lovely image of a small group of the pink gulls. We’re heading back in October 2014, for sure!
October 10th, 2013 by Jan Pierson · Add a Comment
Our October e-mailing is online, with an added tour for February 2014 (to Panama combining the Canopy Tower and the Canopy Lodge), information about and links to the recent update to the Clements world checklist, last spaces on our trips from late October through March, a fresh collection of great images in our Recent Photos gallery, plus recently posted triplists and itineraries. Click below to see it all — and enjoy!