It’s been fun looking through recent tour reports and photos and realizing we have the full South American potoo sextet illustrated. We know there are a lot of nightbird fans out there, so we thought you might like to look through the images, too. Such fantastic birds — amazingly camouflaged, appearing like stumps on their dayroosts, with large eyes for great nocturnal vision (potoos hunt flying insects), and a huge gape that extends well past the eye so virtually the whole head opens wide during an insect capture. On top of it all, they have a great diversity of very cool vocalizations, each species very different from the next.
At Shiripuno, a rustic lodge about fifty miles southeast of the town of Coca along the Shiripuno River in the remote lowland rainforest of the Waorani nation, our first day of birding sometimes begins in the evening, just after our arrival dinner when the chorus of nocturnal birds gets started. At other Ecuadorian sites I know, I’ve never heard such a combination of diverse species in one place, some of them rare: Bartlett’s and White throated tinamous lead the dusk concert, followed by Nocturnal Curassow and of course Great Potoo. With all these magnificent sounds around us, we find ourselves thinking that if this is night, what will tomorrow’s daylight birding bring?
Early the next morning, we have our answer: in the courtyard of the lodge, Spix’s and Blue-throated piping-guans compete for the best fruits of the cecropia trees, while just behind the lodge, at the head of a mile-long loop trail, we see birds which elsewhere we’d have to take a long walk to find. The first to appear are the Yellow-browed and Lunulated antbirds, then Yellow-billed Jacamar, and with patience, even Brown Nunlet. Walking a little farther we spot Black Bushbird, Fiery Topaz, and a Rufous Potoo on its dayroost. We have our eyes out for the elusive Gray-winged Trumpeter, a regular possibility here, too, and there are many other species of birds to be seen such as trogons, toucans, parrots, and of course my favorites, the beautiful manakins, including three of the prettiest—Blue-crowned, White-crowned, and Golden-headed. Checking our watches, we find that our entire first morning has quickly passed, full of amazing sightings.
Returning to the lodge for lunch, there’s more: with a cool drink in hand as reward for our morning’s efforts, we’re interrupted by kingfishers and barbets. After lunch, a canoe trip along the Shiripuno River is super productive as we spot Blue-and-yellow, Scarlet, and Red-and-green macaws, some flying in groups but others sitting in palms along the banks of the river. Our canoe ride continues with Olive and Casqued oropendolas crossing in front of us, and good views of both Lettered Aracari and Orange-cheeked Parrot. We keep our eyes open, too, for the rarely seen Salvin’s Curassow, which I’ve seen before along the river’s edge. At dusk, we put ourselves in place to try for Black-banded Owl, and then watch as a pair flies directly over our heads!
Our first 24 hours complete with the sightings of so many magnificent birds, we return to the lodge for dinner, and the dusk avian concert strikes up again. Once more my mind turns to tomorrow’s possibilities…perhaps Pearly Antshrike, Spotted Puffbird, Ash-throated Gnateater, and more. Fabulous stuff!
For eight days in May, a Field Guides team participated in Peru’s World Birding Rally Challenge Nor Amazonico 2014. The Rally, sponsored by PromPeru, the InkaTerra Association, and with additional support from a number of private businesses, such as LAN Peru and various hotels, was in its fourth version, the second on a northern route across Peru. Manuel Bryce, fondly known as Manuco, deserves much of the credit for having organized the Rallies, which are gaining attention within Peru, this year with the Ministers of both Tourism and the Environment attending the opening ceremonies in Lima.
Last year our Field Guides team of Dan Lane, Jesse Fagan, and our Peruvian friend Fernando Angulo, won the trophy on the southern route, coming from behind to win by two species. This year, on the northern route, we blew it; we were LOSERS! Joined again by Fernando, our team of Richard Webster, Marcelo Padua, Terry Stevenson, and myself came in second (of four teams), tallying only 575 species, 13 species behind the winning total of 588 and more than 50 species behind LSU’s team record from the first Rally in the North.
It wasn’t for lack of experience. Richard and I have both held state Big Day records (in California & Texas, respectively) and have been guiding tours to Northern Peru since 1998. Fernando is a bird biologist based in Chiclayo who has birded throughout the country and has done these Peru Rallies before, including the previous northern circuit. And though Terry and Marcelo were both new to Peru, Terry holds the world Big Day record (from Kenya), and Marcelo knows Brazilian birds, is an incredibly sharp birder, and is full of energy and enthusiasm. What we learned was that, faced with a series of (to us, often staggering!) problems, we didn’t have the competitive juices it takes to maintain a winning strategy of racing onward to the next “heard-only.” In the end, we were out-hustled by an energetic Sunbird/Wings team.
Indeed the enemy was us! We are first birders and field guides; we love birding and guiding, and we loved the personal interactions with Peruvian friends and even strangers along the way. It was the many riches of northern Peru–on this 8-day, 1500-km transect of habitats from the Pacific coastal scrub near Chiclayo to puna grassland near Cajamarca, across the dramatic Marañon and Utcubamba valleys, then down through east-slope cloud forest to Amazonian rainforest near Tarapoto–that kept presenting the problems that derailed such weak-willed wimps as ourselves.
Just take a look at a few of the problems:
How could we walk away from some 250 Peruvian Terns, 190 on the ground at once and many more at sea? We were looking at well over 10% of the estimated total population (600-1700) of this Endangered Species! It was far more than any of us had ever seen at once.
How could we not take time to watch that Endangered Gray-bellied Comet (BirdLife’s population estimate is under 1000) filching nectar from holes pierced by flowerpiercers at the bases of long corolla tubes? Like many hummers, the Comet is a thief when corolla length exceeds bill length and a shortcut is available.
How could we walk away from a calling Piura Chat-Tyrant (a Near Threatened endemic restricted to the Pacific slope of NW Peru) until we had all had good views?
Or how could we tell Marcelo and Terry that a heard-only Peruvian Plantcutter (not only Endangered, but spiffy!) was sufficient for the list? That one cost us an extra early-morning visit to Rafan, where the S. African team (Birding Ecotours), on a similar mission, generously directed us toward a bird they had found. On the way out, we had great views of Peruvian Thick-knees as well.
How could we head out after that first brief appearance of a male Spatuletail even though it was time to hit the road? Instead, we feasted our eyes during its multiple visits, taking time to examine the first known nest of the species and to marvel at photos of the local Spatuletail parade, where kids dress as Marvelous Spatuletails and Andean Cocks-of-the-rock and produce original paintings and drawings of these charismatic species. Enjoying the Spatuletail seemed especially appropriate since some generous Field Guides clients were donating funds on our behalf to support another local community effort to protect the Spatuletail’s habitat. Okay, we were late getting away from Huembo, and heavy rain caught us along the Rio Chido, where we had been hoping to end our day with some high-elevation species common there.
But hummingbird feeders are always a problem: The wonderful Waqanki feeders near Moyobamba left us all spellbound watching (and videoing) the agonistic interactions of two male Rufous-crested Coquettes.
And I had to pry my Honey away from photographing the (endemic) Koepcke’s Hermit and the glimmering Gould’s Jewelfront at the Aconabikh feeders on the Cordillera Escalera near Tarapoto.
Trying to bird the entire east-Andean slope in one day–from Abra Patricia to Tarapoto–was both enthralling (with flock after flock of gorgeous tanagers and their associates) and overwhelming (with flock after flock of gorgeous tanagers and their associates)! Pulling ourselves away from those fabulous mixed-species flocks, for which the east slope of the Andes is justifiably famous, was a staggering problem indeed.
And then there were the supportive and hospitable Peruvian people themselves. How could we not have stopped for that surprise group of some 50+ school children (and their teachers) waving U.S. and Brazilian flags at the side of the road and chanting our countries’ names: “Bra-zil, Bra-zil,” “Estados Unidos, Estados Unidos”?
After all, the primary aim of the Rally organizers was to showcase the incredible diversity of birds in northern Peru, not only to attract additional birders, but to demonstrate the potential value of sustainable ecotourism to local communities, upon whom we all depend to protect the riches of their environment. We encountered many nice surprises along the way–from local foods prepared by welcoming communities to song-and-dance performances by local people after supportive speeches by various mayors and other dignitaries. Some of these were pre-planned–and announced in advance as compulsory stops–but a number were sheer surprises. We loved them all, and we were treated like virtual rock stars in community after community.
In the end, the cumulative species recorded by all the teams was 777, out of a list of possibilities numbering more than 1000. That’s almost 10% of the world’s birds! Given that, the Rally was a great success, indeed showcasing the biodiversity of northern Peru–even if the sampling was way too small and the time way too short for us wimps. We had a blast, but we have to admit that, more than the strategic challenge, our joy came from sharing the excitement of our friends and fellow guides. Perhaps we should only compete where there aren’t so many fabulous birds!
Thanks to some generous donors among our clients and friends, our Birdathon Rally raised over $1100 for BirdLife International’s community project to conserve more habitat for the Marvelous Spatuletail–a true WINNER! Thanks to all of you who contributed. And there’s still time for more winning: If you would like to contribute, contact Peggy Watson in the Field Guides office (by email or by phone at 800-728-4953). Even small amounts can go a long way at the community level in rural northern Peru.
Our day-by-day details continue after the break below…
Here’s how our birding went day to day: Based in Chiclayo, we started Day 1 at Laquipampa, one of several canyons in the arid western foothills of the Andes that still have wild populations of the Critically Endangered White-winged Guan, a species that had been considered extinct for a century before it was rediscovered in the 1970’s in these dry forest fragments.
Their total wild population is currently estimated to be 150-250 birds. Sure enough, the White-winged Guan was one of the first birds we spotted when we stopped–some miles up a dirt road, at a spot Fernando recommended. Fernando, after all, is a Chiclayo-based biologist who has worked with the White-winged Guan conservation project for some 15 years. It was Fernando who spotted them–two birds on the rocks, high on the steep canyon slope. We had great scope views and were happy to see most of the other teams arrive in time to see them wonderfully as well. We spent much of the morning birding the dry forest of these foothill slopes, where most of the hoped-for Tumbesian specialties fell into place, including even the scarce Piura Chat-Tyrant. Besides the guan, Terry and Marcelo seemed most excited about the sneaky Elegant Crescentchest and the striking White-tailed Jays.
Then it was back down the canyon, where Marcelo spotted his lifer Fasciated Tiger-Heron on a boulder in the rushing river. There would be multiples of these along the Rio Utcubamba a few days hence, but that first one is always special. And onward to the Bosque Pomac near Batan Grande–after our stop to enjoy and acknowledge the eager and supportive school kids along the way. At Bosque Pomac we encountered some other especially spiffy Tumbesian specialties and Peruvian endemics: Scarlet-backed Woodpecker, Tumbes Tyrant, and Rufous Flycatcher, as well the scarce and local Tumbes Swallow, two of which were perching for photos! Our last stop was at La Vina Reservoir, which was fairly dry and not very productive. We ended the day with 118 species, in second place.
Day 2 began with a good Peruvian Plantcutter, six Peruvian Thick-knees, and two Sechura Foxes at Rafan. Then we were off to the coast near the mouth of the Rio Reque. Not only were we blown away by the abundance of Peruvian Terns, but there were dozens of breeding-plumaged Gull-billed Terns, generally considered a boreal migrant to the coast of Peru. What were they doing here? After a walk toward the mouth of the river, picking up most of the expected shorebirds, herons, and the like, we checked what we could see at sea from the highest nearby promontory.
Here Blue-footed Boobies were nesting on the cliffs, and Inca Terns and skeins of Peruvian Boobies and Peruvian Pelicans were scattered across the ocean as far as the eye could see. Richard picked up a distant Waved Albatross and a Great Grebe and got us on them. Then we were off to Cajamarca. We stopped for a flock of some 55 Comb Ducks along the shores of a reservoir damming the Rio Jequetepeque, and then we couldn’t resist briefly exploring a couple of roadside canyons that looked good for Great Inca-Finch and Cactus Canastero; but we would find neither today.
We pushed onward to Abra El Gavilan, where increasingly moist Andean forest patches disclosed their Black-eared Hemispinguses and Jelski’s Chat-Tyrant, and we heard the Unicolored Tapaculo. At the luxurious Hotel Laguna Seca, we turned in our list–maintained on my laptop during the drive–and had welcome hot-water baths pumped into the rooms from natural thermal pools that were indeed the “baños del Inca.” With 175 species, we were still in second place, by 6 species.
Day 3 of the Rally was the most relaxed, with the fewest miles to be driven. Of course, wakeup time was still 4:00AM, breakfast at 4:30, and departure at 5:00. But the list was due at 7:00, rather than 7:30 or 8:00PM. We headed south to a canyon north of San Marcos, where we take our tour groups to see the endemic Great Spinetail in a remnant patch of native xeric woodland. Sure enough, a pair responded at our first stop, but they were perhaps more skulking than usual and it took us a while to see one well. After brief forays to bird the canyon for Masked Yellowthroat, Golden-rumped Euphonia, and White-winged Black-Tyrant, we explored some lakes (high-elevation ducks and Silvery Grebes) and some high-elevation forest patches, where we enjoyed such goodies as Red-crested Cotinga, Rusty-crowned Tit-Spinetail, Tit-like Dacnis, and Plain-tailed Warbling-Finch.
In the afternoon we headed north of Cajamarca, up the valley of the Rio Chonta, where we found the Endangered Gray-bellied Comet, the endemic Black Metaltail, and a Giant Hummingbird all at the same flowering tree.
We picked up White-winged Cinclodes, Torrent Tyrannulet, and Andean Swift (here at the northern extent of their range) and still had time to explore some puna and high-elevation scrub near La Encanada, where we found Baron’s Spinetail and another flashy endemic, the Rufous-eared Brush-Finch. The pace today suited us well; it was more like being on our Field Guides tour of Northern Peru. Our total at the end of the day was 222, still 7 behind the lead.
In contrast with Day 3, Day 4 attempts to cover in one day what our Field Guides tour allots 3 days for (and for good reason)! Today, besides attending a couple of welcoming local functions (at Cruz Conga and Limon), we would pack into one day: birding the puna zone (mostly around 11,600′; seeing canasteros, cinclodes, hillstars, earthcreepers and pipits); crossing a pass into the spectacular Marañon Valley and its arid upper slopes (where we delighted in such specialties as Chestnut-backed Thornbird, Marañon Thrush, Buff-bellied Tanager, and Gray-winged Inca-Finch); continue down to cross the Rio Marañon itself, a desert community at 3000′ (with Peruvian Pigeon, Bare-faced Ground-Dove, Black-necked Woodpecker, and Buff-bridled Inca-Finch); then up the east slope of the valley, all the way to Abra Barro Negro (“Black Mud Pass”), at the crest of a ridge between the Marañon and Utcubamba drainages.
It was a beautiful afternoon in the treeline forest zone, and we had our first impressive mixed flock, as well as such goodies as the endemic Coppery Metaltail and Russet-mantled Softtail. There is so much to see here that we would plan to come back the following morning, but we had Swallow-tailed Nightjar and a lovely, calling Koepcke’s Screech-Owl before reaching the Hotel La Casona in Leimebamba ahead of the 8:00PM deadline. We had time for wine while we updated our list before attending an official welcoming function in the plaza and having 9:30 dinner back at the hotel. Whew! When the dust cleared, Field Guides was leading by 3, with 271 species.
Day 5 saw us up near Barro Negro before sunrise, having driven through mist and clouds and emerged atop a sea of puffy white, to a terrific vista of treeline forest, full of bird activity.
Highlights were hearing a pair of White-throated Screech-Owls (which we’d never had at that locality before) and showing Terry and Marcelo their lifer Rufous Antpitta (of the taxon obscura, surely to be upgraded to a distinct species). As we walked along the road, Marcelo took time to sneak into a thicket to see the tiny Rusty-breasted Antpitta we had called in close!
After adding a number of montane species, we returned to Leimebamba and took the pre-planned horseback ride up the lovely Rio Atuen canyon, in hopes of seeing Andean Condor and to support the community wranglers. After an hour of searching the cliffs, where condors sometimes breed, we returned to Adriana von Hagen’s hummingbird feeders across from the wonderful little Chachapoya museum. After getting good looks at the spectacular Rainbow Starfrontlet and the incredible Sword-bill, Terry and Marcelo toured the museum while a Peruvian reporter interviewed Richard and me as we sat watching the feeders. After lunch during the drive (as always!), we descended along the lovely Utcubamba River as it started to rain. We caught up with and passed most of the other teams at Hacienda Chillo, where they were searching for a stakeout pair of roosting Koepcke’s Screech-Owls. We made the compulsory stop to tour the newly opened Casa Andina Achamaqui hotel (with Terry spotting our first Oriole Blackbirds on the way in) and then headed for Huembo, the Marvelous Spatuletail Interpretation Center, to be followed by some birding en route to Pomacochas. But the rain became heavier and heavier, in an area that had already had unusually heavy rains, and suddenly we came to an active mudslide across the road; small boulders were buried in the mud and still sliding downslope. Traffic was starting to accumulate on the other side, and we were told heavy equipment had been beckoned to clear the road eventually. At least the rain was letting up. So we backtracked to a side road, where we could climb the arid slopes of the Utcubamba Valley and go birding. We fished for Marañon Crescentchest in the first prime-looking habitat, and Marcelo spotted one sneaking in; a pair then responded well, allowing photos and one of our unexpected highlights of the trip.
By the time we returned to the mudslide spot, it had been cleared and we sailed across and headed for the Huembo feeders that attracted Bronzy Inca and the iconic Marvelous Spatuletail–several full-tailed males! It was great to see Santos Montenegro, the on-site manager of the Spatuletail Center; he had been a young kid living on the slopes above Pomacochas when we met years ago and when he used to take our groups to see the Spatuletail on a patch of his land that the family had kept natural to support this fabulous hummingbird. It was Santos who found the first nest known to science and would eventually be instrumental in getting its elaborate courtship behavior filmed. We eventually pulled ourselves away from the Huembo feeders and headed for the Rio Chido, where remnant forest along the rushing montane stream secrets a handful of montane species that would have been new for us. However, now it was raining again–and heading our way, closing in from up the mountain. We managed to see a flock of Speckle-faced Parrots and but a few other species before the heavy rains quieted all activity. We reached the Hotel Puerto Pumas in Pomacochas at dusk.
Day 6, Pomacochas to Tarapoto, would be the longest day of the Rally–not so much for the number of miles traveled, but because of the many rich habitats transected as we traveled down the forested east slope of the Andes. It was raining when we awakened and for much of the drive to Abra Patricia (too wet for nightjars), where it had rained most of the night. It was cloudy-dark and activity was well below normal at ECOAN’s Owlet Lodge feeders. But the Tayra coming to the banana feeder was a highlight for Terry and Marcelo, along with another Sword-billed Hummingbird! Though it was hard to leave, knowing how many species we were walking away from, we continued downward, the rain having stopped and the sky brightening.
We made strategic stops for specialties and flocks, of which there were many! A male Royal Sunangel was feeding on flowers near Garcia Ridge, where we added the endemic Bar-winged Wood-Wren as well. But it was the mixed-species flocks that comprised the bird highlight of the morning–full of tanagers (favorites for Terry and Marcelo included Yellow-throated Tanager, Blue-winged Mountain-Tanagers, and Paradise Tanagers–some of the classics!), but with great variety, from furnariids and small flycatchers to Rufous-rumped Antwrens and Gray-mantled Wrens. Great views of a male Golden-collared Honeycreeper, Blue-browed Tanagers, and Versicolored Barbets stood out. We called in a Striolated Puffbird–recently split as Western Striolated-Puffbird by Field Guides’ own Bret Whitney et al.–near Aguas Verdes, and had Yellow-crested Tanagers near the bridge.
A festive welcoming at Morro La Calzada was complete with tea and a lovely variety of foods cooked by local volunteers. We visited with the mayor, who seemed very supportive of furthering ecotourism on the northern circuit, especially to this wonderful park, protecting the forests and savannas surrounding an isolated uplift in a now rather flat environment. A brief birding stop in the savanna/gallery woodland below the Morro added a chunk of new species to our list.
And then we were off to Moyobamba and the Waqanki hummingbird feeders–another alluring problem that no doubt kept us too long. But it contributed great views (and photos!) of multiple hummers, including our only Wire-crested Thorntail and fighting Rufous-crested Coquettes–one of the highlights of the whole trip. After a stop at a bridge over a narrow gorge to view the numerous Oilbirds below, we headed for Tarapoto and the Hotel Las Palmeras–the second of a chain of very comfortable hotels in northern Peru that were helping to sponsor the Rally. Tropical Screech-Owls were calling as we checked into our rooms. Of the hundreds of species possible on this day, we had recorded a fair chunk, but we had missed many too; it was the kind of a day in which a single flock could make the difference between winning or losing the competition.
Day 7 was particularly exciting for Richard and me, as we had never birded the Tarapoto area before. We headed straight to Upaquihua, a fascinating mix of habitats in the Rio Huallaga drainage, with elements of lowland Amazonia mixed with Pantanal-like habitats and birds. Birding along the road and trails through the biggest remaining patch of contiguous habitat, we enjoyed a fascinating mix of species–from the Huallaga form of Northern Slaty-Antshrike, Stripe-chested Antwren, Sulphur-bellied Tyrant-Manakin, Ashy-headed Greenlet, and Rusty-backed Antwren, to Amazonian trogons, motmots, and jacamars. After a full morning at Upaquihua, we headed for Lago Lindo for lunch at the hotel. Of couse, there were a few stops along the way–one overlooking the muddy Rio Huallaga, where we picked up Pied Lapwings, Collared Plovers, Yellow-billed Terns, and Sand-colored Nighthawks on river sandbars; and one to take the ferry across.
After a late lunch at the Hotel Lago Lindo–in a lovely setting overlooking a lake with Hoatzins–we would bird back out the entrance road, where the forest surrounding the plantations was more typical of lowland Amazonian rainforest. In addition to a number of common species, we managed to call in a notoriously difficult Chestnut-headed Crake, a Golden-collared Toucanet, and a handsome Broad-billed Motmot. What had started out as drizzly turned into a beautiful late afternoon, the sun illuminating the hilly forest, a rainbow overhead. We stood along the road, with all our scopes, enjoying whatever popped up, from Black and Red-throated caracaras to Channel-billed Toucans, Olive Oropendola, and Amazon Kingfisher. The close of the day brought calling Common Pauraques, Common Potoo, and Tawny-bellied Screech-Owl. When the results were announced, we were at 538 species, now 20 behind the lead (and 46 ahead of the third-place total).
Day 8 began with a Spectacled Owl calling outside our cabin; it was good to have had a teammate sharing my bed! After breakfast we were off to the Escalera, known to birders as the Tunnel north of Tarapoto. Another new birding area for all but Fernando!
Today we had but the morning to spend, as lists were due in Taropoto at 1:30. We had a lovely morning of birding. Highlight birds in the foothill forest here were our lifer Dotted Tanagers and incredible views of a singing Slaty-capped Shrike-Vireo, its green iris glowing in the sun. Our last stop before returning was at the feeders beyond the tunnel, where we enjoyed terrific hospitality and terrific views of multiple hummers, outstanding among them the scarce Koepcke’s Hermit and the dazzling Gould’s Jewelfront. We had the afternoon to proof our list and prepare for the closing ceremonies.
The Rally is in full swing, and guides Rose Ann Rowlett, Richard Webster, Terry Stevenson, and Marcelo Padua are hard at work trying to find as many species as possible during their week traversing northern Peru. Marcelo’s reporting from the field when he has a chance (and an internet connection!)…
Dan Lane, Jesse Fagan, and Fernando Angulo brought home the trophy in December, winning the World Birding Challenge with an impressive 457 species in the weeklong event staged in southern Peru and raising over $1600 for BirdLife International. In May, Field Guides will defend the title in the third World Birding Challenge in northern Peru. We will be represented by guides Rose Ann Rowlett, Richard Webster, Marcelo Padua, and (hang on to your hats!) Terry Stevenson! Of course, with Rose Ann and Richard on board—who have been guiding our Northern Peru tour for almost 20 years now—we expect to be competitive. Marcelo and Terry are new to Peru but are studying hard and will contribute that FG energy and humor for which they are well known.
The team is again birding for conservation bucks and we encourage FOFG (friends of Field Guides) to contribute either per species (they will be aiming for more than 600!) seen or a dollar amount. Especially those of you who have traveled with these guides in the past are encouraged to show your support! All donations generated will be directed to the BirdLife affiliate in Peru, Apeco. Apeco works to preserve and protect the habitat in northern Peru of the iconic hummingbird, the Marvelous Spatuletail (Loddigesia mirabilis) (see below!), a Peruvian endemic listed as endangered on the current Red List. With its wonderfully extravagant spatulate tail and male courtship dances, this superb hummingbird is a flagship species for the forests in the higher part of the micro-watersheds of the Tilacancha and Cruzhuayco rivers. The Apeco campaign supports 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 land owners.
Call or emailPeggy Watson at our office to make a pledge. Marcelo will be posting updates from the challenge on the Field Guides Facebook page and we’ll make sure you get those notifications as well as a post- challenge report.
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!
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).
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:
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!
Imagine standing in a humid temperate forest dominated by towering Nothofagus beech trees. An immense moa browses the leaves overhead as a smaller kiwi nearby probes into soil for earthworms. In the background the amazing piping of a talented Tui adds atmosphere to the misty air. A shadow against the sun, initially ignored by the monstrous moa, grows larger until it takes shape as a gigantic Haast’s Eagle stoops on the larger herbivore. With bone-crunching power, the eagle takes down the moa, and mantles it with its wingspan of more than eight feet — almost the size of the giant eagles who repeatedly rescued the protagonists in the Lord of the Rings movies!
This scene is not fiction however; it no doubt happened more than once before the islands were first discovered by the Polynesians who colonized them over a thousand years ago! Of course, shortly after humans arrived, they probably decided that a high priority was to eliminate a predator that had evolved to eat six-to-ten-foot-tall bipedal organisms! So we won’t have to be looking over our shoulders as we bird the islands. But still present in this island paradise are a number of impressive and unusual birds that evolved in isolation from terrestrial mammals — and indeed in many cases, evolved to fill the niches normally held by mammals!
New Zealand, now famous for being the backdrop for the scenic and absorbing Lord of the Rings movies, for producing the musical comedy duo Flight of the Conchords (if you haven’t already heard of these guys, do yourself a favor and look them up on Youtube!), and for having a lot of sheep, is an important destination for birders.
Nearly all of its landbirds, and many of its waterbirds, are endemic. Kiwis, Stitchbirds, and Saddlebacks (in endemic families!), and Yellowheads and others are viewable on offshore islands from which various introduced mammalian predators have been eliminated. Meanwhile, on the main islands, flightless Takahe (a husky Purple Gallinule relative) and Weka (an oversized rail) still patrol the understory of woodlands where the beautiful voices of Gray Gerygone and Bellbird pierce the silence.
The unique Rifleman and the mischievous Kea are found in treeline habitats of the picturesque Southern Alps. Seabird colonies on the coasts and offshore islands still teem with breeding penguins, albatrosses, shearwaters, and petrels. Coastal estuaries of the islands are of global importance as wintering sites for Palearctic (and even Nearctic) wintering Bar-tailed Godwit, and also host several endemic, or nearly so, oystercatchers, gulls, terns, stilts, the unique Wrybill, and even the attractive Royal Spoonbill.
Of course, a highlight is the opportunity to participate in what may be the “easiest” pelagic trips in the world — where we are only on the water for a few hours, but can see several species of albatross, including several forms of the Royal and Wandering species complexes, among the largest flying birds in the world), petrels, and perhaps (if really lucky) the New Zealand Storm-Petrel, a species thought to be extinct for about a century!
As if all this were not quite enough to tempt birders to visit, New Zealand also has famously friendly people who speak English (of a different subspecies!), serve sensible tea, provide very hospitable lodging, and offer some delicious food! Now, what more can you ask? Doesn’t spring (ahem, “autumn” for those of us from the Northern Hemisphere) in New Zealand sound like a great getaway? Come join me in this land at the edge of the world in November, and we’ll explore it together!
Join Dan in New Zealand November 3-21 this fall. Visit our tour page for more information, including a complete itinerary and past triplists.