Here’s a post for the pure and simple aesthetic enjoyment of birds. Summer is our Galapagos season with multiple trips, and guide George Armistead returned with a set of lovely pics of everything from Sally Lightfoot crabs to sea lions to tree finches and Galapagos Rail. We thought it would be fun to focus on just a few of George‘s airborne ones from the tour and the incredible lightness of their beings.
What makes a good cup of coffee? What makes a good birding destination? Ah, the key questions of life! Surprisingly, the two are not independent of each other…at least, not in Guatemala, where sipping a delicious cup of Antiguan joe can easily be synonymous with Spotted Nightingale-Thrushes probing rank leaf-litter or Azure-rumped Tanagers searching for fruiting fig trees in a sun-rich canopy.
In Guatemala and other parts of Central America, delicious coffee and bird conservation develop in two ways: either by careful management of shade-grown coffee preserving a diverse canopy overhead, or by growing the more traditional “sun” coffee but protecting surrounding native habitat in its original state. Most coffee in Guatemala is at least partially shade-grown. Each method has its drawbacks for wildlife–the reality of this bold brew. However, as with many other agricultural commodities, striking the right balance of production with education and awareness can minimize the impact on our environment.
At Field Guides we work with several coffee fincas to offer participants on our two distinct itineraries (Thanksgiving and February/March) a unique “bed-and-breakfast” style experience complete with excellent birding. The finca owners take great pride in sharing with our groups the history of their properties, many of which have been family-run for generations–Finca Los Tarrales and Finca Los Andes are two such examples on our February tour.
Finca Las Nubes, which we visit on both itineraries, is one of the oldest operational coffee fincas in Guatemala, dating back more than 150 years and made famous in the early photos of Eadweard Muybridge (wild first name, eh?–read more about his work here). Sitting on the deck of the original plantation home at Las Nubes, one can’t help but feel transported back to the days when coffee was moved from the plantation on the backs of mules to steamships waiting in port. Whether you drink it or not, coffee’s impact on world politics and economies (dating back centuries) is also an interesting history lesson. On each finca, we explore the growing, processing, shipping, roasting, and tasting (in a cupping session) of the golden bean. And if you want to be truly informed, feel free to discuss with the owners issues of quality, distribution, trading and buying, Starbucks or The Rainforest Alliance, and more.
Coffee grows well on the fertile volcanic soils of the Pacific Slope, but not so well in the humid tropical lowlands of the Petén, the vast, largely forested northern lowlands of Guatemala. It is here we also visit on our new Thanksgiving tour one of the premier cultural destinations in the world: Tikal. Tikal was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979 and is one of the best preserved (and studied) of the Classic Mayan sites. It goes without saying that seeing the ruins of Tikal is an experience akin to visiting the pyramids of Egypt or the Great Wall of China. Images of Temple I or II are etched in all our minds from perusing the pages of National Geographic or watching a documentary on The Discovery Channel. We understand the importance of a site such as Tikal, which is why we will spend time with a local guide to learn as much as possible about its history and importance in Mayan and current Guatemalan culture. Granted, as we walk between the temples and ponder a game in the ball court, it will be hard to not be distracted by the calls of Ocellated Turkey, croaking Keel-billed Toucans, or a darting Orange-breasted Falcon–for Tikal certainly is a great birding destination, too. After all, Tikal National Park was one of the first such reserves established in Guatemala and covers a vast expanse of more than 142,100 acres of tropical lowland forest.
To round out our experience in Guatemala, one both educational and informative, we’ll be targeting a select group of very special birds of the region. One is endemic to northern Central America: the Pink-headed Warbler (Ergaticus versicolor) is found in the pine-oak highlands of southern Mexico and Guatemala. Its appearance is highly unusual among Parulids–only the Red Warbler of Mexico is comparable, but the Pink-headed’s reddish hue is tastefully tinseled with silver on the head. Fellow Field Guide Alvaro Jaramillo has called this species the “Frosty-headed” Warbler, a good name for it, and we know of several spots where we can find this special bird.
What makes a good Thanksgiving? We think our unique new birding adventure to Guatemala this November with birds, coffee, and Tikal has all the fixings! Let’s celebrate together!
[And how about this for a Las Nubes Thanksgiving menu: slow-roasted turkey, homemade stuffing, fresh cranberry sauce, mashed sweet potatoes, local steamed corn, and the best pumpkin pie in Guatemala–mmmm!]
I have now birded or relaxed in, and have led Field Guides tours through, most of the enormous Republic of Brazil, and there remain just a handful of Brazil’s nearly 1900 species of birds I haven’t yet met in the field (aarrrgh, I missed the only Kinglet Calyptura in a hundred years by just a couple of days in October, 1996—my friend and Brazilian colleague Fernando Pacheco was the second of five amigos to see it!).
In the process of getting around to find and learn about all of those species, even describing some new to science, Fernando and I decided that what Brazil needed was a good guide to field identification of its birds. And as I have continued to spend half of every year in Brazil over the past decade, it has become increasingly apparent that the very best thing that I personally could give back to Brazil, with all its wealth of ecosystems and challenges to protect them, would be to produce an authoritative, beautifully illustrated, yet very inexpensive bilingual series of regional field guides to the country’s birds.
Our project, to be published by Lynx Edicions (publishers of the Handbook of the Birds of the World series), and those of colleagues working with Princeton University Press, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and others producing field guides for Brazil are together soon going to result in a huge surge forward in the interest and fervor that an already growing number of Brazilians feel for enjoying and protecting their birds and other wildlife. Our first volume will focus on the Atlantic Forest biome of southeast and southern Brazil, where the majority of Brazilians live, where an unequaled number of endemic species have evolved, and where conservation problems are severe. I am 100% confident and optimistic that the conservation tide can and will be turned to an increasingly positive direction largely through the accessibility of birds to the Brazilian people.
My co-authors are my excellent friends Luís Fábio Silveira of the University of São Paulo and, of course, Fernando, both of them incredibly knowledgeable Brazilian ornithologists and committed conservationists. As we head into the final two years of work to publish this first volume (three others will follow at much shorter intervals!), we invite all of you to contribute to our IRS-accredited, tax-deductible account at The Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. Through low-key, unpracticed fund-raising and online investing of personal resources, I’ve gathered enough to pay artists, mapmakers, and sound-digitizers for these 10-plus years. I am deeply appreciative of all of you out there who have already contributed (and to timely picks with APPL, JBLU, and especially EWZ)!
Lynx has generously provided to me as much of their excellent HBW art as I can use, and they’re tremendously supportive of helping to produce an inexpensive Brazilian edition of the books for which none of us will receive royalties, commissions, reimbursements, or other monies—it’s truly a labor of love, and truly a conservation-enabling gift to Brazil.
Please help us make great things happen with your kind contribution to an everlasting celebration of Brazilian birds!
Contributions may be sent to:
The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University
kepics at ansp.org (email — change ” at ” to the @ symbol to complete the address…we’ve omitted it here to avoid spam)
Checks should be made payable to “The Academy of Natural Sciences,” with “Whitney Birds of Brazil Book Project” on the memo line or in an attached note.
Rose Ann Rowlett has put together a great overview page for our tours to bird-rich Ecuador. Not quite sure where to start in choosing a trip? Rose Ann’s insights can guide you through the process. Read more…
Ten itineraries from Amazonia to the Atlantic Forest to Iguazu Falls to the Pantanal? Sort through them all on our new overview page by Bret Whitney. Bret’s suggestions will help you choose among our various tours to this wonderful and richly diverse country. Perhaps Northeast Brazil in January or Rainforest & Savanna in June, Manaus in September or Southeastern Brazil in November? Yes, Brazil is an amazing and rewarding birding destination! Read on…
How do you choose among 8 itineraries to a country with more than 1800 species of birds? To give you a little help, we’ve put together a new overview page covering northern and southern Amazonian Peru as well as the Andes. Even if you’re not quite ready this year, it makes for some great virtual birding! Read on…
…it’s always a challenge for any of the rest of us who live in plain old North America to compete in the best yard bird contest. Take, for example, this big female Southern Cassowary; she’s a garden bird at Cassowary House, the lodge Phil and his wife, Sue, operate in far north Queensland, Australia…
When Phil Gregory (Australia), Terry Stevenson (Kenya), or Mitch Lysinger (Ecuador) attends the Field Guides business meeting, it’s always a challenge for any of the rest of us who live in plain old North America to compete in the best yard bird contest. Take, for example, this big female Southern Cassowary; she’s a garden bird at Cassowary House, the lodge Phil and his wife, Sue, operate in far north Queensland, Australia. According to Phil, she’s been coming for about ten years now, entirely on her own schedule.
The female cassowary lays several eggs, but it is the male of the species that incubates those eggs and cares for the chicks for nine months or so. The male of this pair is also a regular visitor at Phil and Sue’s, and he sometimes brings the chicks along. Phil says that it’s a real treat to see the brown-striped chicks pestering the big male for food morsels-and maybe just for some of his attention. And it’s a sight we always hope for on our Australia and New Guinea & Australia and Northern Australia tours.
We’re delighted to announce that our very own John Rowlett is to be honored at this year’s American Birding Association’s convention (Apr 27-May 3) in Corpus Christi on the Texas coast with the Roger Tory Peterson Award!
The award is given for a lifetime of achievement in promoting the cause of birding — a perfect tribute to John as he has been getting folks excited about birds for many years from his native Texas and current home in Virginia to numerous other destinations around the world. Congratulations, Peppershrike!
If you’d like to join John in the field, check out his upcoming schedule. And if you plan to be at the ABA convention, we hope to cross paths with you in Corpus. To help John celebrate, a group of our Field Guides will be there for the Thursday field trip and evening presentation, including Chris Benesh, John Coons, Bret Whitney, Peggy Watson, and Jan Pierson. See you there!
Every tour has its outstanding moments, producing memories that stay with you long after you’re home. We do our best to help them happen with extensive guiding experience, careful itinerary planning, selection of the best seasons for weather and birding in general, and other logistical details that position us advantageously…
In fact, most of the great events that happen on tours are, for well-seasoned guides, expected (though often not predictable) peaks on the daily chart of activities. For example, Gray-bellied Goshawk (Accipiter poliogaster) is a bloody rarely seen bird. It occurs almost everywhere across Amazonia and we operate tours to lots of places in its range, but I’d guess we’ve seen it on Field Guides tours only about a half-a-dozen times in 20+ years. Thus, it was a tremendous highlight to see it well (and for so long) on this year’s RAINFOREST & SAVANNA tour to Alta Floresta and the Northern Pantanal. But it wasn’t surprising to me, because we “did it right” by getting up on the tower quite early when this raptor fairly regularly perches conspicuously on treetops and vocalizes. So, there it was. Excellent!
But there are some events that mark you for life, events that are all about just being LUCKY to be in the right spot at the right moment. We had one of these ultra-rare events on this tour, a completely fortuitous surprise of the highest order, when Jorge, a guide for the Cristalino Jungle Lodge at Alta Floresta, burst into the dining room and hollered “BRET, BRET!!” Jorge had just left a Jaguar on the riverbank a short distance downriver. We jumped up from lunch and were in that boat in about one minute. Ten minutes later we were gasping as we watched a big Jaguar loafing on a tree trunk leaning over the river. Continue reading “14 JUNE 2008: Day of the Jaguar”