Not much birding this week as I prepare for some trips in October and November and have been doing a lot of reading. Some of that reading was of birds in foreign lands and I got an urge to write.Nothing elaborate – a favorite bird in each of the places I have birded outside the U.S. Apologies in advance as many of these experiences were before I was taking photos so I have “borrowed” from the endless supply of online photos – most far better than I ever would have taken. They are in chronological order from my trips.
Trinidad – May 1978
This was my first international birding trip – part of the incredible two week adventure that 3 birding buddies and I did in the Spring of 1974 that took us to Texas and Florida in addition to Trinidad utilizing an Eastern Airlines Fly Anywhere fare of $299 round trip with all of those stops and a return to Seattle.
In Trinidad we stayed at the Asa Wright Nature in the Arima Valley. Our accommodation was the “Bungalow”. When I opened my bedroll there was a scorpion inside. Welcome to the tropics. Fortunately that was the only one seen and the only poisonous snakes were seen at a distance. Lots of wonderful birds – almost 100 species found without a guide. All but a handful were life birds for all of us – just a few that we had seen in the U.S. Almost impossible to pick a favorite, but I have chosen the Common Potoo – a “frogmouth”. The picture is not mine but depicts this incredibly well camouflaged bird as we first found it roosting on a stump. Seventeen years later I would see another in Brazil and two years prior to that I saw its close relatives, a Tawny and Papuan Frogmouths in Australia. Cool birds!!
Common Potoo – Arima, Trinidad – May 4, 1978 – Online Photo
Hong Kong/New Territories – December 1979
This was my first trip to Asia – two weeks of good shopping, incredible food and some far better than expected birding. Although most of the time was spent in Hong Kong itself, we also visited Kowloon, the New Territories and a brief sojourn into what westerners then called “Red China”. The border had just been opened and small tour groups were let in – and watched very carefully. We also visited Macau.
The birding was a little bit of general observation wherever we were, but was primarily with a guide hired for the day with time at two reserves, Tai Po Kau and the Mai Po Marshes, both in the new territories and both fantastic. Our guide was James (definitely not “Jim”) a classic Britisher who was an excellent birder and great company. He provided lunch as well which included tea and crust-less sandwiches. Not as good as the wonderful meals we had in Hong Kong each day – but quite good and appropriate in the field and the cloth napkins were a fine extra touch.
The birds were awesome and Mai Po Marsh was as impressive for waders and shorebirds as any place I had been. All told in the two places we had over 80 species for the day including many waders that I failed to keep track of. For purposes of this post I am omitting details and just choosing a favorite bird. For this visit it is the Spotted Redshank, not just because it is a striking shorebird but also because I saw one just over a year later at Fort Stevens State Park in Oregon. Sure wish one will visit us in Washington.
Spotted Redshank – Mai Po Marsh – New Territories – December 25, 1979
Jamaica March 1980
This was another non-birding trip – a return to Jamaica. See its predecessor in an earlier Blog Post (https://wordpress.com/post/blairbirding.wordpress.com/851) . The trip in 1980 was just for island fun but I had to return to Dun’s River Fall to see the Streamertail Hummingbird that I had first seen there on a Spring Training lark while on the Harvard Track team in 1967. Even for non-birders it was impossible to not notice this bird – the National Bird of Jamaica. My Jamaica list includes 13 other species, so I must have paid some attention but I think the focus was more on the beaches. I only wish that the photo was mine.
Red Billed Streamertail – Dun’s River Falls – Jamaica March 1980
Japan – July 1983
Of all the international trips I have taken, this is the one that I probably most wished had time set aside for birding. I was only able to spend part of one day doing so seeing only 31 species. None were common for the time or place and I would see some again Europe later. This was, however, in at least one respect my best trip ever. We had been trying to “get pregnant” unsuccessfully for many years. This was our – we give up trip – maybe to consider adoption when we returned. Maybe the stars were aligned just right in Japan, but it was during this trip that the miracle of conception took place and almost 9 months later we had a wonderful baby girl who was “Made in Japan”.
Although unlike the Spotted Redshank of Hong Kong, I have not seen a Terek Sandpiper in the ABA Area, maybe someday I will. It was great to see one at Wajima in Japan.
Terek Sandpiper – Wajima, Japan – July 28, 1983
Argentina – March 1989
After my daughter was born, there was very little birding and traveling for a few years. I also had developed another outdoor hobby – flyfishing. In fact in the 13 years after her birth (and then the birth of my son 4 years later) I added only four new birds to my Washington State List – bringing it to a rather unimpressive 200 species. The four new birds were pretty great, though: Little Gull, White Tailed Kite, Rustic Bunting and Steller’s Eider. I have seen all but the Steller’s Eider in Washington again in the past 5 years – but that was essentially a 25 year drought.
Just after my son was born I was able to get away for two exotic fishing trips both with fishing buddies from Seattle. The first was to Argentina in March 1989 and the following year to Kiribati (Christmas Island). The trip to Argentina was my first to South America. It was fantastic. Birds were seen but not sought. Trout were definitely sought and many were caught. I hope to get back to Argentina again – incredible culture, scenery, agriculture, wine, food and people. And the fishing was incredible. I only noted 41 species, but it is hard to hold both a fly rod and binoculars at the same time. It was impossible to miss my favorite bird though – the Andean Condor. They are massive birds – even larger than the California Condor and with a wingspan of up to 10 feet, We saw several flying above us in the Andes – magnificent creatures.
Andean Condor – Junin de Los Andes – Argentina – March 1989
Republic of Kiribati – May 1989
This was another fishing trip but this time it was fly fishing for Bonefish and some other salt water species. We had somehow found a special bargain rate that included transportation and lodging and it was simply too good to pass up. Located on the Equator about 1300 miles south and west of Hawaii, Kiribati is a Micronesian country of islands and atolls. We were essentially standing in a former volcanic crater of Kirimati (Christmas Island to some) wading in saltwater and trying to catch one of the most prized fishes in angling – powerful super fast fish that made steelhead look like slowpokes. And above us were often really cool birds.
Since there were only 7 species seen, I will list them all: White and Red Tailed Tropicbirds, Greater and Lesser Frigatebirds, White and Bridled Terns and Brown Booby. There were probably others but they did not make it onto my list. Someday I hope to see one of those Tropicbirds in the ABA Area. A sad note is that this tiny country is one of the ones most at risk to rising ocean levels from global warming. It may not even survive into the 22nd Century. Hard to pick it over the Tropicbirds, but the White Terns were really special.
White Tern – Kirimati – Kiribati – May 10, 1989
Costa Rica – April 1997
There was essentially no birding during the years of 1990 to 1997 as work and kids were the focus and joys of our lives. I am sure I noticed birds on some trips but the first one that had any significant avian content was a family trip to Costa Rica in April 1997. We hired a car with driver and naturalist guide for a few of our days there and saw the fantastic nature that makes this country such a great place to visit. There was no big emphasis on birding or attempts to see specific species, but in Costa Rica, birds are hard to miss and even both kids enjoyed some birdwatching.
We visited Monteverdi, Tiskita, and Arenal and during our visit, I managed to see 152 species, most of them new to my World List. Hard to beat the thirteen species of hummingbirds, but also hard to choose a favorite among them. The same could be said for the 8 species of parrots or parakeets. On the other hand it is easy to move past the 17 species of flycatchers. All of these species types were precursors to similar long lists of related species found in later visits to the tropics. If I had to pick a favorite it would have to be one of the manakins – probably the Red Capped Manakin. In addition to being very striking birds, their appeal is the courtship behavior. Males display at leks like various grouse-like birds and snap their wings in addition to making pretty loud calls. Quite a show.
Red Capped Manakin – Tiskita Jungle Lodge – Costa Rica – May 14, 1997
Hungary – July – 2000
In the summer of 2000, my daughter traveled to Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic as part of a tour with the Seattle Youth Symphony. I got to go along as a part time chaperone with my one condition being that I could take one day off to do some birding. Most of the visit was to Hungary – a couple of days in Budapest and then 5 days in Pecs, Seattle’s Sister City. In Pecs. I was able to hire a student guide who took me out for a day of birding in the countryside. The birds were fun and mostly new to me as I had never birded in Europe before.
It was also fascinating to travel outside the big cities in a country that had not been free of Communist rule for very long. An example of that was our lunch in a very simple cafeteria in a Soviet era apartment building where there were three choices of sandwiches – essentially two thin slices of bread with either chicken, ham or cheese between – nothing else. I loved the rural countryside – especially what seemed like miles of sunflowers in full bloom. We only saw 54 species, a potpourri of raptors, shorebirds, some waders and woodpeckers and mostly passerines. The European Bee Eater and the European Roller were big hits, but without question my favorite bird was the Great Bustard. Bustards are BIG birds – especially the males standing 3 feet tall, with wingspans up to 9 feet and weighing as much as 40 pounds but averaging just over half that amount. They are considered the heaviest birds that fly. We saw both a male and a much smaller female and even saw a short flight before they disappeared in high grass.
Great Bustard – Fields South of Pecs Hungary – July 5, 2000
Australia – September 2003
My trip to Australia was fantastic in every way – great places, great people, great birds, great fun. I was only in Eastern Australia and definitely want to return to see more. Every detail of this trip was planned online and there was no conversation directly with anyone – and everything worked well. It is a LONG flight to Sydney from Seattle via Los Angeles. Thankfully the plane was nowhere near full and I had an entire row of seats to myself in the back of the plane. How long was the flight – I watched 6 movies!!!
The time in Australia started in Sydney and included visits to Brisbane, Cairns, Toowoomba, O’Reilly’s, Kuranda, Kingfisher Park, and Daintree. I flew from Sydney to Brisbane, but the rest of the travel was by car. I managed some sightseeing and did some ocean swimming despite some fear about sharks and poisonous jellyfish. See my earlier Blog Post for many more details and photos. (Bird and Memory of the Week – Bush Thick-Knee: https://wordpress.com/post/blairbirding.wordpress.com/1634). There were so many great birds – 267 species in all. Laughing and Blue Winged Kookaburras, 5 different Fairy Wrens, my first ever Thick-Knee, 23 shorebird species, 16 parrot-like species, 4 Bowerbirds, and many others. I also saw Koalas, Kangaroos and a Platypus.
But there is no question about my favorite bird. Early one morning I was alone at Daintree NP before it was even officially open. I was hoping to find a Southern Cassowary and was stunned to find a father with a youngster. (The males raise the chicks). It was like being back in time and looking at the link between dinosaurs and birds. These giants are the second heaviest birds on earth behind the Ostrich – up to 125 pounds. They have a razor sharp 5 inch toe that can eviscerate anything and anyone. They cannot fly but they can jump 5 feet in the air – quickly. And they can live over 30 years. I kept my distance but had fantastic views and got a photo. One of my all time favorite birds and favorite experiences.
Southern Cassowary – Daintree NP – Australia – September 18, 2003
Brazil – September 2005
It was going to be hard to beat Australia, but my three weeks in Brazil came close. I worked with a tour company but did the trip on my own. I had a guide only for two days at Cristallino in the Amazon and not all of my time was spent birding as I enjoyed time in Rio, at Iguassu Falls, the Pantanal and the Amazon. Some day I will write up the entire trip, so just a few highlights for now.
All told I saw 273 species including many spectacular birds. More than half were at Cristallino and 69 were in the Pantanal. Among the best birds were 6 Aracaris and Toucans, 19 parrot like birds including Hyacinth Macaws, 17 Antbirds, 5 Trogons, 16 waders, 2 Tinamou species, a Sungrebe and 14 raptors including my favorite for the trip and one of my favorite stories.
To get to Cristallino, I flew first from Rio de Janeiro to Sao Paulo, and from there to Alta Floresta and then by boat to the Lodge. While waiting for the boat I met a tour group led by a famous Brazilian guide. While he was regaling his group in the building I walked around looking for birds. Unbeknownst to me there was a Harpy Eagle nest up one of the trails. I found it in shock and it was occupied by a mother and chick. I raced in to tell the others and blew his story as he was just about to lead the group to see one of the most sought after of Amazonian birds.
Harpy Eagle Chick Exploring by Its Nest – Alta Floresta – September 8, 2005
There were also lots of great mammals including a Jaguar in the Pantanal, giant River Otters, Tapirs and a Jaguarundi.
Kenya – November 2007
This trip was the subject of an earlier Blog Post with mostly photos. See “Keen on Kenya” https://wordpress.com/post/blairbirding.wordpress.com/20876. I include my favorite bird from that trip. – one of so many great birds and 506 species seen.
Secretarybird – Samburu National Reserve- November 3, 2007
Belize – March/April 2010
This was a combination of fishing, birding and relaxing. Most of the birding was at Chaa Creek and the fishing (with a little birding) was at Ambergris Key. 138 species were seen but only 35 were new life birds because of the overlap mostly with Costa Rica. One bird seen there that sometimes makes it into the ABA area was a Blue Bunting. Would be nice to see it in Texas someday. Probably my favorite bird was the Collared Aracari.
Collared Aracari – Chaa Creek – Belize – March 30, 2010
India – January 2011
This was a bucket list trip. I was scheduled for my first ever surgery – a complete shoulder replacement – and I asked myself what did I most want to do – just in case … The answer was easy, I wanted to see a Bengal Tiger in India. I found a tour that included Tigers, the Taj Mahal and birds with Victor Emanuel Nature Tours. Another wonderful trip. We saw a number of tigers and I was blown away by the Taj Mahal. We also had 278 species including many wonderful, beautiful and charismatic ones. There were 18 species of waders, 15 shorebirds, an incredible 38 raptors including 8 owls, many parrots, and a little bit of everything else. My favorite was probably the Indian Peafowl – the so called Peacock of a number of gardens, estates and zoos in the U.S. In India they are wild.
Indian Peafowl – Kanha Tiger Reserve – January 8, 2011
Peru – November 2013
This was an odd trip in some ways. Some great highlights with lots of birds – over 400 species. I am sure there must have been a reason, but I cannot remember why I squeezed it into 2013. That was my Big Year in Washington state and I had already traveled to Texas for 10 days in April a good time to bird in state as well. I must have missed some birds then and now I was gone for 3 more weeks. (There was one bird I missed – the Vermilion Flycatcher that visited Ridgefield Refuge and was seen by many of my friends.)
The trip was with Field Guides and was focused on North Peruvian endemics. We had to make some mid-tour changes due to road washouts, but mostly pleasant travel. Somehow the tour, though just wasn’t fun. Maybe I was too worn out from the intensity of thr 10 months of Big Year birding in Washington. Mostly though it was that there was too much birding with the birders standing at one spot to try for an often poor quick look at a skulking bird to be ticked on a life list. Just not that satisfying.
But there were many good birds as well – with good views and even some photos. We saw 25 Tanagers , 50 Flycatchers and 39 Hummingbirds, 19 Raptors, 3 Quetzals/Trogons, 2 Guans and 2 Tinamous and lots of everything else including 50 species of “forest” birds that were the tough ones to find and see – Antwrens, Woodcreepers, Tapaculos, Antbirds, Spinetails and others.. It is hard not to choose the Cock of the Rock as a favorite but as a group, it was definitely the Hummingbirds and the Magnificent Spatuletail beats out all the others, although the Emerald Bellied Puffleg was a close second.
Magnificent Spatuletail – ACP Abra Patricia–Owlet Lodge – November 12, 2013
South Africa – October 2014
This trip was a joint program with the American Birding Association and Rockjumper – ten days with them and then a few days on my own in Kruger National Park. Africa is fantastic. Not quite as spectacular as Kenya – but very close. The visit started in Cape Town and ended in Johannesburg. Altogether 328 species of birds and many wonderful mammals as well. I would like to return to most places I have visited and that certainly applies to South Africa – beautiful area with endless things to fascinate.
Unlike Kenya, this trip to Africa included coastal birding and even a pelagic trip. The pelagic trip was a near disaster even though there were some good birds including three albatross species (Yellow Nosed, White Capped and Black Browed) and Southern Giant Petrel. The weather turned bad. Our boat lost one and then a second engine. It took 30 minutes to get one going again. Three albatross species were great, but the trip the day before had seven species including Royal and Wandering.
On this trip I also had my first (and so far only) penguin species – African Penguin, 7 Cuckoos, 30 Raptors, 8 Gallinaceous species, 4 Bustards, 6 Swifts, 3 Bee-eaters, 2 Rollers and 2 Sugarbirds. As in most of the previous entries, it is crazy to choose a favorite, but since that is the format I have elected, I do so here as well – BUT – I do get to change the rules when I want and since this is the last entry I will choose two – not just favorite birds for the trip but also two of my favorite all-time photos.
Lilac Breasted Roller
Where to next? I have a lot of travel ahead in the U.S. for a year or two and then will hopefully get a chance to go abroad again. So many places to go. These are definitely on the list: Botswana, Borneo, Ecuador, Turkey, Spain, Malaysia and…and…