Saturday, July 18, 2015

Birding the Santa Marta Steppe and Alcollarínn Reservior

Rob writes: After such a successful first day of birding in Extremadura, I couldn't wait to get back out the next morning so we got an early start. We arrived in the Santa Marta steppe just after sunrise to search for one of my biggest target birds of the trip, Great Bustard.

As we drove down the dirt road, we got our first great looks at European Bee-eater, which is a stunning bird! All along the road, larks flew up and perched on the fences. It took awhile to get used to identifying them but by the end of the morning, I was getting the hang of it and had seen five lark species.

The European Bee-eater is quite a spectacular bird!

Crested Larks were the most numerous lark in the Santa Marta steppe.
It was starting to look like we might not find a bustard that morning but I decided to take one more scan of the surrounding fields with my scope and boy was I glad I did! After seeing four Great Bustards at a distance, I turned around to put my scope in the car only to find two much closer on the other side of the road.

Although the views through the scope were great,
 the digiscoped shots didn't turn out as well.
After breakfast, we continued to explore the plains and found many more lifers including European Roller, Montague's Harrier, and Cirl Bunting. For lunch, we explored the historic city of Cácares.

The European Roller was one of the more colorful birds that we saw on our whole trip.
Another target species for me was Collared Pranticole so after lunch, we set off for a local reservoir where Martin from Casa Rural El Recuardo had seen them recently. The reservoir turnout out not to just be a great place to see Collared Pranticole but also Little Tern, Black-winged Avocet, loads of Great Crested Grebes, and Eurasian Spoonbill. On the way out of the reservoir, a family of Red-legged Partridges hurried across the road.

The Collared Pranticole looks like a combination of a shorebird and a swallow!
There were several Little Terns flying around the reservoir
We spent our final evening on a hillside near our hotel waiting for Red-necked Nightjars to come out. It took a long time but they finally emerged giving me my final lifer of the day as well as a spectacular sunset.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Ready to Visit New Places in Honduras

Rob writes: Tomorrow Eric and I will be flying to Honduras to check out some birding sites that might make great stops for future Sabrewing Nature Tours trips. We'll be joining Alex Alvarado of Honduran Birds as we check out Copan Ruins, Opatoro, La Tigra National Park, and the Panacam Lodge area. Other than Panacam, all of these locations will be new for me and I can't wait to explore them all.

We'll be covering a lot of ground during our trip.
Although I've been to Honduras a couple of times, this will be Eric's first trip to the country so he's expecting to get lots of lifers! I should also find a few lifers since I've not visited most of these places either and I know that when I was at Panacam Lodge last December, I missed a few birds that can be found there.

Once we finish our 8 day trip with Alex, we will be moving on to the incredible Lodge at Pico Bonito. As you probably know from previous posts, this is one of my favorite lodges that I have ever visited and I'll never pass up an opportunity to spend some time there. We'll be doing some birding and helping the guides at the Lodge get up to speed with using eBird for submitting and sharing their sightings. They are out birding most of the year and will be able to create quite an impressive data set for eBird with their numerous checklists that will be submitted. Not only will it help eBird but the guides will then be able to share the checklists with their clients adding to the quality service that they already offer.

Keel-bill Motmot is just one of the many incredible birds to be found at The Lodge at Pico Bonito.
We'll be sure to post along the way as internet access allows so you can learn about the awesome birds, wildlife, and scenery of Honduras. If you are interested in joining me on a Honduras Tour in January 2016, visit our Sabrewing Nature Tours website to learn more!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

A Fork-tailed Flycatcher in Indiana

Eric writes: As soon as Indiana's second state record Fork-tailed Flycatcher was reported, the chase was on.  Aidan Rominger, Rob, and I had been out birding central Indiana when we got the report.  It had been a good day for central Indiana in June; more than 10 species of warblers and a Veery (uncommon Indy breeder) were the highlights.

We had a 2.5 hour drive to the flycatcher location.  During this time the bird was reported to have left the original location.  We had a decision to make; keep driving south and have faith the bird would be re-found, or bail and head back north.  We decided we might as well give it a shot.  As soon as we arrived, we started our search around the original location.  Within a few minutes, we got a report, the bird had been relocated!  We rushed over to the new location to find a small group of birders watching the bird.  After many years of hoping to see this species in the US, it was a very satisfying day.

Fork-tailed Flycatcher
The Fork-tailed Flycatcher from Indiana

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Our First Day Exploring the Extremadura Region of Spain

Rob writes: In late May, Stephanie and I had the chance to go birding in the Extremadura region of Spain. We had decided to add a week onto a family trip to Europe and chose to spend that time in Spain. As a birder, traveling to Extremadura was a natural choice. It's one of the best birding areas in Spain if not in all of Europe and the list of possible species was quite incredible.

After arriving in Madrid and spending an afternoon sightseeing, we grabbed our rental car early the next morning and started on our way to visit some friends in Toledo. We enjoyed a wonderful tour of Toledo and then spent the afternoon birding at Alcazar de San Juan. This wetland area was full of birds! During our short afternoon birding trip, I saw nearly 35 life birds. Once we were finished birding, we made a three hour drive to the Casa Rural El Recuerdo near Trujillo in Extremadura which would be our home base for the next 3 nights.

This hotel is owned by a birder, Martin Kelsey, and his family and is the perfect place to stay when birding in Extremadura. The location is extremely convenient and the hotel is very nice and comfortable. Martin is extremely knowledgeable about birding in the area and was a huge help when it came to planning out our days and helping us know where to look for our target species. Without his help, we would not have found nearly as many birds on our trip.

One of the most well-known birding destinations within Extremadura is Parque National de Monfragüe. This incredible national park is known for its diversity and density of raptors and vultures. Martin had told us to drive all the way though the park without stopping and then to work our way back towards where we entered the park. It was incredibly difficult not to stop too much but we made it to the other end of the park where there is a huge concentration of nesting birds. The Eurasian Griffons where everywhere but we had to wait for the star attraction, Spanish Eagle, to make an appearance. While waiting, we met a local birder who gave us more tips and tricks for birding the park and then pointed out the eagle! We also saw young eagles on a nest a bit later.

The Spanish Eagle never came very close but the white leading edge of the wing helps to make this species easy to identify from a distance.
We spent the next 5 hours exploring the park and finding all kinds of amazing birds. Some of my favorites were Black Stork, Egyptian Vulture, Woodchat Shrike, Eurasian Golden Oriole, Long-tailed Tit, Blue Rock-Thrush, and Black-eared Wheatear.

Eurasian Griffon is a vulture species and is one of the most common birds at Monfragüe. Hundreds of them nest on the cliffs in the park.
On our drive back to our hotel, we made a stop at the bullring in Trujillo to see the Lesser Kestrels that nest there. We had to wait a bit for them to come out but ended up getting great views as they flew overhead.

Out of the 57 species that we saw that day, 41 were lifers! Check back soon to hear about the rest of my time in Extremadura.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Colorado Birding

Eric writes: I spent a couple weeks in SE Colorado surveying breeding birds earlier this June.  After finishing up, I headed for the mountains and all the specialty species that come with the elevation. 

Before heading into the mountains, I spent a night listening to Black Rails in the John Martin marshes and an afternoon watching Mountain Plovers at a prairie dog town.  Colorado has some amazing diversity in birds!

Just a couple hours from the rails and plovers are Three-toed Woodpeckers and Pine Grosbeaks.  My main target was Gunnison Sage-Grouse, which is a bird I had never had a chance to look for before this summer.  Within about 20 minutes of searching, 3 chicks with 2 adults showed well.  I finished up my birding by heading above treeline; within a few minutes I had great looks at a White-tailed Ptarmigan and not such good looks at a couple Brown-capped Rosy-Finches.

Treasure Falls - A Black Swift nesting location.
Do you see the White-tailed Ptarmigan?

Friday, May 29, 2015

Indiana Big Day for Amos Butler Audubon Birdathon

Rob writes: Last Friday, my Wild Birds Unlimited Birdathon team and I completed our annual big day in Indiana to raise funds for the Amos Butler Audubon Birdathon. I've participated in the Birdathon for many years and am always amazed at the conservation projects that are funded by this incredible event. Each of the past 2 years, this event has raised over $35,000 for conservation projects both in Indiana and around the world. One of the projects that I'm always most excited about is the Cerulean Warbler Reserve in Columbia. The birdathon has been donating to this cause for a long time and has made a major impact on American Bird Conservancy's ability to purchase this property.

Our team (R-L - John Schaust, Brian Cunningham, Rob Ripma, Amy Hodson
Our team was a bit different this year with Eric and Landon both being away doing field work. We added Amy Hodson to the team this time around and she fit right in! We were also forced to do our big day later than we ever have on May 22. While we couldn't scout as much as we did last year for our record count (184) we know the route well and were confident that we could post another good number.

We started at Kingsbury FWA in Northwest Indiana in the middle of the night and got off to another quick start. by the time we left the area around 4 am, we already had nearly 25 species including a very surprising King Rail! We kept up our momentum as we crossed the Lake Michigan shoreline from east to west. Kankakee Sands and Willow Slough FWA were fantastic as always and Willow Slough produced a surprising Common Loon.

At this point, we had a decision to make. Due to the late date, we had missed some of the early migrants and our warbler total was not nearly as high as we needed to break out total from 2014. Since this was the case, we decided to modify our route and not push ourselves to make it all the way to Goose Pond FWA again this year.

After a few stops, we ended our day at a newly discovered shorebird spot in Noblesville. This was a fantastic decision and helped us add 8 species to our count including great looks at 3 Red-necked Phalaropes!

Our total of 164 for the day was enough to win the high count award of the Birdathon! We are still accepting donations for our team to support the wonderful work that is done through this event. You can donate by following this link. Thanks to everyone that has donated and we all look forward to doing another big day in 2016!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

My Time at the Biggest Week in American Birding

Rob writes: The last few weeks have been extremely busy and I've not done a very good job of keep all of our readers up-to-date with everything that's been happening. Early in May, I made the 3.5 hour drive to Northwest Ohio for the Biggest Week in American Birding. I'm part of the planning committee for festival and am in charge of all of the field trips that go on during the festival so I spend a lot of time in the area during the first 2 weeks of May.

Each year I enjoy watching the Prothonotary Warblers that nest along the boardwalk at Magee Marsh.
This year, I arrived a few days early so that I could lead a private tour for a couple from Massachusetts that wanted to see as many warblers as possible during their stay. We lucked out and hit one of the best days of the whole spring while they were there! They saw several lifers and our views of all the warblers and other migrants that day were spectacular.

Once the festival got underway, it was a whirlwind of activity. One the first day, I helped lead a fundraising hike for the Ohio Young Birders Club that was sponsored by Birds & Blooms Magazine (which I write for). The hike featured Kenn and Kim Kaufman as the main leaders and was a blast.

Everyone on the hike enjoyed getting great looks at Baltimore Orioles.
My commitments with Birds & Blooms continued the next day when I participated in their Bird Day competition. My team and I spent 3 hours finding as many species as we could and ended up winning the competition and helping Black Swamp Bird Observatory get a nice donation in the process.

After a few days of light birding, my next group of birders arrived from the Cincinnati Nature Center to spend the next 2.5 days birding with Sabrewing Nature Tours. We ended with over 125 species during their time with us and had such a fantastic time with this group.

The rest of my time was spent leading a few trips for the festival and keeping all of our other field trips on schedule. As always, I love the birding at Biggest Week but it's really the people that attend that make the festival so special. I got to spend time with many old friends and made just as many new ones. You can read more about my thoughts on the Biggest Week and its effect on people and the local economy in my post from the 2014 festival by clicking here.

I hope that all of our readers will consider joining us at the 2016 Biggest Week from May 6 - 15. The festival is held at Maumee Bay State Park Lodge each year. Be sure to get your reservations early as the lodge sells out every year. Stay up to day with Biggest Week news by signing up for our eNewsletter here.