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.