Monday, August 1, 2016

Exciting Birding at Rocky Mountain National Park

Late last month, my wife and I spent some time at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. Unlike our previous trip in 2011, the road up to the Alpine Visitor's Center was open, and we were able to fully enjoy everything that this beautiful park has to offer. (The first time we visited was in the late fall, and snow had forced the park to close the road.)

What we found around the visitor's center at nearly 12,000 feet above sea level were unbelievable views at every turn and interesting wildlife everywhere. From my target bird, White-tailed Ptarmigan, to the elk and moose, there was always something to watch. At times, it was honestly hard to decide if we should be enjoying the views or looking at the wildlife!

Here are a few of my favorite images from our time in the park.

The view from the Alpine Visitor's Center at 11,796 feet.

The view from Rainbow Curve, my wife's favorite spot in the park. 
Yellow-bellied Marmots are very common in the park.
Even though Elk are huge animals, the mountains can make them look small.
The White-tailed Ptarmigan was my target bird for the trip and one of seven lifers I found during our time in Colorado.
We had an awesome trip and will certainly be back to one of our favorite national parks soon! 

What is your favorite national park for birding?

Friday, June 24, 2016

Book Review: Waterfowl of North America, Europe,and Asia

Waterfowl of North America, Europe,and Asia is an extremely through and well-done guide to the waterfowl of the region. The authors present the most current information available for 84 species and over 100 hybrids.

This book is really an incredible reference for anyone that wants to study the waterfowl of Asia, Europe, and North America. It includes wonderfully done drawings, over 650 photos, range maps, and much more. The written information that is included is extremely informative with details on taxonomy, identification features, determination of age and sex, geographic variations, measurements, voice, molt, hybridization, habitat and life cycle, range and populations, and status in captivity. I find the artwork for the plates to be of very high quality and very realistic. The addition of plates that compare similar species was a very nice touch and I found the plates with hybrids featured to be fascinating.

This book should really be on your bookshelf if you spend any time birding in North America, Europe, or Asia.

Title: Waterfowl of North America, Europe,and Asia
Author: Sébastien Reeber
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication Date: March 30, 2016

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Book Review: Birds of Western Ecuador

Ecuador is one of the best countries in the world for birding so it is always exciting when a new field guide for part of the country is released. Birds of Western Ecuador covers all of the species that can be found west of the continental divide that runs almost through the center of the country. By covering only half the country, the authors were able to limit the size of the field guide compared to previous guides that covered the entire country.

Unlike many field guides for tropical areas, this one presents each species with photographs rather than drawings. Preference between photographs and drawings is largely personal and I tend to prefer drawings myself but I found the photos in this book to be good examples of each species shown.

I enjoyed the information given in the introduction and found it quite useful and interesting. I always like when a field guide includes information about conservation which seems to be the new norm based on the many new guides I've seen recently.

I would have liked larger range maps for each species as these seemed a bit small and hard to see to me.

Overall I think this is a very valuable book for anyone that is planning on birding in Western Ecuador.

Title: Birds of Western Ecuador: A Photographic Guide
Author: Nick Athanas and Paul J. Greenfield
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication Date: June 22, 2016

We received a copy of this book from the publisher to review on The links are to our Amazon Affiliate account.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Book Review: Wildlife of the Galapagos

Wildlife of the Galapagos couldn't have arrived at a better time. I'm in the midst of preparing for a trip to the Galapagos Islands late this summer and it turns out, this is a book that will come in very handy while I'm on that trip.

This book is part of the Princeton Pocket Guides series and it certainly fits the bill as a pocket-sized guide. It covers the birds, reptiles, mammals, underwater life, invertebrates, and plants of these famous islands in a compact form that would be easy to carry in the field. Overall, I found the photographs used in the book to be very helpful, with the only exception being the difficult to identify Galapagos finches.

My favorite section of the book is the part on Visitor Sites. This section offers a detailed map, species to watch for, and a short paragraph with other various details for 89 sites. You will find this helpful when picking an itinerary for your trip to the Galapagos.

Overall, this seems like a book that you must take with you on a trip to these famous islands.

Title: Wildlife of the Galapagos
Author: Julian Fitter, Daniel Fitter, and David Hosking
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication Date: March 30, 2016

We received a copy of this book from the publisher to review on The links are to our Amazon Affiliate account.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Exploring Guatemala Part 5: La Estación Biológica Las Guacamayas

(Rob is recapping his March trip to Guatemala in a multi-part series. To read Part 1, click here. For Part 2, click here. For Part 3, click here. And for Part 4, click here.)

As we left Tikal very early in the morning, none of us really knew what to expect as we headed to our next and final stop of the trip. Although we had our itineraries in advance, we hadn't had time to do much research on this part of the trip to La Estación Biológica Las Guacamayas. To be honest, since it was a biological station, we weren't expecting the most luxurious of accommodations.

I was thinking about this as we bumped down a gravel road towards the village of Paso Caballos (where we would catch our boat to Las Guacamaya) and made birding stops along the way, adding many species to our trip list. As we neared the village, our guide Arron heard a very special bird out the window! His incredible ear had picked out a Yucatan Woodpecker as we cruised down the bumpy road. There aren't very many records from Guatemala of this species, so we spent a long time working to get photos. Some people got decent photos, but I unfortunately didn't end up with anything worthwhile.

As we arrived in Paso Caballos to catch our boat, it was immediately evident how poor this village is. Hopefully in time more birders and naturalists will visit Las Guacamayas and the conditions in the village will improve. There were many birds to see as we made our way to the lodge. Although not an unusual bird for me, our guides were very excited to see a Prothonotary Warbler feeding along the edge of the river. After spending some time watching the Prothonotary, we quickly made our way to the lodge for lunch.

The boat to La Estación Biológica Las Guacamayas
Las Guacamayas was nothing like I envisioned. This remote lodge turned out to be one of the nicest lodges that I've ever been to! The rooms were beautiful and comfortable, and the food was absolutely incredible. I'll let the photos of the lodge speak for themselves.

Welcome to La Estación Biológica Las Guacamayas
Rooms at La Estación Biológica Las Guacamayas
Bathrooms at La Estación Biológica Las Guacamayas
Each room has a beautiful carved
chair featuring a different animal
that can be found in the area.
After lunch, we took the boat back out on the river to search for some of the incredible birds that call this area home. It didn't take long for our excellent guide, Cornilio, to located some wonderful birds! We were all excited about great views of a Sungrebe when Cornilio spotted a bird I had been hoping to see for a long time - Agami Heron! Arron helped paddle us in really close which gave us fabulous photo opportunities even in the low light conditions.

I was very excited to finally see this beautiful Agami Heron.
The next morning, we headed back out in the boat to go hiking at a place called El Peru. This is a long trail to some Mayan Ruins that passes through some fantastic habitat. Highlights along this trail were Gray-headed Kite, White-whiskered Puffbird, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Scarlet Macaw, and Gray-headed Tanager.

White-whiskered Puffbird
Rufous-tailed Jacamar
Scarlet Macaw near its nesting site
We unfortunately only had time to spend one night at this beautiful biological station and didn't get to fully explore all of the birding that it has to offer. After lunch, we made our way back to Flores to catch our plane back to Guatemala City for our flights home the following day. Since we arrived early, we stopped at Benedicto Grijalva's (owner of Martsam Travel) restaurant, Capitan Tortuga, for a drink before heading to the airport. It was a wonderful way to end our time in this incredible part of Guatemala.

This is the smallest plane I have ever flown on.
Our trip ended with a total of 355 species. I would like to thank INGUAT for inviting me to visit this incredible country and Maynor Ovando from Birding Expeditions for setting up such a great itinerary. Many thanks also to Benedicto Grijalva and Lileana Martinez de Grijalva from Martsam Travel. Look for Sabrewing Nature Tours first Guatemala tour to be announced soon!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Exploring Guatemala Part 4: From Guatemala City to Tikal National Park

(Rob is recapping his March trip to Guatemala in a multi-part series. To read Part 1, click here. For Part 2, click here, and for Part 3, click here.)

After meeting with the Guatemalan Tourism Board in Guatemala City, we made our way to a dry forest to search for a few specialty species. Unfortunately, we arrived at midday and it was extremely hot, making the birding somewhat difficult. We did find my most wanted species from the area, Russet-crowned Motmot!

We continued up the mountain to a higher elevation and a much more comfortable temperature. We spent the next morning at Parque Ecologico Gucumatz. This park and small lodge is a wonderful place to spend a morning birding and I wish we would have had the opportunity to stay there. We found many great birds but the main target, Resplendent Quetzal, did not appear that morning and was only heard in the distance. For me the most interesting birding on the property was at a big street light as you arrive. Overnight many moths come in to the light and in the morning, ton of birds come in to feed. The Unicolored Jays put on quite a show!

Once we finished our morning of birding, we started the long drive to Tikal National Park. We didn't arrive at Tikal until after dark and we were exhausted from a long day of travel.

One of the temples at Tikal

The view from the top of the one temple you can climb.
We started very early the next day birding around the hotel zone in Tikal, away from the ruins. This area offers incredible and very easy birding. It's also one of the best areas of Tikal to see the Gray-throated Chat, which was my highlight for the morning! You can see our full list on eBird here.

Gray-throated Chat
After breakfast, we met our local guide for the day that was an expert in all things Tikal. In addition to seeing many fantastic birds, Tikal is the most impressive Mayan archaeological site that I have ever visited! We spent almost six hours exploring the ruins and birding. Our bird list for the afternoon can be found here. For me, the best birds of the afternoon were the Orange-breasted Falcons that nest on one of the temples. No only did they give nice views, we actually saw on catch and eat prey!

Orange-breasted Falcon
After dinner, we went out for a short walk to see if we could find any night birds. Just a short ways down the path, a park guard stopped us and we figured we were going to have to go back to the hotel. We were surprised when he agreed to join us for the walk and mentioned that they had been constantly seeing one of the cats not too far from where we were. After finding a Yucatan Poorwill, we went to check on the cat. We were extremely excited to find an Ocelot! Although I held a young one in Honduras, this was the first time I had seen one in the wild.

The next morning, we left Tikal early so that we had plenty of time to bird along the road on our way to Las Guacamayas Biological Station. Look for my post about this incredible lodge soon!

Monday, May 2, 2016

Exploring Guatemala: Part 3 - Lake Atitlan and the Horned Guan

(Rob is recapping his March trip to Guatemala in a multi-part series. To read Part 1, click here. For Part 2, click here)

We arrived at our hotel, Pasada de Santiago, in the late afternoon and just did a bit of birding around the property, followed by drinks at their bar overlooking beautiful Lake Atitlan.

We witnessed a beautiful sunrise over Lake Atitlan
We had a very early start the next morning to start our quest for the Horned Guan. After a quick breakfast, we caught a boat across the lake, then loaded into the back of a pickup truck for the ride to the trailhead. Instead of going to where most birders have gone for Horned Guan, we visited a newer site called Cerro Paquisis. We had been prepared for a three hour hike up the mountain, but our group took just over 1.5 hours!

The forest along the lower part of the trail at Cerro Paquisis.
Unfortunately for us, the hike up was the only "quick" part of the day. The guans decided they wanted to make us wait! Although there were some birds around, one of my favorites being Black-throated Jay, we mostly just slowly walked around waiting and hoping to hear or see a guan.

Our local guides put in a huge amount of effort covering the mountainside trying to find us our big target for the day. Just when we had mostly lost hope, Aarón heard a guan in the distance! He and Cruz Chikibal headed back off trail to see if they could find the bird for us. After almost 30 minutes, Cruz came running back to us with great news - they had found the guans!

We all quickly followed him down the mountainside, slipping and tripping over things all the way. When we finally got to Aarón, we were relieved that he still had eyes on the birds! Although they were high up in the trees, we got very nice views. It was a difficult climb back to the trail since we had dropped about 100 meters in elevation to get to the guans, but we were all so excited that we didn't really care.

Once we got back down towards the trailhead, we stopped to try for another target bird that we had missed on the way up, Belted Flycatcher. We started to lose hope again after awhile, but Aarón saved the day and found the bird!

After over seven hours on the mountain, we figured our adventure for the day was done. But as it turned out, there was still some adventure to be had. On our drive back, the pickup truck started to have some trouble and finally something broke and brought us to a quick stop, almost knocking several of us in the back over. Since the truck was not going to be fixed quickly, we decided to walk the last bit to the dock to catch our boat. Just as we go to the dock, it started to rain, and we initially were relieved to be undercover on the boat. But mother nature had another plan, and soon there was nothing to keep the rain from coming into the boat. By the time were were back at Posada de Santiago, we were all completely soaked.

We were all exhausted from the day, but it was worth it for the incredible birds that we saw!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Exploring Guatemala: Part 2 - Los Tarrales and Quetzaltenango

(If you haven't read Part 1 of my trip to Guatemala, click here.)

We arrived at Los Tarrales in time for a late lunch and a short rest before hitting the trails. Throughout our trip, a guide in training, Aarón, joined us. He is a great birder and is going to be a great guide very soon! While at Los Tarrales, we learned that two of his brothers are also guides and they work locally at the lodge. Throughout our stay here, it was really fun to bird with the three brothers. Be sure to also hire Lester and Josue when you are at Los Tarrales! Not only is it good for the local economy, they know where all of the birds you want to see are. It was hot when we started out that day, but the birds didn't seem to mind. Just a short way down the path, we heard a Striped Cuckoo, but even though it sounded very close, we couldn't hunt it down. A bit later we had wonderful views of a Blue-throated Goldentail.

As we approached part of the trail that is good for Long-tailed Manakin, a much larger creature caught our attention - a Tayra! The Tayra is a large weasel. We spotted it high in a tree, and after a short time it ran straight down the trunk and out of sight. It was a life mammal for me!

This Tayra was one of the highlights of the trip. Thanks to Maynor Ovando for the photo!
Just after seeing the Tayra, we got fantastic views of the Long-tailed Manakin that we were searching for then headed back to the lodge to get some rest.

We rose early the following morning and loaded into 4x4 vehicles to make the trek up the mountain to look for the highlight bird of Los Tarrales, Azure-rumped Tanager. It was a beautiful drive through coffee plantations with the plants in full bloom and wonderful forest. Although our views of the tanager were from a distance, we did get to watch them build a nest! In addition the the tanager, other highlights included  Buffy-crowned Wood-Partridge, White Hawk, and Prevost's Ground-Sparrow.

Our 4x4 ride up the mountian.
The Azure-rumped Tanager one of the best birds at Los Tarrales.
We spent the afternoon and the following morning exploring more of the property and adding many species to our growing list. By the time we packed up and started for Quetzaltenango, we had seen 125 species at Los Tarrales.

This Collared Trogon posed nicely for me.
Two Mottled Owls were roosting in the bamboo.
Until this trip, I had never been able to get good photos of a White-winged Tanager.
It took the entire afternoon to travel to our next hotel, so we didn't get much birding in. Our day started early again as we moved to our next birding spot, Fuentes Georginas. This area is situated up in a valley and is a popular hot springs with fantastic birding!

Unicolored Jays are extremely common at Fuentes Georginas.
As with many higher elevation areas, the number of species isn't high, but the quality of each bird is! Highlights for the morning included Amethyst-throated Hummingbird, Pine Flycatcher, Unicolored Jay, and Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer. Once we were done with our morning birding, we packed up and made our way towards Posada de Santiago on Lake Atitlan where we would making a very difficult hike in search of Horned Guans.

Check back in a couple days to hear about our adventurous day in search of the guans!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Exploring Guatemala: Part 1 - Antigua to Los Tarrales

Last month, I visited Guatemala on a tour sponsored by the Guatemalan Tourism Board and led by Maynor Ovando from Birding Expeditions. I had never visited the country before, and I really wasn't quite sure what to expect. But I'm so glad that I went, because Guatemala was nothing like what many people had told me!

After a very late arrival in Guatemala City and a transfer to our hotel in Antigua, I was ready to get some rest before an early morning of birding the next day. Since it was dark when we arrived, we didn't see much of the town but it was clear the next morning that this was a special place. As we walked a few blocks to our van, we were in awe of the wonderful architecture in the old town.

Walking along the streets of Antigua.
Our first morning of birding took us to the hills above Antigua. Not only was there wonderful birding, but the view of the town was incredible as well. I saw my first of many lifers while birding the hills, Gray Silky-flycatcher.

This Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl was very active in the area we birded on the first morning.
You can't come to Guatemala and not spend some time exploring Antigua, so we spent the afternoon on a city tour. That would have been a neat experience itself, but we were treated to an incredible Holy Week parade with thousands of people in attendance. We spent a couple hours just enjoying the event!

Iglesia La Merced had amazingly intricate designs on the building.

These works of art are made from flowers and will then be walked over by the parade.

This huge "float" was carried by dozens of people though the streets.
We departed early the next morning for Reserva Natural Privada Los Tarrales with a stop along the way for a very special bird. After a very nice breakfast at Restaurante Rincón Suizo, we hit the trails around the restaurant. These trails led us through a beautiful pine forest which is home to the incredible Pink-headed Warbler. This was one of the main birds I wanted to see on the trip, and they did not disappoint! Other highlights here included Blue-throated Motmot, Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo, Golden-browed Warbler, and Hooded Grosbeak.

Pink-headed Warbler
Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo
Check back soon to hear about the next part of my Guatemalan adventure!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Book Review: Offshore Sea Life ID Guide: East Coast

The Offshore Sea Life ID Guide: East Coast is a must have for anyone that is participating in whale watching or pelagic birding trip into the Atlantic. This guide is a wonderful reference for all of the wildlife that you may encounter while on one of these trips. There is information about many of the various birds, mammals, fish, turtles, seaweeds, and more that you might encounter. Even though the book is compact, the composite images allow you to see each species from a variety of angles and in different plumages. This allows the book to remain small while still providing wonderful information for the reader.

There is also a West Coast edition available for those of you taking trips into the Pacific.

Title: Offshore Sea Life ID Guide: East Coast
Author: Steve N.G. Howell and Brian L. Small
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication Date: January 6, 2016

We received a copy of this book from the publisher to review on The links are to our Amazon Affiliate account.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Back to Blogging

Rob writes: The last few months have been extremely busy and unfortunately, I've let my blogging slip. I am planning on keeping up a bit better with all of the fun and exciting birding that I've been doing and will be doing over the next few months.

Since my last post in January, I've traveled to Honduras, Mexico, and Guatemala. On my January tour to Honduras, our participants had a great time and one of them found over 100 lifers! Here are a few photo highlights from the trip.

Black-headed Trogon
Collared Plover
Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl
Green Heron
Olive-backed Euphonia
Owl Butterfly
Red-billed Pigeon
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Although my trip to Mexico was mostly a family vacation, I managed to sneak out for a day of birding with my friends Gabor and Andrea from Hungary. They live in the Yucatan for half of the year and run tours all over the world. They know the Yucatan well and helped me find some great birds like Rose-throated Tanager and Orange Oriole!

Look for another post or two soon about my incredible trip to Guatemala!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Book Review: Birds Of South America Passerines

It's hard to image how you can even fit 1,952 species in a single book but Birds of South America manages to cover all of them in a book that is still a manageable size.

What I Like -

  • Family Description Section - This section does a great job of summarizing each family of passerine that is covered by the book.
  • Having all passerines from South America in one book. It's really nice to be able to compare all of them even if they occur in different countries.
What Could Be Better - 
  • I feel that much of the artwork lacks detail. While the drawings are beautiful, I don't think they would be extremely helpful when trying to identify a bird.
  • I know space is an issue when covering this many species but the range maps are tiny. When covering a whole continent, the range maps have to be bigger in order to really see where the species occurs.
Overall, I feel putting together a book with all these species covered is quite an accomplishment. It's not a book I would use in the field but it is nice to flip through and get a feel for the passerines of South America.

Title: Birds Of South America Passerines
Author: Ber van Perlo
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication Date: September 23, 2015

We received a copy of this book from the publisher to review on The links are to our Amazon Affiliate account.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Birding with Leica in Honduras

Anyone that reads this blog frequently knows that I love birding in Honduras. It was the first country in Central America that I visited for birding and I've now been a total of four times over the last 2 years. The last trip was one of the most fun birding trips that I've ever been a part of. A group of nine writers and bloggers was invited to join Leica Sport Optic's Jeff Bouton at The Lodge at Pico Bonito to test out the brand new Leica Trinovid HD binoculars.

We were all pretty serious birders and I've never spent so much time in the field while in Honduras. We didn't just spend the daylight hours in search of birds, we spent hours at night searching for owls, insects, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals! With all this effort, we put together an incredible list of species for just 6 days of birding.
This young Spectacled Owl spent
a long time posed for us at Rio Santiago Nature Resort!
For me, there were a couple of highlights during the trip. The first was learning a lot more about digiscoping. Jeff had brought along a PhoneSkope adaptor for me to use with my phone and the Leica scope that I was using which made digiscoping easier than ever! Not only could I take photos but I could shoot video as well! Look for a lot more digiscoping from me because I'll have all the parts I need to use it with my scope for my next tour.

Keel-bill Motmot
I was amazed at how well my video turned out of this Keel-billed Motmot.

This was one of our best mammal
finds, a Mexican Tree Porcupine
 The other highlight for me was our hike to Unbelievable Fall in Pico Bonito National Park. It's certainly the hardest hike I've ever done and it wasn't any easier the second time (read about my first trip to the falls in this previous post). We left early and spent nearly exhausting 8 hours out on the trail. The birding was absolutely incredible and I got my only three lifers of the trip on that hike, Azure-hooded Jay, Gray-headed Piprites, and Rufous Piha. We also enjoyed incredible views of Yellow-eared Toucanets along the way! Not only was the hike difficult this time, crossing the river at Unbelievable Falls was quite the challenge with the very high water. What an adventure!

Thanks to Jeff Bouton of Leica Sport Optics for putting together such a fantastic group of people for this amazing trip. It was a pleasure to travel with this group. Also thanks to all of my friends at The Lodge at Pico Bonito for showing us all such a great time!