Wednesday, 7 February 2018

2017 A Big Work Year!

Working for Birding Ecotours I get the opportunity to travel around the world and show people some amazing birds, and for that I am very lucky, and truly grateful. During 2017 it was clear I’d got a busy calendar to a wide variety of locations around the world, and a few gaps where I was free to go and fit some ‘extra’ birding in. Early on I thought I had a good chance to get 2,000 species from my tours, and then with a few personal trips I set myself the target of getting 3,000. A substantial proportion of my Life List!

The year was a huge success and by the end of it I finished up on 3,080 species! Target achieved. So how did I get there…. read on...

January 2017

Vietnam – a city break with my first bird of 2017 being Black Drongo
Thailand – a city stop in Bangkok
Sri Lanka – a two-week trip, main highlight was Serendib Scops Owl and loads of endemics
UK – my first visit home of the year coincided with a UK mega close to home – Pine Bunting
Dubai – an airport layover with that highly sought Laughing Dove!  

At the end of January I was at 415 species

Serendib Scops Owl - Sri Lankan Endemic

February 2017

Thailand -  a tour giving excellent views of numerous highly sought species such as Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Nordmann's Greenshank, Chinese Egret etc...

At the end of February I was at 694 species

Spoon-billed Sandpiper - mega wader

March 2017

Thailand – more great birds like Siberian Rubythroat and Blue Pitta
UK and USA – a very brief stop with a handful of not-so-exciting year ticks
Costa Rica – a mega-filled tour taking me into early-April, Resplendent Quetzal was a memorable species, as were the several species of Antpitta. Here I hit 1,000 for the year (18th March 2017) with Dull-mantled Antbird.

At the end of March I was at 1,202 species

Dull-mantled Antbird - #1,000

April 2017

Costa Rica – finishing the above and enjoying some exciting spring visible migration
Panama – a brief layover
Colombia – my first trip to this incredible country – Andean Cock-of-the-rock was a huge highlight and 1,500th year tick on 28th April 2017 (Black-fronted Wood Quail)

At the end of April I was at 1,531 species

Andean Cock-of-the-rock

May 2017

USA – a brief stop in Florida, then a couple of weeks in Ohio at the brilliant Biggest Week in American Birding, a time packed full of migrating warblers and numerous other birds.
Colombia – a couple of days birding in Baranquilla on my way to Peru
Peru – 10 days sampling the high Andes and the Amazon – found a mega rarity and saw Diademed Sandpiper-plover, Giant Hummingbird, Inca Tern, Andean Condor, the list goes on and on!
USA – a flight delay gave me an expensive two year ticks in New Jersey (dipped on The Boss)!

At the end of May I was at 1,828 species

Diademed Sandpiper-plover

June 2017

Effectively a ‘month off’ with time in the UK and a trip to Iceland (amazing Harlequin Ducks and Gyr Falcon)

At the end of June I was at 1,891 species

Harlequin Duck

July 2017

Thailand – a brief trip to the south - some nice Pittas and Trogons
Uganda – my first trip there for 20 years (Shoebill in the bag!) Forest Robin became number 2,000 for the year (27th July 2017)

At the end of July I was at 2,166 species

Shoebill - had been my 'most-wanted' bird to see for about the last 20 years, since the last time I was in Uganda! I think this becomes my #1 bird... 

August 2017

Uganda - continuation of above tour with Green-breasted Pitta NESTING!!
UK – a brief trip home for the Bird Fair

At the end of August I was at 2,383 species

Andy and John representing Birding Ecotours at the British Bird Fair

September 2017

Australia – spent the month in South Australia and Queensland got my 4,000th Life Bird (Thick-billed Grasswren) and 2,500th year tick (Dusky Woodswallow) lots of amazing Outback birds too. Also was present when Dave and Sue smashed the South Australia year list record (details here)!

At the end of August I was at 2,383 species

Letter-winged Kite is one of the best-looking birds of prey in the world

October 2017

UK – got some Autumn birding in at home for the first time in year, Arctic Warbler was nice here
India – Cheer Pheasant and so many other great India birds
Java – a 24hr layover and scored Javan Banded Pitta, Javan Trogon and Javan Cochoa!

At the end of October I was at 2,755 species

Javan Banded Pitta - WOW!

November 2017

West Papua – a month of Birds-of-paradise, Paradise Kingfishers, Fruit Doves and generally spectacular birds and I got number 3,000 for the year, Hook-billed Kingfisher (24th November 2017)

At the end of November I was at 3,020 species

Hook-billed Kingfisher - #3,000 for 2017! Made it...

(Birds-of-paradise photos and report coming soon.....)

December 2017

Australia – A trip around the Southwest, and Sydney, lots of SW Endemics
New Caledonia – my final tour of the year with Kagu the star bird
UK – Christmas in Belfast gave me my final year tick of the year, Hooded Crow. Exciting way to finish I know….

At the end of December, and therefore at the end of 2017 I was at 3,080 species

Kagu - a nice way to round off 2017! 

It wasn’t all about the birds, though they were the main targets at most places I went. I also came across some of the world’s best mammals such as Lion, Leopard, Mountain Gorilla, Bengal Tiger, Jungle Cat, Asian Elephant, African Elephant, Hippopotamus, Koala, Red Kangaroo, and a huge number of monkeys, squirrels and 'small mammals' etc etc… not to mention all of the incredible reptiles, amphibians, and insects….  

Male Bengal Tiger

Summary.... 2017 rocked! Now bring on 2018...!!! (My year list at the end of January 2018 is higher than it was at the same time in 2017... shall I go for another 3K???)..... 

I can't thank everyone enough who helped me along the way to make all of the above possible and generally a lot of fun! I met a lot of new people along the way and have made a lot of great friends old and new over the last year and I look forward to meeting you all again in the future. 

Check out the Birding Ecotours website or blog for trip reports as most of the above were all enjoyed on our excellent range of birding tours. 

Thursday, 28 December 2017

India Trip Report - October 2017

I had a really wonderful custom trip around Northern India in October 2017. The route was based on the Birding Ecotours scheduled January tour that I'd done in 2016, but was carried out in October as that was when the clients were able to go.

We visited the usual sites in the north such as Sultanpur, Ranthambhore, Bharatpur, Chambal, Sattal, Pangot, and Corbett NP with some stops in between as we traveled around. Loads of great birds and some mega views of male and female Bengal Tiger and several Jungle Cats... lots of other great wildlife too.

Please take a look at the trip report below for details and photos:

Birding Ecotours India October 2017 Trip Report by Andy Walker on Scribd

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Colombia Trip Report

Colombia Birding Trip Report – April 2017


After leading a birding tour around Costa Rica in March 2017 (details of that trip here soon), I had a few weeks spare before my next commitment in the USA, at the Biggest Week in American Birding (in Ohio in May 2017). So, I took this opportunity to take a short holiday in Colombia as I was ‘in the area’ so to speak.

This trip really began about 17 years ago when I was working in Costa Rica as a bird guide. During rainy days, or which there were a few, I would often sit down and look in awe at the copy of Hilty’s Colombian field guide, dreaming about Cock-of-the-rocks, Andean Condors and the plethora of hummingbirds, antbirds, flycatchers, and tanagers. Back then it was just not safe to visit Colombia, but thankfully over recent times the country has stabilised in most areas and with careful planning it is safe enough for the birder to visit large areas of this species-rich country and beautiful country.

During my trip, I visited areas within the Western and Central Andes within a few hours of the city of Cali, and the Santa Marta area in northern Colombia along the Caribbean coast. Each of these areas has a number of endemic and highly sought-after species so seemed to make sense for a first-time visitor to the country. In each of these areas the tourism infrastructure is well set up. The main roads were all very good, accommodation was of a good standard and often catered specifically to birders with fruit and hummingbird feeders present to allow excellent close-up views of many birds. Food was great and plentiful, with a nice range of local dishes, and in addition the people were all incredibly kind and friendly, it was nice to practice my Spanish again. I was very grateful to have a decent knowledge of Neotropical birds from Costa Rica which meant that in most cases even if I didn’t know the species immediately I could at least work out which family it belonged to and work from there, Colombia for the first-time visitor to the Neotropics could probably be a little too overwhelming.

I must make a special mention of the weather, most of the time the weather was fine, however there were a few days that were totally rained off due to a huge storm, unfortunately this stopped us seeing quite a few birds while in the Central Andes, however our disappointment at missing some birds is of no consequence or importance to the many people who unfortunately lost their properties and even their lives as a result of the many landslides after a months’ worth of rain fell in a couple of hours, particularly around Manizales as was reported internationally by the BBC at the time. I also had several days washed out while I was in the Santa Marta area and I got one of those enjoyable tropical shower soakings than many a birder has had over the years! Poor visibility hampered us massively while we were in the highest parts of the Central Andes and was the reason we saw no Andean Condors, for two days the visibility was less than about 6 feet!

The Birding:

The birding was excellent, I was with a couple of Chinese photographers for the first two weeks in the Western and Central Andes so the pace was very slow, much slower than on a ‘proper’ birding tour, or I’d have done if on my own, yet I still recorded around 500 species from my few weeks in the country, and most of these were new birds for me with a good dose of endemic birds. I was on my own while I was at Santa Marta so went a bit harder there to try and get as many of the endemics as I could, with a very good success rate.

Below I’ve included some photos and notes on my Top 10 birds/moments of the trip (could quite easily have been more) to give an idea of what I saw and experienced.

Top 10:

1. Andean Cock-of-the-rock

Andean Cock-of-the-rock was one of those birds I’d seen in the field guide years ago and always wondered if they’d look as incredible in real life. On day 1 of my trip I found out. We hiked down a ravine mid-afternoon, it was drizzling with rain but we could hear the birds raucous call in the distance over the river. We settled into position and waited excitedly for them to come towards us. We didn’t have too long to wait and suddenly there they were – WOW, what a stunning bird. The colour was as intense as I’d hoped, the shape of the birds head was crazy and it was quite a lot bigger than I’d thought, what’s more it was perched a matter of feet away, at eye-level! We watched the birds for way over an hour as they (four or five males) vied for the attention of a single female.

Andean Cock-of-the-rock male

Andean Cock-of-the-rock male

2. Hummingbirds

I saw a lot of very nice hummingbirds, (exactly 50 species) during my trip. There’s not many ‘ugly’ hummingbirds so it’s no surprise that they came out high on my list of highlights. White-booted Racket-tail was one I really hoped we would see, and needn’t have worried as they were actually fairly numerous at several locations (but very difficult to photograph away from feeders). Long-tailed Sylph was another of the really spectacular birds, especially the adult males with their long tail streamers. One of the main stand out hummingbirds was one of the ones in the guide all those years ago that really made me sit up and take notice, the mega Sword-billed Hummingbird – this bird has a 20cm long bill and its body is only about 10cm! This bird is all bill, and as its name suggests its bill is held straight out and up like you would hold a sword… amazing. However, the hummingbird that got my attention the most, and I’d now consider my favourite hummingbird was the Rainbow-bearded Thornbill, this delightful gem flew up to me, and without encouragment, landed on my finger as I was taking photos of another bird! It turned to look at me and in doing so the light caught its ‘beard’ which changed from black to a rainbow of beautiful colours, a really spectacular sight. Photos of all four of these species are shown below, along with the common Crowned Woodnymph (I just really like the photo so wanted to show it).

White-booted Racket-tail

Long-tailed Sylph (Phone-scoped IPhone 7 & Swarovski ATX-95 scope)

Sword-billed Hummingbird

Rainbow-bearded Thornbill

Crowned Woodnymph

3. Antpitta Extravaganza

When we were told by our local guide that we were off to visit an Antpitta Feeding Station I was a little sceptical. It sounded too easy. Birds hopping round at feet etc, good views and photo opportunities etc. Is that even possible? I expect to have to work for pittas, ant or otherwise...  We headed into the forest, our local guide did his thing, and within a few minutes we were surrounded by several antpittas! It was astonishing! Over the course of the morning we saw three species and heard another. This trend also continued a few days later while in the Andes and Santa Marta Mountains where I added another three species of antpitta to my list. By the end of the trip I’d had great views of Chestnut-crowned, Santa Marta, Bicoloured, Rufous, Tawny, Brown-banded, Rusty-breasted, and Slaty-crowned Antpittas. It would have been more too if the weather hadn’t have scuppered my plans for a couple of days.

Brown-banded Antpitta

Chestnut-crowned Antpitta

Chestnut-crowned Antpitta

Slaty-crowned Antpitta

4. Santa Marta Birding

The Santa Marta area of northern Colombia was very different to the Central and Western Andes regions I’d been birding in. I stayed at the wonderful El Dorado Lodge up in the mountains, right within the endemic bird area. The hotel accommodation was incredible, with a view to die for. The food and staff were brilliant (the best food I ate in the country) and the birding was awesome. I got most of the regional endemics either around the birding lodge, or up/down the mountain from it. Highlights from my few days here were many, but included: Santa Marta Screech Owl, Santa Marta Parakeet, Santa Marta Foliage-gleaner, Santa Marta Antbird, Santa Marta Antpitta (check out the Birding EcotoursYouTube page for a video of this bird!), Santa Marta and Brown-rumped Tapaculo’s, Santa Marta Bush Tyrant, Santa Marta Wood Wren, Santa Marta and White-lored Warblers, Santa Marta Brushfinch, and Santa Marta Mountain Tanager. Plus, Band-tailed and Sickle-winged Guans, Black-fronted Woodquail (my 1,500th bird species of 2017), and Ornate Hawk-Eagle.

Santa Marta Brushfinch

Santa Marta Parakeet (Phone-scoped IPhone 7 & Swarovski ATX-95 scope)

5. Torrent Duck

This duck of fast-flowing rivers was also one I really was keen to see. They occur along the Andes from Colombia in the north down to Argentina in the south. It doesn’t take much for them to vanish in amongst the boulder-strewn rivers but we got lucky and found a couple of birds at different locations. Males and females look very different so it was nice to see both. Below is the male bird, a phone-scoped shot in near-darkness, but you get the idea.

Torrent Duck (Phone-scoped IPhone 7 & Swarovski ATX-95 scope)

6. Tanagers and Toucans

The Tanagers and Toucans were well represented on my trip and I managed to get some record shots of lots of them. They were also quite happy to make use of fruit feeders and several of the areas we visited which was great as it allowed some very close views of these gorgeous birds, this led to a few photographs being taken too! Most of these were actually phone-scoped and see #8 below too.

Blue-winged Mountain Tanager (Phone-scoped IPhone 7 & Swarovski ATX-95 scope)

Crimson-backed Tanager (Phone-scoped IPhone 7 & Swarovski ATX-95 scope)

Golden Tanager (Phone-scoped IPhone 7 & Swarovski ATX-95 scope)

Multicoloured Tanager (Phone-scoped IPhone 7 & Swarovski ATX-95 scope)

Saffron-crowned Tanager (Phone-scoped IPhone 7 & Swarovski ATX-95 scope)

Blue-throated (Grey-throated) Toucanet (Phone-scoped IPhone 7 & Swarovski ATX-95 scope)

Crimson-rumped Toucanet (Phone-scoped IPhone 7 & Swarovski ATX-95 scope)

7. Red-ruffed Fruitcrow

A rather unusual bird that can be quite difficult to find, we got great views of several of these rather interesting looking birds and I managed to get a few phone-scoped shots. See #8 below for lots more phone-scoped photos.

Red-ruffed Fruitcrow (Phone-scoped IPhone 7 & Swarovski ATX-95 scope)

8. Phone-scoping Madness

There was ample opportunity for me to practice and try and improve my phone-scoping skills during my time in Colombia. In addition to some of the other photographs shown above, the following were all taken on my IPhone 7 through my Swarovski ATX-95.

American Pygmy Kingfisher (Phone-scoped IPhone 7 & Swarovski ATX-95 scope)

Golden-headed Quetzal (Phone-scoped IPhone 7 & Swarovski ATX-95 scope)

Masked Trogon (Phone-scoped IPhone 7 & Swarovski ATX-95 scope)

Moustached Puffbird (Phone-scoped IPhone 7 & Swarovski ATX-95 scope)

Spectacled Parrotlet (Phone-scoped IPhone 7 & Swarovski ATX-95 scope)

Toucan Barbet (Phone-scoped IPhone 7 & Swarovski ATX-95 scope)

9. American Migrants

I had a few American migrants (e.g. Eastern Kingbird, Swainson’s Thrush, Grey-cheeked Thrush, Northern Waterthrush, Black-and-white Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, American Yellow Warbler, and Canada Warbler), but one of them stood out more than the rest, Yellow-billed Cuckoo. I had two birds - one during this trip (nothing too unusual about that, it was April), and another a month later (mid-May), when I was expecting them to have all been back in North America. Presumably this bird was held up by a series of weather fronts blocking it from leaving. Either that or it was just over-summering in Colombia! As a side-note I didn’t see a single Yellow-billed Cuckoo in Ohio in two-weeks spring birding (just two or three Black-billed Cuckoos….).

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

10. Some Interesting Animals

Colombia was full of interesting other animals, here’s some photos – very impressed by the beetles out there, some giants! (Any IDs welcome... Jessa....)

A Summary:

This was my first trip to Colombia, a destination I have long dreamed of visiting and I didn’t leave disappointed. I recorded almost 500 species (most of these seen well) from what I would consider a fairly-relaxed pace trip, which was very pleasing. This short trip (for a country as large and diverse as Colombia) has really whetted my appetite for visiting again, and I am already planning my next trip! There’s still so much more to see!

A huge thank you to the many people involved in making this trip possible. You know who you are and I look forward to traveling and birding with you again soon!

I’d really recommend Colombia as a birding destination, take a look at the Birding Ecotours Colombia tours here…. 

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Wonderful Western Australia

Late last November, and into early-December I spent some time in Western Australia. I focused on the southwestern area of the state and on the state endemics of that region, of which there's quite a few.

After arrival in Perth I headed south to the wonderful Dryandra Woodland, home of the gorgeous Numbat (a very rare carnivorous diurnal marsupial), and range of the target endemic birds. I then continued down to the Stirling Ranges before hitting the coast down at the gorgeous Cheynes Beach and Two People's Bay (magical landscape down there) and home of the 'Big Invisible 3' - three of Australia's toughest birds - Western Whipbird, Western Bristlebird, and Noisy Scrub-bird. I then drove north back to Perth via some inland water. It was a great trip, really enjoyable birding and interesting landscapes, the plants seemed more akin to Africa than the rest of Australia! I'll be heading back out to Western Australia at the same time this year so very much looking forward to that! Details here:

I managed to get some photos of most of my target birds and I've included these below, along with some notes on those. There was also several species I saw but didn't manage photos of... I actually, eventually got views of all three of the 'Big Invisible 3' but sadly no photos. I had Western Whipbird at Stirling Ranges and Cheynes beach - these two birds are of different sub-species and may warrant full species status, Western Bristlebird was heard at Cheynes Beach and seen very well at Two People's Bay, with Noisy Scrub-bird heard a matter of feet away from me at Cheynes Beach, but no sign as it hid in the undergrowth, only for one to finally give up views later in the day at its usual spot!

But as for the ones I got photos of, see below..... the first set of photographs show some of the main specialist birds of Western Australia (some stretch just into western South Australia also - like the Blue-breasted Fairywren, and Rufous Treecreeper) but the others are totally restricted to Western Australia.

Blue-breasted Fairywren - got some incredible views of this really beautiful species,this male was very interested in my presence.

Carnaby's Black Cockatoo - several large flocks seen while in the south

Carnaby's Black Cockatoo - often found perched

Gilbert's Honeyeater - this one was coming to a waterbath!

Red-capped Parrot - a really beautiful parrot but rather shy when I had my camera to hand!

Red-eared Firetail - better pics required!

Red-winged Fairywren - great views but they weren't looking as flash as the Blue-breasted.

Rufous Treecreeper - very common

Western Corella (local Muir's Corella sub-species)

Western Rosella - a much smaller bird than the other rosellas of Australia

Western Thornbill - fairly common, a typical thornbill....

Western Wattlebird - not as commonly seen as I'd expected but still seen a few times (here with the very abundant Purple-crowned Lorikeet)

Western Whistler - A recent split from Australian Golden Whistler

White-breasted Robin - typically friendly robin but often in the shaded areas

The following species either are of interesting sub-species, and possible potential future splits (mainly with disjunct populations in the east), or just photos I'm pleased with!

Australian Ringneck (Twenty-eight Parrot)

Brown-headed Honeyeater

Bush Stone-curlew

Common Bronzewing

Fan-tailed Cuckoo - this young bird was being looked after by a White-browed Scrubwren

Nankeen Night Heron

Red-capped Robin

Shining Bronze Cuckoo

Splendid Fairywren

Tawny Frogmouth

Varied Sitella

White-browed Scrubwren (Spotted Scrubwren sub-species)

It wasn't all birds though, there were some great animals about too and I got great views of the very rare and localized Numbat, as well as Short-beaked Echidna and Kangaroos!

Numbat - a diurnal carnivorous marsupial specialized on hunting termites!

Short-beaked Echidna

Western Grey Kangaroo