Nature Travel Birding

To be in the business of showing your clients our beautiful world and it’s spectacular birds is such a privilege.

On every journey we take, there are so many moments that we want to capture and share.  Our idea with this blog is to share a bit of the wonderful experiences we encounter on every tour. We hope you enjoy the journey with us and join us on a tour sometime.

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Bird of the Week: Snowy Owl

Perhaps there is no other bird that better represents the Arctic wilderness and the season of winter than the enigmatic Snowy Owl, Bubo scandiacus.
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When one thinks of Snowy Owls, one immediately envisions a large ‘snow’ white owl with penetrating yellow eyes. While it is true that Snowy Owls possess extensive white plumage, all degrees of black barring exist with only adult males being pure white, while female/immature birds have extensive black barring.
The Snowy Owl is an inhabitant of the treeless tundra across the northern hemisphere, breeding further north than any other owl, though Short-eared Owls do breed on the tundra as well, but are not permanent residents. It is superbly adapted to this harsh environment with many adults remaining in the Arctic even during the darkness and bitterness of winter.
Though the birds preferred habitat is the tundra, they irruptively, but regularly, migrate south of the boreal forest to habitats that superficially resemble the tundra such as the prairies, beaches, farm fields and even airports of the United States and Canada. While they are known to hunt from the ground, in more southerly locations birds can be found loafing on fence posts, telephone poles, barns and even farm equipment.
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Wherever they reside, these owls are excellent hunters, hunting 24-hours a day and specializing in rodents, particularly lemmings in the Arctic, but any number of rodents further south, even resorting to rabbits, hares, and squirrels. Birds that winter near coastlines will hunt ducks, even out in the open ocean, using buoys as hunting platforms! Even though this is the heaviest owl in North America, it is very agile and can even catch small passerines mid-flight!
During the brief Arctic summer, the males perform elaborate courtship displays involving rising high into the air holding prey and then descending to the waiting female where he then lowers his head and fans his tail, presenting her with a token of affection, namely a lemming.
Nesting on the ground, Snowy Owls are known for highly variable clutch sizes with up to 11 eggs. Survival of the chicks is highly dependent on the lemming population during that particular summer.
Whereas most owls are notoriously difficult to observe, photogenic Snowy Owls provide birders with excellent views and stunning photographic opportunities. Please join a future Nature Travel Birding trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula where over-wintering densities of Snowy Owl are routinely higher than anywhere else outside of the Arctic!
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Secretarybird

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This unmistakeable, unique, long-legged, mostly ground-dwelling raptor with possibly the coolest scientific name (Sagittarius serpentarius, meaning “of snakes) was announced recently as Birdlife South Africa’s Bird of the Year for 2019.
Appearing as if it is the offspring of an eagle and a crane, its English name is thought to be derived from the Arabic saqr-et-tair, which means “hunter bird”. Although they can fly, the prefer to stay on the ground, sometimes walking up to 30 kilometres (18 miles) a day!
It is quite a special sight to see one of these uncommon birds purposefully striding in the open grassland savannas of Africa, overpowering and eating anything from insects, lizards, small mammals, birds and of course snakes. Interestingly, despite its fearsome snake-killing reputation, snakes actually don’t make up a large proportion of the Secretarybird’s diet.
Secretarybirds build large flat nests in the tops of thorn trees or dense bushes and breed year-round. The female does most of the incubation and is fed by the male during this time. A clutch usually contains one to three eggs. Siblings do not show any aggression to each other and if conditions are good it is likely that all of the chicks will fledge successfully. Both adults feed the chicks by regurgitating prey stored in their crops while hunting.

Endemic to Africa, these amazing birds are most easily seen in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in South Africa, the Serengeti in Tanzania, Awash in Ethiopia and the Masai Mara in Kenya.
Secretarybirds are indeed special, and with populations rapidly declining and their habitat severely threatened, it is imperative that we try our best to save these charismatic birds.

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Join us on a Nature Travel Birding trip in Africa to see these fascinating “snake-killers” in action!
Enquire by sending us an e-mail at info@naturetravelbirding.com or visit www.naturetravelbirding.com for more information.

My first hummingbird

I am a keen amateur birder with a life list of well over 1000 species, seen on two continents (Africa  and Asia).

I recently went on a Nature Travel Birding trip to the South American country of Peru. Having never been to the Americas, let alone gone birdwatching there, I didn’t have a clue of what I was about to experience.

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The trip was incredible, with habitats ranging from the Pacific Ocean to the high Andes (we birded at 4500 metres above sea level!) to the Amazonian rainforest. I added almost 550 species to my life list in under two weeks and had a wonderful time. There was even time to see the magical Inca citadel of Machu Picchu!

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However, the undoubted highlight for me was seeing my first hummingbird ever. I had often watched TV shows about them and seen them in books, but absolutely nothing can prepare you for the exhilaration of seeing your first one with your own eyes.

My first was one was the Purple-collared Woodstar (Myrtis fanny) seen on only the second day of our trip. We were walking in some coastal shrubland just south of the capital city of Lima, and our guide said “Oh look at this beauty!” Barely 5 feet away from us the tiny hummingbird was flying around in its characteristic eye-blindingly fast way, then perching and staring at us, and then buzzing away again at lightning speed. I just stood in awe of this wonderful little creature! It is found only in Peru and Ecuador and is the only species of the genus Myrtis.

I went on to add another 38 species of hummingbirds to my list on the Peru trip(!), but I will never forget my first one!  Written by a Nature Travel Birding Client

Finding the legendary Shoebill

On our latest Nature Travel Birding Safari we spent a morning in the Mabamba Swamp in Uganda searching for one of Africa’s sought after bird species; the Shoebill. The sheer surprise we got when this prehistoric-looking bird flew over us is an experience that will stay with me for the rest of my life. Our clients had wanted to see this bird for many years and to some the bird is almost something of a myth, so imagine the excitement when one of these giants fly over your boat in the middle of the Mabamba Swamp. Let’s just say we all had the sighting of our lives as the bird landed a mere 20m from us and started preening and eventually fishing for Lungfish. The sheer joy of seeing the bird and the high fives going around the boat after the sighting makes my job as a bird guide for Nature Travel Birding so rewarding.

Shoebill Uganda.jpgWith its massive shoe-like bill, and 1,2m height this bird looks like something from the age of the dinosaurs. In fact the Shoebill is a bird belonging to the group known as the Pelecaniformes and is more closely related to a Pelican than a Stork. These birds are found in Tropical East Africa in large swamps from Sudan to Zambia. They are equipped with a large bill which helps them catch their favourite prey : West African Lungfish.

Shoebills are masters of patience. They will stand in water, large patches of grass, and other hiding places for hours on end. They know that if they wait long enough for the right moment, they will find their next meal. At the right moment, the Shoebill will leap from cover and attack the prey. They lunge forward with their sharp bill and pick up the creature, devouring it whole.

Shoebill 07.jpgWith a life span of 35 years, these birds have been classified as endangered with less than 10,000 birds left. The bird is threatened by hunters, the destruction of their environments by humans, and cultural taboos that lead to them being captured by tribes. Many cultures believe that the birds are taboo and bring about bad luck.

Africa’s legendary bird, the Shoebill, awaits you in Uganda on one of our tours. Our next Uganda tour runs in August 2019, so come and join us in finding this amazing avian gem and many other great birds in the Pearl of Africa – Uganda. We also trek both of the African Great Apes that being the Chimpanzees and Gorillas.

Written by: Marc Cronje (Nature Travel Guide)

Green-breasted Pitta

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If one had to draw up a list of iconic birds to see on the African continent, the Green-breasted Pitta Pitta reichenowi would almost certainly be very high up on that list.

Like most of the other Pittas, it is a brilliantly coloured terrestrial bird with a rainbow of colours to show off. That is, if you can find it! It is a very shy and skulking species and rarely seen or photographed.

It is one of only two Pitta species in Africa, and is found in deep, dense, moist forests of the tropics from western Cameroon to southern Uganda and to central DRC. Pittas in Africa are almost impossible to find when not in display, but Kibale in Uganda has been a fairly reliable spot for some time now.

Interestingly, some authors have considered the Green-breasted Pitta conspecific with African Pitta Pitta angolensis on the basis of apparent intermediate birds from Cameroon and southern Congo and more recently southeastern Nigeria, resulting in a postulated hybrid zone extending from southeastern Nigeria to southern Congo.

The Green-breasted Pitta’s diet consists of mostly insects, including hairless caterpillars, beetles and beetle larvae, termites, small millipedes and small centipedes.

It probably breeds in most months of the year, laying 2 to 3 eggs in a fairly large, domed nest about 2 metres above the ground on a horizontal trunk or branch of a tree. The nest is built from a few large twigs and tough dead creeper stems interwoven with large mass of dead and skeletonized leaves.

 

Wallcreeper

A bird many enthusiasts want to add to their European or Asian or World Lists is the very elusive Wallcreeper Tichodroma muraria, a small passerine bird found throughout the high mountains of Eurasia from southern Europe to central China. The genus name Tichodroma comes from the Ancient Greek teikhos “wall”, and dromos “runner”.

Its plumage is primarily dull blue-grey but its most striking plumage feature is its extraordinarily bright crimson wings. It is easy to see why its alternative name is the Red-winged Wall Creeper.
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It prefers rocky regions, typically including steep, rugged cliffs and boulder-strewn slopes, and damp, shady gorges in mountains. In some areas in winter it may even be found in quarries and sea cliffs, also earth and clay banks and even city buildings. It is surprisingly difficult to spot on rock faces, as many birders can attest to!
It is the only member of both the genus Tichodroma and the family Tichodromidae. There is some disagreement among ornithologists as to where the wallcreeper belongs in the taxonomic order. Initially it was placed along with the treecreepers, while others believe it is very closely related to the nuthatches.
The female wallcreeper builds a cup nest of grass, plant fibres and moss, sheltered deep in a rock crevice, hole or cave. The nest is lined with softer materials, often including feathers, hair or wool, and typically has two entrances. The female usually lays three to five eggs and incubates them for about 19 days until they hatch. During incubation, she is regularly fed by her mate. Both parents feed the nestlings for a period of 28–30 days, until the young birds fledge.

The Wallcreeper is an insectivore, feeding on terrestrial invertebrates (damselflies, spiders, crickets, beetles, woodlice, centipedes, ants, bees and others) gleaned from rock faces. It usually forages alone and progresses mainly with short, jerky hops, sometimes with sidling, creeping and walking on vertical surfaces sometimes makes upward leap accompanied by single rapid wingbeat. It occasionally also takes prey in flight.

Join us on a Nature Travel Birding trip to Spain, India or China to see this rare and elusive, but very special red-winged bird.

Pennant-winged Nightjars in Southern Kruger

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Yes you read that correctly: we have Pennant-winged Nightjars in Southern Kruger, to be more precise very close to Numbi gate on the Nkambeni Concession.
Most birders will be familiar with this iconic, awe inspiring bird, the Pennant-winged Nightjar, Macrodipteryx vexillarius. The bird is an intra-African breeding migrant that moves down to South Africa from Central and West Africa. Birdwatchers take the annual trip up to Punda Maria rest camp in Kruger in November as this is possibly the best place in South Africa to see the bird.
Imagine the excitement when I woke to hear news that a male had been seen displaying with full pennants very close to Numbi gate on the Nkambeni Concession, some 2km west of Albasini road(S3). The bird was spotted by Alision Drake from Nkambeni Safari Camp while on a sunset drive. I have had a look into previous records and there are records of the birds been seen around Pretoriuskop Camp and around Shabeni granite Rock. I had to make a plan to see this bird as it’s been a bird that is always such a treat to see and view.
We managed to get a drive to go out on Friday the 17th of November 2018 to see this amazing bird. I felt like a kid in a candy shop due to the excitement. Good distractions on the drive included: Bushveld Pipit, Violet-backed Starling, Cardinal Woodpecker and a female Leopard slinking through the grass with the sun setting behind her. The stuff dreams are made of in my opinion!!
We positioned ourselves on the rock where the male was seen displaying, and after a nervous wait of about 20 minutes, the call came out, “Here it is! Look!” Boy oh boy we were treated to a spectacle with the bird flying overhead, landing on the rock just in front of us and displaying on the rock. This sighting ranks as one of my top bird sighting I have had in my career. To have this elegant, awe inspiring bird flying overhead and in front of you with its full, long pennants on show is an amazing, mind blowing experience that will live with me for a long time. I was so blown away by the sheer size of the bird and how amazing it is I eventually stopped taking photos of the bird and just enjoyed having the bird displaying for us. We had 2 different males displaying for females.
It’s amazing to know that these birds seem to be breeding and are comfortable in Southern Kruger as the habitat in the area is suitable, and just shows how important the Kruger National Park is at protecting habitats for our Birdlife and Wildlife. I am hoping that these birds hang around and that a trip to see these birds might become regular for us in November in Southern Kruger.

Written by: Marc Cronje (Nature Travel Guide)