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.

first-blog-post-foto

World Penguin Day

“It’s practically impossible to look at a penguin and feel angry.” Joe Moore

Penguin Day with Nature Travel Birding

Penguins are some of the most adorable and lovable creatures on the planet. World Penguin Day is an educative initiative that encourages people to learn more about penguins, their environment, and how important they are to the ecosystem.

Here are some fun penguin facts:
• They live almost exclusively in the Southern Hemisphere, with only one species, the Galapagos Penguin, found north of the equator.
• Emperor Penguins are the tallest species, standing nearly 4 feet tall.
• The fastest species is the Gentoo Penguin, which can reach swimming speeds up to 22 mph.
• A penguin’s striking colouring is a matter of camouflage; from above, its black back blends into the murky depths of the ocean, while from below, its white belly is hidden against the bright surface.
• Unlike most birds—which lose and replace a few feathers at a time—penguins moult all at once, spending two or three weeks land-bound as they undergo what is called the catastrophic moult.
• All but two species of penguins breed in large colonies of up to a thousand birds.
• The first published account of penguins comes from Antonio Pigafetta, who was aboard Ferdinand Magellan’s first circumnavigation of the globe in 1520. They spotted the animals near what was probably Punta Tombo in Argentina. (He called them “strange geese.”)

World Penguin Day takes place during the annual northern migration of Adelie Penguins, a species of penguin that is native to Antarctica. The Adelie Penguins migrate north to have better access to food during the winter months and then during the summer, return to the coastal beaches on Antarctica to build their nests. The holiday was created at McMurdo Station, an American research center on Ross Island in Antarctica. Researchers noticed that the Adelie Penguins began this migration specifically on this day, and they created this holiday as a way to pass the time and give social awareness to these fascinating creatures.

While this holiday takes place during this specific species’ migration, this holiday actually celebrates all the penguins in the world and raises awareness for their survival plight. Many of these penguins are sensitive to the effects of climate change, and as a result, many are having to migrate further to find their food, decreasing the population of these penguins as a result.

World Penguin Day with Nature Travel Birding

Out of the total 17 species that live in the world, 11 of them have been classified as endangered or vulnerable, according to the WWF. They spend most of their lives out at sea, so this holiday encourages people to work towards protecting the waters, as much of the time human activities such as pollution and the burning of fossil fuels directly impact their already fragile environment.

There are many things that you can do to lend a helping hand on World Penguin Day. Read up about the different species of penguins in the world and enrich your knowledge of them. Go crazy and dress in penguin colours!

Donate to a non-profit organization that you trust such as the WWF or the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition. Share this holiday on your favourite social media websites using the hashtag #WorldPenguinDay and let everyone know what day it is today.

We here at the Nature Travel group fully support this initiative to highlight the plight of these cool birds.

Have a look at www.naturetravelconservation.com or www.naturetravelbirding.com to see what we are all about.

Bearded Vulture

Bearded Vulture.jpg

In 455 BC the Greek playwright Aeschylus could not shake the feeling that he was going to die. A prophecy had warned him of falling objects, so he was spending most of his time outside. Unfortunately, a large bird (now believed to have been a Bearded Vulture) mistook his smooth bald head for a rock and dropped a tortoise on it! Aeschylus died instantly, and it’s unclear if the vulture ever got his dinner.

The globally near-threatened Bearded Vulture is an unmistakable bird, with black ‘sideburns’ (or beard), red rings around the eyes (a feature only shared with some parrots) and a long wedge-shaped tail. It also has black wings, with the rest of the head, neck and body a rich rusty orange. This is because Bearded Vultures rub themselves with iron oxides. Soil and mud stained with iron oxide give the bird this fiery appearance. Theories to explain this feather staining range from dominance behaviour to parasite control. It could even be purely cosmetic, or might be for camouflage. They apply the dirt with their claws and then preen for about an hour to ensure a bright orange glow. They are also attracted to other red things, like leaves and red wood. Captive birds also partake in this behaviour, which suggests the activity is instinctual, not learned.

bearded-vulture

The Bearded Vulture is sparsely distributed across a considerable range. It may be found in mountainous regions from Europe through much of Asia and Africa, including in the Alps, Pyrenees, Caucasus, Altai, Himalayas, Atlas and Ethiopian highlands. There is also an isolated population in the Drakensberg mountains of South Africa and Lesotho. It requires large open areas with little or low vegetation, and that is not continually covered with snow. It relies on thermals and wind for gliding flight, but to a much lesser extent than most other vultures. It has been observed gliding in the Himalayas at more than 8000m (26000ft) above sea level!

Unlike the myth, Bearded Vultures do not hunt live prey, and even avoid meat. Up to 90 % of the diet of the Bearded Vulture consists of bleached carcass bones, the only bird with this peculiar eating preference. The bird is capable of swallowing and digesting bones the size of a sheep’s vertebrae. If bones are too big, they are dropped onto rocks from a height of up to 100 meters, to shatter them. This unique eating habit makes Bearded Vultures an essential part of the ecosystem. Besides bones, they also eat small lizards, hares and tortoises, also dropping them onto rocks from a height. The acid concentration of the Bearded Vulture’s stomach has been estimated to be of pH about 1 and large bones will be digested in 24 hours, aided by slow mixing/churning of the stomach content. The high fat content of bone marrow makes the net energy value of bone almost as good as that of muscle, even if bone is less completely digested.

Bearded Vultures live in mountainous areas, often above the tree line. Because of the many animals that do not survive the winter, carcass supply is greatest in winter. Therefore, this is the time when Bearded Vultures breed, and chicks hatch in about two months. Bearded Vultures usually lay two eggs, but only the strongest one survives. After hatching the young spend about 4 months in the nest before fledging. The young may be dependent on the parents for up to 2 years, forcing the parents to nest in alternate years on a regular basis. Wild Bearded Vultures have a lifespan of about 20 years, but have been observed to live for up to at least 45 years in captivity.

Fewer than 10,000 pairs exist in the wild worldwide. Declines today are usually due to poisons left out for carnivores, habitat degradation, the disturbances of nests, reduced food supplies and collisions with power lines. They were formerly persecuted in significant numbers because people feared (obviously without justification) that it regularly carried off children and domestic animals!

For a chance to see this impressive and interesting bird, along with many others, join us on a Nature Travel Birding tour. We offer tailor-made private and small group birding tours across the globe, including to many countries that the Bearded Vulture can be found in. For more information, go to www.naturetravelbirding.com or get in touch by sending your query to info@naturetravelbirding.com

Stresemann’s Bushcrow

Here at Nature Travel Birding we love interesting birds. Whether it’s one that can mimic others in order to confuse predators, or one that has a dazzling courtship display, or one that can achieve incredible feats of endurance or strength, we love interesting birds. The Stresemann’s Bushcrow certainly fits in the category of interesting!
Stresemann's Bushcrow.jpg

Only discovered in 1938 and initially taxonomically moved from family to family, the species name was assigned in commemoration of the influential German ornithologist, Erwin Stresemann. It is also less commonly known as the Abyssinian Pie. As its name suggests, the species is assumed to be a member of the crow family Corvidae, but this has been widely debated in ornithological circles since the species’ first description.

Currently it sits in its own unique genus with genetic analysis revealing its evolutionary history to be more related to that of the Asian Ground Jays. It is an unmistakable pale grey crow-like medium-sized bird, with a striking black tail and black wings and bright azure-blue around the eyes.

Its evolutionary history is interesting in itself, but the explanation of its range restriction (the species is endemic to central-southern Ethiopia, in a very small area in Sidamo Province), with vast areas of seemingly suitable, unoccupied habitat existing directly adjacent to the species tight range, is nothing short of remarkable. Recent studies suggest that its current area of occupancy is delimited by a climate envelope that harbours a cooler, dryer and more seasonal climate than its surrounding area, but no one knows for sure. The bushcrows prefer flat, open-grass savanna with mature acacia and thornbush stands, with the greatest densities of birds where there are large stands of acacias close to grazing pasture or cultivated fields.

Adding to the complexity of the situation, the Stresemann’s Bushcrows appear unspecialised in their diet and rely heavily on traditional Borana pastoral rangeland for their survival. Their diet consists almost entirely of invertebrates, particularly insects, including larvae and pupae. They forage on the ground, strutting about alone, in pairs or in parties of five or six individuals. They sometimes dig vigorously in the soil, and have also been seen extricating prey from wood in the manner of woodpeckers. Increases in agricultural land, intensification of grazing regimes and a growing human population throughout its range have led to changes in land cover and subsequently to the degradation of the rangeland it depends on.

The Stresemann’s Bushcrow’s breeding usually starts in March, with the birds building their nest high in an acacia tree. The birds usually lay five to six cream eggs with lilac blotches. The nest itself is globular in shape with a tubular entrance on top. It is possible that more than just the breeding pair visit the nest and that the young of previous years help in rearing the new young.

There are currently thought to be only 9000 breeding pairs of these amazing birds left, and the species is currently listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

For a chance to see these interesting birds and many others, come join us on a Nature Travel Birding tour to the incredible African country of Ethiopia. Ethiopia is one of the most incredible birding destinations in Africa with over 860 species recorded which is about 9.5% of the world’s and 39% of Africa’s birds. For more information, visit www.naturetravelbirding.com or enquire directly at info@naturetravelbirding.com.

North East India – Trip Report

March 2019 – We have just arrived back from a wonderful two week Nature Travel Birding tour to the northeast of the vibrant country of India, a beautiful landlocked area surrounded by Bangladesh, Bhutan, Tibet and Myanmar.

Day 2 (3).jpg

Although all our clients met up at a comfortable hotel in the capital city of Delhi to get to know each other before we started, the birding trip actually started in the city of Guwahati in the northeast. Some of our clients had been on a birding trip with us to northern India before and instantly fell in love with the cuisine, landscapes, culture and people of this incredible country. They were back for more!

The birding trip was essentially divided into three distinct parts. Firstly we went to Nameri National Park in the state of Assam, a state famous for its tea and silk. Secondly we made our way to the Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary on the lower foothills of the Himalayas in the culture-rich state of Arunachal Pradesh before ending off the trip back in Assam at the UNESCO World Heritage Site national park of Kaziranga.
Our trip count ended on almost 350 bird species and over 30 mammal species, along with stunning sights like the Brahmaputra river and the Himalayas, as well as amazing experiences like a boat ride on the Jia Bhoreli river and finding a beautiful secluded pond in the middle of a forest at Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary. One of our clients also had the privilege of seeing her 3000th worldwide species on her life list during the trip!
A great time was had by all, and we especially liked the relative quiet and solitude that this trip offered. It was sometimes difficult to believe that India has almost 1.4 billion people! We got to enjoy all that “incredible India” has to offer, and more!

Day 1 : Delhi to Guwahati to Nameri

Day 1
The first day of our trip took us from our hotel in Delhi to Nameri National Park in Assam. We took an early flight to the city of Guwahati and the highlight of this was undoubtedly seeing the eastern parts of the mighty Himalayas on the left side of the plane – a truly magnificent sight.
We arrived in Guwahati mid-morning and met our drivers that would stay with us for the rest of the trip. We then drove northwards for about 4 and a half hours, with a stop en route for lunch for the first taste of authentic northeast Indian cuisine.

We saw our first birds of the trip on the drive as well, and these included the globally threatened Greater and Lesser Adjutant, White-throated Kingfisher, Asian Openbill, Indian Roller, and Great and Little Egret to name but a few.
We arrived at Nameri National Park (100 metres/330 feet above sea level) in the late afternoon after crossing the impressively wide Brahmaputra river and were met at our lodge situated just outside the park by the friendly staff and our local guide who would join us for the rest of the trip.
We checked into our lovely sturdy tents with their en suite bathrooms and set off for a short walk to the Jia Bhoreli river closeby. This walk produced Orange-bellied Leafbird, Greater Flameback, Wreathed Hornbill and Brown Hawk-Owl. A great start!
We then completed our first checklists for the trip (55 species for the group for today), had our first dinner together and enjoyed a good first night’s sleep.

Day 2 : Nameri National Park

Day 2 (1).jpg
We started our day as all birding days should be, with strong coffee at 6 am.
We then took a short drive to the river and crossed it on canoes to get to the National Park proper.
The park’s habitat is that of tropical and semi-evergreen forest, with cane and bamboo patches, and narrow strips of open grassland along the rivers and streams. These diverse habitats support a large number of bird species, and Nameri is an unmissable stop on any northeast India birding trip.
Our target this morning was the endangered White-winged Duck, which we found relatively quickly after a short walk in a forest patch with a beautiful tranquil pond. Even though the bird was quite far away and the photos not very good, it was still a trip highlight! It is even the state bird of the state of Assam!

We also picked up Golden-fronted Leafbird, the impressive Great Hornbill, Maroon Oriole, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Wedge-tailed Green Pigeon, Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch, the eye-searingly red Scarlet Minivet, Barred Cuckoo-Dove, Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo, White-rumped Shama, Abbott’s Babbler, the dimunitive Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker, Blyth’s Leaf Warbler, a hunting Crested Serpent Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, Black-winged Cuckooshrike and Black-crested Bulbul amongst others.

We had the most hilarious moment of our trip soon after, as we were strolling down a track in the forest. An Indian Giant Squirrel suddenly popped out of the undergrowth a mere 5 metres from us, and got a huge fright when it saw us. So did we! It’s a tough call to say who was more surprised at the meeting : the squirrel or the humans!
We had a packed lunch on the bank of the river before returning via the canoe to the other side of the river. Here we had great views of Great Cormorant, River Tern, Oriental Darter, White Wagtail, Common and Pied Kingfisher, River and Red-wattled Lapwing, Common Merganser, Little Ringed Plover, Green Sandpiper, Crested Honey Buzzard, Sand Lark, Ruddy Shelduck, Great Stone-curlew and Striated Heron.

We then returned to the resort for a bit of a rest during the hot hours of the day, before making our way by car to a dock upstream so that we could river raft down the Jia Bhoreli back to Nameri. The rafting trip took us about 3 hours, and the views and birds were just amazing. From the rafts we saw Western Osprey, Dunlin, Small Pratincole, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Kentish Plover, Rosy Pipit, Citrine Wagtail, Northern Shoveler and a huge highlight for the trip, a pair of Ibisbill! Two of our clients had put this bird on top of their wish list for the trip, and to get it so early on in the trip was a huge relief for them. We also had time to take photos of one tree with 44 (yes we counted!) Wreathed Hornbills in it, getting ready to roost up for the night. An amazing sight…

After enjoying a stunning sunset from the river banks, we returned to our resort for listing, dinner and then sitting around the firepit, staring into the flames and relating stories of our birding trips across the globe.

Day 3 : Nameri to Eaglenest

Day 3
Our day started with breakfast at 6 am, before leaving for the Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary.
The drive to Eaglenest was fascinating. It started with a flat section through farmlands in Assam before entering the state of Arunachal Pradesh in the town of Bhalukpong. Here we had to do some paperwork before entering the state. There are major roadworks on the go on most of the passes in the state, and to see thousands of workers toiling away on steep hillsides with the constant threat of landslides and rockfalls, was a truly humbling experience.

Soon after entering Arunachal Pradesh we had a fantastic birding stop close to the town of Thipey. Here we saw White-naped Yuhina, Nepal Fulvetta, Golden and Grey-throated Babbler, Black-throated Sunbird, Grey-cheeked and Grey-hooded Warbler and also had excellent views of a surprisingly inquisitive Chestnut-headed Tesia.
The road then turned skywards, as we went over the Nechi Phu Pass (top at 1700 metres/5600 feet above sea level) and down into the Tenga valley. Just over the pass in a section of roadworks, our local guide stopped us for an amazing bird and another highlight of most of our clients’ birding lives : a relaxed and very obliging Wallcreeper!

We enjoyed lunch in the military town of Tenga and then started our drive up the Eaglenest pass towards our destination for the night, Lama Camp. Just before reaching the camp, we turned off the road and did another short walk. This turned out to be the spot for the world famous Bugun Liocichla, and we found 4 individuals after only 20 minutes! A massive highlight, and the sole reason some world listers come to Eaglenest. Here we also saw the aptly named Beautiful Sibia, Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler, Yellow-throated Fulvetta, Rusty-fronted Barwing, Grey-sided Laughingthrush, Brown-flanked Bush Warbler and Green-tailed Sunbird.

We reached Lama Camp (2300 metres/7550 feet above sea level) in the early evening, with a Grey Nightjar flying overhead and our eyes fixed on the amazing landscape around us, and did our lists and enjoyed dinner. Lama is very basic, with simple tents providing the accommodation. The communal bathroom area and communal dining room is also not something to get too excited about, but we soon realised that the setting in the heart of the Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary would make up for any lodging shortcomings!
Today was going to be a “drive” day, but we still saw a surprising number of species. Our group trip lists was over 150 at this stage!

Day 4 : Lama camp and surrounds

We started our day at 6 am with Masala tea and coffee, and walked back down the pass towards Tenga for some early morning birding. The incredibly aromatic tea soon became an essential way for our clients to start their days!
On our walk we picked up Rufous-bellied Woodpecker, White-tailed Nuthatch, Fire-tailed Sunbird, Black-faced Warbler, Sikkim Treecreeper, a female Blyth’s Tragopan and the scarce Besra.

We returned to camp at 9 am for breakfast, and then walked the nearby “Tragopan Trail” in search for more exciting birds. We didn’t get the bird the trail is named after, but we did manage to see some fantastic birds. This included Bar-throated Minla, Rufous-vented and Stripe-throated Yuhina, Black-eared and Green Shrike-Babbler, Yellow-bellied Fantail, Rufous-capped Babbler, Short-billed Minivet, Yellow-browed and Yellow-cheeked Tit, Rufous-winged Fulvetta and Hoary-throated Barwing, to name just a few. We also found a beautiful pond in the middle of the forest where we all just sat down and enjoyed our own thoughts for a few quiet minutes. A magical setting indeed…

We returned to camp for a hearty lunch and left just after 2 pm for an afternoon session consisting of a walk up the pass and then driving back down to camp. The Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary is named after the Indian army post “Eaglenest” on the border with Bhutan, and is rated as one of the best birding sites in the world. It rises from just over 500 metres/1640 feet to 3200 metres/10500 feet above sea level and covers an area of 220 square kilometres. The unpaved road that cuts through it makes it a relatively easy birding site, despite being quite high up. The habitat is that of contiguous forest in different elevations.

On our afternoon walk we managed to get Yellow-billed Blue Magpie, Great Barbet, Sapphire Flycatcher, the skulking Rufous-throated Wren-Babbler and the very rare Yellow-rumped Honeyguide. We also had superb views of the snow-capped Sela Pass in the distance – a photographer’s dream spot!
We then went back down to camp and had dinner and a good night’s rest after our first day in Eaglenest.

Day 5 : Lama camp to Bompu camp

Day 5 (1).jpg
Our day started with coffee and tea out on the deck of the common dining room and we had a great flyby of a Northern Goshawk.
We had breakfast and then started our drive up and over the pass towards our next destination, Bompu camp.

We had a birding stop at the very top of the pass (2790 metres/9200 feet above sea level) and saw Darjeeling Woodpecker, Stripe-throated Yuhina, the impressively loud Spotted Nutcracker and Fire-capped Tit. These are all specialities of this high altitude and they are difficult to find elsewhere.

We continued driving down the other side of the pass, stopping frequently for short walks, looking for more species to see. At one of these stops we managed to get one of our main targets for the trip, the stunningly colourful Fire-tailed Myzornis.
We stopped for a packed lunch at a trail entrance and took a quick nap in the cars before setting off on this trail into the forest. It produced Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher, White-browed Bush Robin, the stunning Ward’s Trogon, Spotted, White-throated and Grey-sided Laughingthrush and the iridescent Mrs. Gould’s Sunbird.

Our last stop before reaching Bompu camp at 6 pm was a flock of Golden-breasted Fulvettas, a ridiculously pretty bird if ever there was one!
We checked into our tents at Bompu (1950 metres/6400 feet above sea level) and then did our lists and had a great first dinner here. The group trip list had grown to over 200 species!

Bompu camp offers sturdy tents with cots and thick blankets to protect against the cold. There is a common dining area with a generator providing a few hours of electricity in the evening, and a common ablution area with hot water on request. Once again, the relatively sparse accommodation is balanced out by the amazing setting and the richly diverse fauna and flora of the area.

Day 6 : Bompu down to Sessni

Day 6.jpg
We started our first day at Bompu with breakfast at 6 am, and then started birding lower down the pass towards Sessni. The day consisted of getting out of the vehicles whenever our local guide heard an interesting bird call, or when we spotted a mixed flock around us in the forest. Then we would walk along the road for a while and bird, after which we would get back in the cars and go a little further down the pass.

Highlights for the day included the always tough to find Spotted Elachura, Scaly-breasted and Long-billed Wren-Babbler, Sikkim Wedge-billed Babbler, Slender-billed Scimitar Babbler, Orange-bellied Leafbird, Blue-winged Laughingthrush, Slaty-bellied Tesia, White-spectacled and Grey-cheeked Warbler, the very difficult to see Grey Peacock Pheasant, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, Yellow-bellied and White-throated Fantail, Yellow-throated, Rufous-winged and Yellow-throated Fulvetta, a pair of Kalij Pheasant, Ashy and Bronzed Drongo, Rufous-necked Hornbill flying overhead, and Mountain Imperial Pigeon. We also enjoyed fantastic views of a Black Eagle hunting in the forest; a true king of the jungle. We could also hear Rufous-throated Partridge a few times, but we were never able to get views.

We had a packed lunch at the abandoned camp of Sessni (1250 metres/4100 feet above sea level), being especially careful not to sit on or step in the many nettles that grow in the area!
We returned at 6 pm for dinner back in Bompu and everyone enjoyed a good night’s rest.

Day 7 : Bompu down to Khellong

Day 7.jpg
We started our day early at 5 am, aiming for the abandoned camp of Khellong (800 metres/2600 feet above sea level) further down the road past Sessni. We would target the birds residing at these lower altitudes today.

We started off with views of a pair of Kalij Pheasant again, and also saw Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo, Long-tailed Sibia, Grey-hooded Warbler and Black-throated Sunbird.
A highlight of the trip was when we encountered a family of Asian Elephant as we rounded a corner. There was no time to photograph them, but it was special to see these giants roam free in the forests of Eaglenest.

We then had a packed breakfast before some exciting birding in a bamboo patch. Here we saw Yellow-bellied and Rufous-faced Warbler, White-hooded Babbler, Pale-headed Woodpecker, White-browed Scimitar Babbler and the tiny White-browed Piculet. Some special species indeed!

Other star birds of today’s birding were Coral-billed Scimitar Babbler, Red-headed Trogon, Verditer and Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher, Striated Yuhina, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, the beautiful Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch, Maroon Oriole, Green-billed Malkoha, White-bellied Erpornis, several Rufous-throated Partridge, Small Niltava, Blue-throated and Golden-throated Barbet, Blue-winged and Red-tailed Minla, a group of noisy Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrush, Whistler’s Warbler, the very cute Pale-billed Parrotbill, the bright yellow Sultan Tit, Rufous-backed Sibia and Streaked Spiderhunter, surely a nominee for bird with the coolest name.

We enjoyed a packed lunch at Sessni again, with a Green Cochoa watching over us, that one of our clients had spotted while scanning the nearby trees!
Late afternoon we had a special encounter when our local guide suggested we stop at a viewpoint and take photos of our amazing surroundings. Here we had fabulous views of a group of eight Himalayan Cutias, another top target bird for the trip. One of our clients also spotted a rare Common Palm Civet eating fruits in a tree, a truly memorable sighting!
We returned to camp for ticking our lists and dinner, and reflected on a fantastic day at Eaglenest.

Day 8 : Bompu camp to Kaziranga

We had a very early breakfast, sadly our last one in Eaglenest, and started the long drive to Kaziranga at about 6 am. We went up and over the pass again, with a quick stop at the top to look for one very specific target : Bar-winged Wren-Babbler. And we found one after about 10 minutes and even managed a half-decent photo!

After this excitement we settled in for the long haul down into the Tenga valley again, before climbing up and over Nechi Phu pass again and entering the state of Assam at about lunch time. We continued into the farmlands and crossed the Brahmaputra river again, before turning east, with the road running parallel to the Kaziranga National Park for many kilometres. It is a mostly unfenced park, but according to our local guide luckily very few human-animal interactions occur here. The locals are very proud of their park and its UNESCO World Heritage Site status, as could be seen from the hundreds of signboards, posters and murals all over the place!

We stopped by the roadside at a lookout point and put our first “Kaziranga” birds and mammals on our lists. From this lookout point we saw Black-headed Ibis, Bronze-winged Jacana, Spot-billed Pelican, Painted and Woolly-necked Stork, Indian Roller, White-breasted Waterhen, Indian Pond Heron and Bar-headed Goose. Mammals included Asian Elephant, Sambar, Asian Buffalo, Wild Boar and our first look at the legendary Indian Rhinoceros. Also called the Greater One-horned Rhinoceros, it is one of India’s best-known tourism mascots. The park holds two thirds of the world population of these incredible animals. It is estimated that there are only about 3500 of them alive in the wild, and as such they are listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.

After this exciting stop, we headed to our resort just outside the park (there is no accommodation inside the park), checked in and enjoyed dinner. Despite being a “moving day”, our group total was at over 250 bird species for the trip at this stage.

Day 9 : Kaziranga (Western and Central)

We started our first day at Kaziranga with coffee at 6 am, before driving to a nearby tea plantation for a short birding walk in the surrounding forest patches, as the park only opens its gates for visitors at 7:30 am.

We had a very productive walk and managed to add Ashy Woodswallow, Large Cuckooshrike, Pin-tailed Green Pigeon, Chestnut-tailed Starling, Black-hooded Oriole, Crimson Sunbird, Red-breasted and Alexandrine Parakeet, Blue-throated, Lineated and Blue-eared Barbet, Olive-backed Pipit, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Blue-winged Leafbird and Taiga Flycatcher to our list.

We enjoyed a packed breakfast on the edge of the tea plantation with an Asian Barred Owlet watching us from close by.
We then drove the short distance to the entrance of the Western range/zone of Kaziranga National Park. Kaziranga lies partly in the Golaghat District and partly in the Nagaon District of Assam. It is the oldest park in Assam and covers an area of over 400 sq km along the banks of the Brahmaputra river in the North and the Karbi Ang long hills in the South. The area was declared a national Park in 1974. The landscape is that of patches of dense wet semi-evergreen and evergreen broadleaved forest, tall elephant grass, rugged reeds, marshes and many shallow pools and ponds. Kaziranga has been identified by Birdlife International as an Important Bird Area (IBA). It is divided into ranges or zones and out first taste was to be the Western one.

This range or zone is probably the one with the most water, and we were looking forward to seeing some waders and other water-loving species. We birded from our tiny “Jeeps” (actually Suzukis) with a local driver and a guide in each vehicle. We saw Indian Spot-billed and Knob-billed Duck, Ruddy Shelduck, Eurasian Teal, Eurasian Wigeon, Greater and Lesser Adjutant, Grey Heron, Great, Intermediate and Little Egret, Painted, Woolly-necked and Black-necked Stork, Oriental Darter, Grey-headed, River and Red-wattled Lapwing, Common Greenshank, Spotted Redshank, Wood Sandpiper, White-browed, Citrine and White Wagtail, Common Snipe, Temminck’s Stint, Stork-billed and Pied Kingfisher, Crested Honey Buzzard, Crested Serpent Eagle, Grey-headed and Pallas’s Fish Eagle, Baya Weaver and Chestnut-capped Babbler to name but a few.

We also saw an incredible amount of Indian Rhino; none of us could believe that there were so many! Kaziranga really is the best place to see these huge prehistoric-looking animals. Other mammals included Asian Elephant, Asian Buffalo with their beautifully wide horns, Hog Deer, Sambar and the cutest family of Smooth-coated Otter relaxing on a sand bank and generally being mischievous.

We returned to our resort for lunch after a fantastic morning. The park closes over lunch time and only reopens at 2:30 pm again, so we had ample time to eat and relax.
We jumped into our open vehicles again for the afternoon session, this time in the Central zone. This zone has more forest areas and grasslands, and we were looking forward to seeing some other birds than in the morning. We enjoyed sightings of Oriental Dollarbird, White-rumped Shama, Greater and Lesser Flameback, Ruddy-breasted Crake, Paddyfield, Thick-billed and Dusky Warbler, Rosy Pipit, Green and Blue-tailed Bee-eater, the threatened Finn’s Weaver, Plain Prinia, Chinese Rubythroat and the gorgeous Swamp Francolin. Some of these birds we saw from a viewing tower with incredible views of the surrounding habitat. It also made for some fantastic sunset scenes…

We returned to our resort for ticking our lists ( 135 species for the day!) and dinner, and slept well after a great first day in Kaziranga.

Day 10 : Kaziranga (Eastern and Western)

Today started again with an early coffee and a short walk around another tea plantation. Here we saw the skulking Grey-bellied Tesia, Rufous Treepie, Eurasian Hoopoe, Great Barbet and Dark-necked Tailorbird.
We enjoyed another packed breakfast, this time with a Great Hornbill close to us, and amazingly, another Asian Barred Owlet!

We entered Kaziranga through the Eastern gate at 8 am and again saw a host of water-based birds, including the globally threatened Greater and Lesser Adjutants and many others that we had seen the day before. We also added Purple Heron, the dainty Cotton Pygmy Goose, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Gadwall, Northern Shoveler, Garganey and Glossy Ibis.

In the forest patches we saw the beautiful Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker, Rosy Minivet, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Green Imperial Pigeon, Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker, Oriental Pied Hornbill, a very photogenic Brown Fish Owl and Greater Spotted Eagle. We also had an incredible sighting of a tree filled with up to 14 barbets, including Blue-throated, Blue-eared, Lineated and Coppersmith!

We again returned to the resort for lunch and a bit of time off, and then returned to the Western zone for the afternoon session. Our drive here produced Streak-throated and Grey-headed Woodpecker, Striated Babbler, a quartering Changeable Hawk-Eagle, Common Emerald Dove and a very patient Cinnamon Bittern. This was a highlight for one of our clients, as he is planning to see all 16 species of bitterns in the world, and he had missed out on Cinnamon Bittern before.

We exited the park at 5 pm and decided to look for some nocturnal fauna. We waited until after dark, and our local guide took us to a spot where he had seen the elusive Fishing Cat before. Although we didn’t get to see that particular predator, we did manage to find a Spotted Owlet, Large-tailed Nightjar and a beautiful serpent, the non-venomous Checkered Keelback.
In terms of mammals, our day produced Asian Elephant, Asian Buffalo, Indian Rhino, Rhesus Monkey, Himalayan Striped Squirrel, Wild Boar, Hog Deer, Sambar and Barasingha.

We returned to the resort for a late dinner, did our lists and slept peacefully with a good thunderstorm all around us.

Day 11 : Kaziranga (Far Western and Central)

Our day started with coffee at 6 am and then a longer drive to reach the far western zone of Kaziranga.

This area is known for its grasslands and a relative lack of ponds and lakes. We were looking forward to catching up with some raptors, and we were not disappointed. We saw Himalayan Vulture, Pied and Hen Harrier, Pallas’s and Grey-headed Fish Eagle, Oriental Hobby and Changeable Hawk-Eagle.

We also added the very elusive Blue-naped Pitta after a typical long search in a dense forest patch, but it was well worth it. Other good birds this morning included Red Turtle Dove, Great Hornbill, Bengal Bush Lark, Silver-backed Needletail, Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker, Bank Myna, Richard’s Pipit, Striated Swallow and Indian Grassbird.
A mammal highlight of the morning was a Golden Jackal that even posed for some portraits before disappearing into a thicket.

We again returned for lunch at the resort and a bit of time to relax.
Some of our clients decided to skip the afternoon session in the park to do some shopping (Assam produces some of the finest tea and silk on the planet) at a local market, but the ones that went to the Central zone in Kaziranga had an incredibly rare Eastern Marsh Harrier sighting to boast about that evening!

We all got together for one final listing session and we were chuffed that our combined trip list had reached the incredible figure of 342! A good total in anyone’s books!
We had dinner and a good night’s rest for the day of travel that lay ahead.

Day 12 : Kaziranga to Delhi via Guwahati

We had a last breakfast at our resort at 5:30 am and then drove westwards towards an exciting excursion…
We crossed the Kolia Bhomora Setu at about 8:30 am. It is a 3.2 km long road bridge over the Brahmaputra river near the town of Tezpur, connecting the district of Sonitpur with Nagaon. The bridge is one of the most important links between the northeastern states and the rest of India.

We then hopped onto a powered boat on the river and looked for a very special mammal; the Ganges River Dolphin. This river dolphin is primarily found in the Ganges (as its name suggests) and Brahmaputra rivers and their tributaries in Bangladesh, India and Nepal. The Ganges River Dolphin has been recognised by the government of India as its National Aquatic Animal and it is the official animal of the city of Guwahati. We were in luck, as after only about 30 seconds on the boat we spotted our first dolphins! We were entertained for about 15 minutes with these graceful creatures jumping out of the water and being childishly playful all around us. A memorable event for all of us…

After this unforgettable sighting we drove to the city of Guwahati, with a very good lunch at a roadside restaurant en route, and arrived at the airport at about 1:30 pm. We said our sad goodbyes to our local guide and our drivers, and took the 4 pm flight back to Delhi.

By 7:30 pm we were in the bar at our comfortable airport hotel, reflecting on the fantastic trip we had experienced.
Normally it takes clients a while to assess a trip and decide on their next birding destination, but everyone agreed that they couldn’t wait to come back to this place; Incredible India!

Crimson-rumped Toucanet

Crimson-rumped Toucanet.jpg

The Crimson-rumped Toucanet (Aulacorhynchus haematopygus) is a species of bird in the Ramphastidae family. It is not the only species of Aulacorhynchus toucanet whose rump is red – but it is the only red-rumped member of the genus in northern South America; because of this, it is unlikely to be confused with any other members in its genus.

Its beautiful plumage is overall green (often faintly tinged blue), except for a maroon-red rump and tail-tip. The bill is black and maroon with a white band at the base.

Crimson-rumped Toucanets are fairly common in lowland premontane to montane evergreen forest and secondary growth, also in forest edges and dense thickets, and sometimes in isolated fruit trees in pastures and gardens. It occurs from southwestern Venezuela south to southwestern Ecuador.

It is a noisy, inquisitive, social bird; this species is usually found in pairs or small groups foraging for fruits, palm nuts, invertebrates, bird eggs, small vertebrate and other prey in the forest canopy.

Breeding is usually from January to May, with much singing, calling and chasing until a pair is established at the start of breeding. In most cases the nest is in an old woodpecker hole with rotted wood excavated out. The female does much of the incubating, but the nest is kept clean by both parents. The young develop slowly, with fledging only at 7 weeks. The young probably return to roost with their parents, and may stay together until the next breeding season.

Crimson-rumped Toucanets are fairly common in Ecuador, and you can join us on one of our Nature Travel Birding trips to see these cartoon-like coloured birds and many others in this fascinating South American country.

For more information, go to www.naturetravelbirding.com or enquire directly at info@naturetravelbirding.com

Coenraad Temminck’s Birthday

Today we here at Nature Travel Birding celebrate the birthday of one of the world’s most famous ornithologists, Coenraad Temminck.

He was born on 31 March 1778 in Amsterdam in the then Dutch Republic. He became interested in birds and nature from an early age. From his father, Jacob Temminck, who was treasurer of the Dutch East India Company with links to numerous travellers and collectors, he inherited a large collection of bird specimens. He also had an aviary with living birds. His father was a good friend of another very famous ornithologist, Francois Levaillant, who also guided Coenraad later in his life.

Temminck was the first director of the National Museum of Natural History in Leiden from 1820 until his death. In 1831, he was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. In 1836 he became member of the Royal Institute, predecessor of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Temminck’s Manuel d’ornithologie, ou Tableau systématique des oiseaux qui se trouvent en Europe (1815) was the standard work on European birds for many years. He was also the author of Histoire naturelle générale des Pigeons et des Gallinacées (1813–1817), Nouveau Recueil de Planches coloriées d’Oiseaux (1820–1839), and contributed to the mammalian sections of Philipp Franz von Siebold’s Fauna japonica (1844–1850).
He gained his contemporary’s respect thanks to the description of many new species and to his detailed monographs on birds. He also published a small number of works on biogeography describing the fauna of the Dutch colonies in Southeast Asia and Japan. These works are remarkable for two reasons. First, in them Temminck accurately described the species composition of poorly explored regions, like the Sunda Islands and Japan. Secondly, he formulated a new law on the geographical distribution of animals around the globe, based on the parallels he observed between the fauna from Europe, Asia and Japan. The underlying ideas that lead Temminck to this law were the type-concept, which he understood as the ideal morphological plan behind animal form, the unchanging character of the species and a strong belief in nature’s divine design.
Temminck died on 30 January 1858, at the age of 79, in Leiden, Netherlands.

A large number of animals were named for Temminck in the 19th century. Among those still in use are 11 species of fish and sharks, 2 reptiles, 14 different mammals and 20 species of birds.

Some of the bird species named after him are highly sought after and can be seen on many of our Nature Travel Birding tours across the globe. This includes, amongst many others, the globally threatened Temminck’s Tragopan of northeast India, the dainty Temminck’s Courser of sub-Saharan Africa, the mouse-like Temminck’s Stint that breeds in the Arctic north of Europe and Asia, and the highly social Temminck’s Hornbill, endemic to Sulawesi, Indonesia.

For more information on where to spot these “Temminck birds” on one of our birding trips, visit www.naturetravelbirding.com or enquire directly at info@naturetravelbirding.com

Choco Toucan

Choco Toucan.jpg

The Choco Toucan (Ramphastos brevis) is a large(although among the smallest Ramphastos toucans), predominantly black bird with a striking yellow and black beak, a yellow bib, white uppertail coverts, red undertail coverts and green ocular skin.

It is considered a “Choco” endemic, found in the humid Pacific lowlands and lower foothills of southwest Colombia and northwest Ecuador. It generally inhabits lowland forest and also forest on lower Andean slopes, as well as adjacent pastures with fruiting trees or plantations.

It overlaps almost completely with the nearly identical Chestnut-mandibled Toucan (Ramphastos swainsoni), and is best separated by its slightly smaller size, its black, as opposed to “chestnut” lower mandible, and most-importantly voice. The Choco Toucan gives a series of croaking “grrrack…grrrack….grrrack….grrrack”  calls, placing it firmly in the so-called “croaking group” of larger toucans, rather than the “yelping group”.

They are often found foraging in fruiting trees in the forest canopy in small groups of 2 to 5 individuals, eating mainly fruits, but also insects and small vertebrates. They have been recorded following raiding army ants, presumably for the animal prey they disturb.

In aviculture, their requirements of spacious cages and a high-fruit diet, and their sensitivity to hemochromatosis (iron-storage disease), make them difficult to maintain for novice keepers.

This beautiful toucan and many other colourful neotropical birds can be seen on a Nature Travel Birding trip to the wonderful South American countries of Colombia, Peru or Ecuador. Contact us at info@naturetravelbirding.com or visit us on www.naturetravelbirding.com for more information.

World Sparrow Day

Today is World Sparrow Day!

House Sparrow.jpg

The diminutive House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) is perhaps one of the earliest birds you can remember from your childhood. Their nests dotted almost every house in the neighbourhood as well as public places like parking lots, bus bays and railway stations, where they lived in colonies and survived on food grains and tiny worms. Many bird watchers and ornithologists recall with fondness how the House Sparrow gave flight to their passion for observing birds. The association between humans and the House Sparrow dates back to several centuries and no other bird has been associated with humans on a daily basis like the House Sparrow. It is a bird that evokes fond memories and has thus found mention in folklore and songs from time immemorial.

World Sparrow Day is a day designated to raise awareness of the House Sparrow and other birds common to urban environments, and of threats to their populations, and has been observed on 20 March each year since 2010. The population of House Sparrow is believed to be declining for various reasons ranging from the destruction of its habitat to lack of insect food for the young and even the increasing microwave pollution from mobile phone towers.

World Sparrow Day is an international initiative by the Nature Forever Society of India in collaboration with the Eco-Sys Action Foundation (France) and numerous other national and international organisations across the world. The Nature Forever Society was started by Mohammed Dilawar, an Indian conservationist who started his work helping the House Sparrow in Nashik, and who was named one of the “Heroes of the Environment” for 2008 by Time magazine for his efforts.

The idea of marking World Sparrow Day came up during an informal discussion at the Nature Forever Society’s office. The idea was to earmark a day for the House Sparrow to convey the message of conservation of the House Sparrow and other common birds and also mark a day of celebration to appreciate the beauty of the common biodiversity which is taken so much for granted.

The first World Sparrow Day was celebrated in 2010 in different parts of the world. The day was celebrated by carrying out different various kinds of activities and events like art competitions, awareness campaigns, and sparrow processions as well as interactions with media.

World Sparrow Day also has a broader vision to provide a platform where people who are working on the conservation of the House Sparrow and other common birds can network, collaborate and exchange conservation ideas which will lead to better science and improved results. It aims to provide a meeting ground for people from different parts of the world to come together and form a force that can play an important role in advocacy and in spreading the awareness on the need of conserving common biodiversity or species of lower conservation status.

We here at Nature Travel Birding love all birds, including the common ones like the House Sparrow. To see it and its common cousins, but also many more exotic and colourful ones, join us on a tailor-made private and small group birding tour to one of the many birding destinations that we offer.

Visit www.naturetravelbirding.com for more information or enquire directly by sending an email to info@naturetravelbirding.com.

 

 

Buzzards Day – 15 March

The annual celebration of a bird whose circling overhead was a signal to the cowboys of old that a once living creature had met its demise seems strange to say the least. Yet, Buzzard Day is circled on the calendars of many dedicated Ohio residents who, once a year, eagerly scan the skies with binoculars watching for its return. For them this graceful, winged creature with its bald head and red beak signals, not death, but rebirth.
Turkey Vulture.jpg
The mid-March buzzard celebration is led by an ‘Official Buzzard Spotter’ on the Hinckley Reservation in the Cleveland Metroparks in Ohio in the United States of America. A large number of enthusiasts converge on Buzzard Roost at around 6:30am in anticipation of the bird’s return. Those for whom this is beyond the call of duty can still participate in the joyous celebrations by attending Buzzard Sunday for festive family fun that celebrates the return of this flying precursor to spring.
The legend of the annual return of the Buzzards (Turkey Vultures) to Buzzard Roost goes back nearly a century in Hinckley history. Legend has it that they were first attracted by the tons of butchering refuse and unwanted game left behind in the great Hinckley Hunt of 1818, but additional historical research among the records of the Sylvester Library of Medina uncovered an old manuscript by William Coggswell, proving that these vultures had made their home on Hinckley Ridge long before the white men settled west of the Cuyahoga River.
In 1957 a reporter from the Cleveland Press became interested in a claim by Metroparks Ranger Walter Nawalaniec. He told the reporter that he had personally observed the buzzards arrival in Hinckley each March 15 for the past six years and that his predecessor, the late Charlie Willard had kept a personal log of their arrival for the past 23 years. The reporter’s interest was aroused. He wrote in the February 15, 1957 issue of a Cleveland paper that longtime legend of the Hinckley Buzzards. He further predicted their return in exactly one month – March 15.
Excitement mounted as the month progressed. Naturalists, ornithologists and reporters repeated and embellished the original story and suspense mounted. March 15 arrived and so did the buzzards – who arrived right on schedule at 2 PM that day, a Friday. The news travelled fast and the weekend brought throngs of sightseers from all over Ohio and neighbouring states.
The town was unprepared for the 9,000 plus visitors that flocked there that year but by 1958 plans had been made to welcome the interested visitors.
The town proclaimed the first Sunday after March 15 as Buzzard Sunday. Forty-plus years later thousands of visitors continue to attend the pancake and sausage breakfast, hosted by the Hinckley Chamber of Commerce, at Hinckley Elementary School. Organizations from the town are invited to help and provide exhibits and information about their activities. Crafters and artists fill the classrooms with their wares. Many town volunteers assist in the Chamber with this annual breakfast.
The Cleveland Metroparks welcome visitors yearly on March 15 to the Buzzard Roost in Hinckley Reservation. With a traditional “Buzzard Spotter” the first buzzard’s time of arrival is clocked. The event is hailed as a sign of spring in the Midwest by all who attend.

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.
SNOWY OWL4
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.
SNOWY OWL2
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!
SNOWY OWL3