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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Peru Birding Trip Report – September 2018

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We just completed another wonderful Peru birding trip. I absolutely love birding in this country with few other birding destinations offering the same variety and diversity of birding habitats and birds (country list in excess of 1800 birds which is incredible). Add to that the spectacular scenery, great wildlife and friendly people; this country does have it all. The birding habitats visited varied from dry coastal plains and scrub, short ocean boat cruise, high Andes with snow covered peaks and Polylepis Forest, Cloud forest and Bamboo on the famous Manu road and off course the Amazon. We ended up with a total of 538 birds with 38 species of Hummingbirds, 19 species of Macaws, Parrots and Parakeets , 32 Raptor species and 32 species of Antbirds, Antwren, Antshrike and Antpittas. And not to forget Machu Picchu – undoubtedly one of the highlights of the trip!

Day 1: Birding around Lima
After an early breakfast in our hotel in the heart of the Miraflores district of the bustling capital of Peru, our first birding stop was at the wetland marsh of Los Pantanos de Villa, a short drive to the south of the city. We walked along the reeds and waterways and our highlights here included Many-coloured Rush-tyrant, Wren-like Rushbird, Plumbeous Rail, Peruvian Meadowlark, Peruvian Thick-knee and Black Skimmer, along with others like Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Wilson’s Phalarope, American Oystercatcher, Little Blue Heron and Yellow-crowned Night Heron.
After a short drive further south we arrived at the colourful quaint fishing village of Pucusana. From here we did a 90 minute boat cruise out onto the Pacific Ocean, where the magic continued with hundreds of Inca Tern and Peruvian Booby on the cliffs close to the boat. We also saw Humboldt Penguin, Red-legged Cormorant, Peruvian Pelican and the endemic Peruvian Seaside Cinclodes. After lunch in a local restaurant we explored some of the local areas around San Andres with its scrubby semi-desert scrub vegetation and found the endemic Coastal Miner, Chestnut-throated Seedeater, Hooded Siskin, as well as our first hummingbird of the trip, the Purple-collared Woodstar. We then headed back to Lima for our first dinner together as a group and a good night’s sleep.

Inca Tern

Day 2: Machu Picchu
After an early flight to Cusco we boarded a train for Machu Picchu. As we enjoyed the spectacular scenery we did mange a few nice birds like Black-chested Buzzard-eagle, Andean Gull, Andean Lapwing, American Kestrel, Mountain Caracara, Torrent Duck, Yellow-billed Teal and Puna Ibis. After arriving at the station in Aguas Calientes town we had a short bus trip up to the entrance of Machu Picchu where we enjoyed this incredible natural wonder of the world, listening to the history and interesting facts told by our local guide. We did manage to see the endemic Inca Wren, Green-and-white Hummingbird, Sierran Elaenia, Blue-and-grey Tanager and Saffron-crowned Tanager. We took the bus back down to the small village and with a bit of time to spare before our train departed we decided to walk one of the river trails (actually part of the famous Inca trail). We had a couple of great mixed flocks and did see Streaked Xenops, Rusty Flowerpiercer, Thick-billed Euphonia, Silver-beaked, Palm and Blue-necked Tanager, Sclater’s and Mottled-cheeked Tyrannulet, Common Tody-flycatcher (actually quite rare in this part of Peru), Capped Conebill, Brown-capped Vireo, and Red-eyed (Chivi subspecies) Vireo. A scan of the river did produce a young Fasciated Tiger-heron, White-capped Dipper, Torrent Tyrannulet and Black Phoebe. Between the regular trains going past we did also see Roadside Hawk, Mitred Parakeet, Dusky-green Oropendola, Sparkling Violetear, Speckled-faced Parrot and White-tipped Dove. We caught the last train to Ollantaytambo where we enjoyed a great dinner and well-deserved rest.

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Day 3: Abra Malaga Pass and Huaypo Lake
With an early start we made our way up the absolutely stunning Abra Malaga Pass with the highest point 4300m above sea level. Our first birding stop today was the Bamboo Forest as you descend on the Eastern slope where our 3 main targets were Parodi’s Hemispingus, Cuzco Brushfinch and Unstreaked Tit-tyrant. Before long we had all 3 and also found Grey-browed Brushfinch, Marcapata Spinetail, Black-capped Hemispingus, Plushcap, Black-throated Flowerpiercer, Scarlet-bellied and Rufous-breasted Tanager, Andean and Brown-bellied Swallow, Red-crested Cotinga, White-throated and White-banded Tyrannulet and Andean Guan was a nice surprise.
We made our way back to the top of the pass from where actually hiked a few hundred meters higher to explore the Polylepis Forest. It is amazing as you feel out of breath even walking 30 paces forcing us to take frequent rest breaks, but this gives you a chance to enjoy the spectacular scenery and with the stunning sunshine weather we had beautiful views of the snow-covered peak called Veronica. It was a bit surreal walking through the snow between the Polylepis trees and the great birding was a big bonus. On the hike we saw Cream-winged and White-winged Cinclodes (Royal Cinclodes was calling and seen in flight only), Andean Goose, Crested Duck, Cinereous and Taczanowski’s Ground-tyrant, Plumbeous and Ash-breasted Sierra-finch, White-winged Diuca Finch, Striped-headed Antpitta, Ash-breasted Tit-tyrant, Giant Conebill, Brown-backed and Rufous-breasted Chat-tyrant, White-browed Tit-spinetail and Olivaceous Thornbill. Junín Canastero was a great find, and everyone enjoyed seeing Andean Flicker perching in their peculiar way on an exposed rock not far from us. A quick stop further down produced the localised White-tufted Sunbeam, Tyrian Metaltail and Blue-and-yellow Tanager.
After lunch we spent an hour birding around Huaypo Lake where great views of Black-faced Ibis and Many-coloured Rush-tyrant greeted us. Here we found Yellow-winged Blackbird, Andean Duck, Yellow-billed Pintail, Yellow-billed and Cinnamon Teal, White-tufted Grebe, Ruddy Duck and Andean Coot. Aplomado Falcon was seen by all and we found an excellent spot for shorebirds and quickly added Solitary Sandpiper, Black-necked Stilt, American Golden Plover and White-rumped Sandpiper. We arrived in Cusco by late afternoon and our very nice hotel was situated very close to the main square.

Andean Flicker

Day 4: Huacarpay Lake, San Salvador and down the Manu road
Our first stop for today was Huacarpay Lake not far from Cusco and soon after stopping we enjoyed great views of a Cinerous Harrier quartering low over the wetland. A walk along the edge of the marshy area produced Band-tailed Seedeater, Peruvian Sierra-finch, Olivaceous Siskin, Green-tailed and Black-tailed Trainbearer, Giant Hummingbird and Wren-like Rushbird. We had a beautiful flyby of an adult and juvenile Black-chested Buzzard-eagle and finally tracked down a calling Stripe-fronted Thornbird.
From here we did a detour and made our way up to the high elevation Lake San Salvador. En route a quick stop produced Golden-billed Saltator, Yellow-billed Tit-tyrant, Rusty-fronted Canastero, Variable Hawk and the beautiful Chestnut-breasted Mountain-finch. Once we reach the lake we easily found our two main targets – Giant Coot and Silvery Grebe. A Greater Yellowlegs was an unexpected bird and had great close-up vies of Mountain Caracara. Other nice birds we found in the area were Andean Flicker, Black-billed Shrike-tyrant, Rufous-webbed Bush-tyrant, Slender-billed Miner, Paramo Seedeater, Andean Goose and Ochre-naped Ground-tyrant. It was a long but very interesting detour and after enjoying a home-cooked lunch in a local restaurant in Paucartambo Town we arrived at the entrance of Manu National Park with great excitement and expectations about birding the famous Manu Road over the next few days.

Day 5: Wayqecha Biological Research Station and the Upper Manu Road
Manu National Park is known to have the highest biological diversity of any park in the world and this beautiful and very important park from a conservation point of view should be on every birder’s bucket list. We started off our day driving a little higher back up the road to try and find some of the high elevation specialists. In the short time we had up there we manged to see Masked Flowerpiercer, Scarlet-bellied Mountain-tanager, Blue-and-black and Golden Collared Tanager, Slaty-backed Chat-tyrant, Amethyst-throated Sunangel, Pearled Treerunner, Montane Woodcreeper, Masked Trogon, Golden-headed Quetzal, Mountain Wren, Superciliaried Hemispingus and Black-faced Brushfinch. A walk further down the road produced great views of a roosting Swallow-tailed Nightjar. Other nice birds were Collared Inca, Blue-breasted toucanet, Andean Parakeet, Greater Scythebill, White-collared Jay, Streaked Tuftedcheek, Inca Flycatcher, Citrine and Pale-legged Warbler, Puna Thistletail, Barred Becard, Blue-backed Conebill, Drab Hemispingus and Mountain Cacique.
After lunch we started slowly making our way down the road and picked up Chestnut-crested Cotinga, Andean Solitaire, Slaty, Rust-and-yellow and Blue-capped Tanager, Capped Conebill and Azara’s Spinetail. A little later on we found a brilliant mixed flock which included Pale-edged, Olive-streaked and Striped Treehunter, Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Versicoloured Barbet, Yellow-throated, Saffron-crowned, Beryl-spangled, Russet-crowned and Three-striped Warbler, Deep Blue Flowerpiercer, Bolivian Tyrannulet and Black-eared Hemispingus to name a few. Chestnut-collared Swift, Green-fronted Lancebill and Long-tailed Sylph were also found in the area.
We had a memorable 10 minutes where there were 3 Golden-headed and 3 Crested Quetzals present at the same spot. Later on we found Chestnut-tipped Toucanet, Yellow-throated Bush-tanager, Andean Motmot, White-eared Solitaire and a female Andean Cock-of-the-Rock. Our final bird of the day was a displaying Lyre-tailed Nightjar. The famous Manu road truly lived up to its reputation and we still had a couple of days to go!

Golden-headed Quetzal

Day 6: Cock-of-the-Rock and the lower Manu road
We spent the day birding the Cloud Forest around the lodge and along the Manu Road. It only took us a short while to find our first flock which produced Yellow-throated, Beryl-spangled, Golden, Palm, Blue-grey and Silver-beaked Tanager, Orange-billed Euphonia, Streaked Xenops, Azara’s Spinetail, Uniform Antshrike, Golden-crowned Flycatcher and Golden-eyed Flowerpiercer. We found another female Andean Cock-of-the-Rock and had some nice Hummingbirds with Sparkling Violetear, Wire-crested Thorntail, Green Hermit, Fawn-breasted Brilliant, Bronzy Inca and Booted Rackettail. It took us a while but everyone had good views of White-throated Antpitta and other nice birds seen this morning were Yungas Manakin, Paradise and Spotted Tanager, Golden-olive Woodpecker and Russet-backed Oropendola. Tayra, Large-headed Capuchin and Brown Agouti were new mammals for the trip.
As we left the lodge after lunch had brilliant views of a Bluish-fronted Jacamar before visiting the famous Cock-of-the-rock Lek where we had 7 males displaying. Good views of a hunting Solitary Eagle was enjoyed and other birds we saw were Plumbeous Pigeon, Brown Tinamou, Dusky Green Oropendola, White-headed Tapaculo, Stripe-throated Antwren, Moustached Wren, Variegated Flycatcher, Two-banded Warbler, Rufous-tailed Bush-tyrant and Blue-necked Tanager.
On the way back to lodge we had incredible close-up views of a Rufescent Screech-owl. What a great end to a wonderful day’s birding.

Andean Cock-of-the-rock

Day 7: Bamboo and lower Foothills
Before making our way further down the Manu Road we tried to find one more mixed flock and this proved to be a very good decision as we followed a nice flock for a while. Some of the specials we found in the flock and surrounding area were Masked Tityra, Spotted, Golden-eared, Blue-necked, Golden, Orange-eared and Black-goggled Tanager, Olive-backed Woodcreeper, Golden-bellied and Three-streaked Warbler, Yellow-rumped, Yellow-breasted and Slaty Antwren, Montane Foliage-gleaner, Purple Honeycreeper, White-crested Elaenia, Black-bellied Thorntail, Marble-faced Tyrannulet, Grey-hooded Bush-tanager and Scale-crested Pygmy-tyrant. It is amazing that you can walk in the forest for an hour without a single bird and then run into a stunning flock like this where it is all action for 45 minutes! Other good birds found were White-backed Fire-eye and Grey-mantled Wren.
The rest of the morning was spent in the Bamboo Forest where birding can be tricky and patience is required. We did end up with great birds which included Chestnut-breasted Wren, Stripe-chested, Yellow-breasted and Yellow-rumped Antwren, Ornate, Yellow-breasted, Dusky-capped, Cinnamon-faced, Lemon-browed and Slaty-capped Flycatcher, Red-billed Scythebill, Spot-winged Antbird, Crested Oropendola, Speckled Chachalaca and Yellow-breasted Warbling-antbird to name a few.
After another wonderful lunch at this very nice lodge it was time to head further down towards Villa Carmen Biological Station with Amazonian Umbrellabird, Crimson-crested Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied and Yellow-crested Tanager, Variegated Bristle-tyrant, Rufous-rumped and Buff-browed Foliage-gleaner, Lanceolated Monklet and Ash-browed Spinetail on the way. We still had time for some birding in the lower foothills where one stop produced Swallow Tanager, Fine-barred Piculet, Blue-headed Macaw, Plain-crowned Spinetail, Violaceous Jay, Chestnut-bellied Seedeater, Long-tailed Tyrant, Little Woodpecker, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Magpie Tanager, Blue-headed Parrot, Plum-throated Cotinga, Fork-tailed Palm-swift, Yellow-tufted Woodpecker, Chestnut-eared Aracari and Yellow-rumped Cacique. What a great end to the day and a very nice preview of what was to come over the next few days in the Amazon.

Day 7: Amazonian Bamboo
After an early breakfast we decided to bird around the ponds close to the lodge before moving our focus to the extensive Bamboo Forest with many trails to explore. And we were in for a great start to the day with Hoatzin, White-winged Piping-guan, Spot-breasted, Lineated and Crimson-crested Woodpecker, Red-throated Caracara, Scarlet, Blue-and-yellow and Chestnut-fronted Macaw, Blue-headed Parrot, Limpkin, Purple Gallinule, White-eyed Parakeet and White-winged Swallow. There were a few good Hummingbirds around with Emerald-spangled Brilliant, Golden-tailed Sapphire, Blue-tailed Emerald and Rufous-crested Coquette.
Birding in the Bamboo can be very rewarding but time-consuming as you seldom encounter mixed flocks and have to focus on seeing birds one species at a time. We still had a great session with Fiery-crested Manakin, Dot-winged and White-eyed Antwren. Plain-winged, Spot-winged and Bamboo Antshrike, Goeldi’s Antbird, Reddish Hermit, Dusky-capped Greenlet, Cabanis’s Spinetail and Blue-crowned Trogon.
After a nice lunch we were back in the Bamboo and had another great time with Flammulated Bamboo-tyrant, Wedge-billed and Buff-throated Woodcreeper, Plain Softtail, Large-headed Flatbill, White-bearded Hermit, Grey-crowned and Sepia-capped Flycatcher and Pectoral Sparrow. Part of the trail was next to the river where we found Amazonian Motmot, Buff-rumped Warbler, Grey-hooded Wood-rail and a Great Tinamou which unfortunately quickly disappeared into the forest. An excursion after dinner produced Tawny-bellied Screech-owl and Common Pauraque.

Day 8: Early Bamboo and down the River Madre De Dios
We had time for an hour of birding before we had to depart and our main target was the Amazonian Antpitta which offered great views. A pair of Brazilian Teals were a surprise this far into Peru and with a quick walk in the Bamboo we found Red-breasted and Great-billed Hermit, Scaly-breasted Wren, Chestnut-tailed, Manu and White-lined Antbird. After a quick coffee were in the vehicle and were making our way to the River Madre de Dios as we had a 5 hour boat cruise down river to our next destination – Manu Wildlife Centre deep in the Peruvian Amazon.
Initially we found a few of the more common species like Coqui Heron, Fasciated Heron, Giant Cowbird, Amazon Kingfisher, Neotropic Cormorant and Anhinga as well as a few specials like Sunbittern, Green Kingfisher, Capped Heron, Horned Screamer, Razor-billed Curassow, Sand-coloured Nighthawk, Black Skimmer, Wood Stork and Pied Lapwing. We had really good raptors and ended up with Crane Hawk, Bat Falcon, Red-necked Caracara, Swallow-tailed Kite, Plumbeous Kite, Short-tailed Hawk, White Hawk, Turkey and Black Vulture and Great Black Hawk being harassed by a Roadside Hawk. Red-bellied Macaw, Neotropical Otter and Yellow-spotted Amazon Turtle were new additions for the different lists. We arrived at Manu Wildlife Center by late afternoon and enjoyed a great dinner as we talked about the exciting day waiting for us tomorrow.

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Day 9: Macaw Clay Lick and Terra Firma
We were up early and back on the boat as we made our way further downstream to the famous Blanquillo Macaw Clay Lick. As it was still fairly dark when we departed we found Ladder-tailed Nightjar and in the forest patch on way Rusty-margined Flycatcher, White-winged Becard, White-browed Antbird, Thrush-like Wren, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Plain Tyrannulet, Golden-bellied Euphonia, Crowned Slaty Flycatcher and Grey Elaenia. At the clay lick we had a big flock of Cobalt-winged Parakeets, Blue-headed Parrot and later Red-and-green Macaw and watching them fly together at once is sighting no one in the group will ever forget. We also had Orange-cheeked Parrot, Blue-and-yellow Macaw, Dusky-headed Parakeet, White-bellied and Yellow-crowned Parrot, Mealy Amazon and Tui Parakeet. Greater Yellow-headed Vulture flew overhead and other nice birds seen from the hide were Barred Antshrike, Black-crowned Tityra and White-throated Toucan. Collared Plover was seen on the way back to the lodge.
We had the rest of the day to explore the Terra Firma Forest with the many great trails from the center and even with the day already getting warm we found Dusky-throated Antshrike, Grey and Pygmy Antwren, Black-faced Antbird, Black-tailed Trogon, Buff-throated Woodcreeper, both White-fronted and Black-fronted Nunbird and White-winged Shrike Tanager before lunch. With only one day to explore this forest habitat we started our afternoon session early and started with great views of Amazonian and Broad-billed Motmot and Band-tailed Manakin. Ihambari Woodcreeper, Ruddy Quail-dove, Ihering’s Antwren, Bran-coloured Flycatcher, Rufous-tailed Elaenia, White-bellied Tody-tyrant, Yellow-browed Tody-flycatcher, Plumbeous Antbird and Fork-tailed Woodnymph were seen as well. Then we climbed the 144 steps up to the 42 metre high viewing platform built between the branches of a massive Lupuna tree. The view from up there is amazing and it offered us the chance to see Red-necked Woodpecker and Bright-rumped Atilla from up there. Amazonian Pygmy-owl was seen on the way back and there was reason to celebrate as this was bird number 1500 for a couple of birders in the group.

Red-and-green Macaw

Day 10: Blanco Oxbow Lake and off to Puerto Maldonado
We were up early as we wanted to explore one of the Oxbow lakes nearby. These quiet backwaters offer a new habitat with a chance to see some of the more difficult to find birds found here. And the couple of hours slowly moving close to the water’s edge on a floating platform produced Greater Ani, Sungrebe, Grey-breasted Martin, Black-capped Donaocobius, Great Kiskadee, Rufescent Tiger-heron, Orange-backed Troupial, Wattled Jacana, Bare-necked Fruitcrow, Amazonian Parrotlet, Anhinga, Yellow-billed and Great-billed Tern, Channel-billed Toucan, Pale-eyed Blackbird, Silvered Antbird and Amazonian Streaked Antwren. We also had great views of a family of Giant Otters.
The forest on the trail to the lake produced Dull-capped Atilla, Collared and Green-backed Trogon, Cinereous Mourner, Western Striolated Puffbird and the highlight of the morning, a Pale-winged Trumpeter. These impressive birds are now very rare due to hunting and habitat destruction and it is great to hear that they are increasing in number. The rest of the day was spent travelling but we still found Upland and Spotted Sandpiper, Collared Plover, Black and Southern Caracara, and Black-tailed Tityra en route. We arrived in Puerto Maldonado by late afternoon and enjoyed a wonderful meal in our hotel restaurant.

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Day 11: Puerto Maldonado
We had a couple of hours to bird before our flight to Lima and quickly found Burrowing Owl while Ferruginous Pygmy-owl was a nice bonus. We also found Purus and White-throated Jacamar, Ruddy Ground-dove, White-lored Tyrannulet, Streaked Flycatcher, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Saffron Finch, Black-throated Antbird, Southern Lapwing, Laughing Falcon, Black-collared Hawk, Double-collared Seedeater, Chestnut-bellied Seedfinch and Red-breasted Meadowlark in the open woodland close to town.
We explored a patch of Swamp Forest which produced American Pygmy Kingfisher, Buff-breasted Wren, Slender-billed Kite, Gilded Barbet, Fiery-capped and Band-tailed Manakin, Straight-billed Woodcreeper and Undulated Tinamou. We made our way to the airport which was the end of a wonderful birding trip with a wonderful group!

Ecuador Trip Report

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Ecuador is an amazing birding destination with a checklist of more than 1800 species and a variety of habitats. For this trip we would focus on the western and eastern slopes of the Andes, as we only had 12 days, so the Amazonian specials will have to wait for the next trip. Some of the highlights were Channel-billed and Choco Toucans, 5 species of Mountain-toucan and Toucanet’s, 7 species of Antpitta, various Antbird’s, Antwren, Antvireo, Antshrike and Antthrush. The Andean Condor is just such an iconic species and the main mammal highlight was a great Spectacled Bear sighting. We had 60 species of Hummingbird including highlights like Sword-billed and Giant Hummingbird, Tourmaline Sunangel and Lazuline Sabrewing and 53 species of Tanager. Our lodges all had feeders which made seeing these two colourful families a lot easier and we ended up with more than 450 species which is remarkable as we spend all of our time in forest habitats. Below is a daily report with only some of the highlights mentioned.

Arrival Day: Jerusalem dry forest and garden birds
Since most of the group arrived a day early we decided to visit the nearby dry forest of the Jerusalem Reserve. This habitat does not hold the number of birds that we will be seeing the rest of the trip but it did give us a chance to see this unique habitat and to pick up a few birds that we will not see elsewhere. On the way we stopped at a pond for Andean Teal, Andean coot, Yellow-billed Pintail, Pied-billed Grebe and a Greater Yellowlegs. The dry forest did produce some birds like Purple-collared Woodstar, Harris Hawk, Variable Hawk, American Kestrel, Vermillion Flycatcher, Azara Spinetail, House Wren, Giant Hummingbird, Ash-breasted Sierra-finch, Pale-banded Seedeater and White-collared Swift. For the rest of the afternoon we enjoyed the great garden birds at our Guesthouse and saw Sparkling Violetear, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Black-tailed Trainbearer, Saffron Finch, Scrub, Blue-grey and Blue and Yellow Tanager, Great Thrush, American Kestrel, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Golden Grosbeak, Rusty Flowerpiercer and Western Emerald. It was a great introduction into the more common birds found around Quito and got everyone excited about what was about to come – and we were in for a real treat.

Day 1: Yanacocha and the Tandayapa Valley
After an early breakfast we were off to Yanacocha Reserve, managed by the Jocotoco Foundation, protecting an amazing patch of cloud forest. After a quick stop for Andean Lapwing and Paramo Ground-tyrant and a visit to the feeders where we saw Scarlet-bellied Mountain-tanager, Shining Sunbeam, Masked and Glossy Flowerpiercer we were off on one of the various trails. The first 45 minutes didn’t produce many new birds except for Tyrian Metaltail and a great sighting of Tawny Antpitta so we decided to venture further down into the forest. This proved to be a great decision as we quickly walked into a few feeding flocks. Some of the highlights were a big group of Blue and Black Tanager, Barred Fruiteater, Yellow-breasted Brush-finch, Blackish Tapaculo, Andean Guan, Striped Tuftedcheek, Sword-billed Hummingbird, Buff-winged Starfrontlet, Great Sapphirewing, Hooded Mountain-tanager, White-banded Tyrannulet, Rufous Wren, Spectacled Whitestart, Superciliaried Hemispingus and Blue-backed Conebill.
After a very enjoyable lunch we started making our way down into the Tandayapa Valley on the famous Nono-Mindo road and although we did not have as much time to explore as we would have liked we still managed to see Golden-headed Quetzal, Beautiful Jay, Choco Brush-finch, Cinnamon Flycatcher, Blue-winged Mountain and Golden Tanager, Orange-bellied Euphonia, Lesser Violetear, Brown-capped Vireo and White-tailed Tyrannulet.
We had a fantastic view of a White-capped Dipper and we heard Andean Cock-of-a-rock and with the knowledge that we will be visiting a lek in a few days we somehow resisted the temptation to explore. Next would be Rio Silanche and Milpe Reserve for what would end up as one of the highlights of the trip.

Day 2: Rio Silanche and Milpe Reserves
After a quick coffee we were off to the Rio Silanche Reserve where we wanted to spend the first few hours of the day at the famous viewing tower. After a quick stop for Common Pauraque, which also produced Collared Aracari, Rufous Motmot, Laughing Falcon and Lemon-rumped Tanager, we hurried to get to the platform as soon as possible. And what a fantastic few hours followed. We were treated to great views of Choco Toucan (one of the main targets for this trip), Pale-mandibled Aracari, Cinnamon Woodpecker, Orange-fronted Barbet, Southern Mealy and Bronze-winged Parrots, Dot-winged Antwren, Yellow-tufted Dacnis and Striped Flycatcher. We had several mixed flocks moving through which included Palm, Golden-hooded, Dusky-faced, Guira, Grey and Gold and Blue-necked Tanagers, Choco Tyrannulet, Northern Barred and Spotted Woodcreeper, Plain Xenops, Olivaceous Piculet, Yellow-tufted Dacnis, Buff-throated Saltator and White-whiskered Hermit.
After enjoying our packed breakfast we decided to take one of the trails through the forest and started off with a Chestnut-backed Antbird, Checker-throated and White-sided Antwren, White-tailed Trogon, White-bearded Manakin, Guayaquil Woodpecker, Black-streaked Woodcreeper and Red-faced Spinetail.
From here we spend a few hours at the Milpe Sanctuary and even with a few very light periods of rain we still managed to see both Choco and Yellow-throated Toucan, Red-headed Barbet, Silver-throated, Golden, Rufous-throated, Blue-grey Tanager, Green Flowerpiercer, Yellow-throated Bush-tanager, Ecuadorian Thrush, Orange-bellied Euphonia, Green Thorntail, White-necked Jacobin, Blue-chested Hummingbird, Crowned Woodnymph, Green-crowned Brilliant, Purple-crowned Fairy, Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, Scale-crested Pygmy-tyrant and Ornate Flycatcher.
As we got back to our lodge we were treated to a great spectacle at the feeders with White-booted Rackettail, Purple-throated Whitetip, Brown Violetear, Brown Inca, Velvet-purple Coronet, Purple-bibbed Whitetip, Purple-throated Woodstar, Flame-faced Tanager, Black-winged Saltator and a Black Agouti to add another mammal to our count.
Overall it was a spectacular day – the western slope of the Andes is a truly spectacular birding destination.
Choco Toucan (2)Velvet-purple CoronetYellow-throated Toucan

Day 3: Refuge Paz de la Aves
Today was always going to be a highlight and wow it did not disappoint!! After our customary early morning coffee and a short drive we were at the Cock-of-a-Rock spot at first light. Even as we approached we could hear the males calling and soon had more than 8 males in the area. We were treated to a wonderful display including a few perching less than 10 meters from us. While watching them we were distracted by a Golden-headed Quetzal, Rufous-bellied Nighthawk and Masked Trogon. As we made our way up the mountain our first stop produced Powerful Woodpecker, Common Potoo at a day roost, Sharpe’s Wren, Red-billed Parrot and then Angel managed to call out a Dark-backed Wood Quail. The way he had them habituated to his presence was impressive but what was about to follow was a truly unforgettable experience. First he called out a Moustached Antpitta and we just missed a Giant Antpitta. From here we moved a little higher where got excellent views of Rufous-crowned Antpitta and Yellow-breasted Antpitta. Toucan Barbet, Black-capped and Beryl-spangled Tanagers were a very welcome distraction.
And as we thought that was it we went for breakfast at Angel’s place (best breakfast of the trip) with Golden-naped, Black-capped, Flame-faced, Golden, Blue-grey, Black-chinned Mountain, Blue-winged Mountain Tanagers, Toucan and Red-headed Barbet, Andean Emerald, Sparkling and Brown Violetear, Brown Inca, Green-crowned Brilliant, Buff-tailed Coronet and a pair of Crimson-rumped Toucanets coming to the feeders. Not bad while enjoying a freshly brewed coffee.
We made a quick stop at Alami to witness an amazing display of Hummingbirds at the feeders. We had Booted Rackettail, Andean Emerald, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Brown Violetear, Purple-throated Woodstar, Fawn-breasted Brilliant, White-necked Jacobin, White-whiskered Hermit and Velvet-purple Coronet to mentioned a few. Ecuadorian Thrush, White-lined, Lemon-rumped, Brush Finch, Golden-bellied Euphonia, Ringed Kingfisher and Golden-olive Woodpecker were around as well.
We made our way back to our lodge and after a quick coffee we were in a new hide as we heard of recent sightings of Rufous-breasted Antthrush and were not disappointed. After 10 minutes we had wonderful views of a single bird coming to feed on the moths. From here we decided to try to find Lyre-tailed Nightjar. A quick stop en route produced Buff-fronted Warbler and Torrent Tyrannulet before we had incredible views, both perched close to us and displaying, of the nightjar. What an incredible bird and end to the day.
Crimson-rumped Toucanet (2)

Day 4: Bellavista Reserve
With an early start we were off to the Bellavista Reserve protecting a beautiful stretch of Cloud Forest. Forest birding is always most productive during the first few hours of the day but we decided to try a new hide where we heard good reports of insectivorous birds. And we were not disappointed for one second. As we arrived with the lights still on and plenty of moths around we saw Slaty-backed Nightingale-thrush – what a beautiful bird. The next couple of hours just kept on producing brilliant birds that included Uniform Antshrike, Spillman’s Tapaculo, Yellow-breasted Antpitta, Dusky Bush Tanager, Grey-breasted Wood-wren, Strong-billed, Montane, Wedge-billed and Plain-brown Woodcreepers, Western Woodhunter, Pearled Treerunner, Golden-crowned Flycatcher and Lineated Foliage-gleaner. These birds normally require a lot of effort to get a glimpse off never mind see so well. A quick stop at the Hummingbird feeders produced Tawny-bellied Hermit, Velvet-purple and Buff-tailed Coronet, Collared Inca, Sparkling Violetear, Spotted Hummingbird, Gorgeted Sunangel and White-sided Flowerpiercer. What a fantastic couple of hours.
It would have been great to stay a little longer but it was time to head up the mountain to the reserve. Our main target here was Plate-billed Mountain-toucan and we ended up with 3 different sightings. This was one of the main targets of the trip and we had a very happy group. That said I have yet to meet a birder that does not get excited when seeing a Mountain-toucan. Other great birds that we saw was Grass-green, Blue-winged Mountain, Flame-faced, Blue and Black Tanagers, Long-tailed Antbird, Sickle-winged Guan, Red-billed and Bronze-winged Parrot,
It was time to head of to our next destination but a bit of roadside birding produced Social Flycatcher, Pacific Hornero, Red-faced Spinetail, Southern Rough-winged Swallow, Roadside Hawk and Swallow Tanager.

Day 5: Mashpi Cloud Forest Area
Today was our last morning in the western slopes of the Andes and we were hoping to see a few more Choco endemics. It was extremely misty and although at some point we could not even make out birds a few meters from us, we still enjoyed these unusual conditions. Luckily this didn’t last long and we starting seeing some good birds. A roosting Lyre-tailed Nightjar was a good start to the day followed by a displaying Golden-winged Manakin. What an amazing sight to see this beautiful bird move up and down flicking its golden wings to attract the attention of a nearby female. There we several Becard’s around and we quickly saw Barred, Uniform, White-winged and Cinnamon. Tanagers were all over and we found Moss-backed, Golden, Flame-faced, Glistening Green (a truly amazing bird), Blue-grey, Rufous-throated and Blue-winged Mountain. Yellow-bellied Euphonia, Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, Bay Wren, Golden-headed Quetzal, Variable and Yellow-bellied Seedeater, Rosy-faced Parrot, Maroon-tailed Parakeet, White-tipped Sicklebill, Broad-billed and Rufous Motmot and Golden-collared Honeycreeper.
White-throated Quail-dove, Black Solitaire, Orange-breasted Fruiteater and Indigo Flowerpiercer were all big targets and were all seen this morning. From here it was time to head back to Quito but not without a quick stop for coffee and taking a group photo when crossing the equator. It was time to move to the Eastern slopes.
Rufous-throated Tanager.jpg

Day 6: Papallacta and Wild Sumaco
With a slightly later start than what we have accustomed to over the last few days we set off for the Eastern slopes of the Andes. Our first target for today was a mammal and not a bird. After scanning for a lengthy period we found a male Spectacles Bear feeding against one of the steep slopes. They are the only Bears found in South America and we really enjoyed this sighting. Unfortunately the weather set in and we confronted with heavy rain, strong winds and sub-zero temperatures as we reach the top of the pass. This did not stop us from trying to find our next target, the Rufous-bellied Seed-snipe. After a lot of searching we had to give up as the weather was just too bad as can happen at 4200m above sea level. We did however see Stout-billed and Rufous-winged Cinclodes, Caranculated Caracara, Plumbeous Sierra-finch and Andean Tit-spinetail. Luckily we did work in an extra day to visit this altitude again so we will have another chance for the missing targets. From here we made our way to Wild Sumaco Lodge which will be our base for the next two nights. With a mixed habitat of Eastern Andes Slope and Amazon species this is a one of the more diverse birding areas in Ecuador. On the way we did find Long-tailed Sylph, Torrent Duck, Channel-billed Toucan, Rufous-backed and Crested Oropendola, White-lored Euphonia, Lined Antshrike, Cliff Flycatcher, Chestnut-bellied Seedeater, Fawn-breasted and Magpie Tanager, Violaceous Jay, Thrush-like Wren, Golden-tailed Sapphire, Green and Gold Tanager and Violet-headed Hummingbird.
Torrent Duck.jpg

Day 7: Wild Sumaco
Today we had a full day to explore this wonderful area. Our first target was the Ochre-breasted Antpitta and as we made our way down to where we were hoping to see the bird we ran into a nice mixed feeding flock. Blue-naped Chlorophonia was the main start with plenty of Paradise, Blue-grey, Palm, Golden, Golden-eared, Blue-necked, Spotted, Flame-faced, Bay-headed, Blue-browed, Swallow, Green and Gold and Orange-eared Tanagers, Black-faced Dacnis, Olive-backed, Olivaceous and Montane Woodcreeper and Golden-eyed Flowerpiercer around. We didn’t have to wait long to see the Antpitta and had the added bonus of seeing a White-crowned Tapaculo and Chestnut-crowned Gnateater as well. The Hummingbird feeders was very productive and we quickly saw Gould’s Jewelfront, Violet-fronted Brilliant, Collared Inca, Rufous-vented Whitetip, Peruvian Racket-tail, Long-tailed Sylph, Fork-tailed Woodnymph, Golden-tailed Sapphire, Many-spotted Hummingbird and Brown Violetear to name a few and most of this while enjoying a great breakfast or lunch. One of the great things about birding in Ecuador is that while taking a short break from walking or driving you can just wait at the feeders and continue to see fantastic birds. Collared Trogon was also found in the garden. As we left for the afternoon we found a Black Hawk-eagle flying overhead and Maroon-tailed Parakeet in the lodge gardens.
The afternoon was spend exploring deep in the forest looking for a few of the more difficult species. We did see a Amazonian Trogon as we started and by the end of the walk we had White-crested Tapaculo, Blue-rumped, Golden-winged and White-crested Manakin, Blackish Antbird, Black-faced Antwren and Russet Antshrike to name a few. We enjoyed a great night’s sleep with the constant soft rain.

Day 8: Wild Sumaco and off to San Isidro:
This was our final morning at Wild Sumaco and we were up early to make the most of it. We had a great start with White-chested and Black-streaked Puffbird, Short-tailed Antthrush, Lafresnaye’s Piculet, Lineated, Yellow-tufted and Spot-breasted Woodpecker, Plain-backed Antpitta, Gilded Barbet, Ornate, Yellow-breasted and Plain-winged Antwren. A beautiful male Andean Cock-of-the-Rock from the eastern race was a great sighting and we had Blackish Rail out in the open. We managed to find Red-crested Finch which according to distribution maps should not be in the area. We managed to see a few very special Hummingbirds like Black-eared Fairy, Lazuline and Napo Sabrewing, Black-throated Brilliant, Green Hermit and Green-fronted Lancebill.
A few other nice birds on the way out was Black-billed Treehunter, Streaked Xenops, Dark-breasted Spinetail, Crimson-crested Woodpecker, Cliff Flycatcher, Long-tailed Tyrant, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Large-headed Flatbill, Short-crested Flycatcher, Yellow-cheeked and White-winged Becard and Slaty-capped Shrike-vireo. We arrived in San Isidro by late afternoon and enjoyed a wonderful dinner.

Day 9: San Isidro
We woke up with constant rain as we woke up that continued until about 11h00 which made birding difficult but the local Hummingbird feeders did produce Bronzy and Collared Inca, Chestnut-breasted Coronet, Speckled Hummingbird, Gorgeted Woodstar, Green-fronted Lancebill and Fawn-breasted Brilliant. Once the rain cleared we did manage to get a productive afternoon of birding in and did see Black-crested Warbler, Common and Yellow-throated Bush Tanager, Tropical and Solitary Cacique, Russet-baked Oropendola, Southern Lapwing, Lacrimose Mountain Tanager, Beryl-spangled, Blue-and-Black, Black-capped and Saffron-crowned Tanagers, Golden-eyed, Masked and Bluish Flowerpiercer, Olivaceous Siskin, Inca Jay, Mountain Wren, Rufous-crowned Tody-flycatcher and Handsome Flycatcher.
A late afternoon excursion did produce Sickle-winged and Andean Guan, White-chested and Chestnut-collared Swifts, Rufous-bellied Nighthawk and finally the famous San Isidro Owl. This mystery owl still remains unresolved with a subspecies of Black-banded Owl probably the closest known species. It sounds like if we will have an answer by the end of the year on whether this owl will be named as a full species or just a subspecies. Regardless we had fantastic views and a wonderful end to the day. We decided that for the following day we would try to catch up with a couple of missing species before heading further up the mountain for our final night on the slopes.
Chestnut-breasted Coronet.jpg

Day 10: San Isidro to Guango
We had a couple of hours to bird in the San Isidro area and although we were off to a fairly slow start we did mange to see Red-billed Parrot, Collared Forest-falcon, Montane and Strong-billed Woodcreeper, Lacrimose Mountain, Saffron-crowned, Blue and Black, Palm, Golden Blue-winged Mountain and Common Bush and Yellow-throated Bush Tanagers, Flavescent, Golden-crowned, Pale-edged, Streak-necked and Cinnamon Flycatcher, Mountain and Grey-breasted Mountain Wren, Collared and Bronzy Inca, Pale-eyed and Ecuadorian Thrush, Chestnut-breasted Coronet, Inca Jay, Black and Chestnut Eagle, Smoke-collared Pewee, Subtropical and Northern Mountain Caciques, Oleaginous and Black-headed Hemispingus and Black-crested Warbler. Long-tailed Tapaculo kept us busy for a while and on the way to Guangu we did see Torrent Tyrannulet, Spectacled Whitestart, Red-breasted Blackbird, Russet-backed Oropendola, Ash-browed Spinetail and Band-tailed Pigeon.
After settling in and enjoying the fantastic hummingbird feeders at Guango where we quickly picked up White-bellied Woodstar, Sword-billed Hummingbird and Tourmaline Sunangel we decided to try the mountain trail with the Grey-breasted Mountain-toucan our main target. We had a great start to the walk with Rufous Antpitta, Slaty-backed Chat-tyrant, Tyrannine Woodcreeper, Grey-hooded Bush Tanager, Black-eared Hemispingus (good day for Hemispingus), Russet-crowned and Black-crested Warbler, Slaty, Chestnut-capped and Pale-naped Brushfinch, Cinnamon Flycatcher and Bar-bellied Woodcreeper. As we decided to head back to the lodge we did a final scan and we found the Mountain-toucan. What a fantastic end to the day.

Day 11: Guango to Quito
We decided to try and find some missing birds found higher up the mountain early this morning to hopefully use the better weather conditions in the morning. We had a very successful start when we stopped for a great Black-chested Buzzard-eagle sighting and ran into a nice mixed flock with Buff-breasted Mountain Tanager, Shining Sunbeam, Purple-backed Thornbill, Cinerous Conebill, Black and Masked Flowerpiercer, the absolutely stunning Golden-crowned Tanager, Brown-backed Chat-tyrant, Plain-backed Hawk, Pale-naped Brushfinch, Red-crested Cotinga and Plain-coloured Seedeater. We did manage to lure a Rufous Antpitta out of its hiding place as well. We did try to find the Rufous-bellied Seedsnipes on top of the Papallacta Pass but again was faced with driving rain and strong winds so had to settle for a Tawny Antpitta, Plumbeous Sierra-finch, Rufous-winged and Stout-billed Cinclodes and Many-striped Canastero.
Before lunch we did a quick walk around Guango Lodge and had great views of Mountain Caciques, Cinnamon Flycatcher, Capped Conebill, Rufous-breasted Chat-tyrant, Smoky Bush Tyrant, Pearled Treerunner, Spectacled Whitestart, Turquoise Jay and Russet-crowned Warbler. After a much appreciated warm lunch (including a wonderful soup) we headed back up the mountain a final time a luckily quickly found out 3 targets: Black-backed Bush Tanager, White-throated Tyrannulet and the highlight a Masked Mountain Tanager. We arrived back in Quito by late afternoon with one more full day of birding left.
Shining Sunbeam.jpg

Day 12: Antisana
Most of the chat during breakfast was about seeing the Endean Condor as this was a big target for some in the group. After our drive up the Andes we had an excellent sighting of a Condor perching on a cliff (close to where it is nesting) and soon after moving on we encountered another two in flight. Caranculated Caracara’s were plentiful offering great close ups. An Aplomado Falcon was a nice surprise and soon after we had another of our targets – the Andean Hillstar. Regular stops produces Stout-billed and Rufous-winged Cinclodes, Black-winged Ground-dove, Tufted Tit-tyrant, Many-striped Canastero, Grass Wren and Brown Bellied Swallows. We saw our first White-tailed Deer and once we entered the open Paramo (offering great views of the Antisana Volcano) we saw more of our key targets in Andean Lapwing, Black-faced Ibis and Paramo Pipit. At Lake Mica we found Andean Duck, Andean Teal, Andean Gull and the main target the Silvery Grebe. We made our way back down to enjoy a wonderful lunch at Tambo Condor Restaurant overlooking the Condor cliff (at least one adult was present which was brilliant) with Giant Hummingbird around. We enjoyed a final dinner together in Quito before everyone left for the airport for the flights back home. It was a very successful and truly enjoyable trip.

Birding in and around Windhoek

Many people find it strange that I love my hometown of Windhoek so much. They say it is dry and drab, but I see it completely differently. It sits at 1700 metres above sea level (12th highest capital in the world) in the Khomas Highland plateau area between the Auas and Eros mountain ranges. It is home to about 400 000 people at a low density of only 63 per square kilometre and has over 300 sunny days per year.
It is also very rich in avifauna, with over 300 species possible in and around Windhoek, many of them near-endemics of Namibia. There are a few key areas to visit to maximise your bird count here.
The Daan Viljoen Game Park on the western side of the city provides excellent dry-country birding and could yield Monteiro’s Hornbill, Rockrunner, Carp’s Tit, Short-toed Rock-Thrush, Orange River Francolin and Barred Wren-Warbler. The park also hosts gemsbok, eland, greater kudu, Hartmann’s mountain zebra, giraffe and other antelope.
East of the city is Avis Dam, a spot that should see you add Shaft-tailed Whydah, Violet-eared Waxbill, Rock Kestrel, Great Spotted Cuckoo and Desert Cisticola to your list. If there is water in the dam you could also see South African Shelduck, Red-billed Teal or other waders and warblers.
The sewage works in the city is, as always, a productive if somewhat strange spot to visit. Only a birder would understand! Here you should see Maccoa Duck, Purple Heron, Common Moorhen or even Black-necked Grebe and Baillon’s Crake if you are lucky.
Another must-visit spot is the area around the odd “ice cream cone” structure on the hill in the city centre. You can’t miss it! This is a good spot for White-tailed Shrike, Pririt Batis, Rosy-faced Lovebird and Chestnut Weaver.
So you see, even in a supposedly dry and drab place like Windhoek, there is plenty of birding excitement to be had. That is why I love the city so much and am proud to call it home.

Birding in and around Windhoek

Shaft-tailed-Whydah-(1)Many people find it strange that I love my hometown of Windhoek so much. They say it is dry and drab, but I see it completely differently. It sits at 1700 metres above sea level (12th highest capital in the world) in the Khomas Highland plateau area between the Auas and Eros mountain ranges. It is home to about 400 000 people at a low density of only 63 per square kilometre and has over 300 sunny days per year.

It is also very rich in avifauna, with over 300 species possible in and around Windhoek, many of them near-endemics of Namibia. There are a few key areas to visit to maximise your bird count here.

Daan Viljoen.jpg

The Daan Viljoen Game Park on the western side of the city provides excellent dry-country birding and could yield Monteiro’s Hornbill, Rockrunner, Carp’s Tit, Short-toed Rock-Thrush, Orange River Francolin and Barred Wren-Warbler. The park also hosts gemsbok, eland, greater kudu, Hartmann’s mountain zebra, giraffe and other antelope.

East of the city is Avis Dam, a spot that should see you add Shaft-tailed Whydah, Violet-eared Waxbill, Rock Kestrel, Great Spotted Cuckoo and Desert Cisticola to your list. If there is water in the dam you could also see South African Shelduck, Red-billed Teal or other waders and warblers.

Sewage Works (1)

The sewage works in the city is, as always, a productive if somewhat strange spot to visit. Only a birder would understand! Here you should see Maccoa Duck, Purple Heron, Common Moorhen or even Black-necked Grebe and Baillon’s Crake if you are lucky.

Another must-visit spot is the area around the odd “ice cream cone” structure on the hill in the city centre. You can’t miss it! This is a good spot for White-tailed Shrike, Pririt Batis, Rosy-faced Lovebird and Chestnut Weaver.

Rosy-faced Lovebird

So you see, even in a supposedly dry and drab place like Windhoek, there is plenty of birding excitement to be had. That is why I love the city so much and am proud to call it home.

South Africa Birding trip report

We just completed a very successful South Africa birding safari with 2 clients from Canada. This was their 4th African birding safari with Nature Travel Birding and the main focus was on finding key endemic and range restricted species and species still missing from their African lists.

We started off at Magoebaskloof, a very attractive part of South Africa offering excellent forest and grassland birding. One of our main targets was the localised Short-clawed Lark which we found not far from our excellent lodge. In the forest our main targets were Cape Parrot, Olive and Black-fronted Bush-shrikes and we had great views of all three of them. Other specials we saw include Bat Hawk, Magpie Mannikin, Lazy Cisticola, Olive Woodpecker, Cape Batis, Lemon Dove, Long-billed Pipit, Brown Scrub-robin, Gurney’s Sugarbird, Drakensberg Prinia, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, Knysna Turaco, Purple-crested Turaco, African Black Duck, African Emerald Cuckoo, Grey Cuckooshrike, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Swee Waxbill, Grey-rumped Swallow, Long-crested eagle, Jackal Buzzard and Barrat’s Warbler.

From here we moved onto Kruger National Park, one of Africa’s best game viewing parks offering excellent birding as well. Kruger is fantastic for raptors and we saw White-headed, White-backed, Lappet-faced, Cape and Hooded Vultures, Martial, Tawny, Lesser Spotted and Bateleur Eagles, Black-chested and Brown snake-eagles, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Gabar Goshawk, Black-winged Kite, Yellow-billed Kite, Amur Falcon and Secretarybird. Other interested birds include Kori Bustard, Red-chested Korhaan, Dusky Lark, Brown-headed Parrot, Bearded, Golden-tailed and Cardinal Woodpecker, Southern Ground, African Grey, Southern Yellow-billed and Red-billed Hornbills, Crested Francolin, Mocking Cliff-chat, Burchell’s Starling, Eurasian and African Golden Orioles, White-crested and Retz’s Helmet-shrikes, Grey-headed Bushshrike, Burchell’s Coucal, Southern Carmine Bee-eater and Yellow-billed Oxpecker to name a few. The game viewing did not disappoint (never does in this fantastic game reserve) and we had great sightings of African Wild dog (followed them on the hunt for 15 minutes), Cheetah, Leopard, Lion (including 3 different sightings in a 45 minute period), White Rhino, Cape Buffalo and off course hundreds of Elephant and Hippo.

Male Lion

From here we moved south to Wakkerstroom, an excellent place to see many of South Africa’s endemic birds and grassland specials. The key targets here for most birders are Botha’s and Rudd’s Larks and we had excellent views of both including Botha’s Lark on a nest! Other great birds we saw are White-bellied and Blue Korhaan, Southern Bald Ibis, Ground Woodpecker, Buff-streaked Chat, African Rock and Yellow-breasted Pipit, Sentinel Rock-thrush, Denham’s Bustard, Black-rumped Buttonquail, Red-chested Flufftail, Eastern Long-billed and Spike-heeled Lark, Cloud, Zitting, Wing-snapping, Levailant’s and Croaking Cisticola, Cape Longclaw, Cape Weaver, Fan-tailed, Red-collared and Long-tailed Widowbird, Malachite Sunbird, South African Cliff Swallow, African Snipe, Grey-crowned and Blue Crane.

Our final stop was northern Kwazulu Natal visiting key sites such as Mkuze Game Reserve, Ongoye Forest, Amatigulu, Nkandla Forest, Mtunzini, Richard’s Bay, Dlinza Aerial Board and Eshowe Forest. This part of South Africa had a lot of rain over the last few weeks but this did not prevent us from finding Gorgeous Bushshrike, Rudd’s Apalis, Spotted Ground Thrush, Lesser Crested Tern, Allen’s Gallinule, Pink-backed Pelican, Common Quail, Common Buttonquail, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Green Barbet, Grey Cuckooshrike, Narina Trogon, Black-bellied Starling, Little Bittern, Trumpeter and Crowned Hornbill, Square-tailed Drongo, Chorister Robin-chat, Olive Sunbird, Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Purple-banded Sunbird, Rufous-winged Cisticola, White-eared Barbet, African Pygmy Goose, Red-headed Quelea, Palm-nut Vulture, African Pygmy Kingfisher, Crested Guineafowl and African Cuckoo-hawk.

We ended up with an impressive 375 birds and 45 mammals and had great sightings of most of the key targets. This part of Africa is still one of my favourites and a must for any serious birder whether on a first African birding trip or having done several previous African trips. Extensions to the Drakensberg Mountains and Cape Town area should be considered to complete the South African endemics.

 

Windhoek Birding Day Trip Report

Even if one has very little time when visiting Windhoek, there is an option of a quick guided birding trip around the city. This morning I did a two hour birding walk with a client from the UK. Due to time constraints we decided to bird close to Windhoek and we had a very productive couple of hours. We had fantastic views of no fewer than 4 Rockrunner!! We were lucky with raptors and found Common Buzzard, Black-winged Kite, Rock Kestrel and Gabar Goshawk. Monteiro’s Hornbill is always a highlight being a near endemic.

With lots of flying insects we had lots of swifts and swallows with Greater Striped Swallow, Rock Martin, Little and White-rumped and African Palm Swift. In the grassy areas we found Zitting Cisticola, Southern Red Bishop, Lesser Grey Shrike, Red-backed Shrike, Black-chested Prinia, Helmeted Guineafowl, Red-billed Spurfowl and Scaly-feathered Weaver.

Other interesting scrub, rocky and woodland birds include Brubru, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Mountain Wheatear, Cape Bunting, Rattling Cisticola, Blue, Violet-eared and Black-cheeked Waxbill, Swallow-tailed and European Bee-eater, Diderick Cuckoo, Cardinal Woodpecker, Long-billed Crombec, Rosy-faced Lovebird, Green-winged Pytilia, Marico Flycatcher, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Acacia Pied Barbet, Cape Wagtail, Long-tailed Paradise Whydah, Common Scimitarbill, Barred Wren-Warbler, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, White-backed Mousebird, Chestnut-vented Warbler, Black-throated Canary, Pririt Batis and Yellow-belled Eremomela.

We even managed to see a few mammals: Yellow Mongoose, Rock Hyrax and Dassie Rat. Very productive for a two hour walk and perfect for birders visiting Windhoek with limited time and can be combined with a full day or overnight trip to include more of the endemics.

Etosha NP

I am fortunate to have been able to visit al the big game parks in Africa but Etosha is still my favourite. My first memory of being in the bush was from this great place and most of my childhood holidays and weekends were spend exploring this unbelievable park.
Etosha needs no introduction and is synonymous with big game and wide open spaces. The name Etosha actually means “great white area” referring to the huge dry pan in the middle of the park. It is home to a staggering amount of wildlife, both common and rare. What makes the park unique is the floodlit waterholes at all the main camps. There is something magical about enjoying the spectacular sunset at either the Okaukuejo or Halali waterhole watching as hundreds of Double-banded Sandgrouse come to drink, landing between an Elephant herd or solitary Black Rhino.
Etosha also has a bird list of more than 350 species, and summer is definitely the best time to visit. The occasional rains then turn the dry pans into seasonal lakes, attracting migratory and wetland species in large numbers. The sight of thousands of bright pink flamingos in the Etosha pan is something one never forgets.
Etosha also has the odd record of having the smallest southern African bird, the Cape Penduline Tit, the world’s largest bird, the Common Ostrich, and the world’s largest flying bird, the Kori Bustard.
The park is furthermore home to more than 40 species of raptors and owls, and bushveld Namibian specials include Bare-cheeked Babbler, Violet Wood-hoopoe, Carp’s Tit, Monteiro’s Hornbill, Rockrunner and Rüppell’s Parrot.
It is also a hotspot for rarities, and it is the only place in the sub-region where Egyptian Vulture is seen with any regularity.
Naturally Etosha is a photographer’s dream, with the contrasts in light, colour and textures particularly dramatic. Many of my “lifer shots” of southern African bird species was taken in the park.
A variety of accommodation options are available, and include ultra-luxurious lodges, luxury bungalows, camping and caravan sites. The park is malaria free and accessible in a regular sedan car.
Whether from a birding or wildlife point of view Etosha is truly is one of the great parks of Africa.