“Unique” is an overused word these days, but, as a descriptor for the Ibisbill (Ibidorhyncha struthersii), it is surely appropriate. It is a bird related to the waders, and in the same order as sandpipers and plovers, but still sufficiently distinctive to merit its very own family Ibidorhynchidae. The species is named in honour of Dr Struthers of Glasgow who collected specimens of the bird from the Himalayas in the 19th century.
It is a strikingly unmistakable wader; grey with a white belly, red legs and long down-curved brown to crimson bill, and a black face and black breast band.
It occurs on the stony shingle riverbanks of the high plateau of central Asia and the Himalayas, all the way from Kazakhstan to China, at an elevation of 1500 to 4400 metres (5000 and 14400 feet) above sea level. It occupies the same habitat in winter, but at lower altitudes, being an altitudinal migrant. The river valleys frequented by the Ibisbill tend to have very little vegetation and gentle slopes to ensure a slow flow of water. It must live near slow-flowing water in order to feed, limiting its habitat despite having a very large range.
They are generally not shy of humans. They are good swimmers and prefer crossing rivers by swimming instead of flying. Ibisbills are vocal birds and produce a ringing ‘klew klew’ call.
The Ibisbill is a monogamous breeder. The nest is located on a riverbank, river island or surrounding peninsula and is little more than a scrape on the ground, sometimes lined with small pebbles. Eggs are laid in the end of April and the beginning of May. The clutch size varies from two to four eggs. They behave similar to lapwings around the nest site, defending it quite vocally. Both parents share incubation duties.
It feeds on land and water invertebrates including mayfly larvae, stoneflies, beetles and crustaceans. It forages by pecking, probing and raking, usually while wading in water roughly reaching up its belly. It will also eat fish and insects such as grasshoppers.
Due to their striking appearance, distinctive taxonomy, solitary nature, the high elevations and special habitats where they live as well as their relative rarity, they are highly sought after by birders who often consider this species to be a “most wanted” bird.
Join us on a Nature Travel Birding trip to India for a chance to see this unique bird.
I recently ticked off two of my bucket list items when I travelled to magical India on a Nature Travel safari. I saw both the world’s tallest flying bird and the world’s highest mountain range in one trip!
The Sarus Crane (Antigone Antigone) is at 1.8 m (5 ft 11 in) the world’s tallest flying bird, and was a main contender for title of India’s national bird, eventually losing out to the Indian Peafowl. It is an elegant bird with mainly white-grey colouring and a bright red head, throat and upper neck. It is classified as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List and is considered sacred by Indian people. It was a magical experience seeing these birds in their natural swampy habitat in Uttar Pradesh, foraging for reptiles and plant matter. It was easy to see why the Sarus Crane is on most lists of India’s most beautiful birds.
Just a day later I was standing next to the road in the small town of Pangot, awestruck as the snow-capped Himalayas loomed large in front of me. The Himalayas include over fifty mountains exceeding 7,200 metres (23,600 ft) in elevation! They are inhabited by over 50 million people and are spread across five countries, separating the plains of the Indian subcontinent from the Tibetan plateau. The mountains are considered sacred by many religions in the area, and has had a profound effect on the cultures of the Indian subcontinent. The sheer majesty of this vast natural wonder was astonishing, and I just stood there for an hour trying to take it all in…
These two magical experiences were made possible by the team of the Nature Travel group, and can be enjoyed on one of their Nature Travel Birding or Nature Travel Expeditions trips to the diverse country of India.
Written by : Nature Travel Birding client
Day 1: Arrive in Uganda – Entebbe
Our Uganda Birding and Primate Safari started off with a meeting at the hotel in Entebbe. A quick tour briefing was done and we all settled in and enjoyed some time around the pool unwinding after the long flights and getting to know each other. We enjoyed an afternoon of birding in the Entebbe Botanical gardens, with top highlights being: Black-and-white-casqued Hornbill, Red-headed Lovebird, Double-toothed Barbet, Grey Parrot, White-throated Bee-eater, Great Blue Turaco, Palm-nut Vulture, Orange Weaver and Black-headed Gonolek. We also had sightings of all 3 Primate species in the gardens namely: Angolan (Black and White Colobus), Vervet Monkey and Red-tailed monkey. A great way to start a birding trip and get familiar with some of the Ugandan species. Dinner was enjoyed overlooking Lake Victoria while discussing the plan for the next 13 Days of exciting Birding, Primate and mammal viewing.
Our one client has a keen interest in Primates, while the other client has an interest in Birdlife, so Uganda is the perfect destination for them both.
Day 2: Mabamba Swamp – Masindi Town
After a good night’s rest we enjoyed an early breakfast, met our fantastic and experienced local guide and driver Stephen and headed off to start our Uganda Birding and Primate Safari. Our first stop was the famous Mabamba Swamp to see the world famous Shoebill. This bird is high on any birder’s list and our clients really wanted to see this charismatic bird. We jumped on board our little canoe and went in search of this very special bird. After about half an hours searching – the words we had been waiting came out of my mouth, Shoebill! We were treated to a fly over of a young bird, which flew directly over us. We watched where it landed and managed to get into the Papyrus reeds and were treated to awesome views of the bird preening and then calling for an adult to bring in food. An absolutely amazing experience which will be forever in the memories of our clients. This almost prehistoric bird is a bird that many people dream of seeing and ranks up there with being one of the most sought after birds to see in Africa. Our first big target for the trip was in the bag, and the incredible sighting of the Shoebill really set the tone for the rest of the trip.
The iconic Shoebill
Other worthy highlights at Mabamba Swamp included: Swamp Flycatcher, Blue-headed Coucal, Malachite Kingfisher, Winding Cisticola, Blue Swallow, Blue-breasted Bee-Eater, African Pygmy Kingfisher and Marsh Tchagra. As a South African birder it’s always a real treat to see good numbers of Blue Swallows at Mabamba, as in Southern Africa this bird is critically endangered and rare due to habitat loss.
After the excitement of the morning’s birding we moved towards Kampala, stopping en route to enjoy views of: Brown-throated Wattle-eye, Sooty Chat, African Pied Hornbill, Olive Bee-eater, Splendid Starling and Long-crested Eagle.
Lunch was enjoyed outside Kampala before moving onto Masindi Town. We did some birding along the way and along the Kaufu River, highlights for the afternoon included: White-winged Black Tit, Marsh Widowbird, Grey-capped Warbler, Cardinal Woodpecker, African Openbill, Pink-backed Pelican, White-headed Barbet, Grey-backed Fiscal and Moustached Grass Warbler. A great day’s birding was celebrated at the lodge over dinner and a nice cold beer. Another great day birding in the “Pearl of Africa”.
Day 3: Royal Mile (Budongo Forest) – Murchison Falls
An early breakfast was on the cards as today we made our way to the Budongo Forest, The largest natural forest area in East Africa and includes the famous “Royal Mile” a top forest birding road lying under the Budongo forest canopy. We had an incredible morning’s birding in the forest and some of the top sightings included: White-thighed Hornbill, African Dwarf Kingfisher, Western Oriole, Blue-breasted Kingfisher, Fraser’s Rufous Thrush, Little Grey Greenbul, Buff-throated Apalis, Purple-headed Starling, Rufous-crowned Eremomela, Narina Trogon, Yellow-billed Barbet, White-chinned Prinia, Grey Parrot, Chocolate-backed Kingfisher, Chestnut-capped Flycatcher, Ituri Batis, Chestnut Wattle-eye, Lemon-bellied Crombec, Crowned Eagle and Yellow Spotted Barbet. As we were leaving the forest we were treated to a fly over of the resident Crowned Eagle.
Primate highlights included: Blue Monkey, Angolian (Black and White) Colobus and Red Tailed Monkey, we also saw both Boehm’s Bush Squirrel and Red-legged Sun Squirrel. After enjoying lunch in the forest we finished off our birding and headed for Murchison Falls to our accommodation for the night, overlooking the Nile River. Birding highlights en route included: Black-winged Red Bishop, Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu, Baglafecht Weaver, Northern Red Bishop, Scarce Swift, Short-winged Cisticola and Black-bellied Firefinch. Our mammal tally increased with sightings of Warthog and Chacma Baboon. We had a lovely sighting of a breeding herd of Ugandan Kob, which our clients enjoyed seeing.
We settled in to our accommodation, took a swim and enjoyed sunset over the Nile River and were treated to a lovely dinner chatting about the great day’s birding we had. Our clients were still overwhelmed from spending time in the forest and enjoying the peace that the Budongo forest has to offer. Our primate sightings were also good and we did hear the Chimpanzees calling at a distance which got our clients’ hearts racing. We all slept well after a busy day of birding.
Day 4: Delta- Victoria Nile, Murchison Falls – Masindi Town via Kaniyo Pabidi Forest
We had a slightly later start this morning and took a little time to enjoy the view over the Victoria Nile, while enjoying a hearty breakfast and hit the road once again to make our way into the delta system by boat. Highlights of the boat trip included: Shoebill, Long-toed Lapwing, Saddle-billed Stork, Red-throated Bee-Eater, Western Banded Snake Eagle, Goliath Heron, African Darter and Wire-tailed Swallow. We also enjoyed the antics of the resident Hippo along the Victoria Nile. We ended our trip at the confluence of the Victoria and Albert Nile. It’s at this point the Victoria Nile flows South into Lake Albert and the Nile River continues into South Sudan and eventually to Egypt.
Our drive in the Savannah area of Murchison Falls National Park was most enjoyable and we had some really amazing bird and mammal sightings in the Park, highlights included: Speckled-fronted Weaver, Spotted Palm Thrush, Silverbird, Denham’s Bustard, Black-rumped Waxbill, Northern Crombec, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Northern Carmine Bee-eater, Black-headed Lapwing, Grey-Crowned Crane- The National Bird of Uganda, Ruppell’s Vukture, Nubian Woodpecker, African Grey Woodpecker and Black-billed Barbet. Mammal highlights included: Ugandan Kob, Defassa Waterbuck, Jackson’s Hartebeest, Oribi, Rothschild’s Giraffe, Elephant, African Buffalo, Olive Baboon and Patas Monkey. Lunch was enjoyed on the banks of the Victoria Nile and soon we moved onto the top of Murchison Falls, where the river Nile displays its beauty.
We all enjoyed the breathtaking view of the falls as it’s at this point the Nile is transformed into explosive foam of thunderous wide water- funnels shaped through a narrow cleft in the Rift Valley escarpment – a truly magnificent sight for our clients, who had the falls on their bucket list. We also had good views of the resident Rock Pratincoles on the rocks above the falls. We made our way to Masindi, our accommodation for the night. Dinner was enjoyed at the restaurant as we all chatted and went over the amazing day we had in Murchison Falls National Park.
Day 5: Kibale National Park – Sebitoli area
Our day got off to an earlier start as we had a lengthy journey ahead of us to get to Kibale National Park from our accommodation in Masindi. We enjoyed breakfast and moved on towards Fort Portal for Lunch via Hoima town. Birding highlights en route included: Long-crested Eagle, Village Indigobird, Vieillot’s Black Weaver, Great Blue Turaco, Black-crowned Waxbill, Yellow-bellied Waxbill, Shikra, Northern Double-collared Sunbird and Marico Sunbird. The area around Kagadi and Kagorro had some good rain overnight, which made navigating the clay rich dirt roads a challenge, but our fantastic local guide, Stephen did a great job. Lots of skidding and sliding but all in all a fun filled adventure was enjoyed by everyone. Lunch was enjoyed at the gardens in Fort Portal and our clients were very happy she could do some curio shopping at a lovely shop near to our lunch stop. After lunch we moved onto the Sebitoli area of Kibale National Park and we were treated to a great afternoon’s birding in the forest which included: White-tailed Blue Flycatcher, Olive-bellied Sunbird, Bocage’s Bushshrike, Honeyguide Greenbul, Brown-breasted Barbet, Blue-throated Brown Sunbird, Blue Malkoha, Ross’s Turaco, African Dusky Flycatcher, Black-and-white Shrike-flycatcher, Red-capped Robin-Chat, and Luhder’s Bushshrike. What a fantastic afternoon of birding in Uganda, with us also getting good sighting of Uganda Red Colobus which made our clients very happy as they loves their primates. We enjoyed dinner at the lodge over a nice glass of wine and settled in early for bed as the next morning we had an early start.
Day 6: Kibale National Park – Chimpanzee trekking
Our day begun a little earlier than the days before today as this morning we headed off to Kibale National Park to try and locate one of the most sought after and charismatic bird species of the forest, the Green-breasted Pitta. We spent about an hour trying to locate the bird with just a brief glimpse and then as we started Chimpanzee trekking our luck turned and after a bit of climbing through the forest and getting low down we all got amazing views of this beautiful avian gem close in front of us feeding on the forest floor and then up on a tree branch. Other highlights included: Black Bee-eater, Grey-headed Nigrita, White-breasted Nigrita and Great Blue Turaco. We soon, after catching our breath, moved on to try and locate the resident troop of Chimpanzees that live in the area.
Our guide knew a group was nearby and it was not long and we had a top sighting of a troop of 20 Chimps feeding, playing, mating and displaying in the trees in front of us for well over an hour. We enjoyed watching the antics of the youngsters and also had the Alpha male display for us, this was a spectacular sighting and for our clients it was a dream come true that brought tears to everyone’s eyes. It’s a real privilege to watch these endangered Chimpanzees in the wild. The species of Chimpanzee in Uganda is known as the Eastern Chimpanzee, Pan troglodytes schweinfurhi and occurs across Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Sudan and DRC.
After our exciting morning we enjoyed lunch and headed for our hotel just outside Fort Portal to check in, fresher up and have some down time before heading off to Sebitoli in Kibale National Park for an afternoons birding. Highlights for the afternoon included: Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, Green Hylia, Brown-capped Weaver, Sooty Flycatcher, Purple-headed Starling, Chubb’s Cisticola, Yellow-whiskered Greenbul and Scarce Swift. We enjoyed a lovely dinner at our hotel and all slept well after an action packed day on Safari in Uganda.
Day 7: Semliki National Park – Fort Portal
Our day started slightly later today with a good breakfast before making the 2 hour journey to Semliki National Park. The forest tract of Semliki is an extension of West African forest that stretches from Equatorial Guinea through Congo forming a habitat for Guinea Congo biome species that do not exist in other areas of East Africa. En-route we had a wonderful sighting of a Grey Kestrel hunting next to the road, Blue-naped Mousebird, Black Kite, African Firefinch, Piping Hornbill and African Harrier- Hawk. The weather was not in our favour and was a little slow with rain and overcast conditions, however perseverance paid off and Simliki rewarded us with encounters of: Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, Blue-throated Brown Sunbird, Brown-throated Wattle-eye, Green Hylia, Orange-cheeked Waxbill( according to the field guide not supposed to occur in Uganda), Western Nicator, Rufous-sided Broadbill, Black-necked Weaver, Swamp Palm Bulbul, Wilcocks’s Honeyguide, Red-billed Dwarf Hornbill, Piping Hornbill, Xavier’s Greenbul, Grey-headed Sunbird, Red-tailed Ant Thrush and Western Bronze-naped Pigeon. Primate highlights included: Angola (Black and White) Colobus, Ugandan Grey-cheeked Mangabey and Red-tailed Monkey. On the way back to the hotel our clients got the chance to enjoy the views over the Albertine Rift Valley. They also wanted to do some craft shopping from the local Pygmy (Batwa) people en route.
After a good day’s birding and walking in the primary and secondary forest of Semliki we enjoyed freshening up and relaxing at the hotel and enjoyed a lovely dinner and wine while catching up on our ever growing bird list for the trip.
Day 8: Queen Elizabeth National Park – Boat trip along Kazinga channel
This morning we had a slightly later start and enjoyed a hearty breakfast at the hotel before heading to Queen Elizabeth National Park. Highlights en route to the park included: Little Sparrowhawk, Bronzy Sunbird, African Golden Weaver and Black-headed Weaver. We arrived in Queen Elizabeth National Park, a highlight for both our clients, quickly checked in to our accommodation and had lunch overlooking the Kazinga Channel.
During lunch we enjoyed sightings of: Snowy- crowned Robin-chat, Swamp Flycatcher, White-tailed Blue Flycatcher and Green-winged Pytilia. We headed into the Park for a game drive before making our way to the boat trip on the Kazinga channel, we were extremely lucky and we managed to locate 2 of the famous tree climbing Lions relaxing in a Euphoria tree. This was a dream come true sighting for our clients and we were incredibly lucky to have the 2 young males all to ourselves close to the car.
Birding highlights included: Pin-tailed Whydah, Senegal Lapwing, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Rufous-naped Lark, Stout Cisticola, Kittlitz’s Plover, White-throated Bee-eater, Black-lored Babbler, Common Buttonquail, Buff-belied Warbler and White-tailed Lark. Mammal highlights included: Ugandan Kob, Defassa Waterbuck, Bushbuck, Buffalo and Elephant. We made our way to the boat trip, that runs on the Kazinga Channel, which divides lake Edward and Lake George and enjoyed magical sightings of Buffalo, Elephant and antelope coming down to drink in the late afternoon.
The birding was exceptional and we added about 40 species to our list, highlights being: Wire-tailed Swallow, Yellow-billed Stork, Hamerkop, Pink-backed Pelican, Great White Pelican, Bronzy Sunbird, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Common Greenshank, African Sacred Ibis, Wood, Marsh and Common Sandpipers. On route back to our lodge we enjoyed sightings of Hooded Vultures, Palm-nut Vulture and African Fish Eagle. Our clients thoroughly enjoyed the day today as they had always wanted to visit Queen Elizabeth National Park, and we were treated to some exceptional sightings. We enjoyed dinner at the lodge and fell asleep to the sounds of the resident Hippos, Hyena, Square-tailed and Black-shouldered Nightjars calling from the Kazinga Channel in-front of our lodge. Another great day on Safari in Africa!
Day 9: Queen Elizabeth National Park – Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
We began with a nice early start and breakfast today in order to have time to bird the Ishasha sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park. Our clients were hoping to photograph the beautiful Pyrprus Gonolek, so we tried an area the bird is known to be in but unfortunately with the rain the bird was nowhere to be seen. We made our way through the Park and as we approached the Ishasha section of Queen Elizabeth National Park we hit a really bad patch of road that was really muddy. A truck had got stuck in the mud and with us trying to go around the truck, we also got stuck. We managed to get out of the mud after a lot of pushing and this added to the sense of adventure when traveling off the beaten track in Africa. The rain lifted and we had good sightings of: Red-necked Spurfowl, Martial Eagle, Western-banded Snake Eagle, Black Bee-eater, African Openbill Stork, Compact weaver and Violet-backed Starling. Mammal sightings included: Buffalo, Elephant, Topi, Ugandan Cob, Olive Baboon, Vervet Monkey, Red-tailed Monkey and Banded Mongoose.
We stopped for lunch , enjoyed a fresh pizza, got our boots all clean from the mud and made our way to the famous Bwindi Impenetrable forest, UNESCO World Heritage Site, home and stronghold for the Mountain Gorilla.
We checked into our accommodation, and quickly made use of the good weather to get some birding done. The forest was highly productive and we had a good afternoon of birding with highlights being: Mackinnon’s Shrike, Streaky Seedeater(en route to Bwindi), Grey-throated Barbet, Northern Double-collared Sunbird, Petit’s Cuckooshrike, Grey-winged Robin-Chat, White-eyed Slaty Flycatcher, Green-throated Sunbird, Green Crombec, Red-tailed Greenbul, Buff-spotted Woodpecker, Dusky Tit, Tullberg’s Woodpecker, Ansorge’s Greenbul and Elliot’s Woodpecker. We also enjoyed views of a troop of L’Hoest’s Monkeys. We just made it back to our lodge before the heavens opened up and we enjoyed a lovely dinner at our lodge overlooking the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
Day 10: Buhoma Sector – Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
After a lovely breakfast we made our way to the forest for some birding in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park; this forest hosts some unique bird species and we had some good birding. Highlights being: Yellow-throated Tinkerbird, Vieillot’s Weaver, African Black Duck, White-eyed Slaty Flycatcher, Green-throated Sunbird, Petit’s Cuckooshrike,Green-headed Sunbird, Pink-footed Puffback, Plain Greenbul, Grey-throated Tit-Flycatcher, Grey Parrot, Red-headed Malimbe, Mountain Wagtail, Shelley’s Greenbul, Banded Prinia, Mountain Oriole, Cassin’s Hawk-Eagle, Grey-chinned Sunbird, Chapin’s Flycatcher, Many-colored Bushshrike, Augur Buzzard and Waller’s Starling.
We enjoyed relaxing at the hotel for some time as tomorrow we have an early start to go Gorilla trekking. We enjoyed dinner at the lodge overlooking the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and chatted and reflected on another great day in Uganda before we head off Gorilla trekking tomorrow. One of our clients has really enjoyed spending time in the Forests of East Africa, and admits that the birding is addictive, so it seems we have converted her into a keen birder. With birds like Shoebill, Green-breasted Pitta on her list, she would make any keen lister jealous. As we retired to bed, we had an almighty rainstorm hit us – the start of the rain season in East Africa!
Day 11: Gorilla Trekking. Ruhija Sector – Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
An early start was on the cards for us this morning as we had to drive to Ruhija across the neck for our much anticipated Gorilla trekking. We arrived at Ruhija at 8 a.m. for a briefing and headed into the forest of Bwindi to find the Mukiza Gorilla Group.
We were extremely lucky and fortunate and after just 45 minutes of walking we found a family of 17 individuals ranging from a baby of 7 months, infants of about 2 years of age, adult females and a big Silverback male. A real privilege to see these endangered great Apes in the wild. This was a once in a life time experience and will stay with us all for the rest of their lives. This Mountain race of Gorilla Gorilla beringei beringei is restricted to a part of the Virunga range, straddling the DR Congo/Uganda and Rwandan borders. The Mountain race is marginally larger than the three lowland forms and the coat is longer. After watching the Gorillas feed, play, interact for over an hour we moved off and let them continue feeding down the mountain side. We made our way out of forest, got our graduation certificates for seeing the Gorillas and made our way to our lodge where we were based for the next two nights
We enjoyed lunch and relaxed for a bit after the trekking before heading off to bird in the Ruhija area for the afternoon: Highlights for our afternoons birding included: African Hill Babbler, Mountain Illadopsis, Thick-billed Seedeater, Black-billed Turaco, Ruwenzori Apalis, Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, Strange Weaver, Little Sparrowhawk and Crowned Hornbill. After an extremely exciting and productive day we all enjoyed a lovely dinner at the lodge, celebrating our magical Gorilla experience over a glass of wine. Both our clients could not get enough of the Gorillias and the experience we had, and they said that coming face to face with a Silverback about 5m from you is an experience that words can’t describe and that they did not expect to see them so close. We all chatted around the fire for a while before retiring off to bed for a good night’s rest.
Day 12: Birding the Ruhija Sector – Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
After our busy we day yesterday we enjoyed a slight lie-in and enjoyed a hearty breakfast overlooking the Bwindi mountains. We spent most of the day birding the surrounding areas and enjoyed views of: White-eyed Slaty Flycatcher, Mountain Masked Apalis, Ruwenzori Batis, Red-faced Woodland Warbler, Bar-tailed Trogon, Narrow-tailed Starling, Black-headed Waxbill, Crowned Eagle, Collared Sunbird, Regal Sunbird, Ruwenzori Apalis, Equatorial Akalat, Chestnut-throated Apalis, Western Tinkerbird, Grauer’s Warbler, Mountain Greenbul, Mountain Sooty Boubou, African Citril and Cinnamon-Bracken Warbler. Mammal and primate sightings included: Black-fronted Duiker, Red-legged Sun Squirrel, Blue Monkey, L’Hoest’s Monkey and Angola (Black and White Colobus).
Dinner was enjoyed at the lodge around the fire place (it was rather cool as we are at the height of about 2000m above sea level). After the busy and long day we hit the sack rather early and all enjoyed a good night’s sleep after the busy day!
Day 13: Lake Maburo National Park – Birding Lake Maburo and Savanna areas
A slightly earlier start was on the cards for us this morning as we headed off to Lake Maburo, our final destination on our amazing birding and primate Safari in Uganda. En route we enjoyed sightings of: Long-crested Eagle, Augur Buzzard, African Stone, Handsome Francolin (as we left Bwindi), Augur Buzzard, Fan-tailed Widowbird and Long-tailed Cisticola. We enjoyed our lunch overlooking Lake Maburo from our accommodation and headed off into the park for an afternoon of bird and game viewing. We had a spectacular afternoon in this gorgeous park and enjoyed many good sightings including: Bare-faced Go-away-bird, Woodland Kingfisher, Little Bee-eater, Crested Barbet, Red-necked Spurfowl, Bateleur, Green Wood Hoopoe, Tawny Eagle, Tropical Boubou, Meyer’s Parrot, Spot-flanked Barbet and Trilling Cisticola.
Mammal sightings were also really good, and we had good views of: Zebra, Buffalo, Topi, Defassa Waterbuck, Impala, Warthog, Bushbuck and Vervet Monkey.
We enjoyed sunset over the Lake and had dinner together, chatting, laughing and thinking back on the amazing trip we have had in Uganda, the Pearl of Africa.
Day 14: Departure – Private Birding Boat Trip on Lake Mburo
An early start was on the cards this morning so we could get onto our private boat trip on Lake Mburo and enjoy the birdlife along the Lake before heading for the airport close to Entebbe. Highlights of the boat trip included: Squacco Heron, Water Thick-knee, African Finfoot, Ross’s Turaco, Pied Kingfisher, Giant Kingfisher and loads of Hippos going about their antics early in the morning.
We left Lake Mburo to head for Entebbe and the airport and had a smooth uneventful drive to the airport.
An absolutely fantastic 14 days of birding and Primate viewing came to an end. I look forward to our next Uganda trip in 2019.
Report and Images compiled by Marc Cronje (Nature Travel Guide)
Any birder who comes to Africa will know of the Crowned Eagle, Stephanoaetus coronatus. This mighty bird mainly occurs in our forests in Africa from Senegal to Ethiopia to South Africa and is often seen soaring high above the canopy calling its characteristic kewick-kewick-kewick call. This majestic eagle with its powerful talons preys on small antelope and monkeys and pairs have been documented hunting monkeys cooperatively.
Imagine my excitement when I spotted a juvenile Crowned Eagle along the Sabie River on a recent birding trip in the Kruger National Park with some guests. This was my first sighting in Kruger and the first sighting of the species for our guests on a Nature Travel Birding trip. My heart was pumping and it was amazing to see this normally shy species out in the open for us to admire. We all managed to get cracking views and photos of this amazing bird. It was even more special for one of my guests as he had always wanted to see a Crowned Eagle in the wild. What an exciting and rewarding sighting.
Crowned Eagles are rare in Kruger National Park but are common in the forest plantations just outside the southern part of Kruger and it is believed that birds looking for territory do wander into Kruger National Park on occasion. Why the birds don’t become resident in the Southern part of the park is a mystery as the habitat along the rivers is perfect and prey availability is high. One theory is the competition and pressure from the other large eagles in Kruger, like Martial, Tawny and Fish Eagles.
What is great is to see that the populations of Crowned Eagles are growing as the species is near-threatened and it is great to see juveniles looking for territories and setting up territories to breed.
The joy one gets when looking up into the African sky and seeing a raptor soaring above you is something that every birder should experience and it will stay with you for a long time. Come and experience Africa with us – an amazing adventure awaits!
Written by Nature Travel Guide: Marc Cronje
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.