Jack Snipe

The interestingly named Jack Snipe (Lymnocryptes minimus) is actually not a snipe, but rather the only member of its genus Lymnocryptes in the larger family of waders and shorebirds.

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The exact origin of the name is unclear, but strangely it might have something to do with the game of bowls; the ‘jack’ in the game of bowls being the smallest of the balls used. The Jack Snipe’s secretive nature is reflected in its scientific name. Lymnocryptes is derived from the Greek words limne, meaning marsh, and krupto, meaning to hide. The species name minimus is Latin for smallest.

It is smaller than other snipes or woodcocks (17 to 19 cm), with a shorter bill. Furthermore it differs from all other snipes by having a wedge-shaped tail, which lacks white; it also lacks a central stripe on the crown and has a purple and green gloss on black upperparts.

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Jack Snipes are migratory, spending the non-breeding period in various brackish and freshwater habitats in Great Britain, coastal Europe, Africa, and India. Their breeding habitat is open marshes, bogs, floodplains and wet meadows with short vegetation in northern Europe and northern Russia.

When feeding it has a characteristic ‘bouncing’ motion, as if on a spring. They forage in soft mud, probing or picking up food by sight. They mainly eat insects and earthworms, also seeds and other plant material.

The male performs a switchback aerial display during courtship, typically at dawn and dusk, during which it makes a distinctive sound like a galloping horse. They nest in a well-hidden location on the ground, laying 3 or 4 eggs. The chicks hatch after about 24 days and are independent after a further 20 days.

To enjoy the Jack Snipe with your own eyes, along with many other fantastic resident and migratory species, join us on our Spain Birding Trip coming up in April 2020. For more information, go to https://naturetravelbirding.com/spain-birding-safari/ or enquire directly at info@naturetravelbirding.com

 

 

 

 

Shoebill

On our Nature Travel Birding safaris to Uganda we often spend a morning in the Mabamba Swamp searching for one of Africa’s most sought after bird species; the Shoebill (Balaeniceps rex).

The sheer surprise when this prehistoric-looking bird (also sometimes called the whalehead, whale-headed stork, or shoe-billed stork) flies up is an experience that stays with you forever, irrespective of how many world bird species you have on your list or how well-traveled you might think you are.
See the Shoebill on tour in Uganda

With its massive, highly conspicuous, shoe-like bill, and 140 cm (55 in) height this bird looks like something from the age of the dinosaurs and is utterly unmistakable. In fact, the Shoebill is a bird belonging to the group known as the Pelecaniformes and is more closely related to a pelican than a stork.

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These birds are found in tropical East Africa in large swamps and marshes from Sudan to Zambia. They are equipped with a large bill which helps them catch their favourite prey: West African Lungfish. Thye will also eat amphibians, very young crocodiles and eater snakes, as well as rodents and small waterfowl.

Shoebills are masters of patience. They will stand in water, large patches of grass, and other hiding places for hours on end. They know that if they wait long enough for the right moment, they will find their next meal. At the right moment, the Shoebill will leap from cover and attack the prey. They lunge forward and with their sharp bill scoop up the creature, devouring it whole. Roughly 60% of their attacks are successful.

The timing of the breeding season is linked to local water levels. Eggs are laid at the end of the rains as the waters start to recede, and chicks fledge in the dry season. Shoebills are solitary nesters, and the nest is a grassy mound, up to 3 m wide, on floating vegetation or a small island, often among dense stands of papyrus. The clutch size is normally two eggs, and incubation takes 30 days. Fledging occurs at about 100 days and usually, only one chick survives. Individuals take three to four years to reach reproductive maturity and may live for up to 50 years.

The Shoebill has been classified as vulnerable, with less than 10,000 birds left in the wild. The bird is threatened by hunters, the destruction of their environments by humans, and cultural taboos that lead to them being captured by tribes. Many cultures believe that the birds are taboo and bring about bad luck.

Africa’s legendary bird, the Shoebill, awaits you in Uganda, the Pearl of Africa!

Streaked Laughingthrush

You know you are in northern India when you hear a fast, liquid, tinkling, chittering trill, immediately followed by a clear, thin, elastic whistle “chittititititchééter-whééeze!”. That is the song of the Streaked Laughingthrush (Trochalopteron lineatum).

Streaked Laughingthrush with Nature Travel Birding

This member of the Leiothrichidae family of Old World laughingthrushes is common in the northern regions of the Indian subcontinent, where it prefers bushes and scrubby vegetation on slopes close to rivers and forest edges, at 1,400 to 3,900 metres above sea level. It also ventures close to cultivated areas and towns and villages.

The Streaked Laughingthrush is, like most of its family, a striking bird. It is a smallish laughingthrush, mostly brown and greyish, with fine streaking all over, and with a rufous tail and a bright rufous ear patch. Five subspecies are recognised, based on geographical differences. The scientific name “lineatus” (Latin) means “of a line”, indicating the linear streaking patterns on the bird.

It feeds on insects, including moths and caterpillars, ants and spiders, but also berries, fruit and seeds. It keeps mostly to the ground and forages with others of its kin in groups of up to 6 individuals. In some western Himalayan towns it is considered a “garden bird”!

The Streaked Laughingthrush breeds from March to October, laying 2 to 4 eggs in a loose and untidy cup-type nest in thick bushes. Incubation is done by both sexes, and they have to keep a lookout, as the nests are parasitized by several local cuckoo species.

Although it is a common bird in its region, it doesn’t deter from the fact that it is still special! Streaked Laughingthrushes are generally not shy and will approach humans, allowing a fascinating insight into their behaviour and making the taking of nice photographs a breeze.

 

 

Bird of the Week: Great Blue Turaco

Many of the different species in the endemic-to-Africa turaco family are beautiful and colourful birds, but the one that takes the proverbial cake, must be the Great Blue Turaco of the canopy of the forests of west Africa.

Great Blue Turaco with Nature Travel Birding

Apart from being a beautiful turquoise-blue colour, it is also huge (up to 75 centimetres high and weighing over a kilogram!). The name really does do it justice! Unlike other species of turacos, the Great Blue Turaco does not have red flight feathers in the wings. It has a large bill that is bright yellow with a red tip and a blue-black raised crest crowning the top of the heads. The tail is long and wide, and has a broad black subterminal band.

The Great Blue Turaco might be stunning, but unfortunately it is not blessed with graceful flying moves. They sort of glide-leap from one tree to the next, climbing up and down branches to reach the fruit they crave, before moving on to the next tree. They often forage in small flocks and several birds often gather at fruiting trees.

The call of the Great Blue Turaco is very unique. There are typically two different types that they use. They are most commonly heard at dawn and dusk and during mating season. Their primary call is a loud, deep, resonant, guttural “kok-kok-kok”. A bubbling softer “prru…prru” trill may sometimes precede this.

The Great Blue Turaco is widespread and appears relatively common throughout its range. However, the species is threatened by deforestation and habitat destruction due to human developments. It is unfortunately also hunted for consumption as food, and is still trapped for trade in some parts of the range.

For a chance to see the Great Blue Turaco and many other west African specials, join us on our small-group expert-guided Ghana birding trip in early 2020.

For more information enquire at info@naturetravelbirding.com.

White-necked Rockfowl

This week’s Bird of the Week is a strange one… The White-necked Rockfowl (Picathartes gymnocephalus) of Western Africa has been keeping taxonomists busy for a long time.

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This odd looking avian special has, over the years, been listed with the Old World warblers, the flycatchers, the babblers, the crows and even the starlings. Currently some of the experts think its closest relative might be the rockjumpers! However it is classified, the White-necked Rockfowl is considered as Vulnerable by the IUCN as its dwindling and fragmented populations are threatened by habitat destruction.

This species is only found in West Africa from Guinea to Ghana, but is best seen in Ghana where a well-established community project allows visits to a colony near Obuasi. It prefers primary or secondary forest in hilly, rocky terrain, usually close to running water. It survives also in disturbed habitats, such as forest clearings and secondary growth, and in some cases close to human activity.

The diet of the White-necked Rockfowl is mainly forest floor invertebrates, including earthworms, spiders, beetles, termites and grasshoppers. It also sometimes eats frogs and lizards. Interestingly, it also cleverly follows columns of army ants to capture prey flushed by the insects.

They have interesting breeding displays too, forming loose circles and performing various dance-like movements. They are also quite inquisitive and occasionally approach observers once they realised they have been seen.

Amazingly, this species also helped launch Sir David Attenborough‘s career in 1954, when he was the producer on the new television program Zoo Quest. The show’s presenter, Jack Lester, was required to travel to Africa to record attempts to capture animals for display in zoos, with the focus of the series being on the White-necked Rockfowl. However, when he fell ill, Attenborough took his place, which launched him into the limelight and started his world renowned narrating career.

The White-necked Rockfowl is undoubtedly considered one of Africa’s most desirable birds by birders from all over the world, and is a symbol of ecotourism and rainforest conservation across its range.

For a chance to see this unusual avian gem, join us on a small-group personalised Nature Travel Birding tour to Ghana in early 2020. Enquire directly at info@naturetravelbirding.com to reserve your place.

 

Black-collared Hawk (Busarellus nigricollis)

The Black-collared Hawk is a fairly large bird of prey in the family Accipitridae. It is monotypic within the genus Busarellus. Named for its black bib, the Black-collared Hawk most easily is identified by its rufous plumage and very short tail.

Birding with Nature Travel Birding

It is found in Central and South America, all the way from central Mexico south to Uruguay, and is always close to water bodies. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests, subtropical or tropical swamps, and swamps.

Typically Black-collared Hawks perch above shallow pools or marshes and drop onto prey, which most often are fish. It also eats water bugs and occasionally lizards, snails, frogs and rodents.

Interestingly, the Black-collared Hawk has the basal phalanges of the inner toe fused, which may be an adaptation to prevent the toe from bending back when catching prey. This feature is shared with Ictinia and with the group of true milvine kites and sea eagles.

Have a look at our Brazil, Peru, Guatemala and Colombia birding trips to see this amazing bird and many others.  Go to www.naturetravelbirding.com for more information.

 

Andean Condor

See the Andean Condor with Nature Travel Birding

Not many birds can lay claim to being the national bird of 4 countries, but the Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus) can do just that! It is the national symbol of Bolivia, Chile, Colombia and Ecuador, and plays an important role in the folklore and mythology of the Andean regions.

With a wingspan of over 3 meters (10 feet), the Andean Condor is considered the largest flying bird in the world. Fully grown adults can reach a whopping 15 kg (33 pounds) and can stand an impressive 1.2 meters tall. Even with their impressive wingspan, Andean Condors sometimes have a hard time staying aloft when in flight, due to their enormous weight. That is why this bird prefers windy areas, where it can glide effortlessly on the air currents. They can soar up to a breathtaking height of 5,500 metres (18,000 feet)!

Contrary to their names, the Andean Condors don’t just inhabit the Andean mountain region of South America. These birds can also be found in coastal areas, enjoying the sea breeze, and even some desert areas, where they take advantage of the thermal air currents. Andean Condor numbers are greatest in Argentina and Southern Chile. Their numbers are dropping in Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela, making sightings of the bird in these areas increasingly rare.

As the Andean Condor is a vulture, the bulk of its diet is carrion. Because of this, these birds perform a very important ecological job, a sort of natural clean-up crew. Sometimes they will also take smaller food items, including eggs from seabird colonies, sharks, dead and also live seabirds.

The life expectancy for the Andean Condor is an incredible 50 years. However, some have been known to live up to 75 years in captivity. They have a very intricate breeding system. The adults only lay one egg every two years and take care of the young for a long period of time.

This magnificent bird was placed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species in 1973 and is in danger of becoming completely extinct soon. The primary factor in its demise is overhunting by humans that mistakenly believe Condors threaten their livestock. Other factors include loss of habitat, and pesticide poisoning passing up the food chain.

Take a trip to South America and see the Andean Condor fly around the Andean peaks before it is too late. For more information on birding trips we offer to countries where these awesome vultures soar, get in touch with us on info@naturetravelbirding.com or go to www.naturetravelbirding.com.

Black-cheeked Woodpecker

Birding in South America

We currently have clients on a birding trip to Costa Rica in Central America, and news from our guide is that the clients LOVE the woodpecker family, and are trying to see as many of these very cool birds all over the world as they can. So with that in mind this week’s Bird of the Week is the Black-cheeked Woodpecker (Melanerpes pucherani).

This beautiful woodpecker (named after the French zoologist Jacques Pucheran) occurs from southern Mexico down to western Colombia and western Ecuador and to the extreme northwest of Peru. Like most of its family, the Black-cheeked Woodpecker is very distinctive, with a big black face mask, a white patch behind the eye, black upperparts with narrow white bars, and big white rump patch. The male also has a full red crown, whereas the female has a grayish forecrown and red hindcrown.

It prefers humid and wet evergreen forest, forest borders, scattered tall trees in clearings, and old secondary growth and abandoned plantations. It may sometimes even enter gardens.

The Black-cheeked Woodpecker feeds mainly on insects (including spiders, termites, beetles and ants), but will also take substantial quantities of fruit, berries and seeds and also drinks nectar. A varied diet indeed!

It nests in an unlined hole, usually 4 to 30 m (16 to 98 ft) high in a dead tree. The clutch is two to four glossy white eggs, incubated by both sexes, for about 2 weeks. Fledglings may return to the same nest to roost, even while the adults start a second brood.

To see the Black-cheeked Woodpecker and many other amazing neotropical birds, join us on a birding trip to central or south America.  For more information, enquire directly at info@naturetravelbirding.com or visit www.naturetravelbirding.com

 

Bird Day in the US

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We honour our feathered friends on this holiday called Bird Day in the United States. Oil City, Pennsylvania Superintendent of Schools, Charles Babcock, established the first such holiday in 1894, an incredible 125 years ago. This was the first holiday in the United States dedicated to the celebration of birds!

Babcock founded the day, observed annually on May 4th, to advance bird conservation as a moral value.

Bird Day is an annual holiday with half a million dedicated followers who celebrate through birdwatching, studying birds, and other bird-related activities.

According to the newspaper, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, adoption of injured or abandoned birds is a particularly important Bird Day activity.  Many bird enthusiasts celebrate by educating future bird owners about the special issues involved with taking care of birds.

The Avian Welfare Coalition’s Bird Day very important campaign aims to improve the welfare of parrots and other exotic birds by discouraging their purchase as pets. Encouraging the support of wild bird habitat conservation programs and captive bird rescue organizations and sanctuaries also forms part of this campaign.

Use the hashtag #BirdDay to further these incredibly important messages.

We here at Nature Travel Birding love our avian friends.  We fully support any program that aims to further the hobby amongst people and aims to encourage habitat preservation and educating people about the plight of these vitally important creatures.
Go to www.naturetravelbirding.com to see what we are all about!

World Penguin Day

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

Penguin Day with Nature Travel Birding

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

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

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

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

World Penguin Day with Nature Travel Birding

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

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

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

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

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