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This May I again had the wonderful opportunity to represent Birding Ecotours at The Biggest Week in American Birding (BWIAB). The BWIAB is a 10-day long event situated on the beautiful shoreline of Lake Eire in Northern Ohio. This was my second visit to this festival, the first being in 2015 and so I was full of excitement at the prospect of some good migration birding, catching up with many friends from my previous trip, and meeting many new people to talk to about our fantastic range of worldwide birding tours. I was also excited at the prospect of getting a few year ticks to go towards my 2017 tally!

I happened to be in the ‘New World’ just before BWIAB having led a tour of Costa Rica, and a scouting trip to Colombia so I had been watching many of the migrants in their wintering grounds, and those starting their northbound migration for the preceding couple of months.

On arrival into Ohio I met up with Chris Lotz Birding Ecotours owner, and his wife Megan and explored the Columbus area, their new home base and location of the new Birding Ecotours US office! It was clear there was passage underway with several birds noted immediately on arrival such as Indigo Bunting, Northern Parula, and Yellow-rumped Warbler. A short trip out at dinner time gave us very nice view of a Barred Owl.

The weather was not very kind for the first few days…. That’s putting it politely. It really was foul. Incredibly wet and windy, and cold. We drove up to Maumee Bay to set up our stand and drove through miles and miles of flooded fields. Thinking it was good weather for ducks, but less so for warblers…

Birding Ecotours stand

















The Birding Ecotours stand all set up displaying a wide-range of tours from around the world.


The weather didn’t let up and on Day 1 of the BWIAB I took an adventurous group of intrepid birders out along the lake shore and got suitably wet, and freezing cold. Birding was slow, as to be expected in these conditions but we did see Yellow, Palm, and Yellow-rumped Warblers, Grey Catbird, and Baltimore Oriole amongst a range of much more common resident species such as Great Horned Owl, Red-headed Woodpecker, and Brown Thrasher.

Grey Catbird
















Grey Catbird is a very common migrant species with a noticeable arrival of birds mid-week. Suddenly they were everywhere!


Over the course of the next few days the weather improved slightly and our colleague Dylan Vasapolli arrived from Johannesburg. You can read Dylan’s thoughts on this years’ BWIAB here: (http://fatbirder.com/announcements/index.php?article=174). We got to birding around the world-famous Magee Marsh boardwalk and surrounds gradually picking off migrants one by one. Species were fairly plentiful but quantity was just not there, warblers included: Palm, Nashville, Orange-crowned, Prothonotary, Black-throated Green, Black-throated Blue, Black-and-white, Yellow-rumped, Magnolia, and Pine Warblers, Ovenbird, and American Redstart, with Blue-headed, Warbling, and Red-eyed Vireos also present. Blue Jays were a dominant sight, with hundreds upon hundreds of them passing through over these days. Two pairs of nesting Bald Eagles provided ample entertainment when the migrants were quiet.

Birding Ecotours team
















Andy, Dylan and Chris (left to right) freezing, and about to head on to the Magee Marsh Boardwalk…


As expected the huge amounts of water started attracting interesting shorebirds and gulls and as we were driving around we found several Bonaparte’s Gulls, Wilson’s Phalarope, White-rumped Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, and Pectoral Sandpiper. Chris and I were in the right place at the right time when a Nelson’s Sparrow was reported. We were literally 50m away from it when news came out and so rushed straight over as that would have been a lifer for Chris, and a surprise year-tick for me! However, on arrival it was clear that the bird was in fact a Le Conte’s Sparrow – much scarcer in the local area at that time of the year, and an unexpected lifer for me, but not for Chris!

Le Conte’s Sparrow

















Le Conte’s Sparrow – a phone-scoped record shot enough to clinch the ID. Iphone 7 and Swarovski ATX95 scope.


Over the course of the BWIAB we all led various van trips and guided walks, and I gave a talk on Birding in Australia – for those who wanted to escape the Ohio cold and dream of more colourful and exotic birds in a far-flung place!

















Possibly the first Plains-wanderer to have featured at the Biggest Week in American Birding!


By the end of the festival (about 4 days out) the migration really started to kick off with a noticeable increase in terms of both species diversity and quantity and this was where things started to get exciting. This sudden arrival of birds was brought about by the movement of a blocking weather system that had been directing birds to the east and the west of us, as is the way with migration birding – a lot is down to luck!

Our first real hit of activity occurred when we were at the wonderful Pearson Metropark. Here, on getting out of the car is was immediately clear ‘it was on’! A vociferous Northern Parula was serenading anything that would listed and it seemed to be the focal point of activity over the next couple of hours with an assortment of warblers (including the stunning Blackburnain and Chestnut-sided Warblers) present but moving very quickly through the canopy. More obliging was the flock of Scarlet Tanagers and Rose-breasted Grosbeak that loitered a short while. A Hermit Thrush was hopping about on the lawn right in plain sight but a cuckoo species didn’t play ball and frustratingly went unidentified as it cleared off all too quickly before any of us could really get anything on it.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak




















Rose-breasted Grosbeak – one of the perils of migration in America is lots of tall buildings with lots of glass, this stunning male grosbeak had flown into a window as I was eating breakfast. Thankfully he was one of the lucky ones that was just stunned before he went off on his way again. Many are not quite so lucky unfortunately.


On our last full morning birding together – the Saturday, we headed out to Oak Openings in the hope of finding some special birds, and the morning far exceeded even our high hopes – we got staggering views of Prairie Warbler, soon followed by Yellow-breasted Chat (a lifer for Dylan and myself), and a stonking Kentucky Warbler in the same bush – with Blue-winged Warbler singing overhead! As we headed back to Maumee Bay we stopped off to admire a very smart male Bobolink and a Sora walking about out in the open! The area around Maumee Bay was fully loaded with Ovenbirds, along with Veery, Swainson’s and Wood Thrushes and it was hard not to trip over them at times! Spectacular sight.

The final morning of the BWIAB, Sunday was one of the best. The weather had delivered the birds. Chris and I were leading a tour around the Pearson Metropark (my new favourite spot in Ohio!) and the place was dripping in warblers – it took us almost 2 hours just to get out of the car park! Swainson’s Thrushes were everywhere but the warblers took some beating – Blackburnian, Magnolia, Yellow, Cape May, Black-throated Green, Black-throated Blue, Chestnut-sided, Nashville,

and Tennessee Warblers, American Redstart, Northern Parula etc. Blue-headed Vireos were showing down to a matter of a few feet and there was Indigo Buntings, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Scarlet Tanagers pouring through. However, once we got out of the car park into the forest it was clear there were birds everywhere! Connecticut Warbler was the star bird and was seen briefly (I’d only heard this species back in 2015), more showy were Canada, Wilson’s, and Mourning Warblers, as was Grey-cheeked Thrush, and Black-billed Cuckoo. Finally Bay-breasted Warblers and Blackpoll Warblers were also ‘in’, but in small numbers really, certainly compared to 2015. I was just relieved not to have missed them altogether as was looking likely as each day passed by.

Black-billed Cuckoo

















Black-billed Cuckoo – finally a cuckoo that gave itself up and was even twitchable for the masses asd it was the first one found during the BWIAB! Phone-scoped with my IPhone 7 and Swarovski ATX95 scope.


On the final afternoon we all got together to have a quick look at Magee Marsh boardwalk for the final time adding several more warblers to our already impressive day list – such as Prairie, Prothonotary, and Golden-winged Warblers. It was a fitting end to what had ended up being another really enjoyable weeks birding in Ohio. On the drive back to Columbus we had a small flock of Cedar Waxwings flying across the road – surprisingly our first of the trip.

The BWIAB 2017 was totally different from 2015, and is likely to be totally different to 2018 if I’m lucky enough to be there! That’s all down to the vagaries of migration birding, and what makes it such a fun and frustrating thing – often in the same day! It was great to catch up with old friends, and make new ones and spend hour upon hour talking all things ‘bird’ and ‘birding’. I offer a huge thank you to everyone at Black Swamp Bird Observatory and Maumee Bay Lodge for making the event the huge success it undoubtedly was, and is, and to Chris and Dylan for their great birding and being great companions again!

Until the next time…. Andy.

Tours by destination


Southern Carmine Bee-eater - Andre Stapelberg

Botswana is well known for having some of the best wilderness and wildlife areas on the African continent. With a full 38 percent of its total land area devoted to national parks, reserves, and wildlife management areas,  for the most part unfenced, allowing animals to roam wild and free. Travel through many parts of the country, one has the feeling of moving through an immense nature wonderland.

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Yellow-throated Cuckoo -Niall Perrins

With towering peaks, rolling hills, dry sahel habitat and primary forest, Cameroon is awash with some of Africa’s most sought-after regional endemics. The Cameroon Highlands is one of Africa’s most endemic-rich areas, and we visit three of these amazing peaks — some still have active volcanoes. Bannerman’s Turaco, one of the most range restricted turacos in Africa, can be found in the Bamenda Highlands. Grey-necked Rockfowl (Red-headed Picathartes), a skulking forest species with only one other member in its family, is endemic to this region’s lowland forests, and this is one of the few places you can pick up all three species of African trogons.  With Quail-plover, Egyptian Plover, and Golden Nightjar possible in the dry north, there are opportunities to see a wide range of some of Africa’s most desired birds.

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The Comoros is a sovereign archipelago island nation in the Indian Ocean located at the northern end of the Mozambique Channel off the eastern coast of Africa between northeastern Mozambique and northwestern Madagascar, comprising the islands of Grande Comore, Mohéli, and Anjouan. With 17 endemic species and a large number of endemic subspecies, these islands have much to offer as a birding destination. In addition, they are a wonderful travel destination, set in rugged volcanic landscapes fringed by idyllic tropical beaches, and linked by good air and road infrastructure.

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Ruspoli's Turaco - Niall Perrins

Ethiopia, “the Roof of Africa”, is an absolutely unique and spectacular birding destination. It is one of Africa’s most scenically beautiful countries, boasting some of the continent’s highest mountains and plateaus (but also contains a depression that reaches slightly below sea level), impressive escarpments, Great Rift Valley lakes and volcanoes and very varied vegetation from juniper forests to arid savannah dotted with monstrous red termite mounds. Descending from the highlands to the deep valleys far below can seem like entering a completely different world, all within the same day, it is an amazingly varied country.

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Great Blue Turaco - Niall Perrins

Gabon is a largely low-lying country with a warm, humid climate. Much of the country is still covered by tropical rainforest and there are also grasslands, savannas, large rivers and coastal lagoons. Wildlife includes forest elephants, elephants, buffalo, various antelope and monkey species, sitatungas, leopards, three species of crocodiles, chimps and gorillas, and several marine turtle species which nest along the coast. There are 604 species of birds throughout the country (data from Birdlife International, 2013). None of these are endemic but some, such as the Ja River Scrub Warbler, Gabon Batis, African River Martin, and Black-chinned Weaver are restricted to Central Africa and have only small ranges. The Grey-necked Rockfowl (Picathartes) and Loango Weaver are classed as vulnerable species by the IUCN.


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White-necked Rockfowl

Ghana must be the easiest West African country to travel in and thus gives relatively easy access to a very large number of West African endemics, as well as good access to some star North African birds. Ghana has 180 of the Guinea-Congo Forests biome birds, including 12 out of the 15 Upper Guinea Forest endemics, 11 of which are of global conservation concern. These 180 species are West and Central African rainforest birds, some of them reaching as far east as the DRC/Uganda border, but most of them are found only with difficulty outside of West Africa, making Ghana a very convenient country for finding them. This little country also boasts 37 Sudan-Guinea Savanna biome birds, this biome is a strip of savanna just south of the Sahel of North Africa. It is also possible to access the edge of the Sahel itself within Ghana for sought-after species such as Egyptian Plover. Ghana boasts a 100 percent success rate for finding White-necked Rockfowl (Yellow-headed Picathartes), a fine representative of a completely West African family. The people of Ghana are also superbly welcoming and friendly, and fluent in English, enhancing the overall experience.

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Hildebrandt's Starling - Niall Perrins

Kenya has a unique and diverse array of habitat types, ranging from the snow-capped mountains at about 5000 meters above sea level, tropical lowlands, highland forests, vast savannas, and rolling plains and grasslands to the coastal dry forests and the shores of the Indian Ocean. There is a total of 1100+ bird species recorded on the country’s checklist from its 62 Important Bird Areas (IBAs), with 117 of these being migrants from the Eurasian region. Our tours will enable us to score at least 600 species and will take us through many spectacular habitats. Throughout Kenya we’ll experience some fantastic birding and excellent large game viewing, so there will always be something to draw the eye. We’ll have a chance to walk in the forests and drive among the many large game animals that the plains of east Africa are famous for.

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Madagascan Pygmy Kingfisher - Niall Perrins

Birding Madagascar, our world’s fourth-largest island is, quite simply, unique. Five bird families and five mammal families (including the lemurs) are endemic to this massive island, and half the world’s chameleons, weird and wonderful endemic plant families, and tons of other wildlife can be found here. An astonishing 120 bird species are endemic ( including such exotic groups as vangas, ground rollers, cuckoo roller, couas, asities, and mesites). Lemurs vie for attention, from the tiny mouse lemurs to the marvelous sifakas and the amazing indri with its calls that resound through the forest. Our tour visits a range of habitats: grasslands, dry deciduous woodland, the bizarre spiny forest with its odd octopus trees (Didiera madagascariensis) and elephant’s foot trees (Pachypodium rosulatum), and lush eastern rainforest, as well as lagoons and mudflats.

The birds that we’ll look for include the roadrunner-like Long-tailed Ground Roller and the stunning Pitta-like, Scaly, and Rufous-headed Ground Rollers, as well as the highly-prized Subdesert Mesite, the unforgettable Giant Coua, the astounding Velvet Asity, and Madagascan Ibis, to name just a handful. We invite you to join us on a special tour to an amazing island!

The Masoala Peninsula extension can generate the unbelievable Helmet VangaBrown Mesite, and Short-legged Ground Roller, as well as the largest, and most bizarre, nocturnal lemur, the aye-ayeand a stack more.

One hundred and twenty nine species of birds have been recorded in the northwestern Ankarafantsika National Park, more than half of them endemic to Madagascar. They include Van Dam’s Vanga, Rufous Vanga, the elusive Banded Kestrel, and the more easily observed Madagascan Fish Eagle, which can often be seen at Ravelobe Lake. The endangered Humblot’s Heron can also be seen at Lake Ravelobe.

Berenty Reserve is a haven for birdwatchers, boasting a high number of endemic species. With luck we might be able to find Madagascan Sandgrouse, Madagascan Green Pigeon, Torotoroka Scops Owl, and perhaps even Madagascan Cuckoo-Hawk here.


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Red-faced Crimsonwing - John Caddick

Malawi, officially the Republic of Malawi, is a landlocked country in southeast Africa that was formerly known as Nyasaland. It is bordered by Zambia to the northwest, Tanzania to the northeast, and Mozambique on the east, south and west. The country is separated from Tanzania and Mozambique by Lake Malawi. Malawi is over 118,000 km2(45,560 sq mi) with an estimated population of 16,777,547 (July 2013 est.). Its capital is Lilongwe, which is also Malawi’s largest city; the second largest is Blantyre and the third is Mzuzu. The name Malawi comes from the Maravi, an old name of the Nyanja people that inhabit the area. The country is also nicknamed “The Warm Heart of Africa”.

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Moussier's Redstart

Birding in Morocco is both scenic and exciting, and the country has many first class birds. From the snow-capped Atlas Mountains at around 2600m to the low-lying beautiful dunes of the Sahara Desert – the birds we see are always against an impressive backdrop wherever we are! In early spring birds are migrating to Europe, and the beautiful Moroccan landscape explodes into bloom, helping the numerous passerines on their northward migration.
However, for many it is the numerous mouth-watering near-endemic and desert specialties that can be found in Morocco which are the biggest draw, and the list is long!

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Black Coucal - Hugh Chittenden

After nearly two decades of relative stability, many people are now starting to see the tourism potential of Mozambique. Long stretches of idyllic beach landscapes, coral reefs that are perfect for diving, vibrant and accessible cities (especially the capitol, Maputo), and a blossoming arts and music scene give this country all the trappings of an up-and-coming tourism hot spot. Mozambique has a variety of wildlife viewing options, with both Gorongosa National Park and the Niassa Reserve offering ideal safari and birdwatching conditions. Stability has allowed for some tourist infrastructure to be built, but Mozambique retains an off-the-beaten-path feel that makes it attractive to those who like their trips spiced with a little bit of adventure.

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Pale Chanting Goshawk - Martin Benadie

Namibia is a must-visit African country since it is so very unique, with the world’s oldest desert including the highest sand dunes in the world, which are a spectacular red color, other massive sand dunes coming right down to the sea, rugged desert mountains along the Namibian Escarpment, desert elephants and rhinos, one of the world’s greatest game parks, the vast Etosha National Park. And, last but not least, Namibia has a whole bunch of birds that are only found there or in adjacent Angola.

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São Tomé and Príncipe

Rufous-bellied Paradise Flycatcher - São Tomé and Príncipe birding tour

With 75% of its area covered by rainforest, São Tomé and Príncipe (STP) is characterized by unspoiled, palm-fringed beaches, towering volcanic peaks, and a fascinating colonial heritage. Now with the recent discovery of large oil deposits in the Gulf of Guinea, STP is on the cusp of change. This is Africa’s second-smallest country, and it exhibits an enticing blend of African, Portuguese and Caribbean culture. Pioneering travelers will discover an African island paradise. Largely unexplored and unexploited by tourism, these tropical, volcanic islands off the west African coast are the antitheses of mass-market destinations, and one of the most unspoiled places on earth. The scarcity of tourists is one of the islands’ biggest attractions.

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South Africa

Cape Sugarbird - John Tinkler

South Africa is one of the best value destinations on the entire continent. The outstanding infrastructure, great accommodation, excellent food, wonderful South African hospitality, spectacular and varied scenery, and the presence of Africa’s big and small mammals makes it one of the most pleasant countries in the world to bird in.

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Hildebrandt's Starling - Niall Perrins

Tanzania is arguably one of the best countries to visit for its avifauna. By birding Tanzania, you’ll add a host of East African endemics, and also most of the 20 country endemics. You can also see your first Miombo (south-central African) endemic birds in Tanzania. And you’ll see a great many of Africa’s big (and small) animals, along with some of the continent’s most famous sites. These include the Great Rift Valley and its flamingo-filled lakes, the Serengeti with its relatively easy to see big cats and its wildebeest migration, Ngorongoro Crater, and, last but not least, Kilimanjaro, one of the world’s most massive isolated mountains. Africa’s highest mountain rises straight out of the wildlife-riddled plains below to a dizzying 19,341 feet above sea level.

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Shoebill - Niall Perrins

The essential birds of Uganda are Shoebill (this is the easiest country to see this monster in), the 20-plus Albertine Rift endemics (including African Green Broadbill), and finally a few other birds tough to locate elsewhere, such as Green-breasted Pitta. Most other birds can be seen in other countries and are not focused on during this tour, although you’ll certainly see a lot of some widespread spectacular species such as Great Blue Turaco, Ross’s Turaco, amazing barbets, and so many others.

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Abdim's Stork - John Caddick

Blessed with awe-inspiring natural wonders, an abundance of wildlife, huge water bodies and vast open spaces, Zambia offers unforgettable holidays exploring the real Africa. Acknowledged as one of the safest countries in the world to visit, Zambia’s welcoming people live in peace and harmony. And here, in the warm heart of Africa, you will find some of the finest Safari experiences on the planet, including face to face encounters with nature at its most wild.

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Red-throated Twonspot - John Caddick

Zimbabwe is an absolutely fabulous country scenically wonderful, with very friendly people fluent in English and, surprising to many people, with a truly excellent infrastructure. The hundreds of miles of paved roads are in very good condition, and it is one of the few African countries of which you can see a great deal without the use of a 4×4. With an improving political leadership and the change to the US Dollar as the local currency, which has greatly improved the economy, the country is once again fast becoming a very popular destination for birders, and right now it is still possible to get very comfortable accommodation at comparatively low rates.

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We can run any of our tours privately any time and we can also arrange custom itineraries - send us your wish-list and we'll put the itinerary together! See more here.

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