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By Chris Lotz www.birdingecotours.com

This is a topic we would sincerely love your comments on – please do e-mail us at info@birdingecotours.com and let us have your opinion on the matter!

Cuban Tody (photo Jean Kirkwood)

Cuban Tody (photo Jean Kirkwood) from our March 2017 Cuba birding tour – luckily not too difficult to see without playback

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whether to tick heard-only birds can be a contentious issue. My personal rule is to strictly exclude heard-only birds from all of my lists (including my world list, my southern African list, my Ohio state list, and any year lists that I attempt). My reasons for excluding heard-only birds are twofold. Firstly, because birding would then simply be too easy – the challenge of actually seeing elusive skulkers is a large part of what makes birding tough (in a good way). Finding owls, crakes (especially the tiny flufftails), and some of the more elusive warblers, such as Connecticut Warbler or Swainson’s Warbler, would be far too easy if one simply had to hear them to list them.

Secondly, and more importantly, one would miss getting to know some of the most fabulous birds out there if one was content just to hear them. For example, seeing the plumage of a Boreal Owl is of course a whole lot better than only hearing the species. Not to say that hearing the distant call of this tiny owl for the first time on a cold night in the mountains of Wyoming wasn’t one of the most memorable birding experiences I have ever had! The mountains seemed lifeless and completely quiet until the eerie tooting of this owl suddenly rang out!

On the other hand, one of the most compelling arguments to tick birds by hearing them only (and not continuing further to try and get visuals on them) is an excellent one that I certainly do spend a lot of time thinking about. By making it a rule to actually see (rather than to hear only) a species before listing it, birds can very much be disturbed, sometimes badly. There is, for example, hardly any other way of seeing a good number of the world’s owl species if one does not actually call them in and spotlight them. This is obviously not something the owls particularly enjoy. The same argument applies to rails, crakes, and flufftails, some of which birders call closer with playback before flushing them, which is a double whammy for the poor birds. Perhaps it might therefore be a good idea to count heard-only species on all one’s lists except for one’s main life-list? Let us have your comments.

The ethical concern mentioned above ultimately means that I have a shorter life list, as I sometimes opt not to bother the birds that I would otherwise want to get acquainted with (and list). Sometimes it’s just a matter of being more patient. The Connecticut Warbler that was a life bird for me very recently (earlier this month, May 2017) took a long time to see as I did not try and call it in with playback but instead waited for it (it took a couple of hours before I eventually saw this amazing little thing). With regards to the Critically Endangered White-winged Flufftail, I opted to join a controlled flushing event that minimizes disturbance to this species and in fact is used to raise funds to help its conservation (as participants pay into a conservation trust set up for this species, for the privilege of joining the controlled flush – see http://www.birdlife.org.za/conservation/terrestrial-bird-conservation/threatened-species/white-winged-flufftail ). In south-western Australia it was an absolute mission to see the three notorious skulkers of Cheynes Beach, because most birders try to see them there, so playback is a definite NO – you can read about my struggles at http://birdingecotours.com/trip-reports/australia.

Actually, with the massive increase in the popularity of bird photography, in which birders want to get photos and not just see the species, this whole controversy is brought to a whole new level. In this modern age probably more than half the birders out there want to photograph what they are finding, not just see the birds, and certainly not just hear them! When I started birding, hardly anyone was trying to photograph a species – folks were more than happy just to see each species and not get photos.

Seeing birds, or better still photographing them, adds to the challenge of birding, which is a good thing. If done in a truly caring way in which the bird’s welfare is genuinely put first (which is what most of my birding friends do), then to me this is the way to go. Other people will remain quite content to list birds simply by hearing them. If that were the case for me, I may have given up on that Connecticut Warbler more easily – but, believe me, I’m glad I spent a couple of hours trying for the species; when I saw this beautiful bird (first at eye level when singing territorially and then moving onto the ground where it moved to forage) it is one of the most unforgettable birding memories possible. The same holds for when I raised my binoculars to a Buff-spotted Flufftail after an arduous session in which my patience was tested to the absolute limit but was eventually rewarded. Flufftails must be the world’s most elusive birds (see http://birdingecotours.com/searching-for-africas-most-skulking-bird-family-the-incomparable-flufftails/), and many people settle for hearing them only. But I have to tell you that when you see these tiny spotted miniature chickens it’s the birding experience of a lifetime. That’s if you can stop shaking with excitement and actually get proper views.

At Birding Ecotours we also do not include heard-only birds in the final count – we mark the heard-only birds on our tour lists, but we are clear to state them as such and not include them with the trip tally. We feel that we have failed the trip participants if we have not got everyone onto the bird properly – that means everyone getting a good view of it. A poor view or a heard-only species can’t be included on the trip list.

For eBird, regional atlases, and other data-collecting exercises which can have scientific and conservation benefits we do, however, count heard-only birds.

On this topic, even more than most, we would love your opinion, stories, etc. Do you tick on heard only, and if so, why? Please e-mail us at info@birdingecotours.com and let us know, if you don’t mind!

Tours by destination



Bhutan

Ibisbill

Bhutan, known as the land of the Thunder Dragon, is a quaint, quiet, and scenically spectacular country with a strong conservation ethic rooted in ancient Buddhist traditions. Vast areas of unspoiled forest still cover the Himalayan foothills, that spread over much of the country. We expect to find most of Bhutan’s fabled Eastern Himalayan species such as Beautiful Nuthatch (and other nuthatches), Ward’s Trogon, the unbelievable Fire-tailed Myzornis, Rufous-necked Hornbill, Yellow-rumped Honeyguide, Ibisbill, and of course Satyr Tragopan, Himalayan Monal, and other vivid pheasants. Other highlights include Wallcreeper, spectacular sunbirds, five species of parrotbills, up to ten species of laughingthrushes, striking and gorgeous forktails along the fast-flowing rivers, in addition to a plethora of other tantalizing jewels.

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China

Blue Eared Pheasant

Covering approximately 9.6 million square kilometers, China is the world’s second-largest country by land area. China’s landscape is vast and diverse, ranging from forest steppes and the Gobi and Taklamakan deserts in the arid north to subtropical forests in the wetter south. Particularly interesting for birders are the provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan, and Qinghai.

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India

Sarus Crane - India

Joining a birding tour in India, a vast country twice the size of South Africa, should be on any birder’s wish list! The country shares borders with Pakistan to the west, China and Nepal to the north, Bhutan  to the northeast, and Bangladesh and Myanmar to the east.  Sri Lanka lies to the south, the Maldives to the southwest, and Indonesia to the southeast of India in the Indian Ocean. India is the seventh-largest country in the world by area and, with over a billion people, is second only to China in population, although its much higher birthrate makes it likely to reach pole position in less than ten years. It is an extremely diverse country, with vast differences in geography, climate, culture, language, and ethnicity across its expanse, and prides itself on being the largest democracy on Earth.

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Indonesia

Green-backed Kingfisher

The fauna of the vast island country of Indonesia is characterized by high levels of biodiversity and endemism due to its distribution over a vast tropical archipelago. Many sources credit Indonesia as the most species-rich country on earth. Indonesia is divided into three ecological regions; western Indonesia, which is more influenced by Asian fauna, and the east, which is more influenced by Australasian species. The Wallace Line, across which lies the Wallacea transitional region, notionally divides the two regions. There is a diverse range of ecosystems, including vast rainforests, beaches, sand dunes, estuaries, mangroves, coral reefs, seagrass beds, coastal mudflats, tidal flats, algal beds, and small island ecosystems. 1718 avian species are distributed across the entire country, which straddles all three of the Asian, Wallacean, Australasian regions.

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Israel

Long-eared Owl - Oz Horine

Israel is at the junction of three continents: Europe, Asia, and Africa. Many birds’ migration paths pass straight though Israel twice a year: each spring about half a billion birds migrate through the country northwards to the breeding areas, and each autumn they move to their wintering areas to the south. The continental bridge effect also means that Israel has more birds than expected – about 540 species. For some of these, Israel is the northern distribution boundary; for others the southern.

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Japan

Whooper Swan - Mark Brazil

Japan’s avifauna is incredibly rich, with more than 600 species having been recorded here.  More than 60% are migratory, therefore winter is the preferred birding season in Japan. This is the time for watching wintering Hooded and White-naped Cranes in addition to the native Red-crowned Crane. and many other resident and migrant species  in addition to the approximately 60 endemic or regionally endemic species.

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Malaysia (Borneo and the Peninsula)

Black-and-yellow Broadbill

To know Malaysia is to love Malaysia – a bubbling, bustling melting-pot of races and religions where Malays, Indians, Chinese, and many other ethnic groups live together in peace and harmony. This multiculturalism has made Malaysia a gastronomical paradise and home to hundreds of colorful festivals. It’s no wonder that Malaysians love celebrating and socializing. As a people, they are very relaxed, warm and friendly.

Geographically, Malaysia is almost as diverse as its culture. Eleven states and two federal territories (Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya) form Peninsular Malaysia, which is separated by the South China Sea from East Malaysia, which includes two states (Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo) and a third federal territory, the island of Labuan.

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Mongolia

Eurasian Hoopoe

The very name Mongolia conjures up images of a vast, remote and distant land — the land of Genghis Khan (Chinggis Khaan) and the Mongol hordes. While Mongolia is certainly vast and much of it is remote, it is also home to an exciting array of poorly known and rarely observed birds that occur only here. As we traverse this vast land we will often be traveling on rarely used roads, and occasionally driving across steppe grasslands, using GPS to navigate our way to exciting wetlands where no roads venture.

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Nepal

Ibisbill

The former kingdom of Nepal, now officially the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, is a land-locked country in Asia and one of the most mountainous on the planet. It is located in the central Himalayas, and of the world’s ten highest mountains eight are in Nepal. This land was cut off from the outside world for many decades after the second world war. But now it has opened up its boundaries to travelers, and it offers birders the opportunity to experience the immensity of birding the world’s highest mountain range without the high costs associated with visiting Bhutan.

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Philippines

Palawan Peacock-Pheasant

The Philippine Archipelago (more commonly known simply as the Philippines) is a remarkable collection of over 7000 individual islands. From a birding point of view, it uniquely combines influences from tropical south-east Asia and the more temperate parts of the continent (Japan, China and Korea). However, about a third of the birds are endemic, including some of the most spectacular species on the planet. Philippine (Monkey-eating) Eagle is the largest eagle on earth, and is reason enough for most wildlife enthusiasts to visit this island nation. This critically endangered bird (see http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/speciesfactsheet.php?id=3528) has a world population of just a few hundred, and as the national bird of the Philippines it is an appropriate representative of the disgusting plight of this archipelago’s avifauna. This is, quite simply, one of the “must-visit immediately” countries of the world, since the birds are quite literally going extinct due to massive scale deforestation. Palawan Peacock-Pheasant, Luzon Bleeding-heart, 17 endemic owl species, six kingfishers, 10 hornbills, 11 parrots, two broadbills, two pittas, Celestial Monarch (which truly does look celestial) and Sulphur-billed Nuthatch are just a few of the over 200 endemic birds that are becoming increasingly out of reach to the birder as each year goes by. If you’re a serious birder, we strongly advise that you visit the Philippines, but do it now before it’s gone.

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Sri Lanka

Red-faced Malkoha

Sri Lanka is a picturesque island situated at the southern tip of India and home to 33 currently recognized endemic species. Sri Lanka is a continental island and has been connected to India for much of its geological past through episodes of lower sea level. Despite these land-bridge connections, faunal exchange between the rainforests found in Southern India and Sri Lanka has been minimal. This lack of exchange of species is probably due to the inability of rainforest organisms to disperse though the interceding areas of dry lowlands. These dry lowlands are still dry today and receive only one major rainy season, whereas Sri Lanka’s “wet zone” experiences two annual monsoons. This long insularity of Sri Lankan biota in a moist tropical environment has led to the emergence of a bewildering variety of endemic biodiversity. This is why southwestern Sri Lanka and the Western Ghats of southern India are jointly regarded as one of the globe’s 34 biodiversity hotspots. Furthermore, Sri Lanka is the westernmost representative of Indo-Malayan flora, and its abundant birdlife also shows many such affinities.

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Taiwan

Mikado Pheasant - Chun Hsien Huang

Taiwan has more than 200 mountains that soar above 3,000 meters in height, and its unique geology and topography have created breathtaking scenery and alluring coastal scenes. Geographically, Taiwan is situated at the point where the Asian continental shelf meets the vast Pacific Ocean, providing it with an unparalleled ecological diversity and a huge number of plant and animal species concentrated in a relatively small place, perfect for ecotourism. Taiwan has world-class geological features, such as the awesome Taroko Gorge, and it has the highest mountain in Northeast Asia, Yushan or Jade Mountain. The island also has some of the friendliest people in the world and eight magnificent national parks, and it is a gourmet’s paradise with the finest of Chinese cuisine – all of which imprint indelible memories in the minds of its visitors.

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Thailand

Silver-eared Leiothrix

Chiang Mai is the largest and most culturally significant city in northern Thailand and the capital of the Chiang Mai Province, 700 km north of Bangkok. The district is covered by many mountains, chiefly stretching in the north-south direction. The river Ping, one of the major tributaries of the Chao Phraya River, originates in the Chiang Dao Mountains. The highest mountain of Thailand, Doi Inthanon at 2 565 meters, is located in this district. Several national parks are also found here: Doi Inthanon, Doi Suthep-Pui, Mae Ping, Sri Lanna, Huai Nam Dang, Mae Phang, Chiang Dao. Here in the north the birder will find numerous Himalayan foothill species, while in the south the avifauna mainly consists of Malay Peninsula birds.

The peninsula of southern Thailand, part of geological Sundaland, is a birders’ and naturalists’ paradise. Bounded by the Gulf of Thailand to the east and the Andaman Sea to the west, this lush tropical region boasts a maritime climate and a unique combination of terrestrial and marine attractions that rank among the best globally. Our tour is designed to incorporate the most spectacular of the region’s unique karst limestone scenery while searching for the region’s diversity of specials.

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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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