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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



Austria

Long-eared Owl

Austria is a landlocked country of roughly 8.5 million people in Central Europe. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Hungary and Slovakia to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the west. The territory of Austria covers 83,855 square kilometres (32,377 sq mi) and has a temperate and alpine climate. Austria’s terrain is highly mountainous due to the presence of the Alps; only 32% of the country is below 500 metres (1,640 ft), and its highest point is 3,798 metres (12,461 ft). Austria has six national parks, almost 60 nature preserves and „nature parks“, about 35 „hot spots“ for bird-watching, 20 Alpine gardens and many other opportunities to admire nature in its undisturbed, pristine beauty. With 425 bird species, it is a wonderful destination for bird watchers to enjoy the exciting Central European avian riches.

 

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Bulgaria

Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker

Despite being a relatively small country, together with Spain Bulgaria boasts the highest biodiversity in Europe, with the birds contributing greatly to this. Bulgaria’s biodiversity is conserved in three national parks, 11 nature parks and 17 biosphere reserves. The vast tracts of different habitats make it a pleasant country to bird, and the country plays host to several scenically beautiful areas, adding to its splendor. 

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Finland

Boreal Owl - Jari Peltomäki

Finland is a land of interesting contrasts, such as the four seasons, the Midnight Sun and the winter darkness, urban and rural, east and west.  As you look out from the plane, the first impression you may have is that there are a lot of trees, an endless carpet of forest, with many lakes and small towns in between. It’s kind of a surprise when you land in Helsinki to find that the airport is so modern and efficient: not a polar bear in sight. It’s truly amazing how uniquely exotic each season can be. Four times a year, nature changes its uniform completely, color, light, temperature, sounds and smells. Everything changes in a way that happens nowhere else.

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France

European Crested Tit - Thomas Hochebner

France  is a country located in Western  Europe.  Clockwise from the north, France borders  Belgium, Luxembourg, and  Germany to the northeast,  Switzerland to the east, Italy to the southeast, and Spain to the southwest across the Pyrenees mountain range (the small country of Andorra lies in between the two countries). The Mediterranean Sea lies to the south of France, with the Principality of Monaco forming a small enclave. To the west, France has a long Atlantic Ocean coastline, while to the north lies the English Channel, across which lies the last of France’s neighbors, England (part of the United Kingdom).

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Greece

Rock Partridge

Greece lies in the south of the Balkan peninsula and is part of the European East Mediterranean Region. Its territory expands in approximately 132.000 km2, its coast line is 15.000 km long, and has a great variety of geomorphological formations and rocks. In general, the climate can be regarded as Mediterranean, with mild and wet winters, and hot and dry summers. The country’s geomorphology is diverse. Greece is primarily a mountainous country, with seventy per cent of its territory covered by mountains. It has a very long coastline, with a plethora of peninsulas and islands. The fauna consists of a rich mixture of European, Asian and African species, including a considerable number which are endemic. Greece has one of the highest bird densities in Europe and is a fascinating country ornithologically: About 407 bird species have been recorded, of which 240 nest in Greece (59% of the total). Some species (e.g. the Dalmatian Pelican, Pelecanus crispus) nest only in Greece of all EU countries.

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Hungary

White-tailed Eagle

 

Hungary is a landlocked country in Central Europe. It is situated in the Carpathian Basin and is bordered by Slovakia to the north, Ukraine and Romania to the east, Serbia and Croatia to the south, Slovenia to the southwest and Austria to the west. Slightly more than one half of Hungary’s landscape consists of flat to rolling plains of the Pannonian Basin: the most important plain regions include the Little Hungarian Plain in the west, and the Great Hungarian Plain in the southeast. The country is well established as one of the very best birding nations in Europe. With 416 species, including such treasures as Saker Falcon, Eastern Imperial Eagle, Pygmy Cormorant, Lesser White-fronted Goose, Ferruginous Duck, Great Bustard, Corncrake, Ural Owl, Aquatic Warbler, and nine species of woodpecker, it certainly deserves a place on any world birder’s wish list to enjoy the exciting Central European avifauna.

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Iceland

Atlantic Puffin - Jari Peltomäki

Iceland, thanks to its remote location and harsh winters, has a relatively small population, leaving vast parts of this island nation untouched. Some amazing scenery of glaciers, volcanic peaks, steep cliffs, waterfalls, and steaming geysers make this an amazing panorama for a birding destination.

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Italy

Wallcreeper

Italy is a “must-visit” country to most travelers, this is where both the Roman Empire and the Renaissance began, and no other Western country can quite compete with the incredible historical depth of this one. Even if you are not a history buff, your jaws will still drop when you first set eyes on the beautiful cities of Florence, Venice, and Rome. Combined with its art and history, Italy also has some of Europe’s most magnificent scenery.  We acknowledge the fact that many people will want to visit Italy at some stage or another, and we hereby present you with the opportunity of combining birding with seeing the main sights and also experiencing the culture of modern Italy.

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Norway

Ivory Gull © Erwin Vermeulen

Scenically spectacular Norway, with its famous fjords, rugged coastline, and thousands of islands, has some vast wilderness areas. Denizens of these vast tracts of boreal forest, tundra, and coastline include ptarmigans, sea ducks, sea eagles, northern owls, <strong>Ivory Gull</strong>, polar bears, walruses, narwhales, orcas, and various huge baleen whales, along with a great many others.

While the whole of Norway is well worth a visit if you enjoy nature, probably the most world-renowned part of Norway is incredible Svalbard (also commonly known as Spitsbergen, which means “pointed mountains”, the Dutch name that a lot of people still use even though the area is no longer Dutch territory). This is where many people go to find and photograph polar bears, but it’s also teaming with a large number of other charismatic species, including some sought-after birds. Svalbard is midway between continental Norway and the North Pole and gives easy access to the Arctic Circle, with international flights available to the world’s northernmost city, Longyearbyen.

We arrange spring and early summer cruises to Svalbard, and we also include Norway as part of our Finland-focused birding tour. By request, it is also very easy for us to arrange cruises and land-based tours to see the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) in the Tromsø area. It’s probably the warmest place in the world to observe the Northern Lights, because it’s degrees warmer than expected for its latitude because of the warm Gulf Stream.

Do join us on a Norway birding tour or wildlife cruise.

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Romania

Western Yellow Wagtail

Romania is a country very rich in biodiversity. It contains 98% of Europe’s bird species, a large majority of them found the Danube Delta. In this delta alone, over 320 species of birds are found during summer, of which 166 are hatching species and 159 are migratory. Over one million individuals (swans, wild ducks, coots, etc.) winter there. The last three days of Birding Ecotours’ Bulgaria and Romania tour are spent in this magnificent birding wonderland.

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Spain

White Stork - Ian Merrill

Spain has long been an extremely popular destination for birders, offering as it does a wide range of typical Mediterranean habitats, along with easy, safe, and excellent birding. Many sites are in beautifully scenic settings, featuring Romanesque architecture and ancient, fortified hilltop villages.  Much of interior Spain is very rural and way off the tourist trail. This is the finest region to sample a large array of southern European species and is especially good for raptors, with 23 species possible.

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Sweden

Hazel Grouse - Birding Tour Sweden

Sweden’s Taiga forests and wetlands around Svartådalen make for fantastic birding in the springtime. The Black River Valley of Västmanland hosts waves of migrating birds that arrive from late April, the number of species increase around the wetlands and in late May, and even the speciality species become common. Sweden in spring truly boasts an abundance of birdlife and photographic opportunities. One thing is for sure: Sweden will leave a lasting impression on you with its scenic beauty and serenity, and for the fantastic birding encounters you will enjoy.

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Turkey

Brown Fish Owl

Turkey is a richly historical land with some of the best cuisine you will ever taste, one of the world’s greatest cities and scenery from white-sand beaches to soaring mountains and fairy-like natural formations. With a checklist of approximately 500 birds, it should also be on any world birder’s wish list.

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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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