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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!

Plains-wanderer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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



Destinations

Argentina

Buff-fronted Owl - Alan van Norman

Argentina is blessed with some amazing scenery and birds to go with it. The northwest has some fantastic birding, with high Andes Puna down to cloud forest, where several endemic and regional specialties can be found, like Moreno’s Ground Dove, Rufous-throated Dipper, James’s, Chilean, and Andean Flamingos, and Red-faced Guan, to name a few. The northeast holds the mighty Iguazu falls, whose surrounding lush forests hold species seen nowhere else in Argentina. To the south of here the huge wetlands of the Ibera Marsh area are great for water species, including the mighty Jabiru.  Farther to the east the dry Chaco region with its odd tyrants adds to the avian splendor of the northeast, making this one of the most avian bio-diverse spots in the country. The chilly south is home to one of the most endangered grebes, the Hooded Grebe, as well as several austral specialties of the Patagonian steppe. In the center the Cordoba region is home to several endemics. Any of these places will allow you to find some of the country’s 1000+ species.

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Bolivia

Red-fronted Macaw - Ken Logan

Bolivia’s variable altitudes, ranging from 90 to 6,542 meters above sea level, allow for vast biologic diversity. The territory of Bolivia comprises 4 types of biomes, 32 ecological regions, and 199 ecosystems. Within this geographic area there are several natural parks and reserves. The country has more than 2,900 species, including 398 mammals, over 1,400 birds (being the sixth most diverse country), 204 amphibians, and 277 reptiles. In addition, there are more than 3,000 types of butterflies.

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Brazil

Hyacinth Macaw - Charly Sax

The Amazon  basin is a marvel of the world and the imagination, an ecosystem of unrivalled size and diversity, and a place of near mythical status among travellers. The Amazon River has more water than the next eight largest rivers combined, and is twice the area of India, and the basin spans eight countries. It’s a life spring of the planet, the source of so much of the air, water and weather we all depend on. However, unreasonable travel expectations – like seeing jaguars and semi-clothed Indians around every bend – can be a recipe for disappointment. For all its size, the joys of the Amazon are mostly subtle: the ghostly roar of howler monkeys, the remarkable variety of plant life, the kindliness of riverside communities, and the quiet but awesome power of the river itself.

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Colombia

Brown-banded Antpitta - Christopher Calonje

Colombia, with its diverse landscapes, is home to more bird species than any other country in the world.  The Andes make their northern terminus here, splitting into three fingers. In between lie valleys full of endemic birds, 74 at last count, and the famous Santa Marta region to the north hold 17 of these. With almost 2000 species be prepared to be in awe of the spectacular avifauna as we explore Colombia’s lush cloud forests, wetlands, and high mountain plains.

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Costa Rica

Snowcap

Sitting astride the ridge of mountains that divide central America in half gives this jungle paradise an amazing array of fantastic neotropical birds. With Caribbean slope and lowlands, highlands, and Pacific slope and lowlands we’ll have the opportunity to bird it all. From extinct and active volcanos over 4000 meters to moist, tropical jungle on the Osa Peninsula we’ll look out for such stunners as the Resplendent Quetzal and other trogons, flocks of tanagers, cotingas, toucans, hummingbirds, and many endemic and range-restricted species, along with some interesting mammals like three- and two-toed sloths, several species of primates, colorful butterflies, and lovely scenery. This itinerary gives us the best opportunity to search out the regional and Costa Rican endemics without missing spots or rushing past rewarding sites.

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Cuba

Cuban Tody - William Price

The tour starts in Cuba’s famous Zapata Swamp, one of the richest single sites throughout the West Indies, and continues across much of the western two-thirds of this island, which is widely regarded as the last bastion of communism in the world but is now gradually becoming slightly more liberalized. We will have good chances of finding all of Cuba’s endemics with the exception of the near-mythical Zapata Rail, whose voice is still not definitely known, and the extremely rare Cuban Kite, which is restricted to the extreme east of the island and requires a trip of near-expedition proportions for any chance of seeing it.

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Ecuador

Ocellated Tapaculo - Charly Sax

Ecuador lies both on the equator and over the spine of the Andes, affording it some spectacular birding. The western slope holds some staggering birding, especially hummingbirds — from the amazingly long-billed Sword-billed Hummingbird to the visual candy of Velvet-purple Coronet. Antpittas, owls, tanagers, and the many Choco specialties make the western slope so appealing. Crossing over the Andes from the capitol Quito affords the chance to visit Papallacta pass for species like Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe as well as giving access to the eastern slope and its many treasures. The Andes have split once-joined species, and here you can pick up the eastern counterparts leading all the way down to the lush forests of the Ecuadorian Amazon. This gives Ecuador an impressive list of over 1600 species in a country the size of the state of Nevada.

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Guatemala

Horned Guan

Guatemala is blessed with some amazing habitats for birds, from the steaming volcanoes of the highlands of southern Guatemala to the hot jungles of the Mayan empire. Birding in Guatemala is an unforgettable experience.

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Guyana

Guianan Cock-of-the-rock - Christopher Calonje

Guyana, South America’s “Biggest Little Secret”, is an unspoiled, untouched, pristine nature destination. With its natural beauty, biological diversity, and land of some of the world’s largest, rarest, and most spectacular creatures, a trip to Guyana will be an unforgettable experience for everyone. Guyana’s natural beauty is unsurpassable, with 75% of the country covered with rainforest.

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Honduras

Bushy-crested Jay

Honduras, still mostly off the beaten track, is a hidden birding gem in Central America. Many people do not realize that this small country is the regional leader in terms of the percentage of land set aside as national parks and preserves, surpassing even Costa Rica in this regard. Sitting astride the Northern Central America endemic region, this increasingly popular country also boasts an impressive diversity of regional endemics within its many ecosystems.

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Jamaica

Jamaican Mango - Alan van Norman

Despite its location almost smack in the center of the Caribbean Sea, the island of Jamaica does’t blend in easily with the rest of the Caribbean archipelago. To be sure, it boasts the same addictive sun rays, sugary sands, and pampered resort life as most of the other islands, but it is also set apart historically and culturally. Today’s visitors will appreciate their trip to Jamaica all the more if they embrace the island’s unique character and the inherent “African-ness” of its population. Aside from its people, Jamaica has much to offer the curious, thirsty, or weary traveler. The Blue Mountains boast the world’s best coffee, try a cup in the century-old factory at Mavis Bank. There are world-class reefs for diving, including those at Runaway Bay and Ocho Rios, and great stretches of palm-fringed sand at Treasure Beach or Frenchman’s Cove near Port Antonio. There are offbeat bush-medicine hiking tours, congenial fishing villages, pristine waterfalls, cosmopolitan cities, wetlands harboring endangered crocodiles and manatees, and unforgettable sunsets.

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Panama

Rufous-vented Ground Cuckoo by Dylan Vasapolli

Few places in the world offer such a variety of natural habitats in such a small surface area like Panama. Within its mere 29,159 square miles, Panama has habitats that range from dry “deserts”, where cacti and other succulents are common, to lush tropical rainforests and mountain cloud forests, where moss-covered, epiphyte-laden trees abound. Additionally, its location at the Crossroads of the Americas allows Panama bird species from North, Central, and South America. The Darien is Panama’s bordering region with South America, and it shares an abundant and diverse wildlife reminiscent to that of the Amazon Basin. All in all, in its tiny surface area, smaller than the state of South Carolina, Panama contains more than 977 different species of birds, making it a birdwatcher’s dream come true!

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Peru

Hoatzin - Ken Logan

Peru has the second-highest species list on earth and a huge list of 125+ endemic species; ever more are being discovered as the forests are studied now more readily than in the past. There is a huge amount of habitat to discover, and the remnants of the Inca Empire add to the majesty of any trip here. Because of its large size several trips or one long one are recommended to cover the major regions and give all of the fantastic EBAs (Endemic Birding Areas) due birding.

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Trinidad & Tobago

Oilbird

Trinidad and Tobago are a remarkable set of islands, with such close proximity to the mainland of South America the islands enjoy both mainland and Caribbean species. With the Northern Range of mountains, savannas, beaches, and tropical swamps there is a great variety of birds here to enjoy. Tobago also has some nice seabird colonies, making for a well-rounded species list, including several sought-after regional endemics. Combined with its lovely beaches, friendly people, and a wonderful mix of carib/creole/Indian cuisine, this is a great destination to do some fantastic birding.

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