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Worldwide Birding Tours - Birding Ecotours
Ross's Turaco by Masa Wang - Uganda birding tour





This June Andy Walker made a scouting trip to Iceland to have a look at some of the areas we’ll be visiting on the Birding Ecotours 2018 Iceland Tour https://birdingecotours.com/tours/destination/country/iceland. Here’s a summary of some of the highlight birds he found, and some he managed to photograph.

 

Passerines:

 

There are not a huge number of passerines in Iceland, but some special ones, and they are so plentiful and in-your-face that you can’t fail to get great views. Redwing, for example, is an abundant breeding species in Iceland and is found almost everywhere. Other species likely to be encountered that I had no trouble locating included Northern Wheatear, the Icelandic form of Common Redpoll (rostrate), which also occurs in Greenland and Canada, White Wagtail, Snow Bunting, Northern Raven, and the endemic subspecies (and surely a potential future split) of Eurasian Wren, which is much darker than western European subspecies, with a longer bill too.

Redwing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Redwing taking some food back to its nest.

Raptors:

 

Gyrfalcon is the big draw here, and it’s not surprising. It is a mega falcon – HUGE! I saw a couple of birds during the week. An immature female was hunting close to Lake Mývatn and flew right in front of my car! Luckily I could pull off the road and watch it hunting, or, more exactly, getting chased off by dozens of locally breeding shorebirds. I also had a couple of sightings of a male in a similar area, likely to belong to a breeding pair. An immature male Merlin was also busy putting the fear of God into the locally breeding Meadow Pipit population. It’s always an exhilarating moment when one of these raptors dashes into view.

 

Seabirds (gulls, terns, auks, etc.):

 

Iceland is well known on the European birding scene for having an excellent breeding seabird population. Top draw is Thick-billed Murre (Brunnich’s Guillemot), which has a very limited breeding distribution in Europe. When you add in Common Murre (Common Guillemot), Black Guillemot, Atlantic Puffin, Northern Fulmar, Black-legged Kittiwake, European Shag, and Northern Gannet, the cliffs come alive with a range of interesting sights, sounds, and smells. While I was at these sea cliffs, as well as enjoying great close-up views of all the above species, I also saw locally breeding European Storm Petrel and Manx Shearwater as they foraged out at sea. Great Skua was frequently observed trying to steal food from returning nesting seabirds, or just to take the young seabird nestlings themselves.

Northern Fulmar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Northern Fulmar with a snow-capped mountain in the background.

Several species of gull breed in Iceland. Black-headed, Common, European Herring, Lesser Black-backed, and Great Black-backed Gills can probably be considered to be Europe’s commonest and most widespread species, but Glaucous Gull also breeds here, and Iceland Gull, although just a non-breeding visitor to Iceland, can usually be found year-round in low numbers. As well as observing many gulls breeding across Iceland, as is usual with gulls, I found some interesting aggregations of non-breeding birds of various ages and variable plumages in several small coastal fishing villages, with Glaucous Gull and Iceland Gull being the pick for me, having been out of the UK for the winter.

Arctic Terns are EVERYWHERE! Breeding colonies are dotted around in every conceivable place, along the coast in cliff-top vegetation, or flying along fast-flowing mountain rivers, around lakes and marshes, and even hawking for insects along roads. Fantastic views of these species are guaranteed, every day! But do not assume that every ‘tern-like’ bird you see flying around is actually an Arctic Tern, because Parasitic Jaegers (Arctic Skuas) breed on the island and are often found chasing terns and raiding nests for food. It was great to see both pale- and dark-phase birds over the course of the week.

Arctic Tern

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arctic Tern foraging oblivious to my presence a few metres from it!

Shorebirds:

 

Iceland is stacked out with breeding shorebirds. You can hear and see Common Snipe and Common Redshank literally 24 hours of the day. The Icelandic subspecies of Black-tailed Godwit, which is stunningly beautiful, is common, as are Whimbrel, European Golden Plover, and Dunlin. However, there are one or two breeding shorebirds that are the real draw to Iceland, and Red-necked Phalarope is one of those. The females are the more brightly colored of the pair, as it is the males that raise the young. On certain wetlands they can be super-abundant and often very confiding. With a bit of luck and some careful placement (watching for the angle of the sun and making sure you don’t end up in the water yourself) you can get some great photos of these dainty shorebirds. The sight of lots of baby shorebirds is a real joy to behold, and the cuteness ratings go off the scale!

Black-tailed Godwit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Black-tailed Godwit starting to moult into its non-breeding plumage (phone-scoped with IPhone 7 and Swarovski ATX95 scoped)

Red-necked Phalarope

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Red-necked Phalarope – a female off feeding, she plays no part in raising her young after laying the eggs. The male (who is more drably plumaged) does all of that.

Wildfowl (divers and ducks):

 

Two species of loons (divers) breed in Iceland, Common Loon (Great Northern Diver) and Red-throated Loon (Red-throated Diver). Both species were fairly frequently recorded, and both species were looking spectacular in full breeding plumage, even more so when they had tiny babies either in tow or riding on their backs. The sound of Common Loon echoing around the mountains was spine-tingling.

Common Loon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Common Loon (Great Northern Diver) was found on several large water bodies and out on the sea. Take a look at Birding Ecotours You Tube for a video of this bird and its mate with their tiny baby.

A few species of geese breed in Iceland. Greylag Goose is common, and once you get into certain areas you start finding Pink-footed Goose and Barnacle Goose too, which were nice to see.

Another of the big draws for birders, especially European birders, is the breeding duck population with several key species present. Top of the list is Harlequin Duck, closely followed by Barrow’s Goldeneye. The former is scarcer than the latter, with Harlequin Ducks generally found on fast-flowing rivers and Barrow’s Goldeneye out on larger lakes. I had fantastic views of both during the week, Barrow’s Goldeneye chicks being my favorites of all chicks observed, Iceland also gives the rare chance to see breeding Long-tailed Ducks in Europe. This species is probably more frequently seen in their largely white-necked and white-headed non-breeding plumage with a grayish back, but during the breeding season they moult into a glorious black neck head with a striking long tail and a dark back.

Harlequin Duck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harlequin Duck was one of the highlights of this Iceland trip. By late June most of the males have left the females behind at the nest sites and have gone back out to sea. Most of the time I was in suitable Harlequin Duck habitat I was just finding females, then right at the end of my trip I spotted a pair along a river with this stunning drake present. One spectacular bird!

Several other ducks occur, and good views are practically guaranteed of the following species: Common Shelduck, Red-breasted Merganser, Common Merganser (Goosander), Eurasian Wigeon, Eurasian Teal, Mallard, Gadwall, Northern Pintail, Tufted Duck, Greater Scaup, Common Eider, and Common Scoter. Indeed, to see most of these species with young was highlight enough for me. Lake Mývatn was literally covered in baby ducks while I was there, as were many of the small waterbodies I visited or drove past. During my week there I even found a couple of American rarities in the form of drakes of both American Wigeon and Ring-necked Duck. There are great possibilities for finding other interesting species such as King Eider, Surf Scoter, and Velvet Scoter, but you’ve got to leave something for the next time, right?

 

Summary

 

In addition to all the great views and photo opportunities of the incredible birds found in Iceland, the landscape views were seriously spectacular: huge sea cliffs, giant crags, roaring rivers crashing through waterfalls, snow-capped mountains, glaciers, volcanoes of all shapes, sizes, and activity, numerous waterbodies, lava fields, boulder fields, stunted forest, heathland, and 24 hours of daylight! And although I didn’t have time to do it on this trip, the whale watching off northern Iceland is considered some of the best in the world, with a good chance of Blue Whale. All of this combines to a really great place to visit, and I can’t wait to get back in June 2018!


Malawi Birding Tours

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”.

Birding Tour Zambia: Chaplin's Barbet - Niall Perrins

Birding Tour Zambia and Malawi (South-central Africa) 2018

Duration: 27 days
Limit (Group Size): 5 - 6
Date Start: August 14, 2018
Date End: September 09, 2018
Tour Start:: Livingstone, Zambia
Tour End:: Lilongwe, Malawi
Price: US$11,859 per person sharing for 6 participants, US$12,769 per person sharing for 5 participants
Summary: It is surprising that Zambia and Malawi are not bombarded by birders! Probably they are just not particularly well-marketed, charismatic, and popular countries for birding tours. But this is certainly not ...

See full tour detail
Red-faced Crimsonwing - John Caddick

Birding Tour Malawi: 15-day Birding Adventure 2018

Duration: 15 days
Limit (Group Size): 6 - 7
Date Start: December 01, 2018
Date End: December 15, 2018
Tour Start:: Lilongwe
Tour End:: Lilongwe
Price: US$6540 per person assuming 6 - 7 people
Summary: Malawi, a country in southeast Africa rarely visited by tourists, is an amazing destination for birders. Its numerous national parks are brimming with avian riches, and beautiful Lake Malawi adds a differe...

See full tour detail
Birding Tour Zambia: Chaplin's Barbet - Niall Perrins

Birding Tour Zambia and Malawi (South-central Africa) 2019

Duration: 27 days
Limit (Group Size): 5 - 6
Date Start: August 14, 2019
Date End: September 09, 2019
Tour Start:: Livingstone, Zambia
Tour End:: Lilongwe, Malawi
Price: US$12,926 per person sharing for 6 participants, US$13,918 per person sharing for 5 participants
Summary: It is surprising that Zambia and Malawi are not bombarded by birders! Probably they are just not particularly well-marketed, charismatic, and popular countries for birding tours. But this is certainly not ...

See full tour detail
Red-faced Crimsonwing - John Caddick

Birding Tour Malawi: 15-day Birding Adventure 2019

Duration: 15 days
Limit (Group Size): 6 - 7
Date Start: December 01, 2019
Date End: December 15, 2019
Tour Start:: Lilongwe
Tour End:: Lilongwe
Price: US$7129 per person assuming 6 - 7 people
Summary: Malawi, a country in southeast Africa rarely visited by tourists, is an amazing destination for birders. Its numerous national parks are brimming with avian riches, and beautiful Lake Malawi adds a differe...

See full tour detail

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What our clients say

Chris I sent a longer analysis of the Florida trip to Stephan, which I will forward to you. Again, my thanks for a truly memorable experience. The trip was spectacularly successful. I chose Birding Ecotours because other trips were full, and I couldn’t be happier. On a purely practical note, with three rather inexperienced birders as the participants we picked up a variety of birds missed by other birders. But the final bird list doesn’t really cover why this tour was so vastly superior. This was my first birding trip ever with less than 12 participants, and the advantages of a small group are monumental – no battling for seats, no squabbling over who saw what, no battles to get to the leader’s scope when the Resplendent Quetzal finally comes into view. In fact, there were no squabbles at all on our trip Hotels were quite well chosen, despite some early problems with accepting South African addresses, etc., and the restaurants worked out quite nicely. Mexican restaurant would be my only quibble – a bit heavy for our over 60s group. One of us simply said he wouldn’t be on the lookout for Mexican restaurants in the future. But then he also discovered Key Lime pie and had it four nights, not to mention the Key Lime ice cream along the way. The balance of Cuban unique restaurants with seafood and steak houses worked out quite nicely, and the final two nights at Cracker Barrel were a big hit. Big hit too were the home-made lunches – they were actually better than the Subway lunches of the last few days and they extended our birding times quite dramatically But the tour only really worked because of Stephan – he’s a gifted birder – that’s a given on any tour these days, but he’s also extremely good with people. In my note to him I mentioned how impressed I was with his interactions with the other participants. They were new to American birding, so we had lots of initial sightings of grackles and starlings. But Stephan patiently looked at all their sightings, and soon they were finding some rather wonderful birds. Main point – he never made them feel bad – something many guides need to learn, believe me. And Stephan really knew the territory – I have no qualms about any of his choices, though I might have questioned a few at the time. There were virtually no migrating birds, and we still got 20 warblers. We also got close to 180 species without that much luck either. We missed the Thick-billed Vireo by one day, and others easily picked up the Smooth-billed Ani at the same location we has scoured a day earlier. But then we got all three cowbirds in an afternoon and had great looks at multiple Prothonotary Warblers, a bird everyone else missed this year. And we birded both the first day and the last – not something most tours do, and he even saved the Spot-breasted Oriole for our last bird. Bottom line, Stephan is equal in his birding skills to any guide I’ve been with. More importantly, he’s the best overall guide I have ever experienced – a people-person who knows birds.  I highly recommend him on any tour he might be leading and love to bird with him again. So, I had never heard of your tour company and only signed on because it was all that was available on dates my wife had to be in Florida. The serendipitous result was one of the most rewarding birding experiences of my rather long birding career. I strongly recommend your company to anyone and even more strongly recommend the value of small group tours – they are worth every extra penny. My thanks for all your help, and I hope to be on one of your tours in the future. Kieran

John Kieran Kealy, Canada
05/20/2016



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