April 2006 Birdletter, Part II April 29, 2006

Part II of the April 2006 issue of VENT's printed newsletter, the Birdletter, includes articles about our Kenya Bird Safari, Fall Hawaii, Amazonian Peru, Grand Australia, Fall in Panama, Autumn Grand Manan, and our Amazon River Cruise. (Part I includes articles about Southeastern Brazil, Scotland in 2007, Big Bend Summer, Ecuador, our Attu Cruise, New Zealand, and Polar Bears of Churchill.)

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In this issue:

Kenya Bird Safari

Fall Hawaii

Amazonian Peru

Grand Australia

Fall in Panama

Autumn Grand Manan

Amazon River Cruise

KENYA BIRD SAFARI

BY DAVID E. WOLF

Kenya always amazes me. How can there be such incredible diversity in such a small area, so many different birds, animals, even peoples? The answer lies in the complexity of the terrain and climate, but what it means for the visitor is an inexhaustible wealth of things to see. We took full advantage of this abundance again this year, from our first birding strolls in Nairobi, when everything was new and the comical Speckled Mousebirds were clearly the favorite, to our final morning in the Masai Mara, when a stunning Narina's Trogon glided onto an open sunlit branch for us. In-between came over 575 more species of birds, an impressive array of mammals, and a lifetime of memories of Africa.

We began our "safari" by driving north to the forested flanks of Mt. Kenya. Travel days in Kenya are like no others, and are far more than just getting from one point to another. There are so many potential "sample stops" for birds that the biggest problem is choosing them wisely. Today we lingered for brilliant sunbirds and a Trumpeter Hornbill in the gardens at Thika, pulled over for a nesting pair of Lilac-breasted Rollers, watched a remarkably tame pair of Gray Crowned-Cranes in a highland marsh, and broke into a rousing chorus of "oohs" as a Hartlaub's Turaco flashed through the forest, its primaries ablaze in the most brilliant red imaginable. And we arrived at Mountain Lodge in time for tea and birding from the rooftop, highlighted by colorful Black-throated Apalis at eye level, and other specialties of the montane forest.

The next day we crossed the highlands to Thomson's Falls, where our picnic stop produced an adult Crowned Eagle bringing food to a fledged juvenile. This magnificent bird is considered the most powerful raptor in Africa and is always a gem to find. From here we dropped down into the Great Rift Valley at Lake Nakuru. Even from a great distance it was clear that huge numbers of birds were present, mostly an estimated 1.2 million Lesser Flamingos. The Baringo area was the driest region visited, but the lake is an oasis in the midst of the thornbush. On our morning boat trip here we saw a remarkable 12 species of herons and egrets, including immense Goliath Herons and a Black Heron "canopy feeding," plus rare Senegal Thick-knees and a pair of Hemprich's Hornbills. Back on land the "Baringo bird boys" showed us a Three-banded Courser, Spotted Thick-knees, four Northern White-faced Owls roosting in one tree, a Grayish Eagle-Owl, and Plain and Slender-tailed nightjars. Daytime studies of any of these nocturnal species are special.

Kakamega Forest is only a few hundred kilometers from Baringo, but so different it might as well be on another planet. Here the local topography creates a high rainfall region verdant with tall rainforest and harboring an avifauna more typical of Central Africa. We began enjoying this batch of new birds right at the Rondo Retreat Center, where it wasn't long before our first Great Blue Turaco glided into a forest tree on the edge of the beautiful garden. Here, too, we laughed at the noisy Black-and-white Casqued Hornbills, called up incredibly responsive White-spotted Flufftails, and chased lovely Snowy-crowned Robin-Chats along a forested gully. Other special finds in Kakamega included a pair of Blue-headed Bee-eaters hawking insects along the road, all of the local barbets including the brilliant Double-toothed, and the rarely-seen Bar-tailed Trogon. It was hard to leave, but when we did, a stop on the Lake Victoria floodplain produced displaying Red Bishops in brilliant plumage and a surprise flock of Black-winged Pratincoles, a rare migrant that was a lifer for the leaders. Beautiful Lake Naivasha is always productive, and here the group recorded over 160 species in one great day of birding. The highlight was the boat trip, with an incredible variety of waterbirds seen at close range in good light, while the afternoon at scenic Hell's Gate produced Hildebrandt's Francolins, Kori Bustards strolling past our vehicles, Rueppell's Griffons and a young Verreaux's Eagle on the immense cliffs, and klipspringer and mountain reedbuck calmly watching us from the scree slopes. A nice surprise on our way back to Nairobi was a pair of Sharpe's Longclaws that walked right up to us as Long-tailed Widowbirds displayed their magnificent plumage with their odd slow-motion flight. Sadly, both of these species are threatened by the agricultural development of the remnant grasslands in which they live.

The Masai Mara certainly lived up to its well-deserved reputation as the best big-game country in Kenya. As we flew into this sparsely inhabited region, it was immediately obvious that the rains had not yet come—and that the mammals were concentrated along the lush western edge of the Mara, right where Kichwa Tembo Camp is located. Two days of game drives here brought one stunning sight after another, from vultures cleaning up a carcass to herds of elephants foraging across the savanna to spectacular Saddle-billed Storks that allowed a close approach to a playful pride of young lions. We caught up to vast herds of wildebeest as they drifted southward towards the Serengeti, watched Secretary-birds striding the grassland, found a lone cheetah with a full belly, observed hippos in the river while a parade of raptors flew by, and thrilled to find such special birds as Rufous-bellied Heron, Black-bellied Bustard, Schalow's and Ross's turacos, and Rosy-breasted Longclaw. Our time here was up all too soon. At every location on this varied itinerary the birds fell into place, including many scarce ones that are always unpredictable, plus we had many chances to observe bird behavior and get to know some favorite African families. By the time we returned to Nairobi, the first rains had come, the land was flush with new growth, and the birds were breaking into song, ready to begin a new breeding cycle.

Kenya Bird Safari

October 29-November 15, 2006

With David Wolf and Moez Ali

$7350 from Nairobi

Limit 12

Samburu/Buffalo Springs Extension

November 14-19, 2006

With David Wolf and Moez Ali

$2095 from Nairobi

Limit 12

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FALL HAWAII

BY BOB SUNDSTROM

Our Fall Hawaii tour visits three of the main islands—Oahu, Kauai, and Hawaii—over a lively nine days. Amenities of nice lodging and excellent food were the rule on each island, and the weather was fair throughout. Each island lays claim to a number of one-island endemic Hawaiian forest birds, among a longer list of more widespread Hawaiian specialties and a nice array of Pacific seabirds (all seen from land). Our 2005 tour began with a full day on Oahu, where in the morning we tracked down the Oahu Amakihi and Oahu's version of the Elepaio (both island endemics) and a number of other birds. We watched sprite-like White Terns (also known as Common Fairy Terns) fluttering overhead and perched in trees. The best was saved for afternoon: near the northeast corner of the island we saw at least 15 Bristle-thighed Curlews, a much sought after shorebird with a small world population. We watched some of the curlews through the spotting scope at close range—plenty close to see their namesake bristles. We saw Bristle-thighed Curlews foraging, flying close by, perched and calling from a fence post. Among them was a single Whimbrel of the Eurasian subspecies, rare for the region.

By the third morning we were birding on the island of Kauai, up close among some of the Pacific's most splendid seabirds. Both Red-tailed and White-tailed tropicbirds flew close by the group, and we marveled at their respective fine, red tail wires and amazingly long, white tail streamers. Red-footed Boobies were on hand by the thousands, a few Brown Boobies among them. Both boobies had to contend with Great Frigatebirds, which hung close overhead in a convincing imitation of pterodactyls. Wedge-tailed Shearwaters close to fledging sat at the mouths of their nest burrows, still a bit downy in spots. Nenes, the Hawaiian endemic goose and state bird, walked nearby; among them was a single Cackling Goose, a recent visiting migrant from Alaska. We took a full day to drive up along scenic Waimea Canyon, a vertiginous fissure more than 3,000 feet deep, en route to birding in the native forest at around 4,000 feet elevation. Here we found more one-island endemic forest honeycreepers with musical Hawaiian names—Akekee, Anianiau, and Kauai Amakihi—as well as Apapanes and Kauai's Elepaio. Closer to sea level, we marveled at the stunning plumage of five male Black Francolins as they foraged in a plowed field.

On the aptly named Big Island we had four days to peruse its natural wonders, birds, and living volcanic processes. Once again, and with special access to a large tract of native forest, we searched out endemic honeycreepers: tangerine orange Akepas, green Hawaii Creepers working trunks and limbs very creeper-like, the solitaire-like Omao (or Hawaiian Thrush), and the fascinating Akiapolaau (the closest thing to a native woodpecker in the islands). All the time, we were surrounded by Iiwis, perhaps Hawaii's most photogenic bird, a bright scarlet honeycreeper with black wings and a long, down-curved reddish bill.

The final two nights of our tour were spent at the Volcano House, the lodge in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park that sits atop a volcano on the edge of Kilauea Caldera. On our last afternoon, we drove down Chain of Craters Road as it wound 4,000 feet down toward the ocean. We stopped near the end of the road to watch Black Noddies roosting and flying along the black lava sea cliffs. Then we walked across the rolling landscape of smooth lava (or pahoehoe) flows of recent years to an overlook, where in the distance an enormous steam cloud issued from where the volcanic sea cliffs meet the ocean. As sunset and then dusk arrived we were able to watch—at a safe distance—an ongoing active volcanic event, as red lava streamed brilliantly from a lava tube into the ocean, lighting the enormous steam clouds an unworldly pink. Another flow on the hillside above reddened the clouds above—an apt ending to a memorable tour.

Fall Hawaii

October 11-19, 2006

With Bob Sundstrom and Glenn Klingler

$3795 from Honolulu (ends in Hilo)

Limit 12

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AMAZONIAN PERU

THE RAINFOREST CANOPY WALKWAY

BY STEVE HILTY

The rainforest canopy walkway at Iquitos serves up a palette of colorful tropical birds at eye level. The bustling city of Iquitos, clinging to the banks of the Amazon in northeastern Peru, is the starting point for a visit to the rainforest canopy walkway?still the only walkway in the Amazon. To get there, it's two hours in a fast boat down the Amazon, another hour up the Napo, then a short ride up a sluggish, meandering little stream called the Sucusari. By the time you get there you'll swear you and your Wellingtons couldn't get further afield. You could, of course, but you don't need to.

The diamond of this region?the canopy walkway?is 45 minutes further inland. The walkway is suspended through a third of a mile of the most diverse upland rainforest on earth, and offers a bird's-eye view of the canopy and everything in it. Superbly constructed, the walkway is a spidery, mesh-net, aluminum ladder and wooden plank series of swinging bridges linking, in sweeping elegance, a dozen canopy trees. Several trees have large platforms where groups can assemble for viewing. Stepping from the solid security of a tree platform onto one of the suspended bridges is exhilarating?a bit like bungee jumping without the freefall?and I admit to hesitation on my first trip. However, the ascent from ground level is gradual in a way that builds confidence. Generally visitors adapt quickly and are soon scampering around like squirrels (almost). The walkway offers unparalleled access to the third dimension of the rain forest, a dimension unattainable until recently. It is an opportunity to hear, see, and feel the vast Amazonian forest in a way never possible before.

As dawn breaks, plumes of mist rise from the slumbering forest, and you gaze across the top of miles of rumpled green forest, across a landscape little changed since Pleistocene times. Here and there a Spangled Cotinga sparkles in a sunbeam, or a raptor or toucan sits up to dry and preen. Nervous, high-strung flocks of tanagers and dacnises, most decorated in technicolor hues, fidget in emergent treetops, then race off on endless errands. In the open, sun-splashed canopy, color reigns supreme. It is as if the shackles of natural selection have been cast aside here?colorfulness has become a rite, a way of life. Somewhere in the distance a quetzal calls, then a barbet, or perhaps a woodpecker. A chattery flock of Cobalt-winged Parakeets, dipping and bobbing, hurtles past in a blur of green and blue. They are followed by a group of Red-bellied Macaws who pass with steady, quicksilver smooth wing beats.

With the sun higher, we hear a second wave of song, this time from a largely unseen cast of retiring, somber-clad singers in the shadowy understory?antbirds, antthrushes, tapaculos, and wrens. Their plumages are anything but rainbow hued, and their songs lack the vivace of canopy dwellers, but their solos, resolute and vigorous, bring fullness and dimension to this greatest-of-all dawn symphonies. Before this magnificent forest and the life it sustains, we are humbled. Prepare to be impressed.

Amazonian Peru

July 21-31, 2006

With Steve Hilty

$2995 from Lima

Limit 8

Machu Picchu Pre-trip

July 16-22, 2006

With Steve Hilty

$2495 from Lima

Limit 10

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GRAND AUSTRALIA

BY DAVID BISHOP

Our month-long sojourn, divided into two parts and covering the eastern two-thirds of the continent, graced us with an incomparable insight into what it means to be an Aussie! We garnered an extraordinary 446 species of birds in addition to a number of neat and peculiar Australian mammals, reptiles, and invertebrates. But these are only statistics; this tour was indelibly a great deal more. We commenced with a record number of 42 Wandering Albatrosses off the back of our Sydney catamaran; sadly, these great ocean beasts are in an inexorable decline. There were others, too: handsome Shy, Black-browed, and Yellow-billed albatrosses all seemingly within hands-reach, as well as ever-present shoals of petrels and shearwaters.

Australia is indeed the land of the cockatoo and parrot. We encountered an impressive total of 33 species including: scope-grabbing views of a stunning male Gang-Gang Cockatoo in lovely Grampians National Park; sensational views of the aptly named Superb Parrot; 60 Hooded Parrots; and a pair of Major Mitchell's Cockatoos prospecting at an ancient red gum.

An excursion through the byways of the Blue Mountains took us to one of my favorite hideaways, the Capertee Valley. A glorious morning brought forth a seeming torrent of new and wonderful birds including Australia's rarest honeyeater?the Regent Honeyeater, along with a rich assortment of other nectar-eating species: Little Lorikeets by the dozen; and Blue-faced, Yellow-faced, Yellow-tufted, White-plumed, Fuscous, and New Holland honeyeaters to name but a few.

All too soon it was time to turn our heads north towards Australia's Top End and the immeasurable variety of these vast tropical lands. Just imagine 500,000—YES, half a million—Magpie Geese packed into one lagoon. The Top End is an area so richly endowed with birds and other wildlife that a handful of highlights barely tells the story of what a truly wonderful experience this place provides: a Rainbow Pitta, confiding and exquisite, made a complete travesty of all that pittas are supposed to be; a female Red Goshawk at the nest with young; four rarely encountered Letter-winged Kites; brilliant spotting by Carolyn produced the save of the trip with a well-timed Great-billed Heron; and a well-concealed rock pool failed to keep us from a fabulous Gouldian Finch, not to mention pastel-colored Masked and Long-tailed amidst hordes of Crimson and Double-barred finches.

In the hills above Brisbane amidst statuesque trees of enormous girth, many festooned with huge vines and epiphytes, we treated ourselves to a wonderland of birds and mammals: hordes of Crimson Rosellas and King Parrots; male Regent Bowerbirds; Top-knot Pigeons; the endearing male Rose Robin; pretty-faced wallabies; pairs of Australian Logrunners, Whipbirds, and the infrequently seen Spotted Quail-thrush; exceptional views of a pair of rarely seen Marbled Frogmouths; our first Noisy Pitta; and an Albert's Lyrebird.

Cairns and the Australian wet tropics did not disappoint us. An all-day boat trip to the Great Barrier Reef was a major hit; tropical coral reefs are even richer than rainforests in the number of species they support! The birding on Michaelmas Cay gave us close-up views of several tropical seabirds including an unexpected immature Red-footed Booby.

Kingfisher Park, the Atherton Tablelands, our Daintree River trip, and even a quick dash to Cairns to catch the tide and the shorebirds—it was all too much, but somehow we managed. Who will ever forget our afternoon with 124 Australian Bustards feeding in a Lucerne Paddock—and the kindness of a local lady farmer, and an incredible evening that included point-blank views of two Lesser Sooty Owls and an amazingly cooperative Masked Owl—quite a rarity. Our final few hours in Cairns produced an immature Great-billed Heron on the Cairns esplanade—the first I have ever seen there! And within just a couple of hours over breakfast at Cassowary House we had garnered Red-necked Rail, Pied Monarch, Yellow-breasted Boatbill, Yellow-eyed Cuckoo-shrike, and, literally at the eleventh hour, an enormous, adult female Cassowary!

Our final geographic point of call was the garden state of Victoria. Highlights included a very obliging male Gang-Gang Cockatoo, flights of huge Yellow-tailed Cockatoos, and our first Pink-eared Ducks. A morning with the equally fascinating Wimpey at his Little Desert Lodge gave us an insightful introduction to this region and, in particular, the plight of the Malleefowl, which performed admirably, even working his huge mound for us. Hattah Kulkayne performed generously, showing us some of its most elusive specialties including dainty Mallee Emuwrens, Chestnut Quail-thrush, and a fine pair of Striated Grasswrens. But, as so often was the case, it was parrots that held sway; we enjoyed fine, multiple views of Mulga Parrot, Regent Parrot, and hordes of Long-billed Corellas, to mention but a few.

Plains-wanderer and Deniliquin have become synonymous, and we achieved our goal beyond our wildest dreams. This endangered grassland specialist, the sole member of its family, is virtually impossible to see anywhere else; even in Deniliquin it's not guaranteed. However, we were lucky and enjoyed relaxed, long, views of a handsome female. Deniliquin, however, is a great deal more. Just some of the species that come to mind include Superb Parrots; an Inland or Australian Dotterel that dropped in right next to the bus—arguably one of Australia's most difficult species to find anywhere; several Orange Chats; unbelievable scope views of an Australian Owlet-Nightjar; a surprise pair of gigantic Australian Bitterns; and an equally surprising male Blue-winged Parrot still on his winter grounds. In a word, fantastic!

Grand Australia, Part I

New South Wales & The Northern Territory

September 20-October 6, 2006

With Susan Myers

$6195 from Sydney (ends in Ayer?s Rock)

Limit 10

Grand Australia, Part II

Queensland, Victoria & Plains-wanderer

October 4-20, 2006

With Dion Hobcroft

$5495 from Melbourne (ends in Cairns)

Limit 10

Grand Australia, Part III

Western Australia & Tasmania

October 18-November 1, 2006

With Dion Hobcroft

$4895 from Perth (ends in Launceston)

Limit 10

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FALL IN PANAMA

BY BARRY ZIMMER

Each trip I lead to the Canopy Tower in Panama seems better than the last. The diversity of habitats and birds that are nearby this great ecotourist lodge never ceases to amaze me. Last October, Victor and I co-led a Canopy Tower tour and the myriad highlights were simply mind-boggling. One day we were looking at an estimated 40,000 raptors (mostly Swainson's Hawks and Turkey Vultures) pouring over the tower, and the next we sat spellbound as a pair of Streak-chested Antpittas hopped, quite literally, at our feet! Such are the possibilities in October in central Panama.

The first morning of our trip was spent, as always, atop the tower and along the entry road up Semaphore Hill. From the tower we had eye level views of such canopy denizens as Green Shrike-Vireo (including the powder blue nape!), Bright-rumped Attila, the stunning Slate-colored Grosbeak, and Brown-capped Tyrannulet. Keel-billed and Chestnut-mandibled toucans sat up on exposed perches, as did a White Hawk and a Semiplumbeous Hawk. A troop of mantled howler monkeys and another of the tiny and endearing Geoffroy's tamarins put on wonderful shows as well. Then shortly after breakfast, the aforementioned parade of migrant raptors began. Kettle after kettle of hawks and vultures streamed by the tower—a sight that simply must be seen to be believed. It was mid-afternoon before the flight started to peter out. Hummingbird feeders at the base of the tower provided stunning up-close views of such gems as White-necked Jacobin and the incomparable Violet-bellied Hummingbird, in addition to Snowy-bellied and Blue-chested hummingbirds, White-vented Plumeleteer, and Western Long-tailed Hermit. A walk along the entry road yielded Red-capped and Blue-crowned manakins, Broad-billed Motmot, White-whiskered Puffbird, and very good views of a Great Tinamou, among others. Later that afternoon in Gamboa we were entertained by a fantastic group of birds coming in to feeders, including Orange-chinned Parakeet; Rufous-tailed Hummingbird; Crimson-backed, Blue-gray, and Palm tanagers; and Red-legged, Shining, and Green honeycreepers.

We spent the next day on world-famous Pipeline Road. Being able to spend the entire day walking through the forest with absolutely no traffic is such a great experience. Among the more spectacular sightings were a responsive pair of Streak-chested Antpittas just feet away, displaying Purple-throated Fruitcrows, Spot-crowned Antvireo, super looks at a Brownish Twistwing, Pied Puffbird, male Blue Ground-Dove, and a prolonged study of a tamandua, or lesser anteater. We also encountered two nice ant swarms with the usual attendant Bicolored and Spotted antbirds, and Northern Barred and Plain-brown woodcreepers. We ended this fabulous day at the Ammo Dump Ponds where an adult Rufescent Tiger-Heron and a brilliant Yellow-tailed Oriole were the highlights.

Early the next morning we headed to the tiny town of Achiote on the Caribbean slope. Birding along the paved road here, we tallied both of the premier Achiote specialties:  two family groups of White-headed Wrens working through bromeliad-laden trees, and a pair of Spot-crowned Barbets feeding in the cecropias. In addition we also saw Black Hawk-Eagle; Gray-headed Kite (perched); Pied and Black-breasted puffbirds; White-tailed, Slaty-tailed, and Violaceous trogons; Bare-crowned and Chestnut-backed antbirds; Song Wren; Long-tailed Tyrant; and a host of other wonderful species. A group of white-faced capuchin monkeys gave us great views on the way out. We returned to the Canopy Tower via the Panama Railroad—a one-hour trip right along the canal with nice birds and scenery. We totaled an impressive 157 species for the day!

The next day was arguably our best of the bunch. The morning was spent on private property on Cerro Azul with a completely different group of foothill species available to us. White-tipped Sicklebills on a lek, a pair of Yellow-eared Toucanets at 15 feet, the endemic Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker, and a dazzling bevy of tanagers including Emerald, Bay-headed, the very localized Rufous-winged, Golden-hooded, and Scarlet-thighed Dacnis were among the more notable birds. Two pair of the rarely seen Black-eared Wood-Quail were even a lifer for me! In the afternoon we headed down to Tocumen Marsh where we added Cocoi Heron, Savanna Hawk, American Pygmy Kingfisher, Boat-billed Heron, Pale-breasted Spinetail, and Ruddy-breasted Seedeater, among others.

Our final two days were spent in areas near the tower including Old Gamboa Road and Metropolitan Park. Highlights here included Spectacled Owl, Golden-collared and Lance-tailed manakins, Jet Antbird, Crimson-crested Woodpecker, and the spectacular Rosy Thrush-Tanager. In all we totaled 319 species in just six days of birding. We also had wonderful mammal viewing (I forgot to mention the very rare Rothschild's porcupine seen on our night drive), and a comprehensive exposure to much of the Canal Zone and its habitats.

Fall at Panama's Canopy Tower

October 21-28, 2006

With Barry Zimmer and a local leader

$2695 from Panama City, Panama

Limit 14

Panama: Fall at El Valle's Canopy Lodge Extension

October 28-November 2, 2006

With local leaders

$1395 from Panama City, Panama

Limit 14

Fall in Central Panama

(This tour includes a visit to Panama's Canopy Tower, but is based at the luxurious Gamboa Rainforest Resort)

November 8-15, 2006

with Tony Nunnery and a local leadaer

$2345 from Panama City, Panama

Limit 14

Panama: Fall at El Valle's Canopy Lodge Extensión

November 15-20, 2006

With Tony Nunnery and a local leader

$1395 from Panama City, Panama

Limit 14

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AUTUMN GRAND MANAN:

BIRDS & WHALES

BY BARRY ZIMMER

The waters of the Bay of Fundy off the coast of Grand Manan were fairly calm, the sky was brilliant blue, and the weather was warm. Behind the boat dozens of Wilson's Storm-Petrels danced on the surface of the water where we had laid out a slick of fish oil. The ballet of these remarkable birds was occasionally interrupted by a Leach's Storm-Petrel (the much less common of the two species in this area) entering into the mix. All about the boat Greater Shearwaters cruised back and forth, often alighting within feet of the boat to sample the chum. A decent sprinkling of Sooty Shearwaters was also present. Flock after flock of phalaropes, both Red-necked and Red, appeared and offered fantastic comparative views. Occasionally an Atlantic Puffin would appear, one within about 15 feet of the boat, or a Northern Gannet would cruise overhead. At one point a Manx Shearwater zipped by the port side and an adult Pomarine Jaeger lingered over the wake.

Heading out to the northeast of the island we began encountering northern right whales, the world'srarest species of whale. Within a short period of time right whales were all around the boat, some spy hopping, others breaching, some just lying on the surface. Our captain estimated a total of 25 individuals around us at one point, nearly ten percent of the world population! As we headed back in we encountered two different family groups of Razorbills; one (an adult and a young) allowed amazingly close studies. In all we tallied 13 species of seabirds, including a very impressive 1,000+ Wilson's Storm-Petrels and over 600 Greater Shearwaters. The most incredible thing about this boat trip, however, was that it was not exceptional, but the norm. This area consistently produces some of the most spectacular, enjoyable, and successful pelagic trips I have been on, and this year was no different.

In addition to wonderful offshore birding, our Autumn Grand Manan tour offers so much more. This year's trip was highlighted by 19 species of shorebirds including a very rare Buff-breasted Sandpiper, and uncommon species such as Hudsonian Godwit, American Golden-Plover, Red Knot, and Whimbrel. Migrant landbirds were moving through the area in good numbers throughout our tour. We had 17 species of warblers including such gems as Prairie (rare this far north), Blackburnian, Canada, Chestnut-sided, and Palm. Black-throated Green, Magnolia, and American Redstart were downright common. Other passerine migrants included Yellow-bellied and Alder flycatchers, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Red-eyed and Blue-headed vireos, Swainson's and Hermit thrushes, and Baltimore Oriole. We also had great views of a family of Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrows scurrying along the edge of the marsh like mice, countless numbers of Common Eiders and Black Guillemots in the nearshore waters, and a spectacular interaction between a Merlin and a Northern Harrier over Castalia Marsh. On our ferry ride back to the mainland we had nice views of a finback whale near Black's Harbor.

With its small island charm, excellent birding (including seabirds, shorebirds, and landbird migrants), and superb marine mammal viewing, this tour has it all. Four nights in one location, with very little driving once you arrive, are also pluses, not to mention the countless opportunities to have lobster and blueberries in a wide variety of forms. The fantastic coastal scenery of Maine and New Brunswick would be worth the trip alone.

Autumn Grand Manan:

Birds & Whales

August 28-September 3, 2006

With Barry Zimmer and Brennan Mulrooney

$2225 from Bangor, Maine

Limit 14

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AMAZON RIVER CRUISE

BY STEVE HILTY

The Amazon region conjures many images, but it is, above all, a realm of superlatives. The centerpiece of this vast region is the Amazon River itself, the largest river in the world. In fact, many of its tributaries rival or exceed the size of other great rivers of the world. The Amazonian region also boasts the highest diversity of both birds and plants anywhere in the world. The very word "Amazon" brings to mind images of broad, sinuous rivers, tree-lined banks, strange animals, bright butterflies, torrential rains, and glorious sunsets. Along the rivers one may see macaws, parrots, and oropendolas flying overhead, ponderous Horned Screamers rising from stream banks, and exotic wildlife that includes Hoatzins, Umbrellabirds, sloths, fresh-water dolphins, and monkeys coexisting in this untamed area.

We offer this relatively short excursion to the Amazon for those who want a full Amazonian rainforest and river experience without sacrificing comfort. We believe, in fact, that the classically-styled, triple-deck riverboat we're using offers visitors the utmost in comfort, security, and safety while still permitting us to visit remote and relatively unspoiled regions in Amazonia. The ship's spacious cabins are individually climate-controlled, air-conditioned, and include private tiled bathrooms, hot-water showers, free laundry service, and bottled water available at all times. Visitors can also be assured of having waterproof ponchos, walking sticks, and extra thick boat cushions as needed for offbeat excursions. The ship features excellent food and an open-air upper deck for great wildlife viewing by day and stargazing by night. The list of amenities offered by the ship and its attendant crew is impressive. Additionally, stable, flat-bottomed boats powered by exceptionally quiet engines permit intimate exploration of small streams and lakes with ease and comfort, and a minimum of noise intrusion.

The mobility of our ship and its excursion boats will allow us to explore different habitats and streams each morning and afternoon, and provide exceptional opportunities to see birds and wildlife. Some birds will be common?widespread Amazonian species such as Black-collared Hawk, Black-fronted Nunbird, Oriole Blackbird, Yellow-rumped Cacique, and Russet-backed Oropendola. Others will be more local species such as Hoatzin, Short-tailed Parrot and, perhaps, river island and river bank specialties such as Red-and-white Spinetail and Black-and-white Antbird. During the course of our trip we'll explore small wooded streams, lakes, seasonally flooded forest (várzea), and flooded river islands. Toward the latter part of the trip, we'll spend some time walking in tall, high ground forest where there is access to an elevated walkway through the forest. Here, or nearby, we may find a fruiting tree frequented by colorful aracaries, tanagers, and honeycreepers, or an army ant swarm with its attendant antbirds and woodcreepers.

A brilliant blue Plum-throated Cotinga perched in a treetop, a pair of Blue-and-yellow Macaws winging overhead, a swirling group of Canary-winged Parakeets along the river, or a White-eared Jacamar in the morning sun?it is hard to predict which of these or many other experiences will delight you the most. We'll also fill some spare shipboard time with discussions and explanations of Amazonian natural history, as well as recaps of daily excursions in the evenings. We are confident that at the end of this extraordinary cruise, you will have a greater appreciation and understanding of the Amazon region and the myriad creatures that make it the most complex ecosystem anywhere on earth.

Traveler's note: Many people harbor misgivings about visiting the Amazon, fearing excessive heat and humidity, torrential rain, and hordes of mosquitoes or other insects. While it is indeed possible to experience such things, most visitors are pleasantly surprised at how comfortable travel can be, even in the heart of Amazonia. The airy, breezy ship and air-conditioned cabins mitigate the effects of even the hottest days, and visitors soon discover that insects and mosquitoes, far from being the torment they are imagined, are little or no problem at all. This trip, which is based aboard a relatively small ship, the Turquesa, offers perhaps the most comfortable and luxurious way possible to explore the Amazon while still retaining the ability to visit remote regions. Visitors can be assured of a shipboard staff and crew that will respond to your every need, exciting exploratory trips mornings, afternoons, and evenings, and some of the best birding and wildlife viewing in the Amazon.

Amazon River Cruise

January 20-28, 2007

With Steve Hilty, David Ascanio, and Andrew Whittaker

Cabins begin at $4995 per person in double occupancy from Lima

Limit 40

Machu Picchu and Paracas Extension

January 28-February 4, 2007

With Steve Hilty and local leaders

$3150 from Lima

Limit 12

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