July 2007 Birdletter, Part II July 26, 2007

Part II of the July 2007 Birdletter includes articles about the Northwestern Slopes of Ecuador, a list of VENT Cruises, Winter New Mexico, Holiday Tours, Thailand Highlights, Central Chile & Patagonia, our Grand Southern India Train Odyssey, South Texas: Birds and Butterflies, Fall Hawaii, and the addition of Michael O’Brien and Louise Zemaitis to the VENT staff. (See Part I for articles about the Austin, Texas Birding & Nature Festival, our 2009 Seychelles Cruise, The Best of Vietnam, Birds and Butterflies tours, South Africa, Brazil: Carajas, Grand Venezuela, and Belize: Chan Chich Lodge.)

In this issue:

Ecuador: The Northwestern Andean Slopes

VENT Cruises

Winter New Mexico

Holiday Tours 2007-2008

Thailand Highlights

Central Chile & Patagonia

Grand Southern India Train Odyssey

South Texas: Birds and Butterflies

Fall Hawaii

O’Brien and Zemaitis join VENT

ECUADOR: THE NORTHWESTERN ANDEAN SLOPES

By Paul Greenfield

So many of my fondest and most vivid memories of the birds I have seen throughout my life involve exceptionally close views, and it is with these in mind that I remain convinced that this tour is very special. It is perhaps on this trip, more than any other I lead or have been on, that we get to see so many great species so well and so closely! It is still true that even on this privileged itinerary some birds are a real challenge to find, while others are just witnessed as a fleeting glance?yet an amazing number of sightings are “up close and personal” and remain truly unsurpassable.

Of the 39 species of hummingbirds we recorded during our ten-day excursion, no less than 33 were basically “point-blank” sightings. Three notorious skulking antpittas and a tinamou were observed better than anyone could ever have hoped for. Our morning visits to the Mindo turn-off offered unbeatably long and unbelievably close looks at dozens of species, including several we could have probably touched had we actually chosen to do so. At least a dozen bird species visited the fruit feeders at Tinalandia, making our task of actually eating quite challenging, but affording us spectacular looks at a diverse variety of feathered beauties. Even a perched Broad-winged Hawk became the best sighting any of our party had ever had of the species!

Excellent first sightings of many species were often topped a few days later by “crippling,” gasp-producing views at other sites. The truth is that birding conditions in Ecuador are becoming ever more refined and specialized, with more reserves and sites set up especially for admiring birds, and the northwestern part of the country is definitely the leader of this development.

The dozens of Club-winged Manakins displaying all around us at the Milpe Bird Sanctuary, even at eye level, with male Golden-winged Manakins flipping in and out just above our heads while a huge mixed foraging flock worked the canopy over, was definitely something else. The entire Giant, Yellow-breasted, and Moustached antpitta (each one with their respective Christian names!) experience was a priceless one indeed, and I know a favorite for most of the group. Having each of these usually frustratingly difficult-to-see species, with their respective personalities, come right up to feed almost at our feet, was unforgettable! The great show at the Tinalandia fruit feeders, with stunning looks at Red-headed and Orange-fronted barbets, Pale-mandibled Araçari, and a slew of other great species, could only be equaled or topped by the spectacularly close Toucan Barbets, Strong-billed Woodcreeper, Masked Trogons, and some 25 other species observed so incredibly well at the Mindo turn-off. These were just some of the highlights, while I cannot seem to forget our Torrent Duck, Gray-headed Kite, Tiny Hawk, and multiple tanager sightings, including such nice looks at Yellow-collared Chlorophonia, among so many others.

Interlaced throughout these and so many other experiences was the mesmerizing hummingbird show?certainly another of Ecuador’s claims to fame?that we enjoyed at so many different locations. So much activity, so many species, so much color?so close! Oooohs and ahhhhs, cameras snapping away?who could choose a favorite? Empress Brilliant, Booted Racket-tail, Violet-tailed Sylph, and Velvet-purple Coronet at one place, with Sword-billed Hummingbird, Great Sapphirewing, and Rainbow-bearded Thornbill at another!

On our last morning, loaded up in our van and just beginning our return back to Quito, the fog had rolled in and we had not really begun to allow the idea that the trip was really over to sink in. “Stop!…oh no, it’s just a chicken. Wait! No, it’s a Curve-billed Tinamou!” A female and two chicks were feeding casually right along the road?not that usually startled, scampering shape view I had been used to getting over the years. Just amazing!

ECUADOR: THE NORTHWESTERN ANDEAN SLOPES

November 18-29, 2007

With Paul Greenfield and Tony Nunnery

$2850 from Quito

Limit 14

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VENT CRUISES

2008

ANTARCTIC PENINSULA

January 19-February 1

Aboard the Corinthian II

Cabins from $8995

BAJA, CALIFORNIA: AMONG THE GREAT WHALES

Aboard the Sea Bird

February 23-March 1

Cabins from $4400

CAPE HORN TO CAPE OF GOOD HOPE

Aboard the Corinthian II

February 28-March 22

Cabins from $10,450

CIRCUMNAVIGATION OF SICILY

Aboard the Callisto

May 9-17

Cabins from $8145

SCOTTISH ISLANDS

Aboard the Grigoriy Mikheev

May 27-June 4

Cabins from TBA

GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

Aboard the Daphne

July 1-10

Cabins from TBA

CENTRAL CHILE AND PATAGONIA

Aboard the Via Australis

October 20-November 1

Cabins from TBA

GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

Aboard the Islander

November 29-December 8

Cabins from TBA

2009

ANTARCTICA, SOUTH GEORGIA AND THE FALKLANDS

Aboard the Peregrine Voyager

January 5-27

Cabins from TBA

AMAZON RIVER

Aboard La Turquesa

January 24-February 2

Cabins from TBA

ROAD TO TIMBUKTU AND THE RIVERS OF WESTERN AFRICA

Aboard the Callisto

January 23-February 7

Cabins from TBA

THE SEYCHELLES

Aboard Le Ponant

March 8-24

Cabins from $12,500

(Register by September 15, 2007 and receive a discount of $1000)

GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

Aboard the Daphne

June 30-July 9

Cabins from TBA

ATTU

Aboard the Spirit of Oceanus

September 11-27

Cabins from TBA

SUBANTARCTIC ISLANDS OF NEW ZEALAND

Aboard the Spirit of Enderby

October 28-November 18

Cabins from TBA

GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

Aboard the Islander

October 31-November 9

Cabins from TBA

Contact the VENT office if you would like to receive more information!

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WINTER NEW MEXICO

By Barry Zimmer

Our 2006 Winter New Mexico tour was arguably our most successful ever! We had unbelievable weather the first four days, with temperatures nearing 70 degrees every day, and nighttime lows in the lower 40s to upper 30s. We saw virtually every specialty bird we searched for and, in addition, compiled an amazing list of rarities.

The El Paso area yielded a roosting flock of 4,000 Yellow-headed Blackbirds our first evening, great scope views of Crissal Thrasher (of which we tallied nine overall), stunning Ferruginous and Harris’s hawks, a vagrant Least Grebe, four very close and cooperative Burrowing Owls, and several great views of Green-tailed Towhee.

The Las Cruces area was equally productive. Most memorable was our morning at scenic Aguirre Springs Recreation Area and nearby grasslands. A short walk there produced Canyon and Rock wrens almost at arm’s length (among our six wren species), a lengthy study of a Sage Thrasher atop a juniper, a majestic Golden Eagle overhead, flock after flock of Western Bluebirds, an incredibly cooperative Juniper Titmouse, Hutton’s Vireo (rare), Red-naped Sapsucker, and a plethora of sparrows (we had 21 species overall) with Black-chinned, Brewer’s, Rufous-crowned, and Sage among the more noteworthy.

Moving upriver we encountered more treats. In the Percha Dam/Caballo Lake area we had a rare Long-billed Curlew in an alfalfa field, a stunning male Vermilion Flycatcher, a flock of Eastern Bluebirds among the numerous Westerns, an amazing 45 Sage Thrashers in one area (something I have never seen before) along with 25 or so stunning Mountain Bluebirds (completing our bluebird sweep), good views of Bridled Titmouse, and six Ferruginous Hawks in one day. The most notable highlight was finding a Red-necked Grebe (one of only a handful of state records) at Elephant Butte Reservoir.

Snow and Ross's Geese, Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge

Snow and Ross’s Geese, Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge — Photo: Barry Zimmer

Water Canyon west of Socorro yielded a good supply of montane species, as well as an unexpected flock of 75 or so Chestnut-collared Longspurs coming in to drink at a stock tank. The centerpiece of this tour is always the visit to world-famous Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. As always, the refuge did not disappoint. Incredible spectacles of 34,000 Snow Geese (with a few thousand Ross’s in the mix for great comparison) and 13,000 Sandhill Cranes certainly top the list. The sight and sound of these gatherings at dawn and dusk is an experience not soon forgotten. In addition to this, the refuge provided us with wonderful views of many waterfowl species (22 overall) and raptor species (16 overall).

A flock of rosy-finches visiting feeders at the top of Sandia Crest in the Sandia Mountains east of Albuquerque was an added bonus this year. We headed up there our last afternoon and had views of Black, Brown-capped, and Gray-crowned (including one Hepburn’s race) rosy-finches from about ten feet! Also at the feeders were numerous Mountain Chickadees, Red-breasted and White-breasted nuthatches, and Steller’s Jays. We have seen the rosy-finches on each of our last two tours, and plan on including a search for these birds on future tours to the area.

We concluded our tour at the Rio Grande Nature Center in west Albuquerque where we had an impressive 58 Wood Ducks in view at once, in addition to a small flock of Cackling Geese for close study. In all we totaled 164 species, enjoyed superb weather (but for one day of wind), and had fantastic rarities and great luck with numerous southwestern specialty birds. All in all, our tour was a great success!

WINTER NEW MEXICO

January 3-9, 2008

With Barry Zimmer and TBA

$1630 from El Paso (ends in Albuquerque)

Limit 14

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HOLIDAY TOURS 2007-2008

ANTARCTICA, SOUTH GEORGIA AND THE FALKLANDS

Aboard the Clipper Adventurer

December 15-January 7

With Greg Lasley and Denver HOlt

Cabins from $11,815

MEXICO: OAXACA CHRISTMAS

December 20-29

With Hector Gomez and TBA

$3260 from Oaxaca City

Limit 12

PANAMA: CHRISTMAS AT EL VALLE’S CANOPY LODGE

December 22-27

With Tony Nunnery and a local leader

$1545 from Panama City

Limit 14

CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY IN COSTA RICA

December 22-29

With Steve Hilty and a local leader

$3055 from San Jose, Costa Rica

Limit 14

NEW YEAR IN SOUTH TEXAS (a Relaxed & Easy tour)

December 27-January 2

With Kim Eckert and Brad McKinney

$1925 from Harlingen (ends in Corpus Christi)

Limit 14

NEW YEAR AT PANAMA’S CANOPY TOWER

December 27-January 3

With Tony Nunnery and a local leader

$2795 from Panama City

Limit 14

VENEZUELA: HATO PINERO NEW YEAR

December 27-January 4

With Jeri Langham and David Ascanio

$3145 from Caracas

Limit 13

BELIZE: CHAN CHICH NEW YEAR

December 28-January 3

With Paul Wood and TBA

$3195 from Belize City

Limit 14

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THAILAND HIGHLIGHTS

By David Bishop

Thailand just gets better and better. Our 2007 tour was a happy, easy tour with tons of birds and mammals, fabulous and fascinating landscapes, a delightfully charming people, some great antiquities and, arguably, some of the most delicious food ever encountered on a tour?especially those sumptuous meals in the field. We garnered a total of 416 species of birds in just 15 days in the field, and a very impressive list of 28 species of mammals.

I doubt that any of the participants?during that afternoon in Kaeng Krachan?will ever forget the seemingly nonchalant female leopard that sauntered down the track in front of their jeep! And it was a first for Dion too. Consider an unforgettable spotlighting trip in Khao Yai which included a herd of tears-inducing Asian elephants with their adorable calf; a binturong lolling in the forest-canopy; and a supporting cast of leopard cat, three species of civet, and two species of giant flying squirrels. Add to that a pack of dhole (Asian wild dogs) that strolled across the road in front of us and you have quite a list of exceptional mammal experiences.

The birds weren’t too shabby either; yours truly finally caught up with White-rumped Falcon. A pair of this striking but rather dapper looking raptor put on a wonderful show one morning at Doi Inthanon. Elsewhere we oohed and aahed to a wonderful variety of “Real Birds” including point-blank views of Spot-breasted Parrotbills, Spot-necked Babblers, a group of eight White-hooded Babblers, and stunning views of both Pygmy and Limestone wren-babblers. Others of perhaps a more classical beauty included a very confiding male Green Peafowl; Blue Pitta; hordes of Great, Brown, Wreathed, and Oriental Pied hornbills; to everyone’s astonishment at least one Coral-billed Ground-Cuckoo seen by the entire group; a small flock of the increasingly rarely seen Pin-tailed Parrotfinch; and an amazing total of 19 species of Asia’s glorious woodpeckers including a displaying trio of Great Slaty’s as we made our way home one late afternoon. As if all this weren’t enough, not one but five, yes five Spoon-billed Sandpipers permitted us to wear out our Leica telescopes as we drank in every essence of this blue-ribbon shorebird. And let’s not forget the numerous Broad-billed Sandpipers, Long-toed Stints, and single but distinctive Nordmann’s Greenshank so brilliantly found by Mr. Tee. And then, just to remind us that nature really is the boss, a 12-foot king cobra wandered across in front of our jeep on our very last morning in the field.

We spent our first day pottering northwards through the Chao Praya valley stopping at Wat Phai Lom with its immense breeding colony of Asian Openbill Storks, en route to the ancient capital of Ayuthya. In surrounding fields we enjoyed fine looks at a flock of 70+ very handsome Gray-headed Lapwings, in addition to a plethora of other birds including four species of kingfisher. Ayuthya treated us to the first of many sumptuous lunches and some very attractive antiquities before we moved on to Wat Phra Phutthabat Noi and the home of the rather localized Limestone Wren-Babbler.

At Khao Yai we had some wonderful experiences (in addition to the aforementioned night of spotlighting) which turned up an incredible list of mammals and birds. Khao Yai is well-known for its abundance and diversity of birdlife; it holds a fabulous representation of the Indochinese avifauna and we sampled an array of small mixed-flock species, as well as many elusive ground-dwellers, not to mention raptors, hornbills, and nightbirds.

We concentrated on two very important birding sites in the north: Thailand’s highest mountain, Doi Inthanon, and the picturesque Doi Ang Khang right on the Burmese border. An early morning visit to Hua Kong Khai, one of the Queen’s projects just north of Chiang Mai, was rewarded with stunning Green Peafowls in the morning mist on the lakeside, not to mention great scope views of Black Baza and Brown-rumped Minivets.

On the boardwalk on the Doi Inthanon summit, affectionately known as The Bog, we encountered an incredibly cryptic Eurasian Woodcock, a foraging Rufous-throated Partridge, a pair of White-browed Shortwings, and a male Snowy-browed Flycatcher. As the sun emerged, the mixed flocks took advantage of the warming rays and we thrilled to the nonstop activity of Chestnut-tailed Minlas, Mrs. Gould’s Sunbirds, Rufous-winged Fulvettas, Yellow-bellied Fantails, Blyth’s Leaf-Warblers, and Dark-backed Sibias.

Up in the far northwest at Doi Ang Khang, the birding is always super exciting! This year we found flowering trees just full of birds feeding on the nectar and insects: White-headed Bulbul, Chestnut-bellied Rock-Thrush, Orange-bellied Leafbird, Silver-eared Mesia, and Streaked Spiderhunter were all in evidence. Small areas of grassland at the higher altitudes were especially productive with some very exciting birds seen exceptionally well: Spot-breasted Parrotbill, White-browed Laughingthrush, and Crested and Little buntings to name but a few. Another undoubted highlight must be mentioned: those incredible Red-faced Liocichlas and the male Bay Woodpecker that put on such a wonderful show for us.

An exploratory morning along the border road to Doi Lang left us wanting more, but in the time we had we all got to see the globally threatened Jerdon’s Bushchat, thanks to Daphne and Romney.

Our day spent in the Gulf of Siam at Khok Kam and Lam Pak Bia, south of Bangkok, in search of migratory shorebirds, was a resounding success. We encountered so many wonderful shorebirds and had the opportunity to study them at length. Tucked away among them were some very special treats in the form of five Spoon-billed Sandpipers, one Nordmann’s Greenshank, Great Knot, Long-toed Stints, Broad-billed Sandpipers, and a single Ruff.

Kaeng Krachan, one of the most exciting reserves in southeast Asia, simply abounds with all sorts of exciting wildlife. The mixture of birds from the Sundaic region (Malaysia and Indonesia) and continental Thai-Burma region is one of the most exciting aspects of this superb reserve.

This tour can be taken alone or in combination with our Cambodia tour, January 17-February 3, 2008.

THAILAND HIGHLIGHTS

February 2-21, 2008

With David Bishop and Dion Hobcroft

$6295 from Bangkok

Limit 14

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CENTRAL CHILE AND PATAGONIA

Evocative landscapes and an enticing diversity of birdlife await the traveler on this South American adventure. This tour will provide a high quality travel experience and immersion in the raw beauty and special birdlife of the Chilean Andes. We will target such sought-after species as Chilean Tinamou, Diademed Sandpiper-Plover, Andean Condor, Mountain Caracara, and Moustached Turca, among many others, in the midst of some of the finest scenery in the world.

We will fly to Punta Arenas and visit Torres del Paine National Park, a location known for its glaciers and unsurpassed mountain scenery. Here we will focus on an array of landbirds and waterbirds, including Chilean Flamingo, Upland and Ashy-headed geese, Chiloe Wigeon, Torrent Duck, Lesser Rhea, and Magellanic Woodpecker.

Our thorough land-based program is complemented by a grand finale, four-day cruise through the magnificent maze-like fjords of southern Chile aboard the Mare Australis. Enjoy dramatic glacier-sculpted scenery as we navigate the bays and channels of Tierra del Fuego, while Flying and Flightless steamer-ducks, Chilean Skuas, Blue-eyed Cormorants, and Dolphin Gulls patrol the near-shore waters. A visit to Cape Horn will leave us exhilarated by the beauty of this remote outpost, as we bask in the glow of its rich history.

With excellent accommodations and cuisine, we can view Rockhopper and Magellanic penguins, Black-browed and Gray-headed albatross, and Southern Giant-Petrels while traveling in complete comfort aboard the Mare Australis.

CENTRAL CHILE AND PATAGONIA

October 17-29, 2007

With Claudio Vidal and David Ascanio

$5795 from Santiago

Limit 16

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GRAND SOUTHERN INDIA TRAIN ODYSSEY

February 21-March 6, 2008

With David Bishop, Bob Fleming, Dion Hobcroft, Victor Emanuel, Pete Dunne, Steve Hilty, and Barry Lyon

$9995 from Bangalore, India

Limit 54

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SOUTH TEXAS: BIRDS & BUTTERFLIES

By Michael O?Brien

In the United States there is no better area for butterfly-watching than the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas. As with birds, many Mexican species of butterflies cross into the United States only in South Texas. More species have been recorded here than in any other region of the United States?of the approximately 722+ butterfly species recorded in the United States and Canada, 300+ have been found in the four southernmost counties of Texas. Increased interest in butterflies has resulted in an explosion in “butterfly gardens” throughout the Valley. This short tour will spend four nights in Weslaco and from there explore various habitats around the Valley seeking both the birds and butterflies that make this region so popular. Depending on which areas are “hot,” we will probably head east on one day to the Brownsville area, and on another day we’ll head up-river to the western Valley (around Falcon Dam), where desert habitats support different species.

Malachite

Malachite — Photo: Michael O’Brien

Especially interesting South Texas butterflies that we hope to see include Pipevine and Giant Swallowtails, Tailed Orange, Mimosa Yellow, Silver-banded and Xami Hairstreaks, Red-bordered Metalmark, Red-bordered Pixie, Julia, Zebra Heliconian, Theona Checkerspot, Bordered Patch, Mexican Bluewing, Tropical Leafwing, White-striped Longtail, Mazans Scallopwing, Sickle-winged Skipper, Turk’s-cap White-Skipper, Julia’s and Fawn-spotted Skippers, and Celia’s Roadside-Skipper. Our greatest challenge will be sorting out the dizzying array of skipper species, many of which are subtly marked. The showier of possible rarities include Polydamas Swallowtail, Blue Metalmark, Silver-banded Hairstreak, Mexican Silverspot, Red Rim, Banded Peacock, Malachite, Silver Emperor, and Guava Skipper, among many others.

Of course, the Rio Grande Valley is also famous for birds, with many specialties occurring here and nowhere else in the United States. Some avian highlights may include Muscovy Duck, Least Grebe, Hook-billed Kite, White-tailed Hawk, Plain Chachalaca, White-tipped Dove, Red-billed Pigeon, Green Parakeet, Red-crowned Parrot, Common Pauraque, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Ringed and Green kingfishers, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Tropical and Couch’s kingbirds, Great Kiskadee, Green and Brown jays, Black-crested Titmouse, Clay-colored Robin, Long-billed Thrasher, Tropical Parula, Olive Sparrow, and Altamira and Audubon’s orioles. Due to time limitations we may not attempt to find such difficult species as Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl and White-collared Seedeater, though we will gladly take time to enjoy them should we happen across them. These species are regularly encountered on VENT’s other Rio Grande Valley tours. If a particularly rare bird appears in the area, and meets with our schedule, we will certainly plan to search for it.

SOUTH TEXAS: BIRDS AND BUTTERFLIES

November 11-16, 2007

With Michael O?Brien

$1645 from Harlingen

Limit 7

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FALL HAWAII

By Brad Schram

Our October 2006 Fall Hawaii tour will hold a unique place in our memories due to the unusual series of circumstances we encountered during our trip. A 6.7 Richter Scale earthquake provides a punctuation mark to any experience, along the lines of the question: “Where were you when the Hawaii quake hit?” Happily, many fine memories of interesting endemic birds from Hawaii’s amazing laboratory of evolution will hold equally memorable place with natural disasters and man-made inconveniences!

Oahu’s north shore stands in sharp contrast to the developed bustle of the south, with its Honolulu traffic and Waikiki artificiality. Our first day of birding focused on the north shore, which produced excellent looks at Hawaiian Island endemic water bird species and subspecies in ponds along the rural highway. Hawaiian Stilt, a subspecies of Black-necked Stilt, and the endangered Hawaiian subspecies of Common Moorhen were joined by the endemic Hawaiian Duck (Koloa) and Hawaiian Coot for lingering views. The most memorable bird of the day, however, was clearly Bristle-thighed Curlew! Six of these trans-Pacific migrants from remote Alaskan breeding grounds fed leisurely in short grass as we enjoyed fine scope looks at their behavior and subtle but unique field marks.

An uneventful flight to Kauai held no hint of the dramatic events to follow. Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge was beautiful. The Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, Great Frigatebirds, tropicbirds, and Red-footed Boobies delighted all; the borderline tame Nene?the endangered Hawaiian goose?instantly became a continuing group favorite wherever we found it.

Following a morning’s birding highlighted by Kauai Amakihi and confiding Elepaio in the rain of Kokee, Kauai’s lovely native forest state park, we fled the rain, the fog of Waimea Canyon?and the throng of the Queen Emma Festival?for lowland birding. Heavy rains intensified. Storm drains overflowed during lunch in Waimea, but a post-lunch drive to the Sand Ponds to the northwest delivered us from the heaviest storm clouds. A male Black Francolin greeted us at the ponds, where good scope views of Wandering Tattlers and Ruddy Turnstones revived soggy spirits.

There is no preparation for an earthquake. One minute one is going about the routine of getting ready to go to breakfast, then one feels the earth move, intensify its movement, then reside. All at breakfast agreed the jolt was pretty substantial, but it wasn’t until after breakfast that we became aware that the epicenter was hundreds of miles distant?off the northwest shore of Hawaii, the Big Island, our destination later that morning!

Driving north from Kona we dodged large boulders of lava from the road cut above, and noticed the occasional collapsed retaining wall. Otherwise, there was little overt evidence of the serious earthquake. We arrived safely at our hotel in Waimea, although the delays resulting from the day’s events had taken away any chance of serious birding that afternoon. A memorable dinner at Merriman’s, a fine Waimea restaurant, capped an eventful day.

The following day’s birding in the dry Mamane forest at about 5,000 feet altitude gave us our first close encounter with the I’o, the endangered Hawaiian Hawk. Although the Palila eluded us, the Common Amakihis, and introduced Red-billed Leiothrix and Yellow-fronted Canaries put on a show. Following a late lunch we returned to Kona for our baggage, with a few stops for birding along the way. To our delight a feeder in a residential district above the airport had attracted 10 to 15 Saffron Finches.

We awoke to a 4.9 aftershock at 5:28 AM, followed by vehicle packing and breakfast. A two-hour drive to Hakalau National Wildlife Refuge on the Saddle Road across Mauna Kea’s slope presented fantastic volcanic views in the clean highland air. Erckel’s Francolin was one of the commonest roadside birds, while Sky Larks were quite common. Once inside the refuge itself, the beauty of Hawaii’s native forest overshadowed all other events. Twisted Ohi’a trees, ancient, gnarled, and festooned with red blooms, provided a platform for native honeycreepers in surprising numbers! The brilliant I’iwi, possibly Hawaii’s most colorful bird, was quite common in the blooming trees, its calls always apparent. Common Amakihi and Apapane were likewise commonly seen and heard. The endangered Akepa, the males resplendent in tangerine-orange, came to our squeak from a Koa tree. A Barn Owl flushed nearby; a Hawaiian Hawk dashed through below treetop level. The Hawaiian thrush, the Omao, called constantly; one responding bird perched long enough for all to get repeat scope views of this subtly beautiful endemic thrush. All agreed that this gorgeous section of forest was the birding highlight of the trip to that point. Our subsequent drive to Volcano House, in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, was surprisingly uneventful?if one ignored the dense fog encountered on Mauna Loa’s mid-altitude slope.

Awaking to constant calls from the abundant Apapane in the Ohi’a forest surrounding Volcano House, we breakfasted before an extravagant view of the steaming crater on whose rim Volcano House perches. The morning’s forest birding and lava tube-walking produced new birds and wonders. In mid-afternoon we drove the Chain of Craters Road to the park’s shore. Black Noddies flew by our cliff-top viewing point at close range; a Great Frigatebird drifted overhead. A late afternoon walk across the ropey Pahoehoe lava to a vantage point was challenging; the walk back with flashlights could well be described as “adventurous”! The purpose of the walk however, a night view of orange-red lava flowing into the sea across a small bay from us, made the exertion worth it. The sight of flowing, glowing, lava?its color reflecting on the overhanging steam?will not be forgotten. Truly the elemental Hawaiian experience!

Our last night could not pass uneventfully, however. Following the final dinner and checklist session we retreated to our rooms for a much deserved rest before our morning flights. After all that had transpired on this tour, the (false) fire alarm rousting us from our rooms met with bemusement rather than outrage. After all, flexibility defined us.

FALL HAWAII

October 10-18, 2007

With Bob Sundstrom and Brennan Mulrooney

$3240 from Honolulu (ends in Hilo)

Limit 12

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O’BRIEN AND ZEMAITIS JOIN VENT

By Victor Emanuel

We want to welcome Michael O’Brien and Louise Zemaitis to the VENT staff. They are a skilled and dynamic husband and wife team with years of experience in tour leading. They are an important part of the Cape May birding community. Michael has co-authored several books including the recently published, The Shorebird Guide.

Michael O'Brien

Michael O’Brien

Both Michael and Louise are artists. Michael’s illustrations have been widely published including in National Geographic’s Field Guide to the Birds of North America. Louise is an honors graduate of Temple University’s Tyler School of Art. Her illustrations have been widely published. She is the curator of the Cape May Bird Observatory Art Gallery.

Louise Zemaitis

Louise Zemaitis

 

In addition to regular birding tours Michael and Louise enjoy leading birds and butterflies tours. Michael will lead a Birds and Butterflies tour in South Texas November 11-16, 2007. In 2008, Michael and Louise will co-lead Birds and Butterflies tours in South Florida, Belize, Colorado, and Arizona.

 

Both Michael and Louise will co-lead our Baja Cruise, February 23-March 1, our Austin Birding and Nature Festival, April 9-13, 2008, our Galapagos Cruise, November 29-December 8, 2008, and our Antarctica Cruise, January 5-27, 2009. In addition to these departures and the Birds and Butterflies trips, Michael will co-lead our Belize: Chan Chich trip, December 7-15, our Colorado Grouse trip, April 13-22, and our Adak trip, May 14-22, and Louise will lead our Cape May trip, September 28-October 4, 2008.

 

We are delighted to have Michael and Louise as part of our team.

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