November 2007 Birdletter, Part I December 06, 2007

Part I of the November 2007 issue of VENT's printed newsletter, the Birdletter, includes articles about our special January 2009 Antarctica Cruise with nine leaders, our Circumnavigation of Sicily Cruise in May 2008, our Cruise schedule for 2008/2009, our new "Best of Brazil" tour, Spring in the Great Smoky Mountains, Borneo, Kauai & Hawaii, our new program of "Birds and Butterflies" tours (in Florida, Belize, Colorado, Arizona, and Texas), and a memoriam to the late Nathaniel Gerhart.

In this issue:

ANTARCTICA, SOUTH GEORGIA, & THE FALKLANDS

CIRCUMNAVIGATION OF SICILY

VENT CRUISES 2008/2009

BEST OF BRAZIL

IN MEMORIAM, NATHANIEL GERHART

SPRING IN THE GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS

BORNEO

KAUAI & HAWAII

BIRDS AND BUTTERFLIES

ANTARCTICA 2009

By Victor Emanuel

Antarctica's amazing landscape of pristine beauty, mostly untouched by humans, offers the ultimate natural history travel experience and some of the finest pelagic birding in the world. Thousands of penguins and seabirds, including six species of albatross, are joined by sea lions, seals, and whales, resulting in an almost overwhelming tableau of wildlife. The story of Sir Ernest Shackleton, whose Endurance expedition of 1914 is one of the greatest survival stories of all time, comes vividly alive amidst the spectacular icebergs and incredible scenery.

"Antarctica, a destination I have dreamt about for years. I knew, however, that sometimes anticipation and expectations surpass reality. After years of fantasizing about Antarctica, I feared that going there might be a letdown. I discovered that in the land of penguins and ice, reality surpasses expectations."

— Barry Zimmer

Victor Emanuel Nature Tours has been taking birders and nature enthusiasts to Antarctica and South Georgia for over 20 years. Our January 5-26, 2009 voyage, however, will be particularly special because VENT has reserved its largest allotment in years exclusively for VENT customers. The benefits of a large allotment are greater flexibility in scheduling, and joining in the camaraderie of a ship full of people who are all there for the same reasons.

Our voyage will be helmed by an all-star cast of leaders that includes Victor Emanuel, Kenn Kaufman, John Fitzpatrick (Director of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology), Barry Lyon, Lars Jonsson, Michael O'Brien, and Louise Zemaitis. An added bonus is the addition of Kitty Coley and John Harrison as expert members of our staff. Kitty is an accomplished geologist and tour leader with much Antarctic experience, while John brings superior knowledge of human history and exploration of the region.

We will journey aboard the 122-passenger Clipper Adventurer. Berths start at $15,595 per person in double occupancy from Ushuaia, Argentina. If you register by December 1, 2007, you will receive a $1,000 early booking discount. Early signups are strongly recommended since we expect to sell almost all of our 84 spaces by December 1. On that date, we may have to return any unsold space to Quark Expeditions, the owners of the ship, who anticipate filling them immediately.

Please note that our original cruise announcement provided information about a different ship, the Peregrine Voyager, with a different price structure. Our decision to change ships was based on our feeling that the Adventurer, which is larger than the Voyager, will provide a more comfortable and enjoyable cruise experience, with private facilities in all cabins, nicer and more spacious public areas, and better stabilizers.

This will be my sixth visit to Antarctica, and I am looking forward to it with as much anticipation as my first. I hope you will join us on what is sure to be a remarkable voyage to the White Continent.

ANTARCTICA, SOUTH GEORGIA, AND THE FALKLAND ISLANDS

Aboard the Clipper Adventurer

January 5-26, 2009

With Victor Emanuel, Kenn Kaufman, John Fitzpatrick, Barry Lyon, Lars Jonsson, Michael O'Brien, Louise Zemaitis, Kitty Coley, and John Harrison

Cabins from $15,595 per person in double occupancy from Ushuaia

Limit 85

Register by December 1, 2007 and receive a discount of $1,000

We have produced a wonderful short DVD about Antarctica that is available free. Contact the VENT office if you wish to be sent a copy.

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CIRCUMNAVIGATION OF SICILY

By Barry Lyon

Perched at a crossroads of Mediterranean civilization, lovely Sicily offers a complete travel experience. Beautiful scenery, vibrant cities, fishing villages, and groves of lemons and olives bring to life classical images of the island. Inhabited for at least 2,000 years, Sicily has played host to many of the world's most influential powers, including the Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans.

For this exciting departure, VENT and Travel Dynamics International are teaming up to provide participants a unique opportunity to experience the Mediterranean's largest island via a full circumnavigation. Unlike any other tour to Sicily, this trip provides the best of Greek and Roman history and architecture with visits to some of the island's most productive birding areas. And, at this season, spring migration is in full force and thousands of birds are surging north from their African wintering grounds.

We will travel aboard the 34-guest Callisto, an elegant, all-suite, private yacht. Exuding a warm elegance, the Callisto provides excellent viewing conditions, delicious cuisine, and luxurious cabins.

Segesta

Segesta — Photo: Travel Dynamics

Our journey begins in Palermo, one of the world's most important cities from the ninth through twelfth centuries, and a pivotal epicenter during the Crusades. From Palermo we will sail to Reposto on the eastern side of the island, navigating the Strait of Messina, the mythical narrow waterway that separates Sicily from the mainland. From here the rising cone of Mt. Etna provides a scenic and historical backdrop.

Continuing around the island we'll call at several important ports, including majestic Syracuse, Porto Empedocle, and Trapani. Land excursions to some of the finest archaeological sites surviving from antiquity include the 15,000-seat Greek Theatre, Doric temples at Agrigento, and the remarkably well-preserved temples of Hercules, Concord, and Juno. Aside from such prominent locations, we will include visits to several major archaeological museums.

Such important nature reserves as Oasi del Sime, Di Vendicari, and Bélice are excellent destinations for viewing resident wading birds and songbirds, as well as migrant waterfowl, shorebirds, and hawks. More than 250 species of birds have been recorded from each of these refuges.

Joining us as our staff historian will be Dr. Larry Wolff, a renowned researcher and professor of European history at New York University. We are honored to have Dr. Wolff with us for this departure as he is widely recognized as a gifted teacher and lecturer, and a leading scholar of intellectual and cultural history of Early Modern Europe.

With historical and natural history interpretation throughout our trip, there is simply no better way to experience the charm of Sicily.

CIRCUMNAVIGATION OF SICILY

Aboard the Callisto

May 8-17, 2008

With Victor Emanuel and Barry Lyon

Cabins from $7995 per person in double occupancy from Palermo

Limit 32

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VENT CRUISES

2008

CIRCUMNAVIGATION OF SICILY

Aboard the Callisto

May 8-17

Cabins from $7995

SCOTTISH ISLANDS

Aboard the Grigoriy Mikheev

May 27-June 4

Cabins from $4995

Aboard a Zodiac in the Southern Atlantic Ocean

Aboard a Zodiac in the Southern Atlantic Ocean — Photo: Fantastico Sur

CENTRAL CHILE AND PATAGONIA

Aboard the Via Australis

October 20-November 1

Cabins from TBA

GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

Aboard the National Geographic Islander

November 29-December 8

Cabins from $5995

2009

ANTARCTICA, SOUTH GEORGIA, AND THE FALKLAND ISLANDS

Aboard the Clipper Adventurer

January 5-26

Cabins from $15,595

Register by December 1, 2007 and receive a discount of $1,000

AMAZON RIVER

Aboard La Amatista

January 23-February 1

Cabins from TBA

THE RIVERS OF WEST AFRICA

Aboard the Callisto

January 23-February 7

Cabins from TBA

THE SEYCHELLES

Aboard Le Ponant

March 8-24

Cabins from $12,500

GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

Aboard the National Geographic Islander

November 7-16

Cabins from TBA

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

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BEST OF BRAZIL

By Kevin Zimmer

This new, short tour offers an in-depth introduction to two of the best birding regions in South America: the fabled Brazilian Pantanal, and the lush Atlantic Forest of Itatiaia National Park. By restricting our itinerary to two distinctly different destinations, we can maximize our birding at each while minimizing the necessity for moving around. In doing so we'll experience an impressive cross section of savanna and Atlantic Forest birds.

Our first destination is the northern Pantanal, which we feel is far superior to the southern Pantanal in terms of avian diversity, overall quality of birding, and in opportunities for seeing special mammals (such as jaguar). We will visit during the dry season, when receding water levels result in spectacular concentrations of birds and wildlife. Expect to see incomparable Hyacinth Macaws; Jabiru; Plumbeous Ibis; up to 12 species of herons and egrets (with good chances at Agami Heron); Bare-faced Curassow and Chestnut-bellied Guan (the numbers of curassows, guans, and chachalacas in this region are truly staggering); great numbers and diversity of parrots including such stunners as Golden-collared Macaw and Black-hooded Parakeet; a variety of raptors; and a dazzling array of smaller birds ranging from bizarre White Woodpeckers to flashy Helmeted Manakins and Brazilian Cardinals. Mammal-viewing opportunities are excellent, with possibilities ranging from the abundant capybaras to marsh deer, Brazilian tapir, giant otter, ocelot, and even jaguar.

Jaguar

Jaguar — Photo: Kevin Zimmer

Our second destination is lovely Itatiaia National Park, located in the mountains on the border between Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais states. We'll be based at a charming, family-run hotel featuring spacious chalets, excellent food, and wonderful birding on the grounds. Moreover, our lodge is located within the park itself, meaning that we'll never have to travel far to reach our birding sites. Hummingbirds, tanagers, and toucanets are a near constant presence at the hotel feeders, making it difficult to tear ourselves away to hit the trails. Once we do, we'll be treated to fabulous birding that will include a large number of species endemic to the Atlantic Forest of southeast Brazil. Possibilities include such gems as Dusky-legged Guan, Tawny-browed Owl, Saffron Toucanet, Plovercrest, Itatiaia Spinetail, Giant and White-bearded antshrikes, Streamer-tailed Tyrant, Swallow-tailed Manakin, Black-and-gold Cotinga, Brassy-breasted Tanager, and many more.

An optional extension to spectacular Iguaçu Falls National Park will allow those with additional time the opportunity to see the world's largest waterfalls, while enjoying a few days of excellent birding in subtropical Atlantic Forest.

BEST OF BRAZIL

August 10-23, 2008

With Kevin Zimmer and Andrew Whittaker

Price TBA

Limit 14

IGUACU FALLS EXTENSION

August 22-27, 2008

With Kevin Zimmer and Andrew Whittaker

Price TBA

Limit 14

Additional Brazil departures in 2008:

MATO GROSSO: PANTANAL SAFARI AND CHAPADA DOS GUIMARAES

June 22-July 4

With Andrew Whittaker and Steve Hilty

One of the premier wildlife spectacles in the world, the Brazilian Pantanal offers easy birding in one of the birdiest locations on the planet, for spectacular Hyacinth Macaws, Jabirus, Bare-faced Curassows, and many others.

ALTA FLORESTA

July 2-12

With Andrew Whittaker and Steve Hilty

Taken alone or as an extension to our Mato Grosso tour, Alta Floresta boasts numerous specialty birds not found elsewhere, as well as several highly sought after bamboo specialties.

SOUTHEASTERN BRAZIL: PART I

September 29-October 16

With Kevin Zimmer and Andrew Whittaker

Our flagship Brazil tour offers more than 170 species of endemic birds—including many hummingbirds, antbirds, and tanagers—set amidst beautiful scenery, as well as spectacular Iguacu Falls, Itaimbezinho Canyon, and the Araucaria forests of Rio Grande do Sul.

SOUTHEASTERN BRAZIL: PART II

October 14-24

With Andrew Whittaker and Kevin Zimmer

Many spectacular Atlantic Forest endemics can be found in the state of Espirito Santo, and a highlight is our search for the Cherry-throated Tanager, long thought extinct and only recently rediscovered.

BRAZILIAN SPECIALTIES

November 2-20

With Andrew Whittaker and Kevin Zimmer

Designed for the first-time visitor to Brazil as well as veterans of previous trips, this tour is an excellent introduction to the biotic diversity of Brazil, with a unique mix of habitats, spectacular scenery, colorful and endemic specialty birds, and great mammal-viewing.

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IN MEMORIAM

Nathaniel Gerhart

Nathaniel Gerhart attended two VENT camps as a teenager, later co-led two Manu, Peru tours with Steve Hilty, worked as a research assistant to Peter English in Ecuador, and co-led a Machu Picchu tour with me. His father, John Gerhart, was one of my closest friends. John was a terrific birder and dedicated conservationist. John died of cancer a few years ago. Nathaniel was enrolled in an outstanding graduate program at the University of California, Berkeley. At the time of his death, he was doing field work for his dissertation in the Indonesian part of Borneo. His life was tragically ended in a traffic accident on August 3rd. His family has established the Nathaniel Gerhart scholarship to support young birders and naturalists from families of limited means who want to attend one of our summer youth camps. Nathaniel was a wonderful person, a superb birder and naturalist, and had a great future in conservation and community development.

Nathaniel's friend, Jim Heyes, has set up a website of photographs and memories of Nathaniel at www.flickr.com/photos/natgerhart. The password to add your own photos onto this site is "memories."

—Victor Emanuel

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SPRING IN THE GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS

By Steve Hilty

This was our sixth birds and botany trip to the Great Smoky Mountains region. The Easter freeze, which caught much of the central and eastern U.S. by surprise this year, did not spare eastern Tennessee. The leaves of many trees and wildflowers were frost-damaged, which reduced wildflower displays and may have slowed spring bird migration. Consequently, our plant list was somewhat smaller than in previous years, although eventually we found most species we usually see. Large displays of flowers, however, were generally not evident, although later blooming species like Yellow Trilliums and Catsby's Trilliums were numerous, and we even found a hillside group of Red Trilliums. Also known as Stinking Benjamin, this trillium is renowned for its rotten meat smell, although some of our group claimed they could not detect the odor.

Top sightings this year included a Black Bear, seven species of salamanders, Swainson's Warbler, several Worm-eating Warblers, Blue-winged Warbler, Wood Ducks at a tree-hole nest site, flowering Pink Lady's Slipper and Large Yellow Lady's Slipper orchids, Dwarf Ginseng, nice displays of flowering Thyme-leaved Bluets, and a new site for Vasey's Trillium. Palm Warblers were abundant during our forays afield in Cade's Cove and we enjoyed numerous sightings of Hooded Warblers and Scarlet Tanagers, a Chestnut-sided Warbler near Waynesville, and a sprightly pair of Winter Wrens and many Golden-crowned Kinglets on the Appalachian Trail.

Serviceberry in flower, Great Smoky Mountains

Serviceberry in flower, Great Smoky Mountains — Photo: Steve Hilty

Park news includes the continued decline of Frasier Fir, the result of a non-native woolly adelgid infestation. Sadly, most Frasier Fir has disappeared from the park and we also noticed many Eastern Hemlocks infested with another species of woolly adelgid (this one an accidental introduction from Asia). First reported in the park in 2002, over 50,000 hemlock trees have now been treated, but will have to be treated again in three to four years, an expensive and labor intensive effort. And this is only a fraction of the several million hemlocks in the park. Government and private agencies are experimenting with a tiny predator "ladybird" beetle that offers hope of fighting this infestation that could potentially kill almost all hemlocks in eastern Northern America. The park also works to reintroduce elk to the park, to restore River Cane to selected streamsides, to battle Kudzu, Burdock, and Oriental Bittersweet, which are invading the park, and to apprehend many people that illegally dig ginseng, orchids, trilliums, and rare plants within the park.

It is sad that this, our grandest park in eastern North America, this magnificent symbol of beauty and wilderness, and one of the few places in the eastern United States where we can still walk among giant old growth trees, is now under such assault on so many fronts—while at the same time elected officials turn a blind eye, or worse, reduce funding for national parks. It is a sad commentary when we place corporate profit above stewardship of the land where we live, and the heritage that we bequeath to future generations. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, unfortunately, has come to represent this battle of opposing interests, and grave scars are now evident across this grand old park. We should wonder about what our children and grandchildren and future generations henceforth will think of what we are doing today.

Not to end on a tragic note, the Smokies still provide a rare opportunity to stand in the shade of ancient forests, and they are a place that harbors many breeding birds, the highest diversity of salamanders in the world, and one of the richest temperate latitude floras anywhere in the world. Let us hope it remains so.

SPRING IN THE GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS

April 20-27, 2008

With Steve Hilty and Chris Merkord

$1650 from Knoxville (ends in Townsend)

Limit 14

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BORNEO

By K. David Bishop

I sometimes have to pinch myself to realize just how fortunate I am to return each year to this extraordinary island. VENT's tour of Borneo is without doubt one of the finest natural history trips anywhere. The combination of still wondrously immense forests replete with a fabulous array of plants, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates serviced by some of the most comfortable and attractive accommodations to be enjoyed anywhere in the tropics, guarantees an unforgettable experience.

Borneo is indisputably an extraordinary place, and this continues to be underscored by new discoveries. Recent genetic studies have shown that the Bornean pygmy elephant is indeed a very distinct taxon; the Borneo population of orangutans should be treated as a separate species, and recent studies of the Bornean clouded leopard show that it too is a completely separate species from all other populations. And so it is with birds, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates too. Clearly, Borneo exhibits more than its share of weird and wonderful creatures, and our experiences exemplify what a wonderful tour this is. Consider the following:

- On our first morning in the Crocker Range we encountered a classic example of a gigantic rafflesia, the world's largest flowering plant—just a five-minute walk from our vehicle.

- Excellent views of the virtually mystical Bornean Ground-Cuckoo; not one but three Everett's Thrushes; daily encounters with sumptuous Jambu Fruit-Doves—gosh, that male!; a male Great Argus at his display ground that permitted us to approach to within just a few feet; and simply astonishing views of hunting leopard cats and an orangutan female with her young were just some of the highlights of our 2007 tour.

In Borneo it's not only birds and bats that "fly." On our tour we soon learned that there are:

- gliding squirrels—we enjoyed superlative, close views of a lovely, ginger-colored Thomas' giant flying squirrel, and the even larger giant red flying squirrel (14 species occur in Borneo);

- "flying lemurs"—actually a colugo, a rather unusual and highly specialized arboreal mammal that glides on huge membranes attached to its wrists and ankles (there are only two species in the family);

- flying lizards or dracos—ranging in size from a few inches to one-and-one-half-feet in length, they glide between trees on their expanded rib-cages;

- flying geckos—they look more like a praying mantis or peculiar orchid;

- gliding frogs—not only do they glide on expanded webbed feet, but they use those same feet to display streamside;

- flying snakes—the paradise tree snake is arguably one of the loveliest snakes in the world, and it too glides on its expanded rib-cage.

 

Borneo hosts some of the world's most spectacular and colorful birds, and on this tour we enjoyed:

- Scintillating views of Hooded, Black-and-crimson, and Blue-headed pittas—the latter bounding up the trail right in front of us;

- Innumerable scenes of seven of Borneo's eight species of hornbills, including repeated studies of the gigantic Rhinoceros Hornbill;

- Best ever studies of a pair of Bornean Ground-Cuckoos as they growled and swore at us from the forested edge of the lovely Menanggal River;

- Four species of trogons (including the rarely encountered Whitehead's) and four species of gorgeous broadbills;

- Not one but three of the extremely rarely encountered Everett's Thrushes.

VENT's Borneo tours regularly garner an enviable array of exciting mammals. Species we saw on this tour included:

- Numerous encounters with truly wild orangutans, including scenes of a mother and young as she fed at a fruiting tree;

- Several encounters with leopard cats along the lovely Menanggal River and in the Danum Valley;

- Troop after troop of proboscis monkeys along the Kinabatangan River, one adult male providing exceptional photographic opportunities;

- Evocative sounding and looking Bornean gibbons—around our lodge;

- A pair of gigantic water monitors wrestling in the Kinabatangan swamp forests.

VENT's Borneo tour regularly records 260 to 290 species of birds and 30 to 40 species of mammals. Nevertheless, our aim is for each and every participant to see each and every species well, and, ideally, on more than one occasion; in this I believe we were very successful. Possessing an intimate knowledge of the calls of the birds and where to find them is a key to our success and has been built on many years of studying the birds of Borneo and the surrounding regions of Asia.

The overall hospitality of the staff at Borneo Rainforest Lodge, plus the knowledge that after a sweaty morning in the field you can return to a lovely room and a good shower, adds to the special enjoyment of staying at this facility for six nights.

Borneo is without doubt one of the best and most enjoyable birding destinations in the world.

BORNEO

August 7-27, 2008

With David Bishop and Susan Myers

Price TBA

Limit 14

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KAUAI & HAWAII

By Brad Schram

Starting early our first morning, on Kauai, we drove toward Koke'e State Park above Waimea Canyon for our first attempt at Hawaii's endemic honeycreepers. Multiple looks at the Hawaiian subspecies of Short-eared Owl—the Pueo—on our way up the volcanic mountain excited our group. A stop at a vantage point overlooking Waimea Canyon produced a tour-book, heart-stopping view of "the Grand Canyon of the Pacific"; it also gave us our first looks at many White-tailed Tropicbirds soaring gracefully below. One tropicbird was of the golden-hued plumage peculiar to occasional individuals of this species. Red Junglefowl ran about everywhere—the ancestral fowl to all varieties of our domestic chicken, introduced to the islands centuries earlier by pioneering Polynesian colonists. We then continued on to our forest destinations.

Hawaiian endemic honeycreepers were our quest, and we were not disappointed. Apapane, a lovely brick-red honeycreeper associating closely with flowering native Ohia trees, proved fairly common and easy to see. The Kauai Amakihi was less cooperative, but was seen well by many. Introduced Japanese Bush-Warblers and Melodious Laughingthrushes tantalized us with their amazing songs, eventually yielding scope views. The lovely and confiding monarch flycatcher, the endemic Elepaio, appeared at numerous places, sometimes relatively close at hand. The Anianiau, a small honeycreeper looking much like our North American Yellow Warbler, proved very difficult and only a few of our party saw the female perched by the trail. Overall, however, this was a good start to our quest for Hawaii's native birds.

Following lunch we drove to Kawaiele Sand Mine Bird Sanctuary—often referred to as "the sand pits"—on the dry west side of Kauai to look for shorebirds and ducks. We quickly found endemic Koloa, or Hawaiian Duck, along with migrant Pintails. We also found a vagrant immature Snow Goose, known to be wintering there. Hawaiian Stilts yipped.

Turning to examine shrubs behind us, Brad is alleged to have yelled "Heavens to Murgatroyd!" at the sight of an immense White-tailed Eagle flying low just behind the group. He denies the accusation, but a White-tailed Eagle it was, and who could begrudge an excited utterance at such a moment! The Siberian vagrant had been a phantom presence on Kauai for as long as three months, with Hawaiian birders from all islands congregating to look for it—mostly without result. We watched for 10 to15 minutes as the bird swept low over sugar cane fields before riding updrafts up the volcanic hillside until a scope was necessary to keep track of it. Last seen high in the distance with a comparatively diminutive Pueo soaring above it, the White-tailed Eagle left us rather dumbstruck. Hawaii's first historic record—White-tailed Eagle bones have been found in sub-fossil deposits—has been seen feeding on Laysan Albatrosses at widely separate locations on Kauai.

Shortly after seeing the eagle, our heads still coming to grips with our magnificent luck, an immature Laughing Gull flew over the nearby sand pits. The question can now be asked: three wild, naturally-occurring birds were seen at the same place on the same day—Snow Goose, White-tailed Eagle, and Laughing Gull; where did this happen? Somehow, one suspects that "Kauai" will not be among the first guesses.

Our next day at Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge did not prove anticlimactic. Kilauea Point is the largest Red-footed Booby colony in the Hawaiian Islands. It is also one of the most beautiful promontories in the Pacific. Nesting Laysan Albatrosses, Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, and Red-tailed Tropicbirds, along with the boobies, proved a wonderful spectacle; conversation with a USF&W biologist about yesterday's eagle further impressed on us our excellent good fortune with that bird. A subsequent visit to a lush development in Princeville produced nesting Laysans in flowerbeds and on front lawns! All agreed that our close-up view of these birds and their fluffy chicks remained a trip highlight.

A soaring Io, or Hawaiian Hawk, spotted by Melody over Kona on the Big Island the following day, gave us our first look at an endemic bird on Hawaii. Yellow-billed Cardinal and Kalij Pheasant on a small coffee plantation gave us a taste of exotic possibilities here.

The following morning in Mamane-Naio forest (an endemic dry-country forest) on Mauna Kea's dry northwestern slope produced wonderful close-up looks at the abundant endemic, Common Amakihi. Our quest for Palila, an endangered finch-like Hawaiian honeycreeper limited in range to this Big Island stunted forest, proved frustrating for the first hour or so. A singing male, found by Brennan, reversed our fortunes dramatically! Feeding contentedly in a Mamane, eating flowers and stripping seeds from its green pods, the Palila gave the group multiple lingering scope views.

Volcano House Hotel, perched on the edge of Kilauea's caldera in Volcanoes National Park, is set amidst an Ohia forest alive with Apapane and the more secretive Omao (Hawaiian Thrush). It proved a picturesque and comfortable base of operation for our trip's last days.

An access permit to Hakalau National Wildlife Refuge allowed our birding visit to this glorious old-growth Ohia and Koa forest on Mauna Kea's wetter southeast side at about the 6,000 foot level. Good weather before the fog arrived gave us a fine morning of birding. The superb Iiwi, a large florescent honeycreeper, provided the voice of the forest—and they were everywhere! Omao gave us fine scope looks, but the tangerine-colored Akepa was possibly the day's star. We saw more than a half-dozen of these rare birds multiple times—and enjoyed each one. The endangered Hawaiian Creeper proved more difficult, but did finally give most of the group a look as it flaked bark from a branch and devoured a grub. Our retreat in the face of fog took us through highland grassland containing many introduced game birds, most of which gave us close-up looks.

We were fortunate that good weather followed us throughout the trip. The occasional sprinkle did not deter our birding or slow our progress through some of the most beautiful scenery the islands offer. We found fourteen species endemic to the islands, eight of them honeycreepers—a good "hit-rate"—and also enjoyed the vagrant White-tailed Eagle along with some migrant ducks and geese rare in the islands. Add Laysan Albatrosses tending young, Wedge-tailed Shearwaters in their burrows, and fly-by Christmas Shearwaters at scope range our last night—with active orange seams of molten lava on the hill above—and it's clear that our Kauai-Big Island tour excelled in producing variety and wonderful birding memories.

KAUAI & HAWAII

March 23-31, 2008

With Bob Sundstrom and TBA

$3290 from Lihue (ends in Hilo)

Limit 12

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BIRDS & BUTTERFLIES

With Michael O'Brien and Louise Zemaitis

Michael and Louise have designed a special program of tours in 2008 for nature lovers who want to combine their passion for birds with their fascination for the smaller, and just as intriguing, winged creatures of the order Lepidoptera.

Erato Heliconian

Erato Heliconian — Photo: Michael O'Brien

Their goal is to show you the specialty birds and butterflies of each region, while learning to appreciate all aspects of the natural world.

SOUTH FLORIDA

January 11-19

$2595 from Fort Lauderdale

BELIZE

March 16-24

$3565 from Belize City

BELIZE: JAGUAR REEF EXTENSION

March 24-29

$2445 from Belize City

SOUTHWEST COLORADO

July 16-26

$2895 from Denver

SOUTHEAST ARIZONA

August 2-10

SOUTH TEXAS

November (dates TBA)

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