Wednesday, January 8, 2020

New Year’s Memories – Birding Around the World

A Gray Crowned Crane is representative of the exciting birds that draw birders to African destinations.
An aerial photo of the Darien rainforest showing flowering trees that truly represent the tip of the iceberg considering the diversity and numbers of birds that one flowering tree can attract in this verdant wilderness.
Visiting a nesting colony of Adelie Penguins on the shore of Antarctica is one of the ultimate birding experiences.

While looking for inspiration for the new year, even the new decade, we often take time to reflect on past experiences. As I considered birding opportunities for the new year, I enjoyed recalling many of my favorite experiences over the years, so while my weekly Editor Afield article often describes relatively local birding observations, I thought I would review some of my favorite birding expeditions that give me a world view to augment my local and national birding experiences.

Among the great wetlands of southern Africa, I reveled at the opportunity to study Wattled Cranes and Gray Crowned Cranes amid an amazing assemblage of storks, ibises, herons, egrets, kingfishers, weavers, ducks, geese, plovers, eagles, vultures, and passerine birds – not to mention the elephants, giraffes, hippos, crocs, lions, buffalo, rhinos, zebra, and a broad variety of magnificent antelope. All this in such remote locations as the Okavango Delta in northern Botswana, and Zambia’s infamous wetlands including the Kafue Flats, Luangwa Valley, Bangweulu Swamp, and Liuwa Plain.

In northern India, peacocks and Red Junglefowl vocalized across the montane forests on the slopes of the Himalayas. As we dared to walk amid the tracks of Asian elephants and tigers we were rewarded with memorable looks at Plum-headed Parrots and Golden Orioles among a list of exceptional Indian birds. In the lowland marshes of central India we observed Sarus Cranes, the tallest flying birds in the world, along with the likes of Painted Storks, Bar-headed Geese, Cotton Pygmy Geese, White-breasted Kingfishers, Green Bee-eaters, and Spotted Owlets among chital deer, blackbuck antelope, nilgai, and langur monkeys.

In the Antarctic realm, while sitting near an incubating white morph Southern Giant Petrel I watched and listened to the activities of a nesting colony of Adelie Penguins, I truly felt at one with the birds of the southern continent’s realm. An island-hopping cruise of the Antarctic realm included similar observations of penguins, including Gentoo, Chinstrap, Macaroni, and King Penguins and encounters with leopard seals, orcas, fin whales, Wandering Albatrosses, Cape Petrels, and other denizens of the south, never to be forgotten.

Thoughts of eastern Australia bring memories of photographing parrots – King Parrots, Crimson Rosellas, Rainbow Lorikeets, Red-tailed Black Cockatoos, Galahs, Little Corellas, and more. Plus Black Swans, Magpie Geese, Brolga Cranes, Australian Bustards, Wedge-tailed Eagles, Brown Falcons, Superb Lyrebirds, Sacred Kingfishers, and the largest of all the world’s kingfishers – the Laughing Kookaburra – all amid kangaroos, wallabies, fruit bats, saltwater crocs, and more exciting birds. Australia is hard to beat, but ...

Of all the places I have visited in the world, the remote Darien wilderness, located in Panama along the Colombian border, was one of the most remote and impressive areas of unbroken rainforest I have explored – filled with some of the most remarkable avifauna encountered during my travels across the seven continents. As I flew in on a six-passenger aircraft, I noticed the green jungle canopy was only broken by isolated flowering trees colored yellow, orange, or red. On the ground, in the midst of the lodge area, an especially beautiful giant flowering tree covered with pink blossoms attracted a remarkable diversity of birds that visited the tree to feed on nectar, fruit, insects, and the flowers themselves. A parade of colorful tropical tanagers and hummingbirds foraged in the flower-laden branches along with Blue-and-Yellow Macaws, Yellow-throated Toucans, woodcreepers, woodpeckers, warblers, and more. Even a Laughing Falcon perched nearby to hunt for snakes that it might see on the ground below, and views of a few Swallow Tanagers made them instant favorites among this regal assemblage of New World birds.

The Darien is an extremely bird-rich area, and 60 of the 1,000 bird species listed on Panama’s checklist can only be found there. As I watched the most colorful of the world’s vultures, King Vultures, soaring gracefully overhead, I knew that at any given moment, one of the great neotropical eagles might glide into view above the tree canopy – maybe a Crested Eagle, an Ornate Hawk Eagle, or the massive jaguar of the bird world – a Harpy Eagle.

I was excited to have the opportunity to pitch my backpacking tent under a beautiful moss- and orchid-cloaked tree. Hiking in this remarkable tropical jungle was more than exciting, for any moment could yield an unforgettable encounter with a bird I had never seen before! Indeed, within the recesses of the dense jungle we enjoyed views of such memorable birds as Crimson-crested Woodpeckers, Bat Falcons, Blue-crowned Manakins, Dot-winged Antwrens, and a Streak-headed Woodcreeper.

The Darien wilderness is a world-class treasure protected as a national park on paper and by its rugged landscape on the ground. Camping in a light tent and birding amid the wildlife of the Darien wilderness between the two Americas ranks among the most especial experiences I have enjoyed over the years!

Of course, I’m leaving out some other favorite spectacular birding locations, including southeastern Peru, the deep rainforest of Taman Negara in central Malaysia, the Pantanal in southern Brazil, the Nile River in Egypt, the Caribbean Isles of Trinidad and Jamaica, the Yukon River Delta in western Alaska, and many more.

These are the kinds of remarkable birding expeditions I have enjoyed during years past, and at this time I’m beginning to ponder my next decade of birding adventures. Where next? The tiger forests of central India, the center of the Amazon basin; the winter realm of Hokkaido – the north island of Japan; the highlands of New Guinea; the Tamir Peninsula in Siberian Russia; the tundra-wetland complex in far northern Alaska surrounding Utqiagvik (Barrow); and the West African rainforest of Cameroon are all possibilities. Hey, we can all dream and compile a wish list right? Or did I miss my opportunity to send mine to Santa already? Don’t hesitate to do a little recounting of your own favorite birding trips – close to home and far beyond your backyard – and make your own wish list of birding destinations!

And you don’t need to travel or plan on your own; there are many birding tour companies that offer a variety of birding trips to different regions of the United States, Canada, and around the world. You can certainly do some research into tour companies via Google by checking out the impressive services of some of the most respected birding tour companies, including Wings, Field Guides, Sabrewing Nature Tours, Victor Emanuel Nature Tours, and more. However you choose to enjoy birding adventures, do a little new year’s daydreaming and enjoy the process of answering the question: “Where in the world would you like to go birding?”

Article and photographs by Paul Konrad

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