When I was a child I was already fascinated by nature. I was a teenager begun my passion for birds and later for reptilians, mammals and butterflies. Is for many years I'm an active member in different bird reseach and monitoring activities. I had not enough and that's why I decided to become a bird guide.
Des de ben petit que he sentit fascinació per la natura. Als setze anys va començar la meva passió pels ocells, que s'ha anat ampliant progressivament a rèptils i amfibis, mamífers i papallones. Des de fa anys que participo en múltiples activitats relacionades amb la recerca i l'estudi de les aus. Fa temps que vull descobrir per altre gent la natura de casa nostra i és per això que vaig esdevenir guia ornitològic.
All images by tour leader Carles Oliver. All rights reserved
Overview: Our 9th Pyrenees Winter Break tour started in the Pyrenees right after a strong snow fall. During the tour the weather was sunny and not especially cold in the mountains. In the plains, we had a morning with some fog, but it didn’t stop us to find all main specialties living there.
Day 1: Once all tour participants were collected from the their accommodations around the International Barcelona Airport, a short drive lead us to the Pyrenees. Only 90 minutes away from the city and we were already in a wonderful location, a mountain range hosting all high mountain birds specialties living in the Pyrenees.
It was sunny, but the day before it had been snowing so a pair of high mountain lanes were closed during the morning. Our fist stop was dedicated to explore the meadows around Bagà, where the very first birds of the day and the trip was a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker that was hunging around the parking place. Here we had some common birds in the area including Cirl Bunting, Black Redstart, Eurasian Blue Tit and Eurasian Nuthatch. Here, the terraced landscape is fulfilled with lines of Poplars and a fast scan produced the first Iberian Green Woodpecker of the tour while was moving high in the trees. Several Common Chaffinches were around, and they all moved down to the ground to feed, followed by the Iberian Green Woodpecker.
Other birds in this first stop included European Stonechat, Meadow Pipit, Common Magpie and Eurasian Greenfinch.
After this good start we drove some miles up in a lane. Our goal was to arrive to the limit of the forest (About 1800 metres above the sea level), but we were stopped by a small flock of birds. Here we had the first Mistle Thrushes of the trip along with several Common Crossbills, Coal Tits, and Goldcrests. Still, our guests especially enjoyed the views on both Rock Buntings and European Crested Tits.
Once above the tree limit, we did another non planned stop. A gorgeous Lammergeier (aka Bearded Vulture) was sitting in the top of a rocky outcrop just beside the road, providing the group with incredible views! Common Crossbills were also around, adding with their calls a plus on the mountainous ambients of the sight. After ten minutes of observation, the Lammergeier decided to fly away, passing over the group and providing us with unforgettable memories of that moment.
From here we drove higher. Beyond the tree limit there were mixed flocks of Fieldfares and Mistle Thrushes feeding on the snowed slopes. The weather was stable, with only a brise and some scenic clouds, and many birds were taking advantage of the good weather to feed around. Here we saw more Rock Buntings and a flock of 11 Bramblings flew off from one of the last trees up the lane.
When we arrived to the mountain pass, we found chunky three birds feeding by the tarmac. 3 wonderful Snowfinches were right beside us, but unfortunately decided to flew off and down the slope. From here we decided to go for a short walk. Common Ravens were seen around, and a Peregrine Falcon appeared in a fast, low flight going down the slope in a mission. Up to 10 Eurasian Griffons were also seen exploring the thermals before a large flock of 60+ Snowfinches suddenly appeared in a small hillside some 150 metres away from us, and started feeding on the ground. We all enjoyed very much the finch spectacle with several calls, short flights and even fights. We waited a bit, not moving, and we were rewarded with the birds coming down the hillside just beside the tarmac. After 10 minutes of observation, the birds simply decided to go up the slope again, and disappeared beyond some large boulders!
Really happy after such a great sight, the group came back to the van, decided to explore that lane a bit more. Only a few miles away, a stop was made. Our short walk was again successful, as we found a lovely, obliging Alpine Accentor feeding really close to the road and, with some patience, we got some great shots on it. The views on the Accentor were perturbed by a large flock of 73 Alpine Choughs that suddenly appeared in the valley, offering good but rather distant views while a Lammergeier appeared again, crossing the valley in some seconds.
Really happy after this really successful start we went all the way down and did our way for the last stop of the day in a scrub hillside not far from our accommodation. It was already early afternoon, offering a calid light for the sightings to come. Our short walk up the hill produced some interesting sights including a large flock of Cirl Buntings feeding on the ground along with 2 Woodlarks, 4 Rock Buntings, 2 Redwings, 14 Rock Sparrows and the firsts Iberian Grey Shrike of the trip. In the skies, several Red Kites were moving around and we counted 3 Griffons Vultures and 1 adult Lammergeier. Here we also had the only Citril Finch of the trip, unfortunately a flying bird that provided poor views.
After this stop we just drove the short distance to our accommodation.
Day 2. After enjoying a lovely breakfast we left our accommodation. The first stop of the day was devoted to explore a lovely corner of the Segre River that crosses the beautiful Cerdanya valley. Here we enjoyed White-throated Dippers, Cirl Buntings, many Redwings and 2 Bramblings among several Chaffinches. Here we also had an Eurasian Woodcock that flew off from a nearby meadow, an uncommon bird to have here in day light!
From here we went up in the forested slopes, to spend some time in a boreal forest. As usual, the area was quite full of activity and it didn’t take us long to enjoy good views on Short-toed Treecreeper, Goldcrest, European Crested Tit, Firecrest and Coal Tit but also Common Crossbill, Goldfinch and Greenfinches. But the most celebrated sight here was a Black Woodpecker moving really low in a pine tree that offered us lovely scope views.
Happy after this lovely views we drove up to Andorra. During the hour long drive, a pair of stops were necessary to enjoy both Lammergeier and Golden Eagle. Once in Pas de la Casa we had a stop for a coffee while enjoying the urban Alpine Choughs that live around the sky resort. By the time of our arrival it was snowing a bit, providing the sight with a wonderful alpine setting!
From here we drove back to Catalonia to have a final stop in the large fields that are the core of the Cerdanya Valley. There we enjoyed large flocks of Eurasian Skylarks, several flocks of Cirl & Rock Buntings, Meadow Pipits, Linnets and Corn Buntings but also the only 2 Hen Harriers of the tour, including a lovely male.
Day 3. Transfer to a different section of the Pyrenees. We drove West for about 90 minutes before to arrive into a small gorge in a secondary road. This was our first attempt to find a Wallcreeper, and we didn’t have to wait long! We waited for the bird in a small, old bridge, and only a few minutes after we got out of the vehicle, a wonderful Wallcreeper right in front us, providing excellent views for some minutes. The bird, always in search of insects that look for shelter in the rocky crevices, started to climb up the wall and we could follow its itinerary for several minutes. It kept doing short flights, and flickering its wings to show out its wonderful red panels (a way to keep other Wallcreepers away from that cliff).
Here we also had other interesting birds living in the cliffs including Blue Rock Thrush and Crag Martin. The Wallcreeper, after showing out for about 15 minutes, finally disappeared behind a rock, and this was the time for us to move to our next stop.
Leaving the hills behind, we drove to one of the few corners around Lleida where traditional wheat farming is still dominant. These areas host an abundant birdlife, and the number and variety of birds of prey is quite stunning. It didn’t take long before we had several views on Western Marsh Harriers, Red Kites and also Common Buzzards, some Griffons, Eurasian Sparrowhawk and even 2 Goshawks. All of this before the real goal of this stop appeared in one of its preferred trees: the long-staying Long-legged Buzzard! This bird of prey, nesting from Bulgaria to the East until the Arabian Peninsula, is a huge rarity in Catalonia and always worth a visit! This time we had excellent scope views, and also the chance to compare the size of this large Buzzard with a much smaller Western Marsh Harrier that was perched in a tree next to the Buteo hawk.
A small flock of Little Bustards had been some weeks feeding in a field nearby, and we covered the short distance to enjoy lovely scope views of 7 of this endangered bird, another victim of the farming intensification in Europe.
From this place we drove East to explore some of the dry canyons immediately South of Lleida. A pair of stops here allowed us to enjoy not only Stock Doves, Red-billed Choughs and Little Owl, but also on the scarce Black Wheatear. Here, between the abandoned terraces and the small cliffs of these canyons we were lucky enough to find a female Eurasian Eagle Owl hatching on its nest! A wonderful sight to end the third day of the tour!
Day 4. Early start to explore the massive steppe lands South & West of Lleida. On the contrary of the previous day, the morning was foggy around the city so we decided to go up to the highlands West of Lleida to try to scape the fog. And we did it, partially.
As soon as arriving to the steppes we enjoyed large flocks of Corn Buntings but also Calandra & Mediterranean Short-toed Larks. They were feeding on the ground along with Common Linnets, Meadow Pipits and Goldfinches. It was sunny, but the fog was not far away and it was moving our way, so we didn’t have a lot of time!
We were lucky and 4 Black-bellied Sandgrouses flew off from a nearby field, allowing great flight views and nice photo opportunities. We scanned in different fields looking for Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, but we were unsuccessful. Finally, we decided to move to lower area to keep scanning. A pair of stops were necessary to enjoy Iberian Grey Shrikes and Thekla’s Larks and by we arrived to the new location the fog started catching us up. It was a pity because at soon as we arrived a flock of 14 Black-bellied Sandgrouse flew off from the field, but 8 more remained. A fast scan in the place allowed us to find 12 Pin-tailed Sandgrouses, some of them really close to us and the fog allowed great scope views despite it ruined the photo chances of the moment.
Decided to escape the fog, we drove East to check another place in Los Monegros. There, around Bujaraloz, we went in the search of the small population of Great Bustards that subsists in the area. Here it was sunny and it only took us 5 minutes to find a lovely flock of 17 males walking around in a wonderful field full of flowers. After enjoying this great birds we took our time to check a pair of corners around, where we found more Pin-tailed Sandgrouses but also Merlin and 1 Golden Eagle.
It was already lunch time so we covered the short distance to a small lagoon. From its view point we had a good selection of waterfowl that included Little & Great Crested Grebes, Gadwall, Eurasian Teals, Common Pochards, Shovelers, 5 Red-crested Pochards and 1 male Pintails. The reedbeds around were having some Great White Egrets and Grey Herons and a short walk by reed produced Penduline Tits, ruff views on an elusive Cetti’s Warblers, several Reed Buntings and a shy Bluethroat that not allowed any photo. The fields around were having large flocks of Chaffinches and we were happy to pick up a Brambling from there as well!
From here we had a final stop in a different wetland very close to Lleida, where the fog was still persistent. Here we had short walk along the reeds. It was little movement, but finally our perseverance was rewarded with good views on 2 Bearded Tits that appeared really close in the reeds. They were really celebrated by the tour participants, and the afternoon ended with 2 Common Kingfishers chasing each other in the fog!
Day 5. Last morning of the trip before heading back to Barcelona Airport. This morning was devoted to explore the wonderful habitat of low, sparse scrubland where the poor understood Dupont’s Lark lives. This species is to be found in poor soils with a rich gradient of salt on it, resulting a landscape of low, scattered scrubs. The songs of both Calandra & Mediterranean Short-toed Larks were constant in the air. The morning was sunny, and the temperature was higher than the day before. We spend some time exploring the area by combining short walks and slow drives, and after less than hour we were enjoying a Dupont’s Lark while feeding on the ground. It was interesting to see the bird excavating the soil with powerful movements of its whole body, pushing its long bill into the soft soil to get a small prey before starting its short, fast runs between the tussocks of grass.
This was quite a phenomenal way of ending our tour. After this we just drove back to Barcelona, where we had a final stop around the airport to enjoy Iberian Green Woodpeckers, Eurasian Hoopoes, Zitting Cisticola and a rather unexpected light form Booted Eagle!
All images in this trip report by tour leader Carles Oliver except by the especifically signed under a different name. All rights reserved.
Overview: 7th tour exploring Oman, a country that seems to hold countless surprises for any birdwatcher. In the crossroad between the Horn of Africa, the Western Palearctic and the Indian subcontinent, Oman shows a wonderful variety of winter and passage birds.
Some birds living in the coastal Dhofar hills, isolated by the sea but also by the massive sand desert that goes on for over 1000 miles well inside Saudi Arabia, have walked down an interesting speciation process, producing a number of endemics. At the same time, this area keeps being colonised by a number of African species, arriving from Yemen via the Aden Strait.
The weather during the tour was sunny and pleasant, always between 20ºC to 25ºC, out of a pair of days of stronger heat in the North of the country. In the South, we had a pair of windy days, but the wind didn’t destroy any of our birding options, and we kept enjoying an excellent birding in the Dhofar. On birds, it is interesting to note that this winter was poor in Harriers. Normally, one can expect double figures of Montagu’s or even Pallids during the tour, but this time we only got one of each! Numbers of Steppe Eagles were also low, and looks like the main overwintering spot for the bird has been definately re-establised inside Saudi Arabia.
In the same way, both numbers of Ducks and Shrikes were low, especially in the wetlands in the Dhofar, where Ducks can be very common depending on the year. Still, it was a good variety of ducks, and we got good views on both Turkestan & Isabelline Shrikes.
It is also worrying how rare the Arabian Grosbeak is getting during the last years. By the other hand, happy to see more Sandgrouses than ever before in the trip, with hundreds & hundreds of Chestnut-bellieds’s, and really good numbers of both Spotted & Crowned.
Day 1. After an afternoon flight we landed in Muscat International Airport. Once the whole group was assembled there, we moved to our accommodation placed only a few miles away from the airport.
The next morning we had a lovely breakfast and the group enjoyed the very first Common Mynas, Pale Crag Martins and House Crows of the trip. It was a sunny and rather warm morning in Muscat. Our first stop was devoted to explore Al Ansab lagoons. This small wetland has been closed due to maintenance works. Unfortunately one of the works have consisted in a new pavilion next to the main view point over the best lagoon for waders and ducks. Hopefully this will not affect the variety of birds that the area is normally holding.
In Al Ansab we got the very first views on some common birds in the north of the country including Grey Francolin, Indian Silverbill, Red-wattled Lapwing, Delicate Prinia, White-cheeked Bulbul and Purple Sunbird. Beside this, the lagoon offered a good array of waterfowl and waders including Black-winged Stilts, Greater Flamingo, Eurasian Teal, Common Snipe, Kentish Plover, Pintail, Whiskered Tern, Eurasian Moorhen, Crested Lark, Common Ringed Plover and the first of some Marsh Sandpipers. The grass around had 3 Citrine Wagtails, 1 White Wagtail, Desert Wheatear and 1 Western Yellow Wagtail.
From Al Ansab we went to Muscat River, where we were delighted by hundreds of waders. Dunlin, Little Stint and Greenshank were propably the commonest species but we also got good views on several Lesser Sand Plovers, Temminck’s Stints, Western Reef Egrets, 4 Black-tailed Godwits and 2 Marsh Sandpipers. The area was also nice for terns and in two different mixed flocks we counted 4 Common Terns + 2 Whiskered & 1 White-winged Black Tern. In the way to the beach we were surprised by tens of Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouses in the way to their drinking ponds.
Once in the beach, we noted 2 Greater Crested Terns along with several Slender-billed Gulls, Sandwich Terns and the beautiful Lesser Crested Terns. Here we also had the chance to see together Greater Sand & Lesser Sand Plovers, and it was useful to see how different the birds are in attitude, size and coloration. The small sand bar at the end of the river was also having several Heuglin’s & Steppe Gulls (both now considered Lesser Black-back Gull races) and the always gorgeous Sooty Gull.
From here we drove some miles away to look for the tiny population of Black-winged Kites living in Oman. It didn’t take long before we found two adults, probably the same birds that we found nesting in the area back in November 2022. We really enjoyed this wonderful bird, and the stop was also granted with the firsts Arabian Bee-eaters of the trip, and the first Indian Roller! Back to the coast, we scanned some flocks of gulls in search of Palla’s Gull, and again didn’t take long before we found 7 of them, with some individuals showing a wonderful black head. What a beast! A further scanning of the flock revealed not only some Black-headed Gulls but also 2 Caspian Gulls. Beyond, the beach was also having Eurasian Whimbrel and Oystercatcher.
After a nice lunch we explored some parks around Muscat. Unfortunately Al Qurm was closed, and the only accessible point was the coastal promenade so we turned around and went to Al Wustah, where we got good views on 2 Alexandrine Parakeets, Red-vented Bulbuls, White-spectacled Bulbuls and a flyover Bonelli’s Eagle. Late in the afternoon we went back to the Al Qurm promenade, where we enjoyed with the many Pallid Swifts passing by, and good (but distant) views on Pacific Golden Plover, Eurasian Curlew and Bar-tailed Godwit to end the day.
Day 2. Driving South from Muscat, we went to explore the very impressive mountain landscape of the Al Harar Mounts. These peaks, reaching 3000+ meters above the sea level, extend for over 700 kilometres in Northern Oman and neighbouring Emirates. We spent the morning in a small valley immediately below the mountains.
Here we chose to explore a small plain that leads into a gorge. We did a number of stops along the tracks of the plain. Persian Wheatear was the very first specialty to be noted. Up in a wire, we had good views on the first of many Levant Grey Shrike, now considered to be inside the Great Grey Shrike complex. A bit beyond, 2 Desert Larks were seen so we decided to go for a small walk, and we were glad to see that the Desert Larks were actually moving along with 2 Striolated Buntings. Suprisingly, these were the only Striolateds of the tour!
Further inside the plain, we had a stop in the dry river bed (called wadi in Arabic). Here we saw some Lesser Whitethroats, Black Redstart and several White-cheeked Bulbuls. An Eastern Orphean Warbler showed briefly while a pair of Indian Rollers were moving in the rocks nearby. When coming back to the vehicle we got the first Plain Leaf Warbler of the tour, and a wonderful Hume’s Wheatear was perched nearby, providing good photo opportunities.
There were certainly some good birds in the area so we decided to go further on in the valley, but the upper walk didn’t produce anything beyong Purple Sunbirds, Plain Leaf Warblers and Lesser Whitethroats. Back the vehicle, we were granted with a Lappet-faced Vulture appearing up in the sky! Always a wonderful bird to have!!
After lunch we drove into a massive gorge. This breathtaking corner of the world is one of the very few sites where Omani Owl is known to exist! It was early in the afternoon, and in our way in we had more Hume’s Wheatears and Indian Rollers. We also explored a small corner with oasis-like vegetation, and we got some Siberian Chiffchaffs calling and performing well and the first Grey Wagtail of the trip. In the distance, two Egyptian Vultures were noted in the top of the cliffs. We did wait until dusk, expecting to get something from one of the most unknown Owls in the planet, and our efforts were well granted. First with really distant houls, but even before dusk we got 1 Omani Owl calling up in the cliffs while flying and, later in the evening, a male was heard singing at least twice not really far away.
Of course, we did look for this closer bird for some time, but we absolutely failed to get anything else from such an enygmatic bird. After this we drove down the gorge and covered the short distance to our accommodation, where we had the chance to taste the local cuisine.
Day 3. Early morning start to transfer South to Salalah. Despite the big distance, we did once again very well. After breakfast, we drove South some miles and, taking advantage of the wonderful morning light, we had some birding. We didn’t have to walk far from our vehicle to get a Ménétrie’s Warbler feeding on the lush vegetation. We followed the bird tree to tree and got good views, but we were distracted by an Asian Desert Warbler that popped up from a bush only a pair of metres away from us. Indian Rollers were flying around, as there were the first Brown-necked Ravens of the trip. We kept walking the area and only 5 minutes later we found some Arabian Babblers calling in the distance. We had to move fast to catch them up but finally got good views on this specialist of desert scrublands and oasis-like places. When following the Babblers a wonderful party of Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouses flew off from the bare soil, leaving the group wanting more from them! When scouting the area in search of the Babblers we got 2 juvenile Tawny Pipits.
After such a great stop we had some driving, and our next real birding stop didn’t come until the afternoon. Our typical picnic place was this time empty of birds, and only 1 Isabelline Shrike & 1 Western Marsh Harrier were noted. But in the afternoon we had plenty of time to explore the famous desert farms in the way to Salalah. Here we had soon several Isabelline & Desert Wheatears along with a Northern Wheatear. We drove around looking for anything moving, and we were granted with a lovely male Pallid Harrier that the tour participant Otger was fast to catch up when flying low. We enjoyed this beuatiful bird of prey when he was really busy, flying into the green fields, where it was hunting boles, and moving later to the bare ground around to feed on them. The Pallid Harrier repeated the operation three times, and our group was delighted to see this uncommon behaviour once and over.
A further drive in the area brought us to an open fleld beyond the farms. This is a place that normally concentrates a large number of Sandgrouses, and this time was not different. Soon, we had tens of Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouses moving around, and we got good scope views on them and also in Spotted Sandgrouses, far more scarce here. A Marsh Harrier was patrolling the area, moving flocks of tens of Sandgrouses once and over as he was patrolling the area. Back to the farm, a large flock of Namaqua Doves provided good looks, with some obliging individuals. In the distance, a large flock of 80+ White Storks were circling up in the sky. We decided a do some walk in the area, and we were lucky to find 2 Pied Wheatears (one adult male, and one putative 1st winter female) feeding around along with a male Siberian Stonechat and the only one Greater Short-toed Lark of the trip!
From here we drove to our accommodation in Salalah, even if we had to go into a lay-by due to a Short-toed Snake Eagle that was standing by the road.
Day 4. Early morning start to explore the gorgeous South of Oman. Our first morning stop was devoted to go to Ayn Hamran, a plentiful birding location and one of the corner of wonders in the country. Here went fast through a number of common species in the South. African Silverbills, Rüppell’s Weavers, Cinnamon-breasted Buntings, Abyssinian White-eyes, Arabian Sunbirds, African Paradise Flycatchers and Tristam’s Starlings were fastly seen. A female Eurasian Sparrowhawk was quite a surprise, considering that they are really scarce so far South. A 1st year Imperial Eagle just passed over us but it did it in a wrong moment since we were tracking a secretive Arabian Warbler moving inside the canopy. We had excellent views on it, and while searching for this bird we just found the first Eastern Olivaceous Warbler of the morning. We then moved around the stream, and we were lucky to be fast in finding a gorgeous & obliging Arabian Grosbeak! This is one of the most scarce and difficult to find specialties in the area. The bird showed up for at least 15 minutes and we could register its song, take videos and really enjoy this wonderful bird. A second bird was noted to be calling around, but we never found it.
Close by, a Black-crowned Tchagra was feeding on the ground, and the group again had excellent views in the rather small and delicate Arabian race of this common species in Africa.
The morning was already wonderful, and it was only 9:00! We kept walking around. Delicate Prinias were also showy, but they could not compete with the Grosbeak! A Turkestan Shrike was seen at close range but in a difficult angle, and Clamorous Reed Warblers were heart, but never seen. A Red-breasted Flycatcher were heard around, and after some scanning we found the bird catching flies low in the fig trees. For our surprise, a second individual was also calling in the area.
From here we walked to the large fig trees. This is a place attacting several birds. There were plenty of Bulbuls, White-eyes, a 2nd Eastern Olivaceous Warbler and, after several scanning and some walk, we got to have close views on a beautiful male Bruce’s Green Pigeon. The blue of its eyes is something that many birdwatchers dream to see once in their lives! 3 more Bruce’s flew out the same tree while several African Paradise Flycatchers were hunting around.
After such a great start we came back to the coast, not without a stop in the desert-like plain to see the firsts Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark of the trip, and a lovely flock of 6 Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouses that the tour participant Magda saw when we were only a few feet away! In the coast was windy, but not that much. While enjoying our picnic in East Khawar, we had a view on the wildfowl around. Here we had the firsts Squacco & Indian Pond Herons of the trip, and some Citrine Wagtails were walking in the patches of tall grass around. 3 Eurasian Spoonbills were roosting in an island. Waders in the area included Black-tailed Godwit, Little Stint & Wood Sandpiper but also Marsh Sandpiper, Ruff and Temminck’s Stint. 1 Greater Spotted Eagle came to provide close views while taking an eye on the several Gulls and Terns roosting around. Here we had 4 Gull-billed Terns, Caspian Tern, Common Tern and 1 White-winged Black Tern. The gulls were all Steppe, Sooty, Heuglin’s and Slender-billeds, with only 4 Black-headed Gulls in the large flocks. In the water there were small parties of Garganeys and a single 1st winter Purple Heron was also seen moving in a close patch of vegetation.
The afternoon was still young so we drove South of Salalah to check a major wetland. In the way, Booted & Greater Spotted Eagles were noted. Once South of the city, it didn’t take long before we got the first Terek’s Sandpipers feeding in the mudflats along with Lesser Sand Plovers, Dunlins, Common Redshanks, Ruddy Turnstones and a couple of Bar-tailed Godwits. Out in the sea, Moises located the first Brown Bobby fishing close to the coast, followed by 3 more and 1 Masked Boobby. Socotra Cormorants were also present, fishing in small parties or alone, and allowed lovely scope views. Back in the shoreline, we found the African Openbill that has been in the area since the last fall. It spent a lot of time feeding in shallow water, surrounded by several Western Reef Egrets and Grey Herons. On the beach, 13 Ospreys and 2 Greater Spotted Eagles were counted sitting on rocks or directly on the bare sand. There were also some terns, including some Lesser & Greater Crested Terns.
Far South, we still had another stop in a wetland, this time a bit twitch the Lesser White-fronted Goose that had been there during the last weeks. Twitch is not something you can do really often in Oman, and it is always welcome! It didn’t take long to locate it feeding in the grassy patches at the river mouth along with some Pintails and Grey Plovers. Here we also got 8 Red-knobbed Coots, several Garganeys, a distant Indian Pond Heron, and close views on Pacific Golden Plover. A further exploration of the place produced 2 lovely Pheasant-tailed Jacanas, one of them showing a little bit of its majestic nesting plomage. A bit of sea watching nearby produced little of interest out of 10+ Brown Boobies and a small party of Socotra Cormorants feeding around.
While vesperting we drove some kilometers in a nearby wady. Even if the access was difficult, it was worth it when a Desert Owl started calling in the area despite the wind! It took us some time and some walk around, but we finally got breathtaking views on this amazing and poorly known owl!
Day 5. After the amazing day before, we could not expect much more, but the day proved us wrong! An early morning stop in a reedbed produced little out of a Crested Honey Buzzard that Moises saw in our way back to the vehicles and that turned out to be the only one of the trip!
From the coast we decided to climb up to the Dhofar highlands, probably the most remarkable place for birds of prey in Oman. The area was filled up with Imperial Eagles, and we counted at least 12 of them! 1 Short-toed Snake Eagle was also seen before stopping forced by a running flock of the endemic Arabian Partridges in one side of the van. Arrived to the top of the mountain, we could enjoy the gorgeous cliffs that are facing the Arabian Sea. Here we enjoyed several Fan-tailed Ravens but also Pale Crag Martins, Common Kestrels, and a lovely pair of Arabian Wheatears. Verreaux’s Eagles proved harder, as it could not be in another way, and required some scanning from different places but finally we got a nice adult soaring around that, even if distant, were one of the highlights of the day!
Some Rock Hyrax were feeding around, or hiding in the shades from the very powerful eagle that is always looking for them! The Hyraxes led us to two lovely Red-legged Buzzards that were patrolling the area. When leaving, a Long-billed Pipit was also seen moving in the rocky slopes. When moving in the Dhofar one should always have an eye in the sky, and once again proved correct, since we got both Lappet-faced Vulture & Eurasian Griffon moving around, both being scarce species in Southern Oman.
From here we drove to a proper place for picnic, and after enjoying our packed lunches we moved in search of some specialties. Both Palestine & Arabian Sunbirds were seen, although not at close range. Cinnamon-breasted Buntings were virtually everywhere along with African Silverbills, and we were lucky to picked up some Yemen Serins feeding on the ground along with them! At the beggining we saw only 3 but a further scanning produced at least 10, some of them providing really close looks. Here we also got 4 Tree Pipits. But the most surprinsing was to see a large flock of nearly 50 Bruce’s Green Pigeon leaving a tiny tree next to our group. We had been in this area, enjoying the Yemen Serins, for almost 15 minutes and nobody notice any single of the 50 Bruce’s…
Back to the vehicles we drove down to the coast, with a nice stop to enjoy the small population of Baobabs that subsists in the Dhofar. Here we got Arabian Warbler, Common Chiffchaff and a lovely African Paradise Flycatcher in shining nesting plumage and showing out its 2 long tail feathers. What a cracker!
Once in the coast, we take a look into a pair of small corners but we got little, and probably the most interesting sights in both places was a “fulvescens” form of Greater Spotted Eagle, and a juvenile Bonelli’s being moved by an Osprey; definately not a common combination to see in the sky!
After a coffee stop, we did drove back to the hills to explore a wonderful corner: A stream that runs down the mountains and that is covered with lotus and floating vegetation, small reedbeds and mangrove-like bushes. What a great place! Here we did a walk along the stream, and soon we got the first Bluethroat of the trip; a female. Grey Herons, Wood Sandpipers and Little Egrets were around in good numbers, and a low scanning produced great views into 2 White-breasted Waterhens. This bird, often really elusive, was another of the highlights that day. Two Snipes flew off, and one of them really sounded like a Pin-tailed Snipe but unfortunately we could not relocate the bird, neither hear it again… Here we also got 4 Black-crowned Night Herons, Indian Pond & Squacco Herons, 3 Citrine Wagtails at close range in lovely afternoon light, a showy male Bluethroat and a calling Diederick Cuckoo that called 3 times from a large tree but never showed out.
Day 6. Early morning start. This was the morning of our offshore. But before arriving to the harbour we had a stop in a small river mouth. Here, in previous tours we have counted tens of Rose-coloured Starlings living the reedbeds where do they roost, but this time we only got one along with several Common Mynas, some Western Marsh Harriers, Rüppell’s Weavers, 2 Yellow Wagtails and 1 adult Purple Heron. Once in the boat, we sailed out and fastly discovered that it was a quiet day, with very little movement in the sea. Despite this, we got excellent views on a number of Persian Shearwaters passing by the boat, some at close range. Small flocks of Red-necked Phalaropes were flying around, as there were some Masked Bookies, including some great views inmediatly above the boat and on the sea. Both Green & Loggerhead Turtles were seen a number of times, again quite close. But the clymax came when a Jouanin’s Petrel showed up in front of the boat! It was quite distant but still possible to see its typical shape and jizz and the long body. Unfortunately, not eveyone in the group catched up with the bird…
Back on the harbour, we got some close views on Striated Herons before living for our next stop. In the way back to Salalah, we scouted a large plain and our efforts were rewarded with a flock of 10 Cream-coloured Coursers that showed really well along with Isabelline Wheatears. After lunch, we revisited a pair of river mouths but we didn’t get that much different from our previous visits so we moved to check one of the typical places for Spotted Thick-knees to be roosting. They were there, and we enjoyed lovely views on 12 of them before moving for our last stop.
Back to the forested valleys, we explored a small stream, where we were surprised to find another Red-breasted Flycatcher having a bath along with Citrine & Grey Wagtails and 2 African Paradise Flycatchers. We enjoyed long views on the Flycatcher while searching for other goodies to appear, but everything we could find was a Hottetotta genus Scorpion. Here we waited until sunset, and with the very last lights of the day we were surprised to hear a Rufous-scrub Robin calling from the bush land. We scanned a bit but the last light of the day didn’t help and we never got a visual on this always wonderful ground flycatcher. Only a few minutes after the Robin was calling, we got the first call of an Arabian Eagle Owl coming from the opposite slope. During the next half an hour we struggled to find and approach the bird but every second of it was worth it when we finally got this endemic owl only a few meters away in a really unforgettable experience for all of us!
Day 7. The morning of this day was devoted to explore the oases at Mudday. This is the only reliable place for Grey Hypocolius in Oman, and there were only 2 birds reported at the end of December (in our trip on early December 2022 we were lucky to see 4 of them!). The Hypocolius proved to be as hard as ever, and it really took us an extra effort and patiente to finally connect with one of them, even if shortly! In the meanwhile we had time to enjoy at least 4 Nile Valley Sunbirds, 3 Blackstarts (they were suprisingly scarce this time in all the places we went!), several Sand Partridges including some birds drinking from a water hole, my first African Collared Dove in the place for some years, an Imperial Eagle, a lovely male Caucasian Bluethroat, the only Montagu’s Harrier of the trip, 1 Arabian Bee-eater and a lovely Hooded Wheatear!
A part from all of this was the experience to see 60+ Crowned Sandgrouses coming down to drink water in different flocks. Their calls, the very shy movements and behaviour and the very special beauty of the Sandgrouses on the ground at close range keep being for me one of the most wonderful birding experiences on Earth!
The very first glympse of the male Hypocolius was when it was feeding in a bush, only a few meters from us. The bird flew off before everyone in the group could have something of it, but it looked like not being far. We accurately scanned all the bushes and palm trees around, but we didn’t have a clue. From there we moved to check other corners around, getting our range of search bigger and bigger. Finally we dediced to come back to the exact place where we first saw the bird and scanned around for several minutes. Finally, right was I was about to give up, the bird appeared right in the same bush as it was the first time! Didn’t stay long there, though, and we still had to follow the bird up in the palm trees where it was hidden and, after a slowy scan, finally got excellent views on this amazing species, and eveyone had really good looks on it.
Really glad for this amazing view we went back to Salalah to have some lunch and rest. In the afternoon, we went to check the well known Raysut ponds. It was cloudy when we arrived, even about to rain! But of course, it didn’t rain at all. Here we counted 120 Abdim’s Storks, double figures of Whites‘, and 9 Red-wattled Lapwings (including one of the spur-winged x Red-wattled hybrids that live in the area). Other interesting species here included several Little Grebes, 1 Marsh Sandpiper, 1 Common Snipe (little numbers of Snipes this year) and Temminck’s Stints.
Back to the coast, we headed to West Kawhar, a place that very few people check (because normally is very little there). But we were lucky, not only because of the flocks of Pacific Golden Plovers at close range that provided great views but especially because we were lucky to find a Long-tailed Cormorant! Checking the dead trees around I was surprised to find this juvenile, small Cormorant with a long tail and a vivid red eye. The bird was extremely small (for a Cormorant) with a humbed head and whitish underparts. It may not be very exciting for those that have visited tropical Africa, but it happens to be a first for Oman! Very happy for our luck, we did some photos of the bird and pair attention to all main details with the scopes before leaving to our last wetland stop in a in the Dhofar.
Our last river mouth produced little out of a lovely flock of 5 Cotton Pygmy Goose. This is actually one of the best corners for ducks but it was almost empty…
Another point that is well worth checking in Salalah are the several farms around. You can choose any of them, for sure you will get excellent birds. Our farm was close to the beach, and just arriving to the place we found a tiny pond with some reeds. Here, a Clamorous Reed Warbler eluded us again, but we were happy to enjoy some Citrine Wagtails, Bluethroat and Green Sandpiper. Once in the fields, we soon had a large flock of Rosy Starlings flying around, that eventually stopped in the top of a thicket allowing really good scope views. Here we got another large flock (200+) of Pacific Golden Plovers, one of them showing what it look to be a complete summer plomage. Another surprise was to find 2 Common Cranes here, and we enjoyed them while some Red-throated Pipits and Yellow Wagtails were flying above us. The visit ended with brief views on a Siberian Stonechat.
To end the day, we chose another visit to wooded valley, and here we got really nice views on 1 Arabian Scops Owl. At least 3 more were heard singing around before going back to our accommodation for a very deserved rest.
Day 8. After breakfast we went back to explore farms. This time we had a first stop in a different one. Surprisingly we didn’t have any Harrier at all, but the place was literally fullfilled with Yellow Wagtails. Hundreds, thousands of them were moving around, following the tractors but, in fact, everywhere. Both feldegg & beema races were noted, with some thunbergi probably also there. Large flocks of Ruffs were in the move along with Glossy Ibises. On the ground, we got some lovely views on Red-throated Pipits including some salmon-breasted ones. But the most celebrated bird here was an Oriental Skylark that landed only a few meters away from us, and after some accurate scanning of the soil, showed well for some seconds before leaving.
The visit had been so great so we decided to do a fast stop to the farm where we had been birdwatcher the previous afternoon. There, we got lucky to find the Rose-coloured Starlings bathing in a small pond only a few meters away from us. Besides, 4 Little Ringed Plovers were also seen at close range. Back to the proper farms, we listened some Red-throated Pipits before a wonderful Richard’s Pipit appeared and stop only some 20 meters away from us. All the group enjoyed wonderful views on the bird both with the scope and with the bins before the bird moved to a taller grass corner.
From here we drove back to the desert. In this day we faced a transfer North for an overnight in Duqm, but we still didn’t give up of birding! After a pair of hours of car we stopped in a new farm. Just driving the road we got some flocks of Sandgrouses flying in the distance so we decided to explore the fields around. Here we were granted with 12 Cream-coloured Coursers, Isabelline Shrike, tens of Chesnut-bellied Sandgrouses, Black-crowned Sparrow-Larks and some Levant Grey Shrikes.
Back to desert, we kept driving North. To cross the desert is always wonderful and not absent of birding opportunities, and after some miles we got a pair of Greater Hoopoe Larks nicely moving in the bare soil. We got even lucky to listen its beautiful song, a long whistle that is often (like this time) joined by a short displaying flight. Really happy with these great views we went back to hit the road until the afternoon, when we did a last stop to enjoy the lovely light. There, not far from Duqm, we did a stroll around and we got really good views on 1 Asian Desert Warbler doing its way while following a male Desert Wheatear.
Soon after that we arrived to our nice accommodation in Duqm, where we enjoyed a well deserved rest before dinner.
Day 9. After breakfast, our day started by doing a short walk to the small garden of our accommodation. Here we found a Red-breasted Flycatcher during our last visit in early December and, suprinsingly, the bird was still moving in this tiny garden! Purple Sunbirds were also seen here. A short drive led us then to a small canal with a rich reedbed where we saw 3 Wood Sandpipers, some Eurasian Teals, a Green Sandpiper and the very firsts Mallards of the tour (a flock of 6).
From here we transfered North to the massive mudflats around Masirah Island. There is an estimation of 1 million waders overwintering here, and once you visit the area you may consider this estimation as conservative. Soon, we had some Kentish & Lesser Sand Plovers along with Dunlins, Curlew Sandpipers and Little Stints. We took some time to check some of the several flocks of Gulls around, but nothing different appeared despite the good photo opportunities.
Back to the mudflats we enjoyed with the arrival of thousands of waders to the feeding areas. Bar-tailed Godwits were really common, as there were Dunlins, Common Redshanks, Grey Plovers, Eurasian Curlews and Greater Sand Plovers, some of them showing already a promising summer coloration. The scan around produced the very first Broad-billed Sandpiper, that was celebrated in the group. At the same time, a Clamorous Reed Warbler showed out from the mangrove vegetation, and we all finally got some views on a species that had been eluding us for all the tour long. A small flock of 7 Spotted Sandpipers were also seen, and when we were checking this gorgeous waders the very first Crab Plover appeared right in front of us! Always a gorgeous bird, almost the size of a Little Egret, the Crab Plovers move often here in pairs that consist in an adult with a juvenile that constantly beg for food. Little by little, more and more Crab Plovers were arriving, and we were able to see some birds catching and feeding on crabs. In only 30 minutes we counted up to 70 birds. Other species also appeared here including Caspian & Gull-billed Terns. We hoped for some Little/Saunder’s Terns to appear, but we didn’t have luck on this.
Our final stop of the day was to check a different corner of this massive mudflats. Here we had barely the same birds than in our previous stop out of Crab Plovers. Still, we got at least four more Broad-billed Sandpipers, 1 Striated Heron in the mangroves and some Eurasian Whimbrels for our day list.
From here we transfered to our accommodation, arriving there a bit after sunset.
Day 10. Last morning in Oman. We drove the distance between our accommodation from Muscat with some stops in the way to take a look on some raptors. First a lienatus-like Black Kite, but later 3 Lappet-faced Vultures joined by 1 Imperial Eagle and some Egyptian Vultures were a good entertaiment for the very last miles before arriving to Muscat. Our last serious birding stop was devoted to explore the famous Al Mouj Golf Courser in search of the White-tailed Lapwing that had been seen during the last weeks. We were not lucky on the lapwing, but we still had some nice addings to our list including Ferruginous Duck (1 male), Eurasian Wigeon and 3 Greater White-fronted Geese. Along with them, we also had several Red-wattled Lapwings, Indian Rollers, Ruffs, Western Yellow Wagtails and Little Grebes in the ponds.
From here we just drove the very short distance to the airport, and got ready for our flights back to Europe!
And this is how we ended our 7th tour to Oman. Already looking forward our trip in 2024 to have more incredible sights in this awesome birding country!
Overview: With a delayof two years due to the pandemia, out tailor-made tour to Texas went on finally in October 2022 with 3 tour participants. Originally the idea was to start to the tour at the beggining of November, but part of the clients wanted to be moved to late October so finally the starting date was decided to be Otober 15th. During the tour we thinly explored the large woodlands North of Houston and the desert-like areas around Del Rio but the main effort was to enjoy birding in the many hotspots along the Mexican border between Hidalgo and the Golf as well as around Corpus Christi.
Weather in average was stable, with a couple of days of light rain and low temperatutes for the season. In Corpus Christi we had some days of strong winds, making birding a big uncomfortable and sometimes frustating. The last day of the tour was also marked by strong winds and rains.
Really looking forward to be back in Texas. This time in November, as originally planned!
Day 1. Our guests attented the tour from differents countries so we met at Houston International Aiport. It was the afternoon but we could still have almost a pair of hours of birding. We fastly moved to a corner nearby to enjoy the first bird in the Americas. Here, a short walk produced 5 Scissor-tailed Flyatcher, American Kestrel and Cooper’s Hawk but also common birds like Carolina Chickadee and Blue-grey Gnatcatcher. A small pond was full of Killdeers as well as some Greater Yellowlegs, Wilson’s Snipe and 3 Baird’s Sandpipers. Here we also had a flock of 4 Westerm Kinbirds, that turned out to be the only sight of this species nesting from the mid-West to the Pacific Ocean.
Day 2. After a good rest we left our accommodation to explore Sam Houston National Forest. Before that, a 10 minutes short walk around the parking lot produced a good summary of the garden birds living in the area. Here we got some really common birds like Northern Cardinal, House Finch, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Carolina Wren, Orange-crowned Warbler and Ruby-crowned Kinglet.
After a short transfer we did have a first stop inside Sam Houstol NF. Soon, we connected with some of the many Pine Warblers around and Brown-headed Nuthatches showed up very well but high. We certainly didn’t have to wait long for the very especialty of the area to appear, and after some minutes, a mixed flock of Woodpeckers revealed to not Red-bellieds but also 3+ Red-cockaded’s and even a rather unexpected Hairy Woodpecker! It took some time but everybody in the group had excellent views on the Red-cockaded Woodpecker, a quite endangered species linked to long-leave pine savannas. A further walk into the area produced several Carolina Chickadees but also the first White-eyed Vireo, Tufted Titmouses and Eastern Phoebe of the trip.
After such a great start, we started moving East. While driving the area both Red-shouldered and Red-tailed Hawks were noted. It was a sunny and calm day and by midday temperatures went high up.
We arrived around San Antonio by the early afternoon, and even if it was still warm we stop around Crescent Bend Nature Park for some birds. A nice flock of Eastern Meadowlarks provided good looks in the yellowish prairies and we were surprised by the presence of 5+ Crested Caracaras, some of them providing close up views. Once arrived to Betsen????? we had a short walk around. Here we got our first Ruby-throated Hummingbird of the trip but also Lincoln’s Sparrow, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Lesser Goldfinch and Nashbille Warbler. At sunset, we were surprised byt the wholoes of a Barred Owl that, despite our efforts, was reluctant to show out.
Day 3. This day started with a massive rain and very low temperatures. Theoretically, the morning was devoted to explore one of the main wetlands south of San Antonio, but due to the bad weather we just went directly with the transfer West right beside the Mexican border at Del Río.
En route we had a first stop when the rain stop to explore some open lands and farming. Here we were surprised by a number of good birds including Western Meadowlarks, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Dickcissel, Vesper & Lark Sparrows and the first Vermilion Flycatcher that was extremely welcome by the group.
The transfer to Del Rio was fast and easy, and marked by a Ferruginous Hawk spotted by the highway. The weather was still really fresh and temperatures clearly lower than average, even fresh! Just arrived to Del Rio we went to explore some corners around the city. Our first stop was to explore the Cementrey ______ and here we found 12+ Eastern Bluebirds, 10+ Vermilion Flycatchers, small flocks of Lark Sparrows feeding along with Lincoln’s and House Finches, several Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and a dark form Red-shouldered Hawk. Following the border between Mexico and USA we also had our first of mane Great Kiskadee. The area is rich in lake and ponds, and in one of the them we got Ringed Kingfisher but also first views on Common Yellowthroat, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, a lovely male Northern Harrier and Neotropical Cormorant before going for dinner and rest at our comfortable accommodation.
Day 4. The day started as cloudy as the day before, and with temperatures 10ºC below the average of the season! A great weather to explore the desert. Our first visit to Seminole Canyon State Park was concentrated into exploring its plains and bushland, famous for its rich birdlife. A short walk throught the plains fastly produced a good number of species. After only a few minutes a calling came from the bushlands, and after checking we all glad to find a wonderful Pyrrhuloxia sitting near the top of the bush, calling. The excitation came to the group, the bird flew off and despite all our efforts we were uncapable to relocate the bird. Sparrows seem to be everywhere, with small flocks constantly moving in the grassland. Here we enjoyed great views on Cassin’s, Vesper, Lincoln’s, White-crowned, Clay-coloured and Lark Sparrows. Black-throated Sparrows looked like specially common in this dry ambient, and after checking several flocks we were surprised by a Harri’s Sparrow sitting along with Lark Sparrows! That’s a good bird, with really thin records in the area.
Turkey Vultures were pratolling the sky while a massive number of Monarch Butterflies were doing its way South to their winter. There were thousands of them, many times gathering in small “flocks”. Their number was so numerous than we drove over tens of them while approaching the area. Not possible to skip them all in the road, and the tarmac showed tens of them dead or badly injured in a very sad view.
After enjoying the plains we finally decided to go down to the rocky areas. In our way to the rock scarpments, a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher left the group wanting more of it. Once if the rocks, we were lucky to find out a lovely pair of Rock Wrens doing its thing along the cliff edge in a wonderful sight. In our way back the clouds cleared for a while, and we could only see a flock of Eastern Meadowlarks and some Scissor-tailed Flycatchers.
After lunch we moved North, amid to explore some more desert-like ambients. During the next 3 hours we explored different valleys and plains. The sky was again cloudy and we could enjoy a good selection of the birds living in the scrublands. The fast moving Black-tailed Gnatcatcher gave us a hard time but finally everybody in the group could connect with it. While searching for the Gnatcatcher we were surprised by a fly over flock of Woodhouse Scrub-Jays! Along the afternoon we had three flocks of this restless species but never got any shot! Canyon Towhee was another great adding to our list, providing excellent sights as Common Ground Doves did along the tracks of the area as well as at least 3 Chihuahuan Ravens along the roads.
Day 5. Early morning morning start to explore another corner in the Seminole State Park. This time we went into a very impressive gorge in search of the sought-after Canyon Wren, a specialist on rock faces that spend a lot of time in crevices and ravines and thus, difficult to locate. In our short walk in the ravine we got the first Black-crested Titmouse of the trip as well as Golden-crowned Warbler and Common Raven. It didn’t took long before we located the first Canyon Wren, moving in fast, almost mouse-like runs along the crags. Investing some time, we got more than decent views in this awesome bird and we even had a second individual in another corner of the canyon. Back to the vehicle we decided to drive back to the same place we were the morning before, expecting to find a Roadrunner in the area. Another walk was required to explore the place, and even if we didn’t find any Roadrunner, we were regarded with a fine selection of birds. The flocks of Sparrows were as active as they previous day, and we had the same species as the day before but adding a Lark Bunting and, the most unexpected, 2 Green-tailed Towhees that showed up at two different places! ere we also hot the only Say’s Phoebe of the trip along with a pair of Scaly Francolins flying out of the bushland.
After such a great morning at Seminole we still had a last stop at Del Rio to explore one of the urban parks. Here we got a nice selection of birds including the first House Wren of the trip but also both Ringed & Velted Kingfishers, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Common Yellowthroats and Lesser Goldfinches to name a few.
we drove South in search of the birding hotspots along the Rio Grande. Along the way, we enoyed several Harri’s Hawks in the posts, and also several Crested Caracaras. A stop in some small ponds near Freer provided the first Blue-winged & Green-winged Teals of the tour along with a minimum of 2 Cinnamon Teals. When approaching the our accommodation, a Broad-winged Hawk just passed over our van, giving a great end to this day!
Day 6. Our first day exploring Rio Grande was devoted to the Santa Anna State Park. This large natural reserve protects an extensive patch of indigineous evergreen forest. Once upon the time, this valley had been covered with this lush vegetation, but nowadays only small number of locations remain. Black-crested Titmouses, Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, White-eyed Vireos and Grey-backed Gnatcatchers fullfilled the parking place with its song and calls, and the group enjoyed very much taking images of all of them. Green Jays appeared also almost inmediately, with their harsh calls announcing their arrival and 3 Inca Doves were feeding on the ground.
Walking into the habitats in Santa Anna is like transporting yourself into a different era, which majestic trees covered by !!!!!!!!. Once inside the park, we were surprised by the first Clay-colored Thrush perched in a low branch. Curve-billed Thraser was calling a bit beyond and we had to wait a bit until the bird showed up. The time invested was worth it not only because of the good looks on the Thraser but also because a Red-eyed Vireo decided to walk into view! The calls of the Great Kiskadees were constant and they were easily found in the top the trees along our way. At some point we saw a Kisadee chasing a smaller, colourful bird and we were all surprised to see that it an Altamira Oriole that decided to stop in the out at the top a dead tree! Couch’s Kingbirds were also around in a wonderful combination of birds. But the Altamira Oriole was not alone and we count not 2 but 5 of these great birds moving tree to tree, sometimes perching in the out and vocalising.
This had been a great start of our day! Approaching the first basins we added some species to our list including both Pied-billed & Least Grebes, Lesser Yellowlegs, Snowy Egret, Long-billed Thraser & some Cave Swallows moving along with Northern Rough & Barn Swallows. In our way out, a wonderful Blue-headed Vireo jumped out from the vegetation, but only for a few second before flying bak up to the canopies. When arriving to the parking place, the first flock of Plain Chachalacas appeared in our way, providing great looks.
After a short midday break we went to explore the farming around the border wall between the USA and Mexico. Certainly not an easy place to do birding due to the several border patrols, but with great birds and gentle police officers all the way long. Our first stop could not be better as we got 1 Swainson’s, 2 White-tailed and 2 Red-tailed Hawks that seemed to be hunting the area along with 1 Northern Harrier. Here we also found 2 obliging Burrowing Owls that were extremely well appreciated by the group. The area was full of Scissor-tailed Flycatcher and back to a woodland we enjoyed 1 Tropical Kingbird before has one of the surprises of the day, a wonderful Eastern Screeching Owl that was half way out of its nesting box and provided amazing scope views!
Back to the open lands, some paddy fiels around were full of Western Cattle Egrets but also White Ibis and one of the very few White-faced Ibis along the tour! A bit more of drive in such a great area allowed us to find a Grey Hawk hunting just by the road, and we could see how this very elegant small bird of prey captured a water snake a few meters away from us! Beyond this point we had a short-walk in a patch with dense scrubs allowed us to see the first Tenneesse Warbler of the trip and the second Clay-colored Thrush of the day.
Day 7. Bentsen State Park is often related as a birding heaven due to the massive number of species noted here. Its extensive mesquite habitats, combined with woodlands, thickets and water bodies allows a wonderful birding all year round and it is specially noted for birds of prey both resident and migratory. Soon after getting inside the natural area we got a family group of Chachalacas feeding on the ground and a small flock of warblers including Nashville, Tennesse and 3+ Black-and-White’s, a wonderful start under any circumstance. The mesquite ambients were great and beyond Eastern Phoebes and Orange-fronted Woodpeckers we got excellent views on Verdin,Eastern Poo-weet and White-tipped Dove. A Lazuli Bunting flew over and briefly stop in a tree, but not everybody connected with the bird before flew off. A bit beyond, a pair of Grey Hawk flew low over the path, allowing again excellent views on the birds! The air was steadily warming up and by 10:20 we saw 2 Cooper’s Hawks circling. Red-railed Hawks were also noted right before an endless stream of Turkey Vultures appeared in the sky. With their characterystic flight, balancing their body and the wings up, hundreds of them were flying quite low. All the county is famous for being a natural corridor for birds of prey in migration, and in the half an hour that we spent at the Bentsen Hawk Torrer we enjoyed impressive raptor action involving not only hundreds and hundreds of Turkey Vultures but also some Swainson’s, 3 Broad-winged, some Red-shouldered’s, 3 Sharp-chinned’s, 1 Merlin, tens of American White Pelicans and the only 2 Wood Storks of the trip circling along with some Black Vultures. In our way back, we were delighted to find a flock of 15+ Wild Turkeys in the road itself.
Back to the thickets around the headquarters of the park, we got a nice flock of birds feeding on thickets around. New species for the trip inside the flock icluded: 3 Yellow-throated Warblers, 2 Wilson’s Warbler, Baltimore Oriole and Black-chinned Hummingbird.
In the afternoon went to explore a small natural reserve not far away from Bentsen and we got excellent views on Green Kingfisher, Wilson’s Warbler, Buff-bellied Hummingbird. Other interesting species here included Rufous Hummingbird, Spotted Sandpipers, Least Grebe and the only one Green Heron of the trip!
An evening stop was added in a small pond between roads. Here, the small lagoon produced Black-necked Stilts, Long-billed Dowitchers, Greater Yellowlegs and Blue-winged Teals but everything vanished when 2 Cooper’s Hawk launched themselves in a king of coordinated attack to the waterfowl! The lagoon went empty, but only for a pair of minutes when 4 Mexican Ducks arrived, allowing great scope views before leaving. This is a great species to have. Formerly considered conespecific with Mallard, nowadays is treated as a different one, with small (but maybe overlooked) populations in the American side of the Rio Grande Valley. In the fields around 3 Nothern Harriers were hunting along with a White-tailed Hawk. A walk in a small area of mesquite produced little songbirds but we were surprised to find a Common Parauque roosting on the ground! Delighted to find this speciality of the mesquite, we enjoyed walk-away views on the bird. Later in the evening we came back to the open fields, and with the very last light of the day we had a Common Whir-Pool flying around us. Some Burrowing Owls were calling around and in our nocturnal drive out of the area a Coyote appeared in front of the van allowing great views!
Day 8. A very early start of the day was necessary to accomplish the intense program for that day! First stop at Estero Llano State Park, where we were delighted with the image of tens and tens of Black-bellied Wistling Ducks early in main lagoon early in the morning. Bird activity was nice and the reedbeds around not only provided good views on Common Yellowthroat but also on Sora, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, American Moorhen and Solitary Sandpiper. The lagoons had good number of ducks including Gadwalls and Mottled Ducks. A walk around also produced Wilson’s Warbler, Lincon’s Sparrows, the first Bronze Cowbirds of trip as well as Great Kiskadees and Ruby-crowned Kinglets.
A second stop in another nature reserve nearby produced our best views on Green Jays along with some Yellow-throated Warblers, the only one Northern Parula of the trip and close up views on Ladder-backed Woodpecker.
In the afternoon we drove inside the massive Atascosa Wildlife National Refuge. Soon we got the first White-tailed Hawks of the trip along with several Ospreys, Loggerhead Shrikes and American Kestrels in the posts and wires. Once in the main laggoon, an enormous flock of ducks and American Coots was waiting for us. There were hundreds of American Wigeons along with 200+ Redheads, several Pied-billed Grebes, 7 Canvasbacks, 5+ Ruddy Ducks and 2 Ring-necked Ducks. In the shores of the lake we got the first Willet of the trip. Tricolorated Heron, Snowy Egret and Little Blue Heron were feeding along the shores, short distance from each, allowing good us to compare them with each other. In our way out of the Atascosa we were surprised to find the first Greater Roadrunner of the trip, gentlenly stopped by the road. It allowed wonderful views and some great shots. In the coming 3 miles we got another 3 Roadrunners, allowing all great views including a small hunting scene of the particular terrestrial cuckoo. But this was not the only surprise of the road, and some minutes a random stop in the road allowed us to find 3 Long-billed Curlews feeding in the farmland. Clouds of Red-winged Blackbirds and Brown-headed Cowbirds covered the area, and a good scanning in the distance produced 2 Aplomado Falcons in an aerial fight. This is an endangered species with tiny populations in the grasslands and dunes in Southern Texas.
Day 9. Parcs + Port Aransas Nature Preserve. Morning deserved to explore some urban parcs and small corners around Corpus Christi. Our first stop was at Pollywog Wildlife Sanctuary, where birding was a bit low but we still managed to enjoy good views in some migratory birds such as Yellow Warbler, Least Flycatcher and Audubon Oriole plus some interesting regular species including Marsh Wren, Sharp-chinned Hawk , Common Yellowthroat, House Wren and Grey Catbird. Our second stop, at Bucher Park, produced the best views on Blue Grosbeak of the trip along with and Ruby-throated Hummingbird and some warblers.
The shoreline around Corpus Christi is really interesting and a short stop in a marshy area produced excellent views on American Avocet, Western & Stilt Sandpipers, Sanderling, Ruddy Turstone, Marbled Godwit, Long-billed Curlew and some commoner species including Grey Plover, Black-necked Stilts and Brown Pelicans. A carefully scanning in the tidal plains produced not only Caspian & Foster’s Terns but also Snowy, Semipalmated & Piping Plovers, and Cabot’s and Royal Terns.
From here, we drove to the Port Aransas Nature Reserve to end our day exploring the reedbeds and freshwater ponds of these lovely corner. Here we were welcomed by a extremely tame Sora. The broadwalk along the marshes allowed us great views on Tricolorated Herons, white form Reddish Egret and lovely American White Pelicans & Short-billed Dowitchers in lovely afternoon light while a few Lesser Black-backed Gulls were flying over. A careful scanning of the reeds soon revealed an American Bittern appearing and disappearing, and a second Sora was seen walking along the edge of the reeds. There were some ducks, with the American Wigeons already back to show their lovely coloration and some Blue-winged Teals walking that path down. But our scanning of the reeds was abruptly broken by a Least Bittern that crossed the lagoon and landed really close to us, merging into the vegetion in a pair of seconds! Still enjoying this sight, a Clapper Rail just appeared from under our feet to do a short flight and land really close from where the Least Bittern blinded itself. After such a great afternoon we came to the hotel to enjoy a lovely dinner!
Day 10. Goose Island State Park + Skimmer. Early morning start to explore the Goose Island State Park, a first go for trying to connect with the Whooping Crane population overwintering in the area. A first walk in the forested areas produced the best views on Rose-breasted Grosbeak of the trip along with Grey Catbirds and White-eyed Vireos. From here, we went down to the island, where a few terns and waders were feeding. Here we were lucky enough to find a Wilson’s Plover feeding along with a Semipalmated Plover, and we all had goos scope views on both species feeding side by side. Walking in the marshes around we were also lucky, and a Clapper Rail just flew to us to land a few feet away from us. We could track the bird for over a minute allowing great views and photos on it! After a while and with no sign of any Crane we went to explore a close pond, where we found the first Anhinga of the trip plus 3 Indigo Buntings feeding in the grass around. and the only one Tree Swallow of the tour flying along with Barn Swallows
After a midday break we went to another corner combining reedbeds and tidal plains. Soon after our arrival, a Grove-billed Ani called from the thickets around and after soe efforts we got short but solid views on it. Common Yellowthroats were really active, and when arrived to the tidal area we saw a lovely flock of Black Skimmers resting along with many Laughing Gulls, 1 Ring-billed Gull, Avocets, Sanderlings, 2 Western Sandpipers, Marbled Godwits and Foster’s Terns. While scanning around a short call came from the reeds, and a pair of seconds later a lovely Nelson’s Sparrow appeared in the top of a bush beside our platform, showing its wonderful orange/pumcacke face with a lovely, well defined grey auricular patch. Apparently this is a scarcity around Corpus Christi, and a really good adding to our list!
Day 11. Morning start to explore a bit more the Bucher Park where we got a good selection of birds. Just parking, a Summer Tanager showed out by the van, and soon we contacted with some Warblers including Orange-crowned and Tennessee. Great Kiskadees were active as ever, and while scanning the trees we got an Ash-throated Flycatcher, another scarcity in the area in these dates. Still not recovered from this finding, a 1st winter Yellow-bellied Sapsucker just landed by our small group, allowing excellent (but short) views on the bird. When leaving the park, a female American Redstart just appeared in the low branches of a small tree, giving us a great end to our hour-long walk!
Our second stop of the day was to explore Oso Bay Wetlands. Here we were welcomed by flocks of Sandhill Cranes, just arriving from their nesting grounds to spend the winter in Corpus. Several Lincoln’s Sparrows were moving around along with some Savannah Sparrows, and another Ani was calling in the thickets. Crested Caracaras were in the move around and while enjoying the Thrasers and Grey Catbirds around a Firecrest-like call came to us, and we fastly discovered a Golden-crowned Kinglet feeding in the mesquites by the track. A bit beyond a superb Yellow-throated Warbler allowed some good shots and our visit to this location ended with a Sprague’s Pipit appearing from under our feet to show briefly before flying away!
After lunch, we went to the South Texas Botanical Gardens. Here we enjoyed the several ducks in the lagoons. American Pigeons and Blue-winged Teals were the most common but we also located 4 Mottled Ducks, 27+ Ruddy Ducks, 6 Ring-necked Ducks and 2 Lesser Scaups. 2 Black-necked Grebes were also noted, and Northern Harriers and Cooper’s Hawks were flying around to check the capabilities and reactions of the ducks. From here we moved North to end the day in __. There we got a Zone-tailed Hawk flying over being moved by a Red-shouldered Hawk, a really scarce species and fabulous adding for the trip! In the marshes it was little movement but we still got really close views on 2 Sedge Warblers that unfortunately didn’t allow any photo.
Day 12. Aransas Wildlife National Refuge is the very well known place where Whooping Cranes come to overwinter. Unfortunately we arrived a bit too early and the Whooping Cranes were not there yet. The exploration of the area started with a short-walk around the information center. It was a cloudy and windy day but we still got some small birds. Along with the typical species for the area, we enjoyed good views on a Yellow-breasted Chat, one of the largest warblers in North America, that appeared from a thicket along with Thrasers and Catbirds.
The marshes beyond produced good views on Herons and Egrets plus 2 Virginia Rails (one of them literally walking our path in front of us), 1 Clapper Rail, Common Terns, Gull-billed Terns, Reddish Egrets and the good views on Alligators. The main pond for ducks in Aransas didn’t produce so much, and a solitary Cinnamon Teal was the most interesting of a lagoon dominated by American Wigeons and Blue-winged Teals. We spent quite a long time looking for Whooping Cranes in the main watch tomer for them, but we didn’t get anything out a of a single Sandhill Crane moving in the marshes.
Back to the wood trails crossing the swamps we were lucky enough to find another American Bittern only 20 metres away from us. We waited quite long hoping for the bird to come out of the reeds, but never happened. In the meanwhile, another Sora walked around us providing, once more, great looks.
Day 13. Early morning stop in the marshes checking for something new to appear. The morning was warm and windy, and massive clouds in the horizon suggested the rain to come. In the tidal planes, Black Skimmers were again the main characters along with 2 distant Piping Plovers and Stint Sandpipers. 4 Frankling Gulls were noticed roosting along with Laughing Gulls, and a full adult American Herring Gull was a nice adding for the list of the trip.
Living Corpus, we transfered to Bolivar Peninsula via Houston. In our way we had a number of intense showers. We arrived to Houston with a windy and extremely cloudy ambient. A small park in the South West of the city was the place to explore. We only had 20 minutes before a massive rain started to come down. But we did have luck! The first bird we saw inside the park was an impressive Pileated Woodpecker doing its way in the woods. It called several times before flying away. Only a pair of minutes after that 3 American Robins showed out and 1 Downy Woodpecker came to feed around us. No time for more. A extremely intense rain started. We moved for lunch around the park, hoping for the weather to clear out in the meanwhile, but did the opposite. The rest of the transfer and afternoon we faced intese rains and winds and by the time we did arrive to the Bolivar Peninsula it was almost dark.
But right before going for dinner we had a short walk around our accommodation. The weather was surprisingly calm and clear, and in only five minutes of scanning we got a Great Horned Owl owling in the trees around and eventually it did fly over us, allowing a short but really intense sight!
Day 14. Our last morning in Texas was devoted to explore the marshy flatlands in the Bolivar Peninsula. After the strong storm and the heavy rain of the last afternoon, we faced a calm, cloudy morning. We had only a pair of hours, but it was worth to explore the Bolivar flat lands, specially after we had to cancel any birding in the previous afternoon due to rough weather.
In only a pair hours the group enjoyed the very last views on Crested Caracara, Northern Harrier, White Ibis, Loggerhead Shrike, Snowy & Reddish Egrets, Willets and Least Sandpipers. Clappers Rails were active in the marsh and we had a glimpse in a pair of them, and we were lucky enough to see a King Rail shortly flying above the vegetation, to land in the middle of the marsh and disappear but no before showing the nice contrast in the upperwings.. Here we also had excellent views on some Segde Wrens moving in the low vegetation, while a Nelson’s Sparrow showed shortly in the grass. After some checking, we finally connected with two Swamp Sparrows, and one of them allowed decent views while calling from the grasslands. Cabot’s & Fosters Terns were noted and in our way out of the peninsula we got a group of 4 Boat-tailed Grackles, another nice adding to the tour list.
From here we drove back to Houston with some juvelines Red-tailed Hawks and Blue Jays crossing the road, and two Bald Eagles cicling in the sky while refuelling was a magical way to end up our tour!
All images in this trip report by tour leader Carles Oliver and tour participant Mike O’Neill. All rights reserved
Oveview: After a long delay due to the well known global pandemia, we finally went on with our first tour to Uganda. And it was great. Not only due to the well known quality of the birdwatching in the country, but also because of the very rich mammal life living there, the quality of the lodges along the whole trip, the amazing landscapes all along the tour, the charming local people all along, and the very pleasant temperatures, with an average of 23ºC, and many sunny days that were only broken by a pair of showers in the first and the last day of the tour.
This tour was planned for some years, but the pandemia emerged in our lifes, and it had to be cancelled a pair of times. At the end, the many hours of talks with our local partners produced a tour with the perfect tone, focused in the many endemics, but not only, in an effort that at the end crystallized in 454 species of birds and 40 species of mammals! Indeed we not only enjoyed Shoebill Stork once, but three times! All in three different places. It is also to be noted in our list species such as the endemics Rwenzori Nightjar and Grauer’s Warbler as well as the rarely seen Dusky Long-tailed Cuckoo and Yellow-footed Flycather. At the end of the tour we have enjoyed up to 6 African Finfoots! and had remarkable views on Chocolate-backed Kingfishers, Ituri Batis, Papyrus Gonolek, Black Bee-eater, Rwenzori Hill Babbler and Archer’s Robin Chat to name a few along with several African goodies including African Crowned Eagle, Yellow-billed Barbet, Blue Malkoha, Short-tailed Pipit, African Emerald Cuckoo or Dusky Crimsonwing getting in our list.
Day 1. Lake Victoria
After an evening flight from Europe, our group landed in Entebbe afer midnight, and in a magical start of the trip, only 10 minutes after leaving the airport we were crossing a small arm of the Lake Victoria in a small boat. It was there, in the calm waters of the lake, enjoying the fresh night with the ecos of the firsts Ugandans going to work arriving from the city, that we had the first unforgettable footprint of Uganda in our travel book!
In a few minutes we arrived to our accommodation at the opposite shore, where we enjoyed a well deserved rest before going out for breakfast. Our first birding of the tour was in the gardens of the accommodation, where we had good views on several species including the firsts of many Pied Kingfisher, Village Weaver, Red-chested Sunbird, Broad-billed Roller and Yellow-billed Stork. Here we also had a selection of Weavers including Slender-billed, Golden-backed and Yellow-baked. Long-crested Eagle was hunting in the hotel grounds, and Black-and-White Shrike Flycather and Lesser Honeyguide were seen around the cottages. The area around the lodge is basically a farming area, but there are still interesting remants of the original forest, so we were not surprised when a gorgeous, enormous Great Blue Turaco appeared right in front our eyes to give us one of the first unforgettable momments of the trip.
From this lodge we headed to marshes around the Victoria Lake. The area opposed to Entebbe is still preserving a large complex of swamps and wetlands, and right after arriving we were enjoying not only common birds such as African Pied Wagtail but also Swamp Flycatcher, Widding Cisticola, Brown-headed Batis and the always breath-taking African Blue Flycatcher. Once in our boat, we started moving the swamp, and soon Squacco and Purple Herons flew from both sides of the channels, rich in lotus and other floating plants. Widding Cisticolas were singing everywhere, and were soon joined by Marsh Black Widowbirds. A White-faced Whistling Duck showed really well while a flock of White-winged Black Terns was a nice adding. Back to the swamps, Long-toed Lapwings were feeding in the marshes, some pairs already with chicks around, and Malachite Kingfishers were a common view along the channels.
A Little Egret caught our attention for a few seconds, but we soon forgot about as a massive figure was revealed about 30 metres away from us. A grey-blueyish, statue-like massive bird with penetrating eyes made us forget about the world. A Shoebill Stork. No movements. No calls. Just the iconical, imposing figure with its massive, prehistorical-like bill. We enjoyed of this incredible bird for about 20 minutes, and during all this time the bird moved only a pair of steps.
We still had some time more in the swamps, and we enjoyed the very common African Jacanas, the flight of some African Marsh Harriers, the delicate dance of the NorthernBrown-throated Weavers on the lotuses and the rather unexpected view of 3 Plain Martins passing over our little boat.
From here we went to a nearby restaurant for lunch and rest. After lunch we transfer North of Kampala, moving the Rhino Sanctuary, where we had a first contact with many of the birds leaving in the woodlands. Our arrival to this Sanctuary, devoted to protect an increase the thin population of this giant in Uganda, was precided by a strong storm. Once the rain passed away, we were scorted by a ranger to track some White Rhinos, and soon after we were enjoying of impressive views on 4 individuals feeding on the refreshing grass, and interacting nicely. At the same time that enjoying the Rhinos, we could move a bit in the bushland, and some birds were noted: Saddle-billed Stork, Hadada Ibis, Vinaceous Dove, Black-headed Gonolek, Grey Woodpecker, Northern Black Flycather and Bronze Mannikin were all noted. The short walk around produced also a Short-tailed Pipit, a really scarce species in the area, and a gorgeous White-headed Turaco that was feeding in the trees around. From here we just headed to our accommodation for a good dinner and rest.
Day 2. Royal Mile – Murchinson Falls
After the rains during the previous evening, our day started with a fresh and clean atmosphere. This day was devoted to explore the famous Royal Mile, a wonderful track crossing a one of the largest areas of lowland primary forest in Uganda. Here, we explored both open lands and the forest, and in our first stop of the morning we had already a massive number of birds. Here, exploring a gentle slope mixing moisty grasslands and crops, we had a really nice collection of birds living in this habitat including Marsh Tchagra, African Moustached Warbler, Red-faced Cisticola, Fawny-coloured Waxbill, Dusky Twinspot, Lizzard Buzzard, Vielliot’s Black & Baglafecht Weavers to name some of them. Here we also got first views on other common species to appear several times later in the trip such Senegal Coucal, Copper Sunbird and Brown Babbler.
Once in the forest, the firsts of many Saw-wings & White-rumped Swifts of the trip were a wonderful setting for a flock of Black-and-white Casquet & White-thighed Hornbills, the last being a speciality of the Royal Mile, and having a really limited range within Uganda. While enjoying these incredible Hornbills and going throught the differences we got an African Grey Parrot flying above us at low range, providing with excellent views. From here we started our short-walk in the Royal Mile, and we didn’t have to wait long for the first African Pygmy Kingfisher to appear nicely. Chestnut-capped Flycatchers looked like very common that day, and in our first hour within the forest we got a wonderful list of birds that included good looks at Yellow-throated Tinkenbird, Western Black-headed Oriole, the rather scarce Honeyguide Greenbul, along with Tambourine Dove, Red-chested Cuckoo, Blue-throated Roller, White-breasted Nigrita, Lemon-bellied Crombec, Yellow-crested Woodpecker, the always interesting Green Hylia and African Shrike Flycather. Greenbuls were really well represented as got Little, Little Grey and Slender-billed Greenbuls.
But the Royale Mile is famous because of the number species living here which are difficult to find anywhere else. The Ituri Batis is one of them, and we had to chances to follow the nervous movements of a pair up in the canopies. African Dwarf Kingfisher was reluctant to show but by the end of the morning we tresoured excellent looks at them. A pair of Gree-backed Twinspots provided also great looks moving in tall grassland of some clearings. Blue-breasted Kingfisher, often shy in Uganda, showed really well, and Forest Flycatcher, Rufous-crowed Eremomela, Narina Trogon, Buff-breasted Apalis and Little Green & Green Sunbirds were also added to the tour list.
Further on in the forest, a visit to a clearing allowed us to get good views on both Sabine’s and Cassin’s Spinetails, both with a very limited range. When coming back to our van, another stop was mandatory as Dusky Long-tailed Cuckoo was calling in the forest. After a long waiting, we finally got some views on the bird as it crossed to track, and the sight had a warm welcome in the group as this is exremely shy bird that normally is reluctant to show out. Already close to our vehicle, a wonderful Chocolate-backed Kingsfisher was our very last discovery in the forest, giving a wonderful end an excellent morning.
Leaving behind the Royal Mile in our way to the Murchinson Falls National Park we still had a last stop in the primary forest, and we were lucky enough to enjoy a Forest Robin moving in the undergrowth. Scanning the sky, a massive, bulky African Crowned Eagle showed up in the sky, in a magnificent aerial display that let us enjoy many of its wing markings. Extremely happy after this great morning, we definately started our transfer to the Murchinson Falls National Park.
One in the park, birds were momentanely eclipsed by a wonderful array of game moving around us. Not the Mosque Swallows, neither the Pink-backed Pelicans nor White-headed Saw-wing could compete with the herds of Uganda Kobs and the lovely Oribis while family groups of African Elephants fed along the tracks a few feet away from our vehicles. Cape Buffalos appeared to a bit more scarce, but the magnificent silhouettes of the first Giraffes emerging in the sunset light with a chorus of Black-headed Gonoleks and Black-crowned Tchagras is something that will remain in our memories for long!
Day 3 – Murchinson Falls game drive & Rock Pratincoles
During the morning we enjoyed a mixed of game and birding drive in the Murchinson Falls National Park. Here we enjoyed a good variety of birds including the firsts Martial Eagles of the trip along with Rüppell’s Vultures, Black-winged Kites, Short-winged & Zitting Cisticolas, Speckled-fronted Weavers, Black-bellied Bustards, Spotted Palm Thrush, Crowned Lapwings and Black-rumped Waxbills. Here we also got the only 3 Brown-chested Lapwings of the trip, a very scarce species that many trips fail to find!
Endless herds of Uganda Kobs were covering the plains along with small packs of the very handsome Oribis. The slender silouhette of the Giraffes were also a common view in the park, and small herds of them were crossing here and there, sometimes not far from the much less common Hartebeest. It did’nt take us long before we located the first pack of Lions lying on the shade of the bushland. Two individuals, one of them a male, were out of the bushes and resting in the dry grass, providing a much better view.
Far away from this plain, we had a very short walk in an open bushland to cath up with some birds, and here we enjoyed Nubian Woodpecker, Red-chested Bee-eaters, Mariqua Sunbird and Spot-flanked Barbets. In our way back to the accommodation, we still enjoyed wonderful views on a flock of Banded Martins that soon were eclypsed by a flock of Northern Carmine Bee-eaters that delighted our group with extremelly close views!
After a nice lunch and some rest we went for more birding in the afternoon. Exploring some corners we enjoyed with good views on Red-shouldered Cuckoo-shrike, Brown Babblers, Yellow-throated Greenbuls but also Black-billed Wood-Dove and Jacobin Cuckoo. Later in the afternoon we visited the impressive waterfalls kwon as Murchinson Falls. Here, the White Nile jumps down a rocky scarpment in their way to South Sudan, and this incredible natural spectacle is even improved with the wonderful flights of the Rock Pratincoles living here. Yes, not far from the waterfalls we enjoyed several of this little jewels while busy trying to catch insects in flight over the waves of the Nile!
After enjoying this incredible site, we walked back to the van, having a Brown-headed Batis in our way back. This is again a quite scarce species, and the only one of the trip! Back to the woodlands, we tried to have some more birding, but we only got nice views on some Red-breasted Bee-eaters before a massive storm came to our way. After some driving trying to scape the rain, we finally decided to go back to our lodge for an early dinner.
Day 4. Murchinson Fall – Kibale National Park
Morning birding in the Murchinson Falls National Park is always a wonderful experience. A short drive from our accommodation produced not only lovely views on the only Woolly-necked Stork of the trip but also Heuglin’s Francolin, African Wattled Lapwings, lovely views on Foxy Cisticolas, a lovely flock of Red-winged Grey Warblers, Lesser Striped & Wire-tailed Swallows while flocks of Violet-backed Starlings were moving all around.
Further on but still inside the National Park, we could enjoy a flock of the rather scarce White-crested Helmeted-Shrikes, and while tracking them in the woodlands, and wonderful Pennant-winged Nightjar simply appeared from under our feet to stop in a branch 60 metres away from us. Everybody in the group enjoyed great scope views on this amazing bird and took several images before ending our stay in the park with a family flock of Buff-bellied Warblers, great views on Northern Chanting Goshawk, several Red-headed Weavers and the first Barn Swallow of the trip.
From this area, we drove South for the longest transfer of the tour (5h 30′) to arrive in the evening to the massive primary forest in the Kibale National Park. Midway down, we enjoyed the very tasty local food in a buffet restaurant, and we were surprised to see a small flock of Horus Swift flying above us for a pair of minutes!
From here still had a brief stop in a nice patch of forest, where we had 2 Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters flying above the canopy, while inside we spotted Honeyguide Greenbul, Little Green & Olive Sunbirds and Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird. Our very last stop of the day was not far from our accommodation in Kibale, and we enjoyed good views on 2 Highland Rush Warblers, another endemic of this very rich plateaus.
Day 5. Kibale National Park
Our day in Kibale started really early. Before daylight we arrived to the National Park headquarters, and while waiting for our armed scort we spend some time with a pair of African Wood Owls that were houling around. Even if we never enjoyed the bird perched, a pair of fly overs were a good entertaiment for our group before starting the walk in the jungle. Our first and most important target that day was the Green-breasted Pita, a scarce breeder in South West Uganda.
It is always a nice experience to be inside the jungle at dawn, listening the calls of Greenbuls, Sunbirds and Flycatchers. During the next two hours we enjoyed good views on a good variety of species, being Purple-headed Starling, Fraser’s Rufous Thrush and Red-tailed Ant Thrush the most interesting. But despite our efforts, we failed to have a proper view on the Green-breasted Pita.
At mid morning we walked away the area to focus in a family group of Chimpanzees nearby. Their noisy behaviour was a clear indication of their presence, and after many hours in the forest we were granted with a really close encounteer with a the Chimps. Females and small ones were really approachable, with the apes only a few inches away from us! The males seemed to be away, hunting or locating potential preys. We enjoyed the Chimps for about half an hour, enjoying several interactions of adults with the young members of the family. The group was mainly on the ground, but probably the most exciting moment was to see a pair of pursuits in the branches, mid way up in the trees with a lot of screaming and violent behaviour. Chimpanzees groups are highly hierarchical societies, and tensions can speed up when a member of the group sees its position threatened.
Once out of the jungle, we enjoyed a number of stops in key corners, enjoying the good variety of birds living in this area. In the way out of our accommodation, we were lucky to find a Marsh Tchagra feeding a Black Cuckoo in a small pond! Little Grey & Yellow-throated Greenbuls were noted, and an African Emerald Cuckoo catched all the attention while a small flock of Dusky Tits were moving high in the canopies. Here we also got the first Buff-throated Apalis of the trip, along with Chestnut-winged Starling and African Blue Flycatcher. The area was great for Sunbirds, and we got 7 species quite easily, including Grey-headed, Blue-throated Brown, Green-throated, Green-headed and Bronze!
From Kibale we moved to the Semliki National Park. This sublime patch of Congolese jungle inside Uganda hosts some of the most scarce and difficult birds in the region. Unfortunately, to explore the area is not always easy due to the difficult terrain and umpredictable weather conditions.
In our way to Semliki, we had a pair of stops to add some interesting birds including Lead-coloured Flycatcher, Plain-backed Pipit, Piping Hornbill, Black Cuckooshrike, Grey-headed Nigrita, Sooty Flycatcher and a brief but intense view on a Scaly Francolin.
After this last stop, we walked inside our accommodation for a cold drink and a good rest!
Day 6. Semliki National Park
Early morning start to explore a patch of jungle that connects with one of the largest patches of continous forest in Africa, getting well inside Congo. During the morning we contacted with a number of interesting species, adding to the tour list Crested Malimbe, Xavier’s Greenbul, Blue Malkoha, the very impressive Black-casqued Wattled Horbill, the small Red-billed Dwarf Hornbill, Black-billed Barbet, Jameson’s Wattle-eye, Black-bellied Seedcracker, Yellow-whiskered Greenbul. A fast glimpse on a Fire-crested Alethe that left the group wanting more of it, and trakking a group of Red-tailed Monkeys led us to find a always wonderful Western Nicator.
Here we also got excellent views on our second Narina Trogon, and a nice swampy area we had excellent views on both Yellow-footed Flycatcher and African Green Pigeon. Almost back to the lodge, we still had great views on Great Blue Turaco and a nervous Dusky Crested Flycatcher.
In the afternoon we drove back to Fort Portal, but adding a stop in our way in a nice habitat where we finally found a wonderful Cabani’s Bunting in full song! Here we also had the only one African Citril of the tour!
Day 7. Fort Portal – Queen Elizabeth National Park
Our overnight in Fort Portal allowed us to enjoy the good variety of ambients and birds. In another bright morning, along with the enchanting atmosphere of the volcanoes covered with dense forests and the deep blue of their lakes, we ejoyed anoher great birding day. A short walk in the forest beside our accommodation allowed excellent views on Green Crombec, White-chinned Prinia, Giant Kingfisher Joyful Greeful and African Goshawk. In the lake, Yellow-billed Ducks and Little Grebes were both feeding youngs while Palm-nut Vultures were still roosting in the trees arond the lake.
From here, two minutes inside te van were enough to reach a meadow rich in lush vegetation and papyrus. Here we got nice views on Black-capped Waxbills while getting the first of many Common Fiscals for the group while smalls flocks of Western Violet-back Starlings were passing by. An African Marsh Harrier was patrolling the area and several Tambourine Doves were in the move around, but after some minutes in the area we were hit by the wind, and or expectations to get some good from the papyrus vanished.
Back to the accommodation we went on with a short walk that explores an interesting mature forest. Here we got a number of interesting birds including Yellow-spotted Barbet, Joyful Greenbul, Little Greenbul, Buff-throated Apalis and Sooty Flycatcher while both Black-necked & Black-billed Weavers were new for the list. Here we also enjoyed wonderful views on Ashy Flycatcher & Lowland Masked Apalis, the last a top target bird for many birdwatchers visiting Uganda. Lühder’s Bush-shrike allowed good views even if never left the wines! Here we also got our first African Paradise Flycatcher for the trip, and Cassin’s Honeybird appeared shortly, leaving the group wanting more of it! During the walk we also tried to see White-spotted Flufftail, but despite our efforts and having the bird only a few meters away from us, we never contacted with it and the observation was reduced to a “good listening”. Here we still got to see some Cinnamon-breasted Bee-eaters in our way back to the accommodation, and when being really close to the cottages we were stopped by 8 Red Colobus hanging in the trees, joined by two Crowned Hornbills.
After a light lunch we left our accommodation. In our way to Queen Eizabeth National Park we had a number of stops, and Red-faced Cisticola, Olive Sunbird, Olive-bellied Sunbird, Dusky Flycatcher and Dusky-blue Flycatcher were added to the tour list. A further stop allowed us to explore some wooded hills. In these gentle hills covered with grass and scattered bush we got good views on Cinnamon-breasted Buntings, Northern Crombec, Red-cheecked Cordon-bleu, Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-Weaver, Beautiful Sunbird and the very handsome White-shouldered Tit.
After a pair of hours of driving we arrived to the Queen Elisabeth National Park, crossing the Equador line that separates the Northern Hermisphere from the Southern. Only a few miles beyond, an impresive Martial Eagle perched by the road was the unforgettable welcome to the Southern Hemisphere!
A bit later we arrived to our accommodation, but before we still had time to enjoy some Sooty Chats and Striped Kingfishers. Once in our accommodarion, and taking advantage of its amazing terrace overlooking the National Park, we enjoyed in the evening a good selection of specialities such as Double-Toothed & White-headed Barbets, Copper Sunbird, and scope views on a Peregrine Falcon perched on a tree and feeding on a prey.
Arriving to our accommodation around the Queen Elizabeth, we enjoyed Uganda Kobs, Warthogs, Elephants and Cape Buffalos. Once in our accommodation we enjoyed some local birding, and the baranda of the dinner area, overlooking the grasslands and woodlands beyond, offered us good looks.
Day 8 . Queen Elizabeth
Our full day in the Northern area of the Queen Elizabeth National Park was a wonderful mix of bird & mammalwatching. After the rains during the last night, we woke up in a fresh ambient, and went inside the park with our packed breakfasts, ready for action. As soon as getting inside the National Park, Red-necked Francolins appeared to be everywhere. The firsts Black-lored Babblers appeared soon after, and our attention was soon jumping from herds of Elephants to Yellow-throated Longclaws, and from them to Cape Buffalos when a lovely flock of Water Thick-knees made us come back to birds!
Rufous-naped Larks seemed common in the area this year, as were Grassland Pipits. A pair of Black-bellied Bustards were noted, and the scanning of small ponds finally produced an African Crake running above the back of a huge Hippopotamus that was almost totally inside a muddy corner.
While enjoying our take away breakfast, we had a locely views on a salty lagoon, and here we got about 20 Lesser Flamingoes feeding along with Pied Avocets and Black-winged Stilts. Back to the grasslands, both Western Banded Snake Eagle and Common Wood-Hoopoe were really interesting addings before concentrating in Big Cats.
Our first goal to have more or less close views on Lions, and this quite easy to get as soon we were enjoying great views on a pack of 8 individuals that were enjoying some rest. But Lions are mostly active at the end of the day, so it means our pack was mostly resting (when not sleeping). Still, the impressive views of this huge predators is always impressing, no matter how far they are!
Our second target for the end of the morning was a it more difficult. Leopards are always tricky to get, but after some scanning around (and a bit of help) we finally enjoyed absolutely great views in one of this iconical predators. Leopards spend most of the daylight up in trees, where they are safe from attacks coming from Spotted Hyenas and Lions. And we can say that we were very lucky, not only because of the close views on the Leopard, but also because after 5 minutes enjoying the cat, it decided to go for a walk, and came down the tree to cross a patch of open terrain right beside us, providing once again in our tour an unforgettable moment!
After such a great morning, we came back to our accommodation for some lunch and rest. The afternoon was devoted to explore the inner bank of the park. Here we were surprised by an old male Elephant that was blocking the traffic in a local road! We spend some time around a pair of lakes, where we found the first Golden-breasted Bunting and the only one Goliath Heron of the trip! The rest of the afternoon we searched for Common Buttonquail, but without success. Still, we enjoyed good views on Flappet Larks, Stout Cisticolas obliging views on a Palm-nut Vulture and, at sunset, we had gorgeous views on 2 Pennant-winged Nightjars displaying around us before a pack of Spotted Hyenas appeared a pair of metres away in front our vehicle!
Dia 9 .Queen Elizabeth to Inshasha
This day crossed this massive National Park to explore its Southernmost part. Still, in the morning we had 3 hours of impressive birding around our accommodation. There, taking advantage of the good combination of moist grasslands and Acacia woodland, we enjoyed species such as Brown-backed Srub Robin, Brown Snake Eagle, Crimson-rumped Waxbill, Nubian Woodpecker, Moustached Grass Warbler and White-chinned Prinia. In the thickets the group got good views on Sulphur-breasted Bush-shrike, Black-headed Batis, Northern Black Flycatcher and Double-toothed Barbet while Spotted-flanked & White-headed Barbets and Great Scimitarbills remained always up in the trees. Holub’s Golden Weaver was added to the list, and the rich bird activity in the grasslands not only allowed us good views on Red-faced, Stout and Croaking Cisticolas but also favoured us with excellent scope views on both Dark-capped and Grey-capped Warblers! All of this while flocks of Madagascar Bee-eaters and Lesser Striped Swallows were around us, and the very last Palm-nut Vultures were leaving their roosting sites.
Leaving behind the grasslands, we did a short visit to a papyrus swamp. Here, we were granted with good views on Lesser Swamp Warbler and Papyrus Gonolek, even if the location was more calm than expected. A fast check to the area around also produced good looks on Swamp Flycatcher and the firsts Striolated Herons of the trip. Indeed, here we also got the best views of the tour on Slender-billed & Yellow-backed Weavers!
It was already mid-morning, so we started our way to the Southern banks of the Queen Elizabeth National Park. Before going, the group enjoyed really close looks on 1 Forest Hog feeding by the road! Our transfer to the South didn’t produce much, but a pair of stops in the way allowed us to connect with the first Cameroon Sombre Greenbul, Speckled Barbet & Dusky Tits of the trip, but also more chances to compare Little & White-rumped Swifts at close range. Still, the most wonderful moment of the stops along our way was when 3 Chimpanzees decided to cross the road right beside us while we having a break to eat something light.
Once in our accomodation, we could enjoy some of the good birds of the garden, that included Tropical Boubou, African Paradise Flycatcher and Arrow-marked Babblers. After a good rest we came back to birding, this time to explore the National Park on its Southern part. A few minutes after leaving the accommodation, we had a wonderful moment when 3 Green Wood-hoopoes decided to stop close to our vehicle while a Grey Woodpecker was seen working a lower branch nearby.
Contuining our driving among Uganda Kobs and Elephants we did get inside the National Park, exploring a small patch of grass which is great for larks. Soon we had good views on both Rufous-naped and Flappet Larks, but the best was still to common, as a White-tailed Lark just flew right to side of the van, providing excellent views to all the participants.
After this wonderful spot, we drove a bit beyond to a water wole. There we enjoyed a large concentration of Uganda Kobs, but also African Sacred Ibis, Black Crakes, 1 Intermediate Egret, 1 Saddle-billed Stork and, the most impressive, a Shoebill Stork that, even if rather far if compared with the view that we all enjoyed the first day of the tour, it was still great!
We were moving fast to the sunset so we moved to our last spot, arriving once it was dark. There we tried to see African Scops Owls, as we had up to three individuals singing around us. Unfortunately and despite our efforts, we never got to see them!
Day 10 – Queen Elizabeth – Mwindi
Transfer day between the lowland woodlands and the impressive mountain jungle in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. During the day we had a number of stops to enjoy the good variety of birds leaving as we went the slopes up. Near our accommodation we got really close views on Double-tooth Barbets and 2 gorgeous Thick-billed Seeadeaters. From here we crossed a number of cropped valleys, with remants of the natural forest at the bottom of them. Here, the tea is again the dominant crop in the best slopes, while the most steep are reserved to other crops.
Further on, a new stop became mandatory when we found a small flock of Black Bee-eaters feeding about 100 metres away from the road. Once out of the car, all the tour participants enjoyed great views on this really sought-after species! Along with them, a flock of Dusky Tits was also present while some African Green Pigeons were also in the move.
Early in the afternoon we were already in the Impenetrable Forest, and we had a pair of walks trying to find some of the goodies living there. We were lucky to find some endemics including Red-faced Woodland Warbler, Mountain Masked Apalis and an obliging Rwenzori Apalis, but the very best bird of these two stops was to find wonderful Black-faced Rufous Warbler, a species normally heard but not that easy to see! Extremely elusive, it took several minutes to get everyone to have at least some views in this impressive bird. A bit beyond, a Cassin’s Flycatcher was waiting for us in a river, its flauting song emerging from the crystalline water and spreading out into the jungle! A scoped Fine-banded Woopecker was also an excellent adding to our list, but was less celebrated than the Sharpe’s Starling that appeared right by the car!
This road keeps going up the slopes for several miles, and a flock of Dusky Tits was a milestone for another stop. Here we didn’ have that much out of some lovely Brown-capped Weavers, the first Grey-throated Barbets of the trip and an impressive African Crowned Eagle perched in a distant branch! This sight was among the top 3 moments of the tour according to our guests. The views on the scope of this massive bird of prey made us think about all the Black-and-White guezera Monkeys in the area, and we counted ourselves lucky to be big enough to not be in its menu…
Day 11 – Bwindi Gorilla Trekking
The Impenetrable Forest in Southern Uganda is an impressive 330 square kilometers area of ancient mountain cloudy forest. This jungle, survivor of the last glaciations, is one of the oldest forests in Africa. Its density is proverbial, and its dark slopes not only are home for over 300 species of birds including several endemics, but also for Eastern (Mountain) Gorillas and Chimpanzees. Indeed is the only natural spot in the world where you can find two apes. Besides, this beautiful landscapes of steep slopes and narrow valleys is also home for the very last Pygmy Humans in Uganda. Communities extremely threatened by habitat loss and contact with economic activities, including tourism.
After enjoying breakfast in our accommodations, we were back to our cabins deep in the forest to prepare ourselves for a intensive Gorilla trekking. This morning will be devoted to get in conctact with our closer relatives inside the mountain jungle. Before the march, we were conveniently adviced about all the security details to be considered for the safety of both Humans and Gorillas. Our group was lead by two rangers and one tracker that was able to follow the apes deep in the forestry.
During the walk we enjoy few birds, but we still had good views on Montane Oriole, White-eye Slaty Flycatcher and Northern Double-banded Sunbird. After 90 minutes of walk our traker was informed that a family group of Gorillas was nearby. In silence, we approach them and we were all soon having excellent views on a group of 1 individuals resting on the forest floor. Even if the most notiable was the sice of the massive “silverback”, the presence of the babies in the group provided us with unforgettable images of them playing, running and interacting with other members of the group.
The experience to have these massive animals, so close related to ourselves, is simply beyond any word!
Back to road, we went back to our accommodation for some rest before coming back to birding bussiness in the afternoon. The birding after lunch was devoted to explore some forest patches inmediatly around our accommodation. There, we enjoyed excellent views on both Mountain and Yellow-striped Greenbuls and first but incomplete views on Rwenzori Hill Babblers and Rwenzori Batis. Regal Sunbirds showed really well, and we were lucky enough to enjoy a small flock of Tuftet-chested Sunbirds feeding, including a full mounted male! This sighting is specially nice since this species tends to be scarce, and many times difficult to find! Other good birds along our walk included White-tailed Blue Flycatcher, and Streaked Canary and Mountain Buzzard were also added to our tour list.
The last stop in the evening was reserved to look for one fo the most special endemics in the Rwenzori Mountains. With the very last lights of the night a Rwenzori Nightjar emerged from the shadows of the forest to fly around us, and after a pair of pass-byes, to stop a few meters away from the group, allowing everyone to have great views! This was one of the best moments in the tour, as this Nightjar, formerly considered to be conspecific with Montane Nightjar but no considered a different species based on DNA analysis, morphological assets and calls.
Day 12. Bwindi Birding
After the long Gorilla trekking, much longer than expected, today we were suposed to climb up the hills in search of the poorly known Grauer’s Broadbill. But the evening before we all arrived to the consensus to swich the long walk for a relaxed birding in search of the long list of endemics living and other good birds living in these mountains.
So, after a not-that-early breakfast, we moved by food to nearby open slope. But even before leaving our accommodation we had a new adding to our list, as a wonderful Brown-crowned Tchagra popped out in the hotel gardens. This is a scarce species up the hills, and a great addition to the group list. Once beyond the hotel facilities, we explored a slope with remants of the former natural grasslands combined with different crops. Here we enjoyed the strong, unmistakable Chubb’s Cisticolas song, and the flauty sounds of the Cape Robin Chats. A pair of African Stonechats were catching insects from the tea bushes, and a flock of Yellow-bellied Waxbills were feeding on the ground. But the best bird of the stop was the pair of Dusky Twinspots feeding along with the Waxbills. Another endemic in the bag! From here we turned to the forest, and a short walk around the impenetrable tangles allowed us to enjoy close ups to Rwenzori Apalis & Batis. Some Red-faced Woodland Warblers were also feeding around, and Banded Prinia was appearing shortly but left a great impression in our group! As much as the bizarre bird was considered for some the bird of the day! The general birding was also great, adding Grey Cuckooshrike and Black-billed Turaco to our list. A bit beyond, a Mountain Buzzard was spotted sitting in a dead branch, at the same time that some Black-throated Apalis showed up in a superb way, and only a pair of minutes after a Grauer’s Warbler started to sing in the tangles. It took several minutes and some effort but at the end everyone in the group had at least some views in this enygmatic and really difficult to spot bird. A few meters beyond a pair of Western Canaries were also a good character for the photographers in the group. This species, recently split from the African Citril, is probably the very last endemic to the Rwenzori, so far! When coming back to our accommodation for a good lunch, we still had to White-naped Ravens flying above us.
After a nice lunch and some rest we went back to the forest, where we had a short but nice selection of birds. A Dusky Turtle Dove showed up just when living our accommodation, allowing some shots. Beyond, we had our first Stülhmann’s Starling, and a few meters beyond we were lucky enough to enjoy a mixed flock of this rather scarce species along with 4 Shaper’s Starlings. A long fight was necessary in order to bring a Archer’s Robin Chat into the light, but even if we had good views on the bird, it left us wanting more of it! Another great bird appeared only a few minutes later, as three White-headed Wood-hoopoes came in flight to stop right beside us, with lot of loud calls, flikering and social activity between individuals, that soon disappeared back in the jungle. We still searched for more specialities, but the weather was quite cold and cloudy, and bird activity collapsed after 18:00. After some more time we decided to come to our accommodation, but not without an expected view of a male Purple-breasted Sunbird at close range was one of the highlights of the afternoon.
Day 13. Bwindi to Nburo National Park. Transfer day between the high mountain in the Albertine Ridge to the dry woodlands in Nburo National Park. An early start was necessary to try to catch with more endemics in the highland forest. Despite that the morning was not that productive as expected, we still got excellent views on Chestnut-throated Apalis, Yellow-streaked Greenbuls and we added Yellow-eyed Black Flycatcher and a lovely Handsome Francolin to our already long trip list. Here we also got the best views on Regal Sunbird in the trip, as this wonderful endemic stopped right in front of us to show itself for a pair of minutes while singing his heart out! Several Mountain Illadopsis were also calling around, and after some work we did get a glimpse in this shy underworth specialits than, despite our efforts, was not enough for most of the tour participants.
From the mountains, we had a transfer to East, arriving to the Nburo National Park in the afternoon. Here we were welcomed by herds of Plain Zebras and Impalas, but our goal for the afternoon was our boat trip exploring the Nburo Lake. A family group of Giraffes in the track was about to ruin our plans… Finally on board, we were soon enjoying the first of 6 (!!) African Finfoots feeding along the lake shore along with Water Thick-knees, African Wattled Lapwings and 3 Wood Sandpipers. African Finfoots can be a really challenging bird, and we were all delighted to see so many of them. During the boat trip we had the chance to see them feeding, but also walking out of the water, interacting with Striated Herons, and we even enjoyed an individual roosting 2 metres high in a branch. The lake was full of Hypos, and some large Nile Crocodiles were also a main attraction along with the many African Fish Eagles around. Some Yellow-throated Greenbuls were also noted, but probably the most remarkable sight of the boat trip (apart from the Finfoots) was the unexpected sighting of a (distant) Great Painted Snipe having a word with 2 Wood Sandpipers.
Back to the ground, we were back to the main birding spots in the park, and we were soon delighted by some Bared-faced Go-away-birds when our van had a breakdown. The engine failed and the efforst of our driver didn’t work at all. Fortunately, we were really close to our accommodation, and we were “gentlely” rescued and transported to our lodge. In the way, a magnificent Leopard was a phenomenal reward for the hour of good light that we lost because of our van breakdown…
Day 14. Nburo National Park – Entebbe. Early morning start to catch up with the very first light and recover a part of the hour lost with the breakdown of our previous van, and enjoy the new car sent from Entebbe during the night. The day was fresh and partly cloudy, a wonderful weather to enjoy the good variety of birds living in the area. After a short walk around our accommodation we fastly connected with a good number of goodies including several Trilling Cisticolas, Grey-backed Fiscals and Bare-faced Go-away-birds. Here we also got the only one African Hoopoe of the trip, as well as wonderful views on Cardinal Woodpecker, Red-faced Crombec and Spot-flanked Barbets. Here we also added the majestic Meyer’s Parrot to trip list, and a pair of skulkers: Yellow-breasted Apalis and Red-faced Barbet. Despite all of this, the very best sight of the short walk was probably the great views on the Red-faced Lovebird that showed out in excellent light, but shortly!
Once inside the National Park, we kept enjoying the variety of mammals there, including several herds of Plain Zebras and Impalas, but also the always enchanting Giraffes moving around. A pair of Impalas were being attented by some Yellow-billed Oxpeckers but, even if having good views on them, we never managed a proper close up. The ambient of sparce thornbush woodlands and dense scrub is excellent for a number of species, and here we got the only Brubru of our trip along with a lovely White-winged Black Tit. The acacia woodland also produced the firs of many Lilac-breasted Roller, and excellent views on the always elusive Bearded Woodpecker. But birding in this corner can be really intense, and at the same of the Roller and Woodpecker, a small flocks of Vultures just passed over us, and could enjoy 3 Lappet-faced Vultures, 1 Rüppell’s & 1 White-backed in a good comparition of shapes, sizes and colours.
The area surrounding the National Park is now having a large number of cattle, depriving wildlife from an excellent habitat. Still, birdlife keeps being good here, and in our way out we enjoyed not only Black-crowned Tchagra, but also Crested Francolin and Green-winged Pytilia while small floks of Wattled Starlings were moving all arond the area!
Moving North in the way to Entebbe, we had a stop in the __ Marshes, were we enjoyed the best wetland of trip. Here we enyojed large flocks of Grey-backed Cranes, Yellow-billed Storks, Yellow-billed Ducks, Long-toed Lapwings and White-faced Whistling Ducks along with 12 Hottentot Teals, several Black Egrets, and lovely views on at least 8 Rufous-bellied Herons. Other species noted in this wonderful corner included 5 Spur-winged Geese, Grassland (aka African) Pipits, White-browed Coucal, Fan-tailed Widowbird, Squacco Herons, African Swamphens and the only Three-banded Plovers of the trip.
After such a great stop, we drove further North for a lunch stop by the Ecuator Line, and we were welcome back to the Northern Hemisphere by some light rains. Taking advantage of the end of the rain, we stopped in a papyrus swamp. No sign of any of the many papyrus specialists, but our efforts were regarded with another wonderful sight on a Shoebill Stork; the third of the trip! And this time the bird was moving in the moisty grassland in a disturbant slow motion while looking for food. The rain came back while enjoying this wonderful, always extremely impressive bird, so we decided to keep our way North to Entebbe.
Once in Entebbe, we still had time for a crepuscular stop around our accommodation, and once again we were lucky enough to enjoy close views on Meyer’s Parrot while the noisy Plantain-eaters were choosing its roosting place. A rather distant African Grey Parrot was a nice add to the day list, and right before sunset we got our first views on the fast flying African Hooby, busy in catching African Palm Swifts. Another crepuscular specialist, the Bat Hawk appeared as well, but left the group wanting more of it! Once it was dark, we were regarded with a wonderful close view on a Southern White-faced Scops Owl posing for us in a wire right beside our accommodation. This was the very last adding to our list, and a great way to end our first tour to Uganda!
From here only drove the short distance to our accommodation, where we had a nice dinner (and cold beer!) before taking our nocturnal flight back to Europe!
En el marc de les sortides ornitològiques organitzades conjuntament amb la Fundació Plegadis i Birding Catalunya, el propassat 24 d’abril vam fer un OrnitoRepte pel Ripollès per mirar de trobar el Pàrid més escàs a casa nostra: la mallarenga d’aigua.
La idea inicial quan el vam programar era de gaudir del començament de la primavera als vessants boscosos de la capçalera del Riu Ter. Amb el que no comptàvem era amb unes temperatures força baixes, aque a primera hora del matí amb prou feines arribaren als 5ºC, i que van donar a la sortida un caire força hivernal, només trencat al final de la mateixa amb l’aparició del sol i unes temperatures lleugerament més agradables. Les baixes temperatures es van traduïr en una activitat d’ocells bastant discreta.
A primera hora del matí el grup de participants va anar arribant al punt de trobada. Un cop fet el recompte i ben abrigats, vam fer un petit tombet des del mateix punt de trobada. Aquí, tot caminant al voltant d’una roureda madura, vam observar els primers ocells de la sortida: Gafarró, tord comú i mallarengues blaves que es van deixar veure força bé. Hi havia merles en vol i també gaig quan la primera mallarenga d’aigua va aparèixer en un arbre ben a prop nostre, oferint molt bones observacions a tot el grup!
Havien passat uns 10 minuts i ja havíem assolit el “repte” de la sortida. Un cop gaudida la mallarenga, vam continuar fent via. Tallarol de casquet, pardal xarrec, cotxa fumada, pica-soques blau, mallarenga cuallarga i raspinell comú també es van deixar veure força bé. L’activitat d’ocells, però, era baixa degut als 4ºC de tempetatura. En aquestes condicions, una mica més de pista només va produir gratapalles, dues caderneres i un parell de mosquiters de passa només apreciats pels anaven davant de tot del grup. Tot amb tot, just al moment que decidíem fer el tomb, una parella de mallarengues d’aigua es van deixar veure durant una bona estona mentre s’alimentaven amb mallarengues carboneres i emplomallades, en el que va ser una bona comparativa de totes tres espècies.
De camí de tornada cap als vehicles una desena de voltors comuns van aparèixer al cel. Els voltors estavan baixant a uns camps vessant amunt, i tot repassant els camps va saltar la 1a sorpresa del dia quan vam trobar un voltor negre aturat a un prat! Tot i estar lluny, tothom va gaudir d’una molt bona observació pel telescopi. El voltor negre estava acompanyat a terra per dos voltors comuns, així que la comparativa no podia ser millor!
Tothom estava gaudint d’allò més amb aquesta espècie tant poc esperada així que vam decidir d’apropar-nos tot seguint la pista amunt. La temperatura continuava sent molt baixa, així que la caminada va anar bé per a recuperar temperatura. Un cop retallada la distància, vam gaudir d’una observació força millor amb el telescopi i d’un parell de fotos testimonials tot i que el voltor negre no ens ho va posar especialment fàcil ja que s’anava movent pel prat, a voltes desapareixent darrera d’alguns arbres. El trajecte també havia produït bitxac comú, cuereta blanca, griva i un fantàstic mascle de mastegatatxes!
De tornada als vehicles ens vam dirigir a un cafè proper, a on vam demanar quelcom de ben calent per intentar recuperar temperatura (encara estàvem a 6ºC!). D’aquí, ens vam desplaçar al Nord i vessant amunt, per explorar un seguit de prats i zones de landes de muntanya.
La temperatura anava pujant, però encara èrem lluny de poder dir que èrem a final d’abril. Poc després d’aparcar vam trobar la primera de moltes verderoles, mentre una piula dels arbres cantava força a prop. Un parell de mallerengues petites s’alimentaven per la zona quan, en apropar-nos a zona de landes, va saltar la segona sorpresa del matí: 2 perdius xerres que van aixecar el vol, deixant-se caure vessant avall!
Mooolta exitació al grup (i als guies) per aquesta observació, així que ens vam apropar molt a poc a poc a la zona a on havien aterrat, amb l’esperança de millorar l’observació. Tot i les moltes precaucions, només vam aconseguir una segona observació de les perdius xerres en vol, mentre marxaven una mica més enllà dins la zona de landes. Aquí ho vam deixar correr per no destorbar-les, tot i que aquestes perdius ens van deixar amb ganes de més!
Encara comentàvem la jugada quan el cel ens va reclamar. Una àguila daurada va apareixer a força alçada però encara reconeixible, mentre un falcó peregrí volava força més baix. El sol anava sortint i la temperatura pujava, i això explicava que els voltors comuns també passessin força amunt! Tot seguint el camí, dos còlits grisos van passar volant per sobre nostre, per aturar-se vessant amunt. Una àguila calçada també es va deixar veure.
Ja de baixada als vehicles, el grup va poder gaudir de molt bones observacions d’una verderola mascle cantant, una parella de bruels i una fantàstica observació d’una àguila marcenca caçant, i que vam poder observar des de dalt. Coses de mirar ocells a la part alta dels vessants pirinencs! Com a observació final, un cucut ens va passar volant pel davant quan arribavem al pàquing.
De camí cap al restaurant, vam fer una parada final al Riu Ter, per tal de gaudir de merla d’aigua i cuereta torrentera! I amb aquesta aturada a la vora del Ter, ja amb temperatures quasi normalitzades per a l’època de l’any, vam acabar un altres OrnitoRepte força exitós!
PD: Aquells que vam fer dinar de germanor vam tenir la sort de gaudir de pica-soques blau, mallarenga d’aigua i una parella de pinsans borroners (trobats gràcies a la Paqui i l’Octavi) entre aiguat i aiguat!
Overview: Our 5th tour exploring Finland was dated a pair of weeks earlier than previous issues. The average temperature was low during the whole trip, and the early dates marked the tour, improving our chances for Grouses and Owls, but also making not possible to connect with some species including Terek’s Sandpiper, Common Rosefinch and Greenish Warbler. However, the early date provided us with better chances for both Steller’s & King Eiders and some interesting migratory species (Marsh Sandpiper, Greater White-fronted Goose, Purple Sandpiper), while the cold ambient was excellent to spot Grouses in the taiga forest. The number of Owls was extremelly high, especially aorund Oulu. Here, we counted a minimum of 20 Short-eared Owls in a single day!
All images in this trip report by tour leader Carles Oliver
Dates: 19th to 28th May, 2022
Number of participants: 8 +1 tour leader
Species along the tour: 171
Day 1. After meeting in Helsinki Airport, the whole group of participants landed in Oulu in the afternoon. The beggining of the tour was delayed as we had to wait for our bus to come, but even from the airport terminal we already had a good sensation about the trip since one of the very first birds to appear was Short-eared Owl flying above the parking of the airport. Other birds noted while waiting included the first of many Yellowhammers and Tree Pipits.
Once in our accommodation we had an early dinner, and after dinner we enjoyed some pre dawn birding in a localy location nearby. There we enjoyed the first displaying Ruffs along with several Wood Sandpipers and Common Snipes. A Greater Bittern was booming in the distance, and Reed Buntings were singing all around. This location, a lovely bay with an extensive bog plain around produced also 6 White-tailed Eagles, Marsh Harriers, Dunlins, 2 Greenshanks, Whooper Swans and hunting Short-eared Owls. Small flocks of Common Cranes were feeding in the fields nearby, the song of Pied Flycatchers emerged from the woodlands close to the sunset, and a male Whinchat joined them for a little while. In our way back to the accommodation European Starlings and Rook were both noted.
Day 2. A very early start to explore some typical places for some of the wonderful Owls living around Oulu. It was a really cold morning, with temperatures far below the average, arriving to -4ºC! Not far from our accommodation we had the first surprises of the day, as we had several Black Grouses displaying along the lane, some of them in the open fields, others flying away as our van recheaded them. We crossed several good spots a low speed, and we were granted we our firsts Western Capercaillies of the tour, including a wonderful male that showed out for us in the top of a pine.
Soon after we arrived to the first key place, where a Northern Hawk Owl had been hunting the last days. We didn’t have to wait long before the Northern Hawk Owl showed out of the forest, landing in the wires and allowing excellent views. The bird spent some time hunting around and we could all enjoy views of the bird hovering and diving on the grass in search of prey.
During the morning we counted 20+ Short-eared Owls, that seemed to be everywhere! We always thought that we would be granted with a close view soon or later, but that never happened this time…
A second stop in the morning produced another wonderful moment of our group. A Great Grey Owl was seen standing up in a meadow by the our road, so we had a stop and enjoyed wonderful views on the bird moving in the field and even catching a prey before vanishing into the woods. Even if the stop was short, we again had 2 Short-eared Owls moving in the fields around!
We kept moving into the woodlands, with more Black Grouses here and there and eventually some Eurasian Woodcocks flying around until arriving to one of the several territories of Eurasian Pygmy Owls around Oulu. Coal Tit and Mistle Thrush were added to our list but a nice (pressumed) male stole the show when decided to stop really close to us in a dead branch. For 5 minutes, we all enjoyed great views on this tiny Owlet, and when decided to leave the spot, the Owl was still sitting on his branch, enjoying the very early morning ambient in the forest.
It was already mid morning, so we had a break to enjoy some coffee before going on with some more birding. Lesser Whitethroats were singing around, and the first of many Eurasian Bullfinches and Common Crossbills of the trip were also seen. But the best surprise of the stop was to enjoy more than decent views on a Black Woodpecker that was feeding around the area!
Back into the boreal forest, we visited a nest box for Tengmalm’s Owl, and we also enjoyed good views on the bird taking out the head from its whole and watching us. From here, a short drive was mandatory to explore one of the typical corners for Ural Owl, and we were again granted with excellent views on a adult of this magnificient Owl! It was one of the tour participants who found the massive Owl roosting in a pine, and we had 15 minutes to admire and take some shots on the bird. Always respecting the distance so the bird was not disturbed.
After such a wonderful morning we drove back to our accommodation to have some rest. After lunch and rest, we visited a pair of places in the afternoon. Before dinner, we visited a corner near Oulu in the search of Terek’s Sandpiper. There, we enjoyed Common Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers, Common Sandpipers, Arctic Terns, Whinchats and singing Skylarks, but no sign of the Terek’s Sandpipers.
The last stop in the afternoon was to explore the large belt of marshes South of Oulu. Here we had a good list of waders, but also enjoyed good views on 1 Marsh Sandpiper along with several Wood Sandpipers and some Common Greenshanks. We had good scope views on the Marsh Sandpiper but not long because it was all the time getting inside the many ditches around.
After this 2nd stop we drove back the small distance to our accommodation to get an early dinner. After dinner, everybody with still some energy went for a walk inmediatly around our accommodation. A new booming Greater Bittern was listened around as well as a good variety a good selection of waders that included two Spotted Redshanks, Eurasian Oystercatchers and Common Ringed Plovers to name a few. In the distance, we also had a small flock of Barnacle Geese (now nesting in different places along the Baltic See), Great Crested Grebes (the only ones along the trip) and 2+ Great Northern Divers feeding in the bay.
Day 3. Early morning start to explore a pair of spots before our midday transfer to Kuusamo. The first spot was to check a nesting place of Great Grey Owl around Oulu. After some searching in the place, we enjoyed wonderful views not only of the female in the nest but also on the perfectly camouflaged male nearby!
A second stop was to done North of Oulu, and even before arriving to the location we had excellent views on a pair of Hazel Grouses feeding on the ground, very vocal and moving in the woodlands. Very happy after such a great success, we still scanned around the area looking for other goodies, but Eurasian Robin and Reed Buntings was everything that we could see. After this scanning we went to search for some of the Pallid Harriers nesting around. The different stops along the morning produced Short-eared Owls, White-tailed Eagles, Rough-legged Buzzards, 3 Hen Harriers, several Marsh Harriers and even a Black Kite and 1 Eurasian Hobby (both species pretty scarce in the area), but unfortunately we couldn’t contact with any Pallid Harriers. Special mention required for a lovely pair of Garganeys that were spotted in our final stop that morning.
After lunch we drove to Kuusamo, where we did arrive in the late afternoon. En route, a stop was mandatory to enjoy the first of many females Western Capercaillies along the trip. All the clients enjoyed great views on this gorgeous female! Once in our accommodation, our guests enjoyed some free birding in the lake and forest around the hotel, enjoying good views on the nesting Goldeneyes, Black-throated Divers and Whooper Swans before dinner.
Day 4. Very early start that morning to explore the gorgeous boreal forests around Kuusamo. Before doing some walk in selected areas we had some “game drive” in some areas which are normally great for grouses. In about 30 minutes of drive we got 10+ Capercaillies and 2 Willow Grouses! We changed the area, and in a different lane we still got more Capercaillies (it looked like being everywhere) and 15+ Black Grouses, some of them lekking directly in the tarmac!
After such a great start, we went to explore one of the most famous corners in the Kuusamo. This hill, with a good spruce forest in the top, is hosting some of the most wanted birds in the region. Unfortunately the rain was going to join us during the rest of the morning, but still we got 2 Bohemian Waxwings moving around and good views on 1 Red-flanked Bluetail while singing. The variety of birds was low, anyway. A further walk under the rain only produced Song Thrush and flocks of Crossbills passing away.
We had to wait until the stopped at mid-morning. Then we tried again the same spot, having good but good views on Parrot Crossbills and amazing views on 2 Siberian Jays that delighted the photographers in the group.
After our early lunch and a good nap, we went out to check out a pair of locations around Kuusamo. Our first stop produced excellent views on Mountain Hares, but also Eurasian Wigeon, Pied Flycatcher and Eurasian Woodcock singing around. But the best birds on this small grassland were a superb pair of Rustic Buntings that came to us, allowing excellent views by everyone in the group! After this stop we went to enjoy a colony of Little Gulls in the area, and we found more birds than ever before, allowing really close views on some pass by birds. Along with them, 4 Red-necked Grebes in full summer plomage were a wonderful way to end our afternoon.
Day 5. Another really early start. After a wonderful breakfast, our first stop was to explore one of the best corners to enjoy Willow Grouse, and even before getting out of the van we were listening a bird singing around. After a short strall we got excellent views on a male singing from the top of a birch tree. 2 Rustic Buntings were also seen around, and the stop produced also a flock of migratoy Yellow Wagtails, and a male Eurasian (Northern) Bullfinch.
The second stop of the morning was devoted to have better views on Red-flanked Bluetail, and after some walk, we had wonderful views on a lovely male, but also Common Redstart, another male Rustic Bunting, Northern Goshawk and extremely confiding Siberian Jays!
From here we still visited another area of boreal forest, still searching for Tree-toed Woodpecker. Unfortunately we had no luck with this specialty but we got our first drake Smew, but also Scandinavian Willow Tits. In our way back, another stop was mandatory as we spotted a pair of Hazel Grouses. After some waiting, we all enjoyed amazing views on the male while singing and performing for us at close range!
After a stop and a coffee it was time to go North. From Kuusamo we drove North, getting inside the Northern Circle Pole. After an en route lunch, our last stop of the day was to explore a gorgeous patch of spruce forest really close to Ivalo. In here, one of my favourite spots in Finland, we had a pair of stops but it didn’t take long before we had our first Siberian Tit appearing and showing in front of us! A second stop produced another pair, and along the we had 3 Capercaillies and really close views on Black Grouses (both males and females).
A short walk around, even if it was at mid-afternoon, produced Siberian Jay, Bohemian Waxwing, Siberian Tit and Mealy Redpolls. But the very best birds of the afternoon were a pair of Pine Grosbeaks feeding, and the male even singing extremely close from the path. Our group enjoyed a 20 minutes long view in this amazing, and often extremely hard to find bird! In our way out of the area, we still had to stop again as 2 Willow Grouses were lekking in the dart road, and provided us, again, with unforgettable views!
Day 6. After the previous successful days, we decided to have a slightly later start today. After breakfast, we kept moving North towards to Norwegian border. In our way, we had a pair of stops to enjoy Rough-legged Buzzard and a pair of nesting PeregrineFalcons. Siberian Tit and Great Grey Shrike were other “en route” birds.
Once in Norway, we enjoyed excellent views on Rough-legged Buzzards and we had a mandatory stop in the road to enjoy some really close Moose. Keeping our way North, we had a stop in an estuary to look for migratory waders and geese. Here we had the only 2 Greater White-fronted Geese of the trip, and also 2 Tundra Bean Geese. The area was hosting some waders such as Eurasian Whimbrel, Sanderling, Ruddy Turstone, Dunlin in lovely full nesting plomage, Little Stints and the first Temminck’s Stint of the trip: a calling bird that was flying around the hide.
Getting inside Varanger is always a great experience, and soon we were enjoying great views on a number of White-tailed Eagles and Rough-legged Buzzards. A pair of Short-eared Owls were also noted, as well as the first of many Arctic Skuas. Before arriving to our accommodation we had some scanning in the bay around, and we were lucky enough to find 6+ Steller’s Eiders roosting along with Common Eiders, and including 3 drakes! While enjoying the birds, a close Temminck’s Stint feeding along Dunlins was also a nice adding! Happy with the scope views, we had a break and some members of the group decided to try closer views on the birds while exploring the meadows and coastline around our hotel.
In the afternoon, the Steller’s Eiders were moved to the other side of the bay, so we drove and enjoyed excellent views on the birds while swimming and feeding, sometimes getting at close range of our group! Everybody was delighted with these magnificient birds as it was one of the main targets for most of our clients. Along with these beauties, the area produced the first of many Kittiwakes of the tour along with several Dunlins, Ruffs and some drake Bar-tailed Godwits.
Before dinner, we still had time to explore a first patch of tundra. Unfortunately it was windy so the number of birds was low. Still, we had good views on Meadow Pipits and European Golden Plovers but the best bird of the stop was a stunning Bluethroat singing his heart out!
Day 7. Again a windy day in Varanger. The pre-dawn strall didn’t produce much because of the wind. After breakfast we went North to Vardo, where a small boat brought us to the bird colony in Hornoya. It is quite difficult to put down in words how an experience such as visiting Hornoya is. Tens of thousands of birds nesting, calling, yelling in cliffs. Waves of birds taking off from the roks to the sea: Guillemots (about 20% being “bridled”), Razorbills, Kittiwakes and wonderful Puffins nesting around! Atlanlic Shags a few inches away from you, nesting under rocks on the ground. Broken eggs of Auks on the ground, and the intense smell all around!
But Hornoya is also home for one of the easiest accessible colonies of Brünnich’s Guillemot, and once we were in the island, our first target was to find some of them. Even if not specially common, it didn’t take long before we had some of them nesting in the cliffs. Once located, we had some time enjoying the very close views on the Auks. We also had a confiding flock of Purple Sandpipers that catched our attention while a pair of Razorbills were mating only inches away from us! Rock Pipits were also seen around, catching insects but also exploring broken eggs while Great Black-backed & Herring Gulls were patrolling the area. Black Guillemots were scarce in the island this year, but we still got to see some around.
In the distance we could the Greylag Geese nesting a close island, but our eye was permanently in the sky, looking for anything interesting to appear. 2 White-tailed Eagles were also patrolling the cliffs, and their movements produced waves of Auks leaving the nesting sites in search of shelter down in the ocean. We never saw any of the eagles catching an Auk, but they didn’t look in a hurry… Even if our main target in the sky never appeared (too early in the season?), we were granted with a pastby Glaucous Gull.
Back in the continent, we spend the afternoon exploring the tundra and the many bays between Hornoya and Hamminberg. The wind was still blowing, but even with it we soon had great views on some males Lapland Buntings. Several Arctic Skuas were also moving in this spot, already chosing the nesting site and being monitored by the White-tailed Eagles around. European Golden Plovers, Rough-legged Buzzard, Red-throated Pipits, Ruffs, Common Snipes, Wood Sandpipers and Common Ringed Plovers were also noted around. Along the bays we had several Long-tailed Ducks, but also Common Eiders, Tundra Bean Goose and large feeding flocks of Goosanders. Black-throated & Red-throated Divers were also seen in different locations.
But the best sighting on our way North were 2 impressive Humpback Whales really close to the coast. One of them was splashing its large pectoral fin in the water, and at times we saw both the pectoral and the tail fins out of the water! It looks like this behaviour is not uncommon during the mating season, when females can do it for quite long to keep the attention of the males!
Once arrived to Hamminberg, we enjoyed good views on Atlantic Gannets fishing close to the coast. Large flocks of Goosanders were in the move to the East while both Long-tailed Ducks and Black Guillemots were all around. Still, the strong wind made the sea watching quite unpleasant. In our way back, a nice Pomarine Skua was also noted and provided us with good views!
Day 8. In the morning we explored a patch of forest were a pair of Northern Hawk Owl was nesting, but unfortunately we couldn’t find it. Still, we got excellent views on Bluethroat while Bohemian Waxwings were moving around. After this stop we moved to center of Varanger, to explore some tundra plateaus. As soon as arrived to the high lands, we had the first Long-tailed Skuas performing for us, chasing each other in long pursuits. They were just arrived, so it means a lot of activity to defend the best corners of the tundra.
A number of stops along the way produced a great list of birds including close ups to Temminck’s Stints, Shore Larks, Lapland Buntings, Bluethroats, Ruffs and 4+ mobile Snow Buntings in shinning summer plomage!
After this successful start in the tundra, we decided to explore the Northern patch of coast of Varanger. There, Atlantic Gannets were fishing all around along with large numbers of Black Guillemots and Long-tailed Ducks. Great Cormorants and Goosanders were migrating East in good numbers and flocks of Purple Sandpipers were noted doing the same. The dramatic landscapes of the area were also the perfect background for small flocks of Twites moving in the grasslands, and a nice pair of King Eiders (female and 2nd year male) that we found inside a flock of 20+ Common Eiders.
Back to the plateau, we had a pair of stops searching for Rock Ptarmigan before we found a wonderful pair of them. Everybody in the group enjoyed wonderful scope views, and some enjoyed a walk in the snow to have closer views and good shots on the Ptarmigans. In our way to our hotel we still had a last stop, since we found an obliging pair of Red-throated Divers feeding really close to our lane.
Day 9. Morning stop in the plateaus in our way South to enjoy more views on Rock Ptarmigans, Snow Buntings and Shore Larks. Unfortunately we were a bit too early for Eurasian Dotterels, but the Long-tailed Skua spectacle was a wonderful reward anyway!
Almost in Finland, we had a last stop in Norwegian territory to scan for Gyrfalcons. Under the intense rain and wind we could only find a pair of Peregrine Falcons while pastby Merlin and Ring Ouzel were noted. Back into Finland, and despite the intense rain, we had a pair of stops in our way to the accommodation to admire close Smews and Bohemian Waxwings were noted again along the road.
During the afternoon, we were hit by the rain and the very strong wind. Still, we decided to explore a pair of corners targeting some specialties that had been scaping to us so far. After some driving, we arrived to one secret pool, were we enjoyed 10 minutes of plain weather, with Bluethroats, Reed Buntings, Yellow Wagtails around and confiding Wood Sandpipers. But the very best were 3 Red-necked Phalaropes landing in the pond quite close and offering some great views even under the incipient rain!
Day 10. Early morning start to enjoy the bird feeders of our accommodation under the rain. Pine Grosbeaks offered great views as so it did the many drake Bramblings and 1 Red Squirrel. In our way to the airport for our morning flight, a very last female Capercaillie showed out as a wonderful way to end our 5th tour exploring Northern Finland and Finnmark!
All images in this trip report by Carles Oliver. All rights reserved.
Overview. Our 8th tour to Morocco explored again one of the most popular routes in Southern Morocco. Combining excellent mountain birding in the Atlas with the stunning variety of birdlife living in the transitional plains between the mountains and the Sahara, this tour embraces a good array of habitats that provides excellent chances for all the main specialties living in the area. This year, the tour was marked by an unusual cloudy weather and very cold temperatures. During our stay in Agadir, we had general rains in the area, and the snow was appearing a pair of times during the tour. This situation was translated in a poor bird migration, with several trans-Saharan migratory species showing very thin numbers, when not being totally absent from our trip list. Despite the general unusual weather, we got excellent views on all specialties out of Thick-billed Lark. The tour had also a pair of very interesting birds, as males Little Crake and Pallid Harrier were seen both around Ouarzazate.
Day 1: Early breakfast in our hotel in Marrakech before going out and enjoy a sunny but rather fresh day. All tour participants were arriving along the day before in a number of afternoon flights, and we all met for an evening meal.
Before getting to the van we had some nice looks to the Marrakech urban birdlife. A number of Pallid Swifts were flying low, and we got good views on the colour and structure. On the same hotel, two House Buntings were singing their heart out while Sardinian Warblers, Common Bulbuls, Spotless Starlings and Eurasian Greenfinches were also noted.
In our way out of Marrakech we had first views on Maghreb Magpies, a recent split from Eurasian Magpies, on the wires or feeding on the ground, often along with Cattle Egrets. Our first stop was to explore a lovely valley in the Atlas. Here, small patches of riverside forests are surrounded by the wallnut orchards while the slopes around are fittered with Juniper srublands. Soon after living the van we had our first Levaillant’s Woodpecker (aka AtlasGreen Woodpecker) nicely showing. We could all have excellent views while the bird was slowy moving in the branches of tree, in an interesting warbler-like behaviour. 2 African Blue Tits appeared as well in the same place, and a showy Eurasian Wren was a nice adding. Great Tit was calling in the distance, and European Serins were moving all around. A bit more of time in this wonderful location allowed us to have 3 Little Swifts, our first Moroccan Wagtail, Great Spotted Woodpecker and lovely views on a male Cirl Bunting.
We move on from this wonderful corner to go up in the hillsides. As normal, we had some good roadside birding, and Lesser Kestrels and Eurasian Sparrowhawk were noted while moving up. Once arrived to a typical habitat we had a second stop, successful again. Soon after we got out of the van a wonderful Tristam’s Warbler was moving really close while feeding in the Junipers. Another bird was singing up in the slope and provided good looks while showing on the top of a bush. Around the area we also had two Atlas Coal Tits (a potential split) and a wonderful Rock Bunting calling while doing its way in a barren slope. However, the suprise of the stop was to see 3+ Ring Ouzels (torquatus race) moving in the scrublands and on the ground while looking for berries.
Back to the lane, we kept doing our way up until a large flock of Red-billed Choughs came to us in a wonderful aerial spectacle. The birds were not only playing with the wind in the slopes, but also harrasing an Atlas Buzzard (still considered a race of Long-legged Buzzard, but who knows for how long). A fast stop by the road was required, and happily all the tour participants could connect with this amazing bird of prey, clearly smaller and short-winged than nominals Long-leggeds. But we were still luckier when a Barbary Falcon joined the show for a while, and offered nice views while flying quite lower than the Choughs themselves!
Happy after such a wonderful road side stop, we kept our way to arrive to Oukaïmeden. Once in the area, we did a short walk in the plain and we fast had a flock of 6 Rock Sparrows that gave us nice views. Black Redstarts and Black Wheatears were around, and we were lucky enough to see White-throated Dipper in the stream and 1 Alpine Accentor that flew along right in front of us, but the main attractions of the place kept elusive for us.
We decided to do a lunch stop, and enjoy the good food up in the mountains. After lunch we went for a second shot in the plains and we were definately luckier, since a female African Crimson-winged Finch appeared sitting on a wire and, after a bit of walk, we all enjoyed excellent views on the bird! It was certainly strange to have a single individual here, contrasting with flocks that we normally find but never mind. We really took that!
A last stop was required before stating going down to Marrakech. In a small corner of the plain (a typical place for them to be) we found 12+ Atlas Horned Lark, a very distictive, resident race of Horned Larks, and again a good candidate for a future split.
Out of mountains, we still decided to go for a final stop before going back to our accommodation. The Southern part of Marrakech has lovely fields and a good array of birdlife living on them. Here we had a stop to and we were granted with a lovely flock of European Serins, Spanish Sparrows, Corn Buntings, Crested Larks, Zitting Cisticolas, European Stonechats plus the views on species such as Moussier’s Redstart and Woodchat Shrike. But the main character and the authentical reason of our stop was to look for Barbary Partridges, and we were lucky enough to find 3+ of them doing their way in the fields, and trying to disapear in the open terrain.
Day 2. Transfer day from Marrakech to the Agadir area. A transfer was more complicated due to the difficult traffic around Agadir. Our first stop was in Essaouira, where we enjoined some good birds South of the city. Here we had first views on Ruddy Shelducks but also Pied Avocets, Black-winged Stilts, 2 Green Sandpipers, Wood Sandpiper, 1 Ruff, 14 Eurasian Spoonbills, Greater Flamingoes, Common Redshanks, 3 Little Ringed Plovers and 1 Common Snipe. Some other species, although more distant, included 3 Audouin’s Gulls + 1 Mediterranean Gull and 3 Sandwich Terns roosting along with large numbers of Yellow-legged Gulls (probably coming from the Mogador Island colony) and a single Lesser Black-backed Gull.
Our journey kept to the South, following the wonderful coastal route that, crossing slopes fittered with Argan trees, arrives to the Tamri Estuary. Here we had a walk and soon we had good views on Northern Bald Ibis flying above us. The walk goes along the coastal dunes, with many Lesser Black-backed Gulls moving up in down along the coast. A scan into a flock of gulls roosting in the beach produced to less than 40 Audouin’s Gulls and some nice-looking Kentish Plovers. But the main attraction was still to come when a Northern Bald Ibis just landed a few metres away from us, and started to look for food in the sand. Digging its bill in the dunes, the bird showed really suggessful and got warms and some small insects. After 20 minutes of wonderful sighting, joined by two pairs of Moussier’s Redstart, we did a last stop further South, in the Cape Tamri.
This location proved in other issues to be excellent for seawatching, but this time all the birds were seen really far away, and the counts were not above 25 Northern Gannets moving North and some Sandwich Terns moving around. The stop was complemented with great views on tame Thekla Larks moving around the rocky outcrops and 2 Algerian Shrikes (the race of Great Grey Shrike living in Northern Morocco and along the Atlantic coast).
We started moving to our accommodation, with a last stop in mind, but our changes of this last birding stop vanished into a large traffic jump due to road works.
Day 3. Our day in the Souss-Massa National Park started with a pair of short walks to catch up with some specialties around. The weather was clearly changing, with a massive low pressure system coming from the Atlantic Ocean and threatening with strong rains and lower temperatures. Still, we managed a pair of successful stops in the morning.
Our first stop was to explore a small corner of the Massa River. In the past, this area showed a wonderful variety of birdlife, including several migratory birds. But this year the water level (like in many other corners along the Massa River) was really low, and the migratory birds almost absent. A short stroll rapidly produced good views on Cetti’s Warbler and African Chaffinches. Several Common Chiffchaffs were moving around, and a obliging pair of Moussier’s Redstart provided great views. In the distance, a Black-winged Kite was whovering above the farming around the river. After some scanning, we were able to locate a wonderful Black-crowned Tchagra moving in the lash vegetation, and with some patience we all enjoyed great and close views on it!
The clouds were already coming, and temperature was getting down (collapsing!), but we managed a second stop before the heavy rain arrived. In a small patch of reeds and tamarisks we found the first Western Olivaceous Warbler (aka Isabelline Warbler) of the trip moving in the vegetation and going on with what it sounded like a subsong. 3 Eurasian Spoonbills were feeding in a small pond along with 1 Common Sandpiper and 1 Little Ringed Plover. Some Little & Pallid Swifts flew above us, providing good looks while we moving away from the river to have a short exploration of the fields around. A flock of 35 Eurasian Siskins was quite a surprise so far South, but little more could be added out of 1 Meadow Pipit and Moussier’s Redstarts. It started to rain heavily so we decided to go back to our accommodation. In our way back, a Little Owl was a nice find!
The heavy rain tied us to ous hotel until mid-afternoon, when the rain stopped and we could go out. There were still some clouds, but had to move! Another potentially good corner in the river Massa was also rather quiet, but we still had 4 Plain Martins flying around, brief views on 1 Bluethroat, Maghreb Magpies, a distant Western Swamphen, 1 Purple Heron and a small flock of Pied Avocets feeding nearby the bridge. Beyond this point, the area become more bushy, with formidable formations of euphorbias. Here we did a second stop, and we were granted with 3 Western Black-eared Wheatears, European Bee-eaters, Sardinian Warblers, 2 Eurasian Hoopoes, 2 Cirl Buntings at close range and 1 Great Spotted Cuckoo! We were all quite satisfied with this, and we drove back to the hotel for an early dinner. After dinner, more birds!
A short walk from our accommodation, and a bit of luck, provided great views on 1 Red-necked Nightjar calling, flying and briefly stopping around us in a great sight that, for our clients, ranked among one of the 10 better birds of the trip!!!
Day 4. Transfer day between Agadir and Ouarzazate. The morning was again really cold (only 10ºC!!) and with some rain. Despite the bad weather we did stop in the Massa River, and we had a good hearing on 3 Black-crowned Tchagras singing while a flock of Glossy Ibis was feeding around. A second morning stop in the Souss River estuary was way more productive. Here we got a really good selection of waders feeding in the mudflats along with several Eurasian Spoonbills, some Greater Flamingoes, Mediterranean Gulls and a Lesser Kestrel hunting dragonflies!
It was quite a surprise the good number of Black-tailed Godwits in the estuary feeding along with several Black-winged Stilts and Pied Avocets. A minimum of 48 Ruffs were also counted, and 27 Curlew Sandpipers. 3 Spotted Redshanks were also noted along with many Common Redshanks, Grey Plovers, Eurasian Whimbrels and some Wood Sandpipers. A careful scanning revealed also 1 Temminck’s Stint, 2 Red Knots, 4 Eurasian Curlews, 4 Bar-tailed Godwits and a flock of 7 Little Stints. Surprisingly we only counted 4 Common Ringed Plovers in the whole estuary!
A short walk along the more vegetated areas produced some Yellow Wagtails and short views on a (white-spotted) Bluethroat.
After this pleasant stop we went on with our transfer along the Anti Atlas. The roads between Agadir & Ouarzazate goes along one of the best areas for birds of prey in Morocco. With the Tawny Eagle and Chanting Goshawks both gone for long, the area remains as an interesting hot-spot for birds of prey such as Black-winged Kite. Along the road, we counted up to 4 Black-winged Kites, but also Black Kites, our first Short-toed Snake Eagle and 1 Barbary Falcon.
One of the best stops on this road birding provided excellent views on a Great Spotted Cuckoo singing from the top of an Argan Tree. Some tens of miles away from the cuckoo, another stop was mandatory when we found 4 obliging Cream-coloured Coursers and 2 Desert Larks just by the tarmac!
In the afternoon we were already close to Ouarzazate, when we crossed one of the many streams coming down from the Atlas. There, roosting in the reedbeds, there were several Little Egrets and 4 Black-crowneds Night Herons. A stop was, obviously, mandatory!
The vegetation along the stream was full of Sedge Warblers that were feeding along with 1 or 2 Eurasian Reed Warblers while the first Willow Warbler of the trip was moving in a tall grass right beyond. We were really enjoying the views on these little fellas just when 1 male Little Crake decided to walk out of the vegetation, showing himself in a superb afternoon light! The bird was there for 10 minutes, in what it was a lifer bird of more than the half of the group! Then somebody advaced about a bird of prey coming from the right, and we all had the time enjoy a superb Bonelli’s Eagle diving right beyonf the stream, tallons in the front of, probably trying to catch a prey!
Everybody was really excited, and the Little Crake was still in the out, but a Eurasian Wryneck just called in our back. Time to move to the small Almond plantation and try to find the Wryneck. We moved slowly in the fields with scatered large Almond trees, when a small bird just flew off from the grass and landed low in small bush: 1 Common Grasshoper Warbler! It took me 10 minutes to put everyone in the bird, but we did it!!!
Back to the Wryneck operation, we moved around the area and found a lovely European Turtle Dove sitting on a tree. A tour participant found a Woodchat Shrike in a large shrub and we all admired it but, by the time my bins came back to the tree where the Turtle Dove was, it was turned into the Wryneck that we had been looking for!! What a wonderful stop!!
And this is how a road birding day can turn out in a absolutely great birding day!
Day 5. Early morning start to explore the massive reservoir inmediatly South of Ouarzazate. Weather was still cloudy, and temperatures were far lower than expected. Still, we enjoyed another great day. Instead of heading directly to the reservoir, we drove a bit around the semi desert to try to find some specialties. There we had first views on Desert & White-crowned Black Wheatears but also a pair of Trumpeter Finches and 1 Spectacled Warbler. It was clear that it was some migration, since it was a flock after a flock of Greater Short-toed Larks moving North, and we got 17 Black Storks that seemed to be roosting in a distant plateau East of the reservoir.
Once in the lake, we had good views on both Maghreb & Thekla’s Larks. The shores were full with Ruddy Shelducks and the songs of migratory Sedge Warblers were all over. A distant Water Rail was also noted, while a large flock og 400+ White Storks were roosting in the reeds. On waders, it was low. We only had some Little Ringed Plovers, some Ruffs, Green Sandpipers, 2 Greenshanks and 3 Black-tailed Godwits.
A bit beyond we reached a view point over the reservoir and we soon had excellent but distant views over the many Marbled Teals around. We counted a minimum of 80 of them and, along with this really scarce duck, we enjoyed a good array of other ducks including Gadwalls, Northern Shovelers and Eurasian Teals, but also 1 female Eurasian Wigeon, 2 Tufted Ducks, 12 Common Pochards, 5 Garganeys and 2 Northern Pintails. In the lagoon we also got the only Great Crested Grebes of the trip while 2 Alpine Swifts flew over.
After some time scanning the lagoon we started to move. It was still cold and cloudy but it was evident that a good raptor migration was going on. Hundreds of distant Black Kites were cincling and moving North, 1 female Western Marsh Harrier was seen flying low and inmediatly after we got one of the surprises of the trip, a male Pallid Harrier that showed briefly while flying towards the Atlas! Unfotunately not everyone in the group got a proper view on this very scarce bird of prey!!
It was already late in the morning so we started moving East to arrive to our accommodation in Boulmane du Dades for an early lunch. The ambient here was even colder that it was in the morning, and we had lunch by the fire!
During the afternoon we had a first contact with the extensive steppe land inmediatly South of Boulmane. The light was poor and the temperature was only 6ºC, extremelly low for Morocco in this season. Still, it didn’t take long to have first views on Temminck’s Larks, and a proper stroll around produced a pair of Greater Hoopoe Larks, 1 Long-legged Buzzard, 1 Barbary Falcon a flock of 6 Cream-coloured Coursers and some Desert Wheatears.
Day 6. Full day enjoying the steppes and gorges around Boulmane. In the morning we had some stops in the plains, adding great views on Trumpeter Finches and Red-rumped Wheatears to our list. We were only 3ºC but the birding was still great, with several Temminck’s Larks around and migratory Greater Short-toed Larks feeding around. A short visit to proper fields around produced 8 Black-bellied Sansgrouses and, for our surprised, they were joined by 1 Pin-tailed Sandgrouse!
We were in a small lowland in the way to the Atlas, and a further exploration of the areas produced excellent views on Little Owls!
Our last stop of the morning was even better. A small corner in the plains that is normally a good place for Larks was having more than ever: 15+ Cream-coloured Coursers, 10+ Greater Hoopoe Larks, Mediterranean Short-toed Larks, Thekla’s Larks and Greater Short-toed Larks were all seen and enjoyed. A Tawny Pipit showed briefly and some bush around produced 2 Willow Warblers, 1 Tree Pipit, Linnets and 4 species of Wheatears (Northern, White-crowned Black, Red-rumped & Desert!).
In the afternoon the sun finally appeared, and temperature rose. We basically spent the afternoon in a pretty gorge close to Boulmane. There, we enjoyed great views on a roosting Pharaon Eagle Owl, but also a pair of Lanner Falcons, Black Wheatear, Desert Larks, a flyby Red-rumped Swallow and stunning views on a Maghreb Wheatear, on