Nesting Leatherback Turtles Bring a Bonus to April through July Trinidad and Tobago Birding and Nature Tours

Leatherback Turtle on a Trinidad Beach, photo by Howard Topoff

Leatherback Turtle on a Trinidad Beach, photo by Howard Topoff

Nesting Leatherback Turtles provide an April to early-August bonus to year-round popular Caligo Ventures birding and nature tours and for those that prefer travel on their own – Independent Birding Ventures. Seven to ten day guided group birding and nature tours are based out of the Asa Wright Nature Centre and Lodge in Trinidad. This world-renowned ecolodge is set in a lush, tropical second-growth forest, a former plantation turned wildlife sanctuary, in Trinidad’s scenic Northern range. Birders have flocked here for over forty years; many return to enjoy the famed Verandah from which many have spotted thirty or more life birds before breakfast.

Many know about its world-class birding, but few know that Trinidad hosts some of the worlds’ largest and most productive Leatherback Turtle nesting sites. Matura and Grand Riviere are two sites that Caligo travelers visit, Matura Beach being the larger with a 12-mile stretch of undeveloped beach. Grand Riveire is often the chosen site for film crews recording this event, being smaller but in a prime location, this is the mostly densely nested beach known.

Watching Leatherbacks is an experience few have the opportunity to witness. With Asa Wright’s expert guides working in tandem with staff from a Trinidad-based non-profit group formed to protect turtles, one can safely venture out to await the giant Leatherback coming ashore. In May and June you can watch Leatherback females, much more at home in water than on land, drag themselves onto the sand to lay their eggs. This is a vulnerable time for them, and they nest only every three to five years. Standing close to them, seeing the effort it takes for them to find a safe and remote beach, and lay their eggs is a remarkable event to experience. Females make every effort to hide their nest, sweeping large arcs of sand with their massive flippers. These females weigh close to a ton, and can reach five to six feet in length. They lay about 80 eggs at a time, and will return several times over the April to July season, to spread their reproductive effort out. Eggs typically take 60 to 70 days to reach gestation. If conditions are right, visitors later in the season need to watch where they tread as nests can erupt at your feet and you could see hundreds of hatchlings scrambling across the sand to the sea.

These largest and strongest members of ancient sea turtle lineage arrive on Trinidad beaches having spent the summer feeding in cold waters of the North Atlantic, as far away as northern Europe. In this century, the marvel of their body functions and architecture – honed by 100 million years of history – was put to risk of extinction by the thoughtless consumption by humans, and disregard for the fairly simple needs of these ancient reptiles who share the planet. Estimates of the critically endangered Pacific population may be less than 2000. The Atlantic has become their stronghold. Trinidad once had extensive poaching, but it is now a rare problem with tourism providing income for local guides that are trained to view turtles in ways that do not discourage their nesting. Your visit supports conservation, evidenced by populations in Trinidad the tide of decline has turned and Leatherbacks are increasing in number. Trinidad is critical to the Atlantic population, hosting perhaps 80% of nesting individuals in the Caribbean. Guyana, Suriname, Puerto Rico and Florida are other sites, but none host the numbers one finds in Trinidad.

Caligo Ventures, now operated by Naturalist Journeys, LLC, has been the exclusive booking agent for the famed Asa Wright Nature Centre in Trinidad for 30 years. Travel Planners can help you book a trip in which turtle viewing is one element in a whole array of birding and natural history wonders, or they can craft a turtle-focused stay for you using two lodges – the Centre and a hotel located right on one of the turtle beaches.

AWNC VerandahNo visitor to Trinidad should miss time at Asa Wright Nature Centre, where the experience of staying there, immersed in nature, is often described as the best introduction to Neotropical Rainforests around. The Lodge is of great appeal to birders, but expert naturalists at the Centre are also versed in botany, butterflies and other insects, reptiles, amphibians and general natural history. The Centre recently hosted a Bioblitz, recording the island’s biodiversity. At close-in feeders and flowering shrubs that rim them, one finds Tegu Lizards and Agouti alongside honeycreepers, tanagers, motmots, and other tropical birds. Toucans, manakins, bellbirds and oilbirds draw professional and amateur birdwatchers alike. In summer months rates for visitors are particularly favorable, and for several weeks of July there are programs provided for children during Family-Friendly weeks at the Centre.

For information contact Naturalist Journeys 866.900.1146, or Caligo Ventures at 800.426.7781. Email: info@naturalistjourneys.com info@caligo.com

Naturalist Journeys Announces New Tour to View Rare California Condors of the Four Corners Region

California Condor at Zion National Park, photo by Narca Moore Craig.

Naturalist Journeys announces a new tour September 3-8, 2013, to observe rare California Condors in the Four Corners area, in partnership with the Nature and Raptor Center of Pueblo (NRCP), Colorado.  The company owner, Peg Abbott, and Center’s Executive Director, John Gallagher, created the tour based on their strong mutual interest in the restoration of iconic California Condors, making a return from the brink of extinction. Gallagher describes “When I called Peg Abbott, owner of Naturalist Journeys, I had one word for her: “CONDORS.” She said, “I like it.” So we put our heads together and in a short time, we had a plan.”

Gallagher welcomes Condor enthusiasts and Naturalist Journeys travelers to join the NRCP group. In a NRCP recent newsletter, he says that leading summer programs for kids has made him realize the physical, mental, and emotional health benefits of time in nature. In the latest edition of The Cottonwood, his invitation to join the tour is titled, “Adults Need Nature Too”.   To reserve space on this tour, contact NRCP directly.  Find out more about the tour and organization at www.natureandraptor.org.

Peg Abbott comes from a conservation background, having worked 17 years with the National Audubon Society. She says that part of Naturalist Journey’s mission as a top-rated eco-tour company is to work with nature organizations like NRCP to help put together a well- organized and successful nature tour for their members.

On this extraordinary week-long adventure, tour participants will visit the Four Corners region’s spectacular parks and monuments with a focus on understanding the ecology and current status of the California Condor population.  A recent report highlights just how rare this specie is, listing less than 250 individuals as living in the wild.  Abbott says that the guided experience is essential here, not only to find wild and elusive California Condors, but to better understand the region’s fantastic geology, lush forests, open sagebrush-clad valleys and rainbow-colored canyons.  She says, “California Condors need a large expanse of terrain and they move around within that large region seasonally.  Where they may be in September is different than where we find them in January”.

Guides network with professionals and depend on previous experience to find them. Abbott and Gallagher choose to include Zion National Park, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon,

and the Vermilion Cliffs to showcase California Condors.  Because of the group’s interest in birds and other wildlife, they also selected the ghost town of Grafton, Utah and Pipe Springs as lush oases that attract migrant songbirds, on the wing through the region in early September.

Condor Terrain, Zion National Park

Naturalist Journeys Nature and Birding tour participants delve into their passion and the terrain. The Adventure in Condor Country tour includes a guided hike in scenic Antelope Canyon and a raft trip on the Colorado River through Marble Canyon. Guides carry high-powered optics to aid in raptor viewing.

For more information about Naturalist Journeys and the Nature and Raptor Center of Pueblo’s adventure to Four Corners, including costs, detailed itinerary, and travel planning, see the full Adventure in Condor Country description.  The tour begins and ends in Page, Arizona and is limited to 12 persons, with two expert guides.  For the full schedule of Naturalist Journeys Nature, Birding and Hiking tours on the calendar page of their website.

Arizona Monsoon Madness: Naturalist Journeys Ranks This Essential for Bucket List Birding Tour and Travel

TODO Elegant trogon

Elegant Trogon, Portal Arizona, image by Tom Dove

August in Arizona – It Must Be Madness!

Why would anyone go to Arizona in August?  It’s hot there, a visit would be Madness!  According to the guides of Naturalist Journeys, a top birding and nature tour company based in Portal, Arizona, a visit in August is a must do on a savvy natural history traveler’s agenda, part of that bucket list one might never have thought of.   Why the fervor for this season?  Monsoon Madness.

Arizona in August is extreme. Summer rains, called monsoons, power extreme biodiversity, and produce off-the-chart, unreal numbers of species.  Naturalist Journeys owner Peg Abbott recalls her first visit to Portal at that time of year, over twenty years ago. “I was making a call from the phone booth outside the Portal Café. I started looking around and realized I had company – over 17 species of insects, large, colorful katydids, praying mantis, and a wild Rhinoceros-looking beetle.  I hung up and quickly called my entomology friend, a professor at Colorado College, telling her she had to see this.  She did, later that fall with a field class.  It’s wild, in summer the whole region gets green.  In fact, in Southeast Arizona August is the greenest month of the year.  Landscapes are transformed. Grass grows thigh-high. Wildflowers explode. One has to see it to believe it.

A sense of adventure beckons naturalists in the know to Arizona each August. Even the local Border Patrol agents train to recognize the odd behaviors of August visitors.  Birders gather in groups at night, passing silently under ghost-like sycamore trees, scanning limbs for small owls. Wilder than birders at night are those in cars on the road – sometimes very remote roads – that swerve, and stop suddenly. From them people jump out of all sides, carrying sticks. Border agents learn these are “herpers”, the local name for professional and amateur snake and reptile enthusiasts. This is their time. August brings out peak numbers of numerous species. Bob Ashley,  a reptile enthusiast and owner of the Chiricahua Desert Museum, describes a good “herper” night as warm, with no moon. August is the peak month, when nights are warm and humid. In a couple hours of driving one might see 30 snakes of more than a dozen species.  Antelope Pass, in neighboring New Mexico, reports the highest number of lizard species in the United States. The region has 8 species of toads. Insect diversity abounds. In the natural history realm, it’s madness.

All through August, for those going out,  need for precaution prevails.  Weather is extreme.  Lightning extraveganzas happen almost daily as clouds gather.  This signals cool, shaded afternoons – until electricity sends residents (human and other) to shelter.  People find a place with an open view, and watch with fireworks-style fascination. Strong rains follow the show, at times causing flash floods.

A simple dinner invitation in Portal can turn into a slumber party, as guests have no way to cross raging Cave Creek to get home.  Resident Susanne Apitz, active with the local Emergency Response team, says, “We take it in stride. Like northern states have to be ready for ice on the roads, freezing temperatures, and high levels of snowfall, we get ready for stranded cars, spot-fires from lightning strikes, and hikers with hypothermia on mountain trails where it may even hail”.  So much for it being too hot in August in Arizona!

Ten Reasons Not to Miss Arizona’s August Monsoons:

 1. Extreme Biodiversity.  Find fourteen species of hummingbirds, observe butterflies that stray north from Mexico, tally a list of lizards – Ashley says, “nearby Antelope Pass, just over the state line in New Mexico, has the highest number of species in the US, with almost 30 species”!  Hire a guide from small companies such as Naturalist Journeys in Portal to help you learn and observe.

2. Stunning Photography:  Find a rare Elegant Trogon pair with chicks. Try some timed exposures for lightning shows, or star trails. Portal, Arizona sports Sky Village, a subdivision home to serious amateur astronomers, some willing to share their expertise.

 3. Time to Get Dirty.  Poke and probe on forest trails of Coronado National Forest, abundant in each of the Sky Island Mountain Ranges.  Portal, Arizona has a Visitor Center staffed on weekends to help you find your way.  Work up a sweat going for gusto to one of the finest lookouts in the Southwest, Silver Peak in the Chiricahua Mountains. Stand and let powerful monsoons rains wash you clean.

4. Redefine Adventure.  In the Chiricahuas you don’t need bungee cords, canopy towers, zip lines, or boats.  Weather and the wild world combine to keep your adrenaline pumping.  Those with curious minds can dig for a honeypot ant, follow a troop of coatimundis, or join a rattlesnake count each August in Barfoot Park, recently (2011) declared by the Park Service as one of the country’s first official National Natural Landmarks.

 5. Scream Back!   Cave Creek Canyon has one of the highest densities of breeding raptors and owls on the planet, on a par with the famous Snake River Birds of Prey area in Idaho. In August young are fledging, making demands on their parents. Feisty Apache Goshawks can split your skull if you wander too close.  Luckily their screams alert you to invasion of their territory.  From Golden Eagles, to tiny Elf Owls, the airways abound with clatters, clucks, chatter, calls, songs and screams.  Take off the headphones, and listen!

6. Dare to Unplug.  Portal, Arizona just got cell service in 2013, and it only reaches the mouth of Cave Creek Canyon.  WIFI locations, like the local library, the porches of local lodgings, or the Chiricahua Desert Museum, make for good social encounters.

7. Reap the Harvest.  The monsoon rains bring life to all things wild, including those who like Prickly Pear Margaritas. The cacti’s aubergine-colored fruits are called “tunas”.  Locals do the work to harvest them, remove small spines, and make a syrup good on pancakes, or mixed with lime. Buy some at the Sky Islands host farmer’s markets, weekly as agriculture kicks into high gear with the rains.  Bisbee’s Saturday market, in an historic mining town located between Portal and Sierra Vista, has flavor beyond its food vendors and is not to be missed.

8. Go Wild.   During Arizona’s August monsoons, local biology-types can be found with glazed over stares, not unlike those coming down from a long weekend party. Recognize sleep deprivation, as they’ve been up at dawn to look for Elegant Trogons, stared through scopes in search of shorebirds passing through from the arctic, and strained to see fine feather variation of hummingbirds at feeders.  They’ve hiked mountain trails, where after the 2011 Horsehoe II fires wildflowers appear in August in profusion.  They may have surveyed 150 ft. Douglas Fir trees in search of Mexican Chickadees that only live in the Chiricahuas, revealing their presence in a call too high-pitched for many to hear. And then there is “herping” to do long into the night…

9. Unwind.  If you can’t keep up with biodiversity-crazed locals and visitors, just enjoy yourself. There are no fancy accommodations here, but the area’s Inns, lodges and B and B’s all have in common splendid views, porches to sit on to appreciate them, and good old western hospitality.

10. Brag. Tell Your Friends – YOU Visited Arizona in August (weird?), and let them ask you WHY.  Smile and say – you know, it’s Monsoon Madness.

Naturalist Journeys, LLC has expert guides, and can help you plan your visit in July or August for Monsoon Madness through their Independent Ventures program. Participants can enjoy either 4 or 6 nights split between two great eco-lodges in a package that includes dinners at local restaurants, expert guides, and special discounts with local vendors.  Not ready yet?  August 4-10,  2014, join them for their popular week-long group tour, entitled –you guessed it – “Monsoon Madness”.

Naturalist Journeys Southeast Arizona Birding Guides Run 32nd Portal Arizona Breeding Bird Survey

Olive Warbler, Southeast Arizona at Rustler's Park

Olive Warbler, Southeast Arizona at Rustler’s Park

Because it provides long-term data, one of the tools potentially useful to assessing the effect of severe fires (2010, 2011) in the Chiricahua Mountains is data from a Breeding Bird Survey run on a 25-mile route within the range, over a span of 38 years.  Prior to 2013, thirty-one U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Breeding Bird Survey counts have been conducted on a route that starts near the road junction to Whitetail Canyon, continuing over to Paradise, then Portal, and on up to Rustler and Long Parks at higher elevation. These official USFWS counts began in 1975.  Dr. Walter Spofford, a retired ornithologist from Cornell University living in the canyon, designed and conducted the route in its early years.  Counts were run every year with the exception of 1988, 1989, 1991, and 1994 (likely due to the Rattlesnake Fire).  The three years prior to 2013, that would have provided quite valuable data in 2010, 2011 (year of the Horseshoe II fire), and 2012 were also not run.

Peg Abbott, a professional birding guide for Naturalist Journeys, LLC, who lives in Portal, agreed to pick up the route and keep it active. She was familiar with the count protocol, having run a route in northwest Wyoming for many years. Abbott is on the board of the Friends of Cave Creek Canyon, a non-profit group interested in supporting long-term monitoring on Coronado National Forest.  Another board member, Wynne Brown, agreed to assist in the task that required much of a day and an 0443 (sunrise) rendezvous.

Over the 38-year span, 131 bird species have been recorded along the Portal Breeding Bird Survey route 06133.  The highest number of species in any one year was 86 (1993) and the lowest was 54 (1975).  This year’s count will come in second when tallied, with 83 species having been detected.  Over the years, four counts had totals in the 50-59 species range (1975, ’76, ’77, ’78); six counts had totals in the 60-69 species range (’79, ’81, ’87, ’90, ’97, ’99); nine counts had totals in the 70-79 species range (’80,’82, ’83, ’84, ’85, ‘86, 95, ’96, ’98) and two counts previously noted over 80 species (‘92, ‘93).

Count observers receive maps and instructions from the USFWS ahead of the count. They drive a designated 25-mile route, stopping every half-mile to listen for a 3-minute period.  Every attempt is made to keep the stops consistent year to year. This year, Abbott and Brown added GPS coordinates to the route, a great technological tool for this type of work.  One person (Abbott) recorded bird data, counting all individual bird calls and sightings, and noting their species. The other person (Brown) took monitored the timer, recorded weather data, marked GPS waypoints, and navigated the route.

Over the years the number of individual birds has ranged considerably, from 206 (1975) to 929 (1992). This year’s total of 505 individuals was just under the average for the 31 counts of 530 individuals.

Chiricahua view webOn June 11, 2013, Abbott and Brown met at the start point just ahead of the 0443 start time. They said to each other, “On your mark, get set, GO”.  A sense of participating in a historical conservation effort, pioneered by esteemed local Portal residents, helped inspire them. The 25-mile route for Portal (BBS 06133) starts on the Galeyville Road, close to the junction with the road to Whitetail Canyon. The route ends at the lower end of the big meadow at Long Park. Clues on the official tally sheet at times were less than helpful: “cairn on left side of road” (long since gone), “Red-tailed Hawk nest in sycamore tree” (many sycamores, no nest), and “cattle guard” (no longer there). At stop 16 Brown said, “Oh my,” recognizing the scope of their task. Powered by snacks, friendship, and a fascination with the remarkable diversity and beauty of the area, they finished the count, walking the last four points (2 miles) due to the closure of the road for the Rustler Park Campground rehabilitation.

A few notes on the 2013 count:  All species that have been seen on nearly all (29-31) of the 31 counts were found again this year.  Of 23 species regularly encountered (seen on 20-28 counts), only Greater Roadrunner was missed. Seven species detected on 10-19 (less than half) of the counts were not recorded: Great-Horned Owl, Elegant Trogon, Juniper Titmouse (though this species was heard at one of the points, it was not noted in a 3-minute observation block), Red-breasted Nuthatch, Hooded Oriole, Bullock’s Oriole, and House Sparrow. Within the category of those detected on less than 10 of the 31 counts, observers had no expectations of finding them, but Abbott noted several of this 2-9 count category including: Scaled Quail, Montezuma Quail, Cooper’s Hawk, Northern Pygmy Owl, Magnificent Hummingbird, Rock Wren, and Eastern Meadowlark. Two species were noted that had only been on one count within the 38-year span, though both are considered to be regular breeders in the Chiricahuas in Rick Taylor’s Location Checklist to the Birds of the Chiricahuas: Black-tailed Gnatcatcher (recorded at one stop), and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (recorded at six stops).

While many variables play into the patterns observed from the Breeding Bird Survey, the patterns can be informative, and they alert wildlife managers and observers to further monitor species of concern. Two species of those that occur in 20 or more counts, Summer Tanager and Hooded Oriole, do not occur in the last eight counts, absent since 2002.  One of these, Summer Tanager, was recorded this year.

Summary data as background for the 2013 Portal Breeding Bird Survey

(17) AZ 12 Spring 094Species that have been detected on all 31 counts

Gambel’s Quail, White-winged Dove, Acorn Woodpecker, Northern (Red-shafted) Flicker, Western Wood Pewee, Cassin’s Kingbird, Mexican Jay, White-breasted Nuthatch, Cactus Wren, Bewick’s Wren, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Spotted Towhee, Black-throated Sparrow, Yellow-eyed Junco, Western Tanager, Black-headed Grosbeak, and Brown-headed Cowbird.

(12) Species that have been detected on most counts, all but 1-2 years (29 or 30 counts):

Mourning Dove, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Plumbeous Vireo, Steller’s Jay, Bridled Titmouse, American Robin, Northern Mockingbird, Hepatic Tanager, Scott’s Oriole, and House Finch.

(23) Species that have been detected on 20-28 counts:

Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, Greater Roadrunner, White-throated Swift, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Western Kingbird, Hutton’s Vireo, Warbling Vireo, Western Scrub Jay, Common Raven, Violet-green Swallow, Pygmy Nuthatch, Canyon Wren, Hermit Thrush, Curve-billed Thrasher, Lucy’s Warbler, Audubon’s Warbler, Grace’s Warbler, Canyon Towhee, Northern Cardinal, Blue Grosbeak

(30) Species detected on 10-19 counts:

Band-tailed Pigeon, Great-Horned Owl, Common Poorwill, Blue-throated Hummingbird, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Elegant Trogon, Hairy Woodpecker, Arizona Woodpecker, Greater Pewee, Black Phoebe, Say’s Phoebe, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Mexican Chickadee, Juniper Titmouse, Verdin, Bushtit, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, House Wren, Olive Warbler, Virginia’s Warbler, Red-faced Warbler, Painted Redstart, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, Summer Tanager, Hooded Oriole, Bullock’s Oriole, Lesser Goldfinch, and House Sparrow.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(32) Species detected on 2-9 counts (# = # of counts):

Scaled Quail (8), Montezuma Quail (3), Sharp-shinned Hawk (3), Cooper’s Hawk (6), Northern Goshawk (3), Zone-tailed Hawk (2), Golden Eagle (4), American Kestrel (5), Peregrine Falcon (3), Prairie Falcon (3), Northern Pygmy Owl (4), Lesser Nighthawk (5), Magnificent Hummingbird (9), Bell’s Vireo (2), Chihuahuan Raven (2), Purple Martin (2), Barn Swallow (2), Rock Wren (8), Eastern Bluebird (2), Western Bluebird (6), Crissal Thrasher (6), European Starling (5), Phainopepla (6), Yellow-breasted Chat (3), Black-chinned Sparrow (9), Lark Sparrow (7), Pyrrhuloxia (6), Indigo Bunting (4), Eastern Meadowlark (6), Bronzed Cowbird (6), Red Crossbill (3), and Pine Siskin (6).

(17) Species detected on only one of 31 counts in a 38 year period.

Wild Turkey, Short-tailed Hawk, Swainson’s Hawk, Killdeer, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Buff-breasted Flycatcher, Vermilion Flycatcher, Loggerhead Shrike, Clark’s Nutcracker, Horned Lark, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Townsend’s Solitaire, Varied Bunting, and Western Meadowlark.

Naturalist Journeys offers Guided Birding and Nature Tour to Honduras in March, 2013, with expert Robert Gallardo

Ocellated Quail, a rare find in Honduras  –  Photo copyright, by Robert Gallardo

Naturalist Journeys Honduras birding and nature tours are just around the corner, and there is still space for travelers!  Join one or both of our two upcoming March Honduras nature tours, which include bird-watching amidst Mayan ruins and other historical sites and natural parks in Honduras. We’ve successfully run the tour to Copan and Lago Yojoa for many years. Our Honduras tours are affordable and rewarding!

Naturalist Journeys’ owner Peg Abbott predicts that ecotourism has rich potential in this country the size of Massachusetts, one that few have explored.As a top eco-tour company, this year we pilot a second Honduras birding tour, March 22-29. In partnership with renowned ornithologist Robert Gallardo, we are pioneering a new Honduras birding tour in the central part of the country. This exciting birding tour invites inquisitive adventure travelers to explore beyond the boundaries readily served by luxury travel. Gallardo, Honduran-based and in the process of researching and writing the definitive new field guide for the country, knows his country’s bird-rich regions well. He is the architect of Naturalist Journeys new Honduran birding tour.

Honduras offers a bird watchers and nature travelers abundant opportunity for immersing themselves in nature with expert guides, post-card quality scenery, and fascinating, accessible Mayan ruins. Naturalist Journeys owner Peg Abbott feels confident that Honduras is one of the most authentic and enjoyable destinations they offer, partly because the rural Honduran people show genuine hospitality, welcoming Robert Gallardo’s Naturalist Journeys groups to their farms and homes.

The World Heritage Mayan ruins at Copan are the centerpiece that draws many to Honduras. Copan’s carved stellae and intricate ruins, including ball parks, carved macaw heads, and tall stone buildings draped by tropical trees are fascinating to explore. Beyond the ruins and the mountain village of Copan Ruinas which draws a wide spectrum of International visitors, Abbott finds travel in Honduras an adventure. Tour participants spend time at places that few tourists see, particularly on their new, second week journey, a Honduras birding tour that visits cloud forests, national parks, and new and exciting birding locations.

Peg Abbott first explored Honduras with colleague Gail Richardson, who introduced her to Robert Gallardo, whom they agree is a gem: personable, well-organized, safety conscious
and blessed with abundant expertise, all essential elements of guided nature travel.  Abbott and her nature tour company work in close partnership with Gallardo who, with a Peace Corps background that first brought him to Honduras, networks well with other biologists, lodge and land owners in Honduras.  All share a strong commitment to ecotourism as a part of the nation’s wildlife conservation strategy.

The species most sought on this newly announced bird-watching adventure? The Ocellated Quail, considered by many one of the top 10 birds to see in Central America. Honduras holds perhaps the only site within its range where it is still common.  Few have seen it, and in the spirit of adventure Naturalist Journeys hopes to make that possible this March in Honduras. Robert Gallardo caught this rare photograph (© all rights reserved) in past years, as part of his work on the new birding field guide, he hopes will be published next year. Gallardo is a leading force for ecotourism in Honduras, training students to be birding and wildlife guides so they too, can lead guided Honduran tours.

www.naturalistjourneys.com  info@naturalistjourneys.com 866 900 1146

About Naturalist Journeys, a Top Nature Tour Company
Naturalist Journeys specializes in small group bird-watching tours and nature tours of key sites across North and South America and across the world. The nature tour company
leads participants on intimate small group tour journeys for bird-watching, animal-watching and other forms of eco-tourism. Naturalist Journeys is a respected adventure and nature travel company that puts people, places and remarkable experiences together.  Their style of environmental tourism focuses on nature — specifically bird-watching, natural history, geology and geography.

Naturalist Journeys Announces New Travel Photography Tour in Big Bend National Park

TODO TX Hill Black capped Vireo

Rare Black-capped Vireo, Photo by Tom Dove

Naturalist Journeys is proud to announce a new nature and birding tour – this one with a strong focus on Travel Photography. Accomplished photographer and nature and birding tour guide Greg Smith designed and will instruct the company’s new Big Bend Travel Photography tour.  Smith explains the new program, saying,  “Travel Photography augments Naturalist Journey’s already fine-tuned top nature and birding tours, adding a rich dimension for those that like to see birds and more through the lens. It’s designed to be fun, to take those interested in photography to the next level, perfect for beginning and intermediate photographers wanting help to learn to keep up with their camera’s potential”.

Smith approached Naturalist Journeys owner Peg Abbott, who in the past did logistics for photography workshops taught by professionals when she worked with the National Audubon Society.  Abbott welcomed Smith’s approach, recognizing there was a niche between nature and birding tours, and intensive photo workshops often beyond the reach of those with less sophisticated equipment.  She felt the concept fit Smith’s style of guiding, which is relaxed, fun, and always ready to capture the moment spontaneously. Abbott says, “As a nature and birding tour guide, Greg Smith sees life as images. With his wildlife expertise, he can find birds, mammals, blooming cacti, and all the magic natural history subjects Big Bend National Park has to offer.  It’s on finding them, that he becomes an artist, and it’s this focus on the creative aspect of seeing wildlife that makes him a natural to teach this new Big Bend Travel Photography tour for us.  Just driving a road, Greg will pull over to show you the perfect curve that makes an image pop.  I can only imagine, given free-rein to focus on photography more, what he will find!”

Because of its dramatic scenery, Big Bend National Park is a perfect spot to launch Naturalist Journey’s new guided Big Bend Travel Photography tour.  Smith knows the park well, but over the years has seen too many visitors frustrated trying to cope with strong sunlight, vast landscapes, and challenging subjects such as the park’s myriad swift-moving migratory birds.  He found tour participants on his nature and birding tours lighting up as they learned how to get better lighting, sharper focus, and interesting background effects on photos of what they were seeing.

Abbott has seen Smith in action.  She smiles, saying, “Standing on the porch of Big Bend National Park’s Chisos Mountain Lodge, sunset watching is a nightly ritual.  Everyone is absorbed in beauty, and there is Greg, on a mission.  He is walking around, taking people’s cameras and showing them how to angle them to get better exposures, enhance the lighting, and get that perfect sunset image. Finding success, strangers are hugging him and he is happy.”  She says Smith is a natural teacher in the field setting.  During this inaugural Big Bend Travel Photography tour, Naturalist Journeys hopes to help people appreciate nature all the more by knowing how to use tools they have in hand, cameras.  It’s all a part of the company’s strong ecotourism and responsible travel mission.

Today’s digital cameras, even models without interchangable lenses, can be overwhelming. So can be the software, so readily available to fix and enhance images taken.  Join Greg Smith, May 4-11, 2013,  in one of the Desert Southwest’s finest national parks and take the next step in mastering your camera.  Everyone starts somewhere!

One of the best challenges in photography is capturing rare species. The fine image above is by Texas-based photographer Tom Dove. It captures the essence of a singing male Black-capped Vireo, a species once nesting in good number in Big Bend National Park that is slowly coming back in number after several decades of decline. While it would be difficult to improve on this image, which was shot at Fort Hood in Texas, Dove might just find a chance to do this spring as he returns to Big Bend, on the prowl for Colima Warbler.  Travel Photography is that quest to match landscape, species and skill.  It is the interface of understanding species, where they occur, how they behave, and how then to best capture them on film.

We urge you to take the challenge, join guide Greg and try you skills out today!  May 4-11, 2013 Big Bend Travel Photography tour ITINERARY

A $300 deposit holds your space.  Download a registration form online, or call us at 866 900-1146.  www.naturalistjourneys.com

This species may also be observed in the Texas Hill Country, a stronghold for the species.  Naturalist Journeys Hill Country Nature and Birding Tour runs April 14-19, 2013.

Montana Prairie Birding and Nature Tour — a High-Value Choice for a Montana Wildlife Eco Tour

MT WWF 12 B Burrowing Owl adult w chick cropMost people think of Yellowstone National Park when selecting a wildlife tour in Montana.  Covering the eastern half of the state, the Montana prairies are replete with fascinating wildlife species but few venture here to explore.  Naturalist Journeys offers one of the few guided birding and nature tours to the prairie, a wildlife ecotour that clients find rewarding.  Naturalist Journeys owner and veteran guide Peg Abbott says, “Our Montana Prairie Spring Birding Tour, a top birding and nature tour among our itineraries, is a high-value choice for the birder or adventure traveler in tune with nature.  Animals are here – it just takes a careful eye to find them. On the prairies, the terrain is vast, the species are elusive, and it takes time to see subtle differences of habitat in the open landscape.”

After a week with expert guides, Montana prairie birding and nature tour participants hone their identification skills, and learn to use vegetation as signals for what species to expect.  Prairie Dog towns are home to Mountain Plovers, Horned Larks and Burrowing Owls.  Areas with higher grass provide cover for Upland Sandpiper and Sage Grouse.  Wetlands encourage a host of species to breed including Black Terns, American Avocets, Wilson’s Phalaropes and Black-necked Stilts.

MTPS 12 Bairds Sparrow flight crop T_edited-1Sorting out the intricate plumage patterns of grassland birds such as Sprague’s Pipits, McCown’s Longspurs, Bairds and Grasshopper Sparrows – all signature species of the Northern Great Plains—takes a practiced eye, a thorough knowledge of behavior and recognition of song. Many prairie birds hurl themselves skyward to sing, having evolved in a place with few perches.  Naturalist Journeys guides can filter the sounds with fine-tuned ears but say that clients vote Western Meadowlarks as the most memorable and melodic of the tour; their dawn calls an auditory signature of the prairie. Naturalist Journeys nature groups are out early, taking in the dawn symphony of bird sound, and looking for mammals such as Pronghorn with their young, elusive Swift Fox, predatory Badgers, and Bison, returning in number to their historic range on places like the American Prairie Reserve.

Once found, prairie wildlife species often provide birding tour participants with good viewing and photo opportunities. The life habits of various species are fascinating to observe. Marbled Godwits are large and vocal species often aggressive when disturbed. Our guided birding tour groups have even had them seemingly attack the car!  Long-billed Curlews emit loud, evocative calls. They are strong flyers that migrate at times in a single flight, all the way from Montana to wintering grounds of Mexico.  Mountain Plovers, a prize species to find due to their secretive habits and declining numbers, have unusual mating strategies.

MT WWF 12 069 MT WWF 12 Marbled Godwit grass MT WWF 12 Mountain PloverA host of predatory birds keep all smaller species on the alert. Prairie Falcons attack like bullets and seem to come out of nowhere. Rough-legged Hawks and Northern Harriers swoop low with great agility, while Golden Eagles simply overpower their prey. Ferruginous Hawks sometimes lumber on the ground in search of grass-fed rodents. All have hungry young to feed, as do Red Foxes and clever Coyotes.

Naturalist Journeys’ top-rated birding and nature tour begins and ends in Billings, Montana. Guided groups travel a circle route north to Fort Peck, Glascow, Malta, the Little Rockies, and the American Prairie Reserve before returning to Billings. Tour highlights include visits to Bowdoin and Charles Russell National Wildlife Refuges.

MT WWF 12 P Dog showing black tail crop T_edited-1Conservation is an important theme on this tour. The World Wildlife Fund (Northern Great Plains) and the Nature Conservancy (Northern Montana Prairies) have extensive conservation projects in the region, some in partnership with the Bureau of Land Management which manages much of the land. Tourism is still rare in Montana’s small agricultural communities and ecotourism may help communities diversify in a declining economy.  This year’s Montana Prairie Spring, a top birding and nature tour for this travel company, is scheduled for June 8 – 15.  Join us for a grand travel adventure in what has been called America’s Serengeti!