Tag Archive | Naturalist Journeys

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.

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.

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!

South Texas Birding and Nature Tour: a Perfect Winter Getaway in “Tropical” Ecotourism Style

Roseate Spoonbills by South Texas Birding Tour participant Betty Andres

SOTX group in blind Bob Behrstock

Naturalist Journeys, a top birding and nature tour company, recognizes South Texas as one of the most exotic destination for a winter birding tour in North America. Get off that plane and feel warm, tropical air!  Here, comfortably in the USA, the range of many subtropical species extends just north of the Mexican border, provinding a rainbow of colorful species.  Add finding a good selection of bird species that breed much further north overwintering in the varied parks, wildlife refuges and wildlife habitats visited of this nine-day South Texas birding and nature tour and you have the recipe for a successful birdwatching tour.  Unique habitats such as Tamaulipan Thorn Scrub and lush Sabal Palm groves are home to some 40 south Texas avian specialties, including Green Jays, Altamira Orioles, Hook-billed Kites, Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, Red-crowned Parrots, Couch’s Kingbirds and Plain Chachalacas.

On the February 26-March 6 South Texas birding and nature tour, we  visit a number of sites, including the Laguna Atascosa and Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuges, wetland habitats on South Padre Island that often attract wintering rails, and Estero Llano Grande, Bentsen Rio Grande, and Falcon State Parks. Many of these areas of the Rio Grande Valley are legendary among birders for consistently attracting unique wildlife, and the added value of visiting King Ranch and Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, the latter a stronghold of endangered Whooping Cranes,  adds great value to this ecotour.

Naturalists flock to the region, as this is a great nature tour adventure on which to view both birds and butterflies. Over 300 species of butterflies—more than are likely to be found in the entire Eastern United States—have been recorded in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Many of the sites we’ll visit have plantings to attract butterflies. If the winter has remained mild, we may see a diversity of these delightful creatures, as well as some of the Valley’s nearly 100 species of dragonflies and damselflies.

Whooping Crane group Bob Behrstock copy

Field guide artist and PhD ornithologist Doug Pratt leads our upcoming guided South Texas birding and nature tour.  Read our past South Texas birding tour trip reports for more details. Last year the group saw 41 endangered Whooping Cranes, quite a chunk of the entire world population!  Roseate Spoonbills were another South Texas birding tour favorite species, evidenced by this stunning photo by participant Betty Andres.  Whooping Crane and South Texas birding tour group photos by Bob Behrstock.

There is still space available – call us at 866 900-1146 or email info@naturalistjourneys.com today!

Naturalist Journeys Offers New Winter Birding Tour in Washington

Naturalist Journeys has chosen an unlikely place for a new guided group tour this February – a site where, each winter, tens of thousands of swans, geese, and ducks, along with predatory raptors and owls converge.  Far north of the Neotropical haunts Naturalist Journeys schedules for most of its winter birding tours, Washington’s Puget Sound and British Columbia’s Fraser Delta provide birds (and their viewers) with safe haven from extreme winter conditions.

Seattle-based guide Woody Wheeler leads the week-long adventure February 16-22, with lodgings in Port Townsend and LaConner.  He paints a vivid picture of the excitement, saying, “Our area is literally flooded with birds that come here to escape harsh conditions. Birds leave behind snow and ice-covered mountains and frozen lakes of the north and the interior, to take refuge in places that have open water and snow-free terrain. Puget Sound and the Fraser Delta are two of the first places where these birds provisions.”

Fascinated by the phenomena he regularly observes, Wheeler proposed the tour to Naturalist Journeys, and owner Peg Abbott conferred it was a great idea, particularly as clients return to lodgings in two historic towns that have delightful inns, restaurants and charm – elements that combine well with great birding for a sense of getting away.

Last year, Woody was on assignment with a tour group of Naturalist Journeys in Costa Rica, finding a rainbow of tropical species and the mythical Resplendent Quetzal. This year, he proposed staying closer to home in Washington, as concentrations of wintering birds make for spectacular birding.  Wheeler is excited about the opportunity scheduled for February 16-22, saying “I have taken many trips to the areas featured on the Washington in Winter: A Little-known Birding Wonderland tour, but have never before linked them together in a multi-day journey.”  In mid-February, there is more light, temperatures moderate, and the region’s typical winter rains abate somewhat.

A portion of the proceeds from this winter birding tour will go to The Trumpeter Swan Society, an organization that works regularly with the Washington dairy industry, in recognition of the value for birds of open agricultural lands in an area plagued by urban growth.  Having the tour benefit an organization that has worked at length to secure winter feeding areas for the birds, safe from toxic lead, makes designing and guiding the tour more important to Wheeler. His past work for the Nature Conservancy, the National Audubon Society and the Seattle Parks Foundation make him uniquely qualified to guide travelers through the natural history of the area. Connecting people with nature is his passion, and he does so through trips, classes, presentation, and by writing positive nature blogs, his professional endeavors grouped under the theme, the “Conservation Catalyst.”

Wheeler has led more than 50 trips and tours in 4 countries. He believes that learning about nature should be active, engaging, and joyful. Naturalist Journeys is pleased to partner with Wheeler to offer the week-long, Feb. 16-22, birding adventure.

Participants fly into Seattle, and enjoy lodgings in Port Townsend and LaConner.  Find more Washington Winter Birding Tour details on their website. Or, browse the full calendar of tours for 2013.

Naturalist Journeys, LLC Support Recognized by the Friends of Cave Creek Canyon (FOCCC)

Naturalist Journeys, LLC supports the Friends of Cave Creek Canyon (FOCCC) as a founding member, and this support was honored by FOCCC today with publication of a founding member’s poster.

The Friends of Cave Creek Canyon is a non-profit organization based in Portal, Arizona, with a mission to:

To inspire appreciation and understanding of the beauty, biodiversity and legacy of Cave Creek Canyon.

Cave Creek is the stunning canyon right outside the door of the offices of Naturalist Journeys, LLC.  Company owner and lead guide Peg Abbott is on the Board of Directors of FOCCC and is happy to help with educational projects, work projects in cooperation with the US Forest Service, Coronado National Forest and more.  Current FOCCC projects include: development of a native plant and butterfly garden at the Visitor Center, assisting the USFS Rocky Mountain Research Lab with songbird monitoring post-fires in the Chiricahuas, developing a brochure for the canyon, staffing the Visitor Center with volunteers to expand its hours, trail work and placement of benches and a meeting area for groups at the South Fork Campground, and educational programs for the public on topics ranging from living with bears to the artistic side of rattlesnakes.

Friends of Cave Creek Canyon has a very active Facebook page where the group posts photos of the canyon, announcements of events, and natural history highlights for the region.  They have a website under development, with material being added each month.  This same beautiful logo that appears on this poster is also on T-shirts for FOCCC, available in black and in turquoise for $20.00 + shipping, from the Chiricahua Desert Museum.  Contact them at: 575 557-5757 or / 575 545 5307 or email your request t: ecoorders@hotmail.com

Signature Species of Glacier Bay: Naturalist Journeys Group Appreciates Kittlitz’s Murrelets

Kittlitz’s Murrelet, Glacier Bay

Kittlitz’s Murrelets, when compared to Humpback Whales and calving glaciers, command little attention from visitors to Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska. But when visitors share the tour boat with Naturalist Journey’s guides Peg Abbott and Greg Smith, these veteran’s enthusiasm spreads and many heed the call as they grab cameras and exclaim,  “Up on deck, Kittlitz’s…”   This year, on both our Alaska trips, June, to Seward and July, to Icy Straits and Glacier Bay our groups tallied good numbers.

Despite their small size, Kittlitz’s command our attention for their toughness. Seeing them in the wild seems like a prize given for effort put in. We see Kittlitz’s only when entering their glacier-influenced realm.  Seen up close they are beautiful with speckled plumage, white faces and tail tips. On a moving boat, most sightings are brief, and a camera comes in handy to capture their fine points for later inspection. Knowing their habits helps one pay attention.

Glacier Bay National Park is a vital stronghold for this rapidly-declining species. The species is restricted to Alaska and the Russian Far East, Alaska by far hosting the bulk of the population, and Glacier Bay hosting nearly half of that.  Despite vistas of glorious tidewater glaciers all around, something is amiss here, as estimates for Glacier Bay are a loss of 85% between 1991 and 2008.  It is suspected that wide scale glacial retreat has drastically changed available coastal habitats, where productive feed occurs alongside productive nesting habitats.

Native Americans knew of the mountainside nest habits of this species long before the modern research community recorded it. While most seabirds are colonial, Kittlitz’s for the most part go it alone, a single pair of male and female share incubating the single egg, and feeding a single chick. Widely spaced, their cryptic coloration helps to secure nest success.  One research team found local Peregrine Falcon numbers are on the rise, and noted that young murrelets can make a tasty morsel.  But inclement weather and unpredictable food supply take more of a toll, and many die before fledging. One researcher found nine nests, from which only one chick surviving to reach the sea.

Each Kittlitz’s Murrelet that we see on the water lived through some 54 perilous days of incubation to fledging in a realm of rock, ice, wind, and often snow. Successful adults often chose south-facing slopes where snow retreats sooner, or wind-razed areas that stay open. A few nests have been found on bedrock. Kittlitz’s eggs blend with rock colors of mountain talus slopes and scree and gravels associated with glacial outwash. The main parental contribution is that of incubating eggs and feeding chicks; many young die of exposure or starvation – even seeing one seems a bit of a miracle.  Adults do not feed or tend fledged chicks, and it is thought that these lone and vulnerable fledglings use the water and gravity of fast flowing streams, associated with glaciers, to reach the sea. Weak flyers at first, Kittlitz’s chicks can swim well.

In the turbid, waters where currents cause shallow upwellings, Kittlitz’s Murrelets feed on Pacific Sand Lance, Capelin, herring and other small fishes; at times they also feed on euphasids.  They prefer turbid waters of the middle and upper bay, associated with glacial streams. They seem to prosper in areas near stable glaciers.

Researchers across their Bering Sea-centered range are concerned. Kittlitz’s Murrelets are in the spotlight as global climate change occurs. We were heartened to see park-sponsored research teams braving the elements on the cloudy, cold day we visited. From boats and from small islands we watched them counting, sorting, and collecting data to better understand what the limiting factors might be.  Outside the bay, in adjacent Icy Straits, another research team (Kissling, M. et al), from 2005 to 2009 banded 340 birds, radio tracked over 100 adults and four juveniles and found eight nests. The Southeast Alaska Inventory and Monitoring Network (SEAN) reports annually on research for this species.

Worldwide, both Birdlife International and the International World Conservation Union list Kittlitz’s Murrelets as critically endangered. The US lists them as a candidate species under the Endangered Species Act, a listing that issues a strong call to management agencies, local fisheries, tour operators and others to come up with plans to stabilize the population ahead of actual listing.  The Center for Biodiversity listing petitioned their in 2009, and their summary is excellent for further reading.

Under these odds we were thrilled to spend time watching this tenacious little species, at home in its glacial realm.

Read more: Piatt, J.F. et al. 2011 Status and trend of the Kittlitz’s Murrelets.

Brachyramphus brevirostris in GLACIER BAY, Alaska

NATURALIST JOURNEY’S NEWS: Hawaii Birding Tour Groups Take Heart as Nesting Success Announced for Seabirds

Biologists report this week that nesting success for seabirds has increased at Kaʻena Point State Natural Area Reserve on the northwest tip of Oahu, Hawaii. Some 2000 seabirds breed here and this year, the dominant species, Wedge-tailed Shearwater, has topped previous high-count for chicks by almost 15% over a previous high count in 2007 – achieving the highest count since 1994.

Increased nest success is the direct result of efforts to place predator-proof fencing around 59 acres of primary nesting areas.   The fence design came from New Zealand, another fascinating island archipelago where seabirds struggle against predation by introduced predators such as rats, cats, dogs, and mongooses.  Large seabird chicks born in burrows and often on their own for periods of time as adults go to sea to feed particularly vulnerable.   Last year, one of our Naturalist Journey’s tour groups visited one of these fenced “ecological islands” New Zealand, and saw first-hand the robust construction required to keep predators OUT.

The fence was completed in March, 2011, in time for the seabird nesting season.  In addition to the more numerous Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, sixty-five Laysan Albatross pairs set up nesting on site; about half of them producing chicks, and this number is hoped to more than double in the next five years.  Laysan Albatross on low-elevation islands of northwestern Hawaii suffered a high degree of loss in last year’s tsunamis. Kaʻena Point is a safer, higher, elevated site, an example of what may be needed if sea levels rise with climate change. It is hoped that other species may be attracted to the site, including Black-footed Albatross.  Participants on our Naturalist Journey’s Hawaii tour with seabird expert Doug Pratt should have great looks at the enormous Laysans and their chicks.

The fence in Hawaii is 6.5 feet tall, reinforced with a mesh skirt buried below ground and a wire hood curving out above.  Marine grade mesh protects direct entry, and painting the fence green has lessened its visual impact to park visitors.  The cost estimate was $250,000 and it took about five weeks to install.  This was a joint state (Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources), federal (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), and private (several non-profit NGO’s).  Essentially, with the fence in place, managers have created a “mainland island”, important safe nesting habitat for magnificent Laysan Albatross alongside the more numerous Wedge-tailed Shearwaters.

Naturalist Journeys offers a Hawaii tour nearly every year, as for birders, Hawaii is an important location for seeing tropical seabird species in addition to its legendary endemic honeycreepers.  Two species are endemic to the islands, Hawaiian Petrel and Newell’s Shearwater; both can be encountered on pelagic birding trips.  The day cruise we take off the west coast of Kauai is ideal for our search, and there is still space on this year’s Hawaii tour.  Join Doug Pratt, the Birds of Hawaii and the Tropical Pacific field guide author, who will is in his element on deck as the boat plies the waters between Niihau and Lehua, in addition to the endemics calling out Black Noddies, Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, Laysan and Black-footed Albatrosses, up to three types of tropicbirds, Black and Brown noddies, Greater and Lesser frigatebirds and Red-footed, Masked and Brown boobies, and one year, a Christmas Shearwater.  Through ecotourism, projects such as this predator-proof fence can find support and with that, seabirds will prosper.  The journey also highlights seabirds when visiting scenic Kilauea Lighthouse on Kauai. Tour dates are Feb. 26-March 9, 2012.

Hawaii Birding & Ecotourism: Naturalist Journeys, LLC Supports the MAUI BIRD RECOVERY PROJECT

Learning about the Maui Bird Recovery Project from coordinator Hanna Mounce was one of the highlights of our 2011 Hawaii Nature and Birding tour with field guide author, Doug Pratt. We met them on the trail at The Nature Conservancy’s Waikamoi Preserve, as they were returning from a morning banding session. Aspiring biologists, new team members were pleased to meet Doug, and we were pleased to hear more about their dynamic work.

Their focus is on the most critically endangered of the surviving Maui honeycreepers, the Maui Parrotbill and `Akohekohe’ or Crested Honeycreeper, both rare species we are typically successful at finding on our tours with Doug.  The team combines habitat management work with research to better understand reasons for continued population decline.  Reasons for decline of several Maui forest-associated birds includes: habitat loss, introduced predators and ungulates, and introduced diseases.  On all the islands, exotic diseases such as avian malaria and avian pox restrict forest birds to high elevations where invertebrate vectors and disease organisms cannot survive cooler temperatures.

Maui Parrotbills live in extraordinarily lush and beautiful forests and they are rare. The Maui Bird Recovery Project monitors nesting success on existing habitat (TNC Waikamoi Preserve is a stronghold) and is also working on habitat recovery to support a restored population on the drier east side of Maui, where avian malaria is less of a threat.  Parrotbills favor mature Koa forests. Regrowth of forests between existing healthy stands in riparian areas depends on fencing OUT pigs and invasive animals. Saving “Kiwikiu” (the native name for Maui Parrotbill) requires dedication and funding. We know the dedication portion of this measure for success is in place with Hanna and her team. We can help with funding. Naturalist Journeys, LLC supports The Maui Bird Recovery Project and hopes that our Blog readers will too.

Do read their archived newsletters on www.mauiforestbirds.org. The behavior and breeding ecology of Kiwikiu is fascinating and we are learning more every year. You’ll learn about a strange “divorce”, “super pairs” that retain larger than life territories producing young every year, and about young that won’t leave –staying with parents for up to 17 months.  The organization’s website is full of information and full of HEART – a lot of effort goes into their work and their commitment is obvious browsing this site. You can also spread the news of their work by clicking the LIKE button on their Facebook site.

Photo: Maui Parrotbill, from the website of www.mauiforestbirds.org