Tag Archive | Adventure Travel

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!

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 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

Nairobi National Park – Naturalist Journey’s Watches as Kenya’s CYCLE of Newborns and Nesting Begins

Crowned Crane,   photo by Alex Vargo                  

November is bringing rain to Nairobi National Park, starting again the cycle of growth which makes life possible for newborns and nesting birds.  A post from local experts at a conservation group is entitled: Water, Water Everywhere.   We are watching closely, as Naturalist Journey’s Kenya wildlife and birding safari begins here February 5th – perfect timing to see the results of this abundance.  We have space for three more persons!

With Nairobi National Park just 7km. from the city, we make the transition to safari life very quickly on arrival in Kenya.  In fact from the porches of our lodge we can see wildlife in the classic, open savannah scenery.  Once a great migration, rivaling that of the Serengeti Plains took place here, passing from Mount Kenya far to the south.  Early settlers witnessed it, riding horses through herds of antelopes, wildebeest and other herbivores, always on the lookout for lions, cheetah, and leopards.  A corridor still links wildlife of this park with the Athi-Kapiti Plains to the south, retaining a portion of that migration. The park is fenced on the north side by the city, but open on its southern side.

Nairobi National Park feels significant. Close to a population center and the protection of wardens, rare Black Rhinos can survive.  White Rhinos were transferred here from Nakuru National Park, and this September a female gave birth to a calf that perhaps we’ll see!  Thousands of Kenyan children come to learn about their heritage of wildlife; some will be inspired to work as wardens, or in safari tourism, so key to a continued legacy of conservation in this country. The Ivory Burning Site Memorial provides testimony to Kenya’s stand against a once-epic decline of African Elephants.

As a guide I like Nairobi National Park’s rest stops along permanent streams and the Hippo Pools, areas, where we can get out, stretch and walk, get a possible close up look at Crowned Cranes, and some of the small, colorful birds. The landscape is beautiful, with escarpments, large trees arching over the Athi River, and a grand sense of space.  I’m fascinated by some of the research being conducted here, like a GPS tracking of Leopards, with insights into how this elusive predator exists close to a populated area.  There are at least five different males, and likely 10 or more Leopards right in Nairobi National Park!  What I like best is the sense of all we have ahead of us, on safari, in weeks to come.

IPhones and Conservation? Attention Naturalist Journey’s Kenya Tour Participants, Grab Your Phones!

Leopard Hunting Squirrels

IPhones, Apple and Conservation?  Who would ever connect an IPhone App with Kenya and its majestic BIG cats.  In this month’s online Science News (Nov. 14th), I read that an IPhone App can be used by visitors on safari. Hidden cameras report IMAGES, but it’s on the ground guides and groups that can determine just what species it is, saving wildlife managers valuable time.  Pretty cool.  Our Naturalist Journeys group will be in Kenya, Feb. 5-19, with a keen eye out for Leopards and other species and I’m sending out a note today to all our participants with IPhones, load the app and bring it along!  Leopards rank as near-threatened on the IUCN Red-List .  One of the biggest challenges of running a Natural History tour company is keeping abreast of events in places that we visit, places that matter tremendously while our tour group is there, but can then slip off to the sideline as we move on to the next trip rotates on the calendar. Before our trip, I’ll search out updates on a host of the species we find.  Lines like “Leopards have vanished from almost 40% of their historic range” in a recent Natural History Magazine article (a quote from the New York-based conservation group Panthera’s president Luke Hunter), remind me that this challenge is vitally important. Through our Africa wildlife tours, people come face to face with threatened cats, canids and other predators.  On safari, we lead them to experiences that create a bond, a connection; it’s our hope that they will continue to care, to take the step to get involved.  This important article points to long-standing threats to Africa’s wild species: loss of habitat, conflict with livestock, and illegal trade in skins and body parts. But it also reveals the growing direct competition of man and beast, as markets for “bushmeat” abound.Kenya is the first country I visited in Africa, and twenty years later, and it still retains a strong pull on me.  I can’t wait to return in February; you could join me!  We have space for three more to join our custom safari with Preston Mutinda; we have flights that you can join us on to ease the trip over, and we’d love to see you try the new IPHONE app if we get in range of one of the motion-sensing cameras near Amboseli.  I’ll be looking further into just where they are located. In the meantime, you can download the free app at the ITunes store, or at the fascinating Edge of Existence website.  What will Apple think of next that can benefit conservation!

A Leopard Engrossed in its Task

Photos by Peg Abbott, owner and guide, Naturalist Journeys, LLC