Tag Archive | Birding

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.

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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.

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