Tag Archive | Travel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Condor Terrain, Zion National Park

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

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

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

TODO Elegant trogon

Elegant Trogon, Portal Arizona, image by Tom Dove

August in Arizona – It Must Be Madness!

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

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

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

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

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

Ten Reasons Not to Miss Arizona’s August Monsoons:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a (Wild) Dog’s Life: Botswana

Wild Dogs Botswana
Wild Dogs, Naturalist Journeys 2010 – Botswana

What could you possibly have in common with one of the most feared and hated predators of the animal kingdom? Finding comfort on a full tummy is one shared feature. For us it’s a couch, for a Wild Dog in Botswana, it’s the curve of cool sand left behind from a tire track. Something that conforms to the spine. Something to support the telltale,  distended belly of gluttony.

We found African Wild Dogs after several days of searching. We went no further, content to watch them full bellies and all.  At first in the hot afternoon there was little action. A few changed places as they sought deeper shade as we observed subtle gestures that acknowledge dominance (or lack of dominance), comfort maneuvers to scratch, stretch, or sniff; one longer foray to the bathroom. Our guides looked up, “did we want to go?” Even our ardent birders declined. Wild Dogs are rare, the opportunity to view them even more so. We’d wait for something to happen. One would roll, two would entwine, young ones got restless and then resigned. This group was going nowhere; they were bloated, full of the life blood of something recently fleet of foot, but not fleet enough, the ultimate recycling.

Dusk approached, we cranked the ISO settings of our cameras up to quadruple digits. Two fat adults moved within meters of our vehicles, seeking comfort in the embrace of soft sand. One less endowed adult, perhaps a young mother, slung low to the ground as she approached the three youngsters as if she were a textbook omega. She took on their exuberant, tooth-bearing kill tactics in style. It was time for lessons. There would be a day when prey would not come so easily and it was her job to see they were ready. Africa brings moments to stare into other’s eyes. That those others live across a chasm of understanding is monumental food for thought.

Perhaps that is why we lingered at watching Wild Dogs. We declined the chance to move on. Their grimaces, gestures and beings emulate dogs, the ones we have at home, the ones that invite us across that chasm again and again. Our most precious relationships challenge us to accept all sides, remnants of human’s elemental anchor-sharp killing skills — survival behaviors,  allied in angst at times with social comforts and bonding. This pack, this poignant afternoon, both seem elusive. The answers are there, but our questions are yet unformed….

Crazy about Canids? Try our Yellowstone Winter Wolf trip this January http://www.naturalistjourneys.com/jcalendar/jc_YNPwolves11.htm

Ecotourism in Honduras – Exciting News – La Chorcha Lodge!

The Newly-opened Motmot Cabin at La Chorcha Lodge, Honduras,  photo by Robert Gallardo

Robert and Irma Gallardo have opened the doors to their new lodge!  Located close the world-renowned Mayan ruins of Copan, their motto is “Where Nature, Comfort and History Meet”.

The cabins were designed to fit the surrounding natural landscape keeping the native vegetation intact and enhanced with plantings to attract more birds and butterflies. Each cabin has a queen-sized bed and a bunk that consists of double on the bottom and single on top. The beds are divided by a small wall, so it’s perfect for the whole family or friends.

Each cabin is accented with original works of art featuring natural history elements found in Honduras. You can enjoy your own private covered porch highlighted with a custom stain glass piece featuring native flora and fauna. These lovely windows were created by their friend Rodger who helped Robert and Irma build the lodge. They were designed from a photo taken by Robert.

La Chorcha Lodge sits on the same property as Robert and Irma’s first venture – the Enchanted Wings Nature Center. This facility was a great addition to the community of Copan Ruinas and consists of a butterfly house, butterfly breeding facility, native orchid exhibit and botanical gardens. Lodge guests have free and unlimited access to its facilities.

Hacer la Chorcha in Spanish means, “let’s have a get-together”. Robert and Irma welcome you into their world with gracious hospitality, making your stay much more than a hotel visit. We at Naturalist Journeys found Robert and Irma Gallardo when Gail Richardson, one of our guides, went to see the World Heritage site at Copan. Gail helped us organize our first group tours there, and because the experience was so marvelous, we’ve returned for many years. Join us this year April 3-10 for Easter in Copan and be some of the first to get-together at La Chorcha Lodge! http://www.lachorchalodge.com/