Friday, 26 January 2018

Alaska June 2018

We still have a few spaces left on our Alaska tour visiting Nome, Barrow, Kenai Peninsula and Denali National Park. Tour dates are 2nd - 16th June with an optional extension to the Pribiloffs 17th - 21st June.     See for info.

Alaska's wild and beautiful spaces have long captivated birders and naturalists alike, with miles of unspoiled wilderness, unending layers of snow-covered peaks, rugged hillsides and tundra landscapes aside the Bering Sea, magnificent fjords of the craggy Kenai Peninsula, islands draped with seabirds of all shapes and sizes, glaciers calving into dark blue waters, impenetrable boreal forests and rolling tundra under the mammoth backdrop of North America's tallest mountain peak, it's easy to see why! Our 'Birding the Outposts' tour of Alaska offers a complete sampling of Alaska's birdlife by visiting four distinctive areas: Northwest Alaska's Seward Peninsula and historic Nome; remote Arctic outpost of Barrow, exhilarating Kenai Peninsula and neighboring Kenai Fjords National Park; and extensive forests, taiga and tundra beneath the gaze of Denali (Mt. McKinley). 

Spectacled Eider

Bristle-thighed Curlew

King Eider

Red Phalarope

Rock Ptarmigan

Sabine's Gull

Sea Otters

Willow Ptarmigan
A post tour extension to the spectacular Pribiloff Islands will be offered for those interested in visiting St. Paul Island's impressive seabird cliffs teeming with puffins, auklets and kittiwakes and we will have a 3-night stay here so we can fully appreciate the extraordinary birding opportunities that this island provides.

Least Auklet

Parakeet Auklet

Least Auklet
Birding the land of the midnight sun falls into several broad categories: spectacular movements of migrants, Alaska's colorful breeding birds and the anticipation of finding an Asiatic stray. Just a few highlights of breeding species would include: Pacific, Red-throated and Arctic Loons, four eider species topped by the spectacular Spectacled and Steller's, Pacific Golden-Plover, Bristle-thighed Curlew, Red-necked Stint, Ivory Gull, Ross's Gull, Arctic and Aleutian Terns, Arctic Warbler, Bluethroat, plus seabird cliffs with literally millions of murres, guillemots, auklets and puffins. Even the most ardent birder's appetite is satisfied by visiting many of the best birding and scenic areas in the country. A hearty menu composed of: Northern forest species (Northern Hawk Owl, Boreal Owl, Boreal Chickadee, Bohemian Waxwing, Varied Thrush, crossbills, finches and more); tundra species (nesting loons, shorebirds and jaegers, Rock and Willow Ptarmigan, Bluethroat etc); colonial seabirds (Common & Thick-billed Murres, Black & Pigeon Guillemots, Marbled, Kittlitz's and Ancient Murrelets, Cassin's, Parakeet, Crested, Rhinoceros and Least Auklets & Horned and Tufted Puffins); western Alaska nesters (Bar-tailed Godwit, Bristle-thighed Curlew, Red-necked Stint, Red-throated Pipit and McKay's Bunting) can all be expected.
This tour is making an extra effort to find all of Western Alaska's breeding birds and to increase our chances of finding Asiatic vagrants. Accordingly, we're spending seven days in Nome and Barrow during the prime migration period to maximize our chances of observing Alaska's migrants from Asia/Siberia and those fantastic Arctic breeders.

See the full tour itinerary - Alaska 2018

All photographs copyright tour leader Kim Risen

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Still Loving the Serengeti

Started the day heading towards the entrance gate into the Serengeti, stopping to look at a perched Long-crested Eagle and a Flappet Lark. Once inside the national park we saw our first Yellow-throated Longclaw, as well as Black-faced Sandgrouse and another Cheetah

Black-faced Sandgrouse

Yellow-throated Longclaw

Moving on, a European Honey Buzzard flew over, and at a big open area a flock of Caspian Plovers were seen, plus a Diederik Cuckoo.  

Caspian Plover

The weather was warming up after a cloudy start so mammal activity was low, hence a group of 3 Lions sunning themselves on some rocks hardly moved. More interest from us came in the form of a Grey-headed Silverbill collecting nesting material and frequently flying in front of us to its nest.

More Lions

Martial Eagle

We then drove for quite a long time to our picnic spot and after eating, a random bit of owlet tape produced a pair of Red-throated Tits. We’d given up on seeing this species so were elated to finally catch up with them. A pair of Long-tailed Cisticolas also came in and that was also a big surprise, and our first Yellow-spotted Petronias were more expected. 

Sooty Chat

Continuing on to another rocky area we saw 2 Verreaux’s Eagles soaring in the clear blue sky, several Cinnamon-breasted Rock-Buntings, Long-billed Pipit, a perched Martial Eagle and amazingly a pair of Sooty Chats – another unexpected species.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Still in the Serengeti....

We were up early and left after breakfast, stopping to see a close Grey-breasted Spurfowl before making our way across the plains and yet more impressive Wildebeest migration that held us up for some time as they were continually crossing the tracks we were driving on. 

Grey-breasted Spurfowl

We spent some time trying to get better views of Singing Bushlarks and White-tailed Larks that were songflighting out in the grassland. Another Cheetah was found, and there were Yellow-billed Oxpeckers riding on the Wildebeest, Hooded, Ruppell’s, White-backed and Lappet-faced Vultures dotted around the area Nick S spotted a Goliath Heron in a small stream and back at the Visitor Centre a Spotted Eagle-Owl was found at its day roost and a Lesser Kestrel flew over. It’s always an action-packed visit here!

Goliath Heron

Spotted Eagle-Owl

Moving on we saw another 2 Cheetahs, more Silverbirds, Buff-bellied Warbler, Dark-chanting Goshawk, Purple Grenadier and 3 Heuglin’s Coursers on the way to the picnic site at the Hippo Pools. 

Heuglin's Courser
Giraffes are very common here
More Hippos....

An impressive number of Hippos were here, as well as our second Pearl-spotted Owlet of the day. After our picnic we saw our first Brown Parrot and Fischer’s Lovebirds. We followed this with stops for Foxy Lark and Pied Wheatear before another major highlight of the tour occurred. A termite swarm was attracting 50+ eagles, comprising Steppe and Tawny Eagles, as well as an assortment of vultures, Hammerkop and Marabou Stork. But it was the presence of 10+ Levant Sparrowhawks that was pretty astonishing – this being a scarce bird here. Oh and an Ovambo Sparrowhawk flew over us and I managed to obtain a series of reasonable photos of a species I’ve wanted to see for a very long time.

Ovambo Sparrowhawk

Leaving the park on the way to our next lodge a Rufous Chatterer and amazingly a pair of Grey (Buff-bellied) Penduline-Tits were seen to end another fantastic day in Africa.

Grey Penduline-Tit

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Serengeti National Park

We left Rhino Lodge on the Ngorongoro crater rim and headed down into the vast endless plains of the Serengeti. On the way down we saw some Red-collared Widowbirds in the highlands, as well as a Lanner perched on the slope above us and a couple of Secretarybirds


Upon reaching the Serengeti we began seeing our first animals with Spotted Hyena, and both Black-backed and Golden Jackals. But it was the Wildebeest migration spectacle that took our breath away and would feature prominently during our time in this awesome place. 

Wildebeest migration in the Serengeti

There were huge herds of them heading south and following the rains, and long lines of them with smaller numbers of Plains Zebras tagging along. Birds included 3 Spotted Thick-knees roosting under some small Acacias before we reached the main entrance gate. Here we took a walk and it was nice to get out of the vehicles. We saw Red-fronted Barbet, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, 2 Abyssinian Scimitarbills, Black-faced Waxbill, Black-lored Babbler, Brubru, Long-crested Eagle, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, European Roller and European Golden Oriole. Leaving here we headed further into the wilderness and saw Greater Kestrel, 2 Cheetahs, more Spotted Hyenas and a large male Lion sleeping beside the road.

Our first Cheetah sighting
This Long-crested Eagle was hunting rats behind the local cafe

Our route then took us on a series of dirt tracks to Kati Kati Tented Camp where we had a late lunch. What a setting this was and we could see Giraffes from our dinner table! More importantly was the endemic Ruaha Red-billed Hornbill that posed nicely and a few Ruppell’s Starlings were also new. Our afternoon excursion was spent out in the Serengeti where we saw some lovely Topi, as well as not so lovely Desert Cisticola, Grey-capped Social-Weavers, Red-backed Shrike, Black-chested Snake-Eagle, 2 Secretarybirds, Two-banded Courser, Temminck’s Courser, 5 Lions, Yellow-throated Sandgrouse, Croaking Cisticola, and several Silverbirds

Two-banded Courser

At the Visitor Centre we saw our first Usambiro Barbet, Black-faced Waxbill, Chestnut Sparrow, Lesser Masked Weaver, Martial Eagle and a group of endemic Grey-breasted Spurfowl.

On safari
Serengeti National Park
Usambiro Barbet

Yellow-throated Sandgrouse

There were several Spotted Hyenas skulking around our tents at dinner time and one was all too close for comfort! We went to sleep listening to their cackling, Lions roaring and African Elephants as well. Wow!

Monday, 8 January 2018

Ngorongoro Crater

Where to start? This was one of those ambitions I’ve had since childhood after watching a wildlife documentary about this pace but never thought I’d ever fulfil it. And it didn’t disappoint. After struggling to nail Lynes’s Cisticola on the downward journey and being constantly distracted by the awesome vista below, there were also views of Lanner, Northern Anteater-Chat, Purple Grenadier, Schalow’s Wheatear, Brown Parisoma, Yellow Bishop, Lappet-faced Vulture and Sooty Falcon

Northern Anteater-Chat
Red-rumped Swallows were perched beside the track

Nearing the crater floor we could see a few jeeps watching a group of Lions beside a small lake so headed down there, only to come face-to-face with a majestic Caracal about 30 feet away from us! What? We’d just been staking out an area that Caracal has sometimes frequented higher up and never thought we’d have a realistic chance and now here we were. 

It had just killed an African Hare but been spooked and was tentatively trying to cross the track in front of us towards a kill that 4 Lions had made, but was now being taken over by Golden Jackals and Black-backed Jackals, with some White-backed Vultures also moving in. 

This Lioness was a bit feisty....
Vultures and Jackals at the kill

But after several minutes it decided against that course of action as a Lioness began chasing the Plains Zebras before turning her attentions to the Caracal. So it hightailed it out of there and disappeared up the slope. I’m sure some of the other jeeps weren’t even aware of the presence of this scarce mammal as they were too focussed on the Lion action. But we were elated and the huge surge of adrenalin really is something you need to experience at some time in your life. I love it! So we stayed around the water for some time, taking in the Lions, Kori Bustard, Thompson’s Gazelles, Fischer’s Sparrow-Larks, Red-capped Lark and other commoner species.

Fischer's Sparrow-Larks
Kori Bustard

After a toilet stop we drove out into the plains where amazingly we found another Caracal, albeit quite distant. We also saw Pectoral-patch Cisticola, Black-bellied Bustard, Spotted Hyena, a confiding Rosy-breasted Longclaw, Montagu’s Harrier, another sleeping Lion, some African Quailfinches coming to drink in a stream, before heading to the Hippo Pools. 

African Quailfinch

Rosy-breasted Longclaw

Needless to say they were full of Hippos and some waterbirds but with rain threatening we drove to the picnic site. Here there were many Fan-tailed Widowbirds in non-breeding dress, African Fish-Eagles, flocks of Red-billed Queleas and a hunting African Hobby.

Leaving here we headed back towards the escarpment, and along the way enjoyed watching displaying Black-bellied Bustards, Isabelline Wheatear, several Kittlitz’s Plovers and Plain-backed Pipit

Hildebrandt's Starling
Spotted Hyena

Entering a more lush area with lots of larger trees we saw some perched Lappet-faced Vultures, Dusky Turtle Dove, Hildebrandt’s Starlings, Ruppell’s Vultures nesting, both Red-backed and Lesser Grey Shrikes, Broad-billed Roller, Black Storks, Martial Eagle and a pair of White-headed Barbets. And that was our day.

Lappet-faced Vulture