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Category Archives: Birds

BEN BOX – BIRDWATCHING IN COLOMBIA

Glittering Starfrontlet – copyright Jim Lawrence

As anyone who watches birds will tell you, the best times of day to go out with your binoculars are dawn and dusk. This trip was no different and, on most days, it was a question of breakfast competing with an important bird or two. Take, for instance, the day we headed from Manizales to the Montezuma Rainforest Lodge in the buffer zone of the Parque Nacional Natural Tatamá in Colombia’s western Andean cordillera.

Tatamá – copyright Ben Box

We left Manizales very early and stopped at a small commercial centre on the outskirts of Pereira to pick up a group member. The little car park was, like every other stop, a chance to get out the binoculars and, lo and behold: a couple of macaws that should not have been there (out of their range; probably escaped from a private aviary). Next stop, also near Pereira, was Maracay. From the bus we walked into open grassland overlooking dry forest and the distant Río Cauca valley. In a new open-sided pavilion a fabulous picnic was laid out. So we ate and birded, adding to the tour’s bird list the endemic apical flycatcher, scarlet-fronted parakeet, spectacled parrotlet, bay-headed tanager, and migrant fork-tailed flycatcher and yellow-billed cuckoo.

Colombia Tatamá – Ben Box

Before too long we were on the road again, reaching the Montezuma Rainforest Lodge for lunch. The lodge’s feeders were alive with hummingbirds (I counted ten different species), saltators and tanagers, so we birded again while we ate. After lunch we moved uphill, but as the day wore on the clouds rolled in and by late afternoon the rain was so heavy, we called it a day. We did stop at a small bridge where our guide, Yesenia, put crumbs on the parapet and called “Olive Finch, Olive Finch”, but the bird was clearly sheltering from the rain too and never showed.

Next morning, the rain had moved away, and we loaded into the vehicles for the rough ride to the end of the road into the national park. Tatamá means grandfather of all the rivers and on the mountain sides across the gorge waterfalls tumbled and echoed from the ridges. Breakfast was snatched off the back of the pick-up because the hummingbirds up here were too good to miss: tourmaline sunangel, collared inca, dusky starfrontlet, velvet-purple coronet. accompanied by coffee and arepas we saw other colourful names, green-and-black fruiteater; purplish-mantled and golden-ringed tanagers; chestnut-bellied flowerpiercer, before descending slowly to the lodge as the rain rolled in again.

Footnotes:
Colombia is aiming to be the number one birding destination in the world, to match its status as the country with the most bird species in its territory (1,921 species). Many areas of the country that were out of bounds during the years of conflict are now open to tourists and birdwatching is increasing rapidly in popularity. The Colombian government is training guides and fostering bird-based tourism as a conservation and economic development tool. Five birdwatching routes are in development; two are open: The Northern Colombia Birding Trail and the Central Andes Birding Trail. This group travelled on much of the latter. Contact us for further details.

Ben was invited to join the birdwatching trip in Colombia by BirdLife International and guest of ProColombia.

Autumn in Galapagos Islands

Galapagos sealion cruise

I recently returned to the Galapagos for a wonderful week’s cruise. I was a bit worried that October is not an ideal time to go but was pleasantly surprised. It was low season, so we hardly saw any other boats and often were the only passengers to land on an island. The boat was not full, so it felt more exclusive. The weather was fantastic with an average temperature of 22-25C and placid seas. It meant that it was neither too hot shore visits nor too cold for swimming. The sunrises through the morning mist were a bonus. Evenings aboard the boat were warm enough for star-gazing. We also had fun spotting sharks that swam around the boat at night attracted by the lights.

Galapagos_tortoise
The northern Autumn months are excellent for wildlife. Giant tortoises on Santa Cruz island congregate in the highlands to breed. We were tripping over them like in Darwin’s day. Blue-footed boobies were looking after chicks, but some still doing their famous dance. The Albatross breeding season is in full-swing with huge bundles of downy chicks. We saw migrant shorebirds like sanderlings and plovers and got close to flamingos. They obliged by doing a fly-past. Everywhere young sea lions were playing on land and in the water.

Sealions galapagos
One of the highlights was snorkelling in crystal clear waters with penguins, sharks, rays and thousands of fish. Luckily, we had a fish expert on hand Dr. Jack Grove to identify and entertain with his anecdotes. Sea lion pups often joined the group doing aqua-aerobics.

Galapagos Penguin
I was on board the stylish Origin motor yacht designed to showcase the very best of this wondrous archipelago in comfort. Contact us to book your trip.

Guest Blog Brazil: A hard nut to crack or just a big pussycat?!

David and his team have been organising our trips to South America for nearly 20 years now. We have previously described them as ‘masterpieces’; each one excelling in the chosen area of travel. A big challenge faces them every time we book another holiday.
So, with the bar set high, could they reach it for Brazil?

Our first stay at Cordilheira, Caiman Ecological Refuge, brought us a sighting of Fera, a ‘re-wilded’ orphaned jaguar cub. Having watched a David Attenborough programme shortly before departure, ‘Jaguars in Brazil’, featuring this very same cub, it was like being in our own wildlife documentary. The afternoon we saw her, we watched her return to, and finish off, a previous kill of a giant anteater. We then tracked her in the hope that she might return to her two young cubs. As darkness fell we saw an armadillo scamper across the grass in the light of our guides torch. So too did Fera and, with mixed feelings, we watched as she caught and devoured her dessert! By the time she had finished it was too dark to continue tracking her, so we didn’t get to see the cubs, but we have heard they are doing well. During our stay however, we did encounter roadblocks, ‘jaguar style’, as a mating pair frequently chose to ‘rest’ on the highway through the park. One day, by the river bank, we found deep paw prints in the mud of an ‘unknown’ jaguar. Our guide made plaster casts as a memento of our trip, which we hope to eventually turn into bronze casts.

Jaguar paw print Pantanal

At Araras Lodge we saw Caiman at close quarters but kept a respectful distance having been told that a Japanese tourist once thought that because they were lying so still they weren’t alive. Upon kicking one, and losing three toes, he was very much proved wrong! This was a destination of the unexpected; a giant anteater in the swimming pool and nearly being capsized in our canoe by a Tapir. Not your everyday encounters!

Caiman Pantanal Brazil

Staying on a ‘Flotel’ out of Porto Jofre sounded like sheer luxury and indulgence, and it was. Not least of all because we were the only passengers on a 16-berth boat; our own captain, chef, maid, boatman and guide! Surreal, and all credit to them for not cancelling our booking due to the low occupancy. Our motorboat trips out brought sightings of 10 different jaguars, in varying locations and situations; with a cub, swimming in the river, retrieving a dead caiman and climbing up a tree, to name but a few. It would be unfair to focus on just the jaguars however and not mention all the other wonderful wildlife we saw; giant otters playing or eating fish, Caiman, Capybara, Howler monkeys, Capuchin monkeys, Jabiru stork and a wealth of birdlife. My only ‘reservation’ was the day I needed a ‘comfort stop’. The boatman pulled in by the shore. There, in the sand, was a jaguar paw print. A few feet away lay a Caiman – definitely alive! My bladder capacity increased almost instantaneously as I decided to wait for a more suitable/acceptable location for my needs.

Jabiru Storks Pantanal Brazil

At Cristalino Lodge we enjoyed the diversity of wildlife, walking through the forests, up the watch towers and boating along the river. More surprises waited for us here as we watched a pair of sun bitterns on the river bank. Suddenly an ornate hawk eagle shot swiftly out from the bush, took one of the sun bitterns in its talons, circled round behind us and back into the bush. For a few moments I think we were all in shock and I don’t think any of us could quite take on board what had happened. It was however quite incredible to witness such a snapshot of nature.

Giant anteater, Pantanal, Brazil

Ibitipoca was almost beyond description. If there is a Paradise here on earth, then this is most definitely a contender. A peaceful, tranquil location where just wandering around in the environs of the lodge you are engulfed by the most stunning scenery. There are sheltered spots where you can sit or lie and just absorb the ambience that surrounds you. Everything has been done so tastefully whilst embracing the eco environment and the regeneration of the area. On one of our excursions we even had the good fortune to have a rare sighting of a maned wolf. Walking up to the plateau and encountering the family of seven magnificent human metal sculptures, by Karen Cusolito, looking down the valley, is breath-taking. It is a very special place indeed.

Reserva do Ibitipoca_Tamarin

Our journey ended in Paraty, a delightful old colonial town with a fascinating history and the infrastructure of a bygone era still standing and inhabited to this day. Our stay at Casa Cairucu, on the shore looking out over the bay, provided us with an opportunity to relax and reflect on an incredible adventure. Another masterpiece if ever there was.

Paraty, Brazil

Gillian & Phil Moss

If you want us to create your own bespoke trip to Brazil, do get in touch.

Related: The Difference Between Paraty & Buzios

SUMMER IN THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

Copyright David Horwell

Every month is a wildlife delight in the Galapagos Islands, and the northern summer months are no exception. The giant tortoises on Santa Cruz island have begun to migrate to the highlands in preparation for nesting season, blue-footed boobies are particularly active and, if you’re lucky, you may get to see the curious courtship ritual of the flightless cormorants. Whales and dolphins are more active, especially off the western islands. It is also a good time to spot migrant shorebirds. In central islands you can observe sea lions starting to give birth and rearing their young.

We offer 4-nights, 5-nights and longer combinations on board our stylish Galapagos yachts that are designed to showcase the very best of this wondrous archipelago. Contact us to book your trip.

RELATED: A typical day in the Galapagos Islands

SEE US AT THE BIRDFAIR IN RUTLAND

Once again Select Latin America will be having a stand at the Birdfair taking place at Rutland Water Nature Reserve 17 August to 19 August 2018.

Birdfair encompasses the whole spectrum of the bird-watching industry whilst at the same time supporting global bird conservation. There are lectures, events and celebrities and hundreds of stands selling the latest products for wildlife enthusiasts. You can try out camera lenses, binoculars or discuss holiday destinations with experts.

This will be our 18th year, find us at Marquee 7 Stand 36. Our experts will be on hand to help plan your next tailor-made wildlife adventure and our new brochure will be hot off the press.

We hope to see some old friends and make new ones there.

RELATED: 9 beautiful exotic birds from Latin America

Videos of the most magnificent birds in Latin America

Latin America has the most diverse range of avifauna on earth. More than 3,000 different species of birdlife can be found from the mountains down to the coast. Notably places birders should visit are the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador, the cloud forests of Peru, the Atlantic coastal forest in Brazil, the Iberá Wetlands in Argentina, and the Boquete Highlands in Panama. Here’s a rundown of the most magnificent birds in Latin America that all birders should tick off their lists.

Hyacinth macaws

The hyacinth macaw is part of the parrot family and is native to the rainforests of South America. It is characterized by its cobalt blue feathers. It is the largest of the parrot family at maturity can reach up to a metre long from its head to the bottom of its tail. Unfortunately, due to habitat loss and the illegal pet trade, hyacinth macaws are listed as vulnerable. We can recommend spots in the Pantanal where you will definitely see them.

Andean condors

Andean condors inhabit much of the high Andes Mountains. It’s large, with a wingspan off well over 3 metres and is part of the vulture family. They circle on the thermals looking out for dead animals to scavenge. It has one of the longest lives of any bird, with some living to over 70 years. Perhaps one of the best places to see this impressive bird is in Peru’s Colca Canyon.

Cock of the Rock

Though small, the cock of the rock is one of the most colourful birds in Latin America. Inhabiting the misty cloud forests on the slopes of the Andes, these birds are characterized by bright orange feathers including a prominent fan-shaped crest. They congregate in leks where the males display in the hope of attracting a mate. If you want to see a cock of the rock, be sure to visit the cloud forests of Ecuador or Manu in Peru.

Waved albatross

These huge 2.5 metre birds descend upon Espanola island in the Galapagos during the mating season in May. Most visit the island to view the majestic birds’ mating ritual of bill circling, sky pointing, and bill clapping. The rest of the year they spend along the coast of Peru and Ecuador. Interestingly, the waved albatross can live up to 45 years.

Resplendent quetzal

The resplendent quetzal is found in the cloud forests of Panama, Guatemala, Mexico, and Costa Rica. There are several different sub-species, and they are often considered by many as the most beautiful birds in the world. These solitary creatures are part of the trogon family and are usually found on their own or very small groups.

Magnificent frigatebirds

Magnificent frigatebirds have a large wingspan and are known for stealing the food from other birds. This has led to the Spanish calling the pirate birds. The males have a layer of shiny black feathers along their body and a large red throat pouch which they inflate during mating season to attract a mate. Females are large then the males, and have white breast and shoulder feathers.

Blue footed boobies

Though blue footed boobies can be found along the coast of Ecuador and Peru, the biggest populations are on the Galapagos Islands, and are one of the archipelago’s biggest draws. They are easily recognised by their blue feet which they stamp up and down to impress a female. They reach almost a metre in height (the females are generally taller) and they have a wingspan of up to 1.5 metres.

King penguins

Most of the population of king penguins are found in the Antarctic, but there is a small population of king penguins on the Falkland Islands and another in Tierra del Fuego. King penguins are around a metre tall and are expert swimmers. While looking for prey like small fish and quid, they often dive down to over 100 metres, though some reach depths three times this.

Harpy eagles

The beautiful harpy eagle is found throughout the Americas and is one of the most powerful raptor species. They can be seen in parts of the lowland rainforests in Brazil and Central America gliding around on the morning thermal. They have huge talons which they use to grab prey and can lift animals that are as heavy as they are.

Capuchinbird

This funny looking bird is found in Northern Brazil and Guyana. It’s part of the cotingidae family and is famous among birders as having one of the most unique vocalisations, a low rumble like a cow. It’s got a strange head formation which makes it easy to spot.

Want to see the bird life of Latin America? To start planning, call one of our birding experts on +44 (0) 207 407 1478 or email us here.

RELATED: 9 beautiful exotic birds from Latin America

TROPICANA BIRD PARK IGUAÇU

Toucan in the Bird Park

Brazil’s Iguaçu Falls National Park is full of exotic wildlife. Exploring the tropical waterfalls is a real ‘bucket-list’ experience, but there’s much more to discover. Often overlooked, is the Parque das Aves or ‘Bird Park’, an ornithological sanctuary. Here rescued birds are find a home. This attraction is a bonus for any wildlife enthusiast. Our private excursion will take a behind the scenes look at the park. You will spend time in the company of chattering songbirds, start at either 7.30am, 10.30am or 2pm. Though we recommend the early morning slot for keen twitchers.

You will have the chance to see staff at work, watch feeding and see rare species up close. Learn how passionate park rangers care for these beautiful, vulnerable creatures. Parque das Aves is also home to a blissful butterfly garden, and a resident boa constrictor. Round the visit off by enjoying some light refreshments and fresh fruit from the region. A delicious, sweet end to this insightful birding experience. This can be booked as part of any tour of the region.

RELATED: Braving the spray of Iguazú Falls

10 places in Latin America that will take your breath away

Latin America is so full of wonders, it’s almost impossible to pick just 10. Our travels have taken us all around this varied continent and we’ve whittled it down to our absolute bucket list favourites.

Torres del Paine

Perhaps one of the most spectacular places on earth, the Torres del Paine National Park spans a large area of the Andes in southern Chile. Hiking through the park reveals some of the most exquisite scenery in South America as well as plenty of wildlife from roaming guanacos to circling condors. An absolute must.

Angel Falls

Flickr: ENT108

Angel falls are the tallest in the world. As water cascades over the edge it plunges 2,648 feet before heading the ground. Like something out of the movie Avatar, the falls remote location mean very few tourists visit so you’re likely to have the falls all to yourself. One of the best ways to see them is a scenic flight over the top.

Blue Hole

The Great Blue Hole is located off Belize’s Caye Caulker. Scuba divers from all over the world to visit this mecca to swim with manta rays, sharks and colourful exotic fish. To fully appreciate the shape of this sunken underwater cave, it’s best to take a light aircraft flight over the top. The nearby Hol Chan Marine Park and the three atolls of Glover, Lighthouse and Turneffe are all top notch scuba sites.

Cartagena

No other city exudes the charm of Cartagena. The colourful UNESCO city is flanked by the clear blue waters of the Caribbean Sea. The best way to explore the city is by foot. This cultural hub is packed full of museums, galleries, and churches to explore. By night, head out to explore the excellent restaurants and nightlife.

Rio de Janeiro

While it may be unoriginal to put Rio de Janeiro on a bucket list of South America, we simply couldn’t leave it off. The gorgeous hedonistic city is surrounded by towering mountains, the biggest urban forest in the world, miles of golden sandy beach and the Atlantic. No trip to Brazil is complete without a visit to this fantastic city.

Tulum

The golden sandy beaches fringed by palm trees are spectacular, but what makes this beach so special is the Mayan temple which loams over the beach from its clifftop site.

Pantanal

For wildlife lovers, there is no better place on earth. This vast wetland that sits just below the Amazon in Brazil is home to hundreds of animal species, from colourful hyacinth macaws, jaguars, caiman, giant otters, monkeys, tapirs, herons, hawks, marsh deer and egrets.  Best explored from one of the many comfortable lodges in the park.

Uyuni

Truly one of the world’s natural wonders. This huge 12,000 sq km expanse of white salt seemingly stretches on forever, only punctuated by an island of giant cacti. Nearby, it’s possible to see a train cemetery of rusting steam trains, hot springs, geysers and workers piling up salt. Be sure to stay in one of the hotels made entirely from salt.

Bocas del Toro

For rustic luxury and Caribbean vibes, visit Bocas del Toro, an archipelago off the northern Panamanian coast. The capital Isla Colon is home to colourful wooden houses, preserving its original Caribbean flair. Stay in one of the many over-the-water bungalows and spend your days swimming, snorkeling, swinging in a hammock, eating lobster and beach dwelling.

For tailor made tours to Latin America, contact the experts here or call us on +44 (0) 207 407 1478

RELATED: Our picks for the 2018 hotspots in Latin America

King Penguins in Tierra del Fuego

King Penguin

If you want to see King penguins but don’t want to go to Antarctica, go to Tierra del Fuego. A few years ago, a small colony of King Penguins started nesting at a local Estancia. This is the only place to find the second largest penguin within the American continent. We will be offering a day trip to see these graceful creatures. The itinerary starts in Punta Arenas and consists on a short flight to Porvenir and then a drive to the the reserve and then fly back. This is a perfect addition to any Torres del Paine itinerary with some idle time in Punta Arenas.

Tierra del Fuego means ‘Land of Fire’ after the fires the indigenous people kept going. The archipelago is shared between Chile and Argentina. Much of it is flat steppe grasslands, but a chain of rugged mountains runs down, covered in a permanent ice field. We also offer cruises that ply the islands’ fjords and include a stop at mythical Cape Horn.
Here are some Chilean holiday ideas.

RELATED: Patagonia Overland Safari Our New Product

Albatross Breeding Season Comes to Galapagos

The albatross breeding season has started. The waved albatross is the largest species of bird in the Galapagos Islands. They only nest on Española Island, where they can be spotted from the April until the December. This coincides with the cooler season when waters are richer in food. They are called the waved albatross after the wavy lines on their breast. Their courtship ritual is one of the most entertaining spectacles in the archipelago. During the courtship, the male approaches the female, then moves around her. They clack their beaks noisily together and point towards the sky. An eerie rattling sound follow, and much honking prevails. They sway around elaborately leading each other on. The movements are repeated many times. They manage to find their partners from previous years. It is said that they mate for life, which can be up to 40 years. They only lay one large egg on bare ground, which weighs nearly 300g. Once-hatched they rapidly grow, until 6 months later are ready to fledge. One reason they like Española island is it is flat and they can easily take off the cliffs. Film copyright David Horwell.

If you wish to book a Galapagos cruise contact the experts.

RELATED: A typical day in the Galapagos Islands

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