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Category Archives: Wildlife

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.

A typical day in the Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos archipelago lies off the Ecuadorian mainland and is home to some of the most fascinating wildlife on the planet. It’s isolated location, lack of predators, a little contact with humans over thousands of years has helped the fearless wildlife flourish. Nowhere else on earth can you see some a range of species, from flightless cormorants, penguins, and giant tortoises that roam around on the highlands, while sharks, dolphins, and whales take refuge in the plankton rich waters. Without a doubt, the easiest way to see the island is on board one of the many cruise ships.  No day is the same, with new experiences and wildlife found on every island and site, but a typical day looks something like this.

In the morning, you will wake up to the sounds of sea birds and the gentle lapping of the ocean. Up on deck, you’ll likely to get you first sight of birds which circle around the boat above. Your crew will already have been up early creating a spread of eggs, toast, fresh fruits, yogurts, cereals, juice, and coffee for your breakfast.  You’ll have some time to eat and get ready before the excursion begins. During breakfast, your guide will give you a briefing of the day, what you’re likely to see, and what you’ll need to bring with you.

Board pangas (inflatable boats), to and cross over for either a wet or dry-landing. If wet, you’ll jump out into the water and wade through onto the beach. During a dry landing, the boat will moor up and allow you to step ashore. Which one depends on the site you are visiting. Once on shore, your naturalist guide will take you on a walk, perhaps up to a viewpoint. Along the way, you’ll likely to see everything from noisy sea lion colonies, blue-footed boobies doing their hilarious mating dance, great frigatebirds expanding their colourful red poach, iguanas basking in the sunshine, and waddling penguins. Your guide will help you identify the species, as well as the flora of the island. Back at the shore, you can don snorkel masks and fins and jump into the sea to explore the marine life of turtles, small reef sharks, and colourful schools of fish.

Having worked up an appetite, you’ll board pangas to ride back to the boat. The chef will have been busy preparing a delicious buffet style lunch which typically includes pastas, meat, cheese, bread, vegetables, and some dessert, along with fresh fruit and juices. You’ll have a little time to relax as the boat cruises on to the next destination.

You’ll motor to a new site which will reveal a whole host of new species to discover. For example on Santa Cruz island, you’ll head up the windy roads to the lush green highlands. With your ever present guide, you’ll hike through the greenery in search of some of the island’s giant Galapagos tortoises. They move slowly, so they’re never hard to find. Enjoy close encounters with alien-looking but gentle ambling creatures.

Return to the coast. If time permits, you’ll be taken to another site for some snorkelling. In the cool waters, perhaps spot large manta ray, a colourful parrot fish, a green turtle, or a playful sea lion pup whose inquisitiveness with bring them up close to you. The underwater life in the Galapagos is simply astounding, with rare coral reefs and fascinating marine creatures. You may even spot the odd harmless reef shark gracefully swimming. As always, your naturalist guide will be with you to help you spot and identify the flora and fauna species. With just 16 passengers to every naturalist guide, you’ll have their full attention during the trip.

Back on board, you’ll have plenty of time to relax and enjoy a delicious dinner prepared by the onboard chef. Have a glass of wine, swap stories with your fellow guests, look up at the stars (both hemispheres are clearly visible), listen to a briefing of tomorrows itinerary, and get a good night’s sleep, ready for tomorrow’s experience.

To start planning your cruise in the Galapagos, take a look through our Galapagos tour suggestions, call our Galapagos experts on +44 (0) 207 407 1478, or email us here.

Watch this mesmerising penguin colony timelapse

This video may be a few years old now, but it is still just as fascinating. Over a three-month period, an Adelie penguin colony was filmed in the Ross Sea. Every 45-minutes, a photo was taken and then stitched together to create a memorizing timelapse. The footage was taken by Jean Pennycook from the National Science Foundation and was shared on the Armed with Science blog.

It’s not the Adelie penguins waddling that is interesting to watch. Throughout the film, the ice can be seen ‘breathing’ as the tide rolls in and pushes it up and down.  Over the three months, the ice begins to shift, break away and then finally melt into the sea.

The person behind the project was Jean Pennycook, an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow for the National Science Foundation. She was a school teacher for over 25 years and her website Penguin Science provides resources to school children around the world. This includes lesson plans, call-ins and teaching and learning forums with a focus on penguins and the Antarctic. Throughout her time in the Antarctic, she broadcast daily updates around the penguin colonies and at its peak during breeding season, her website was receiving over a million users a month.

Adelie penguins are a fascinating species. They only live along the fringes of the Antarctic coast, preferring to be close to the water. Along with animals like emperor penguins and snow petrels, they make up some of the most southerly living seabirds. To get technical, they are part of the Pygoscelis family which split more than 38 million years ago into three subspecies. Research suggests there are more almost 4 million breeding pairs of Adelie penguins in 250 colonies. Colonies are decreasing in numbers on the Antarctic peninsula but increasing in East Antarctica. This has led to an increase of over 50% since the last census was completing, suggesting that they are not at risk as a species.

The penguins breed between October and February and build their nests from stones found along the edge of the Antarctic. Both parents take turns to incubate the eggs over a month and once hatched, they stay in the nest for a further month. Within 2 months of being born, the chicks have dropped their juvenile plumage and take off into the sea. They are some of the smallest of penguin species and reach around 50 cms and 5 kg in weight.  They have distinctive black and white marks around their eyes and along their body which gives them the appearance of wearing a tuxedo. They have a red bill, but long head feathers cover most of it. They can swim up to 5 miles per hour. They feed on krill, squid and silverfish, but they are in turn preyed on by orcas, skuas and leopard seals.

Would you like to go and see Adelie penguins? Take a look at our Antarctic cruises, get in touch with one of our Polar experts at +44 (0) 207 407 1478 or contact us here.

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.

New Suites at Napo Wildlife Centre

AMAZON IN STYLE

You can’t beat spotting Amazon wildlife at Napo Wildlife Centre in Ecuador. This lodge is set within the Yasuni National Park. This comfortable eco-lodge has now added four panoramic suites. If you fancy the jungle with a private whirlpool on a panoramic balcony, this is your place. Not to mention a cosy living room with a glass floor above the water to spot caiman alligators passing below. From your hammock, you might spot pre-historic hoatzins, huge arapaima fish, and even giant otters on the hunt for piranhas.

After taking a half-hour flight from Quito. Napo Wildlife Centre sits by Anangu Lagoon, a couple of hours by canoe from Coca/San Francisco de Orellana. You can explore the virgin forest on guided hikes, take canoe-rides and visits to a nearby parrot clay lick. For bird-watchers, there is a watchtower. For a bit of culture visits to an indigenous kichwa community. Ecuador is one of the most accessible places to visit the Amazon and one of the most diverse. You could easily combine this with a Galapagos cruise.

Whale watching in Costa Rica starts in July

Now is the time to head down to warm waters of the Golfo Dulce in southern Costa Rica. Pacific humpback whales arrive on their annual migration to mate and socialize. After spending the southern summer in Antarctica, they head to the tropics the breed. They stay until October. You will get up-close to giant sentient beings that share the planet with us. These southern whales hang-out in the protected waters of the Golfo Dulce and the Ballena National Marine Park. Here they enjoy shallow coastal waters and protection from natural predators like sharks and Orcas. National Geographic rated Costa Rica the 7th best place in the world for whale watching. Watch their tail-slapping displays, breaches above the water and spot their distinctive humps.

“I remember vividly the first time I saw a humpback whale in the wild. Suddenly, a spray of water erupted from the calm blue-green water a few hundred yards off the beach. The long, black and barnacled form of a mother humpback whale surfaced gracefully for air. Our little group pointed excitedly at the huge whale. Then we gasped in delight as we caught sight of the smaller shape of her baby swimming by her side.
We jumped into a boat, and at a respectful distance, we cruised along with mother and baby as they slowly swam along the dark green coast thick with rainforest. Pairs of Scarlet Macaws flew overhead as sunset neared, heading to roost in tall shoreline trees for the night. The whales disappeared out of sight, and we motored back enchanted.” Shannon Farley.

 
If seeing whales and dolphins up close in their natural environment is on your bucket list, you can go on Costa Rica whale-watching tours from Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge starting toward the end of July through the end of September. Keep a look-out also for visiting whale sharks, the largest fish in the sea. Nicuesa Lodge is giving a special offer of one free night when you stay a minimum of three or more nights. Contact us for more details.

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

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.

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.

Lonesome George returns home

lonesome_george-488x326

Almost five years after the death of Lonesome George, the last Pinta tortoise has returned back home to the Galapagos Islands. He remains were sent to New York in 2012 to be preserved by taxidermists and was exhibited at the American Museum of Natural History in 2014.

For those who don’t know Lonesome George, he was the last survivor of the Pinta Islands sub-species. He was found on Pinta Island alone in 1972 when most believed that his species was extinct. After being brought to the Charles Darwin Research Station in Puerto Ayora, there were efforts by the park to mate him with female tortoises, but unfortunately this was unsuccessful. At the point of death, his age was unknown, but is thought to be well over 100 years old. He was the star of the show at the research station and during the 40 years he lived there, tens of thousands of tourists visited him.

The Ecuadorian Pacific archipelago is famous as the place that Charles Darwin developed his theory of evolution. There are 15 species of giant tortoise that inhabit the islands, three of which are now extinct, including George’s sub-species.

The expertly preserved body arrived back on Puerto Ayora on an Ecuadorian military plane and is now on display at the park. Would you like to see Lonesome George or the other wildlife on the Galapagos? Call to speak with one of our travel experts today on +44 (0) 207 407 1478 or see our sample Galapagos tours here.

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