12 August 2014

The best job in the world?

Its generally a cold day in hell that I happen to find myself socially interacting with people other than clients. Odd job choice for a misanthropist you might say. However, on the rare occasion that I do find myself conversing with the plebs, I am invariably told that I have such a GREAT job - something to be grateful for even! Who wouldn't want to travel the world for a living? Perception and reality, an estranged couple these days. Once said individual's hamster has been motivated to make a few revolutions they realise that this is pure romanticism. And grateful for what exactly? Are you grateful for your office job? Why is my job so different that I need to be grateful anyway?

There is clearly a disconnect between the volume of countries I visit and the patently self evident travel that this involves. Sure, I see many, many countries and places, but think about how I get there. I'm not sure what image people get into their heads regarding just what it is that I do. I'm most certainly not jetting off to the Caribbean to lie on a beach for 6 weeks. I facilitate, I teach - ultimately I make things happen so that my clients have a seamless and enjoyable holiday. Unlike most tour reps, guides, operators - whatever term you wish to use, I don't specialise in a country or region, but a subject. I never get to sit back and relax once I know one country - for we travel to over 100 countries and offer 200 different tours covering over 10 000 species of birds and a few thousand mammals.

Most people like more than a little routine, call it societal conformity - the only thing routine about my life is change (and waking up 04:00 almost every morning - birds get up early). I have no base, no home, no country, too many nationalities and even more identities. For years I have spent my life living out of a suitcase. The most consecutive days I have spent in one location this year is 13 days. I spend almost all my life in the 'summer' of the world's tropics. Its hot, humid, full of biting/stinging organisms and rains a lot. Things you take for granted are a complete waste of my life - I don't own a TV, furniture, cannot have any pets and probably shouldn't involve myself in any form of relationship. Aside from the incredible wildlife I bear witness to, the highlight of my day/week/month is getting a half decent internet connection and a hot shower. Grateful, yes - for the things you take for granted.

Diatribe, sure - but this is far from being a general whinge about my life.  This is in fact a lifestyle that suits me perfectly - and I love it. So, do you really want to do my job?

Flights : 2014
Basic flight paths for the year - single lines like Johannesburg (JNB) to Brazil (GRU) are 4 flights, not 1!

By the time this year is over, I'll will have effectively flown around the world 4 times.

57 flights, of which :

18  Inter-continental (i.e. Africa to South America - long flights!)
17  Intra-continental (i.e. within Africa - medium length flights)
22  Domestic            (i.e. within South Africa)

Total flying time     : 215 hours (9 days)
Distance Travelled : 152 192 kilometres (94 568 miles)

Average Flight       : 2 670km (3.5 hours)

Countries : 2014

Total visited : 21

I spent 9 days/nights inside a plane. Otherwise I spent the following nights per country.
(X) signifies number of transits.

126  South Africa
 (2)  Netherlands
 (6)  Panama
 21  Guatemala
 17  Dominican Republic
 16  Jamaica
 21  Cuba
 (2) USA
   1  Lesotho
 08  Kenya
 14  Tanzania
 02  Singapore
 25  Papua New Guinea
 13  Indonesia
 (2)  UAE
 06  Switzerland
 05  UK
 (4)  Brazil
 17  Paraguay
 49  Colombia
 16  Ecuador

Boarding Passes for July and August 2014

Highlights : 2014

Guatemala (Jan)

Lago Atitlan, Coffee fincas, Volcanic highlands, hiking up Volcan San Pedro 3 times and getting to grips with one of the world's most impressive birds, Horned Guan. Mayan architecture at Tikal.

Jamaica (Feb)

Home of Bob Marley, Rastafarians and a pile of endemics birds. Managed one decent shot of a
Red-billed Streamertail - smashing Hummingbird.

Dominican Republic (Feb)

Another Caribbean island, more great birds and equally friendly people. Tragically getting destroyed by the people of Haiti. Collected the full set of endemics over the course of two visits.

Cuba (March)

Third of the four Greater Antillean islands and had been one of my favourite countries. Nailed all the usual endemics, including this Cuban Emerald.

Tanzania & Kenya (May)

Highest mountains in Africa, largest mammal concentrations in the world. Too many plaudits - must visit destination. 

Papua New Guinea (July)

Remote, multiple Bird-of-paradise species, 90% virgin forest. Difficult logistics, expensive and mostly inept. Nothing much else to be said. Huli Wigmen capture by Rich Lindie

Sulawesi, Indonesia (August)

With almost 100 endemic birds, Sulawesi is a mega bird destination. Throw in some Critically endangered mammals and particularly good spicy food. Great-billed Kingfisher

Still to come

Switzerland (August)

Bird Fair, United Kingdom (August)

South Africa (August)

Paraguay (September)

ABA Conference, South Africa (October)
Colombia (November & December)

Ecuador (December)

20 October 2013


Tawny Antpitta by Clayton Burne
Four years ago, I landed in Costa Rica for my first taste of Neotropical birding. As any birder could testify to, there is no ‘easing’ into the Neotropics. I had enough trouble identifying the birds I could comfortably see, without digging for the the skulkers. I had over this short time seen enough to be certain of two things - finding Resplendent Quetzal was tricky and I may as well stop birding without some lengthy trips to the Neotropics. Last year  I packed away my life in Europe and returned for an entire years worth of birding in South America. 

With liberty to move at will, I set about tackling the difficult and elusive species first, on the assumed basis that the commoner stuff would follow. Spinetails, Woodcreepers, Tyrant flycatchers, other flycatchers, Antbirds, Tapaculos. My introduction was made all the more difficult due to the fact that Argentina is still not in possession of a decent field guide. 

As one is bound to do, a favourite family or grouping of birds soon emerges. Perhaps it was on one of my numerous forays through my digitised field guides that it came to me, perhaps not, either way I chose a family that contained a little over 50 species (on a continent that plays host to 3500+). All the more bizarre, I had not even seen a representative of the family yet!. My colours had been nailed squarely to the Grallariidae mast. Long-legged, short-tailed, drab, a little bit squat with large dark eyes and a generally repetitive, somewhat haunting voice. Practically tied to the ground, the Antpitta family are for all money, the birding worlds version of ghosts. Living predominantly in the mist and cloud shrouded forests of the Andes, they move stealthily about seemingly intent on avoiding peering binoculars and cameras.

Over the course of the last year I managed to lay my eyes on some of them, my camera lens on only a fraction. I have sat for hours waiting, crawled through wet leaves and mud, route marched to high altitude bamboo forests and for the most part failed miserably in my quest to get but a glimpse. They certainly aren’t overly attractive or even particularly rare for the most part, but they are without doubt my most sought after and equally frustrating birds in South America. 

The short excerpts below reflect some of my successes and failures. Some of the text was originally published on this blog. Many of the photos are courtesy of some of the great team of birders and photographers I work with at Rockjumper Worldwide Birding Adventures :

Adam Riley
Luis Segura
Forrest Roland

Variegated Antpitta, Grallaria varia
22/08/2012. Urugua-i Provincial Park, Misiones, Argentina

Having spent the better part of two days searching the Misiones forests, I finally connected with my first Antpitta - 53 days after the tour started.

Just then, a bird flushed off the path. Must have been a thrush, other than doves they are the only things that sit on paths. The bird has landed where I can still see it though, even if behind plenty of tangles. My tongue almost falls out of my mouth, I want to do a jig, I really want to get a photo too - but there is no chance in hell I am going to get an image. My long sought after Variegated Antpitta, at 14:00 in the afternoon. I sit down on the path and hope that it might consider coming back out to do whatever it was doing when I disturbed it. After 20 minutes my patience ebbs, it is clearly not coming back out. A few yards down the path I find the likely reason for the bird being in the open like this - a thick trail of large ants.  

Tick number 1, in the bag.

Speckle-breasted Antpitta, Hylopezus nattereri
25/08/2012. San Sebastian de la Selva, Misiones, Argentina

My next Antpitta would not require another 53 days of birding, only 3 on this occasion. This was an unintended tick, for the purpose of my twitch this morning was a different beast - the Spotted Bamboowren. I’d win on both accounts thanks to my own persistence and Ramon Moller Jensen, top bird photographer and owner of San Sebastian de la Selva.

Breakfast at 07:00 before Ramon was due to take me off to find Spotted Bamboowren. Filled up on coffee and then got an unexpected bonus, there would be no long walk to the top of the property, Ramon and I jumped onto an ATV and headed up at speed. Arriving at the site, Ramon hauled out two very large machetes - just in case some trail clearance was required. We headed along a small trail, but machetes were not required. Just before reaching the Bamboowren site, Ramon heard a Speckle-breasted Antpitta calling. Out came the mobile phone and he started some playback. We were in luck, our bird was interested and crept over to see who was invading his patch. Not the greatest view, but as anyone that has ever seen an Antpitta will testify, good views are nigh near impossible. Happy to add a second Antpitta in a matter of days.

This was starting to feel a little easy.
Jocotoco Antpitta by Forrest Rowland

Argentina had only one species of Antpitta left to get, and I would get it at Calilegua National Park where everyone else seems to find it easily. I had already spent an entire day and afternoon searching for this apparently common species. It would happen though, my last morning confined me to defeat.

Another early start. I would not be cycling today, only walking for 5-6km’s up the road and along the river. Unfortunately, I was unable to add the list - if there were White-throated Antpittas here, they certainly weren’t making their presence known. I resigned myself to dipping on a host of species and shifted back to camp.

A few months later I was starting to cycle my way out of Bolivia.
Villa Tunari sits just over 200masl, by the end of the day I am expecting to reach 1900masl. Once I get to the 1200masl level, the cloud forest lives up to it’s name. Thick cloud and rain make the riding conditions treacherous. I pass a recently crashed truck which somehow managed to make a 90 degree exit on one of the few straight pieces of road. 

The rain intensifies, but onward and upward I go. I hear a familiar call bleating out of a roadside bush. A little thought before I check the calls on my iPhone. This is a bird I last chased in north western Argentina some months back. I get the playback going and within a few minutes manage to obtain a rather silhouetted view of a White-throated Antpitta. For all the hours that I walked around the beautiful Yungas of Calilegua National Park trying to find this bird, it shows on the side of a busy motorway in blinding cloud and heaving rain! 
Yellow-breasted Antpitta by Luis Segura
Undulated Antpitta, Grallaria squamigera

Bosque Ampay sits above the town of Abancay, a place of towering mountains and deep valleys in the Chalhuanca Valley. My first attempt at Undulated Antpitta came a few hours after some of the most crushing days I had spent in the saddle.

Up early for my trip to Bosque Ampay. It is Saturday, the streets deserted at 05:45. It only takes a minute or so to find a taxi. Some banged up old Toyota, but it manages the steep uphill out of town as well as the rutted climb up to the entrance of Ampay. There isn’t much to see outside except a vertical cliff face in front of me - the path goes straight up it. After all the climbing I have done on the bike, my legs are not looking forward to doing it all again on foot.

I take slowly to the task at hand, the trail continuing onwards and upwards at a crushingly painful gradient. After 90 minutes I reach the first dense Podocarpus forest of the climb. Undulated Antpitta calls from various places, but none near to the paths.

I would return to Abancay on two further occasions with Adrian. We would again hear them calling, but no visuals were ever had.
Moustached Antpitta by Forrest Rowland
Bay Antpitta, Grallaria capitalis
19/03/2013. Paty Trail, Huanuco, Peru

Adrian and I had walked a good section of the Paty Trail, all the time aware that the longer we walked the more painful the climb back up would be. We pause at one of the few clearings, the base of a massive electricity pylon. The opening allows some unhindered birding and we take full advantage.

During a lull in the birding, we hear a mournful call emanating from a nearby clump of trees. Neither of us can pick it, but it sounds like an Antpitta. Not overly useful as there are a number of species here. I run through the playlist quickly and decide that this is a Bay Antpitta.

With camera and bins ready, I start the process of luring the little fellow in - it’s a bit like fishing, sometimes they bite - mostly they don’t. The bird does come in, we both manage half obscured views from 6feet. There won’t be any images of this chap, but it is another good species in the bag. It only occurs to me now that this is Adrian’s very first Antpitta - a Puruvian Endemic to boot.
Ochre-breasted Antpitta by Forrest Rowland
Pale-billed Antpitta, Grallaria carrikeri
Rusty-tinged Antpitta, Grallaria przewalskii

This will go down as one of the hardest birding days I have yet encountered. It will also be remembered as one of my most disappointing days out, despite being a mostly successful effort.

Another early start to get up the Rio Chido Trail. The trail head was only three kilometres from town, but the hike itself was going to be savage. We began our climb at 06:00 and did not reach the bamboo forests until gone midday. A haphazard affair with many wrong turns and even more stops. We paused to rest and breathe every 50-60 metres for the first few hours. The mountain crushed us for most of the day. At least we were adding the odd species, some of which were particularly important. However, the major target (Pale-billed Antpitta) of the climb did not make an appearance, not even a squeak.

There was little consolation to be had from any of the other Antpittas or Tapaculos. We had to be satisfied with our haul, which admittedly did include Lulu’s Tody Flycatcher at 3 feet... The walk down only took a few hours, while easier on the lungs, it was horrendous on the knees and ankles.

I would learn later that a much easier and more accessible site for the Pale-billed had been found, but it was too late for either of us to tackle it. 
Chestnut-crowned Antpitta by Adam Riley
Chestnut-crowned Antpitta, Grallaria ruficapilla

Adrian and I had only just put our aching legs and disappointment of the Pale-billed Antpitta effort behind us when we got rather lucky. While driving the Leimebamba road I stopped for a short bird break. Ostensibly, I had pulled over near a large bush of flowers to look for Hummingbirds when we heard a familiar call. Chestnut-crowned Antpitta had spouted a few notes yesterday without display, today it was close - very close.

We tried some playback without success. The bushes in front of us contained the bird - we just could see it, despite their practically barren state. Adrian got onto the bird but was unable to guide me onto it. In fact it took a good 5 minutes of relocating the bird before I saw it. Perhaps a small amount of redemption after yesterdays efforts.
Stripe-headed Antpitta by Clayton Burne
Stripe-headed Antpitta, Grallaria andicolus
02/04/2013. Huascaran National Park, Yungay, Peru

The redemption would continue for us a week later with some of the most uninterrupted views of an Antpitta I had experienced to date. Huascaran National Park in the Ancash mountains of Peru has probably the largest undivided polylepis forest I have witnessed in all of South America.

We would find only one Stripe-headed Antpitta - but it would also sit high above ground level posing for photos. I could probably have gotten an autograph had I thought to offer the wee fellow a pen and paper. We would see this bird again a few weeks later at Abra Malaga. _________________________________________________________________
Rufous Antpitta by Clayton Burne
Rufous Antpitta, Grallaria rufula
Tawny Antpitta, Grallaria guitensis
Crescent-faced Antpitta, Grallaricula lineifrons
19/05/2013. Termes de Papallacta, Ecuador

I spent just over two weeks in Ecuador, and it rained on every single day of my trip. I had had to give up on birding the Amazonian lowlands as well as Guacamayos Ridge. Despite the freezing conditions and light drizzle, the break in complete cloud cover allowed me to bird the patchy forests above the Termes de Papallacta. The rain and cloud would make the afternoon miserable, but I was able to get good views of two new Antpittas in the space of a few minutes. While the Rufous Antpitta played hard to see, the Tawny was more easily located. I ran out of luck trying to find Crescent-faced Antpitta, probably one of the hardest of the family to see anywhere. I would see Rufous and Tawny again - on both occasions I would get face to face, out in the open, completely uninterrupted views. More remarkably, neither of the birds were fed or habituated - nor did I have to tape them in.

A few weeks later I would get some of my best views of an Antpitta. While trudging about Nevado del Ruiz, a huge volcano in central Colombia - I came across the most extroverted of Tawny Antpittas. Not only did I take many photos, but even shot some HD video.

Giant Antpitta by Forrest Rowland
Giant Antpitta, Grallaria gigantea
Moustached Antpitta, Grallaria alleni
llow-breasted Antpitta, Grallaria flavotincta
Ochre-breasted Antpitta, Grallaricula flavirostris

The Paz family did something remarkable many years ago. Firstly, they turned their backs on logging and then they started feeding antpittas. The story is well written and widely known about (see more here - Paz de las Aves website). I certainly didn’t pass up the opportunity to bag some ‘easy’ antpittas. 

At least thats the theory. True to form, there was a hitch. Maria (Giant) was sitting on eggs and Willie (Yellow-breasted) wouldn’t play ball either. In the end, Angel did manage to coax out two other species : Moustached (Jose) and Ochre-breasted (Shakira). I don’t particularly care how many trips I need to find Maria and Willie - I’ll certainly be back.

Shakira, the Ochre-breasted Antpitta is so named due to it's 'dance'. Apparently this 'Shakira' person is a dancer? Watch the video below to see what I am on about.

Brown-banded Antpitta by Adam Riley
Chestnut-crowned Antpitta, Grallaria ruficapilla
Bicolored Antpitta, Grallaria rufocinerea
Chestnut-naped Antpitta, Grallaria nuchalis
Slaty-crowned Antpitta, Grallaria nana
Brown-banded Antpitta, Grallaria milleri
04/06/2013. Rio Blanco, Manizales, Colombia

I’ve mentioned five species of Antpitta available at Rio Blanco, these are just the regulars that visit the worm feeders - 10 have been recorded in this small forested reserve protected by Manizales Water. Colombia fortunately has a number of protected areas due to water security concerns. The down side is that these are not run as tourist areas - meaning bureaucracy! What should have been a mere 4-5 Antpitta species formality turned to dust. 

I received little help from the local governmental body, given that I arrived in Manizales on a Sunday (Monday was a Public Holiday) - I suppose this was not all that surprising. I decided to try my luck and go to the gate in any case. This approach did not work however as they refused to open the gate without a permit. Given the time constraints and days of the week, I was not able to visit the reserve and went to Nevado del Ruiz instead.

One shouldn’t bank on anything in advance - but I felt rather gutted to miss out on such a large spread of ‘easy’ Antpittas. All I have as comfort is the knowledge that when I return in November 2014 - my contact that proved rather unhelpful is actually going to be my guide here!
Chestnut-naped Antpitta by Adam Riley
Chestnut-naped Antpitta, Grallaria nuchalis
Slaty-crowned Antpitta, Grallaria nana
05/06/2013. Loro Orejiamarillo Reserve, Jardin, Colombia

Having overfed on Antpittas during my short tour through Ecuador, I had to wait a little to find my next twitches. My trip to the Loro Orejiamarillo Reserve had nothing to do with Antpittas on the surface - I was here to see the Yellow-eared Parrot, the entire known population isolated to this tiny patch of forest around the town of Jardin. Having had an excellent mornings birding with the resident guide Edwar Guarin, allowed us to focus on the less targeted species. Edwar managed to pull out two new Antpitta’s for me, although he was more excited about the Andean Pygmy Owl we saw!
White-bellied Antpitta by Forrest Rowland
White-bellied Antpitta, Grallaria hypoleuca
09/06/2013. Arrierito Antioqueno Reserve, Anori, Colombia

I was starting to get a little better at finding Antpittas by this point of the trip - what a pity I had been so poor at it in Peru! This ProAves reserve of Arrierito Antioqueno was again not high on my Antpitta list - my main focus was on the other 9 country endemics found here. I would get all but one as well as picking up White-bellied Antpitta. I fully expected to get better views of this bird elsewhere, but it turned out to be my only success. 
Santa Marta Antpitta by Adam Riley.
Rusty-breasted Antpitta, Grallaricula ferrugineipectus
Santa Marta Antpitta, Grallaria bangsi
Santa Marta Rufous Antpitta, Grallaria spatiator (rufula)
25/06/2013. Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia

My tour of South America was coming to a end, and I had left the best for last. The isolated Andean mountain range of Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta host 21 species found no-where else on the planet. A number of others will soon be added to that list, including the isolated Rufous Antpitta sub-species.

I initially found success on the lower slopes near Minca. The Grallaricula Antpittas are awfully small, one might even say cute. The Rusty-breasted’s didn’t dance for me like their more southerly cousin, the Ochre-breasted. Further up the mountain I locked into both the Santa Marta and soon to be elevated Santa Marta Rufous Antpittas. It was back to form for both these birds, barely visible among the tangled foliage. As I rode down the mountain for the last time, I had seen the last of my favourite family. In a few weeks time I would have flown from Colombia to Spain, England, Germany, Dubai and finally South Africa. As I sit typing this final entry, I am conscious of the days ticking away until I land in Colombia again - this time I’ll have access to Rio Blanco and another hatful of species.
Streak-chested Antpitta by Adam Riley
The final tally then, I have recorded 17 of currently described 51 species. Tried and dipped on a further 15 species meaning I have not even given myself a chance with a further 19! Quite unbelievable given the vast distances and areas I covered in the Andes looking for the little buggers. Lots more work required and hopefully many more photos to come. Bring on Colombia 2014.

17 October 2013

Coming full circle

October 17, 2013

As anyone who has read my blog site will know, it took one hell of an offer to extricate me from Colombia. I did so with much sadness, the continent having left an indelibly positive imprint on my identity. However, I had always viewed the trip as mere work experience - a stepping stone to gaining work as a bird guide. This was the sole practical point of having packed up life in Europe and heading south. And I’ve never had a problem smashing the faintest sniff of emotion with the purity of single minded intent. I was sticking to the game plan regardless.

I had received concrete job offers in South America already, but what I left for was only slightly more than speculative. I wasn’t offered more than an interview, but the origin was worth speculating on as far as I was concerned. There was an added draw of correcting past errors too. Having completed high school, a recent birding acquaintance in the form of Dr Jonathan Rossouw offered me the opportunity to venture to Ecuador and work as a bird guide. I’m prepared to accept that at the age of 18, perhaps I couldn’t recognise a gift horse in the mouth, even if it had kissed me, and I duly dropped the ball. 

Jonathan along with Adam Riley would go on to form Rockjumper Worldwide Birding Adventures. A few years ago, Jonathan became the first (to date, only) South African to pass the 8 000 lifer mark. Adam, who did make that trip to a small Ecuadorian lodge is not all that far behind. So it is, that I find myself working for Adam at Rockjumper Worldwide Birding Adventures, having come full circle. 

I’ve not had much to say since I left the shores of the South America in July, but what is there to be said about office work other than it is almost at an end! The purpose of this entry is an attempt at answering the question of where I am, and perhaps more pertinently, where I am going to be. If anyone thought I was a socially useless friend to have before, I can only say I’m about to become a complete and utter figment of most peoples imaginations. However, for any soul so inclined to my presence - my company is of course guaranteed on tour. Of course, you can simply ignore that invitation and come on tour regardless - because the sites and experiences are quite simply staggering.

I could of course summarise this with a spreadsheet (and everybody knows how I do like my spreadsheets), but I'll make a stab at this using a minimum of text and a few of the incredible photos taken at Rockjumper to illustrate more than what I can put across in purely black and white. Some of the dates and even venus are liable to change, but this is accurate as is possible at present. 

So, put away the glossy photographic books, cancel your National Geographic subscription - say goodbye to your couch surfing vicarious lifestyle. The only, most vivid and mind blowing way of seeing what the world has to offer is not to be found on a David Attenborough series (as good as they are), but it is to be seen, heard, smelt, felt and tasted in situ! And we can take your there.
Indian Pitta by Adam Riley
Asia, South India
1 - 20 November 2013

Hemming the rugged hinterland of southern India are the impressive Western Ghats. A mountainous land of endless valleys, rolling tea estates and breathtaking highland vistas. Indian Pitta, White-bellied Treepie, Kerala and Black-chinned Laughingthrush, Nilgiri Wood Pigeon, Sri Lanka Frogmouth, Malabar Trogon, Indian Elephant and Gaur.

Locations : Mudamalai, Ooty, Top Slip, Munnar, Periyar, Kochi.
Sri Lanka Blue Magpie by Markus Lilje
Asia, Sri Lanka
20 November - 1 December 2013

Sri Lanka, a friendly island nation boasting verdant scenery, characterised by terraced tea plantations and forest patches. Fortunately blessed with many, surprisingly large national parks brimming with game and birds. Sri Lanka is one of only a handful of magical destinations where it is possible to see every single country endemic in a well-planned trip such as ours.

Locations : Kitulagala Rainforest, Nuwara Eliya, Horton Plains, Yala National Park, Embilipitiya, Uda Walawe, Bundala National Park, Sinharaja Rainforest.

RBT Sri Lanka: Endemic Birds & Big Game.
Tiger by Jonathan Rossouw
Asia, North India
1 December 2013 - 18 December 2013

Already one of my favourite parts of the world, this tour to northern India takes in a rich mosaic of deciduous woodland, bamboo thickets, chaurs marshes and vistas of the mighty Himalayas. We spend as much time looking at birds as we do at the incredible array of mammals, none more so than the Tiger. We even sneak a little time in for a visit to the Taj Mahal. 

Locations : Ranthambore National Park, Keoladeo Ghana National Park (Bharatpur), Bund Baretha, Chambal River, Agra (Taj Mahal), Delhi, Ramnagar, Corbett National Park, Dhikala, Nainital, Sattal, Kathgodam, Okhla and Yamuna Rivers. 
Horned Guan by Adam Riley
Central America, Guatemala
2 - 23 January 2014

Spectacular volcanoes and fabulous highland lakes take centre stage in central America.  From highland cloud forests to coffee fincas, birding is superb. Pink-headed Warbler, Resplendent Quetzal, Blue-throated Motmot, Blue-and-white Mockingbird and Cabanis’s Tanager. We even hike up the impressive San Pedro Volcano, towering above Lake Atitlan, in search of one of the world’s most prized birds, the Horned Guan.

We cap things off with many more birds and little culture amongst the remarkable Mayan temple complexes and cities that dominate this region of Tikal and Yaxha. Ocellated Turkey, Pale-billed Woodpecker, Mayan Antthrush, Northern Royal Flycatcher and Great Curassow.

Locations : Antigua Guatemala, Los Tarrales, Las Numbes, Santiago Atitlan, Fuentes Georginas, San Pedro volcano, El Rincon Suizo, Finca el Pilar, Flores, Tikal National Park and Yaxha.

RBT Guatemala: Central American Specialties & Tikal Extension.
White-tailed Tropicbird by Adam Riley
Caribbean, Lesser Antilles
23 January - 11 February 2014

This is a reconnaissance mission I’m doing - the more the merrier! Contact me.

A chance to see many species restricted to tiny, solitary islands. Its also a chance to add a large number of stamps to your passport! Antigua, Barbuda, Montserrat, Dominica, Guadeloupe, Martinique, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada and Barbados. There is more to the Caribbean than white beaches and the odd palm tree. A multitude of endemics await : Barbuda, St. Lucia and Whistling Warblers, Guadeloupe Woodpecker, Imperial, Red-necked, St. Lucia and St. Vincent Amazons, exotic Hummingbirds and a handful of Tremblers and Thrashers (I’m not making this up)! During the heat of a tropical day, we might begrudgingly allow you to even visit a beach.
Black-billed Streamertail by David Shackelford
Caribbean, Jamaica
11 - 19 February 2014

Jamaica, home to luxurious beaches, outstanding coffee and great Reggae Music - we’ll be avoiding it all except the coffee, there are birds to be seen! The fifth most bio-diverse island in the world, short tour provides the perfect opportunity to encounter all 28 of the island’s endemic bird species. Jamaican Owl, Jamaican Mango, Jamaican Becard, Jamaican Tody, Crested Quail-Dove and Red-billed Streamertail. Fancy accommodations and unique Jamaican cuisine.

Locations : Kingston, Blue Mountains, Hardware Gap, Rio Grande, John Crow Mountains, Greencastle Estate and Hellshire.

RBT Jamaica - Island endemics.
Palmchat by Matthew Matthiessen
Caribbean, Dominican Rep.
19 - 27 February 2014

There are 33 Hispaniolan endemics, and you probably don’t want to try getting them in Haiti. Fortunately the Dominican Republic is a safe tourist haven, we’ll be avoiding the crowds thankfully. We traverse the Evergreen and Pine forests of the Sierra de Bahoruco to the dry forests of the coast in search of almost all the endemics and plenty of Greater Antillean specials in between. Accommodation is snazzy, there is even a hotel on the beach somewhere in here. 

Locations : Santo Domingo, Puerto Escondido, Sierra de Bahoruco, Lago Enriquillo, Barahona and Sabana del Mar.

RBT Dominican Republic: Endemics of Hispaniola.
Cuban Tody by Adam Riley
Caribbean, Cuba
28 February - 20 March 2014

Cuba, the Caribbean’s largest island. While it lies just 120 km south of Florida, it couldn’t be figuratively further away. It offers an impressive 28 endemic birds, almost all of which are possible. From the world’s tiniest bird (the Bee Hummingbird) to such sought after species as Giant Kingbird, Cuban Tody, Cuban Trogon, Gundlach’s Hawk, Oriente and Yellow-headed Warblers, Zapata Wren and no less than four species of stunning quail-doves. We cover a wide variety of habitats, tropical forests and mangroves, extensive wetlands, white sand beaches and coral cays. Aside from the birds, our tour is augmented by the ease of travel, comfortable lodges, a fascinating culture with a turbulent history and a multitude of vintage cars. Never mind some of the friendliest people on the planet!

Locations : Havana, Soroa, Cienaga de Zapata, La Güira, Cuevas de las Portales, Najasa, Cayo Guillermo, Cayo Coco.

Ocellated Turkey by David Shackelford
North America, Yucatan Peninsula
21 March - 27 March 2014

Being surrounding by water on three sides and possessing next to no topographical relief, the Yucatan Peninsula has distinct habitats. Distinct habitats means endemism of course, much of the peninsula’s wildlife cannot be seen anywhere else. Often surrounded by ancient Mayan ruins, this short trip takes us to the best birding sites on the peninsula. Yucatan Jay, Yucatan Wren, Mexican Sheartail, Blue Bunting, Yucatan Poorwill, Ocellated Turkey, Montezuma Oropendola, Yucatan Bobwhite, Cozumel Vireo and Cozumel Emerald.

Locations : Mérida, Uxmal, Celestún, Chicanna, Calakmul, Felipe Carrillo, Cozumel Island, Coba and Cancun.
Ibisbill by Markus Lilje
Asia, India (Assam) & Bhutan
18 - 30 April 2014

One of the least spoilt countries in Himalayas of not the world, Bhutan boasts incredible mountain scenery and a plethora of incredible and beautiful birds! With Himalayan peaks towering in the distance – we journey through a fabled land, crossing dramatic mountain passes that give way to vast countrysides. Amongst the many species available, the real megas include Gould’s Shortwing, Wedge-billed Wren-Babbler, Satyr Tragopan, Ward’s Trogon, Beautiful Nuthatch, Himalayan Monal, Yellow-rumped Honeyguide, Fire-tailed Myzornis, Gold-naped Finch, Golden-breasted Fulvetta, Slender-billed Scimitar-Babbler and Rufous-necked Hornbill.

One cannot come all the way to Bhutan without visiting what used to be the country of Assam (now part of India). Kaziranga National Park is one of the most spectacular wildernesses in all of Asia. One of the last places on earth where the prehistoric Indian One-horned Rhinoceros can be found. Besides the prevalence of large game, our targets include Bengal Florican, Swamp Francolin and Pied Falconet. To boot, we also visit Nameri National Park situated along the Jia Bhoroli River, a haven for many rare creatures.

Locations : Bhutan - Samdrup Jongkhar, Morong, Trashigang, Lingmethang Road (Yongkola), Sengor, Bumthang, Trongsa, Tingtibi, Punakha, Pele La, Tashitang Valley, Punakha, Dochu La, Thimpu, Paro, Chele La. India - Guwahati, Kaziranga National Park and Nameri National Park.
Vulturine Guineafowl by David Shackelford
Africa, Kenya & Tanzania
15 - 31 May 2014

There exists nowhere else on the planet, such an amazing volume and diversity of large animals as in Kenya and Tanzania. Add to that the fact that both countries support over one thousand species of bird each, the only question is why on earth have you not been already? We maximize both the big game and birding experience by selecting the very best and most accessible destinations. Accommodation and food is of the seriously top end kind. There are too many birds and mammals to list here! 

Locations : Arusha, Tarangire National Park, Ngorongoro Crater, Serengeti National Park, Oldupai Gorge, Gibb’s Farm, Amboseli National Park, Mt. Kenya, Shaba Nature Reserve, Buffalo Springs National Reserve and Lake Nakuru National Park. 

RBT Kenya & Tanzania Birds & Big Game VI.

Flame Bowerbird by Markus Lilje
Oceania, Papua New Guinea
15 June - 28 July 2014

Of all the world’s birding destinations, Papua New Guinea must certainly rank amongst the most fascinating and exotic. The last inhabited island to be explored by Europeans, it remains one of the least explore and Western influenced places on the planet. Over twenty species of dazzling birds-of-paradise present sometimes unbelievably iridescent colours and wild tail plumes in one of the most astonishing exhibits of the natural world! You need to be a little rugged and accept a few logistical nightmares, but the birds more than make up for the conditions.

Locations : Varirata, Port Moresby, Tari Valley, Mount Hagen, Kiunga, Tabubil, Elevala River, New Britain.

Australian King Parrot by Adam Riley
Oceania, Australia
29 July - 25 August 2014

Taking a break and going on holiday - if you fancy some hardcore twitching! Contact me. 
Drakensberg Rockjumper by Adam Riley
Africa, South Africa
27 August - 2 November 2014

After a year on the road, I return to South Africa for our premier twitching tour. We have the highest number of endemic and near-endemic bird species of any country on the African continent including two endemic families, the Rockjumpers and Sugarbirds. A hardcore birding tour to make a pass at every single one of the 99 endemic or near-endemic bird, and we’ll even throw in a rather large number of impressive mammals.

Locations : Johannesburg, Zaagkuildrift, Polokwane, Magoebaskloof, Wakkerstroom, Mkuze, St. Lucia, Eshowe, Underberg, Drakensberg, Sani Pass, Hilton, Durban, De Hoop, Cape Town, Cape Peninsula, Langebaan, West Coast National Park, Calvinia, Springbok, Port Nolloth, Augrabies Falls National Park, Kimberley, Kruger National Park.
Andean Cock-of-the-rock by Adam Riley
South America, Colombia
3 November - 15 December 2014

By far my favourite birding destination, I cannot wait to get back to Colombia. Holding more species of birds than any other country (1900+), there are at least 81 endemics. This huge diversity of species results from the equally diverse range of habitats: three Andean Cordilleras (Western, Central and Eastern Andes), two inter-Andean valleys (the Cauca and Magdalena Valleys), the lowland forests of the Amazon and Orinoco regions, the isolated snow-capped Santa Marta Mountains, the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, deserts and lakes, and the rich wet forests of the Chocó. No further introduction is needed, if you consider yourself a birder - you have to visit Colombia

Locations : Bogota, Laguna Pedropalo, Cana Grande, Chingaza National Park, Siecha Gravel Pits, Victoria, San Francisco, El Paujil Preserve, Rio Claro, Arrierito Preserve, Las Tangaras Preserve, Jardin, Rio Blanco Preserve, Los Nevados del Ruiz National Park, Otun-Quimbaya Sanctuary, Pereira, Barranquilla, Isla Salamanca National Park, El Dorado Preserve, Minca, Riohacha, Santa Marta.

Hyacinth Macaw by Markus Lilje
South America, Brazil
16 - 31 December 2014

Taking a break and going on holiday - if you fancy some hardcore twitching! Contact me. 

*Please do not rely on the accuracy of my dates or viability of tours. Please consult the Rockjumper Birding Website for more detailed information.