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Big Three National Parks Birding

Archaeopteryx Birding & Nature Tours guided 8 members of the Clearwater Audubon Society through 3 of America’s most famous national parks from July 10-19, 2020. We observed over 150 species of birds and more than a dozen mammals. We also saw many butterflies, dragonflies, and amazing vistas.

Our first days were spent exploring the prairie regions and areas near Billings. Sites including Pompey’s Pillar National Monument, Pictograph Coves State Park, Eastlick Road, and several other locations between Billings and our first stop, Glacier National Park.

The photos of Glacier do not do it justice. It is one of the most beautiful and breathtaking places to visit.

Our second national park was Yellowstone, known more for large mammals and geological features then birding. Still an amazing beautiful place to visit.

Grand Tetons National Park was our last major stop on the trip. An amazing mix of of the two previous parks in beauty and nature.

Below are a few more phots from the trip I was not sure where to place.

Spoon-billed Sandpiper
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Thailand 11/28-12/7 2020

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In early December, Gallus and I went on an exploratory birding tour
around the Bangkok area of Thailand. I had visited Thailand once in
2003 and went hiking in the jungle, but at that point in my life I was
not interested in birding ticks or photography. Gallus had never been
in Asia at all, so this was a brand new experience for both of us. We
landed in Bangkok with hopes of photographing unique tropical birds
and sampling spicy, vegan Thai cuisine. All of our hopes were
fulfilled and then some on our 1-week stay in this amazing country
never colonized by western civilizations.

We had 2 nights to stay at the luxurious V20 boutique hotel close to
Chatuchak Market. The hotel had an outdoor pool, sauna, steam room,
free shuttle to Chatuchak market, and a fitness center. It also had a
free breakfast- we had british breakfast of toast, mushrooms,
tomatoes, and baked beans with hot sauce. There was also a restaurant
and bar in the hotel and the staff was amazingly friendly and
accommodating.

Our first day we headed straight toward H.M. Queen Sirikit Park, where
we stayed to bird and take photos for a couple of hours. We found a
rare owl residing in the park called a Northern Boobook and I picked
up 7 other photo lifers including the White-breasted Waterhen that I
had been wanting to see. Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay as long as we
would have liked. Gallus got very sick with a 24-hour bug so we went
back to the hotel to rest. That night I insisted Gallus get in the
sauna to break the fever. It worked! A few hours of rest later,
Gallus’ fever was gone. And just in time for our birding/photography
guide to pick us up and take us out for a day of birding.

Brian of Thaibirdspot picked us up early from our hotel and we headed
to the Pak Thale salt pans south of Bangkok. Gallus was hoping to see
the critically-endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper there, as this may be
a once in a lifetime bird. We arrived in the area and were greeted
with plenty of brand new bird species. Painted Storks, Red-necked
Stints, Lesser Sand-Plover, and Intermediate Egret were among the
several water birds seen. We ran into another birding tour group and
low and behold- there it was! The mythical Spoon-billed Sandpiper of
legends. Only one, and it was a little far away for a photo, but we
were extremely happy and felt lucky to have been able to see this
bird. We explored a little more around the salt pans and picked up a
few more species. A Black-capped Kingfisher perched in the shade sat
still while we photographed it to our hearts content and an adorable
group of Ashy Woodswallows sat on a telephone wire all clumped
together.

We birded the road all the way to our eco lodge outside of Kaeng
Krachan National Park. We saw Red-wattled Lapwing, Asian Openbills (a
stork), White-throated Kingfisher, Blue-tailed and Green Bee-eaters,
and Indochinese Roller. We were booked for 2 nights at the Samarn
birding lodge. The lodge had a Thai restaurant with Thai beer for sale
and wifi. They also had a private hide with a watering hole view
located behind the restaurant and a banana feeder that bulbuls and
leafbirds visited in the mornings. Brian made us a delicious lunch of
chana masala and naan and we sat and ate on the deck outside our room.
We decided to call it an early day so we could wake up refreshed and
ready to go out to the national park in the morning.

In the morning, we started our day with a nice breakfast of tofu and
broccoli at the restaurant. We found a few species on the property
before heading into the park. Sooty-headed and Streak-eared Bulbuls
were calling and flying around the property foraging. The Olive-backed
Sunbirds live and nest on the property as well. Outside the park we
photographed Vinous-breasted Starling from the car window. Inside the
park, we found one fruiting tree along the main road that birds were
visiting non-stop. I was able to photograph a secretive Green-billed
Malkoha, and several other species including the Oriental
Pied-Hornbill. My first hornbill species! Coppersmith and Blue-eared
Barbets were my first barbet species also! The Greater Flameback looks
like a smaller, golden Pileated Woodpecker. And Black-thighed Falconet
looks like an adorable chibi falcon. It’s small and pudgy and we found
a nest cavity with 2 adorable faces peaking out.

We stopped at the campground for lunch and we saw Dusky Leaf Monkeys
resting in the trees and hundreds of butterflies collecting minerals
in the mud around the showers for campers. The lunch consisted of a
Thai red curry with a type of gourd vegetable in it. The curry isn’t
like what we’d be used to in the states. It wasn’t made with coconut
milk and instead looked more like a soup with a transparent broth.
Back down the hill through the resort we encountered Dollarbird, a
beautiful flycatcher with a black head, turquoise body, and bright
pink bill. Back at the lodge, we sat in the blind for a while. A
Siberian Blue Robin and Puff-throated Babbler visited the pool of
water for a drink.

The next morning was the day we were all looking forward to! Brian
booked us the entire morning in a private hide in the jungle. Another
early morning and a delicious tofu curry (with coconut milk this time)
for breakfast. A Chestnut-headed Bee-eater joined us for breakfast as
well as the Golden-fronted Leafbird. A Greater Coucal hopped along the
road on the way to the hide. Once at the hide, it was like a dream
come true. Wild Red Junglefowl were the first to show up in the
morning. Gallus’ namesake bird, so of course we were excited to see
them in the wild in their natural habitat. We photographed two species
of partridge, Kalij Pheasant, Asian Emerald Dove, White-bellied
Erpornis, Black-naped Monarch, Racket-tailed Treepie, Black-headed,
Black-crested, and Stripe-throated Bulbuls, both Greater and Lesser
Necklaced Laughingthrushes, and the most rare visitor- the Blue Pitta!
A Lesser mouse-deer and 2 species of squirrels stopped by the watering
hole as well.

Back to Bangkok and this time at a different hotel, the Elizabeth.
This hotel didn’t quite have the luxury of the V20, but we made the
best of it. The hotel had a pool on it’s rooftop, a restaurant, bar,
and free breakfast. It reminded me of the kind of style and
architecture you’d see in the old-fashioned south, but it was clean
and the staff were very friendly. We had a fun evening and all of the
next day exploring the city and playing Pokemon Go. We met several
other Pokemon players, exchanged friend codes, and caught plenty of
Asian regional Pokemon. We rode in a tuk tuk and stopped at 2
different vegan street carts. The food was amazing! Thai corn
fritters, tofu, “pork” balls on a stick, spring rolls, soups, and stir
fry with “beef”. We bought a bottle of wine to go with our meal that
was very unique- a dry red made with lychee. And we visited Chatuchak
park and got another owl species- the Asian Barred Owlet.

On our last full day, Brian picked us up for another morning in the
field. This time to a rice paddy area located on the eastern side of
Bangkok. We found 3 species of weaver birds busily foraging and
calling to each other from within the reeds. The Red-collared Dove was
abundant in the area. We also photographed Brown Shrike and Siberian
Stonechat. And the most exciting bird of the morning for me was
Zitting Cisticola! This was the only cisticola species we missed
photographing in Cape Town, SA on our trip there in 2017.

Brian took us to a vegan restaurant on the way back to the hotel.
Brian and Gallus got veggie burgers and I got a spicy “chicken” stir
fry made with tvp (texturized vegetable protein). Brian liked the tvp
so much he even bought a bag of it to cook up and experiment with at
home.

All in all it was a great trip and I can’t wait to go back and show
people this country and it’s birds and wildlife that I’m getting to
know and love. We’ll begin offering tours to Thailand beginning
December of 2020 and again in late March of 2021 working with local
guides in the community. I ended the 6 days of birding with 66 photo
life birds plus some mammals, reptiles, butterflies, and other
insects. Gallus saw or heard 129 bird species for his life list.

 

Bahamas

Bahamas Birding

Freeport, Bahamas July 6-10, 2018

img_0861
Rebecca Smith Freeport Harbor

Our trip started by driving the 3.5 hours to Ft. Lauderdale Thursday after work. We crashed at the Roadway Inn, which offers free shuttle service and parking, near Port Everglades to catch the Balearia Ferry to Freeport Friday morning for some casual birding. On way across we grabbed a bite to eat and drink and Gallus went out on the back deck as we were a few miles from the port and spotted 2 Cory’s Shearwater and an Audubon’s Shearwater.

cosh
Cory’s Shearwater

Upon arriving and clearing customs we got our rental car and headed straight for the Bahamian “Sands” Brewery to take the tour and enjoy a few cold beers before we could check into our rental for the next 4 nights. Birds and Beer always go well together.

img_0809
Gallus Quigley, Rebecca Smith, & Christian Detzel Bahamian Brewery

Early on July 7th we headed off to the east about 30 minutes to the Pine Plantation in hopes of adding a few lifers and Caribbean specialties. We got only 12 species but did get some great photos of Bahama Warbler, lifer for Gallus, and we heard Olive-capped Warbler but no luck locating the bird unfortunately.

BAWA
Bahama Warbler

After a couple hours with no new species we headed over to the Garden of the Groves Botanical Gardens, however it was not open yet. So we instead grabbed some food and a couple of beers at Banana Bay before heading back into Freeport. After an afternoon of tourist activities, we headed over to the abandoned International Village for a photo shoot but also got some great bird and butterfly photos.

The next morning we rose early to head over to the International Airport in search of Antillean Nighthawks for Beck’s like list. After searching many trees Gallus spotted one perched on an exposed branch posed perfectly for photos.107590971

Later in the morning we headed over to the Garden of the Groves Botanic Garden to meet Beck’s friend Bridgit who was going to help us find a few new birds the next day and to photograph some birds and butterflies. We did not see anything unusual among the 17 birds and 4 butterfly species we found but did some nice photos.

We spent the afternoon doing relaxing before heading over to the Garden of the Gates Birder’s B&B to meet with Erika Gates and watch a few more birds around her amazing property.

The next morning  we met up with Bridgit for some birding and returned to the Pine Plantation in hopes of an Olive-capped Warbler sighting this time, no luck unfortunately  and only 11 bird species but some very good photos of Black-faced Grassquit and La Sagra’s Flycatcher. So we headed to Owl’s Hole, a favorite local diving and swimming spot. Driving down the dirt road was quite an adventure in the rental car but was worth it. We had 17 species and 6 species of butterfly including Mexican Fritillary and Nickerbean Blue which were both lifers for us. The butterflies were everywhere it seemed and we had amazing views of Western Spindalis and Yellow-billed Cuckoo as well.

Upon leaving Owl’s Hole we headed to a spot where Bahama Swallows had been seen. On our way there Beck spotted an Antillian Nighthawk perched on side of the road in pine tree allowing for more photos, though not as close as one at airport. Our destination proved empty so we dipped on the swallows and continued on to Barbary Beach where Bahama Yellowthroat sometimes shows up but the afternoon heat kept most of the birds quiet with only 15 species and 9 butterfly. So we headed back to Freeport and dropped off Bridgit who arranged for us to meet Erika and get snorkeling gear and head to Paradise Cove to snorkel with Green Sea-turtles, lots of cool fish, and new fledged Gray Kingbirds in the parking lot.  After returning the snorkel gear we headed over to Port Lucaya Marketplace for some food and drink. When we arrived we scored the nesting Rosy-faced Lovebird in the eves of the building with the House Sparrows! The bird was very cooperative for photographs.

Lovebird (1)
Rosy-faced Lovebird

The next morning July 10, our last day, we got up early and headed to the Garden of the Groves Botanical Gardens for some more birding. We tallied 19 species though nothing out of the ordinary it was a great way to wind down the trip before heading over to the port for the ferry back to Florida.

 

We returned rental car and caught the shuttle to the cruise port but had several hours to wait so we did what any good birders do, do more birding and butterflying. The port added a few species to our trip list including Magnificent Frigatebird, Florida Duskywing, and Dainty Sulphur.

At long last boarded the ferry after a weather delay and about an hour out Gallus spotted our last Bahama bird, another Cory’s Shearwater which we ran out onto the deck to get some photos of which all were less than perfect. Arriving in port very late, we were happy to get through US Customs, board the shuttle back to our car and make the long drive home where we arrived only an hour before Beck and I had to leave for work and a butterfly survey.

Great trip and we look forward to returning for our wedding and maybe even leading trips there in the future.

Trip Bird Total — 47

Trip Butterfly Total — 17

 

 

 

Iceland

Iceland May 28- June 5 2018

Recently Archaeopteryx Birding and Nature Tours had the unique opportunity to visit and bird in Iceland for 8 days at the end of May/beginning of June. Our mutual friend, Lorri Lilja, asked if we would accompany her on her vacation that she had been planning. First of all, let me say that I loved visiting and touring around Iceland. It’s a beautiful country and with the spring snowmelt coming off of the glaciers and volcanoes, the country-side was full of wildflowers, Icelandic ponies and sheep, and birds everywhere! There are tens of thousands of birds to one human residing in Iceland in the spring. There are breathtaking waterfalls and streams rushing to the ocean. We even got to catch a glimpse of Iceland’s only native terrestrial mammal, the Arctic Fox, shedding into his summer coat.

Arctic Fox
Arctic Fox

As is typical of Europe, the food was amazing. All the restaurants we visited had at least one vegan option on their menu. We sampled some of the beer and liquor the country had to offer as well. Kaldi Brewery not only had the very best beers we sampled in the country, but they also have a beer spa in Árskógssandur where you can go and soak in a relaxing mixture of barley and hops. There’s beer on draft and a glass in the spa with you, so you can drink as much as you want within the time they give you to soak. This establishment is one of only four currently in business globally. The other three are also located in Europe.

Our birding adventure started as soon as we picked our car up from the airport. Lorri spotted several European Starlings (in their native habitat!) foraging in a field in town. But wait, what were those larger birds behind all the starlings? We backed up and low and behold- our first life bird of the trip! European Golden Plover! We then pulled off the road to a park we were not planning to visit next to Njarðvík Bay. Right away Lorri and I picked up our nemesis birds we could not find in Florida: Red Knot for Lorri and Common Eider for me. We watched Redwings with worms to feed their chicks, Common Eider females on nests, and even mating Arctic Terns. Yes, spring had definitely hit Iceland! Except of course, for the temperature. For these two Floridian tour guides, the 40 degrees Fahrenheit plus 35 mph winds, were a bit chillier than we had anticipated.

COEI
Common Eider Female

 

The following day we picked up our friend who had booked a later flight, Terrie Leibler, and the real adventure began. We started driving further and further away from the capital to explore the areas and find new and different birds. One of the highlights of the trip was the day we visited Snaefellsjoekull National Park where we found Snow Bunting, Northern Wheatear, Rock Ptarmigan, Razorbill, Common and Thick-billed Murres, Northern Fulmar and Black-legged Kittiwakes. This was one of the only areas in the northern part of the country where you can hike on a glacier, which we did. The views from the Raudholl trail were amazing!

RAZO
Razorbill

 

We also visited Akureyri, which did not disappoint. We saw our Atlantic Puffins that everyone wanted to see and photograph. We had missed them up until this point, but when we saw them, we really hit the jackpot! We estimated 10,000 + puffins roosting on the cliff ledges and foraging in the ocean. We had Great Skua, their natural predator, fly by twice scattering all of the birds and being chased by gulls. The puffins were not on nests yet, but we did see signs of courtship displays.

ATPU Kissing
Atlantic Puffin

 

Northern Fulmar
Northern Fulmar

 

The following day we went out to Lake Mývatn to observe waterfowl. Mývatn translates to midge- and we found out the lake is appropriately named. Each time we opened the door, several flew inside and clung to our clothing. The ducks certainly had enough food to raise their chicks! Lorri and Terrie got their Harlequin Ducks as well as Barrow’s Goldeneye, Eurasian Wren, Horned Grebe, Common Scoter, and several other species of ducks. We had high hopes for White-tailed Eagle and Gyrfalcon, but unfortunately could not find any. Gyrfalcon is considered a sensitive species of concern and therefore, it’s sighting records are kept hidden.

TUDU
Tufted Duck

EUWR
Eurasian Wren

On the way back to Reykjavik, we stopped and picked up two new birds for the trip. We did find our White-tailed Eagles- two of them nesting on a rock island outside of Borgarbyggð. We also found Goldcrest at Fossvogur Cemetery in Reykjavik. The Goldcrest looks like a kinglet and sounds like a Cedar Waxwing. We were able to pick up on it’s soft, high-pitched sounds and locate a couple of these adorable birds. Not a bad evening for our last night in Iceland, I’d have to say. We ended our trip with a total of 73 bird species seen. I would definitely recommend anyone to visit this country if you get the chance. We will be leading tours here in the future, or upon request. One week’s time is only just enough to scratch the surface of the natural areas, culture, and scenery Iceland has to offer.

Goldcrest
Goldcrest