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Travelogues

Page history last edited by John W Lehman 5 years, 11 months ago

REGINA VIA YELLOWSTONE, 2014

Bill Purnis has provided a digital photo album of a recent trip to Regina via Yellowstone National Park. Click on Part A and then on Part B to download and view them. (Oct 23, 2014)

 

 BIRDING NEW ZEALAND…late 2012 …by Bill Purnis

(Click on New Zealand to download an illustrated version of Bill's travelogue.)

Sadly we missed the gloomy and muddy season here this past November…to travel to New Zealand and Australia for seven weeks of springtime…and to  fly Executive Class to boot.

Arriving early in Auckland gave us a chance to enjoy that  region on our own  before meeting our birding group. The botanic gardens in  cities in NZ  are superb…a  result of visionaries protecting  areas  for future generations and, by  importing plants and birds from Britain, maintaining memories from home to be enjoyed forever. The sun chased away the showers leaving us with clear skies for the rest of our stay…although Flo would long for more cloud cover and rain later in the heat in AU.

The next day we ferried  to Waiheke island some 17k from the downtown pier. Our day pass included a bus tour around the island to view the beautiful permanent / summer homes and lush scenery  and  then allowed us to hop-on hop-off the buses  for the rest of the day. So of course, we picked the most likely spots for birding…increasing our life lists with each new specie as almost none  of their  land birds are found in America.

Back at the hotel we learned that our leader had fractured  his pelvis and would be unable to guide us for Road Scholar…so when we met the other  11 birders the next day we had a couple…retired vet  and educator…to lead us. Being hikers/trekkers themselves, they found it difficult to understand how it could possibly take anyone 3 hours to do a 20 minute walk…but that’s birding.

After viewing Auckland from atop one of its volcanic cones, we headed by ferry to Tiritiri Matangi island to start birding in earnest. The  220ha island, 30k from central Auckland, had been stripped  of 94% of its native bush by farming. But between 1984 and 1994, volunteers planted between 250,000 and 300,000 trees, eradicated all predatory mammals, and then  (re)introduced many threatened and endangered bird and reptile species…VERY  SUCCESSFULLY!!!

On the west side of the North island, we enjoyed watching thousands of  Southern Gannets nesting in their  colony high atop the ocean cliffs…similar to the Northern  Gannets at Cape St. Mary’s in Newfoundland.

Then we visited the bird sanctuary in Miranda where Flo fell in love with the story of the Godwits…told by Keith Woodley author of Godwits: Long –haul champions. As shown in the picture, they fly north to Alaska for breeding  stopping along the way to replenish their body fat. But on the return flight, E7,a female with a transmitter,  flew non-stop from Alaska to New Zealand…11,680k!!! Development along the coast of the Yellow sea in North Korea now threats their survival. Flocks of  shorebirds entertained us as we walked  the beaches.

Most tourists visit the Rotorua region to relax in the thermal pools. Although we found both the geysers and the Maori show interesting, as a group we decided that the tour should skip both on future tours to spend more time searching for birds…far more exciting!!!

In the capital, Wellington, we marveled at the craftsmanship of Old St. Paul’s Church. Built in 1866 from native timber, it served as an Anglican Cathedral until 1960. Still considered  one of the world’s finest wooden Gothic Churches, it continues to be used for weddings, funerals, and other special occasions.

Up in the mountain surrounding  the city, the Oteri-Wilton Bush with its several micro climates preserves the forest as it was when settlers first arrived.

 Then after visiting the  Zealandia  wildlife refuge  providing an  up-close encounter with many of NZ’s rarest birds, reptiles, and insects, we descended through Wellington’s hillside botanic gardens to the waterfront.

 After ferrying across the Cook strait to South Island, we reached  Kaikoura, a resort town on the east coast. For four hours, we  watched albatross, petrels, and seabirds  entertain us as they fought for their breakfast in a feeding frenzy…so close we could almost touch them. Later the local Lions Club women wined and dined us at one of their homes…one of their favourite fundraisers…but for us a great way to meet the locals.

You might not agree that it is exciting but the next morning we spent hours traipsing through farmers’ fields and podocarpus scrub  forests to find the elusive Rifleman, poorly named but NZ’s smallest bird at only 8cm…success and only 7m away…awesome!!! Then we hiked around the Kaikoura peninsula atop the towering cliffs with amazing views of the shoreline…but again nearly 3 hours for a 20 minute trek…but the birds slowed us down. At the end, a ranger showed us young Blue penguins still in the nesting boxes…adorable.

Then on to Staveley where our group was split up for a two-night farmstay. For the next two days spent the daytime birding with a local guide, a retired educator no less, searching for endemics. We lucked out in finding in their braided rivers,  Wrybills, the only bird with the beak tip turned to the right for finding food under the rocks in the riverbeds. Then tired but happy to have spotted many local species, we returned to our hosts to hear stories of the area before /during local specialty dinners including pavlova.

We stopped in Arthur’s Pass for the high-altitude birds on our way to Christchurch. From one of the most beautiful cities we had ever visited to one of great sadness as massive destruction from the earthquakes of September 2010 and June 2011,lay Christchurch to ruin. Entire blocks in the city core were now empty and  everywhere buildings were tagged to come down in the near future. The magnificent botanic gardens were open to the public but not the buildings. So very very sad but the Kiwis are strong people and will rebuild for the future.

 

BIRDING  SOUTHERN   AUSTRALIA…late 2012…by Bill Purnis 

(Click on Australia to download an illustrated version of Bill's travelogue.)

By allowing a breather after New Zealand, we were able to enjoy beautiful  Adelaide in springtime. After wandering through the botanic gardens, noisy at times with the hundreds of colourful  Rainbow Lorikeets sucking nectar from the blossoms, we toured Government House(built 1840) with its manicured grounds… only open to  public tours once every year or two as a fund-raiser for childrens’  charities.

The next day we bused into the mountains to Cleland Park…a must see for all nature lovers.  Hold a koala, hand feed  a kangaroo or wallabye, or wander amongst the wildlife for close-up views of species difficult to see in the wild…it all happens there. So by the time we joined our tour, our bird list for Australia was well under way.

There were only five others in our group…including Jean-Marc (from France) listing 9000 species worldwide and a leading authority on raptors. Adelaide was warm/comfortable but as we headed north into the outback conditions changed to hot/very hot and very dry. There had been no rain there for over nine months…so where was their equivalent to our April showers?

So we began our search for the rare ones. Picture reddish soil as far as you can see, occasional leafless shrubs, and gullies formed in the past from torrential rains. We walked for hours finding the endemics of the area that somehow survive in these conditions.

We lunched in Farina, now a ghost town, but first settled in 1878 by optimistic farmers hoping that the rains would follow the plough. Here is a summary of conditions with which they  coped: ( from one of their signs  

As we drove toward the Flinders range past  their lakes, Flo informed our guide that in Canada our lakes actually have water. We could see the high water marks on Lake Harry from the heavy rains two years previously but the black swans were but specks on the distant  water.

 It was getting really really hot now as we edge toward Wilpena Pound. It was over  400C when we stopped at Stokes Hill to find the Short-tailed grasswren found only in a 10ha area…that’s it in the world!!! No shade…just an open area with spinifex ( short prickly shrubs) basically the only vegetation but home to this specie. After an hour  Flo headed back and  then I saw excited waving in the distance…eureka!!! Not only had they found the needle in the haystack but the grasswren waited for me to catch up with the group and then paraded for awesome pictures.

Two days later  and a 3-hour drive from civilization, we almost lost Flo to sunstroke at 420C…but by  turning the A/C to max cold and then Gatorade she made it!!!

In the  Deniliquin region we were in for a special birding treat(?). We got up at 4:30 to spend the day with a local guide…not knowing that we would  not  return until close to 2:00 a.m. the next morning!!! With only short stops for packed lunches, we birded here…we birded there…we birded everywhere that day. We had to do our  checklist by headlights…and it wasn’t over. Then we did the night run… four hours driving in flat fields sort of circle fashion looking for the Plains-wanderer…only found there. The two girls nodded off from time to time but fortunately not the driver as he tirelessly circled with one arm out the window holding a powerful spotlight and the other sometimes on the wheel and sometimes on the phone to the other truck…but we were successful!!!

After touring the Port Campbell region  on the southern coast of AU we flew to Tasmania for three days on Bruny Island with naturalist Tonia. Not only did we stay in cabins on her property, but we learned how she is trying to prevent extinction of two endemic species reduced in numbers by excessive logging  by planting one particular strain of eucalyptus needed by these birds and endowing  all of her land holdings to the state in Except for the extreme heat…and it was only springtime!...Australia was an awesome experience.

NOTE: since our return, Australia has introduced two more colours for their temperatures…one for 50-540C and another for 55+0C. That and the wildfire situation make us thankful for our little bit of winter here in the Sault.

 

ECUADOR and the GALAPAGOS…by Bill Purnis


Click on Photos to download an illustrated copy of this Travelogue.

 During the afternoon on February 23rd, we received an e-mail from Delta Airlines that our 6 a.m. flight from Kincheloe, Michigan, the next morning had been cancelled as they had no pilot available. After 2 ½ hours on the phone with Flo, Delta re-routed us from our Sault airport through Toronto… which meant leaving home in 3 hours and re-arranging our transport as we could no longer leave the car at the U.S. airport…oh well travellers sometimes have to be quite flexible.
The flight from Miami was uneventful until the pilot tried to land. The fog was so thick in Quito, Ecuador, that the instruments showed our height at 30m when in fact it was closer to 200m…so after the fourth attempt the pilot flew us another ½ hour to Quiaquil…for an overnighter and an early return flight to the capital.
But it was certainly worth the shuffle.
After a shortened city tour, we enjoyed the flavours of the city…and by-passed one of the country’s favourite dishes…roast Guinea pig…perhaps next time!!!
Unlike our first trip to the Galapagos several years ago when we stayed on a ship and used Zodiacs to land, we were lodged on shore in lodges or cabins. So each outing was different as we had 4-wheelers to take us out in the countryside and up to the mountains…ideal for us as we got to see the islands from a different perspective.
An hour after arriving at the Red Mangrove resort on Santa Cruz, we were out observing the flora and fauna…and snorkeling with the giant turtles and schools of beautifully coloured fish (any various shades of blue with bright yellow tails) …ever careful not to let the currents dash us into the lava rocks that form the seabed and shore. It was great to be back to the Islands where change is as slow as the tortoises compared to the hares in other parts of the world.
There are 13 species of Finches on the Galapagos…all endemic and not very colourful (for better blending with the lava terrain). We saw many of these varieties but I will have to study my pictures very carefully to sort them out as some differ only by beak size.
The next day we power-boated for 2 hours to Floreana (population 120) to wooden cabins along the shore facing due west to capture a glorious sunset.
Up in the hills, we walked among the giant tortoises in the semi-wild…contained but on their own as part of a successful program to increase their numbers. From the top and because it was a clear day, several islands in the archipelago were in view.
We spent 2 days on Isabela Island, the largest, and home to the Galapagos penguin, the only variety of that species living in the wild north of the equator. I hiked to the rim of the Sierra Negra crater, second in diameter only to Ngorongoro in Tanzania (which we visited about 5 years ago)…awesome!!!
Aware that March 1st was our anniversary, the staff arranged a candlelight dinner for us on a rooftop under the bright stars with music supplied by the waves breaking on the beach…and chocolate fondue with fresh fruit for dessert…SWEET!!!
After another day on Santa Cruz with a trip to the Darwin research center to visit Lonesome George, their oldest resident at 94, the last remaining Pinta Island tortoise, we flew to Cuenca, the 3rd largest city in Ecuador…whose old city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Trust Site. A visit to the market and the Catedral de la Immaculada (built in 1885-1975) in the Old Town helped bring closure to our trip. But before heading home, we hired a guide to take us to two birding areas in Cajas National Park. The stops were both in the mountains with the second one at a level of 4000m where the air was very thin and walking somewhat laborious…but certainly an experience to remember.

 

 

BIRDING IN MAZATLAN, MEXICO - by Harvey Robbins

 

Click on Photos to download an illustrated copy of this Travelogue.

This past February, Bill Purnis, Flo MacLeod, Ida and I travelled to Mazatlan on the Mexican Pacific coast in Sinaloa State opposite the tip of Baja California. Mazatlan is nestled between the Pacific and the Sierra Madre Occidentals, the highest mountain range in Mexico. The huge altitude changes from sea level to over 3,000 m result in the greatest biological diversity, including nearly 550 species of birds, in all of Mexico. While Mazatlan is a wonderful place to enjoy the beaches and the local hospitality usually in perfect weather, it was the unique bird-watching opportunities that became an integral part of our vacation.
Our birding excursions began with walks along the beaches where shore birds such as pelicans, oyster catchers, avocets, gulls, turns, shearwaters, plovers, sandpipers are found in abundance. Looking inland, we often saw large scavengers typical of the adjacent dry thorn forest of the region. Most abundant are ravens, Sinaloa crow, crested caracara and vultures with the odd eagle thrown in. Woodpeckers and small song birds are also abundant in the thorns, saguaro cactus and scattered deciduous trees.
Totally different avian fauna were found in the nearby dry thorn bushes of an abandoned field –vermillion flycatchers, wrens, hummers and warblers graced our camera lenses. We then got the idea to walk the El Cid golf course near our hotel. The course is laid out with alternating fairways and streets between, the houses backing along each side of the former. Here was a diverse tropical paradise with iguanas and an abundance of birds to accompany. Most notable were the many woodpeckers in the palm trees (Bill even spotted a large iguana in the top of a tall palm), several species of doves, numerous hummers, fly catchers, cardinals, tanagers, orioles and sparrows to name a few.
And the ponds along the fairways attracted a myriad of waterfowl, western ducks such as the colourful shoveler, coots, two or three species of herons, ibises, and yes, even cormorants.
We also made a week-long excursion up into the mountains and canyons –Copper Canyon country -by train, and took a road tour back down to the canyon bottom. This is not a trip for the faint-hearted but the scenery was just stupendous and once again we saw many different species of birds at the many stops. Most abundant were woodpeckers, chickadees, cardinals and surprisingly hummers of which there are 20 species in this region of Mexico. The latter were most abundant at a series of feeders at our hotel on the rim of the canyon at Posada Barrancos (altitude 2400 m); this despite temperatures similar to those on dry October days back home. Down at the bottom
of the canyon, we were back in a tropical environment where I even heard a barred owl off in the distance.
If you are interested in visiting Copper Canyon country, we suggest you go to the California Native Adventures website at http://www.calnative.com/ where there is a large amount of information about Copper Canyon tours of all types –including the 8 day tour to the bottom of the canyon which we took.
On our return to Mazatlan, we took a short boat ride to Deer Island (Mazatlan means ‘deer’ in the local native language) and I hiked to the top. This provided a wonderful view of downtown and the Golden Zone of hotels but was disappointing from a bird-watching perspective. A better trip would be a Kayak tour around this and/or bird island where pelicans, frigate birds and some species of ducks breed on the beaches.
The birding highlight of or trip occurred on February 24th, the day before our return home. Bill, Flo and I had booked a day-long birding tour to the Tufted Jay Preserve (http://www.tufted-jay-preserve.org/), high in the Sierra Madres with Sendero Mexico, a local tour company. It quickly became evident while driving the 2 ½ hrs from Mazatlan to the mountain village of El Palmetto that our Guide, native Canadian Carolyn Felderhof was one of the most knowledgeable and well-connected guides in northwest Mexico. Please go to: http://www.senderomexico.com/senderobirding/tour-leader-guide for details of Carolyn’s accomplishments and the tours she leads. While telling us about setting up the first annual Mazatlan Bird Festival held this past January (http://www.mazatlanbirdfestival.com/), Carolyn would quickly identify many local birds as they flew across in front of our vehicle or sang in the nearby forest. By 7:00 AM we had reached the highest ridge in the mountains to the east of Mazatlan and the entrance to the Tufted Jay Preserve. After a short but steep run up the access trail (very similar to our logging roads), we parked and immediately began hearing the songs of many species of songbirds in the early morning quiet. Vireos, warblers including redstarts, creepers and hummers were abundant in the mixed age forest consisting of pines and oaks. Wild flowers were abundant as well as mistletoe in full orange bloom hanging over the tops of many trees. But there was no sign of what we had come for.
Back into our four-wheel drive vehicle we jumped and moved up the road to a spot with which Carolyn was very familiar. Ahead was a fruiting tree and almost immediately we spotted the eared quetzal- a rare sighting indeed of this endangered species. We were treated to several minutes of excellent viewing giving ample time for taking photos. Carolyn tells us that she has a couple arriving from
Photo: Bill Purnis England the following week spending $2500 each just to see this bird!
Driving along at a snail’s pace, we spotted a group of band-tailed pigeons and then several mountain trogons. These are birds larger than
Photo: Bill Purnis blue jays, colourful like the quetzal but more abundant. After a few minutes we reached an open area, the camp headquarters with four cottages, two of which are just being completed. We set out a wonderful lunch provided by Carolyn on the benches next to a cottage and immediately spotted a large red-tailed hawk high up on the top of a pine tree. We listen for other species and heard songbirds in the nearby forest while eating.
After lunch, we embarked on a short walk to the back side of the ridge where we descended to the edge of the canyon with huge volcanic boulders scattered amongst the mistletoe-covered trees. The boulders are covered with orchids, ferns, mosses and Bromeliads with a few flowering plants between. We admire the wonderful views of the cliffs across the canyon valley and wonder whether the Imperial woodpecker, now thought extinct, might still be hidden in these steep valleys unexplored by humans. But there are still no large birds- many small songbirds do abound – and we head back to the camp. After we walked down the road in the opposite direction, Carolyn catches up with us and says we should return to our vehicle and we will try one last location.
Then suddenly, her trained ears catch the distant calls of the tufted jays and she plays
Photo: Bill Purnis their call from a CD – they respond, we walk quickly and soon see the first one. We are mesmerized by this large dark blue and white bird with a tuft of feathers on the top of its head reminiscent of a Roman gladiator. And then there are others and our hearts beat quickly as we see a pair flitting from tree to tree around us in what is likely their pre-mating and nest location ritual. Several birds are seen nearby many calling back and forth. We realize we are in their midst and that they hardly notice us. Cameras click and binoculars are pressed against our faces. A colourful blue mockingbird then flies in to get in on the action! Carolyn
quietly explains that tufted jays are colonial –one pair mates and the rest of the colony of 8 or 10 support and protect this pair. She explains that the colony is looking for a nesting site and with her binoculars she inspects some possible clusters of leaves and branches for evidence
Photo: Bill Purnis that they have chosen a spot. Then we see a young bird in a nearby tree tearing apart a mouse. This is the first reported sighting of such predation by tufted jays and amazes Carolyn as has her first viewing of the pre-mating ritual. And as quickly as they appeared, the colony disappears down the hillside. We realize that an hour has gone by and that we are overdue for our 4:00 pm return to Mazatlan. We quickly get back in our vehicle and take the long road back out of the mountains arriving about 5:30. But what a day it had been –we had seen it all and we make a toast to the experience that we will probably never repeat.
I am writing this as a thank you to Carolyn and to recommend to any birder who reads this the tremendous birding opportunities that await you in the Mazatlan area. And we haven’t even been to the San Blas area, three hours south of Mazatlan, where the tropical deciduous forest birds like parrots, parakeets, trogons and many other species are found in abundance. We highly recommend that those who can travel consider a birding trip to Mazatlan, perhaps during next year’s Bird Festival and that you retain Carolyn for her experience, knowledge and professionalism. The quality of the websites referred to above in part attests to her dedication and abilities. May you be as fortunate as we were to experience what you hope you will see!

 

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