New Tour for 2019! Costa Rica: Wild Nature

When one thinks about the tropics and tropical birds and animals, the first place that usually comes to mind is Costa Rica. Costa Rica means “Rich Coast” in Spanish, and refers to the wealth of natural beauty found along its coastlines. This small Central American nation has been on the map as the prime ecotourism destination for nearly 30 years now, and they take this honor quite seriously. With 26 national parks, 58 wildlife refuges, 32 protected zones, 15 major wetland areas, 11 forest reserves and 8 biological reserves –  26% of Costa Rican land is protected for environmental conservation. It has been the traditional hub for tropical studies for decades, and much of the flora and fauna is well-documented. That means that for the nature lover, there is much to feed the eyes and soul in Costa Rica.

Fiery-throated Hummingbird in Costa Rica - by Yeray Seminario
Fiery-throated Hummingbird

Smaller than the state of West Virginia, Costa Rica is home to approximately 850 species of birds, found in a wide variety of habitats from coastal mangroves to highland volcano peaks, and everything in between. Protected areas offer safe havens for rare and endangered species, such as Scarlet Macaw, Great Curassow, Baird’s Tapir and Jaguar, and a plethora of beautiful common birds and animals. Costa Rica also has an extensive network of ecolodges to delight birders and eco-travelers.

Female Great Curassow at La Selva, Costa Rica - by Yeray Seminario
Female Great Curassow

Costa Rica is a birder’s paradise. As specialists in Central America, it is a no-brainer that we feature an all-encompassing tour to this enchanting country! Whitehawk is introducing our COSTA RICA: WILD NATURE tour in 2019, and we are excited to experience some of the best birding and nature it has to offer us. During the 10-day tour, we will visit a variety of ecosystems and seek out some of Costa Rica’s extraordinary bird life – from long-tailed quetzals to tiny hummingbirds, and from colorful tanagers to secretive owls – anything is possible here!

During this tour we will bird among the mangroves of Guacalillo in search of specialties such as the Mangrove Cuckoo, Mangrove Vireo and national endemic Mangrove Hummingbird; we will explore lush cloud forests of Savegre Valley, where Resplendent Quetzals, Long-tailed Silky-Flycatchers and Black-faced Solitaires adorn the mossy branches; and we will travel to the highest peaks in Cerro de la Muerte, in search of highland species including Volcano Junco, Timberline Wren and Volcano Hummingbird. Other hopefuls on this tour include Snowcap, Slaty-breasted Tinamou, Ocellated Antbird, Russet-naped Wood-Rail, Black Guan, Silvery-fronted Tapaculo and the adorable Ochre-breasted Antpitta! While national endemics are few in Costa Rica, we will look for Coppery-headed Emerald and Cabanis’ Ground-Sparrow, and dozens of regional endemics will keep our hearts and checklists full of local birds found primarily in Costa Rica.

Passerini's Tanager in Costa Rica - by Yeray Seminario
Passerini’s Tanager

Join us for this enticing tour to experience Central America’s biodiversity and exquisite birding. COSTA RICA: WILD NATURE will run April 6-15, 2019, starting and finishing in San Jose. Contact us to reserve your spot on this tour, spaces will fill up quickly!

Colombia: New Tour, New Country, New Continent

It’s so hot right now – Colombia, that is, in terms of birding. One of the birdiest countries on Earth, Colombia has for decades been off the radar in terms of general tourism for security reasons. Now, as this celebrated South American nation becomes safer by the day, Colombia has risen to the top of the charts of places to visit for birding, and rightly so. Boasting nearly 1900 species of birds and over 80 endemics, with just about every tropical habitat imaginable, Colombia is not to be missed for any serious birder.

One of our favorite birds in Colombia - the Blue-naped Chlorophonia
Blue-naped Chlorophonia

The northern section of the mighty Andes is broken into three ranges (western, central and eastern), each offering birds unique to their peaks and slopes. The Inter-Andean valleys, Cauca and Magdalena, likewise are hotspots for bird endemism. The biodiversity here can be overwhelming! Such fantastic species as the Golden-crowned Tanager, Andean Lapwing, Andean Tit-Spinetail and Buffy Helmetcrest hail from the high-Andean paramo, while specialties including the Yellow-eared Parrot, Cauca Guan, White-mantled Barbet and Crested Ant-Tanager can be found in the slopes and valleys.

Los Nevados National Park in Colombia
Los Nevados National Park

Whitehawk is introducing COLOMBIA: THREE ANDEAN MOUNTAIN RANGES and we couldn’t be more excited about it. This tour features all three of the aforementioned Andean ranges, as well as both Cauca and Magdalena valleys. We will seek out Colombia’s most exotic and special birds, with the possibility to see over 25 endemic species. The tour starts in Cali and finishes in Bogota, taking us from the paramo and high-Andean lakes to the lush inter-Andean cloud forests. We will also visit some great sites for water birds such as the Northern Screamer and Black-capped Donacobius. Along the way we will be awed by antpittas, and the arrays of colorful tanagers, fruiteaters, and trogons. Turquoise Dacnis, Golden-winged Manakin, Crested Quetzal, Golden-breasted Fruiteater and the endemic Multicolored Tanager await us! What’s more, we will enjoy all of these birds with the breathtaking backdrop of the Andes.

Another beauty found in Colombia - the Masked Trogon
Masked Trogon

This tour also features dozens of species of hummingbirds, both at natural sites and fantastic feeder locations. After all, Colombia boasts the highest number of hummingbird species of any country – 165 species can be found here, nearly 50% of all hummingbirds! Rainbow-bearded Thornbill, White-tailed Hillstar, Indigo-capped Hummingbird, Lazuline Sabrewing, Empress Brilliant, Violet-tailed Sylph and Tolima Blossomcrown are just a few species we will likely encounter.

Once of Colombia's many hummingbird species - the Velvet-purple Coronet
Velvet-purple Coronet

Join us for our COLOMBIA: THREE ANDEAN MOUNTAIN RANGES tour coming up July 2-14, 2019. This tour is not to be missed! Contact us to reserve your spot and be part of a new adventure, this time to experience the sensational birds of Colombia.

National birds of Central America

Bird facts are always of interest to any birder, so cool facts about national birds are no exception! Most countries have officially (or at least unofficially) selected a national bird to best represent their local avifauna, and the Central American countries have done a great job of boasting some of the most beautiful and powerful birds that the region has to offer. So, without further ado, here we go!

Guatemala – Resplendent Quetzal

Guatemala has taken the prize for selecting one of the most iconic and most beautiful birds on Earth as its national bird – the Resplendent Quetzal. It is found throughout the highlands of Guatemala and is revered for its shimmery green plumage contrasting with its bright red belly, and its most outstanding feature, the long trailing upper tail coverts of the male. The Resplendent Quetzal has played an important role in Mesoamerican mythology – the name “quetzal” is an Ancient Mayan term for tail feather, and the Mayans were said to have used the long tail feathers for currency. The Resplendent Quetzal is found on the Guatemalan flag and coat of arms, and the country’s currency is also called, you guessed it, the Quetzal.

Resplendent Quetzal, Guatemala's national bird
Resplendent Quetzal, Guatemala’s national bird

Belize – Keel-billed Toucan

The Keel-billed Toucan, with its large, multicolored bill, is another emblematic bird of Central America. It was declared the national bird of Belize along with the country’s other national symbols when the country declared its independence from the United Kingdom in 1981. Widespread throughout Belize (and through most of Central America, for that matter), it is a welcome sight to anyone, and easily distinguishable with that huge colorful bill. Being easily recognizable, common and beautiful makes the Keel-billed Toucan a great choice for Belize’s national bird.

Keel-billed Toucan, national bird of Belize
Keel-billed Toucan, national bird of Belize

El Salvador and Nicaragua – Turquoise-browed Motmot

One of the most beautiful species of the motmot family, it’s no surprise that two Central American countries have chosen the Turquoise-browed Motmot as their national birds. Found throughout El Salvador and the Pacific slope of Nicaragua, this elegant bird of Mesoamerica sports rich olive-rufous plumage highlighted with bright turquoise blue, and a long racquet-tipped tail – it is a bird not to be missed in either of these countries. It is known locally as Torogoz in El Salvador and Guardabarranco in Nicaragua.

Turquoise-browed Motmot, national bird of El Salvador and Nicaragua
Turquoise-browed Motmot, national bird of El Salvador and Nicaragua

Honduras – Scarlet Macaw

Another brightly-colored and well-known bird associated with the Neotropics, the Scarlet Macaw was declared the national bird of Honduras in 1993. This threatened species, rare in the country, was chosen to raise awareness of Honduras’ bird life among its population and beyond. Like other Central American national birds, it is attractive and calls attention easily, in hopes of sparking conservation interest globally to assist the small population in Honduras and throughout its extensive yet fragmented range. The Scarlet Macaw is locally known as La Guara Roja in Honduras, and a small population thrives in the La Mosquitia reserve in the eastern part of the country, and can be seen along the northern Caribbean coast.

Scarlet Macaw, national bird of Honduras
Scarlet Macaw, national bird of Honduras

Costa Rica – Clay-colored Thrush

Instead of choosing a more recognizable, colorful, beautiful bird associated with the tropics like many Central American countries have, Costa Rica took a different approach to selecting their national bird. Instead, they decided to honor a bird that can be seen by everyone who lives in and visits this highly biodiverse country – the ubiquitous Clay-colored Thrush! Costa Rica reveres this bird for its abundance and ease of observation, its charismatic nature in suburban gardens and most of all, its melodic song. The dawn song of the Clay-colored Thrush during its breeding season is sweet music to everyone’s ears, definitely making up for its drab brown plumage. A close cousin of the American Robin, the Clay-colored Thrush ranges from extreme southern US (Texas) throughout all of Central America and into northern Colombia and northwestern Venezuela.

Clay-colored Thrush, national bird of Costa Rica
Clay-colored Thrush, national bird of Costa Rica

Panama – Harpy Eagle

In such a small country, Panama has the greatest biodiversity of all of Central America. With over 1000 species of birds to choose a national bird from, Panama made a great decision by making the largest and most powerful eagle, the Harpy Eagle, its official national bird. Panama’s easternmost province, Darién, supports the largest population of Harpy Eagles in Central America, and sightings of this elusive forest eagle are uncommon but more frequent here than in the rest of the region. The Harpy Eagle represents sovereignty and is an indicator of a healthy environment. The Harpy Eagle was designated as Panama’s national bird in 2002 and is on the top of the coat of arms of the Republic of Panama.

Harpy Eagle, national bird of Panama
Harpy Eagle, national bird of Panama

Well, there you have it, the full list of national birds from the beautiful Central American countries. We challenge you to join us to see all these birds on our tours!

New two-country tour: Honduras & Guatemala

Keel-billed Motmots sit quietly in the forest understory.
Keel-billed Motmots sit quietly in the forest understory.

Central America is full of natural beauty and cultural richness, and it is difficult for many to choose a favorite place within this special area of the world – each country has its own natural marvels, but two countries stand out from the rest – Honduras and Guatemala. In the heart of the ancient Mayan world, these two countries host incredible biodiversity and geological and cultural attractions, often right on top of each other! From grandiose Mayan temples to lava-spewing volcanos, from dense tropical rainforests and cool highland cloud forest and hot, dry open savanna, and such impressive species as the Resplendent Quetzal and endemic Honduran Emerald, they should rise to the top of any nature lover’s list of places to visit.

The Resplendent Quetzal, Guatemala's national bird can be seen on our Honduras and Guatemala tour
Resplendent Quetzal, Guatemala’s national bird

We are excited to introduce our first tour exploring and birding Honduras and Guatemala in a pleasant manner – focusing on the great bird and wildlife diversity while enjoying comfortable lodging, intriguing ecosystems and breathtaking scenery, awe-inspiring Mayan ruins and inviting local culture, from the Caribbean lowlands of Honduras to the cool highlands of southern Guatemala.

This 16-day tour is tailored with the best birding in mind – starting with seeking out Lovely Cotingas and Keel-billed Motmots at the ultra-luxurious Lodge at Pico Bonito, followed by the remainder of the tour in Guatemala, where we walk among ancient Mayan temples at Tikal where Ocellated Turkeys strut on the grounds, to experience local culture in Antigua and Atitlán, climbing to the highland haunts of the near-mythical Horned Guan. Along the way, we hope to find such fantastic species as Pink-headed Warbler, the endemic Goldman’s Warbler, Wine-throated Hummingbird, Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer, Mountain Trogon, Resplendent Quetzal, Bushy-crested Jay, White-bellied Chachalaca and so many others. You won’t want to miss out on this exciting Central American birding adventure!

Mayan temples peak above the rainforest canopy at Tikal
Mayan temples peak above the rainforest canopy at Tikal

Honduras and Guatemala: Jewels of Central America tour will run from February 15 to March 2, 2019, 16 days from $4885 per person (price based on 8 participants). Eight places are available, please contact us for more information.

Cuba Trip Report is now online!

Cuban Tody was seen several times during the trip. This and more pictures on our last Cuba Trip Report - by Yeray Seminario
Cuban Tody was seen several times during the trip. You can see this and more picture on our last Cuba Trip Report.

In February we had a fantastic trip to the largest island in the Caribbean: Cuba. Here, we present you our last Cuba Trip Report.

Birding in Cuba

Cuba boasts a great variety of habitats, supporting hundreds of species, both terrestrial and aquatic, and over two dozen viable endemics, making it a very popular destination for birders and nature lovers alike. Furthermore, Cuba has a rich culture, which we indulge in during the trip as well. Overall, it is a very unique country and a favorite trip of ours!

This year’s trip was extra special, as we were fortunate to have Nils Navarro, renowned expert and author of the book, “Endemic Birds of Cuba,” with us for the entire duration of the tour. Then of course, there were the birds! From the pretty Blue-headed Quail-Dove to the impressive Cuban Trogon, Cuba’s national bird, we were pleasantly entertained by Cuba’s avifauna. We even managed to see Cuba’s rarest endemic, the Gundlach’s Hawk, carrying a snake! We saw all the viable endemics during this 11-day tour – Bee Hummingbird (the smallest bird in the world), Cuban Tody, Zapata Wren, Cuban SolitaireCuban Parakeet and a great selection of regional endemics as well. And to our surprise, while not an endemic, we did come across Cuba’s second record (and first photographed) Wilson’s Phalarope.

The Blue-headed Quail-Dove is one of the beautiful endemics of the island.

Casas Particulares: a nice local touch

Staying in local Casas Particulares, we got a good feel for the rich culture of the Caribbean nation, and not to mention the delicious food we were served every day of the trip! Great local guides and great participants also made the trip very memorable. Thanks to everyone for their enthusiasm and for enjoying Cuba with us!

For all the details, read our Cuba trip report, and consider joining Whitehawk’s upcoming Endemic Birds of Cuba trip, January 25 to February 4, 2019.

The new Madagascar Trip Report is online

What? The new Madagascar Trip Report is out??? – Malagasy Scops-Owl at Andasibe-Mantadia NP

In November, Whitehawk completed its first tour to Madagascar. Covering the southern and eastern parts of the country, tour participants were treated to an amazing mix of habitats – from the unique spiny forests of Ifaty, to the incredible rock formations of Isalo, to the expansive rainforests of Ranomafana National Park. As you can imagine, such a diversity of habitats often equals a comparable diversity of wildlife – and Madagascar does not disappoint, specially when you consider that over 90% of its flora and fauna are endemic!  You can read our Madagascar Trip Report here

We got to see many species on this trip: eighteen different lemur species including the largest living lemur, the Indri, in Perinet and one of the smallest – the Gray-Brown Mouse Lemur in Berenty Reserve. We also saw 6 species of chameleons – mostly on our night walks!

White-footed Sportive Lemur at Berenty Reserve

But, of course, this was a birding tour and so our focus  was on the unique and beautiful species of the island. We saw close to 160 species on our two week trip, with some of the highlights being the Helmet Vanga, all five species of ground-rollers, the Sickle-billed Vanga and the Madagascar Cuckoo-hawk.

The Amazingly-looking Sickle-billed Vanga

If you are interested in Madagascar and want to explore the possibilities of doing a trip with us, contact us and we will either arrange a private tour or inform you of an open space in one of our future trips.

Costa Rica Birding Challenge and some Owls

Costa Rica Birding Challenge: Crested Owl near Guapiles, Costa Rica
Crested Owl near Guapiles, Costa Rica

The Costa Rica Birding Challenge finished last week with an amazing number of birds seen or heard collectively: more than 550 species in over a week’s time. The Tico Tickers, Yeray’s team, came in first place with 488 species!

We want to congratulate all the participants and organizers for an amazing event, which we are sure will be repeated in the future.

Here  is a selection of the owls seen during the competition, which shows the great potential of the country when it comes to Owling!

Costa Rica Birding Challenge: Bare-shanked Screech Owl at Monteverde, Costa Rica
Bare-shanked Screech Owl at Monteverde, Costa Rica
Tropical Screech Owl seen during the Costa Rica Birding Challenge
Tropical Screech Owl seen during the Costa Rica Bird Challenge
the Pacific Screech Owl seen during the Costa Rica Birding Challenge
You couldn’t get any farther from this Pacific Screech Owl, it was in a very low branch!
Young Spectacled Owl seen during the Costa Rica Birding Challenge
Extremely cute young Spectacled Owl

Zapata Wren during our last tour in Cuba

Zapata Wren
Zapata Wren

The Zapata Wren is the most restricted endemic in Cuba, only present in the Zapata Peninsula and certainly a must-see when you go to Cuba. It is also the only member of its genus: ferminia! We got to see it this well during our last tour, allowing everyone in the group to have good looks and even take some pictures with the sunrise light!

If you want to know more about our next tour to Cuba, follow this link.

Snow Leopard Tour – New Trip Report

Snow Leopard in Ladakh
Snow Leopard in Ladakh

The trip report from our last Snow Leopard Tour is now online! Written by Marta Curti, it contains a detailed itinerary description with all wildlife findings and beautiful pictures taken during this trip to the Ladakh region in India. Also, there’s additional information about the successful Tiger extension trip!

To know more, just follow this link to the trip report.

Bushy-crested Jay in #Guatemala #Birding

Bushy-crested Jay
A “backyard” bird in Guatemala – the Bushy-crested Jay

We just finished a fantastic fam-trip in Guatemala, which included presentations and debate sessions about birding tourism and conservation. There was also time to see some great birds – including the raucous Bushy-crested Jay, pictured above. We want to thank to the organizers and collaborators of Birdforum for a great event and for inviting us to participate.

We are looking forward to coming back to this tremendously diverse country, which has improved so much in terms of tourism services and safety, and is already attracting higher numbers of enthusiastic naturalists and travelers. If you would like to add some really special regional endemics like the Horned Guan or the Pink-headed Warbler to the formula, Guatemala is one of the best destinations in Central America for any birder with an interest in neotropical birds.