Stygian Owl Research by BRRI Team

Though diurnal raptor species tend to be greater studied than their nocturnal counterparts, one group, the Belize Raptor Research Institute, is focusing a large part of their efforts on learning more about one of the largest Neotropical owls, the Stygian Owl (Asio stygius). Their project area is focused in the Mountain Pine Ridge, Belize.
This past season, they were able to radio tag two adult males and collect some interesting data on their dispersal patterns – learning that though they roost in the pine forest, they can and do travel great distances into farm fields in order to forage at night. The BRRI team analyzed several pellets collected over a full year to learn about this owl’s diet, which includes birds, bats, and beetles, as well as several reptiles and amphibians.  The greatest discovery of all, however, was when one of the tagged males led researchers to its nest, which contained a chick approximately 2 weeks old! This is only the second nest for this species to be discovered and studied in Belize!Whitehawk offers two tours to Belize, both of which take you to the Mountain Pine Ridge and offer chances to see the Stygian Owl at roost. Twenty five percent of all profits from our trips to Belize go directly to the Belize Raptor Research Institute.

Hotspot Highlight – Pipeline Road, Panama

Pipeline Road is a world-famous birding route that winds through Soberania National Park, Panama. This 18 km. road is an easily accessible path that leads straight into the heart of a neotropical rainforest criss-crossed by clear running streams and a rich biodiversity of flora and fauna. Located less than an hour from Panama City, this is one of the best places to see a large number of birds species in a relatively short amount of time.

Colorful birds like the Golden-hooded Tanager, Green and Red-legged Honey Creepers, White-whiskered Puffbird, and the bright red shock of the Crimson-backed Tanager are just a few of the highlights on this trail. The “clack, clack, clack” of Red-capped Manakins, the chattering of ant birds congregating around an ant swarm, and the melodious call of oropendolas adds to the cacophony of all the sights and sounds you will encounter. With some luck, both diurnal and nocturnal raptors can be seen, including the Collared Forest Falcon,  Ornate Hawk-Eagle, Spectacled Owl and, perhaps, for the very lucky, a glimpse of a Harpy Eagle beneath the forest canopy.  Adding to all of this are the numerous mammals that may cross your path including Howler and White-faced Capuchin Monkeys, tamanduas, sloths, and even the occasional jaguarandi.

Hope is the Thing with Feathers

Hope is the thing with feathers… so begins a poem by Emily Dickinson, which served as inspiration for the title of Christopher Cokinos’ book of the same name. This tome recounts the stories of six bird species that have gone extinct in recent times: the Carolina Parakeet, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, the Heath Hen, the Passenger Pigeon, the Labrador Duck, and the Great Auk.

Among the pages of this book the histories of these species are explored in depth, including the path to their decline and their final days; and how greed or ignorance ended in just decades what took hundreds of thousands of years of evolution to form. Cokinos also writes about the struggle of certain individuals to preserve these species, and their conviction and courage in a time when “conservation” wasn’t even a concept.

This is a dense book, full of details and historical documentation, but the stories are told with a delicacy hard to come by in most writing. Each chapter adds key elements which enrich the reader’s understanding of the processes of extinction, its causes and consequences. Cokinos adds some valuable details of the circumstances surrounding each tragedy: excerpts from a ship captain’s logbook in which he recorded thousands of Greater Auks harvested for food in the islands of Quebec; style notes of the ladies of New York who wore hats adorned with the bodies of Carolina Parakeets; or photographs of the last Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in the wild.

Despite being sad at times, the purpose and message of the book are clear. The stories it contains are a warning – calling our attention to the effect our presence on earth has on the rest of the biotic community. In one of the last passages of the book Cokinos writes: “The deep sadness of loss is our best first response – but should not be our only response.” This book is not just for bird lovers, but for those eager to understand a fundamental part of human history and its relationship to the world that supports it.

Birding in Nepal – The Discovery of the Terai and the Adventure of the Himalayas

What is it like birding in Nepal? Thanks to the stability and security of the country in recent years, and the fascination and awe many people experience when viewing the Himalayas, Nepal is becoming an increasingly popular tourist destination. However, it  is not a well-known destination for birdwatchers and wildlife enthusiasts but it has enormous potential, as we confirmed during our trip there this spring.
The Black Baza is a summer visitor that feasts on termites
Perhaps the most compelling aspect of the region is the wide variety of habitats it contains, from lush tropical jungles to wide valleys, from dense forests to icy peaks, and from barren deserts to the Tibetan tundra. All are interlaced by rivers that descend from the heart of the Himalayas.The first stop on our journey was in Terai, the southern lowlands. Forests of Shorea robusta (Sal Forest), jungles and wetlands host a wealth of bird and mammal species such as the rare Bengal Tiger, the Fishing Cat (Prionailurus viverrinus) and even the Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus).
Mammals, like this Barking Deer, are more easily seen along the river
In Sauraha, a beautiful town on the edge of Chitwan National Park, we met Hem Subedi. Hem has worked in conservation and as a guide for the past twenty years. After spending some time birding with him along the Rapti River, we knew he would be the perfect person to lead trips in Nepal for Whitehawk. His knowledge of local birds and Nepali culture and his deep involvement in conservation make him the ideal person for the job.
Dawn and dusk are magical along the banks of Rapti: Cinnamon Bittern, Stork-billed Kingfisher, Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch… dozens of species are found just a few steps from the village. And several mornings we were treated with sightings of rhinos on this same bank! Although many people come here for the mountains, the forest is undoubtedly one of Nepal’s greatest untapped destinations.
One of the favorite sightings of the trip – a Brown Wood Owl rests during the day in the forest

After making all the preparations, we headed out for the mountains full of enthusiasm. Our destination, Langtang, is one of the best places for trekking and to see the  forest and mountain birds of Nepal.

It is late April and the rhododendrons are starting to bloom in the Himalayan foothills, offering a tremendous visual spectacle while also sheltering a wide variety of birds: Black Bulbul (Hypsipetes leucocephalus), Darjeeling Woodpecker (Dendrocopos darjellensis), Streaked Laughingthrush (Trochalopteron lineatum), Green-tailed Sunbird (Aethopyga nipalensis), Nepal Wren Babbler (Pnoepyga immaculata) and White-browed Fulvetta (Fulvetta vinipectus), to name a few. Sometimes woodpeckers, nuthatches, sunbirds, and other passerines formed in large mixed flocks that kept us busy for hours.


We continue to walk, and the road gets a little steeper, but there is no rush. We stop frequently to enjoy the scenery and add more species to our growing list. On one of our stops we see a Black Bear of the Himalayas (Ursus thibetanus)! As well as some species of ungulates. I can’t help but imagine that there is a Snow Leopard (Uncia uncia) not lurking somewhere closeby, too, as the Langtang National Park is home to this rare cat.

The landscape continues to  change as we climb higher and higher. The valley opens, the snowy peaks get closer and we leave behind the tree line. On the slopes we catch our first glimspes of Golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) and Bearded Vultures (Gypaetus barbatus). The grandeur of the Himalayas is breathtaking. An experience both moving and unique. Those lucky enough to have walked these trails know that this is not a sensation that can be described. It needs to be lived.


In total, birding in Nepal yielded  370 species of birds and 23 mammals, including the Spiny Babbler (Turdoides nipalensis), the only endemic for Nepal, a rarity for the country -the Malayan Night Heron (Gorsachius melanolophus) and ¡A cetacean! the Ganges Dolphin (Platanista gangetica) showed us its tiny dorsal fin on more than one occasion. We marveled at the beauty of many birds, like laughingthrushes, parrotbills an  yuhinas among many other species. The raptors, like the Black Eagle (Ictinaetus malayensis), the  Grey-headed Fish Eagle (Icthyophaga ichthyaetus) and the Black Baza (Aviceda leuphotes) left us in awe. Not to mention the spectacular Himalayan Monal (Lophophorus impejanus) and, one of the most charistmatic owls of the region, the Brown Wood-Owl (Strix leptogrammica).

This fall Whitehawk will be offering an intense journey through Nepal with tour guide Hem Subedi, one of the best ornithological guides in the country. The mountain and forest combined in two weeks full of birds, landscapes and unforgettable lifetime experiences! Of the latter, there is no doubt.

A Top Predator in Belize: The Harpy Eagle

In general, it is not easy to see forest raptors, and in the case of the Harpy Eagle, a low density species,  it can be more difficult still. But for many bird watchers this eagle, the largest in the Americas, a top predator, and the most powerful raptor in the world, is one of the “most wanted” species to include in their life lists.

Although this eagle has been seen sporadically in Belize over the past decade, it was not until a few short months ago that a team of investigators found the first active nest reported for this species in this country for over 60 years.

This incredible find injects a breath of hope for the conservation of the Harpy Eagle in this small Central American country.  Now, scientists are concentrating on monitoring the movements of the adults and the juvenile to learn more about their diet, behavior, and movements, and are also looking for new nests in areas close to the territory occupied by this pair.

At Whitehawk, we are planning several trips to key sites in Central America that will allow us to observe this incredible eagle.

Mountain Pine Ridge, Belize

The Mountain Pine Ridge, Belize is a birder’s paradise, particularly for raptor enthusiasts. Only two hours from Belize City, it is, as its name implies, a large expanse of Caribbean Pine Forest. However, it is a forest riddled with surprises. Pines give way abruptly to broad-leaf vegetation. Howler Monkeys can sometimes be heard, and occasionally seen, from mountain tops that look down onto an expanse of green jungle. Jaguars, pumas and tapirs continue to be seen on occasion, as well as deer and foxes.
The juxtaposition of habitats in Belize’s Mountain Pine Ridge, along with an abundance of water sources in the form of cool streams, natural blue pools and thundering waterfalls, has created important habitat for a large number of species and some amazing and hard-to-see raptors. Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, Stygian Owl, Laughing Falcon, Plumbeous Kite, Black and White Hawk Eagle, Black Hawk Eagle, and Solitary Eagle are just a few of the raptors that have been documented in the area. And it is one of the best and most accessible places in Central America to see Orange-breasted Falcon. Other birds that can be seen include King Vulture, Rusty Sparrow, Green Jay, and Plain Wren, to name just a few.
Whitehawk offers two trips to Belize, both of which include time spent in the Mountain Pine Ridge. Come join us for a birding adventure set in arguably one of the most pristine, beautiful settings in Central America.

Morocco Birding – Mountains, Sea, Marshes and Wind-swept Dunes

I don’t know what hit me first – the hypnotic music, the bustling voices in the marketplace, or the smells of spiced vegetables and meat grilling on open barbeques in the Djemaa el Fna Square in Marrakesh. This was the first stop on our week-long, winter, Morocco birding extravaganza and we didn’t want to miss a thing. We spent the night in Marrakesh, eating well, strolling among the crowd, and purchasing spices and souvenirs at the bazaar.

Early the next morning, we headed to the Ourika Valley, not far from the city. Snow covered the ragged Jbel Toubkal – the highest peak in Morocco. The bright sun felt good on our faces. This was going to be a great day for birding. Within minutes of arriving, we spotted a Bearded Vulture soaring on splendid wings over the snow-covered valley. As we walked, we saw Red-billed Choughs scampering on the ground in small groups, and Horned Larks and Rock Sparrows seemed to be everywhere. On our way down, we even saw a Little Owl and a lovely Moussier’s Redstart.

Though it was thrilling to see spend time with these birds, my heart was set on seeing the Bald Ibis. With only 300 individuals left, this is one of the most endangered birds in the world. As we slowly wound our way down the coast in search of this elusive species, we were treated with sightings of Audouin’s Gulls and Barbary Partridges. Joyfully, we finally spotted the dark shapes of the Bald Ibises as they wandered along the sand dunes, probing for insects with their long beaks. We parked and snaked our way quietly toward the beach, inching closer to the birds to get a better view, careful not to disturb them. We observed them for quite a while from a distance, taking photos and just enjoying the splendor of being in the presence of such an amazing bird.

After the thrill of spending time observing Bald Ibises along the Moroccan coast, we continued south, for there were more amazing birds to be seen. We visited the beautiful Souss-Massa National Park to see the Black-crowned Tchagra and the Moroccan Magpie. We saw Barbary Falcons perched on telephone poles in open fields, and at the Ouarzazate Lagoon, we observed Marbled Ducks, Ruddy Shelducks, Squacco Herons and Crested GrebesYellow Wagtails, White-crowned Wheatears and the flashy Blue-throats were common sights along the edge of the lake.

The next day we left the warm waters of Ouarzazate and headed to the Sahara. We stopped in the hills of Boumalne Dades to try our luck with some birds such as the Greater Hoopoe Lark, Bar-tailed Lark, Red-rumped Lark, Temminck’s Lark and Trumpeter Finch… We saw them all!

We arrived in the desert in the late afternoon to the sight of red sand dunes jutting from the earth, camels wandering lazily in the sun, and Brown-necked Ravens scampering across the ground. We took an ATV ride across the dunes to a small patch of palm trees where a small flock of Desert Sparrows could be seen flitting in and out of the trees. This species, once common throughout the area, is now almost limited to small oases in the middle of the desert.

Before leaving the desert, we were able to see some of the most charistmatic birds of the region: Tristram’s Warbler,  Desert Wheatear, Streaked Scrub-Warbler, African Desert Warbler, a good flock of Spotted Sandgrouse and finally, as a parting gift, the Houbara Bustard.

One of our last stops was in The Forest of the Cedars – where families of monkeys sat by the side of the road or in the trees, watching us with interest as we walked through the forest. Morocco really is a country of contrasts. Only a few hours ago we were in a vast desert. Here, shadowy paths wind between tall trees, and birdsong echoes in our ears. We spotted Mistle Thrush, Coal Tit, Levaillant’s Woodpecker, Eurasian Nuthatch, Short-toed Tree-Creeper, North African Chaffinch and African Blue Tit.

The week passed quickly. When I boarded the plane back home, I was filled with good memories of our Morocco Birding tour. It has been an enlightening and amazing trip filled with good food, great company, interesting culture, and of course, some pretty special birds – a total of 132 species in all. It was a fabulous way to ring in the New Year!

Nature Photography: Light as Feathers

Today we would like to introduce you to a new website called “Light as Feathers”. This site features fantastic nature photography by Whitehawk member Yeray Seminario. His wildlife photos, focused mainly on birds with a special emphasis on raptors,  document his travels around the world. You will see some captivating images of Orange-breasted Falcons, Solitary Eagles, Indian Vultures, and a host of other beautiful, charismatic species.

Whitehawk is on Facebook!

Little by little we are creating a website with high quality content and lots of information about our trips. We are now also on Facebook, a good tool to inform you about our activities and, of course, to deliver news about birds and conservation, contests, games and anything that might be of interest to followers of Whitehawk. If you’re not yet a follower of our site, just click the “like” button. The more the merrier!


Whitehawk Takes Off

Welcome to Whitehawk – a very different birding tour company. Founded by three biologists, it offers trips to meet most every one’s budget, while integrating bird and wildlife watching with a strong emphasis on environmental conservation and local community involvement. We have put a lot of work and forethought into designing secure and fun trips into the natural world that also benefit the people and the wildlife in the areas in which we work. Whether our clients come to bird watch, sight-see, or learn wildlife photography techniques, Whitehawk guarantees a rewarding, safe, and enjoyable experience.

Although we are officially introducing ourselves now, we have spent a lot of time planning and organizing different bird watching routes in the Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia – four of the seven continents! We work directly with local guides who have great skill and knowledge in their field, as well as a great passion for birds and their conservation. Who better than local bird experts to show you the marvels of nature found in their own “backyards”?

Though our goal is to see the greatest number of species, concentrating on local specialties or the most emblematic, we know it is important to leave time for relaxation and the simple contemplation of nature. After all, vacations are to be enjoyed!

We frequently update our blog with news, activities and chronicles of our journeys. We hope you enjoy touring through our website and that you are inspired to join us soon on one of our trips. Whitehawk takes off now!

Angel, Marta and Yeray
Founders of Whitehawk