Our Newest Destination: BHUTAN

FIre-tailed Myzornis Bhutan
Bhutan is home to many colorful birds, such as this Fire-tailed Myzornis

Asia’s big up-and-coming birding destination is the land-locked country of Bhutan. Bhutan appeals to us for several reasons. The small country is home to over 600 species of birds, some of which are more easily found here than anywhere else in the world. This is the case of the striking and rare Rufous-necked Hornbill, Beautiful Nuthatch and near-endemic Bhutan Laughingthrush, as well as some fantastic pheasants, including Blood Pheasant, Himalayan Monal and Satyr Tragopan. Situated north of India and nestled in the shadows of the mighty Himalayas, Bhutan boasts a multitude of elevational ranges and thus great diversity of habitats, from tropical and sub-tropical forest, cloud forest, and up to high elevation passes. Bhutan is culturally beautiful – extravagant Buddhist temples, dzongs, monasteries draped with colorful prayer flags, intriguing relics and stunning architecture call to us, and are set in the most scenic of landscapes one could ever imagine.

Satyr Tragopan Bhutan
The Satyr Tragopan is one of the several beautiful pheasants we will look for during the tour

Bhutan: Birding in the Himalayas

For these reasons and many more, we are excited to announce Whitehawk’s first birding tour to Bhutan. Bhutan: Birding in the Himalayas is a 16-day, cross-country journey through this spectacular country. With our highly experienced local guides, we will visit the best areas for birding along the way, many still begging to be explored. This tour takes us through a wide range of elevations, maximizing the different species of birds we will find during the tour, from lowland tropical and subtropical forests to high elevation passes with mesmerizing views of the Himalayas. Cultural stops along the way will complement our days of birding, and there will no doubt be birds to see around the enchanting monasteries and monuments, bringing us the best of both worlds. Additional birds we will seek out during the tour include Ward’s Trogon, Himalayan Cutia, Fire-tailed Myzornis, Ibisbill, Long-tailed Minivet, Indian Paradise Flycatcher, Hooded Pitta, and Crimson Sunbird, among many others.

TIger's Nest Monastery Bhutan
Tiger’s Nest Monastery, near Paro

A Glimpse at the Tour

This tour begins in Guwahati and finishes in Paro, with short connecting flights to and from the larger cities in India (Delhi and Calcutta). We traverse the rugged landscape, traveling in a comfortable van from southeast to western Bhutan. Each night we stay in local hotels and nature resorts, accredited by the Bhutan bureau of tourism. Our local guides, as well as our Whitehawk tour leaders, have a wealth of knowledge on the birdlife and wildlife of Bhutan; there will be opportunities to learn and see plenty of new species around every curve of the mountain. Our first Bhutan: Birding in the Himalayas tour will run April 12-27, 2020. Please contact us for more information about this new and exciting tour!

Rufous-necked Hornbill Bhutan
Bhutan is one of the best places to find the rare Rufous-necked Hornbill

2019 Discover India: Birding & Tiger Safari Trip Report Online!

One of 12 individual tigers we were lucky to see during our 2019 tour in India

Well, our long-awaited tiger safari and birding tour came and went, leaving 7 people in complete awe of the spectacular wildlife we saw during the 2-week excursion into the wilds of India. We had great sightings of not one, not two, but rather TWELVE Bengal Tigers in the wild, observed their behaviors, studied their perfection as top predators and gained an even greater respect for the incredible animals that they are and their importance in their diminishing habitat.

As we ventured through the national parks and reserves of northern India, we were lucky to see plenty of other wildlife that was nothing short of marvelous. Like Africa, India is a fantastic place for large mammals in general, and during the tour we had great views of, among others, Dhole (Wild Dog), Jungle Cat, Leopard, Common Palm Civet, Indian Gazelle, Blackbuck, Northern Red Muntjac and Nilgai.

Jungle Owlet seen at Bandhavgarh National Park

Finally, the birding! The wide variety of habitats we visited during the tour were worthy of some world-class birding, with memorable sightings of Brown Fish-Owl, Dusky Eagle-Owl, Indian Courser, Sarus Crane, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Short-toed Snake-Eagle, Plum-headed Parakeet, Savanna Nightjar, Chestnut-breasted Bunting, Orange-headed Thrush,Crested Treeswift, Oriental Magpie-Robin, Jungle Owlet, Malabar Pied-Hornbill, Indian Skimmer and so much more.

Orange-headed Thrush foraging on the ground in Tadoba National Park

Overall, we wrapped up our tour with 246 species of birds and 26 species of mammals. Without further ado, check out our Discover India: Birding & Tiger Safari trip report for the full account of our most memorable moments, tour highlights and a full list of the birds and mammals seen and enjoyed during the tour. We are already planning for our next Indian adventure, check back soon for dates for our future tours in this highly biodiverse country, or get in touch with us for more information.

A Leopard carrying away a fresh kill in Ranthanbore National Park, one of this tour’s many amazing moments

Ornitherapy in Panama: Birds, Beaches and Yoga

Whitehawk’s first ornitherapy tour is set in the tranquil forests and white sand beaches of Belize.  Now we are excited to introduce our second tour in this style, in our home-base country of Panama.

Imagine waking up to a spectacular view of Pacific dry forest from the front porch of your private cabin, just a five-minute walk away from the soothing waves of the Pacific Ocean. You hear the familiar “whoop” of the Whooping Motmot outside your cabin, the comical buzzy notes of the Lance-tailed Manakins lekking in the forest nearby, and a screech of a Yellow-headed Caracara flying above. Take a deep breath and fill your lungs with the fresh, salty air. The morning bird activity will no doubt attract your attention – take a moment to watch the movements of the motmot as it flicks its tail like a pendulum from side to side, waiting for the perfect moment to dart to the ground to snatch up an insect.

Yellow-headed Caracara Panama
Yellow-headed Caracara are abundant in central Panama

Connecting with birds

An ornitherapy tour is all about indulging in a connection with birds and nature. The first five nights of the tour are set in the dry forest of the Pacific lowlands. Our friends at Istmo Yoga and Adventure Retreat will graciously host us at their beautiful oasis just a couple hundred meters away from the sandy beach and warm Pacific waters. The birds of the Pacific lowlands and lower foothills of El Valle de Anton nearby will charm us with their charismatic behaviors and ease of observation. Sapphire-throated Hummingbirds, Lance-tailed Manakins, Flame-rumped Tanagers, Crested Bobwhites, Collared Aracaris, Red-legged Honeycreepers, Tody Motmots, Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures, Gray-headed Chachalacas and so many more will inspire us.

The final two nights take us to the banks of the Panama Canal where over 500 species of birds have been recorded. Toucans, trogons, manakins, antbirds, cotingas – all will dazzle and stimulate our minds and souls. From the forest understory to the canopy above, we will celebrate Panama’s great bird life. We will also take in some of the local sights, including the famous Panama Canal.

Stand Up Paddleboarding Panama
Stand-up paddleboarding in the calm waters of the Pacific

Connection with yourself

This tour also gives us the opportunity to relax, reflect and perhaps try out something new! While at Istmo, join us for a daily Yoga class and/or meditation session. Or get out on the calm waters of the Pacific and try Stand-Up Paddleboarding through the calm mangroves. You may even see a Straight-billed Woodcreeper or Mangrove Cuckoo, two mangrove specialties, while on the board! At any time, feel free to pull out some pencils and give sketching a hummingbird a go, or spend a few minutes coloring a mandala for some sweet relaxation in nature. Share these moments with others in the group or keep them to yourself to enjoy. Let ornitherapy and birds help you find this great connection!

Meditation on the beach Panama
Meditation on the beach

Nature prescriptions and Ornitherapy

Birds and nature have the incredible ability to greatly aid a wide variety of conditions, or at least put our minds at ease and sooth us. So much so, GPs are starting to prescribe birdwatching and beach walks to people suffering from chronic and debilitating illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, stress and mental illness. We recently came across this article and couldn’t help but see the connection to the benefits of our ornitherapy tours – it’s worth a read.

“There’s no wi-fi out here, but we promise you will find a better connection”

For those looking for a birding and nature getaway that embraces relaxation, join us in December 2019 for Whitehawk’s Panama Ornitherapy: Intro to Birding and Yoga. Perhaps this is a great way to get away from all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, and truly enjoy a gift of nature. Contact us for more information and to reserve your spot now!

Ornitherapy: Birding for the Soul

Looking back to some of our blog posts from 2013, this one caught our attention and is worth reposting. What is ornitherapy? How can birds help us to mentally, emotionally and physically thrive in today’s busy society? Read on and be inspired:

I recently came across a print ad by the US Fish and Wildlife Service showing beautiful snow-capped mountains against an orange sky and a foreground of wetlands filled with what look like hundreds of snow geese resting on the water.  The ad reads, “There is no wi-fi out here, but we promise you will find a better connection.”

Butterfly Falls, Mountain Pine Ridge Belize
Butterfly Falls, tucked away in the Mountain Pine Ridge, is a beautiful oasis

Connecting with birds

I have been thinking a lot lately about that ad; about what it really means to be “connected” and what things in this life are truly worth “connecting” to. On the surface, we, as a society tend to form fleeting connections that do little to feed us emotionally or nurture us physically. Even we birders are often so connected to our life lists that we sometimes forget about the birds themselves. How often have we seen a new species only to immediately check it off the list and move on to the next one, without taking the time to really marvel at the beauty of its feathers, or the grace of its flight?

When was the last time you immersed yourself, if only for a moment, in the secret lives of birds – watching them forage for food, preen, or simply perch quietly in the shade? Do we truly “connect” with the species we are watching? Even when we learn their calls it is usually for purposes of identification, and not to enjoy the unique melodious music that deserves as much appreciation as a fine aria.

A male Purple-throated Mountain-Gem in Costa Rica
Purple-throated Mountain-Gem

Connecting with ourselves

I can’t help but wonder… as a society, have we lost our connectedness, our mindfulness – our ability to be in present in each moment as it occurs and experience all the joy, beauty, sorrow or disappointment that moment brings? While Yoga and meditation strive to teach us how to do just that, those new to these practices might find them overwhelming and out of their realm or interest. But the truth is that neither Yoga nor meditation has to be done on a mat, sitting quietly in a room. In fact, our best moments of mindfulness are achieved off the mat.  One way to accomplish this is by immersing ourselves in nature. Yes, even while birding, we can achieve a feeling of peacefulness, tranquility, and joy.

Yoga in nature Belize
Yoga in the most serene rainforest setting, photo courtesy of Hidden Valley Inn

Whitehawk and Ornitherapy

We at Whitehawk want to offer our clients such an experience. Through our ornitherapy tours we practice birding in a mindful way – learning about the natural history of the species and spending time with each bird that we see. These tours also provide other optional mindful and relaxation activities such as gentle yoga  classes, both for beginners and for those who have been practicing for years. Our first ornitherapy tour brings us to the beautiful forests and colorful coral reefs of Belize. Our second ornitherapy tour will inspire us in Panama – stay tuned to our blog for more details coming very soon. Won’t you join us?

Top 10 Reasons to Love Vultures

Hooded Vulture, Rüppell’s Griffon, Eurasian Griffon and White-backed Vulture in Senegal

We admit it, we are big fans of vultures. And why not?! Long thought of as being dirty, ugly, garbage eaters, they are actually very beautiful birds and more importantly, play a major role in the environment. In the light of International Vulture Awareness Day 2018 which took place on September 1, we thought we would compile our list of the top 10 reasons to love vultures.

1. Bald heads

Of course, a bald bird is not the most appealing at first and may render the image of vultures as being ugly, but vultures are bald for at least two good reasons. Vultures are carrion eaters and in order to get into the good parts of a carcass, they need to get their heads deep in there! If they had feathers all over their heads, it would be very difficult to clean off (imagine plunging your head into a bowl of spaghetti and then imagine the cleanup afterwards – ugh!). But, with a bald head, all the vulture needs to do is splash around in a puddle, wait for it to rain or just let the sun dry it off and they have a nice clean head. Love it! But that’s not the whole story. New research suggests that vultures are bald because of the weather – being bald helps them stay cool in hot temperatures and by tucking their necks and heads in, they can stay a bit warmer in cold temperatures.

Having a bald head, like on this Black Vulture, helps it to stay clean and cool

2. Nature’s clean-up crew

Vultures are scavengers and feed primarily on carrion – dead animals. They are not well-equipped to kill prey and require their food to be dead or mostly dead. They play a major role in the environment by cleaning up roadsides, fields and the forest floor of dead animals. By doing this, they help  stop the spread of diseases. The stomach acids of a Turkey Vulture are so strong they can kill rabies, anthrax and other serious mammalian diseases. Nature’s most efficient clean-up crew!

3. More than just carrion-eaters

Did you know that some vultures specialize in eating some rather unique things? The Lammergeier or Bearded Vulture of Europe, Africa and Asia is one of these specialists – up to 90% of its diet consists of bone marrow. It carries bones to great heights over rocky hillsides and drops them to break them open and access the marrow inside. The Palm-Nut Vulture of Africa specializes in eating the fruit husks of oil palms and the palm-fruits of Raphia Palms. It also eats a wide variety of live animals, including crabs and mollusks, fish and turtle eggs and hatchlings. A number of vulture species are known to eat vegetable matter, and even some that will consume animal feces! See the Lammergeier in action on our India: In Search of the Snow Leopard tour.

Lammergeier
The Lammergeier specializes in eating bone marrow.

4. Sense of smell

The well-known Turkey Vulture, along with its close cousins the Greater Yellow-headed and Lesser Yellow-headed vultures of the Americas, are among only a few species of birds that has a highly-developed sense of smell. Their olfactory abilities are so good that they can find rotting meat on the forest floor covered in leaf litter from soaring above the canopy. Most vultures lack a sense of smell and, instead, use their keen eyesight to find food. Intelligent birds that they are, other species like Black and King Vultures will follow these keen-nosed vultures to where the food is. The Turkey Vulture has been used to locate leaks in natural gas lines – gas companies inject a chemical that smells like decaying flesh, and where there are leaks, Turkey Vultures will be found congregating in the area!

Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture
The large, open nostrils of this Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture and its close cousins help it to smell its food

5. They’re beautiful

Despite first impressions of vultures and their unique habits, they are beautiful birds. Nobody can deny that they are incredibly graceful in flight, gliding for hours on outstretched wings. Some species, like the King Vulture and Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture of tropical America, are beautifully adorned with bright colors on their bare heads. And several species have pure-white plumage that shines in the sun when they soar overhead. Get up close with King Vultures in the Mountain Pine Ridge in Belize. How could you not love these beautiful birds?

A King Vulture spreads its wings, showing off its beautiful plumage and brightly colored head

6. Long-distance travelers

Some species of vultures are migratory. They make long journeys each year from their breeding grounds to their wintering grounds where food is abundant. Turkey Vultures are well-known migrants; they fill the skies each spring and fall over North and Central America, in groups called kettles, sometimes numbering up to 10,000 individuals! Vultures migrate using thermals as a means of conserving energy; they can soar for hours this way without barely a flap of the wings. Turkey Vultures migrate from Canada well into South America, and they do so in record time, covering up to 200 miles per day! Panama is one of the best migratory hot spots for Turkey Vultures—over 1.5 million Turkey Vultures pass over the isthmus each fall. Ask us about experiencing the fantastic raptor migration of Panama.

Even non-migratory vultures can be long-distance travelers on a daily basis, soaring over 100 miles in a day in search of food. Their broad wings designed for soaring help them do this effortlessly, and they can move at speeds up to 60 miles per hour!

Turkey Vulture
Turkey Vulture in flight

7. Find them almost everywhere

Another reason to love vultures:  they are a cosmopolitan group of birds. They are found on every continent except Antarctica and Australia. Seven species can be found in the Americas from Canada down to Tierra del Fuego. There are 16 species of Old World vultures that soar the skies of Europe, Africa and Asia. Vultures are found in a wide variety of habitats, from tropical rainforest to high Andean plateaus, African savanna to the staggering rocky cliffs of the Himalayas. Wherever you may find yourself in your travels, there are likely vultures to be found. Ask us about seeing vultures on our Whitehawk tours.

8. Stars of ancient mythology

Vultures are a prominent feature in ancient mythology all over the world. They are revered as consumers of death and bringers of rebirth. They are present in Greek legends: Egyptian Vultures were known as the “cuckoo’s horse” because when they arrived in the Spring they carried migrating cuckoos on their backs. The Egyptian Vulture is also well-known in Greek tradition as the “cheese maker” because it regularly forages near dairy farms and feeds on dairy product waste. Another legend states that the poet Aeschylus died because a Lammergeier dropped a bone on his head. The stories go on and on.

Vulture heads are abundant in ancient imagery from various cultures. Vulture bodies have long been used in folk medicine. The term “griffon” is used to describe lazy, uncouth and gluttonous people, referring to the Griffon vultures. Generally, vultures are connected with shepherds and pastoral life and are typically viewed positively due to their rebirth powers.

The Egyptian Vulture is a prominent bird in ancient Greek mythology

9. Record wingspans & heavyweight fliers

Vultures are among the largest flighted birds on Earth. The Andean Condor of South America is one of the heaviest flying birds. It weighs up to 33 lbs. and has an immense wingspan of over 10 feet – the largest wingspan of any raptor. This makes the Andean Condor the largest raptor on Earth. Of the Old World Vultures, the largest species is the Cinereous Vulture, just slightly smaller than its American cousin, at 31 lbs., with a similar wingspan. Lifting off the ground requires great force of their strong wings which are built for soaring and thus help conserve their energy. If you like seeing big birds, you’ll love vultures!

Andean Condor
The Andean Condor of South America is the largest raptor in the world

10. Bio-indicators

Vultures are excellent environmental indicators and alert us to changes in ecosystem health. Being a scavenger near the top of the food chain, vultures are subject to bioaccumulation of toxins, such as DDT and lead. Vultures and other raptors showed early indication of environmental contamination and sparked action to ban DDT in North America. When vultures in Asia began to decline significantly in the early 2000s, it brought about attention that something was happening in the environment. A veterinary drug was being used to treat injured livestock, and when the vultures ingested the meat after the animal died, the vultures suffered from kidney failure and also perished. The sad reality is that several species of vultures are now critically endangered in Asia, though this drug has been banned in some countries. Vultures are indicators of poaching activity since they travel long distances to find animal carcasses and congregate in large groups. Sadly, many vultures are targets of poisoning events by poachers trying to hide the evidence of their actions.

We love vultures!

We enjoy vultures whenever we see them – on our travels or in our own backyards. Vultures also need our help – several species are severely declining in numbers and are critically endangered. Next time you see a vulture, consider some of the reasons why they are so special and so important in our environment. Ask us about vultures on our tours. We love talking about them, and perhaps you will come to love vultures, too!

Ocellated birds: what they are and why they have that name

While guiding in the humid forest of Colombia, I spotted an Ocellated Tapaculo,  a beautiful but elusive bird. Upon hearing this species’ name, one of the birders asked  “Where do these names come from? What does that name mean?” At the time, I had no answer to give him. But I wanted to be able to answer this question for the next person who asked. So I did some research.

Ocellated Tapaculo in the Andean forest of Colombia

It turns out that the name comes from ocellus, a modern Latin word derivate and diminutive of oculus (‘eye’). So, ocellus literally means ‘small eye’. In this case, the name refers to the eye-like spots on the bird’s plumage. Therefore, the white ocelli (the plural of ocellus) that cover the body of the Tapaculo were the inspiration for its name.

We can find this bird from Peru to Colombia, within the Andean montane forest. If you are interested in seeing it, there will be good opportunities on our tour, Colombia: Three Andean Mountain Ranges.

The adjective is not exclusive of the Tapaculo

Many other species, curiously all in the Neotropics, also have  this adjective in their names.  Among the most interesting is the Yucatan Peninsula endemic, the amazing Ocellated Turkey. This bird – with a mixture of green and bronze colors and a bare, blue head, received its name from the astonishing blue and rufous ocelli on its tail.

Ocellated Turkey - Meleagris ocellata

During our tour, Honduras and Guatemala: Jewels of Central America, we will visit El Tikal National Park in the Peten region of Guatemala. This will be a great chance to spot this jewel. But,  if you would prefer a shorter tour,  our Belize: Birds of the Caribbean tour offers another good opportunity to see this species.

Finally, I should highlight one more spotted bird, which is widely distributed in Central America – the Ocellated Antbird. The black ocelli on its belly and back stand out against its otherwise brown plumage, making it look as if they were  painted on. That’s why this species  is one of the targets on Pipeline Road in Panama; and in La Selva Biological Station, which we visit on our new birding tour: Costa Rica: Wild Nature

Ocellated Antbird in Pipeline Road, Panama

Other Ocellated birds in the Neotropics

  • In the Oak-pine forest from southern Mexico to Nicaragua – Ocellated Quail.
  • A dark nightjar that we can find in many places in South America , and in Central America (Honduras to Costa Rica), we can also find a regional subspecies –  Ocellated Poorwill.
  • Found in Costa Rica and several countries in South America – Ocellated Crake.
  • The Mexican endemic  – Ocellated Thrasher.
  • One of the smallest woodpeckers found in Peru and Bolivia – Ocellated Piculet.
  • Found in the Northwest of the Amazonia – Ocellated Woodcreeper.

Common names aren’t the only ones use the word “ocellus”. Some scientific names also incorporate this word, such as ocellate, ocellatus, and ocellatum. For example, Podargus ocellatus and Leipoa ocellate are the scientific names of Marbled Frogmouth and Malleefowl, respectively.  The two species are in Australia – another upcoming destination for Whitehawk.

Top 10 reasons to visit Cuba for birders

Cuba is one of the most unique places in the Americas. It is the largest island in the Caribbean and has lots of natural habitat to support hundreds of species of birds including at least 26 endemics and even more regional endemics. It also features a rich and thriving culture that seems to propel us back in time. There are many reasons to visit Cuba. Here is our list of the top 10, though not in any particular order, because all are worth boasting about!

1.  26 endemic species of birds

Islands in general are known for having endemic species but Cuba possibly tops it all with 26 viable endemic bird species, plus a big handful of regional Caribbean endemics. Cuba’s endemics are incredibly unique; many species are placed in their own genera and even in their own families – Cuban Trogon (Cuba’s national bird), Oriente Warbler, Fernandina’s Flicker, Cuban Tody, Blue-headed Quail-Dove and Cuban Solitaire, just to name a few. We have had great luck seeing all 26 viable endemics during our previous tours, including the rarest endemic, Gundlach’s Hawk. Check out our 2018 trip report.

Cuban Trogon the Cuba's national bird
Cuban Trogon, Cuba’s National bird

2.  Zapata Swamp

Located on the Zapata peninsula 93 miles southeast of Havana, the Zapata Swamp is one of the key habitats to visit during any birding trip to Cuba. It is home to three key endemic species that bear its name, the Zapata Wren, Zapata Sparrow and the virtually flightless and critically endangered Zapata Rail (by some, presumably extinct). The Zapata Swamp itself is comprised of one million acres of lowland wetlands. It is part of the Ciénaga de Zapata Biosphere Reserve, designated a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve in the year 2000, and is the largest protected area in all of the Caribbean.

The Zapata Wren is the most restricted endemic bird in Cuba
The Zapata Wren is the most restricted endemic bird in Cuba

3.  Old Havana

Founded in 1519, Old Havana is the old town city center of Havana. Full of fortresses, cathedrals and plazas, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is not to be missed. Draped in baroque and neoclassical architecture everywhere you look, the old cobblestone streets are full of color and culture. Old cars add even more color to the landscape, and you’ll feel like you’ve gone back in time. Take a stroll down the Malecón on the waterfront or visit the National Capitol; enjoy a concert or ballet in the Great Theater or go museum-hopping to experience Cuba’s art and history. There is much to see here!

4.  Cuban Food

Latin America has a tropical flare in just about all aspects, and food is a major part of that. Like other things in Cuba, the country has great Spanish, African and Caribbean influences when it comes to food. When visiting Cuba, get ready for delicious dishes of arroz con pollo (rice with chicken), ropa vieja (shredded pork), boliche (Cuban pot roast), black beans cooked to perfection, or indulge in a frita (Cuban hamburger – shoestring fries come on the burger!). Tropical fruits are abundant here – guava, plantain, papaya, pineapple, coconut – and are served fresh and are included in many recipes. Be sure to leave room for dessert – arroz con leche (Spanish rice pudding), coconut flan, tres leches cake, Cuban pastries and more!

5.  Casas particulares

There are hotels and resorts in Cuba, but to really immerse yourself in Cuban culture, a stay at a casa particular provides a truly rewarding experience. Casas particulares are houses run by local people that rent the rooms or houses where they live. It is a grand experience of family hospitality, a great opportunity to share stories and learn about the life experiences of local Cubans. It promotes tourism within community and has mutualistic rewards for both the home owner and visitor. We stay in casas particulares for most of our Endemic Birds of Cuba tour.

6.  Smallest bird in the world

Cuba is home to many unique species of birds, including the Bee Hummingbird. Weighing in at only 2.6 grams and a mere 6.1 cm long, it holds the record as the smallest living bird in the world! Both male and female show iridescent plumage, and the male is adorned with a brilliant gorget showing a rainbow of fiery reds and oranges fading to yellows and greens in the right light. It is found throughout the Cuban archipelago but can be best found at the mogotes and Zapata Swamp. The Bee Hummingbird is locally known as zunzuncito – an incredibly cute name for a hummingbird, we think!

Bee Hummingbird the smallest hummingbird in the world
Male Bee Hummingbird, the smallest hummingbird in the world

7.  So many flamingos

Cuba boasts one of the best spectacles of flamingo­­s in the world. American Flamingo (also known as the Caribbean Flamingo) is found here in great numbers, with an estimated 70,000 breeding adults. Cuba is home to the largest breeding colony of flamingos in the western hemisphere. These salmon-colored waders are always a highlight when we visit Cuba. We’ll look for them at Cayo Coco and in the Zapata Peninsula.

American Flamingos at Salinas de Brito, Zapata Peninsula
American Flamingos at Salinas de Brito, Zapata Peninsula

8.  The Mogotes

In the plains of the Viñales Valley, odd rounded mountains called mogotes pop out of the rural landscape. These vertical-walled hills are made of hard limestone left over after millennia of erosion. Cuban Trogon, Fernandina’s Flicker, Cuban Solitaire, Cuban Green Woodpecker, Gundlach’s Hawk, Yellow-headed Warbler and Cuban Bullfinch can be found in the area, among others.

Mogotes in Cuba, Valley of Viñales
Mogotes, in the Valley of Viñales

9.  Excellent Botanical Gardens

A natural gem in the heart of Havana is the National Botanical Gardens. Founded in 1968, the gardens feature collections of Cuban plants, orchids, succulents, palms, ferns, and other plants from all over the world. Knowledgeable guides share information about the ecosystems of Cuba and Cuba’s plant life. The botanical gardens are quite large, and there is much to explore. The variety of habitats here provides a great home for birds and other wildlife, and we kick off our Endemic Birds of Cuba tour here as Great Lizard Cuckoo, Cuban Blackbird, Cuban Kestrel, Cuban Emerald, Antillean Palm-Swift and West Indian Woodpecker, among others, are common here. There are other beautiful botanical gardens to visit in other regions of Cuba as well.

10.  Meet leading Cuban Ornithologist

We feel one of the best parts of our Endemic Birds of Cuba tour,  in addition to indulging in the exquisite birding and culture during, is meeting Nils Navarro, Cuba’s leading ornithologist. Nils is the author of Endemic Birds of Cuba, a revolutionary field guide and the first of its kind focused on Cuba’s endemic birds. It was 10 years in the making. Nils is also an accomplished wildlife artist and did all the illustrations for the field guide. We’ll meet Nils in his studio in the Viñales Valley and delight as he shares his expertise and stories of birding in Cuba.

Nils Navarro talking with our group in Viñales
Nils Navarro talking with our group in Viñales

There you have it! Of course, we feel there are many more reasons to visit Cuba, especially if you are a birder or nature lover. Join us January 25 to February 4, 2019 for our popular Endemic Birds of Cuba tour and relish in all that Cuba has to offer!

 

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.

New two-country tour: Honduras & Guatemala

Keel-billed Motmot 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.