1. Join a Great Leader Our friend and colleague Bob Behrstock has led groups, private clients, and nature festival tours in the Texas Hill Country since 1980, so he knows the region like his own backyard (P.S. Have you seen Bob’s list of backyard birds? Amazing!). Bob is also a photographer and writer — he’s even prepared several family accounts for The Sibley Guide to Bird Life & Behavior. His expertise in birds, damselflies, and butterflies makes this a well-balanced journey.
Our Top-5 reasons to make Southeast Alaska your 2017 nature experience. Highlights from Naturalist Journeys’ Southeast Alaska Wildlife & Birding Tour.
1: It’s Not a Cruise!
As a company, we’ve typically stayed away from Southeast Alaska for our birding and nature tours, turned off by throngs of cruise tourists. We’ve read reports of cruise ships’ negative affect on local towns and native communities, keeping profits within the cruise company — and that’s just not our goal as a company (check out our mission statement). We looked long and hard to find an “un-cruise” option in the region and we struck gold when Naturalist Journeys’ owner Peg Abbott visited the town of Gustavus, and its wonderful Gustavus Inn. Dave Lesh, owner and proprietor, has welcomed guests for 35+ years, carrying on three generations of family tradition. This beautiful and quintessential Alaskan inn allows us to live like locals for a week in the heart of Southeast Alaska’s iconic beauty, where we can simply unpack once, relax, and soak it all in. It’s a nature tour at its finest (and quite possibly at its most relaxing).
Birding the New World Tropics is incredible, but where to start!?
We often travel with birders who are new to or working their way through birding the New World Tropics. But if you’re not a pro, it can feel a little overwhelming. So before you dive right into South America, “The Bird Continent,” with species numbers over 1500 in destinations like Colombia or Peru, we recommend a stair step approach to keep it fun, and not daunting! Each trip you take builds your neotropical knowledge so that when you do travel to the highest diversity locations, you arrive with more experience.
Our British group greatly enjoyed their tour of the Southwest National Parks.
By Guide Pat Lueders
Sharing five of our magnificent Southwest National Parks with visitors from Great Britain was the hidden pleasure of leading Naturalist Journeys’ September Southwest National Parks trip to Utah and Arizona. The 2016 tour was shared by three couples that weren’t acquainted at the beginning of the trip, but they became great friends by the conclusion of this exciting adventure. The beauty of the scenery, the discovery of new bird species, the sighting of unusual mammals, and the variety of reptiles we saw kept the British group in a constant state of excitement. Continue reading Naturalist Journeys Explores the Southwest National Parks→
Fall is Golden in Greater Yellowstone – an account from a recent Naturalist Journeys adventure
By Guide Woody Wheeler
When it comes to fall colors, the eastern half of our country has the reputation for the most colorful displays. Another less-heralded display occurs in the west that combines brilliant fall colors with a major river, abundant wildlife, a backdrop of spectacular mountains and more than half of the world’s thermal features. Fall is Golden in Greater Yellowstone. Continue reading Fall is Golden in Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem→
“The great pointed paw of the state of Florida, familiar as the map of North America itself, of which it is the most noticeable appendage, thrusts south, farther south than any other part of the mainland of the United States. Between the shining aquamarine waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the roaring deep-blue waters of the north-surging Gulf Stream, the shaped land points toward Cuba and the Caribbean. It points toward and touches within one degree of the tropics.” — Marjory Stoneman Douglas
In this eloquent passage, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, author of The Everglades: River of Grass, beautifully captures the essence of Florida’s unique geography within the United States. Due to its closeness to the tropical Caribbean and the warm Gulf Stream, this peninsula harbors several unique plant communities found nowhere else in the USA. One of these is tropical hardwood hammock, a dense stand of hardwood trees of primarily Caribbean origin (sometimes over 90% of native species present). These rich and diverse forests with such evocatively named trees such as gumbo limbo, cocoplum, and wild cinnamon are important for a number of South Florida’s Caribbean birds that reach the northern end of their range in here: White-crowned Pigeon, Mangrove Cuckoo, and Black-whiskered Vireo. They are also an important wintering ground for a wide variety of songbirds.
White-crowned Pigeon is a handsome, large pigeon that depends on these hardwood forests to feed. During spring and early summer, these birds can be seen streaming overhead into Florida Bay by the hundreds in the afternoon at Flamingo in Everglades National Park. They can also be seen throughout the year in suburban Miami where they have taken a liking for ornamental fruiting trees in people’s yards! In spring, the nasal call notes of Mangrove Cuckoo and repetitive song of Black-whiskered Vireo can be heard in healthy tropical hardwood hammocks in South Florida — the former is partially resident while the other flies all the way from South America to spend the summer here. Of course, all three of these species are among the most desired of South Florida’s Caribbean birds to see for the visiting birdwatcher.
In fall and winter, these forests become even more active! Mangrove Cuckoos fall silent and Black-whiskered Vireos depart for the true tropics, but a couple dozen species of warbler, vireo, tanager, oriole, and flycatcher spend the winter in South Florida in this habitat. While the rest of the country lies in winter’s grip, January and February are a great time to observe “summer” birds in Miami and the Keys: Baltimore Oriole, Yellow-throated and Blue-headed Vireo, Great Crested Flycatcher, Summer Tanager, Painted and Indigo Bunting, and diverse flocks of warblers that can include everything from Worm-eating to Yellow-throated to Black-throated Blue. Winter is also the best time to see Short-tailed Hawk, a striking South Florida specialty often missed on spring tours, soaring high overhead.
In conclusion, South Florida and its unique tropical hardwood hammocks always have something to offer, whether it is a spring tour to catch up with uncommon summer breeders or a winter tour for the sheer diversity of wintering songbirds. Please consider joining us for either the winter or spring version of our Florida tour!
A special thank you to Carlos Sanchez for such a well-written and informative post on South Florida’s Caribbean birds. Recently, Carlos gave a talk entitled “Following Birds to the Heart of Brazil” to the Linnaean Society of New York at the American Museum of Natural History. What an honor!
Naturalist Journeys is back to the blogging world and wanted to kick off our first new post with a great participant account about her time in Brazil’s Pantanal.
Please enjoy Kelly’s comments and her perspective on what we too, thought was a fantastic wildlife safari.
“Hi Peg and Xavier,
Before we all go back to our daily lives, and our memories start to fade, I wanted to thank both of you for a truly spectacular trip to Brazil!
Xavier, your ability to manage the details -both large and small- of a logistically difficult trip is impressive, and your willingness to accommodate the needs of everyone in the group is much appreciated.
But it’s your continued enthusiasm for sharing every bird new to us, even ones you have seen many times, that made the trip special (And it goes without saying that you really do know your birds!)
Peg, your knowledge of birds is equally amazing, and your steady cheerfulness (even through the group’s episodes of illness, and when some of us, [i.e. me], were getting tired and a little grumpy around the edges) was critical to the success of the trip! Bob and I hoped to see a piculet on this trip, but are not disappointed that one didn’t appear, since we instead became better acquainted with a far superior bird – the “red-crested Peg-u-let”! I hope the association continues.
For what it’s worth, my highlights include:
Watching the incredible numbers of herons, egrets, ibises, and miscellaneous other “aves” fly up as we went along in the bus, boat, or on foot. One of the great wildlife viewing opportunities still left in the world, this experience rivals the sight of zebras or giraffes running across the plains of Africa.
Rufous horneros and their nests. While these birds are not rare
or particularly showy, their characteristic strut and epic nest-building efforts epitomize the Pantanal for me.
Pouso Alegre. If I could magically transport myself back to one of our sites for an occasional weekend visit, this would be it. I loved the wetlands, the walk to the hide, the tegus outside our door, and the overall peacefulness.
The charming, befuddled expression on the faces of all capybaras, large and small. I still want to bring one home … Bob bought a capybara leather belt in Uruguay but it’s just not the same.
The unexpected sight of the Streamer-tailed tyrants along the road to Caraca. So cool, and one of the reasons having an experienced guide is essential! Who else would know to look for such a spectacular bird in such a mundane location?
The hikes at Caraca Sanctuary. The undisturbed habitats here are a rare treasure – in both an ecological and spiritual sense – allowing us lucky visitors to truly connect with the landscape. I will remember the araucaria trees, the fantastic flora of the fens, the Face of the Giant, the Pin-tailed manakin, and the quiet of the Brother’s Woods for a long time.
Flocks of [Gilt-edged] and Brassy-breasted Tanagers! Amazing!
Our extended encounter with the unflappable Red-legged Seriema –too funny!
Our final count of (~?) 302 bird species, each with its own character and personality.
Brazilian coffee! And desserts!
And many, many, more.
Thanks also to all of my fellow travelers – I’m proud to be part of such a jovial yet stalwart group. Let’s do it again!”
Thanks for traveling with us, Kelly … we can’t wait to go back to the Pantanal again next year.