Tag Archives: Birding Tour

7 Highlights of our Colorado Birding Tour to zapata ranch

Long-eared Owl by Greg Smith

Read on for 7 highlights from Naturalist Journeys‘ Colorado birding tour and a letter from Ted Floyd, editor of Birding magazine.

Hello, Bird & Nature Lovers.

What a spring it has been—the strangest and most unsettling of my life, and perhaps yours too. Last month, I had plans to be at the Medano–Zapata Ranch. Mid-March is a magical time of year at the ranch, when the long winter is finally coming to an end. It’s when Sandhill Cranes fill the skies, when Mountain Bluebirds pause on every fencepost; when Cinnamon Teals and rare Mexican Ducks poke about the cold, clear waters of the region; when Sagebrush Sparrows and Sage Thrashers proclaim from the rabbitbrush and greasewood; and when Long-eared Owls sing their spooky songs from the quiet woods just beyond the ranch headquarters.

Mountain Bluebird by Hugh Simmons Photography

I didn’t get to experience any of that this year, but I know it’s happening right now—and I long to get back to “The Valley,” as it is simply known. The San Luis Valley, straddling the Colorado–New Mexico border, is immense, the size of the state of New Jersey. It is a land of superlatives, of 14,000–ft. summits, but also of vast wetlands and endless desert. And it is, strangely and unjustly, unknown to the vast majority of Americans. Even many Coloradans are only dimly aware of its existence.

At this writing, it’s impossible for me—it’s impossible for anybody—to say when The Valley will be open again for the business of nature tourism. I sure hope it’s sometime this summer, and that’s because my favorite time of year in The Valley—sorry, March—is the summer. The cranes are gone by then, but everything else is there: the bluebirds and teals and owls and so much more: gloriously green Lewis’s Woodpeckers…enchanting Snowy Plovers…busybody flocks of White-faced Ibises…Black Swifts blasting out of waterfalls… And a fantastic diversity of butterflies, beetles, and other arthropods.

Lewis’s Woodpecker by Steve Wolfe

The folks at Naturalist Journeys and the Medano–Zapata Ranch, acting out of both caution and practicality, have decided to reschedule our Colorado birding tour for June 13 – 20, 2021. The Valley is wonderfully alive at that time of year, with breeding bird activity at a peak, the days not too hot, and the evenings pleasantly cool. We are already in touch with the various experts who will join us in the field for special visits to private and restricted sites.

I’m disappointed that we won’t be spending time together this year, but I can say that I’m already excited about the prospect of doing so in the year following. I’m so looking forward to learning and exploring together with all of you! In the meantime, feel free to reach out to me with questions about observing and enjoying nature in The Valley. Email is best; you may contact me at tfloyd@aba.org. For questions about logistics and scheduling for our Colorado birding tour, be in touch with Naturalist Journeys. We’ll be seeing you—sooner or later!

Sincerely yours,

Ted Floyd

Editor, Birding magazine

THE NATURE CONSERVANCY’S ZAPATA RANCH: 7 HIGHLIGHTS YOU WON’T WANT TO MISS ON OUR COLORADO BIRDING TOUR

colorado birding tour
Rock Wren by Sandy Sorkin

1. Visiting the rugged, isolated, and beautiful John James Canyon is always a treat on our Colorado birding tour. Birds of rocky country like Black-throated Sparrow and Rock Wren can be found throughout the basalt hillsides, as well as two rare species of butterflies, rattlesnake, and the hearty Pronghorn.

colorado birding tour
Bird Conservancy of the Rockies banding a Black Swift by Madeline Jorden

2. No trip to the ranch is complete without a visit to Zapata Falls. Hidden inside a great rock chamber lies the roaring 25-foot waterfall, where we witness swifts bursting through the water at dawn. The parking lot offers a sweeping view of the entire San Luis Valley and the short walk to the falls is a riot of sound and color with tanagers, grosbeaks, hummingbirds, and warblers.

colorado birding tour
Snowy Plover by Greg Smith

3. Blanca wetlands is a key stopover for migrating water birds and a visit to the wetlands offers wonderful close-up opportunities to see American Avocet, Snowy Plovers, and others. Here, we have the special opportunity to hear from local biologists about all of the great work they are doing.

colorado birding tour
Golden Eagle by Greg Smith

4. For dashing western raptors like Prairie Falcon and Golden Eagle, a trip to Hell’s Gate formation is not to be missed on our Colorado birding tour. We usually spot Bighorn Sheep here (in fact, we’ve actually never missed them)!

Colorado birding tour
Wranglers on the ranch by Matt Delorme

5. Those hungry for more adventure can lace up their boots and join the ranch crew to explore areas of The Nature Conservancy’s Zapata Ranch, accessible only by horseback. Atop sure-footed ranch horses, we travel through cool grassy meadows teeming with life and down dusty gulches checkered with Coyote dens.

Dinner at the ranch by Madeline Jorden

6. Far from typical ranch fare, the food alone is worth the trip. A bounty of fresh local produce, ranch-raised meats, home baked breads, and heavenly desserts are thoughtfully prepared each day by the ranch’s excellent dining staff. While we take our lunch to-go, breakfast and dinner are a feast in the lodge’s great dining room, surrounded by panoramic windows. From our morning coffee to our evening cocktail, we admire browsing Mule Deer and follow the sun as it rises over the Sangre de Cristos and sets over the San Juan range.

Wild Bison pasture on the Zapata Ranch by Chris Haag

7. Of course, the ranch itself is the main attraction! With Great Sand Dunes National Park as our backdrop, it is magical walking out among the rabbitbrush and greasewood and see and hear specially adapted birds like Sagebrush Sparrow and Sage Thrasher, or to witness the ranch’s wild Bison herd and their spring calves as they wallow and bellow in the summer sun. Making the sprawling, magnificent ranch our home for the week is certainly the cherry on top of our unforgettable Colorado birding tour. 

Take a look at some of our recent blog posts!

Bucket List Birding in Papua New Guinea

Naturalist Journeys returns to PNG this July for a Papua New Guinea birding tour, and we couldn’t be more excited! Take a look at some of our favorite Birds-of-Paradise that are a must see on this trip.

Papua New Guinea Birding Tour
Kawari Lodge, courtesy of the lodge

Of the 43 known species of Bird-of-Paradise, a whopping 38 of those can be found in Papua New Guinea; brought to light most recently through the Bird-of-Paradise project by Cornell University.

This 14-Day/13-Night Papua New Guinea birding tour with guide Ben Blewitt is set to be a truly exceptional experience, full of once-in-a-lifetime birding opportunities.

Find out which Birds-of-Paradise we are most excited on our Papua New Guinea birding tour below.

Papua New Guinea Birding Tour
Blue Bird-of-Paradise courtesy of Shutterstock

Blue Bird-of-Paradise
The Blue Bird-of-Paradise is one of the largest bird-of-paradise species, boasting striking blue wings. During courtship, the male hangs from a branch upside down, and spreads his plume displaying its beautiful violet blue color.

Papua New Guinea Birding Tour
Lawes’s Parotia courtesy of Shutterstock

Lawes’s Parotia
Male Lawes’s Parotia woo females by spreading their feathers like a tutu, and the shimmering spot on their breast reflects sunlight for a beautiful display. Just look at those antenna-like feathers!

Papua New Guinea Birding Tour
Lesser Bird-of-Paradise courtesy of Shutterstock

Lesser Bird-of-Paradise
Not to be confused with the Greater Bird-of-Paradise, the Lesser Bird-of-Paradise is a vocal beauty with plumes to match!

Papua New Guinea Birding Tour
Magnificent Riflebird courtesy of Shutterstock

Magnificent Riflebird
The Magnificent Riflebird has a distinct call that sounds very much like the wolf whistle used by humans. A large bird, with large vocals and an impressive arched-wing display.

Papua New Guinea Birding Tour
Reggiana Bird-of-Paradise courtesy of Shutterstock

Raggiana Bird-of-Paradise
Big, bright, and beautiful! The male attempts to outperform other males when attracting females. As a result it will perform a peculiar dance, in which it raises its wings and shakes its head to gather enough attention to impress.

Papua New Guinea Birding Tour
Twelve-wired Bird-of-Paradise courtesy of Shutterstock

Twelve-wired Bird-of-Paradise
It takes 7 years for a male Twelve-wired Bird-of-Paradise to develop its full plumage—totally worth it. The twelve wires are used in courtship displays, brushing them in a female’s face!

Bonus Birds!

Two bird species that are certainly a favorite on the Papua New Guinea birding tour.

Papua New Guinea Birding Tour
Northern Cassowary courtesy of Shutterstock

Northern Cassowary
With its distinct Casque on the top of the head, the Northern Cassowary is a large, flightless bird, that can reach ground speeds of nearly 30 miles per hour.

Papua New Guinea Birding Tour
Palm Cockatoo courtesy of Shutterstock

Palm Cockatoo
The drumming bird! Male Palm Cockatoos break off sticks from branches and perform a drumming motion to impress females. After drumming, it will strip down the tool into small pieces for the nest.


Naturalist Journeys‘ guide Ben Blewitt is leading our return tour to Papua New Guinea this July. Find all the details for our Papua New Guinea: Bucket List Birding tour, June 29 – July 12, 2020 here. Priced at $9350 per person, based on double occupancy.

REGISTER FOR THIS TRIP

Read the full itinerary here.

Explore the Sky Islands on our winter Southeast Arizona Birding Tour

Look no further than the breathtaking mountains on this Southeast Arizona birding tour for a New Year getaway—so good we have two trips in January with popular guide, Bob Meinke.

A January Southeast Arizona birding tour is a fascinating experience. Enjoy warmer weather (fingers crossed!) and the fascinating birds and wildlife of the Arizona Sky Islands.

Highlights from our Southeast Arizona Birding Tour

We enjoy plenty of opportunities to marvel at many wintering species of warblers, raptors, and sparrows, as well as tens of thousands of Sandhill Cranes that call Southeast Arizona home for the winter. See Vesper, Grasshopper, and Baird’s Sparrows, as well as Horned Lark, and possibly Longspurs as they enjoy these productive wintering grounds. Raptors are also a highlight in the Sulphur Springs Valley.

There are an abundance of trails for exploring paired with gazing views of the sky islands in the sea of desert. Popular hotspots like Ramsey and Miller Canyons, Ash Canyon, and the San Pedro River are on the agenda for those keen. Choose to do as much or as little as you like—simple!

5 of Our Favorite Birds on this Southeast Arizona Birding Tour

Montezuma Quail

  • The Montezuma Quail is super interesting in its behavior! It will wait till the very last minute when it feels threatened, and bursts into flight if danger comes too close for comfort! It can leap around 2 meters straight up, even with clipped wings!

Vermilion FlycatcherSoutheast Arizona Birding Tour

  • A unique flycatcher in the sense that it spends most of the time (around 90%) perching conspicuously, making moves mostly to catch its prey! A must-see bird in the Southwest area of the United States!

Broad-billed HummingbirdSoutheast Arizona Birding Tour

  • The  Broad-billed Hummingbird cannot walk or hop just like other hummingbirds, but can definitely dance! It shows a courtship display by hovering in repeated arcs, roughly 12 inches above the female!

Olive WarblerSoutheast Arizona Birding Tour

  • The Olive Warbler loves open pine forests and the mountains – perfect for this tour! Male Olive Warblers take around 2 years to establish the orange hood of an adult!

Painted RedstartSoutheast Arizona Birding Tour

  • An interesting tactic that the Redstart uses to gather its meal – flashing its white wing patches and outer tail feathers as an element of surprise!

Read more about Arizona’s signature birds on a past blog post.

Southeast Arizona Birding Tour Bonus Bird: Sandhill Crane

The Sandhill Cranes that winter here number in the tens of thousands. We watch them as they feed in ponds and fields during the day.  We make special time to see them fly into roost for the night—a real spectacle! 

Hotel Highlight

Our tour is based out of the lovely Casa de San Pedro, our favorite, most comfy place to stay for a Southeast Arizona birding tour. Grab yourself a slice (or 2!) of the famous homemade pie.

Ready to Join Our Southeast Arizona birding tour?

Naturalist Journeys’ 2020 Southeast Arizona birding tours run January 4 – 10 and January 11 – 17. The guide for both tours is Bob Meinke. Prices start from $2590; airport is Tucson International (TUS). Email us today at travel@naturalistjourneys.com to reserve your space on one of these Southeast Arizona birding tours.

Photo Credits:

Sandhill Cranes, Hugh Simmons (HUSI); Montezuma Quail, Mary Mcsparen (MAMC); Vermilion Flycatcher, Woody Wheeler (WOWE); Broad-billed Hummingbird, HUSI; Olive Warbler, Peg Abbott (PEAB); Painted Redstart, HUSI.

5 Reminders that Migration is Amazing

Don’t miss Naturalist Journeys’ 5 favorite spring migration trips.

Migration is fascinating! The mass movement of songbirds crossing our hemisphere each spring and fall is the best reminder that nature is amazing. So, take a break and join us to witness the wonders of the natural world.

Continue reading 5 Reminders that Migration is Amazing