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A Bird Celebration REVOLUTION is Happening Right Now in the Amazon

Fostering a love of birds through education in the Amazon, CONAPAC is increasing environmental awareness and jump-starting a birding revolution in Peru.

By Brian Landever

More than 1000 students from 26 remote Amazon rainforest communities gathered this September to participate in the first-ever bird festivals in the Peruvian department of Loreto. They awoke early, traveled to neighboring communities along the Amazon rivers, and spent the days presenting elaborate performances related to bird conservation and discussing the impact of birding in their communities.

Activities celebrating birds and birding have gained momentum since 2017, and a revolution is building. It’s a celebrative kind, raising spirits and enhancing the cultural arts.  Children are showing excitement for the natural world, and their parents are following suit.  It’s in good time; Peru has been listed as the world’s best country for bird watching, and is second worldwide for most species of birds registered. Most importantly, these activities are showing concrete increases in bird conservation.

The people in this region are strong, accustomed to the intense Amazon sun, and mainly fish and grow crops for sustenance. Children and adults cheerfully play sports every afternoon, and couples help one another with fishing. Their music with flutes, drums, and rattles, their regional dances related to animals, and their stories about the meanings behind bird encounters are just a few aspects of the people’s rich culture. Their homes may not have electricity or running water, and are over 100 kilometers from the closest city, but the warmth and comfort they have amongst one another in communities makes international visitors appreciate coming here.

Although many visitors return frequently, until recently, the forest was not commonly explored for leisure; entering only when hunting was the priority. That’s all changing now. Now, there’s a greater awareness of how the birds are important to the environment, developing the people’s pride for their home.

Education is key

Thousands of K-12 students became involved in this movement over the past several years. Their teachers are leading outdoor, project-based classes to inform them of the region’s bird species’ habitat, behavior, nesting, diet, cultural stories, and more. And their new curriculum is paying off.

During these festivals, students share what they are learning in unique ways. Some students perform activist theatre, portraying stories of birds fighting to retake their habitat after being encroached upon. Other students draw finely detailed portraits of the birds with masterful skill, and still others have crafted replica bird nests to explore nest functions. One high school senior rapped about birds’ beauty and the tragedy of losing them. Another 14-year-old young woman’s dramatic poetry about respecting birds in nature left watchers teary-eyed. Groups of younger students were happy to be included too, sharing well-practiced songs about birds’ beauty. One mother even rose to share an unsolicited folk song about the Blue-gray Tanager.

The impact of this is visible. Children are heard stopping their classmates from killing birds, and their parents report no longer hunting birds in unsustainable ways.  

Behind these activities are 250 dedicated teachers, Peruvian NGO CONAPAC, led by Brian Landever, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (CLO), represented by Karen A. Purcell and Marilu López Fretts. They have been co-creating training workshops each year since 2017, resulting in dozens of dynamic lesson plans, materials, communication methods, and culturally embedded evaluations all focused on keeping enthusiasm strong.

Building a revolution

In 2017, the first ornithology training workshop was held for teachers from these rural communities. Karen A. Purcell and the “Celebrate Birds” citizen science team began co-developing materials, and soon launched an engaging, fun, culturally sensitive educational program focused on bird conservation.

In 2018, teachers began notably increasing their involvement following bi-monthly meetings with the CLO team. The large WhatsApp group began to receive hundreds of photos posted weekly by the teachers, excited to share their progress, in turn motivating one another.

In early 2019, there was no doubt that the program had matured when students presented unsolicited, elaborate skits and dances related to bird conservation during CONAPAC’s visits to their communities. Thousands of photos of class developments began to fill the WhatsApp group monthly, and the program supporters, JBQ Charitable Foundation and the Amazon Binocular Project, have stated they could not have used their donations in a better manner.

When the last workshop was held in June 2019, at Explorama’s lodges, located on the Amazon and Napo rivers, the teachers themselves opened the event. They had prepared creative songs, photo-realistic sketches of birds, and enthusiastic presentations of what they had accomplished to date with their students. The entire week was festive, productive, and further prepared the teachers with strong class curriculum. CONAPAC’s footage of these classes on its YouTube channel effectively capture the enthusiasm of these events.

In turn, the students are receiving motivated class sessions and can see that they have become part of something that is expanding, and being appreciated worldwide. The culmination of this, five bird festivals that took place in September, has surpassed everyone’s expectations.

Moving forward

During these festivals, the perspectives of local people were inquired into more closely in open conversations following each morning’s presentations. Discussions amongst parents, community authorities, students, and teachers with CLO are building an understanding of the movement’s impact on people’s lives and environment.

New, exciting initiatives were also shared during the festivals, including long trails, or “senderos,” complete with benches and gazebos, built by parents for children to birdwatch in the forest, building their understanding of how birds live in nature.

Right now, thorough, co-created program evaluations are being led by CLO to analyze the progress being made. The classes continue regularly, and bird clubs are meeting regularly amongst the most interested students from each community. Eight birdwatching trails have been developed, and more are being planned. The first community-led bird festival in Loreto was held on October 30th, 2019, uniting 11 communities and 600 people, leading to a press report.

The potential for this program to have a positive environmental and social impact is clear. As it gains more attention in Peru and internationally, it will add momentum to the global movement to respect and conserve the Amazon rainforest. For bird appreciators, incorporating ongoing citizen science data from students and community members will expand the database of birds from this region on Cornell’s eBird.com. If the Peruvian board of education replicates the training and materials in other areas of Peru, the impact would multiply tremendously, further fueling the country’s strong efforts to be a prime tourist destination. If more bird festivals occur, celebrating birds could become a proud new tradition.

Nonetheless, what has happened over the past three years has given unforgettable, enjoyable memories to thousands of children in Peru, empowering them with activities that contribute to the wellness of the Amazon rainforest and the planet overall.

Brian Landever is Director of Conapac, devoted to conservation and community development, in Iquitos, Peru.

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Winners of the Birds of South America Photo Contest

From this July to the end of September, birdseye.photo was flooded with hundreds of beautiful photos of birds endemic to South America for our summer photo contest. We got dozens of parrots, tanagers, gulls, owls, ducks, woodpeckers, hummingbirds, hawks, herons, and so many more! It was extremely difficult to pick just three winners, but here we are.

The BirdsEye team collected our ten favorite photos, then consulted professional photographers to choose the final three.

Here, along with a short story about each photo, are the winners.

FIRST PLACE
Debbie Reynolds, Sunbittern

Sunbittern (Eurypyga helias). Photo by Debbie Reynolds.

Debbie’s story: “I love “shooting” birds, and just happened to be going to the Pantanal in September, saw your email asking for shots of South American Birds, and thought I would send you a few of my favorites. 

 “This photo was taken on the Cuiabá River, where we stayed at the end of the Transpantaneira Highway at the Hotel Pantanal Norte.  We were riding in an 8 person boat up and down the river, looking for birds and mammals, and spotted this Sunbittern on a sandbar, just getting ready to take off.  

“The boat was bouncing around, but I managed to lock my camera onto the bird before it took off, and it happened to fly right in front of the boat.  I was using my Canon EOS 5D Mark IV camera, with a 400 MM lens.  F/5.6 and ISO 640.”

SECOND PLACE
Alexandre Gualhanone, Yellow-fronted Woodpecker

Yellow-fronted Woodpecker (Melanerpes flavifrons). Photo by Alexandre Gualhanone.

Alexandre’s story: “This photo was taken on a trip to the Tucanos Trail in the city of Tapiraí, State of San Pablo, Brazil, in the company of great friends, also birdwatchers. The bird was approaching a feeder for food.

“The Tucanos Trail is one of the hotspot of the State of São Paulo. It has over 300 species of birds recorded on its self-guided trails, feeders and drinkers.”

This photo was taken with a Canon EOS 7D Mark II, Canon EF 100-400mm f / 4.5-5.6L IS USM lens, exposure time: 1/50, aperture: f / 5.6, ISO: 500, distance: 148.0 mm.

You can find Alexandre and his beautiful photos on Instagram @gualhanonebirdwatching

THIRD PLACE
Bonnie Flamer, Hyacinth Macaw

Hyacinth Macaws (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus). Photo by Bonnie Flamer.

Bonnie’s story: “I was able to witness these gorgeous Hyacinth Macaws at Porto Joffre in the central portion of the Mato Grosso, Pantanal, Brazil. I was with a photo group that was there for birding and Jaguars. We took a tour around the property for birds before we were to go out in boats to see the wildlife on the rivers and channels in the area.

“As we were coming to the end of our tour we saw this pair of Macaws playing at the top of a palm tree. They played for a very long time and I and my group were able to take many photos. We were also lucky to get the Ipy trees in the background as they only bloom their pink blossoms for 5 days out of the year and the contrast of the blue macaws and the pink in the background made the photos.

“I used a Nikon 7100 with an 80-400mm lens, at 1/800 and f6.3.”

Congrats to our winners, and thank you to everyone who participated! – The BirdsEye Team

Note: Special winners, who were among the first 25 to submit quality photos of species on our “need these birds” list, will be announced soon!

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Luke Tiller has his eye on raptors

October Birder of the Month
By Amanda Grennell

Hawk expert Luke Tiller.

For Luke Tiller, lifelong outdoor enthusiast, self-taught hawk expert and tour guide, and environmental consultant, watching birds is all about their behavior.

“I like leading tours where it’s not just chasing some rare bird, but there’s some kind of spectacle,” said Luke. “I want to see something amazing that kind of knocks your socks off.”

Like many birders, Luke took a circuitous path to birding. After growing up in London and earning a degree in Philosophy, Luke found his way through various nonprofits to a management and marketing job with Connecticut Audubon. That’s how Luke discovered his love for raptors – which he describes as an “acceptable gateway” to birding.

“They’re big, they’re voracious. If you have a bald eagle flying over your head it seems to have more of an immediate impact on people,” said Luke.

Changeable Hawk-Eagle (Nisaetus cirrhatus). Photo: Luke Tiller.

When he got sick of working in offices, Luke found a way to make a living outdoors by running hawk watches on the East Coast and the Great Lakes, running the “Soaring Bird Surveys” in Israel, and guiding tours on major raptor migration routes. According to Luke there’s no magic or secret to becoming an expert in raptors – it’s comes just from watching them for a long time. After more than 15 years of focusing on raptors, Luke has definitely earned his expertise.

Unlike songbirds, raptors migrate during the day – so you can actually watch migration happening in real time. In the Americas, birds like the Swainson’s Hawk, the Broad-winged Hawk, and the Turkey Vulture migrate from the Northern continent to Central and South America in the fall (August to October), and back again in the spring (March to May). A similar migration pattern happens from Europe and Asia to Africa, for other raptor species.

Swainson’s Hawk (Buteo swainsoni). Photo: Luke Tiller.

Because raptors don’t usually migrate over the ocean, the land’s geography forces them to funnel through chokepoints – leading to a phenomenal number of birds in the sky.

“I’ve been in Panama when we’ve had had one million birds migrate in one day,” said Luke. “The sky gets blackened with birds.”

And what exactly keeps these powerful birds away from the water? The absence of thermals to keep them aloft. Instead of wasting energy on flapping, most raptors spend their time simply gliding from one thermal to the next. Flying distances of up to 7,000 miles, which the Swainson’s Hawk accomplishes every year, they need to be as efficient as possible. But above the massive heat sink that is the ocean, thermals don’t usually form.

Ferruginous Hawk (Buteo regalis). Photo: Luke Tiller.

In fact, Luke points out, seabirds can be quite dangerous for a raptor that ventures too far from shore. To cross between North Africa and Spain, raptors will get as high as they can above land and then coast over the Straight of Gibraltar. But sometimes they don’t make it.

“They are a fish out of water on the ocean. Gulls will force them out of the air and down to the water and drown them and eat them. And gulls don’t have talons like raptors, so they just rip them apart. It’s kind of gross.”

Some raptors, like Peregrine Falcons and Ospreys, are more adapted to life on the water, and consequently are built for lots of flapping, rather than gliding.

Apart from these natural chokepoints, raptors congregate in other places as well. The Amur Falcon, Luke says, migrate from Siberia and Korea to South Africa along the Doyang river. Before making the 3,000 mile journey over the Arabian Sea, they stop at a hydroelectric dam in Nagaland, a northeastern state in India, hundreds of thousands of birds at a time. Luke was lucky enough to guide the first commercial tour to see this gathering.

Adult female (bottom left) and male (top right) Amur Falcons (Falco amurensis). Photo: Richard Lowe.

The tour was motivated by a remarkable story: with fishing stock decimated by the dam, the local people turned to the Amur Falcons as a food source, repurposing fishing nets to catch the birds. During the huge migration event, they were caught by the thousands, and within a couple years the decline in population was noticed at their wintering grounds. But when Bano Haralu, a local journalist and conservationist, uncovered the source of the population decline, multiple organizations stepped in to protect the birds. They explained the problem to the villagers subsisting on the falcons, who then decided to stop hunting the birds and invest in tourism instead.

As a keystone species, the Amur Falcons’ story is not just about the birds, it’s about the ecosystems that depend on them. With the help of the government, forest service, NGOs and local communities, zero Amur Falcons are captured or killed in northeast India now – a resounding success for the environment.

Luke is fond of many environmental success stories with raptors, citing it as another reason to enjoy hawk watching. Bald Eagles, for example, were down to 500 breeding pairs in the 1960s. But after reducing the use of DDT, their numbers have soared past ten thousand pairs. Reduction of pesticides, along with a captive-bred release program also allowed Peregrine Falcons to recover.

“When you are talking about the environment many stories are depressing. I think it is important to share stories of success, especially when the problems are usually manmade,” said Luke.

Though he’s reluctant to pick a favorite – “Favorite birds are whatever you can think of when you get asked that question, and they change often,” – Luke said his current favorite is the Harpy Eagle.

Immature Harpy Eagle Harpia harpyja). Photo: Peter Boesman.

The national bird of Panama, the Harpy Eagle is endemic to South and Central America, living in pristine forest habitat. Because of this, they can be somewhat hard to find. Luke puts a sighting between uncommon and rare. But, if you know the location of a Harpy nest, chances are good, as their chicks stay around for up to a year. Luke had the great fortune to travel to a Harpy nest in Panama a couple years ago.

“We had an hour drive, a two hour boat ride, about an hour and a half hike through the jungle where it was 90 degrees and 100 percent humidity. But it was all worth it when we finally got to the nest. Here was this baby Harpy and the mother sitting together. It was pretty amazing,” said Luke. “That’s why I like hawk watching and migration. You go to interesting places and you see this incredible spectacle.”

Luke Tiller with a tour group in Panama.

If you’d like to learn more about hawk migration in the U.S. check out the Hawk Migration Association of North America. You can also find hawk watch site near you on Hawk Count, which maintains a database of bird counts at over 300 sites across North America.

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August Birder of the Month: Rene Valdes

Birding and Conservation in Mexico with Rene Valdes
By Amanda Grennell

Rene Valdes: field ornithologist, conservation consultant, photographer, and birder extraordinaire. Photo: Antonio Hidalgo

One thousand. That’s how many birds in Mexico Rene Valdes aims to identify before he turns forty. He’s got two more years and only 31 species to go — and after learning that Rene basically lives and breathes birding, we won’t be surprised when he hits his goal.

How did Rene get into birding? In high school he volunteered to develop nature trails in an estuary preserve in Mazatlán. The lead on the project, a birder from the Netherlands, lent Rene his binoculars and challenged him to find “Woody Woodpecker” out on the estuary. That first bird, actually a
Pale-billed Woodpecker, got Rene hooked — soon he was identifying all the birds in his hometown, and a little later began photographing birds. Little did he know that there are about 1,100 bird species native to Mexico.

Pale-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus guatemalensis). Photo: Rene Valdes

In college, Rene chose to study biology, but specialized in ornithology by joining in research projects, sometimes at other universities, to study birds and conservation. At one point he put his formal studies on pause to spend four months in Peru, studying parrots in the Amazon. That experience led him to research parrot conservation in Northeast Mexico for ten years after graduating college.

Maroon-fronted Parrot (Rhynchopsitta terrisi). Photo: Rene Valdes

During this time, Rene focused on the Maroon-fronted Parrot, an endemic species to Mexico that is endangered. While living and studying in Northeast Mexico, Rene started guiding in his free time. He just couldn’t get enough of birds. He started leading tours in Mazatlán and the Pacific Coast, but branched out to new spots he learned about from his personal birding trips — Chiapas, the Yucatan Peninsula, and Monterrey, where Rene now lives. “Chiapas is one of my favorite places,” Rene said.

One of Rene’s many guided tours. Photo: Rene Valdes

In 2011 Rene stopped doing academic research, switching to consulting with private companies. But he’s always watching birds, and studying their behavior for fun. “Last year I was studying a nesting colony of terns and gulls,” Rene said. Now he works with wind farm companies to do bird surveys on the Yucatan Peninsula to better understand how building windmills will affect bird populations. His studies aim to minimize the effects of wind farms on birds.

For the past six years, Rene has also guided tours for the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, which focuses on birds living along the border. It’s a huge affair with almost 100 guides — well worth checking out if you want to add more than 30 new birds to your life list. (This year’s festival is Nov 6-10, so there’s still time to plan a trip!)

Another guided tour with Rene. Photo: Rene Valdes

Disclaimer: Rene also works for BirdsEye, developing content, uploading new content, approving photos on birdseye.photo, and coordinating citizen science projects. He’s worked on creating Birds of Ecuador, Birds of Peru, and Birds of New Guinea — some of our apps that streamline guidebooks into excellent smartphone apps. And he reviews eBird sightings for three states in Mexico.

Like many birders, Rene is also a photographer. I might be biased, but Rene’s photos are stunning. But he’s never had lessons or taken any classes. So how did he hone his skills? “It was just practice.” Rene said. “I made a lot of mistakes. I started with a film camera, so I learned from my mistakes and tried to fix them.” Rene did get help from a friend to jumpstart his editing skills in photoshop, but after that he says he learned by himself, again, through lots of practice.

You can view many of Rene’s best photos on his birdseye.photo page.

Rene’s favorite bird may not be what you expect. In a country filled with vibrant birds in a rainbow of colors, Rene’s pick is a simple black and white: the Tufted Jay. “Very endangered species, but it is beautiful. There are no more than 1,000 birds left in the wild. It is gorgeous,” Rene said. Rene’s favorite tours are to the Mexican states of Sinaloa and Durango, where groups of up to twenty Tufted Jays can be seen.

Tufted Jay (Cyanocorax dickeyi). Photo: Rene Valdes

Rene is also partial to the Horned Guan because of the effort required to find its territory. You have to hike 5-6 hours to the top of a cloud forest in Chiapas to reach one of the only places it is known to live.

Horned Guan (Oreophasis derbianus). Photo: Rene Valdes

It’s hard for Rene to pin down exactly why he loves birding. “It’s addictive actually,” Rene said. “I travel a lot in Mexico to find birds that I have never seen before.” His Mexico list sits at 969 bird species identified, though Rene says he’s only snapped photos of about 600-700 different species from Mexico. “Discovering a new bird that is awesome, colorful, just beautiful birds. That helps people get into birding,” Rene added.

“As I say to my friends, when you have very few birds left, it is very expensive to get them. You have to travel a lot for only one bird sometimes. The first 200 or 300 species are for free.” 

Even still, Rene saw five new birds on a recent trip off-shore of Baja. Yep, he’s going to have no problem getting to 1,000. Go Rene!

Rene loves birds, and they love him. Photo: Rene Valdes


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Taylor Páez is a Dirtbag Birder

643 bird species, 44 states, two trips across the country and back, one 2002 four-cylinder Ford Ranger  – all Taylor Páez needed to complete her Big Year on the road.

By Amanda Grennell

In 2017, Taylor Paez road-tripped her way across the United States, at times zig-zagging from one rare bird sighting to another. Her goal: complete a Big Year with 700 birds species identified. Photo credit: James Adam Taylor.

After seven months on the road, living out of her truck and tracking down as many bird species as possible in the lower 48 states, Taylor Páez was tired. It was November, and she’d already identified several hundred birds at wildlife refuges, parks, and landfills across the country. Almost all of them were new to her, outside the range of her native California. And now there were just a few rare birds left on Taylor’s list.

Based on a tip from fellow birders she’d met at the dump, Taylor drove to the National Butterfly Refuge in search of one of those rare sightings – the Audubon’s Oriole. She had already visited this popular birding spot earlier in the year, a beautiful swath of the Rio Grande valley nestled at the border of southern Texas and Mexico.

Amidst the butterflies, and the butterfly watchers, Taylor scoured the early morning landscape for her bird, but came up empty.

“By that point I had learned what Altamira Orioles sound like, so I could hear them chattering down the trail a little bit,” Taylor recalled. “I thought, maybe I’m not going to get the Audubon’s, and I guess that’s okay. I did try my best.”

About to leave as the afternoon heat took over, Taylor’s ears pricked up.

 “I heard this really beautiful, kind of sad Oriole call in the distance: a-choo-choo-choo,” Taylor said, “I had never heard an Audubon’s Oriole before in my entire life, but I knew this had to be it!”

Tip-toeing around a corner as quickly as she could, Taylor found the Audobon’s Oriole, a beautiful black and yellow bird, stealing from a basket of rotting fruit that’s technically there for the butterflies.

“I was so delighted. I didn’t expect to see it there, I didn’t know what it was going to sound like, but I was somehow right. It was a reaffirming moment for me,” Taylor said.

That affirmation gave Taylor the motivation to get through the last couple months, ending 2017 with a total of 643 bird species identified. She ended up ranking 8th on eBird, the site where most Big Year “competitors” track their sightings.

Taylor’s sighting of the Audubon’s Oriole at the National Butterfly Center. Taylor kept friends and family updated on her Big Year adventures via Instagram, @needsmorebirds.
Photo credit: Taylor Páez.

Taking on a Big Year

A Big Year is not a formal competition – there are no prizes, no trophies, no money, little fame. Instead, it is a challenge that birders take on to see as many bird species as possible in a certain area during a calendar year.  In February 2017, Taylor hit the road without much thought of the competition – just her own goal of finding 700 species in the lower 48 United States by New Year’s Eve. She was 26.

Before her Big Year, Taylor had what every Millennial craves– a decent job with benefits, a future where she could stay in one place, supportive friends and family, a good, comfortable life. But she also felt discontent brewing.

Taylor worked at a credit union, and between a frustrating work environment and the great big windows in her office, Taylor longed to be outdoors. In a moment of frustration one day, Taylor jokingly dreamed about quitting her job to live out of her truck and watch birds. But her joke stuck.

“I just couldn’t get it out of my head from that moment on. I was like ‘What’s stopping me?'” Taylor recalls.

Taylor started talking about her idea with friends, who she credits with giving her the confidence that she could actually do it. There wasn’t anything to stop her but herself – except the fear of telling her parents. But with the promise of daily phone calls, they were on board with Taylor’s dream.

So Taylor saved money and planned how to live out of her truck – something easy to find online these days due to a surging movement to build out vehicles, like vans and trucks, into livable spaces. Taylor bought a shell, or canopy, so she could sleep in the bed of her truck and store lots of gear. She started looking at blogs about living out of her truck, and was inspired by the lifestyle of “dirtbag” rock climbers, who pioneered the idea of taking time off to do something you love, while also living a low-cost life on the road.

“I met a couple of climbers who were dirtbags,” Taylor said, “And I thought I could do that, but I really like watching birds. So why don’t I just be a dirtbag birder?”

The benefits of dirtbag birding: excellent vantage point. Featuring Taylor’s Ford Ranger, the truck she lived out of for 10 months. Photo credit: Taylor Páez.

Dirtbag life

In January 2017, Taylor committed to becoming a dirtbag birder: she put in one month’s notice at work and began final preparations to live on the road in search of birds she’d never seen before, in places she’d never been.

One issue we can’t get around is, of course, safety. Though Taylor met many other young women travelling alone, she fielded lots of questions from concerned strangers about the dangers of a woman doing something completely by herself. But Taylor said her top safety issues were the weather and the prospect of meeting a mountain lion — only rarely did other people make her feel unsafe.

“You should be prepared. You should always be mindful. But we don’t have to live every day in a state of panic that someone is going to attack us,” Taylor said.

Just like anyone else adventuring outdoors alone, Taylor made sure someone else knew her plans. She told her parents where she would be, and for how long, usually checking-in with them every morning and again in the evening. Her mom looked up her location using the “Find my Friends” app, which sometimes lead to confusion when Taylor spent a few days at sea.

Taylor’s route was a road trip of epic proportions. Starting in Northern California, Taylor looped down South through Arizona, Southern Texas, around the Gulf of Mexico, then sped North to New Hampshire and Maine. She then hit New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Michigan and the upper peninsula, and Wisconsin. Next up was back to the West: Colorado, the Great Plains, Washington, and back to home base in California.

Getting a taste of home made it tough for Taylor to get back on the road. It was July, about five months into Taylor’s experiment with dirtbag birding. But after a month-long break Taylor pressed on, into the “zig-zag” phase of her Big Year – Southern California, Montana, Arizona, a boating trip off the coast of Maine, New Jersey, Ohio, Minnesota, Nebraska, Mississippi, Texas, and finally back to California to finish the year.

“Toward the end of the year it gets pretty crazy because it’s less about the common birds and more about the rare ones,” Taylor said, explaining her zig-zag pattern.

A beloved birding spot threatened with destruction

After her sweeping survey of the country, Taylor has a tough time picking just one favorite locale — the country is filled with amazing biodiversity, and she loves it all. But if she has to answer, Taylor picks the subtropical region of Southern Texas.

In one day at the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge she identified 35 new birds — the most she ever checked off at once. But plans for a border wall, intended to curb illegal immigration, could destroy the habitat that allows wildlife to flourish.

While funding for construction through Santa Ana, the National Butterfly Center, and Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park has not been passed, conservation leaders are still concerned.

“All bets are off,” says Marianna Treviño-Wright, the Butterfly center’s executive director told Audubon Magazine. “The heavy equipment is literally next door.”

Taylor recalls fondly several birds she saw for the first time in South Texas: Roseate Spoonbills, Green Jays, Kiskadees, and of course, the Audubon’s Oriole.

“It’s such a treasure that I think a lot of Americans don’t know about or don’t understand. It would be just a devastating loss to bulldoze it,” Taylor said.

Taylor’s favorite birds

To bag as many birds as possible, Taylor relied upon sighting reported on eBird, Audubon Society listserves, and local birding groups on Facebook. Sometimes she’d even learn of rare bird sightings on Instagram, or word-of-mouth at popular birding spots.

Here are a few of Taylor’s favorite sightings.

Audubon’s Oriole, National Butterfly Center, Texas
“I probably cried at the Butterfly Center.”

Audubon’s Oriole. Photo credit: David Hollie.

Green Jay, Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge, Texas
“I remember looking at bird books at thinking I’m never going to see this bird. It’s just so beautiful and vibrant, I can’t believe this thing exists,” Taylor said. “But, like Crows and Ravens and Blue Jays are on the East Coast, they are just everywhere and they are obnoxious.”

Green Jay. Photo credit: Dan Tallman.

Roseate Spoonbill, Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge, Texas

Roseate Spoonbill. Photo credit: JC Knoll.

Common Greenshank, Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, New Jersey
Taylor spent four days on the same 13-mile, one-way loop to spot this rare bird. An update on a birding message board before Taylor entered the refuge on her last morning pinpointed the bird at mile marker 4. “If you see a bunch of birders and they’re all looking in the same direction, that’s a really good sign.”

Common Greenshank. Photo credit: Richard Lowe.

Lessons from a Big Year or birding

After spending a year in the outdoors and nearly reaching her 700-bird goal, Taylor did not go back to a stable office job. Instead, she turned to opportunities in the natural world: working as a park naturalist and then on hummingbird surveys.

“I realized I not only wanted to be outside, but I wanted to make a positive impact on people. I want to bring accessibility to nature and the outdoors. We need it now more than ever,” Taylor said. “I never thought I would do what I did. Before that I played everything safe. I didn’t take risks, ever.”

Taylor’s next adventure is a 220 mile, 20-day through-hike on the John Muir Trail, which she’s planning with her best friend for this August. Such a long backpacking trip is a new challenge for Taylor, but after her Big Year, Taylor knows the risks are worth the payoff.

The view from Taylor’s truck-bed and home for ten months. Slab City, California.
Photo credit: Taylor Páez.

How Bird Watching Could Be Incredibly Beneficial for Your Mental Health

By Adelina Benson

There seems to be a mental health epidemic happening right now around the world. With Western populations averaging affected rates of around 18%, according to WHO, even higher when it comes to younger generations, many people are looking for treatments and ways to help manage the way they feel.

From mindfulness meditation to medication, there are many solutions out there, but we want to focus on a tried and true pastime—birdwatching!

Today, we’re going to explore the mental health benefits that birdwatching can have, detailing everything you need to know in the event you wanted to help yourself or a loved one. Let’s jump right into this!

Recent Studies Suggest:

Three combined studies carried out by the University of Exeter (UK), the British Trust for Ornithology (UK), and the University of Queensland (AUS), have discovered recently that people who are exposed to more natural environments have significantly fewer feelings of stress, depression, and anxiety.

The studies defined nature as “more birds, trees, and shrubs.” The studies included 270 people and contained a diverse range of people of all ages, ethnicities, and genders.

Using Birdwatching as a Remedy

Perhaps one of the most interesting results of the studies was the fact that even if people rated their depression/stress/anxiety levels high in the mornings, several hours of birdwatching were seen to consistently raise these feelings and helped people to feel much happier in themselves and the world around them.

What’s more, it didn’t matter what kind of birds were spotted; whether these were native birds or all different species and varieties or lots of the same species, the benefits seem to remain the same.

Nature and Mental Health

This study is interesting because so many people have long described the benefits that nature has on us as human beings, and how we are somehow connected on a mental, psychological, and sometimes even spiritual level; this research is another step in confirming it.

So many of us have refined ourselves to office tower blocks, flats and apartments, and metal box vehicles, meaning some of us might not have contact with nature for a prolonged amount of time; maybe even for several weeks.

While the study sample is small, these studies could partly explain why there is an increase in mental health conditions around the world, and why people seem to be becoming increasingly unwell.

Steps for the Future

If you find that you’re suffering from a mental health condition such as stress, anxiety, or depression, while it’s not recommended you cut out or stop taking any medication or treatments you’re currently using, it may be a good idea to get outside to see what kind of birds you can see.

Whether you’re simply investing in a bird feeder and setting it up in your back garden or you’re going for a walk in nature to see what you can see, the act is beneficial to your mind and body, even if you don’t see something.

You can do this in a nearby rural area or even in your local park or wildlife reserve. Once you become mindful of these natural areas, you’ll soon realize that birds and wildlife are present throughout society, even in built-up areas.

All you need to do is become mindful and watchful for their existence, and already you’ll start to see the benefits. Birdwatching is renowned for being a meditative exercise and can help nurture your connection with nature.

Instead of allowing your mind to run free on crazy tangents and mad thought patterns, which usually result in anxious or stressed out thoughts, allowing yourself to focus on something like looking for birds can help keep your mind present and those pesky thoughts at bay.

Of course, this is a practice that takes time to develop and nurture, but with regular practice and focus, you’ll be there in no time at all.

Adelina Benson is a lifestyle blogger and writer at PhDKingdom and Academicbrits. She develops mindfulness practices, edits and proofreads wellness articles. In her free time, she loves to blog to help people reach their full potential at OriginWritings.com.

Breaking the Big Day World Record in Ecuador

By Don Henise – Cabañas San Isidro scenery 2015-06-12, CC BY 2.0.

As the clock struck midnight on October 8th, 2015, four birders set out from Cabañas San Isidro, Ecuador, to try and set a birding world record. Specifically, they intended to break the record for most species identified in a single day—a Big Day.

Big Days are usually conducted under strict guidelines, and the Ecuador team followed the American Birding Association (ABA) rules. As such, their Big Day consisted of a single-team effort in which the primary objectives are “(1) to identify as many bird species as possible during a single calendar day and (2) to strive to have all team members observe and identify all species recorded.” To qualify as a Big Day Count, all counting must be conducted within a single 24-hour period, on a single calendar day. There are no guidelines on where the count can be performed.

The Ecuador team—Dušan Brinkhuizen, Rudy Gelis, Mitch Lysinger, and Tuomas Seimola, all professional bird guides—had long planned for their Big Day. Rudy had attempted a Big Day in southeastern Peru on foot only in the early 2000s with Patrick O’Donnell, and they fell short by well over 100 species. Dušan and Tuomas had dreamt of the chance of a Big Day in Ecuador for years.

Interview of Dusan Brinkhuizen from George Paul on Vimeo.

In the months leading up to the count, Rudy promoted the team with a GoFundMe page, raising money to support their efforts. During the week before the count, Dusan coordinated with Rudy and Tuomas to go birding every day from 3 am to 2 pm; Mitch showed up as a pinch hitter the day of the event. During their preparation, the team honed their bird identification techniques, went through the ABA rules with a fine-toothed comb, and planned their route in excruciating detail—every minute counts during a Big Day.

The team’s goal was simple: break the Big Day world record set by a group of scientists from Louisiana State University in 2014. The target? 355 species—in a single day.

The Big Day

A black-throated mango (Anthracothorax nigricollis) was among the 431 species identified during the 2015 Big Day count. Photo courtesy of Francesco Veronesi via BirdsEye.photo.

The team chose Ecuador for their Big Day location for two reasons. First, they all love the country and have extensively documented birds there for many years. Second, and most importantly, was Ecuador’s incredible biodiversity. With coastal rainforests, the daunting spine of the Andes Mountains, and a vast Amazon forest in the east, Ecuador is home to a stunning elevation gradient and range of habitats.

The count kicked off looking for owls in the heart of Ecuador’s cloud forest, about a two-hour drive from Quito on the eastern slope of the Andes. By dawn (around 5 am), the team had driven into the Amazon, looking for birds wherever they could find them. Shortly after arriving in the Amazon, things really started to pick up with the onset of the dawn chorus. By this time, the team was on the Napo River, detecting species left and right, by sight and sound.

Eventually, the birders returned to the cloud forest and continued to the high Andes. Near sun-down, Dušan, the official recorder, knew they had already bested the record (with over 380 species already on their list), but he kept this secret from his teammates to keep everyone’s energy high for the day’s final big jump: a short flight to the coast.

Most teams complete a Big Day using only a car while others avoid motors and only use canoes, bicycles, and their feet. There are no rules against flying, however, and the team used that to their advantage. That evening, after catching a commercial flight in Quito, the team added another 39 birds from a wetland near salt flats on the Pacific coast.

The Final Count

White-throated toucan (Ramphastos tucanus). Photo courtesy of Kevin Berkoff via BirdsEye.photo.

By the end of the Big Day, the Ecuador team had identified 431 countable species of birds. The total shattered the previous record by more than 70 species. Of the 431 species identified, 305 (70.8%) were seen, 126 (29.2%) were heard-only, and 415 (96.3%) were observed by all four team members.

In total, the team covered 239 miles (385 kilometers) by car and 233 miles (375 kilometers) by plane. They traversed 12,960 vertical feet (3,950 meters).

“It was brutal,” Rudy recalled. “Over-the-top energy, crazy adrenaline. It was a frenzied mix of jogging, running, walking, driving, all while visually searching and listening intently for 24 hours.”

Interview of Rudy Gelis from George Paul on Vimeo.

Big Day Advice

If you’re planning on doing a Big Day this year or in the future, here are some of Rudy Gelis’ tips for success.

  • Don’t eat much, just snack.
  • Know where things are sleeping so you can find them when they wake up.
  • Determine what time of year has the highest diversity for your locale. When you do, pinpoint the date with the highest probability for shorebirds and warblers.
  • Contact someone in one of the ornithological societies and enlist their help (eBird, Audubon Society, etc.).
  • Try to include young folks however you can.
  • Be honest: If you make things up, you’ll get burned. Remember that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
  • Don’t compare yourself to the global Big Day efforts. Test yourself locally.
  • Think about the weather and thermals to get soaring raptors and think through when owls are vocalizing.
  • Make it fun as well as challenging. Whether that is traveling without motors—Ted Parker and Scott Robinson accomplished the incredible feat of observing 331 species in a single day by foot and canoe—or testing yourself in new habitats, use the opportunity to push yourself.

More Resources

Ecuador Big Day data report

eBird Global Big Day

ABA Big Day Count Rules

Interview with Dušan Brinkhuizen

Interview with Rudy Gelis

The Lost Tinamou

This month we’re spotlighting a birder who’s doing wonderful things for bird conservation in Central America. Heidi Pasch de Viteri, born and raised in Guatemala, manages The Lost Tinamou, a nature preserve that takes up one-third of her family’s farm, Finca La Gracia.

Located on the Pacific slope of Guatemala, The Lost Tinamou sits on what was once a coffee plantation.  This land was set aside for conservation thirty years ago by her husband, Pedro Viteri.  The preserve is now a humid secondary growth forest that experiences both rainy and dry seasons throughout the year.  It’s nestled among the rubber tree copses, hay fields, and grazing dairy cattle of Finca La Gracia, and surrounded by the pineapple and sugarcane fields of neighboring farms.

Because of Heidi and Pedro’s efforts, the preserve has become an oasis for a wide variety of wild animals amidst many hundreds of surrounding acres of sugar cane plantations that blanket the countryside. And the birds? They’ve flocked to the Lost Tinamou for refuge during migration, nesting during mating season, and even year-round roosting. 

Birders can visit Lost Tinamou by making reservations for a day visit. The preserve offers visitors spectacular looks at birds that are otherwise hard to get in the area. Plumbeous kites, groove-billed anis, numerous orioles, and white-throated magpie jays have all been discovered nesting on the property. Yellow-naped parrots roost in the trees at night. Ferruginous pygmy-owls call out, and Bat falcons and lesser nighthawks put on excellent aerial-acrobatic shows as they glean the nearby fields for meals at dusk. Colorful birds, like turquoise-browed motmots, rose-throated becards, long-tailed manakins, green-breasted mangos, masked tityras, green shrike-vireos, and gartered trogons (among many others) paint the forest. And after nightfall, northern potoos and mottled owls can be heard calling across the reserve. To check out a complete list of the ever-growing number of species sighted at the Lost Tinamou, check out the Finca La Gracia eBird hotspot and checklists.

If you’re visiting Guatemala and looking for a unique birding experience hosted by a genuine lover of birds and conservation, visiting Heidi at the Lost Tinamou is just for you. For more information, please see the Lost Tinamou Facebook page.

A few birds mentioned in this post:

Snapping My Dream Shot

By Shiva Kumar

My passion for photography grew to extreme levels when I moved to the forest. I knew right away that I wanted to live my life as a full-time nature photographer. Nature photography is an art, but it is also about education: An image graphically captures a decisive moment in time and helps explain the world in which we live. I want to tell a story with my pictures to help preserve the wonders of the natural world—I feel blessed by nature when I get my dream shots.

I captured one of my dream shots recently when I found an Indian peafowl (Pavo cristatus), the Indian National Bird, at Osman Sagar, a lake in the Indian city of Hyderabad. I was working during the golden hours—early morning around sunrise—and was wondering if I could capture a picture of the dawn. Then I saw the peafowl. I was mesmerized and captured this shot. The photograph tells a story of how a bird interacts with its natural surroundings. And shortly after that, nearly 150 of the birds settled at this sacred place!

Shiva Kumar explains how he photographs birds and wildlife in India. He discusses how he captured his dream shot of an Indian peafowl (Pavo cristatus)

An Indian peafowl (Pavo cristatus) at Osman Sagar, a lake in Hyderabad, India, at sunrise.
(All photographs courtesy of Shiva Kumar)

Tips on Wildlife Photography

Knowing the habitat helps us understand the birds we see in them. Try and visit as many different habitats as you can. Forests, farmland, scrub, lakes, reed-beds, rivers, coasts—all have their own characteristic birds. The edges of fields, streams, and rivers are all excellent spots to see birds. The best time to see birds is sunrise to early morning, and then again in the mid and late afternoons; birds tend to rest during the day.

At places like lakes, we can observe birds throughout the day. While it is possible to watch birds at any time and any place, it is helpful to know when and where to look. When I shot the peafowl, most of the bird activity occurred in the opening and the edge of the forest near human habitation. Most of the species in the area were either insectivores or omnivores feeding mainly on the ground in open patches. The birds preferred the forest edge, which provided them with mixed habitats, open spaces to feed in, and suitable perching points to capture the aerial prey.  

When we think of bird photography, we think of tight-cropped, detailed pictures of birds. However, using silhouettes in wildlife photography can provide beautiful and artistic photos. Bird photos created using silhouette photography techniques can produce stunning images, especially at sunrise or sunset.

Shiva Kumar

Shiva Kumar is a professional wildlife photographer & Wikipedian from India. He uses innovation and technology to achieve fresh perspectives in his work and is passionate about wildlife conservation. You can follow Shiva on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Birding and Birdwatching Festivals and Events

From coast to coast and from Mexico to Canada, 2019 is filled with exciting birding festivals and events. We have compiled all that we could find for the year in the hopes that you can find an event near you to attend. Happy birding!

September 2019
October 2019
November 2019
December 2019

2020 Events
January 2020
February 2020
March 2020

SEPTEMBER 2019

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) by Josh Haas
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) by Josh Haas

20th Annual Hummingbird Migration and Nature Celebration
September 6-8, 2019  Strawberry Plains Audubon Center, Holly Springs, Mississippi

Join us for the Hummingbird Migration and Nature Celebration, one of the Southeast’s biggest nature festivals. Highlights include renowned guest speakers, guided nature walks, live animal shows, kids activity zone, wagon rides, nature-themed arts & crafts vendors, native plant sale, and up-close views of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds being banded and released!

Puget Sound Bird Fest
September 13-15, 2019 — Frances Anderson Center, Edmonds, Washington

This acclaimed three-day event includes keynote speakers, guided walks, land and water-based field trips, exhibits, and educational activities for children and adults. Plan to spend the weekend in Edmonds, birding and meeting other birders, naturalists, photographers, and people engaged in fascinating bird research projects.

6th Annual Seatuck Long Island Birding Challenge
September 14, 2019 Long Island, New York

Join Long Island’s only island-wide birding competition to help promote bird watching, wildlife conservation, and open space preservation across the region. The event is open to all levels of experience, from expert birders to complete novices. Bird anywhere on Long Island (including Brooklyn & Queens). Register as a team or join one of ours (family and student categories available). Checklist submitted by 5 pm. All participants meet for dinner at the historic Scully Estate (5-8 pm), 550 Bay Avenue, Islip, New York. $50/person, $20/student. Fall migration promises large numbers of birds and a great diversity of species. The Birding Challenge generates critical funding for Seatuck’s conservation and education work, including efforts to protect bird habitat and important bird areas.

Princeton Whooping Crane Festival
September 14, 2019  Princeton Public School, Princeton, Wisconsin

Festival includes activities for all ages: Kids can paint birdhouses, have their faces painted, and learn about frogs, snakes, and other critters with the ever popular edutainer, David Stokes! Spend time in the artisan and vendor area to get a jump on holiday shopping! Enjoy a pancake breakfast in the cafeteria or lunch at one of the food vendors. Take in one or all of the speaker sessions.

Wings Over Willapa
September 27-29, 2019  Ilwaco, Washington

The festival celebrates Willapa National Wildlife Refuge with a day full of classes, workshops, guided tours and more. We’ll be birding by bike, barge and boat, creating feather raku pottery, learning about our local avian diversity, and hunting for animal tracks. Our tours will take you all over the Refuge and beyond. Whether you’re an experienced birder or just getting acquainted with the great outdoors, nature lovers of all ages are sure to find plenty to do.

OCTOBER 2019

Kailua-Kona, Hawaii
Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

Alabama Coastal Birdfest
October 2-5, 2019 — Bay Minette, Alabama

Join us Oct. 2 – 5 for the 16th annual Alabama Coastal BirdFest, a birding and nature festival, and experience many opportunities to see birds, alligators, wildflowers, dolphins, and other wildlife. And learn about their habitats! Plus, we will offer workshops at 5 Rivers Delta Center.

Bridger Raptor Festival
October 4-6, 2019 — Bozeman, Montana

The Bridger Raptor Festival is an annual event held in early October in and around Bozeman, Montana. The festival, which is free to the public, centers around the largest known Golden Eagle migration in the United States. Since 1991 a raptor migration count has taken place every fall at the Bridger Bowl ski area in the Gallatin National Forest just north of Bozeman. Festival activities center around raptor viewing and include nature walks and talks, educational and entertaining programs and activities for people of all ages.

BirdFest and Bluegrass Festival
October 4-5, 2019 — Ridgefield, Washington

BirdFest and Bluegrass is the main event every year that the Friends puts on to bring awareness to Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, and all that is has to offer. We celebrate the Sandhill Crane returning to the Refuge, a huge stately bird that is endangered in Washington State, and we celebrate everything the Refuge is and what it brings to the community. With endangered species, hundreds of migratory species, an auto tour route, photo blind, walking trails, the Cathlapotle Plankhouse, education and habitat restoration programs, and so much more – there is a lot to celebrate, and a lot to learn. There are workshops, hikes and walks all catered to teach you how to use the Refuge. You can learn how to listen for bird species, identify plants, about the geology of the area, the peoples who came before us and still tend to the land, how to take photos of it all, paint the landscape, and much more.

Birding the Hills
October 7-11, 2019 — Fredericksburg, Texas

Join us in Gillespie County in the heart of the Texas Hill Country for three full days of birding in the Edwards Plateau eco-region! Three days will be FULL of birding on the most beautiful private ranches in a variety of habitats in the Texas Hill Country! Several ranches will have great photography opportunities! Contact: Emily Grant 830-774-7591, emily.grant@ag.tamu.edu. –

Portugal Birdwatching Festival & Nature Activities
October 10-13, 2019 — Beliche Fortress, Portugal, Algarve, Vila do Bispo Municipality

Sagres, Portugal, is one of the best hotspots to see bird migration. Birdwatchers gather to see rarities, marine birds, passerines, and birds of prey that converge to this region preparing the long journey to Africa. In addition to birdwatching, there will be other activities including field trips, boat tours, workshops, hiking, sightseeing, geology, flora, and cultural heritage tours. Most activities are free, and some offerings include a fee. The festival is promoted by Vila do Bispo Municipality and co-organized by the Portuguese Society for the Study of Birds and Almargem Association. Contact: Vila do Bispo Municipality, +351 910 547 861 or festivalbirdwatchingsagres@gmail.com. –

Cozumel Bird Festival
October 11-13, 2019 —  Cozumel Island, Quintana Roo, Mexico

Come join us at the 11th Annual Cozumel Bird Festival where not only you will be introduced to the island endemics, but also to an enthusiastic and friendly gathering of local, national, and international birders. Among the activities are two bird walks at the top birding locations on the island, Punta Sur Ecotourism Park and the Cozumel Country Club golf course, where the closing breakfast will take place. The festival is famous for its congenial atmosphere. The cost is $400 pesos (approx. $25 US) and includes the inaugural reception and conference, entrance fees, and two bird walks with breakfasts. If interested, email cozumelbirdingclub@gmail.com or visit our Facebook page. –

Sandhill Crane & Art Festival
October 12-13, 2019 —  Bellevue, Michigan

CraneFest features family-friendly activities such as guided nature hikes, live animal displays, kids activities, and fine art vendors. In the evening, watch thousands of Sandhill Cranes “fly-in” to Big Marsh Lake. Contact Lindsay Cain, lcain@michiganaudubon.org, 517-580-7364. –

Festival of Flight and Flowers
October 11-13, 2019 — Eustis, Florida

Returning again this year, the Festival of Flight and Flowers weekend will provide visitors and local residents access to professionals and experts that specialize in native plantsoutdoor recreationwildflowersbird and butterfly watching, and much more around Lake County Florida.  This year we are lucky to have Birding by Bus join us as our Keynote Speakers and special trip leaders.

Wings Over Water Wildlife Festival
October 15-20, 2019 —  National Wildlife Refuges Visitor Center, North Carolina

This annual refuge fundraising wildlife festival includes over 90 trips & programs involving birding, paddling, photography, art, and natural history. Activities take place in six northeastern North Carolina counties and six national wildlife refuges. Keynote speaker is Julie Zickefoose. WOW Encore session is all birding trips led by expert birders and is held December 6-8, 2019. Contact: Steve Brumfield, 252-216-9464, wow@coastalwildliferefuge.com. –

Florida Birding & Nature Festival
October 17-20, 2019 — Tampa, Florida

Come celebrate the wonders of the birds, wildlife, and natural lands that we benefit from in West Central Florida! Join us to enjoy and learn from renowned professionals, experience peak migration, and shop unique products. A four-day festival offering field and boat trips, presentations, a special one-day turtle symposium, and a nature expo of vendors and exhibits. This year’s keynotes will be by U.S. FWS Historian Dr. Mark Madison, international owl expert Denver Holt, and originator of the Kaufman Field Guides, Kenn Kaufman. Contact: Andee Richards, Ann Paul, info@fbnfestival.org, 813-444-0115. –

New Jersey Audubon’s Cape May Fall Festival
October 17-20, 2019 — Cape May, New Jersey

Join New Jersey Audubon’s Fall Festival – the longest running birding festival in the country! The Cape May Bird Observatory has its finger on the pulse of fall migration. Cape May is a bird funnel for migrating songbirds. Legendary Higbee Beach offers front-row seats, with the opportunity for seeing 20 species of warblers. Keynote speakers: Michael Lanzone and Trish Miller, “Golden Opportunity: Our Journey Studying the Ghosts of the Eastern Forests”; Amanda Rodewald, “Making your cub count: how coffee can fuel migratory bird conservation in the tropics.” There is no better way to immerse yourself in the storied birding experience that is Cape May than attending this festival. Birding hotspots are within about a 35-mile drive. For more information visit our website or call 609-246-3581.

31st Annual “Ding” Darling Days
October 19-20, 2019 — Sanibel Island, Florida

Conservation Art Day on Saturday, October 19, kicks off the “Ding” Darling Days weekend with Federal Duck Stamp winners, other artists, cartooning, and nature art — a day devoted to Jay Norwood Darling’s legacy as the first duck stamp artist and Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist. Family Fun Day on Sunday, October 20, brings a grand finale of eco-activities with all-free Refuge tram tours, live wildlife presentations, hot dogs, archery, kids crafts, and other family activities. Birding, boating, tram, and kayaking activities fill the weekend. Contact: Toni Westland, 239-472-1100 ext. 237, Toni_Westland@fws.gov. –

Belize Birding Festival
October 19-20, 2019 — San Ignacio, Belize

The Belize Birding Festival welcomes local and international birders and wildlife enthusiast to enhance their appreciation of the spectacular beauty of the natural habitat, throughout the length and breadth of the country, that the almost 590 resident and migratory birds of Belize live in. Enjoy the day strolling through vendor booths, attending workshops, join a group for a birding tour, share photos and experiences about your birding adventures.

4th Annual Hawaii Island Festival of Birds – CANCELLED
October 24-28, 2019 — Kailua-Kona, Hawaii
2019 FESTIVAL CANCELLED
FIELD TRIPS STILL AVAILABLE

We’re very sorry to report that we are unable to run this year’s festival as planned. Please see this link for more information. We will be offering alternative birding tours/field trips and discounted hotel rates October 24-28, 2019 for those of you still hoping to catch a birding tour or book a trip to Hawaii during this time. If we miss you this year we are looking forward to seeing you at our full festival in 2020.

11th Yellow Rails and Rice Festival
October 30 – November 3, 2019   Jennings, Louisiana

This annual event is a unique venue to view Yellow Rails in the heart of Cajun Country in Louisiana’s SW prairie region, an area known for great birding, local cuisine, and a rich history and culture. Enjoy birding the “working wetlands,” or join trips to the piney woods or Cameron Parish coast to search for other Louisiana specialty species. The event is casual with fun in mind: attend all field days (weather permitting) or come and go at your leisure. A banding workshop is also offered. Registration opens on 1 August 2019. Contact: Donna L Dittmann, 225-642-5763 (leave message), yellowrailsandrice@gmail.com. –

NOVEMBER 2019


Photograph by John M. Pratt. The photo was captured at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico, during the annual Festival of the Cranes.

Fall Migration Celebration
November 3, 2019 Augusta, Michigan

The W.K. Kellogg Bird Sanctuary was founded in 1927 and deeded over to Michigan State University in 1928, so we are celebrating more than 90 years! The Sanctuary is an important migration stopover for waterfowl and the best place to view Trumpeter Swans in Michigan’s lower peninsula. Join us from 1 to 4 pm and look for migrating waterfowl on Wintergreen Lake, meet our education raptors, make crafts to take home, create enrichment for the resident birds, and learn about how and why birds migrate. There will be a decoy exhibit by local, award-winning decoy carver Willy McDonald of The Duck Blind, who will also be helping the kids with their crafts! Cider and donuts will also be available. Contact: (269) 671-2510 or birdsanctuary@kbs.msu.edu. –

26th Annual Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival
November 6-10, 2019 Harlingen, Texas

See why birders have been flocking to this festival for the past 25 years—great birds (at least 30 new ones if you’ve never been to the Rio Grande Valley), fantastic professional guides, reunion-like socials, keynotes, workshops, huge trade show, and lots of goodies in the silent auction. We are TEXAS FRIENDLY! Visit our website in July for details and for registration dates. For more information, contact (209) 227-4823 or (956) 423-5565; info@rgvbf.org. –

5th San Quintín Bay Bird Festival
November 8-9, 2019 Baja California, Mexico

This is an annual event organized by local communities together with Terra Peninsular, a Mexican nonprofit organization that works on land protection. The San Quintín Bay Bird Festival is an opportunity for participants to enjoy activities focused on birds and nature, such as hiking, guided bird walks, boat tours, and photography. Adults, families, and children are welcome! Also, this is an event that has an economic impact on local communities. San Quintín Bay is located 4 hours away from San Diego, California, and between October and December, the bay provides an amazing backdrop for the Bird Festival, with the opportunity to witness the fall migration. Contact: Mirna Borrego, Education and Community Outreach Officer, Terra Peninsular, festivaldelasaves@terrapeninsular.org, 52-01-646-177-68-00 or 52-01-646174-02-86. –

California Swan Festival
November 8-10, 2019 Yuba City, California

The festival honors the return of tens of thousands Tundra Swans to their winter home. In close-knit family groups, the swans make a spectacular show for bird watchers and photographers. This three-day event offers more than 35 guided tours by experts, exploring a wide range of waterfowl habitats and other natural assets of the beautiful Yuba-Sutter region. Field trips include Swan Sighting, Ag/Wildlife Educational Tours, Historic Tours, Nature Hikes, and trips to the region’s National Wildlife areas. Registration for field trips (at affordable rates) begins online August 28, 2019. Free Junior Naturalist program, led by Shady Creek Outdoor School naturalists. Children of all ages will enjoy hands-on learning. Activities include crafts, games, live animal presentations and much more. A vendor fair is held all day Saturday and Sunday in the Swan Central building. Parking and entry to the Swan Festival are FREE, as are a wide range of workshops and presentations on wildlife education, natural sciences, ecosystem management, and photography. Visit our website or contact Yuba-Sutter Chamber of Commerce, 530-743-6501, info@yubasutterchamber.com. –

Black-necked Crane Festival
November 11, 2019 Gantey Valley, Bhutan

The Black-necked Crane is the last discovered of 15 species of cranes in the world. This majestic bird is endemic to the Tibetan Plateau and migrates to lower altitudes, including several areas of Bhutan, in autumn. In Phobjikha Valley, one of the major habitats in Bhutan, the arrival of the cranes signals the end of the harvesting season. The Black-necked Crane festival was first initiated with the objective of linking conservation of the graceful birds to the improvement of livelihood of the community. Over the years, as the festival gained popularity among the community people, visitors from the nearby Dzongkhags (districts) and international visitors, it became an annual event to welcome the cranes and to celebrate the centuries’ old relationship between the cranes and people of Phobjikha. Among the events is the popular Black-necked Crane dance performed by school children in crane costumes. The local community also performs folk dances and mask dances. The Black-necked Cranes have a sacred identify in Bhutanese culture and often appear in folklore, dances, and historical texts. Since 1987, Royal Society for Protection of Nature has been working to protect and rebuild the population of the Black-necked Cranes. Contact: Karma Jamtsho, info@incredible-bhutan.travel/birdcutia@gmail.com. –

Festival of the Cranes
November 20-23, 2019 Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, San Antonio, New Mexico
Join us as we come together in celebration of the return of the sandhill cranes to their winter home. Rated among the top wildlife, birding, and photography events in North America, this nationally recognized festival offers over 130 events in four days. Regardless of your birding or photography skill, Festival of the Cranes offers an extraordinary opportunity for premiere photography and birding classes, as well as guided tours and hikes. Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge offers expansive vistas, exquisite light, enchanting bird songs and unique proximity to the wildlife. 

Waterfowl Weekend at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge
November 28 – December 1, 2019 Chincoteague Island, Virginia
Fall heralds the return of thousands of waterfowl from their northern breeding grounds to the milder climate of Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. Enjoy a variety of overwintering ducks, geese and swans by joining the flocks of visitors who celebrate Thanksgiving Weekend in this special place. Visitors will enjoy extended hours on the Wildlife Loop Trail, open to vehicles from 9am to dusk on November 28 – December 1, 2019. Please drive cautiously, as this trail is also a hiking and biking route. During these four days, extended access is also available for visitors to drive on the Service Road (admittance from 12pm – 2pm only). For the special drive, visitors must enter the Wildlife Loop Trail and follow the one-way traffic pattern to the road’s entrance. This may take 10 or 15 minutes, due to high volume. All vehicles are expected to completely exit the Service Road by 4 PM. Contact: 757-336-6122 or fw5rw_cnwr@fws.gov. –

DECEMBER 2019

Azores Birdwatching Arts Festival
December 11-21, 2019 Açores, Pico Island
In the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, the Azores, islands sanctuary for sea and land birds, there is a one-week festival dedicated to birders and culturally avid individuals with a need of one more excuse to come to paradise. Events happen in Pico Island in English and Portuguese languages. Arts programming, talks, tours to various locations for birders, and much more. Contact: Terry Costa, abwafestival@gmail.com, (+351) 963639996. –

A New Year!
Birding Events in 2020

JANUARY 2020

North Shore Birding Festival
January 16-20, 2020 — Mount Dora, Florida
The North Shore Birding Festival is perfect for birders visiting Florida or locals wanting to learn more from knowledgeable birding guides. Add to your life list at an amazing birding area, the 20,000-acre Lake Apopka North Shore, where 360+ species have been sighted, more than any other inland location. Four full-day trips and 16 half-day trips are offered, along with keynotes and dinners. For details and registration, call Orange Audubon at 407-637-2525 or visit our website or Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/northshorebirdingfestival.

Everglades Birding Festival
January 16-20, 2020 — Davie, Florida
Explore the unique Everglades ecosystem while searching for 150 plus species.A focus on gaining advanced birding skills with daily mini-workshops, small groups, and expert guides. Keynotes, Dinners, and Evening Programs. Full-day field trips to Corkscrew, STA 5, Upper Keys, South Dade, Everglades National Park, and more. Target species: Snail Kite, Short-tailed Hawk, Limpkin, Painted Bunting, Red-whiskered Bulbul, Gray-headed Swamphen, Common Myna, Egyptian Goose, Burrowing Owl, Wood Stork, Roseate Spoonbill, Prairie Warbler, White-winged Parakeet, and Nanday Parakeet. Contact: Paddy Cunningham, 754-201-1141, (954) 805-6810, birdpaddy@yahoo.com

Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival
January 17-20, 2020 — Morro Bay, California
Morro Bay is a Globally Important Bird Area, located halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco on the Pacific Flyway. Over 200 bird species have been seen during the festival weekend! The festival includes keynotes, field trips, workshops, bazaar, and family day. Saturday and Sunday keynotes to be announced. Registration opens early November. Contact: 805-234-1170, registrar@morrobaybirdfestival.org.

FEBRUARY 2020

Galt Winter Bird Festival
February 1, 2020 Galt, California
The 13th Annual Galt Winter Bird Festival advances public awareness of the conservation of the region’s wildlife. This area is a critical stop for many important species of birds commuting on a diverse chain of habitats called the Pacific Flyway. In addition to these magnificent migrating birds, hundreds of bird species call Galt and its surrounding cities home. The festival brings tours, vendors, programs, and presentations for guests to enjoy. There will be wildlife entertainment for all ages, art, food and more! Over 1,200 attendees enjoyed our last festival. Contact: Jackie Garcia, jgarcia@ci.galt.ca.us.

8th Laredo Birding Festival
February 5-8, 2020 Laredo, Texas
The Laredo Birding Festival highlights over 200 species of spectacular birds. Laredo is a dynamic city that bridges two cultures and plays host to pleasant winter weather; while also being the crossroads of eastern, western, and neotropical birds. Birders will encounter lovely vistas along the Rio Grande; access to nearly two dozen historic South Texas ranches; and experience quality field trips in small intimate groups led by professional field guides! The upcoming Festival kicks off on Wednesday, February 5, 2020, at the Laredo Center for the Arts, during the Birds, Beer and Cheer mixer and Birds of the Brush art exhibit opening. The festival is hosted by the Rio Grande International Study Center, the Monte Mucho Audubon Society, and the Laredo Convention & Visitors Bureau. For more information, visit our website or call (956) 718-1063.

High Plains Snow Goose Festival
February 6-9, 2020 Lamar, CO
Come see the Snow Geese as the migrate through Colorado! Tours, silent auction, trade show & craft fair, programming, banquet, and more. Great change to meet other birders. Contact: highplainssnowgoose@gmail.com

MARCH 2020

SOAR With the Eagles
March 1-29, 2020 Wabasha, Minnesota
SOAR With the Eagles is the National Eagle Center’s annual festival that celebrates the spring Bald Eagle migration along the Mississippi River. During weekends in March, visitors enjoy a variety of special programming hosted by the National Eagle Center. The festival includes animal presentations, nationally renowned flying bird shows, environmental exhibits, demonstrations by the DNR and US Fish and Wildlife Service, Native American crafts, wild eagle viewing, and much more! There is programming for all ages and exciting opportunities to experience and learn new things about the natural world! Contact 651-565-4989 or info@nationaleaglecenter.org.

Friends of Goose Pond Marsh Madness Sandhill Crane and Migratory Bird Festival
March 6-7, 2020 Linton, Indiana
The festival will kick off Friday night with a social hour and dinner, live/silent auction, and guest speake Saturday festivities are at the Linton Humphrey’s Park from 8 am to 4 pm with Guided Bus Tours, Education Workshops, Craft Vendors, Art Exhibit by the Indiana Wildlife Artists, Birds of Prey Exhibit, Amphibian Exhibit, and Food Vendors. Contact: mail@friendsofgoosepond.org or visit our website or Facebook page (Friends of Goose Pond).

International Festival of Owls
March 6-8, 2020 Houston, Minnesota
Immerse yourself in owls at the only annual, full-weekend, all-owl festival in North America. Highlights include seven species of live owls (including a Snowy Owl and a flying Barn Owl), owl prowls to call in wild owls, a birding and natural history bus trip, and learn from owl experts from around the world. Families can build an owl nest box, dissect an owl pellet, make a variety of owl crafts, buy owl merchandise, enjoy owl art and photography, and have a hoot eating owl-themed food. The whole city of Houston gets involved! Contact Karla Bloem, 507-896-6957, karla@internationalowlcenter.org.