Black-headed Woodpecker by Markus Lilje, Golden-breasted Fruiteater by Forrest Rowland, Pink-throated Twinspot by Rich Lindie
Dear Friends of Rockjumper,
2018 is our 20th anniversary! We are so very proud to have, over the past 20 years, provided tens of thousands of birders with millions of exhilarating birding and travel experiences, and at the same time contributed meaningfully to numerous conservation causes and the creation of awareness of our amazing birdlife. And all the while we have been having a ton of fun too! We would like to thank all our loyal guests and friends for sharing this great adventure with us, and we look forward to many more life-changing and memorable experiences with you over the next 20 years!
In this update, we have lots to share from Team Rockjumper as we introduce our latest tour offerings as well as the addition of several tour leaders and office staff to our ranks, and last but not least, the newest members of our family after our ‘Office Baby Boom’!
We are also proud to share several new initiatives we have with conservation partners across the globe including our race to save migratory birds in Israel, the raising of vital funds for a species close to our hearts and home in South Africa, and also the launch of a novel conservation event in the crown jewel of South Africa’s park system – Kruger National Park.
And be sure to read up on our top bird sightings and trip reports of the past few months. So much to share already, and its only the first quarter! Please read on to discover more.
It was with pride that we launched our Rockjumper Conservation Tours department this January. This initiative brings together a number of plans, some long established and others very new, as we continue our work with renowned conservation partners with the ultimate aim of conserving birds and their habitat as well as fostering the love of birds and birding. Our Rockjumper Conservation Tours is focusing on several key birding regions including Belize, Colombia, Guatemala, little-known Paraguay, Ecuador and even Antarctica. Check out our new Conservation Tours website, and see what’s on tap now. We welcome any thoughts or ideas you might have, and if you belong to a conservation organisation we would love to engage with you and the leadership of your society, club or fund.
Rockjumper Birding, in conjunction with our specialist sister tour company, ORYX Photography are extremely excited to launch our new suite of Bird Photography Tours. These are a product of an ideal partnership, by bringing in Rockjumper’s unrivalled knowledge on where to find birds and how they behave, with ORYX’s massive experience in meeting the needs of demanding photographers. Glen Valentine of Rockjumper and Marius Coetzee of ORYX have specially designed a variety of world-class tours with the avid bird photographer in mind. We kick our new photo tours off with Madagascar in November 2018, followed by Ethiopia in December 2018. And we have a number of tours that are close to being completed – including tours to destinations like China, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Malaysia & Borneo – so keep an eye on this page to see our latest fantastic offerings!
These dedicated bird photography tours will cater for both the keen bird photographer and also birders with a particular interest in photographing birds. We would like to emphasise that although the prime goal of these tours will be to provide our participants with outstanding photos of birds, we will not exclusively photograph birds but will also take time out focus our lenses on mammals, scenery, people and noteworthy cultural sites. Photographers are, of course, still welcome on our standard Rockjumper departures, but the main focus of these tours will remain seeing and enjoying birds, wildlife and other highlights of the areas visited; whereas the main focus of this new suite of photographic tours will be bird photography.
These exciting new departures will be led by professional and extremely competent tour leaders, who also happen to be phenomenally accomplished photographers with a particular passion for bird photography. They will therefore be able to find the specials and most desired birds, identify the species and understand their behaviour, and be well-equipped to ensure that everyone is afforded the very best opportunities to photograph these birds in a responsible manner. Much time will be spent at bird stake-outs, such as hides/blinds and feeders, on certain tours such as Thailand, China and Ecuador; while on other tours like Madagascar and Tanzania, most of the photography will be done on foot or from open-air safari vehicles. The style of these tours will vary slightly between destinations but, essentially, they will all have a common goal: to photograph birds and to photograph them well – with particular attention to the destination’s most spectacular, charismatic, rare or endemic species.
So, if you’re a keen photographer with a passion for birds, and you feel your time on tour would be better spent photographing the stunning species available, then why not signup to show your interest in joining a Bird Photography tour!
Daniel Danckwerts (Full-time Tour Leader)
Daniel’s childhood passion for birds ignited a spark that led him to pursue an academic career, studying the feathered creatures he had so fallen in love with. After finishing his BSc, Honours, and Masters Degrees in Zoology at Rhodes University, Daniel completed his PhD – his greatest achievement to date – which centered around the population structure of tropical seabirds in the Indian Ocean. This research has critically influenced the conservation of several threatened species and has spring-boarded many future research projects. As one of his greatest pleasures in life is sharing his passion and knowledge of birds with anyone who is willing to listen, it seemed almost natural that Daniel has progressed into bird guiding.
Doug McCulloch (Full-time Tour Leader)
Doug was born in Zimbabwe, and spent a typical southern African childhood outdoors there and in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands of South Africa. He has been a keen birder since the age of 13, an interest which expanded into a passion for all aspects of natural history and ecology. He has spent the last fifteen years as a professional consulting ecologist, providing specialist ecological advice on natural resource and biodiversity management to private, government and large corporate clients throughout Africa. A qualified rangeland scientist, he also holds an MSc degree in Conservation Biology from the University of the Witwatersrand. A desire for new experiences led to the opportunity to join Rockjumper as a full-time guide. Doug also spent two extremely enjoyable years as a ranger at the world-renowned Mala Mala Game Reserve prior to commencing his consulting career.
Christopher Bradshaw (Part-time Tour Leader)
Chris grew up in North Kent, England, with the internationally-important marshes of the Thames Estuary close to home. Much of his spare time during his childhood years was spent watching and learning about the birds of his local patch, developing an interest in bird migration and vagrancy, and, by his teens, traveling around Europe in search of birds. After a career developing computer systems for his local council and water company, Chris decided in 1999 to pursue his real passion and turned to tour leading and bird surveying as his career, and has never looked back. He has spent much of the last 20 years in the field, and has led over 70 birding tours to various destinations around the world. As a result, Chris has in-depth knowledge of what guests require from a birding tour and how to successfully deliver a great experience, and we are thrilled to have him on our team.
Marc Cronje (Part-time Tour Leader)
Marc was born in Johannesburg, and his keen interest in wildlife and birding comes from being brought up in the Johannesburg Zoo, where his father was the curator of primates and small cats. He often jokes that he has been let out of his cage for the tours. Marc is based in Nelspruit, South Africa, and moved down to the Lowveld when his family started the first Chimpanzee Sanctuary in South Africa, Chimp Eden, which is affiliated with the Jane Goodall Institute. Marc worked at the sanctuary for 5 years. He spends most of his days in the Kruger National Park, but leads tours across Southern Africa, including Swaziland, Namibia and Botswana. Marc has a Degree in Nature Conservation, and is a THEATA/FGASA Level 2 Guide who sits on the BirdLife Lowveld Committee.
Yoav Perlman (Part-time Tour Leader)
Yoav grew up in Israel, one of the best places in the world to witness and study bird migration. Yoav started birding at the tender age of nine, and started working professionally for BirdLife Israel when he was a teenager. He is now the Scientific Director of this organisation. Four years of living in the UK, studying for his PhD in conservation ecology, have upped his international expertise and networking, and now he is one of the more prominent birders in Europe and his detailed knowledge of bird identification is often put to the test. He started guiding for bird clubs when he was very young and this progressed to leading tours to various destinations around the globe. Yoav has always been motivated to show people birds and interpret fascinating wildlife phenomena and this passion has led him to dedicate a few months every year to leading tours for Rockjumper and we are very proud to welcome Yoav to our team.
Jan Pienaar (Part-time Tour Leader)
Jan grew up in the flatlands of the northern Free State, pretty much in the center of South Africa. From a very young age, he yearned to be outdoors, a yearning he took full advantage of when visiting his grandparents on their farm in northern KwaZulu-Natal. After completing his schooling, a chance sighting of an opportunity to work in the bush set him on his path to a career in guiding. Having spent the majority of his 16-year career based at some of South Africa’s most prestigious lodges, he has gained an intimate knowledge and understanding of the Southern Africa’s fauna and flora, and thoroughly enjoys sharing this with anyone who joins him in exploring these natural wonders. Jan worked for Rockjumper for a number of years as a full-time tour leader and it’s great to have him back again, albeit on a part-time basis.
Rick Nuttall grew up in Grahamstown, in South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province. He has had a keen interest in birds from a very young age and obtained a Master’s degree in Zoology from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He joined the National Museum in Bloemfontein as an Ornithologist in 1991 before filling the role of Deputy Director in 2001 and Director in 2003, a position he held until November 2017. He has authored numerous scientific, semi-scientific and popular publications, and served on the review panels of a number of zoological and ornithological journals. Rick enjoys sharing his knowledge and experiences with others, and is a keen amateur photographer and bird sound recordist – his most recent interests include watching and photographing butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies. Rick joined Rockjumper as Assistant Manager, and is responsible for various tasks and projects in support of the senior management team. Rick will also be guiding some tours.
Shaun has worked in the Information Technology field since 2001. He initially started out in Java Application Development; however, being more of a creative type, Shaun migrated across to Web Development. He has accumulated a wealth of knowledge relating to design, project management, programming, search engine optimisation, marketing, management and problem-solving in the IT/WEB field. Shaun knows most web-related aspects well, and he maintains that there is always Google if one is not in the know. Shaun says, “Being in the IT industry, one learns to research and problem solve on-the-fly.” Shaun has been responsible for the development and upkeep of Rockjumper and our Sister Companies’ websites for the last 5 years, and has joined us full-time in this capacity. On a personal note, Shaun is a devoted father, loves music, and he developed a passion for guitar in 1996 and still plays.
Emilie is from Mauritius and is based in our head office in Tamarin. After school, she studied to receive an advanced diploma in Business Administration. During her professional career, she has worked in several fields, including outsourcing, working at a radio station and in a back office. Emilie is fond of any forms of art, nature and business development and strategies. It is no surprise that she has ended up here with Rockjumper, where she can freely combine her love for nature and business growth as she works in administration and data support. On the weekends, you can follow her on road trips across the island.
Christelle is also from Mauritius and based in our head office in Tamarin. After school, she started studying towards her ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) while working as a customer advisor for a French company. She was soon promoted to supervisor for the same company, where she spent one more year, before diving head first into the accounting world. She spent almost 3 years in the finance department of one of the world’s largest charter companies before joining our team at Rockjumper. Christelle also has a love for languages. She currently speaks five languages, and has absolutely no intention of stopping there!
Cindy grew up in Pietermaritzburg, the daughter of a professional lepidopterist. After school, she obtained a Diploma in Travel and Tourism Management. Having been intrigued by the natural world, she has always had a special passion for the beauty of nature’s flora and fauna. This she captures in her paintings to which she dedicates much of her spare-time. Cindy assists the Support, Travel and Operations department at Rockjumper in a tour liaison role. In particular, Cindy ensures that all your travel requests are fulfilled.
Team Rockjumper took on two challenges as part of our annual year-end function for 2017.
Our first challenge: to personally raise money in support of a conservation initiative. Rockjumper Birding Tours supports a multitude of conservation initiatives but we had never asked our entire Team to get actively involved in driving a fundraiser for a particular cause. With 2 months to work with, our amazing Team pulled out all the stops and we are very proud of their dedication and results!
Our fundraiser, “Saving The White-winged Flufftail”, was launched as an individual-based pledge fundraiser, with our initial target being to raise R10,000 ($840) in donations. This target was exceeded within a mere week! With such a good start and keeping everyone motivated with a weekly scoreboard allowed us to reach every new target we dreamt up.
At the close of our highly successful drive, we ended with a staggering total of R54,927.07 ($4,400) being raised for the Middlepunt Wetland Trust, which is dedicated to protecting some of the last remaining vestiges of wetland habitat for this Critically Endangered species.
Team Rockjumper would like to extend a massive thank you to all those who donated to this cause!
Our second challenge: to get all of our office staff into the field to see some birds! While many of our Team are avid bird enthusiasts, the Management Team (who have all guided extensively for the company) takes great joy in being able to share their love of birds with those who are newer to the hobby!
On the 8th of December, Adam Riley, Cuan Rush, Keith Valentine and Clayton Burne stepped away from their desks, dusted off the cobwebs on their guiding hats and entered the field once more. After splitting into groups, we headed out to the mistbelt forests of Ferncliffe, World’s View and Doreen Clark, as well as the moist grasslands around Cedara, Midmar Dam and the Garlington Estate (where our office is).
Just a few of the specials seen throughout the day include breathtaking views of Narina Trogon, the very rare endemic Knysna Warbler, Red-necked Spurfowl, a regional rarity in the form of Harlequin Quail, Grey Crowned Crane, African Emerald Cuckoo, Olive Bushshrike, White-starred Robin, African Paradise Flycatcher, and absolutely cracking views of the very tricky Cuckoo-finch.
The birding came to an end in time for lunch, the teams having racked up a cumulative total of 159 bird and 8 mammal species, whilst also trying to compete for the most ‘Crazy Cap Photo’. After all that exercise, we headed over to a local restaurant to enjoy a sit-down lunch before some of us went back to the office for a little ‘shindig’. Crystal and Andrea had converted the normally ‘business-like’ boardroom into a ballroom for the after party. Those enjoying sunset drinks from our balcony were rewarded with a close Eurasian Hobby flyby, which was a new bird for the Garlington Estate list. We look forward to growing these new company traditions, with more fundraising and Team-birding events becoming a part of our year-end functions to come. We will keep a strong emphasis on appreciation and awareness at the heart of what we do: loving BIRDS!
What greater gift is there than life? The end of 2017 saw the delivery of three of the greatest gifts to three proud Team Rockjumper families.
Patrick and Justine Meyer kicked off the baby boom with the birth of their first child, Judah on 9 November weighing in at 3.2kg. Next was Adam and Felicity Riley with the birth of their third child and first daughter, Victoria on 22 November, tipping the scales at 3.6kg. Glen and Tanya Valentine welcomed their first-born, Rory, into the world on 4 December. Rory was the uncontested weight champion at 4.2kg.
We are delighted to welcome these new members of our family, and wish them all a life filled with joy, peace and love. And their parents: SLEEP.
You might be familiar with the cryptically-colored snipe: medium-sized waders that hide in swamps and flush at your feet, seemingly intent on inducing a heart attack. But who has been fortunate enough to have seen a painted-snipe? Painted-snipes are not closely related to snipes at all; in fact, their nearest relatives are jacanas. And, with jacanas (as well as phalaropes and buttonquails), they also share a rather divergent breeding strategy – polyandry. This means that the female holds a territory – that she aggressively defends against other females – in which several males cohabit. She will mate with all of her males and then when the eggs are laid she gives them over to the males, and with that ends her child-rearing responsibilities! The males incubate the eggs and then raise the chicks on their own.
You’ve probably guessed it already, but that small, dull bird on the left is the male, and the boldly-patterned, colorful bird on the right is the female. From her is their name derived: painted-snipe.
Three species occur: Greater Painted-snipe (this image) is found throughout much of Africa, India and South East Asia, and the other species are restricted to South America and Australia. These three species form their own unique bird family, making them quite genetically distinct and separated by a long history of evolutionarily change from any other group of birds.
We are very excited to report that work on our next tour catalogue has started in earnest. We are extremely proud of the incredible range of tours that we continue to offer, and 2019 will be no different. We have a large number of brand new, exciting trips for you to consider, together with a variety of new tour types, including our exclusive range and our bird photography departures. Our exclusive range has been carefully designed to feature some of our most popular tours, but we have limited these to only 6 participants with a Rockjumper tour leader. This allows for a very intimate, personal experience, and our first offering is scheduled for Ghana in November this year. In 2019, we are excited to introduce more than 15 of these exclusive tours for you to consider. Our upcoming brochure will also be rather different to our previous ones, as we focus much more attention on the various tour categories to guide you through the process of how to select the right tour for you. In order to be more environmentally friendly, our next brochure will be made available in a variety of digital formats.
Some predecessors to our 20th year catalogue, coming soon!
As we look to increase the amount of value-added services we can offer you, there is one aspect of travel we cannot overlook: flights. With our new service headed by Keith Kopman of our travel division, you are able to request a quote for your international flights to join our tours. Now you no longer have to deal with multiple agents when going on tour – you can do everything through us for your full tour experience. We will endeavor to set you up on the best flight possible – at the most suitable price and route with your preferred airlines – and, if you have any questions, just send an email to Keith Kopman at email@example.com and all the information you require will be sent to you within 24-48 hours!
Rockjumper Go Club members are the kind of people who can be ready to travel at short notice. For this reason, we send our members a monthly email containing all of our upcoming guaranteed departures with remaining spaces available. This includes several last-minute discounts tours, exclusive to club members.
Since November 2017, members have already been given the inside scoop on 22 guaranteed departures and five discounts exclusively offered to the Go Club!
Are you able to “GO” at short notice?
Sign up for free and discover more.
There is something unique about each Rockjumper tour, but this newsletter’s tour spotlight features otherworldly Antarctica – a destination beyond special, that lurks as a phantom-planet in the naturalist’s psyche. The term “experience of a life-time” is sometimes abused, but never in reference to Antarctica!
Antarctica is the driest, highest, coldest continent, and surely the world’s most intimidating and exciting as well. However, in 2019 and 2020 it will be quite different, as Team Rockjumper has our own boat! Every last berth is ours, so unlike so many Antarctic trips where there can be competing agendas, on these trips, Rockjumper is running the show with an uncommon level of control, under the command of our veteran pelagic specialist, George Armistead. Being able to determine our schedule will come in handy, especially when searching for the ‘big penguin’ – the Emperor, as it’s known. Ask any Antarctic veteran and they’ll tell you straight off, October and November is your best chance for encountering the Emperor Penguin. Even still, we’ll need some luck, but our chances are better now than later in the season and we will dedicate extra time in the pack ice where they are most likely to be encountered. Plus, now is the time when seabirds like Light-mantled Albatrosses perform their synchronized courtship flights, and many other species are engaged in display as they pair up, so it is pretty dramatic. Forget the ridiculous scenery, the many whales and seals for a minute, and realize too this is perhaps the best season to photograph birds. Great season, great ship all to ourselves, and the world’s most elusive continent; it all adds up to one epic adventure and we hope you will join us for it!
We know what we want to see, and we’ll have a unique level of maneuverability in trying to see it. That is rare on these trips. To boot we’ll have 6 of our leaders on board over and above the normal compliment of expedition leaders, and these will include the popular Rockjumper brothers Keith and Glen for the 2019 departure. Even our ship’s doctor will be a birder…
Our 2019 charter is almost full, with just 4 berths remaining, one male share, one female share and a suite, from USD18,950
We have also just launched our 2020 charter and 10% early bird discounts are currently available on all cabin categories. Dates are 1-19 November 2020, and cabin rates are between USD14,300 and USD23,500 before the discounts. Please contact us before it fills to avoid disappointment.
Rockjumper is thrilled to announce our own Galápagos charter aboard the Nemo III in 2019 next year. This unrivalled and comprehensive Galápagos experience will be expertly guided by our ever-popular Forrest Rowland.
Straddling the equator, some 600 miles west of mainland Ecuador lies perhaps the planet’s most fabled archipelago. Forever fascinating, this is one of Earth’s most active volcanic areas, and the beautiful volcanic formations, together with the matchless wildlife and natural history, make for an utterly unique destination. Perennially popular among birders for the island endemics and stunning seabirds, nearly all the birds are tame, allowing for outstanding photography.
In places, one must be careful to avoid stepping on a Galápagos Sea Lion, a Marine Iguana or a Blue-footed Booby. The latter is perhaps the island’s most iconic bird, and seeing pairs of them bow and sway, whistling and honking, as they wave around their cobalt blue feet, is not something one forgets. Equally, the thrill of watching a pair of Waved Albatross performing their intricate dance moves is another of the Galápagos highlights, and our cruise is perfectly timed for this event. The snorkeling is a wonder as well, with swimmers at times encircled by sea lions, sea turtles, and even Galápagos Penguins on occasion. The islands are named after their endemic Galápagos Giant Tortoises (‘galapagos’ means tortoise in Spanish), and seeing these magnificent beasts striding about, or sighing deeply as they wallow in the mud, one feels transported to another time, or even another world.
Based aboard a very comfortable vessel serving excellent food and hosted by experienced local naturalists and crew, we’ll explore these ruggedly beautiful islands in comfort. From the bewildering array of Darwin’s finches (which had their namesake thoroughly confused, triggering his ideas on evolution), to the shrieking Red-billed Tropicbirds, to the curious and endearing sea lions, an experience here marks a personal evolution.
MALAYSIA & BORNEO – RAINFOREST BIRDS & MAMMALS II
16 Jul – 04 Aug 2018 (20 days)
MYR27,250 *USD6,922 *GBP4,995 *EUR5,620
Tour Leader: Nigel Redman
4 spaces available on this guaranteed departure
Malaysia is a very modern and efficient Asian country that makes a perfect birding destination. First class facilities exist within the extensive network of national parks and nature reserves throughout the Malaysian Peninsula and the two Malaysian provinces of Borneo. Habitats range from vast lowland and montane rainforests to rich mangrove swamps and extensive coastal mudflats.
On this fantastic Malaysia and Borneo birdwatching and wildlife tour we visit some of the world’s most famous birding sites, including Fraser’s Hill – venue of the legendary annual Bird Race, the grand Taman Negara National Park, Danum Valley – which protects the largest pristine lowland rainforests in South East Asia and fabled Mt Kinabalu. A rich mix of typical South East Asian birds, peninsular Malaysian specialties and Bornean endemics combine to create superb birding. We expect to see several species of fabulous pittas, trogons, kingfishers, woodpeckers and broadbills, as well as leafbirds, ioras, pheasants and a plethora of babblers and bulbuls among many others.
We will bird along forest trails, from rainforest canopy walkways, boardwalks through mangrove forests and from boats as we cruise along jungle rivers. Join us for this memorable experience as we explore the fantastic riches of tropical South East Asia.
SOUTH WEST PACIFIC ISLANDS
29 Jul – 17 Aug 2018 (20 Days)
USD8,650 *GBP6,826 *EUR8,077
Tour Leaders: Adam Walleyn & Erik Forsyth
2 spaces available on this guaranteed departure
Quite simply, this is a birding tour unlike any other! Each island or archipelago that we will be visiting (New Caledonia, Fiji, Vanuatu and Samoa) exhibits its own distinctive ensemble of characteristic and rarely-seen endemics, including some of our planet’s least-known species; and, although these oceanic islands and their bird lists aren’t large, they are nevertheless very special indeed. On this trip, we will be treated to a wonderful assortment of imperial pigeons, fruit doves (one of the most beautiful of all bird groups), parrots and lorikeets, kingfishers, hosts of flycatchers, monarchs, fantails, whistlers, honeyeaters and white-eyes, all of which are endemic and consequently found nowhere else on earth. Furthermore, the islands of the South West Pacific have a lazy, relaxed charm about them, and some of the features that we can anticipate on this tour include a fascinating collage of landscapes and culture, great food and some lovely accommodations.
Thrilling new adventures to Costa Rica and Panama, Cambodia, Japan in Spring, and a short-and-sweet Colombia run to the world’s most biodiverse mountain range.
COSTA RICA & PANAMA – TALAMANCA & CHIRIQUÍ HIGHLANDS AND BOCAS DEL TORO
07 – 20 Oct 2018 (14 days)
Price: USD4,550 *GBP3,209 *EUR3,661 *ZAR54,123
Tour Leader: Dušan Brinkhuizen
BirdLife International, in order to concentrate its conservation efforts, has identified areas of high bird endemism throughout the world and classified these as Endemic Bird Areas. Costa Rica and the Panama Highlands are one of the richest of these Endemic Bird Areas, with no less than 55 endemics. This unique tour has been specially designed to seek out most of these endemics whilst staying at comfortable birding lodges and visiting areas protecting large swathes of cloudforest. We have also timed this tour to take in the world’s largest raptor migration spectacle which channels through this narrow isthmus, a truly incredible phenomenon to encounter. Many birders would have visited Costa Rica or Panama before, but even if you have done both of them, this tour will add numerous birds to your lifelist, from hard to find recently recognised endemics in Costa Rica to specials restricted to volcano peaks in remote regions of northern Panama.
The bird endemism of this area is legendary, not only represented by a high number of endemics (and overall bird diversity) but also by the fact that many of these birds have been genetically isolated and are therefore ancient relics with no close relatives. The cute Zeledonia (previously known as the Wrenthrush) has now been recognized in its own monotypic bird family, and seven other genera are restricted entirely to this area: Panterpe (Fiery-throated Hummingbird), Elvira (White-tailed and Coppery-headed Emerald), Phainoptila (Black-and-yellow Phainoptila – previously Silky-flycatcher), Thryorchilus (the charming Timberline Wren), Pezopetes (Large-footed Finch), Pselliophorus (Yellow-thighed and Yellow-green Finch) and Acanthidops (Peg-billed Finch). Other target endemics include Black Guan, a total of 10 hummingbirds (including the Endangered and highly range restricted Glow-throated Hummingbird), Bare-shanked Screech Owl, the strange Prong-billed Barbet, Bare-necked Umbrellabird, Long-tailed Silky-flycatcher, Blue-and-gold and Spangle-cheeked Tanager, Cabanis’s Ground Sparrow and Volcano Junco. Other highlights may include the Resplendent Quetzal whose reputation precedes itself, Black-crested and White-crested Coquettes, Orange-collared Manakin, Fiery-billed Aracari, Black-faced Antthrush, Isthmian Wren, Black-cheeked Ant Tanager (restricted to the Osa Peninsula), Baird’s Trogon and Three-wattled Bellbird, Snowy Cotinga, Chriqui Yellowthroat and Nicaraguan Seedfinch.
We kick off in small nation of Costa Rica that has geared itself heavily towards avitourism and therefore developed a superb infrastructure to service the numerous visiting birders. And with over 850 species it is easy to understand why! The backbone of the country is formed by a scenic mountain range, and here the cloud forests are home to most of the aforementioned endemic birds. We will also dip into the Pacific lowlands on our tour, and we can look forward to many striking species of trogons, toucans, motmots and hummingbirds, among many other spectacular birds.
Departing Costa Rica, we enter the Chiriqui Highlands of Panama searching for further highland forest endemics. The final leg of our tour is spent on the idyllic Bocas del Toro archipelago, at the aptly named Tranquilo Bay Lodge, enjoying the staggering scenery and some equally incredible birding. Here we will focus on Caribbean lowland and mid-elevation species as well as hopefully connecting with the river of raptors that move through this area at this time of year. Thrilling birding, quality lodges and a relaxed pace make this tour perfect for anyone who has yet to experience the exciting avifauna of Central America or for those who have an appetite for a repeat taste!
01 – 14 Feb 2019 (14 days)
Price: USD4,600 *GBP3,242 *EUR3,722
Tour Leader: Christopher Bradshaw
The tour covers the spectacular and world-renowned temples of Angkor Watt before visiting all of Cambodia’s key birding localities. The famous Prek Toal water-bird colony and sanctuary at the north-westerly edge of Tonle Sap Lake will offer us the best opportunity to observe the sought-after Greater and Lesser Adjutants, Milky Stork and Grey-headed Fish Eagle. We can expect to find a large population of wintering Sarus Cranes at Ang Trapaeng Thmor before moving onwards to Tmatboey via the Florican grasslands for the Critically Endangered Bengal Florican, Giant and White-shouldered Ibises, Blossom-headed Parakeet, Black-headed Woodpecker, White-rumped Falcon and Spotted Wood Owl. The forests around Okoki will hopefully produce the rare and endangered White-winged Duck, Bar-bellied Pitta, Oriental Bay Owl and Blyth’s Frogmouth, and with a bit of luck, the rare and elusive Coral-billed Ground Cuckoo. A boat trip on the Mekong River near Kratie should yield the localized Mekong Wagtail; while a short stop in and around the outskirts of Phnom Penh will give us the recently discovered Cambodian Tailorbird before we head to Mount Aural. The lush, evergreen forests that cloak the mountain are home to the endemic Cambodian Laughingthrush and near-endemic Chestnut-headed Partridge. Finally, we conclude the tour at an area of remote grasslands, where we hope to find the very rare Chinese Grassbird and little-known Manchurian Reed Warbler, with chances too of the seldom-seen Asian Golden Weaver.
16 – 27 May 2019 (12 days)
Tour Leader: Chris Sharpe
Our Highlights of Japan tour during spring takes in the very best of what Japan has to offer during this fabulous time of year, when all of the country’s resident species and summer migrants are present and actively singing, displaying and nesting – indeed a magical time to visit ‘The Land of the Rising Sun’. The wetlands and forests on Honshu support the extremely localized Japanese Marsh Warbler, Japanese Reed Bunting, Long-billed Plover, Latham’s Snipe, endemic Copper and Japanese Green Pheasants, Japanese Green Woodpecker, Japanese Yellow Bunting, Japanese and Brown-headed Thrushes, Japanese Grosbeak and Japanese Accentor, all of which will be targets on this trip. On the offshore island of Miyake-jima, we hope to find the richly-colored and endemic Izu Thrush and Owston’s Tit; while other specialties include Japanese Wood Pigeon, Styan’s Grasshopper Warbler and Ijima’s Leaf Warbler. We conclude the main part of this Japan Spring Highlights tour in the Ryukyu Islands, where we spend our time on the small islands of Okinawa and Amami in search of a host of exciting endemics and near-endemics. The endangered Okinawa (Pryer’s) Woodpecker, recently discovered and highly threatened Okinawa Rail, stunning Ryukyu Robin, Ryukyu Minivet, Amami Woodcock, Lidth’s Jay and Amami Thrush are just some of the islands’ tantalizing species that we will be searching for during our explorations there!
COLOMBIA – NORTHERN ENDEMICS OF SANTA MARTA AND PERIJA
15 – 25 Oct 2019 (11 days)
Price: USD4,800 *GBP3,383 *EUR3,884
Tour Leader: Clayton Burne
Colombia has more bird species than any other country; a staggering 1,900 species occur within the confines of this incredible nation, of which over 90 are endemic! Our endemics-laden tour of Northern Colombia takes us to the Santa Marta Mountains and the Guajira Peninsula on the northern coast of Colombia, as well as the recently explored Perija range on the Venezuelan border. The Santa Marta massif is an isolated mountain range and its snow-capped peaks are the highest coastal mountains in the world. It is also one of the most endemic-rich regions of South America, hosting nearly 50 endemics and regional specialties plus numerous endemic subspecies (several of which, upon further taxonomic review, are likely to be elevated to full species status in the future). We spend time at both low and high elevations of the Perija Range, birding near Valledupar before basing ourselves at the Chamicero Reserve. The reserve was purchased in 2014 after the discovery of good forest tracts on accessible land for the entire suite of Sierra de Perija endemics, including the yet-to-be-described Perija Tapaculo and another 35 subspecies that need further research. The local forms of Golden-bellied Starfrontlet, Emerald Toucanet, Rufous Spinetail and Rufous Antpitta are all proposed splits that require more conclusive documentation.
Dušan Brinkhuizen – Magellanic Plover
I really like waders, and South America has got a few very unique ones. Actually, Chile has got all the fancy shorebirds, including Diademed Sandpiper-Plover, Tawny-throated Dotterel, all four species of seedsnipe, Rufous-chested Plover, Andean Avocet and Magellanic Plover. The latter was not only a lifer for me; it was also my last bird family of South America! The peculiar Magellanic Plover was long placed in the family Charadriidae (Plovers), but has now been placed in its own monotypic family: Pluvianellidae. It is apparently more closely related to the sheathbills than to the true plovers, with molecular data confirming that it is very unique. It nests very locally in specific micro-habitats, like the rocky shores of saline lakes in southernmost Patagonia. During our Birds, Wildlife & Andean landscapes tour to Chile in December 2017, we enjoyed many of the shorebirds mentioned above, including the Magellanic Plover! We observed two fantastic adults at a saline lake north of Punta Arenas. One of them was color-banded (see image) with a red flag, with the inscription 181 on the left tibia. Recently, researchers informed us that plover 181 was banded at the site as an adult in January 2015. The bird is a female and equipped with a geolocator. Interestingly, the geo-data revealed that she remained at the site all winter long and did not migrate; while Magellanic Plovers usually tend to undergo short distance migration.
Erik Forsyth – Black Stilt
The sighting that gave me the most pleasure was being involved in releasing a juvenile Black Stilt (Kaki) at the Tasman Delta in Mt Cook NP, New Zealand. This happened during my most recent tour of the country – New Zealand: Comprehensive I 2018. We chanced upon the Department of Conservation releasing 14 birds at the above-mentioned site, and were fortunate to be given the opportunity to help with their release. This Critically Endangered species relies on a captive breeding programme to supplement the population and keep it going.
There is a video on Facebook under Kaki Recovery Programme, and the bird I helped release backed out first and ran off at quite a speed.
Forrest Rowland – Golden-breasted Fruiteater
Fruiteaters are tough birds to pin down. While there are a couple of relatively widespread species in the genus, most are niche and range-restricted. This applies to one of my top sightings, recently, of the most cooperative Golden-breasted Fruiteater of my life. Having visited the Santa Marta range over a dozen times, I am very aware of how tricky it can be to get looks at the species. Despite being the size of a thrush, the Golden-breasted Fruiteater is a bright green, sedentary bird haunting the mid-canopy of dense forest. Add to that a barely-audible litany of squeaks and pips of extremely high pitch frequency for vocals, and the bird clearly has the advantage of being able to move about the forest undetected. On a recent tour, we had the amazing experience of spotting a male, after some effort, at eye-level! This was definitely one of my favorite birding experiences in a while.
Rich Lindie – Bearded Vulture
Despite being a widespread species, and one that I see on a regular basis, Bearded Vulture remains a bird that I always enjoy seeing. Needless to say, I often only see them at a distance, and seldom for very extended periods. Fortunately for me, however, when I want my fix of this species, I can pop up to Giant’s Castle Nature Reserve – a mere 90 minutes from my house – to where two hides built specially for viewing this species provide an unrivaled window into this iconic species’ world. With two visits to these hides in the last couple of months, this great bird had little competition for top spot on my recent best-sightings list.
Stephan Lorenz – Ibisbill
The Ibisbill is one of the most iconic monotypic birds of the Himalayas and adjacent foothills. Given its distinctive appearance, preference for wild and scenic waterways and incredible ability to blend into its environment, it is, not surprisingly, one of the most wanted birds in the region. During our recent Northern India tour, it was of course high on the wish list of every participant. But the bird proved difficult this year, and was absent from its usual location along the Kosi River during the first thorough search. On another day, we gave it one last try just before leaving the area and after scouring the river, leader Rich Lindie located a single bird as it fed in a small channel. We all ended up with fantastic views and for many, it was the bird of the trip. It was immensely enjoyable to get the bird after a lengthy search and to share it with such a fantastic group.
Andre Bernon – Black-headed Canary
My top bird since November has to be the Black-headed Canary. This extremely handsome endemic of South Africa is a very tricky bird to find anywhere within its range, let alone the vagrant pair we found on our day trip excursion up Sani Pass and into the Kingdom of Lesotho. We had absolutely crippling views of a pair, literally within meters of us. The male showed off his beauty, with rich chestnut upperparts, pure white belly and pitch-black head and throat extending onto the belly as a pinstripe. We thoroughly enjoyed this true vagrant. It was a new bird for the area, even for the experienced South African leaders.
Gareth Robbins – Narina Trogon
The Narina Trogon is, to me, one of the most fascinating birds in Southern Africa, and is generally a favorite for everybody lucky enough to see one, including myself. On my last two Eastern South Africa tours, we were very fortunate to see these secretive and silent flying birds. Even though the Narina Trogon is brightly colored, its green back helps it blend in seamlessly with the forest, often making it very difficult to find. Narina Trogons hunt from a perch, catching unsuspecting prey such as moths, spiders, caterpillars and chameleons. The name Narina derives from the Khoi-San mistress of an early French Ornithologist, Francois Levaillant, and its family name, Apaloderma, means delicate skin.
Wayne Jones – White-necked Rockfowl
After visiting Ghana for the first time in November, it is TRULY difficult for me to settle on just one top bird. Now I know what it feels like for our clients to whittle down a top 10 list at the end of each tour!
Violet and Yellow-billed Turacos immediately spring to mind, as do the exquisite Black Bee-eater (my best views yet) and Rosy Bee-eater (seen perched only metres away). Then there was the male Standard-winged Nightjar which sat so obligingly long for us, although it would have been great to see those bizarre feathers trailing behind him in flight. And what about Africa’s smallest woodpecker, the thumb-sized African Piculet? Or the splendid Long-tailed Hawk we saw at Nsuta Forest which put on such an incredible show for us?
In the end, I had to go with a Ghanaian cliche and settle on White-necked Rockfowl. This bird just blew me away with its clean, cartoonish looks and effortless bounding locomotion. Plus, watching the bird from underneath its rain-sheltered rocky overhang while it regarded us from the viewing benches on one tour made for an unforgettable birding experience!
Greg de Klerk – Ruspoli’s Turaco
Having been largely restricted to birding Southern Africa during last year, I began this year with the opportunity to visit Ethiopia, where I connected with one of my favorite and most sought-after birds, Ruspoli’s Turaco. This species is restricted to a small area of tropical dry forest in southern Ethiopia, and is regarded as vulnerable by the IUCN. As we approached the area, we caught the tell-tale glimpse of crimson red coloring as a bird flew high overhead from where it had been feeding on ripening figs. After a little bit of effort, we were rewarded with excellent views of a pair, rapidly moving through a small tangle with ease and amazing agility, occasionally stopping to provide fantastic opportunities to put them in view in the scope, leaving everyone happy and exhilarated by the chase for this fantastic bird. This stunning bird was lost to science for nearly a century subsequently to its discovery by Price Ruspoli, who was killed by an elephant before he could tell anywhere where he had found this amazing bird!
Adam Walleyn – Madagascar Leaf-nosed Snake
It’s not very often that my highlight of a birding tour is a reptile, but such was the case on last year’s Madagascar Comprehensive IV trip. On our very last morning of the trip, we were enjoying a final walk in the deciduous forests of Ankarafantsikay National Park. Having seen all the area’s specialties, we were just enjoying a final walk. As we were crossing a swing bridge, participant Christina Sells exclaimed: “There’s a snake crossing the bridge!” Sure enough, there was a snake crossing right at her feet. I raced back and saw, to my shock, that it was a Leaf-nosed Snake, a master of camouflage that I have never seen in my many days spent in the forests of Madagascar. We placed the snake out of harm’s way on a branch where it immediately froze and blended into the tree like just another vine. The snake was a female, and this is the one with the full leaf-like appendage, so we were able to admire this at length. What a moment!
We just closed the books on some incredible adventures in South America, to the 8th Continent, and our home country. We’re sure you’ll enjoy reading this section to see what’s been going on with our hottest tours.
GUYANA – BIRDS & WILDLIFE 2017
There are few flights more impressive than the one from Kaieteur Falls (largest single-drop falls on Earth) to Iwokrama. Guyana is one of the wildest, least developed and best-conserved countries in the world. On the flight, you gaze out over hundreds of miles of mountains, savannahs, and never-ending forests unbroken by the hand of man. The wilderness that makes up more than 80% of the country is something exceptional to behold on our planet, where mankind is seemingly everywhere.
Our trip was timed to coincide with the dry season. However, in the last couple of decades, long-established patterns of rainfall have changed markedly, possibly disrupted by global climate change. This year, even though we were in the dry season, we experienced a few storms and a low-pressure system hovered over us at Atta Lodge, producing some drizzle and light rain in the mornings. However, the rain boosted afternoon activity and the sunny morning we did have provided a parade of amazing sights and continuous activity. Overall, it was outstanding! The temperatures were the most pleasant I’ve experienced anywhere in the greater Amazonian/Guianan region.
Highlights of our trip included the following: prolonged views of Black and Crestless Curassows, several Agami Herons, observing a Zigzag Heron fishing from low viny roots at our leisure (sighting of the trip, possibly), Pinnated Bittern in display flight, a fledgling Harpy Eagle in its nest tree calling for food, a Crested Eagle stalking Grey-winged Trumpeters (of which we saw 4 flocks during the tour), great looks at Sungrebe, multiple encounters with Least Nighthawks and White-tailed Nightjars, and seventeen species of hummingbirds, including a feisty Crimson Topaz on territory and a pair of Fiery-tailed Awlbills (first for Rockjumper here!). We saw thirteen species of woodpeckers, including all four gorgeous Celeus, both Barred and Lined Forest Falcons at Atta, twenty species of psittacids (Red-fan Parrots and both Red-and-green and Scarlet Macaws were so commonly seen as to seem mundane), spectacular encounter with a pair of Black-throated Antshrikes amongst the 29 species of antshrikes, antwrens, and antbirds encountered, and more cotinga species than imaginable.
We enjoyed fabulous looks at multiple Guianan Red Cotingas, Guianan Cock-of-the-rock at a lek and at magnificent Kaieteur Falls: Purple-breasted, Spangled and Pompadour Cotingas, spectacular Crimson Fruitcrow, lekking Capuchinbirds (best bird sound on Earth!), and a wonderfully entertaining encounter with a jaw-dropping pair of rare Blue-backed Tanagers. Mammals were relatively few on this particular tour, for some reason, though none of us could imagine the encounter we would have with Giant Anteater on our final morning of the tour: one came within but a few feet of participants as it searched for a place to pass the heat of the day. All-in-all, this was one of the most exciting tours I’ve ever done, and one of the most productive for birding in Guyana.
COLOMBIA – HIGHLIGHTS II 2017
The three ranges of the Andes of Colombia and the adjacent lowlands are home to the most diverse avifauna on earth, and the Colombia Highlights tour targets these areas in search of the endemic and spectacular species that can be found here. Staying in a diverse range of hotels – from downtown in cities to rural lodges or small typical Andean towns – we explored some of the most beautiful landscapes and habitats found in the Andes and the Magdalena and Cauca valleys that separate them.
With just 12 days in the area, we managed a seriously impressive list of 448 bird species, including 23 Colombian endemics. Our top ten birds of the tour included the likes of Black-bellied Mountain Toucan, Buffy Helmetcrest, Yellow-headed Parrot, Long-tailed Sylph and Golden-bellied Starfrontlet.
We started at Laguna Pedropalo, where one of the first birds we saw was the threatened endemic, Turquoise Dacnis. A female Cerulean Warbler was also a lifer for most. An afternoon at the hummingbird feeders at Chicaque yielded 6 species, including one of our top ten: Golden-bellied Starfrontlet. The fantastic paramos and forests of Chingaza National Park yielded the likes of the endemic Rufous-browed Hemispingus, Black-billed Mountain Tanager, Glowing and Coppery-bellied Pufflegs, White-browed Spinetail and Scarlet-bellied Mountain Tanagers. The Hummingbird Observatory near La Calera resulted in good looks at 9 species of hummingbird. At the amazing Jardin Encantado (Enchanted Garden), we marveled at the numbers and diversity of hummingbirds that can inhabit a small suburban garden. We saw 14 species!
We started one morning by birding the Rio Claro Valley, quickly getting to grips with Chestnut-backed Antbird and Barred Puffbird. The endemic Magdalena Antbird took more work, but we were rewarded with reasonable looks at a male before breakfast. We headed to the Gruta del Condor for a delightful experience of walking down a creek to the cave, where we saw about 10 Oilbirds well and could hear more further in. The walk also gave us good views of Chestnut-headed Oropendola, Pacific Antwren, Fulvous-vented Euphonia and an amazingly confiding endemic, a male Velvet-fronted Euphonia. Descending into the Cauca Valley, we saw Flame-rumped Tanagers and Acorn Woodpeckers. The rainshadow forests of the Cauca Valley gave us nice looks at a pair of the endemic Greyish Piculet and eventually the endemic and only recently described Antioquia Wren. We spent a day in the forests of the Rio Blanco Reserve above the town of Manizales. Soon after arrival, we found Buff-breasted Mountain Tanager and a Masked Saltator – an inexplicably rare bird for which Rio Blanco is probably the best site.
It was then Antpitta time, and the 3 feeding stations we visited gave us 4 species. One of the main targets for Los Nevados National Park was the very local Buffy Helmetcrest, and we saw a couple with a male performing very well for us repeatedly. The same area gave everyone good looks at Tawny Antpitta. We made a last attempt to find the endemic Parker’s Antbird that we had only heard distantly. Eventually, we found a pair and had reasonable looks at this secretive endemic before we headed to the airport for the end of the tour.
MADAGASCAR – COMPREHENSIVE IV 2017
We started off the comprehensive tour with lunch at our pleasant hotel on the outskirts of Antananarivo and then boarded a bus to weave our way through the busy traffic into the downtown area. Here, a private reserve at Lac Alarobia is a haven for waterbirds, and offered an excellent start to our Madagascar birding. We were greeted by throngs of Red-billed Teal and White-faced Whistling Ducks and were soon enjoying several Meller’s Duck – an endangered species that is now seemingly thriving at this location. It took some searching to find the most wanted heron here, the endangered Malagasy Pond Heron. We eventually enjoyed good looks at three birds in full breeding regalia. A nice bonus was a pair of Madagascan Grebe – yet another endangered waterbird.
We then headed for the incredible rainforests of Andasibe. Our fantastic local guide had a steady stream of exciting wildlife to show us! We saw our first forest birds, like Spectacled Tetraka, Nelicourvi Weaver and Stripe-throated Jery, but the highlight was a rufous morph Rainforest Scops Owl. Hearing some Indris wailing nearby, we set off in search of them but instead found a pair of roosting Eastern Wooly Lemurs, staring quizzically at us with their big orange eyes. Our next destination was the excellent Mantadia National Park. During one of our first stops, we heard the much-desired Pitta-like Ground Roller and soon had four birds bopping all around us. We headed off in search of Scaly Ground Roller next, a much more challenging species to catch up with. This bird led us on quite the chase, but eventually settled down and offered us superb views of its wonderfully cryptic plumage.
Our last bit of time in the rainforests of eastern Madagascar was spent at Analamazoatra Reserve, where highlights included good views of Madagascan Ibis, Forest Fody, a few Indri feeding in a fruiting tree and the beautiful Diademed Sifaka. Rain was prevalent at the glorious Ranomafana National Park, but a valiant effort meant we came away with some sort of views of a bunch of great birds – Rufous-headed Ground Roller, Common Sunbird-Asity, Velvet Asity, Brown Emutail and Forest Fody. We walked along a narrow forest trail to a real treat – an active Henst’s Goshawk nest. With the old reliable nest in the Bellevue sector now abandoned, this is one of the hardest birds to see in the country. The adult showed superbly well and its screams rang through the forest, a truly amazing experience.
On our final full day of the tour, we managed to find the rarest and most localised of all vangas, Van Dam’s. We also had Malagasy Paradise Flycatcher at point-blank range, and were even able to connect with Madagascar Jacana. After a cancelled flight and a night-long bus drive back to Tana, we had breakfast and parted ways. It had been a very special few weeks on the 8th continent, connecting with 187 bird species, 36 mammals, 54 reptiles and 17 amphibians.
SOUTH AFRICA – MEGA IV 2017
Although it’s a bit intense, there’s no better way to explore the diversity of fauna, habitat and scenery in spectacular South Africa than on a Rockjumper Mega tour!
Over the course of 25 days, we explored acacia woodland, high altitude grassland, coastal forest and snowy-blanketed mountains in the east and flora-rich fynbos, vast wetlands and the arid Karoo in the west. During our travels, we recorded 530 bird species and 57 mammals. All in all, it was a great tour of South Africa.
One of the first destinations of the tour was the bird-famous Zaagkuildrift Road. The overcast weather was great for birding, and we managed to achieve a whopping one-hundred and forty species here! On our way towards the Soutpansberg Mountain Range, we met up with our local guide and proceeded to find a huge target, Cape Parrot! We watched as six birds eventually came in to feed, affording great views. We explored the Woodbush Forest Reserve, second largest in South Africa, and did exceptionally well despite the weather.
Our time at Wakkerstroom was highly successful, but the undoubted highlight here was locating the world’s rarest lark, Rudd’s, at an area known as Fickland Pan. Mkuze Game Reserve yielded Cardinal and Bearded Woodpeckers, a fantastic Stierling’s Wren-Warbler and the range-restricted Pink-throated Twinspot. We were up before dawn to get to the fabulous Ngoye Forest at the optimal time. We had absolutely fantastic displays of not one, but four male Narina Trogons. We were also rewarded with two Green Barbets of the woodwardii subspecies. A walk through Dlinza Forest gave us good views of Spotted Ground Thrush, Purple-crested Turaco, Black Cuckoo and Trumpeter Hornbill.
As with most of our South African tours, the day traveling up Sani Pass tends to stand out as a highlight. Ours was no different. Gurney’s Sugarbird, Ground Woodpecker, Fan-tailed Grassbird and Amur Falcon were just a few of the specials, but our undeniable highlight of the day came in the form of a stunning male Drakensberg Rockjumper right at our feet! We had such good views of this species that it was named top bird of the tour as well.
Our time in the Cape was equally as successful as everything that had come previously. Our highlights while in this stunning area and its surrounds include Agulhas Long-billed Lark, sought-after Knysna Woodpecker, Southern Tchagra, Damara Tern, Cape Rockjumper, Victorin’s Warbler and Cape Clapper Lark. We then headed north and to the east, closing the ‘circle’ of our tour of the country. During this last foray over the last few days of the tour, some of our highlights included a small group of Sclater’s Larks, about a dozen Burchell’s Coursers in one area, Rosy-faced Lovebird, a surprise group of Ludwig’s Bustards and the endemic Melodious Lark.
Champagne Sports Resort Beginner Birding Weekend
On the afternoon of Friday the 23rd of February, a group of 18 guests and 3 Rockjumper guides traveled to the beautiful Champagne Sports Resort in the Central Drakensberg of South Africa. After checking in and exchanging greetings, the group met at the swimming pool area for a quick briefing of what to expect over the next 3 days.
Our aim for the Family Birding Weekend was to give local birders a chance to have a Rockjumper experience in a relaxed and comfortable setting. Birders, non-birding spouses, family members and children of all ages were catered for at the resort – a world-class setting.
The focus from a birding perspective was to learn about bird identification, to target special local species and to work on improving participants’ knowledge of our endemic species. As partners of Rockjumper Birding Adventures, BirdLife South Africa and ZEISS Optics South Africa had an opportunity to educate the guests about their initiatives and products respectively.
Our birding started in earnest with a glance to the skies, which yielded Greater Striped Swallow, and White-rumped, African Palm and Horus Swifts – definitely not a bad way to start. As we birded through the resort grounds over the rest of the day, we managed to pick up some lovely sightings: Greater Double-collared Sunbird feeding on the tubular, orange flowers of a Cape Honeysuckle bush; the endemic Cape White-eye; flight and then perched views of a stunning male Half-collared Kingfisher – one of our main targets, which we managed to get in the scope for all the guests; excellent views of a male Forest Canary on a dead tree; a calling pair of Dark-capped Yellow Warbler – another target species; African Black Duck, and the unique Hamerkop.
Not to be outdone by the first day of birding, the second day kept its pace, with a number of great sightings. A walk along one of the resort’s manicured garden paths yielded a foraging Crested Barbet, raucous Arrow-marked Babblers, and a male Cape Batis at eye-level. The group tried their hands at digiscoping, using the ZEISS Gavia scope and their cellphones to capture their sighting of an African Olive Pigeon. Represented warblers included Little Rush, African Reed and Lesser Swamp and Barratt’s – the latter sang in full-view, odd for this usually secretive species. And the brilliant coloration of a Malachite Kingfisher brightened everyone’s day.
On our last day, we decided to make a quick stop at a dam just outside of the resort in the morning. The excursion landed us Amur Falcons perched on roadside telephone wires, views of Grey Crowned Cranes in flight and then through the scope as they foraged in a nearby field, another target in the form of a Zitting Cisticola, and the thrilling spectacle of a Black Sparrowhawk chasing a Red-eyed Dove – which managed to outmaneuver its pursuer. Waterbirds included Yellow-billed Duck, Great Egret, Grey Heron and Blacksmith Lapwing. Nearby thornveld held the strikingly-marked Brubru and a Neddicky. The last few birds of our time together included a small group of White-fronted Bee-eaters, African Stonechat, a single South African Cliff Swallow and a brilliant adult African Harrier-Hawk.
Between the birding, presentations and facilities of a world-class resort, we truly had a memorable weekend together!
The birds are the big part of any Rockjumper experience, but perhaps the most important part is played by our guides. See here, what you’ve been saying about them.
Wayne Jones is an exceptional birding guide with his ability to hear, identify, spot and describe the field marks of so many elusive birds – MW, Ghana 2017
Erik Forsyth is not only extremely knowledgeable but also accommodating and fun – KB, New Zealand 2017
Erik Forsyth is one of the best guides. He has an extraordinary knowledge of birds, as well as New Zealand. He was also personable and cheerful with a wonderful sense of humor. He is attentive to birders’ needs……food, snacks, bathrooms. Made every effort to meet and exceed any special needs. He knew where to try to find the endemics and the only one we didn’t see or hear was because of inclement weather. We recommend this tour with Erik to our birder friends – J, New Zealand 2017
This was our first tour with Rockjumper and it was absolutely fabulous. Adam Walleyn is much the best Bird guide we have ever had the privilege of working with. His combined qualities as overall tour leader in terms of personality, ability to deal with whatever got thrown at him, interactive skills were all great. He was very good at keeping us informed of what was planned and was happening next. He was very good at imposing a gentle but essential discipline on the group – rotation in the procession, rotation of positions in the buses, ensuring that everyone got to see each bird – all made for a really good functionality in the group. His sharpness in the field, knowledge of bird calls and bird identification were simply remarkable – PF & BF, Madagascar 2017
Our guide, Rob Williams, was exceptionally well qualified, good-humored in all circumstances and remarkably diligent in accommodating all levels of birding skills within our group. He went out of his way to make sure that each member of the group realized their expectations for the trip. We would welcome the opportunity to join him on additional trips; he is a quality individual with sound values and a superb representative of Rockjumper Birding Tours – CH & BH, Peru 2017
Rob Williams and the Rockjumper folks were absolutely fantastic in helping me after I lost my passport. They made sure I got back to Bogota for the embassy appointments, changing plans on the fly. Very impressive dedication to help customers – BA, Colombia 2017
Our trip was really exceptional, and our guide, Glen Valentine, was fabulous!!!! We had narrow views to see birds but Glen went out of his way to make sure everyone had a chance to see these exceptional birds – CM, Malaysia & Borneo, 2017
Expert guiding by Glen and Keith Valentine, aided by fabulous local talent, ensured we saw the maximum number of endemics and other birds and mammals. Perhaps more importantly, these 2 brothers enjoyed their time together and provided a warm, friendly and caring environment in which we all had a good time with lots of laughs, and looked out for each other to ensure everyone got on the birds and did not falter on a tough hike or challenging car ride – JA, Remote West Papua 2017
We found our guide, Andre Bernon, to be exceedingly competent at finding and identifying birds. He also had an impressive range of knowledge about other biota, plus extensive knowledge of the local history – JT, South Africa 2017
I must commend Nigel Redman, who is an exceptional guide, with a vast knowledge of birds (in Thailand and beyond), as well as a keen knowledge of recent taxonomic changes in Asian birds, and for his management of the trip and the group. Luckily for me, this trip was my first time birding in Asia, so I managed upwards of 330 lifers! – GS, Thailand 2017
With a couple of 2018’s events already in the rearview mirror, there are many more still on the horizon. If you are out on the road, attending birding events, keep your eyes out for us, and stop by and say hi.
Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival Jan 24 – 29
By Ric Zarwell
The festival was once again a noteworthy and fun-filled event in January 2018. Numerous attendees visited our Rockjumper Worldwide Birding Adventures booth, and many delivered excited stories of previous tours with our expert tour leaders. A dozen or more couples spoke glowingly of upcoming tours booked for later in 2018. It is always a joy to engage with previous clients and those who are excited to join the Rockjumper club of well-satisfied clients. The Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival is always one of the busiest and best-attended festivals in the U.S. and this year was no different. I’m looking forward to another such event in 2019 and invite everyone to visit our booth.
Mass Audubon Annual Birder’s Meeting Mar 11
Ever since 1992, birders from around New England have come together every March to attend Mass Audubon’s annual Birders Meeting, and in 2018 Rockjumper was proud to serve as lead sponsor again. George Armistead was on hand, attending the event for the second year in a row. The meeting featured a number of engaging speakers, top-notch vendors and enthusiastic participants, this is always a great day-long event in Boston. The theme for the 26th Annual Birders Meeting was Highlands and Islands of New England: A Bird’s-Eye-View, and featured the ecology of these habitats and their significance to birds and birders. Congrats to our friends at Mass Audubon on another fantastic year and another fabulous birder’s meeting.
Wings Over Water Northwest Birding Festival March 16 -18
Celebrating their 16th year, the annual Wings Over Water Birding Festival in Blaine, Washington, celebrates the incredible variety of migratory birds that flock to the coastal waters of Drayton Harbor, Birch Bay and Semiahmoo Bay. The Washington Brant Foundation started the Brant Festival in Blaine and Birch Bay in 2002 because of their concern about the continuous decline in waterfowl populations due to habitat loss. The festival changed its name in 2005 to Wings Over Water Northwest to include the large number of marine bird species that migrate here during spring migration. Due to the festival’s success, it became a 501c3 in 2008 and continues to celebrate the annual festival every March. The mission today is to promote conservation, education and stewardship of the birds and their habitat in the Pacific Northwest as well as encourage ecotourism to support the economy. Participants had endless entertainment from a great variety of field trips, workshops, at the reception, the art exhibits and still more. Rockjumper was thrilled to make our first appearance at this remarkable event!
New River Birding & Nature Festival April 30 – May 5
Since 2002, the annual New River Birding & Nature Festival takes place in and around the New River Gorge National River in West Virginia. Here, the heart of the upland, hardwood forests provide crucial stopover and nesting habitat for the continued survival of species such as Golden-winged, Blue-winged, and Swainson’s Warbler, as well as the Scarlet Tanager. This birding and nature-watching festival highlights more than 100 bird species. Think of it as a five-star nature vacation that is chock full of birds, and not overrun with people, and where the Swainson’s Warbler – which can be so difficult elsewhere – makes regular appearances in the Rhododendron and dense understory along the Appalachian slopes. A friendly birding vacation for everyone, the week-long event features guided birding excursions, world-class speakers, the finest collection of guides, tasty food, and a back-porch atmosphere unmatched by any other birding festival. Rockjumper’s George Armistead will be on hand as a guide and a speaker, and is fired up to assist the remarkable array of leaders and other guests.
CONSERVATION & PARTNERSHIP NEWS
2017 was a big year for Rockjumper Conservation, click here to learn more about the funds we raised for bird and wildlife conservation. And in 2018, we have a lot more in store! Take a look, and see how you might help too.
Champions of the Flyway – Rockjumper & ZEISS Take Aim at Bird Killers
A team from Rockjumper gathered with colleagues, birders, and ornithologists from all over the world for the planet’s premier bird race, the CHAMPIONS OF THE FLYWAY (#COTF2018) bird race in southern Israel on March 26th. Our team, the ZEISS Rockjumpers, arrived several days early and spent their time scouting the Negev Desert and Eilat area, staking out tough species and being marvelled by the impressive bird migration that moves through Israel at this time of year. Our squad come from all corners of the globe, with Adam Riley flying in from the south (South Africa), George Armistead from the west (USA), Tuomas Seimola from the north (Finland) and Mike Pope from the east (Kuwait). The big race day kicked off with a midnight adventure at Eilat (which included a challenge trying to refuel our van!) but ended with several owl species being recorded and the long drive to Nitzana being achieved. Dawn in the Negev gave us displaying McQueen’s Bustards, Cream-coloured Coursers and much besides.
We spent the rest of the day moving southwards to Eilat as we visited sewage works, a lake, kibbutzs, endless deserts, sewage works and more sewage works….. In the end we recorded 161 species, somewhat less than what we hoped for but most importantly, we raised $7,811 for conservation and we’d like to thank everyone who generously donated to our fundraising efforts. #COTF2018 is not just a race, but much more so a monument to bird conservation, and Rockjumper tour leader Yoav Perlman has been instrumental in the founding of this event. Now in its 5th year, the event has made an incredible impact on the lives of migratory birds through the Mediterranean and the Middle East. In previous years, many thousands of dollars were raised to protect migratory birds in Georgia, Cypress, Greece and Turkey. This year, all funds raised for COTF went directly to confronting the illegal killing of birds in Croatia and Serbia. These COTF funds will support data collection on bird-crime related issues and promote the conservation of birds and wildlife. Both of the conservation partners (BirdLife Croatia and Bird Protection and Study Society of Serbia) are keen to include law enforcement officers in workshops, training and field actions.
National Audubon Society – Impact Adventures with Audubon
New in January 2018, Rockjumper is thrilled to announce Impact Adventures with Audubon, as Team Rockjumper unites with the National Audubon Society to drive sustainable tourism in select biodiverse hotspots.
Focusing on areas in Latin America and the Caribbean, the National Audubon Society has identified target areas in The Bahamas, Belize, Colombia, Guatemala, and Paraguay that include some of the most threatened ecosystems in the world, many of which host migrating species that breed in the US and Canada. The central question they sought to answer was: how do we encourage communities to value ecosystems enough to protect them, and in turn have these ecosystems contribute to the economic well-being of the communities? The answer, they discovered, was ecotourism.
The National Audubon Society and its partners developed a naturalist guide training curriculum tailored to local cultures and languages, as well as basic business, hospitality, and language training. The objectives being to develop the capacity for ecotourism, and create a network of community-based birding destinations that offer skilled local birding guides, high-quality interpretation and lodging, food, and related goods and services tailored to the birding market. To date, through National Audubon Society’s Bird-Based Tourism Initiative, over 275 men and women have attended basic guide training, and more than 70 have completed advanced training. Over 400 local business owners have participated in training, and 5,500 children have attended environmental education classes. The project has boosted citizen science initiatives, and added to the number of new eBird users, who now contribute data to an online database of bird observations, which supports IBA monitoring.
The National Audubon Society has now partnered with Rockjumper Birding Tours. In support of Audubon’s on-the-ground conservation work in these key areas, Impact Adventures aims to take the next step in fulfilling both the dreams of the birding community – who want to enjoy the fauna and flora of these megadiverse regions – and those of the community members – who will benefit from these eco-tourists and, in turn, ensure the survival of these critical habitats.
Contact us today at: firstname.lastname@example.org, to join Rockjumper and Audubon on a birding & wildlife Impact Adventure to Belize, Guatemala, Colombia or Paraguay.
African Bird Club App
Rockjumper has partnered with African Bird Club on another exciting app project to aid in the conservation, communication and education about Africa’s birds. The app will be available on the Apple App Store and Google Play in the coming months.
As a member of the Rockjumper mailing list, you will be given exclusive access (along with ABC members) to download this app before its public release. So watch this space!
To get this project off the ground, Rockjumper had the privilege of contributing an initial amount of £10,000, running expenses of up to £1,000 per annum, and a large volume of images.
Below is a message from John Caddick and the African Bird Club:
“We are delighted to announce our support for the African Bird Club (ABC) in its development of an App for African birds. This is an exciting new venture which aims to increase people’s environmental awareness and their appreciation of nature.
The objective of the App is to represent birds in a way that is stimulating, interactive and fun and as a result, change people’s perceptions of the natural world. It is intended to reach as many users as possible in Africa. It will be an ABC asset which meets the Club’s primary objectives of education, communication and the conservation of Africa’s birds.
The vision is for the app to be an All Africa field guide. It will include all species and major subspecies known from the African region i.e. the region covered by ABC, which is the mainland of Africa and offshore islands in the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. Photographs, calls, text and maps will be included for each species and subspecies.
Potential users of the app will include anyone with an interest in birds of the region. This will include ornithologists, research workers, students, birders, field workers, site wardens and all lovers of nature. It will be available as a free download to anyone with a Smartphone or Tablet, thus allowing it to reach many people who are not able to afford a traditional field guide which can cost as much as a month’s wages for an African field worker.
This is a large project which requires significant content provision and technical development: as such, it is necessary to structure the project in phases. The first phase, for which development is well underway, is the provision of a field guide app for Mauritius and Rodrigues. These islands were chosen for several reasons: they have a relatively small species checklist, many of the species have been photographed locally and ABC has good relations with the Mauritius Wildlife Foundation. The planned launch of the Birds of Mauritius is late April. Sample photograph and text pages are shown below.
The second phase of the project is to develop the Birds of Nigeria and other countries in West Africa. Such a venture needs resources to succeed and help will be required from ABC members and others to provide photographs, calls and text; to check content; to help with testing and many other areas.
If you would like to help with any of these tasks or find out more about the project, please contact John Caddick email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Rare Bird Club Antarctica Cruise with BirdLife
Letter from Gilly Banks
“BirdLife International gratefully acknowledges the generous support received from Rockjumper Birding as a contribution to BirdLife’s Global Penguin Conservation Programme, which has been realised as a result of our collaborative cruise with One Ocean Expeditions to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Antarctica from 03-20 February 2018.
Penguins are a remarkable, much-loved, colorful and characterful group of flightless birds found only in the Southern Hemisphere. They occupy, and in places dominate, some of the harshest habitats on earth. After albatrosses, they are unfortunately the second most threatened group of seabirds, with 10 of 18 species threatened with extinction. They face an array of threats, including overexploitation of prey fish by fisheries, bycatch in fisheries, predation by invasive species and habitat loss. Climate change provides a worrying backdrop with as yet unknown, but potentially severe, impacts.
In response to this challenging situation, Rockjumper Birding has supported BirdLife International with the implementation of its Global Penguin Campaign which is (1) protecting important colonies through predator control, habitat restoration and enhancing biosecurity, as well as establishing new colonies where appropriate; (2) identifying the most important places at sea for penguins and advocating for their protection and improved management as marine protected areas; (3) working to tackle bycatch in fisheries, and carrying out scientific and advocacy work to improve fisheries management; (4) monitoring the status of penguins and their movements to assess the effectiveness of conservation work and promote greater action, and (5) supporting BirdLife Partners in countries with penguin populations to build national capacity in order to strengthen their conservation work for penguins.
Once again, BirdLife International expresses our gratitude to Rockjumper.”
Kruger Bird and Wildlife Challenge
We are thrilled to launch an epic birding and wildlife event that promises to provide:
- first class birding in one of the world’s great untouched wildernesses; South Africa’s jewel, the Kruger National Park, which we will explore from top to bottom;
- unrivalled wildlife experiences, including the famous Big Five;
- small groups guided by an expert birder as well as a professional Kruger driver-guide in an open safari vehicle;
- a fun challenge to try find and identify as many bird and mammal species, with each species being awarded points based on rarity;
- meeting and spending time with many other like-minded birders and conservationists;
- exciting prizes; and
- MOST IMPORTANTLY helping to raise much-needed funds to snatch the Critically Endangered White-winged Flufftail from the brink of extinction (all profits from this challenge will be donated to the Middelpunt Wetland Trust managed by BirdLife South Africa for the conservation of the White-winged Flufftail. Rockjumper is donating its time and expertise to arrange and manage this event.)
If this sounds like fun to you, then don’t hesitate to join us on the great Kruger Bird and Wildlife Challenge from 6th – 15th February 2019. Further details are to be found in the itinerary.
We have a maximum capacity for 21 teams consisting of 9 people. The cost of participating is R22,950 (approximately US$1,950 at current exchange rates). If you put together your own team of 9, then you will be rewarded with a 50% discount on your participation.
Please contact Sarah Dell on email@example.com to register your interest.
BirdLife South Africa, the Middelpunt Wetland Trust and Rockjumper Birding Tours are looking forward to sharing this meaningful but fun challenge with you.
White-winged Flufftail Letter from BirdLife South Africa
Towards the end of 2017, the Rockjumper staff were split into four teams to raise money for the White-winged Flufftail; a little-known, Critically Endangered species that appears to migrate between Ethiopia and our home country, South Africa.
The end result was more than rewarding, when we heard the following feedback from Dr Hanneline Smit-Robinson of BirdLife South Africa:
22 December 2017
Dear Megan and Team Rockjumper
To say we were astounded by the incredible sum of money raised towards White-winged Flufftail conservation by Team Rockjumper, as part of your fundraising attempts during 2017, is an understatement. These funds will be utilized towards the planned construction of the White-winged Flufftail Research Facility at the National Zoological Gardens (Zoo), Pretoria.
We sincerely appreciate your unflagging support towards the conservation of this Critically Endangered species.
We would like to wish you and your families a joyful festive season and all the very best for 2018.
Dr Hanneline Smit-Robinson
Manager: Terrestrial Bird Conservation Programme/Oppenheimer Fellow of Conservation
SISTER COMPANY NEWS
ORYX welcomes new team members and seeks the ghost of the Himalayas, the Snow Leopard. Rockjumper Wildlife has their biggest year yet, with an abundance of lemurs and the Ethiopian Wolf on display.
ORYX Photographic Expeditions
It’s a new year and new season for ORYX!
The last portion of 2017 ended with visits to 8 different countries across Africa, Asia and Antarctica. We had the privilege of taking our clients through the rainforests of Madagascar, on culture-enriching journeys to Ethiopia, on gorilla treks in Rwanda, on a cruise to bewildering Antarctica and on luxurious safaris in picturesque Botswana, Kenya and South Africa.
With a new year comes new tours, and we have implemented 5 new offerings that vary from the bushvelds of Africa to the eastern Russian peninsula to the far reaches of the Arctic Circle! We will venture into new territories as we embark on our first ever photographic tour to capture the Northern Lights in Norway and to the Kenyan Rift Valley to photograph the ethnic tribes surrounding Lake Turkana.
As the year moves forward, ORYX’s other new photo expeditions include a visit to Kamchatka, the land of fire and ice, a photo safari to Savute and Khwai in Botswana and a dedicated private photo camp to capture the beautiful Suri Tribes in Omo Valley of Ethiopia. We have also implemented some thrilling “big cat” tours for 2019, that include an expedition to photograph the Pumas of Patagonia and Snow Leopards in Ladakh. A few more exciting destinations lie in wait for our guests, which will be revealed soon….watch this space!
With the massive growth that we’ve seen over the past few months, we have also brought on 4 new ORYX Photo Tour Partners from across the globe. Welcome to the team Mike Dexter, Bezhad Larry, Jessica Tingley and Varun Aditya! Exceptional photographers in their own right, each possessing a skill-set which we believe will take the company to new heights.
Our resolution for 2018 was to expand our horizons and, so far, ORYX is definitely going places! We cannot wait for our clients to join us on this magnificent journey so that we can all live out our photographic dreams.
Rockjumper Wildlife Tours
Rockjumper Wildlife Tours continues to make positive strides forward, and 2018 will be to be our biggest year to date. Over the past few months, we have operated a number of exciting private and scheduled safaris. These included Rwanda – where time spent with impressive Mountain Gorillas was the undoubted highlight, Madagascar – where a plethora of lemurs and other unique wildlife was showcased, Kenya – with fabulous views of the classic African predators stealing the show together with many other exciting mammals and some wonderful lodges and scenery, South Africa – our home country, which continues to serve up fabulous wildlife viewing opportunities at excellent value for money, and Namibia – where the group enjoyed some of the most extraordinary scenery and game viewing, unlike anywhere else on the planet.
Our fabulous Ethiopia tour continues to receive good interest for the end of 2018 and offers some exceptional opportunities to see a variety of unique mammals, birds and landscapes, such as the truly remarkable Bale Highlands – where the rare Ethiopian Wolf and Mountain Nyala can still be found, and the mighty Simien Mountains – home to incredible troops of Gelada and the endangered Walia Ibex. Other highly sought-after itineraries include tours into India, where we have exceptional chances of finding Tiger while also experiencing the heart and soul of authentic India. Another popular trip is our Snow Leopard adventure; while Brazil offers fabulous wildlife viewing for mammals like Brazilian Tapir, Giant Anteater and Giant River Otter occur. The stately Jaguar is, however, the crown-jewel species in this line-up, and our chances of success are excellent.
One of our specialties is organizing private customised tours, both guided by our expert leaders who will truly enrich your wildlife experience, or unguided to luxury wildlife lodges. So if you have a family vacation that you are considering, a special romantic holiday planned or a classic wildlife safari that you have been itching to do for a while, we look forward to hearing from you.
Thanks Rockjumper friends for stopping in and checking out our Team news. Our 2019 tours are now up on our website and many prices are finalized and others being released soon. Remember you can save on your next Rockjumper adventure through our Early Bird Discount, or when you refer friends. Our customer loyalty programs are the best around because we have the best customers! Thanks for celebrating birds and wildlife with us and helping us conserve birds, and please don’t hesitate to share this newsletter with a friend whom you think might enjoy it.
Yours in birding,