Happy 2017 to all our Rockjumper friends and family!
The new year is off with a running start, and we have enjoyed a range of exciting developments already. From great new deals for our valued customers, ground-breaking new tours, to new offices for Rockjumper’s South African office staff, the last few months have been a whirlwind. We invite you to take a look inside this issue of the Rockjumper Newsletter to see what’s been going on.
We thank you for your interest in Rockjumper and look forward to seeing you afield again soon.
Best wishes for a great 2017,
The Rockjumper Team
With a long history of rewarding our most loyal customers, we are pleased now to extend even greater value to you when you register with us. Rockjumper Birding Tours has 4 loyalty programs in operation, including the brand new Early Bird Discount.
- Back-to-Back Tours Discount
- 5th Tour Discount
- Refer a New Friend Discount
- Early Bird Discount – NEW!
Sign up now, and save!
Private Custom Trips – Let Us Set You Up!
And remember, if there is a trip you are dying to do, but the dates don’t quite fit or you’d rather do it with friends or family, talk to us about setting up a private, custom trip. Cuan, Jeremy and Candice now operate our thriving private tour department and they are waiting for you to contact them on firstname.lastname@example.org to set up your dream trip today.
2018 Tour Schedule
We are pleased to announce that our 2018 tour schedule is already finalized, and most of the prices have also been set. Our team has been hard at work getting the most accurate prices out so that you can begin planning your 2018 birding adventures! Don’t forget that if you book the first few places on any of our 2018 tours (and some of our 2017 tours) then you stand to received our 10% Early Bird Discount.
Rockjumper Bird Conservation Fund
Did you know that every time you travel with us you are helping bird conservation? A minimum of US$50 from each Rockjumper tour sign-up goes directly into the RBCF. Learn more about the RBCF here.
Some of the Rockjumper Team atop our new office in Garlington. We moved into the new Rockjumper office in October. Our new premises offer stunning views from the rooftop (we have even seen Grey Crowned Crane flying overhead) and are run largely on green energy.
Back row left to right: Jeremy Exelby, Brad Roberts, Bea van Rooyen, Shaun Auge, Andre Bernon, Wayne Jones, Glen Valentine, Patrick Meyer, Praniel Dhanesar
Middle row left to right: Adam Riley, Alison Wakelin, Kirst Horne, Nisha Devdhat, Thando Ndlovu, Michelle Wells, Cuan Rush, Candice Jack, Dasreya Naidoo, Meg Taylor
Front row left to right: Clayton Burne, Anthea Pillay
The Rockjumper Team continues to grow and prosper. Take a look at all the news from our team members, from new birding highlights, to new marriages, to new family additions, etc. There’s a lot happening!
New Staff On Board
We are happy to welcome four new staff members to the Rockjumper Team!
George Armistead, a birder since the age of 9 years old, has a long history in connecting people with nature through ecotourism and expedition travel. A professional guide with 20 years of experience, George has led trips to all seven continents and from 2012 to August of 2016, he managed the events program for the American Birding Association. He also served on the ABA’s Recording Standards and Ethics Committee, was an instructor at ABA young birder camps, and has authored two books on birds, including Better Birding: Tips, Tools, and Concepts for the Field (2015, Princeton University Press) and The ABA Field Guide to the Birds of Pennsylvania (2016, Scott & Nix, Inc.). Based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he received a masters degree in environmental studies at the University of Pennsylvania, and is an associate at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. George spends his free time outdoors, studying birds and nature, and also enjoying city living in Philadelphia. As Rockjumper’s new chief network officer, George will focus on partnerships and promotions, while continuing to guide a tour every so often too. Along with our other staff, he will represent Rockjumper at key events in the USA and elsewhere, and will assist in our efforts to expand the company’s impact in bird and wildlife conservation around the globe.
Niki Stuart is the Financial Director of Rockjumper Birding Ltd Mauritius (Head Office). Niki has a degree in Financial Information Systems and is a qualified Accredited Charted Management Accountant (ACMA) from the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (C.I.M.A.) and a qualified Charted Global Management Accountant (CGMA). Originally born in South Africa, she now lives in Mauritius. Niki is responsible for setting strategy, structure, monitoring of policies and business plans and ensures all Mauritius legal obligations are fulfilled. Niki has a great love for wildlife, nature and strategic management accounting, helping to drive the decisions critical to creating and sustaining organizational value. Her best hobby outside of work is spending time with her husband and two daughters.
Nisha Devdhat is from the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands and made her way into the Travel Industry after completing a Bachelor of Commerce degree at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Considering her fascination with foreign cultures, hunger for adventure and curiosity for all things unknown, it was only natural that she pursue a career in Travel. After spending 8 years arranging group tours for some of the best schools in South Africa and the United Kingdom, Nisha decided to shake things up and joined the team at Rockjumper Birding Tours. Her role includes flight bookings, pre and post tour accommodation bookings and visa applications for our Tour Leaders. She also assists our sister companies with their flight bookings. Nisha’s attention to detail, planning skills and resourcefulness are just a few of the qualities making her a successful Travel Consultant. During her time in the travel industry, Nisha was afforded the opportunity to travel within South Africa and to a number of countries abroad also. Outside the office, her interests include literature, fine arts and photography. She reads often, getting lost in faraway places and meeting strange and wonderful characters in her books.
Shaun Auge, born in Mpumalanga, South Africa, spent his formative years in Swaziland, where he spent a large portion of his time outside, often taking the time to explore the seemingly untouched lands that surrounded his family’s home. This lifestyle fostered a great appreciation for nature which was only supplemented by constant weekend trips to the nearby, world-famous Kruger National Park. At the age of six, his family moved to the beautiful, rolling green hills of the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, where he still lives today. Having completed his Bachelor of Commerce Degree, with electives focusing on Marketing and Business Management, he has been working part-time in our marketing department for the past few months, where he has contributed in a significant way with a hardworking attitude and skilful copywriting abilities. As of the start of 2017, Shaun has taken up a full-time position as Rockjumper’s editor. His love of language, literature and reading will certainly be of great use in this position. Aside from reading, Shaun has interests in film-making, music – playing multiple instruments, with plans to learn more – and photography – where the Midlands have essentially become his ‘playground’.
Brad Roberts Welcomes Twins!
Brad Roberts, Rockjumper’s Corporate Image Manager, is responsible for all visual aspects of Rockjumper’s marketing material, and now he and his wife Cheri are also responsible for a set of gorgeous twins! Proud, first-time parents, Brad and Cheri recently welcomed Ethan and Emily into the family, and we couldn’t be happier for them.
Brad has shared an image of his new family with us, and he would also like to see your images too. If you have some nice shots (especially of you and your fellow birders having fun) on recent Rockjumper trips, we encourage you to share them with Brad and our marketing team, at: email@example.com.
Rich Gets Hitched
Congratulations to veteran Rockjumper guide Rich Lindie and his new wife, Kim Swinstead, for tying the knot. Just this past September, Rich and Kim were married and we are thrilled for them both. Rich is among our most expert, experienced leaders, and has spent over a decade travelling, birding and photographing birds on every continent. Through his experience, he’s built an incredible knowledge of the world’s birds and wildlife, a truly impressive collection of imagery, and a dedicated following on his trips as well. Efficient, sharp, enthusiastic and humorous, Rich enjoys showing others the natural world as much as he loves discovering its wonders. We are proud to have him as one of our guides and ecstatic that he and Kim have found each other.
Clayton Burne and Meg Taylor
A Run at 700 in South Africa for Meg: A Dash Around The Western Cape
By Clayton Burne (Operations Manager)
This December, Meg (Rockjumper’s HR Manager) & Kaily Taylor and I were invited to join my brother in the Western Cape for his wedding day, and as both of us are serious birders, we looked at this date as an opportunity to get some lifers too. With Meg approaching the magical 700 species mark in southern Africa, we decided on a helter skelter itinerary that would see us searching for 18 endemic or near endemic species. We had 10 days to negotiate nearly 5000km’s and find the birds!
We began by heading to Brandvlei, with Pygmy Falcon, Sclater’s Lark and Karoo Korhaan topping the day’s highlights. Moving on, we found the endemic South Black Korhaan and Cape Clapper Lark before reaching Cape Town. Southern African Mega Rarities duly obliged for us in the form of Temminck’s Stint and Pectoral Sandpiper. A trip to Rooi Els was hardly promising, with views of the Cape Rockjumper being unlikely due to the weather. Alas, a male and female perched atop a rock, defying near gale force winds! Cape Sugarbird and Orange-breasted Sunbird also obliged before we headed to Stony Point and added African Penguin and the rare Bank Cormorant.
We decided to head to Cape Agulhas a day early. However, in a non-descript town, another Mega Rarity – Red-necked Buzzard, had been seen the previous day by our colleague, Keith Valentine, so I made the call to head there instead, where we were rewarded with staggering views! Views en route home included Victorin’s Warbler, Cape Siskin, Agulhas Long-billed Lark and Cape Clapper Lark.
Protea Canary was seen around Ceres and the skulky Cinnamon-breasted Warbler was found an hour’s drive into the Karoo. In the end, we exceeded the target list – bagging 22 lifers for Meg and even a world lifer for me!
In further news, in support of Rockjumper’s culture of learning initiative, Meg has recently completed a Human Resource Management course through UCT (University of Cape Town), and is passionately dedicating her enthusiasm to many aspects of our amazing, innovative team. Meg diligently handles Rockjumper’s day-to-day staff requirements, and is working on some exciting projects, expanding the HRM role to align with the future growth of the company. One of Meg’s key functions is liaising with potential candidates for positions within our organization. She loves engaging with driven, motivated and inspiring people, so if you would like to get in touch, please feel free to drop Meg an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Markus Lilje, one of Rockjumper’s stalwart guides for over 9 years, will be sorely missed by fellow guides, colleagues and his many clients, to be sure. Markus always set the bar extremely high and his guiding temperament, field ability and sense of humor will long be remembered by everyone who had the pleasure of meeting him or travelling with him on tour. Markus is settling down in Germany for the foreseeable future and will be concentrating on furthering his studies over the next few years. We congratulate him on his recent marriage and wish him all the best for a very bright future.
The Rockjumper website is your primary tool for exploring the best birding destinations in the world, so to better serve you we decided it was time to give it a bit of a facelift.
We hope you will find the new homepage easy on the eyes and easy to navigate. Whether you’d prefer to browse our tours by date or by destination, it won’t take more than a click to get where you want to go. Navigating away from the homepage, you’ll find the tour pages have a familiar, but more polished feel and all the useful information that you’d expect from Rockjumper is still readily available.
While the website itself has been built on tried and tested technology providing a fast and secure base, we’ve had an all new software system custom built to deliver the tour information directly from our operations department. This assists us in keeping everything as up to date and accurate as possible.
Take a look, and explore all that the new website has to offer.
Rockjumper House rooftop garden
Our Eco-Office Building – Rockjumper House
As birding and wildlife enthusiasts, minimizing our impact is important to us. So, when Noremac Chemical Technologies learned we needed a new office to accommodate our growing business, they were keen to share with us ideas about building an eco-office building that they’d been wanting to put into practice.
Our brand new triple-storey office building in Garlington, “Rockjumper House”, uses mono-crystalline high-efficiency solar panels (the best on the market) and a temperature controlling network of hidden water pipes. The pipes move heat in and out of the walls, floors, and ceilings through what is known as a “Thermally Activated Building System”. Furthermore, the air extraction system provides fresh, filtered air from the outside, while reducing dust and allergens. Two lithium iron storage batteries, known for their ability to quickly receive and release energy, are also recharged for our future energy needs. This system provides energy for hot water and electricity, significantly reducing noise and emissions.
A particularly lovely feature of the building’s system is the rooftop garden. This garden not only assists in damp-proofing but also in heat protection. Plants have an ability to absorb and disperse infrared rays from the sun, which concrete doesn’t. So, when normal buildings absorb these heat rays, they depend on high-powered air-cooling systems. However, this garden prevents a portion of that heat from affecting the building’s internal temperature in the first place.
Although green, eco-buildings are becoming more popular, Rockjumper is privileged and proud of Rockjumper House, which reduces our carbon footprint and serves as a model for other offices, locally and beyond.
Rockjumper House office on the first floor
Bloomsbury Competition Winner
In autumn of 2016, we ran a competition where contestants who entered a lucky draw could win a set of Helm Identification and Photography Guides, generously supplied by our friends at Bloomsbury Publishing UK. We are happy to congratulate Jason Renwick of Australia for winning this fabulous collection of excellent Bloomsbury books.
As a lifelong birder, Jason took an interest in birds at an early age through his father. He hopes to one day visit the United States to someday see a woodpecker. His favourite bird today is the Eastern Spinebill, though as a teenager he bred budgies and was very fond of them as well. An active bird book collector, particularly of Australian and New Zealand titles, the Bloomsbury winnings have found an excellent home with Jason!
Thanks to all of you who participated and keep an eye out for future special deals and contests where you could win big prizes.
LAST CALL! The following departures are set to go, with just a few spots remaining. If you’re looking for a top destination getaway, start here:
Cuba – Caribbean Endemics II
04 – 13 Feb 2017 (2 Spaces Available)
With Chris Sharpe
Cuban endemic birds + Caribbean specials. Top targets include Bee Hummingbird, Gundlach’s Hawk, Bare-legged Owl, Blue-headed Quail-Dove, Fernandina’s Flicker, Cuban Tody and more!
Northern India – Birds & Tigers I
05 – 22 Feb 2017 (4 Spaces Available)
With David Erterius
Taj Mahal, search for mythical Bengal Tiger, Leopard, Sloth Bear and Dhole, Sarus Crane, Koklass Pheasant, Nepal Wren-Babbler, Ibisbill, Wallcreeper, and more!
Best of Birding Panama II
03 – 12 Mar 2017 (2 Spaces Available)
With Trevor Ellery
Canal Zone, rainforests and foothills with Rufous-crested Coquette, White-tipped Sicklebill, Blue Cotinga, Rosy Thrush-Tanager, Spot-crowned Barbet, and Mantled Howler Monkey.
Jamaica – Island Endemics II
12 – 17 Mar 2017 (1 Space Available)
With Forrest Rowland
All 28 endemics possible, such as Crested Quail-Dove, Jamaican Owl, Jamaican Mango, Red-billed and Black-billed Streamertail, Jamaican Tody, plus other Caribbean specialties.
Ecuador – Northern: Eastern Andes: Paramo & Cloud Forest
13 – 19 Apr 2017 (3 Spaces Available)
With Dušan Brinkhuizen
The mighty Andes, pristine cloud forests with specialties, Andean Condor, Giant and Sword-billed Hummingbirds, Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe, Inca Jay, and Crested Quetzal.
Kenya & Tanzania – Birds & Big Game IV
12 – 29 May 2017 (1 Space Available)
With David Hoddinott
Designed to maximize big game birding, with Ngorongoro Crater, the Serengeti, Kilimanjaro, Mt Kenya, and Lake Nakuru that glows pink with millions of flamingos.
Alaska – Nome & Seward Peninsula
30 May – 03 Jun 2017 (2 Spaces Available)
With Forrest Rowland
Frontier gold rush town, miles of trackless wilderness, specialties such as Arctic & Yellow-billed Loons, Aleutian Tern, Bluethroat, Eastern Yellow Wagtail, plus Muskox and Grizzly Bear.
Of course, it is in the field where we all feel at our most alert and engaged. See here for the latest on what’s been encountered on some of our most exciting trips.
Recurve-billed Bushbird by Forrest Rowland – Colombia
We had traveled to the remote, quaint, mountain town of Ocana, just 30 miles or so from the Venezuelan border, with the hopes of seeing Recurve-billed Bushbird on our Remote Colombia Tour. Given the Bushbird’s near-mythical status, and the fact that only one in four visiting groups actually lay eyes on the creature, anticipation was high in the hopes that we might get a glimpse of this elusive, striking bird.
When we arrived at a spot I thought favorable, I decided that this was where we’d make our stand. We’d either see it here or trudge back up the trail, defeated. Conditions at this point were just too difficult to carry on. So, as a final Hail Mary, I softly played a recording I had of the female of the species. No response. We waited a couple minutes. Nothing. I played another strophe. No response. Nerves were taut, eyes were darting back and forth. Nothing. I was about to hit “play” a final time when I noticed a large blob silently appear in the bamboo, not 10 feet from me. I didn’t even lift my bins, I just whispered harshly to everyone “She’s here!!!”
Recurve-billed Bushbird by Dušan Brinkhuizen
Bright Rufous, sporting an insanely disproportionate, though somehow endearingly attractive, huge bill, this female sat there, in clear view, 10 feet from us! Cameras were raised, and a shot or two were taken before she hopped down out of view. We were elated! We had great views of one of the most difficult species on the continent. Then I heard a Bushbird begin to sing. This wasn’t the female. This was the male. Up he popped! Then she came back out. The male flew across the trail beside us, and the two birds began calling back and forth to one another, with us in between. Incredible! I’d never had such near, clear views in my life. To have great looks at both sexes, and hear them sing raucously, right beside us, was beyond anything we had hoped for.
Egyptian Plover by Rich Lindie
Egyptian Plover by Rich Lindie – Ghana
I recently spent an incredible 15 minutes in the company of some very confiding Egyptian Plovers along the shores of the White Volta in northern Ghana. To say that the behaviour I observed took me by surprise is an understatement – although it was clearly a form of foraging behaviour, rather than a display. Living primarily along the sandy shores of large rivers in West Africa, Egyptian Plovers utilize multiple micro-habitats to find food.
This variety of habitats obviously means they take a number of prey items, several of which require unique techniques to capture. For one such type of prey – a very small, apparently sand surface-dwelling creature – the Plovers I saw had adopted a most acrobatic and entertaining feat.
Pausing momentarily to search for prey, the plovers would make short, rapid dashes before leaping and hitting the ground with both feet more-or-less simultaneously. This act seemed to stun the would-be prey, which allowed enough time for the plovers to grab them before repeating the process.
Grasshopper Buzzard by André Bernon – Mozambique
Grasshopper Buzzard is a medium-sized raptor found in Africa. Its breeding distribution forms a belt across Africa, north of the equator, whereby it moves further down, as far south as Tanzania, in its non-breeding season.
I recently completed a tour to central Mozambique, south of the mighty Zambezi River. This was our first tour to Mozambique and it was very successful, with fantastic sightings of sought-after African birds such as African Pitta, Böhm’s Bee-eater, White-chested Alethe, East Coast Akalat, Lowland Tiny Greenbul, Livingstone’s Flycatcher, Black-headed Apalis, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill and Brown-necked Parrot.
Grasshopper Buzzard by Tina Routledge
When one birds an area that is so vast (the size of Wales), unexplored and remote, surprises could be numerous and around any corner. We rounded a small corner on a floodplain and a medium-sized raptor was seen perched on the ground on a small termite mound. Initial views showed a bird with a small head and light underparts, pale eye, dark malar stripes and supercilium. The bird then took off in flight and exposed a fantastic rich rufous-colored wing panel edged with black – Grasshopper Buzzard! This bird is virtually unknown to this part of the world and was obviously very lost. A second record for the southern African sub-region! We all enjoyed views as it continued to fly from mound to mound and often running on the ground with its wings spread in pursuit of its prey, locusts.
Celebes Crested Macaque by Adam Riley – Indonesia
Adam recently returned from over 3 weeks in Indonesia covering Sumatra, Java, Bali, Flores and Sulawesi, recording dozens of superb birds and wildlife, but his top experience was with a primate – Celebes Crested Macaque to be specific. These critically endangered monkeys are endemic to the tip of the northern peninsula of Sulawesi and a few offshore islands. In Tangkoko National Park they are found readily and some troops are quite habituated, in fact seeming fascinated by people. Here is a photo taken by tour participant Dave Semler of Adam getting to know some young macaques. Below that are two videos that you can enjoy which Adam took with his iPhone of his amusing experiences with these curious young monkeys!
Celebes Crested Macaques and Adam by Dave Semler
Celebes Crested Macaque by Adam Riley
Golden Pheasant by David Hoddinott
Golden Pheasant by David Hoddinott – China
During our trip to Sichuan province in China, we were delighted to see a whopping 12 members of the Pheasant family – Phasianidae. Certainly one of the best tours to see these beautiful birds, with wonderful diversity, a star attraction is the magnificent Golden Pheasant. The name says it all; it’s truly a stunning bird. With a reputation for being very shy, it is most often seen just darting across a track or disappearing into the undergrowth as soon as it sees you. It often associates with dense bamboo clumps for cover and so is very difficult to see in the nearly impenetrable undergrowth. We assumed this tour would be no different, and so when we only heard it upon our first chance at Wolong, it was no surprise. At our final destination on the tour, Tangjiahe National Nature Reserve, we managed brief encounters the first day in the park, but the second morning was one we will never forget. Light rain was falling, which sometimes bodes well for pheasants being out on the edges of clearings.
After a lengthy drive with no success, we finally reached the last section of road and were astonished as we rounded a corner, to first see one splendid male and then another and finally a third! All gave us outstanding views, for what seemed like eternity, but was probably more like half an hour. They nonchalantly walked along the road edges giving absolutely splendid views. We just ogled at them from the bus at first but later they allowed us to approach closer on foot and so we were able to get some photos. Such an amazing encounter and something to be cherished.
Buff-fronted Owl by Dusan Brinkhuizen
Buff-fronted Owl by Dušan Brinkhuizen – Ecuador
The Buff-fronted Owl is an inexplicably rare and enigmatic Aegolius from South America. It was the ultimate highlight of our South Ecuador Endemics tour in March 2016. Hearing the owl call at dusk was a great surprise and watching it in the spotlight a few minutes later was a huge thrill. It was a “lifer” for the entire group including the tour leader. “It was so super exciting, waiting for this mega to pop out in the open, knowing how rare it is, and having the entire group see it”.
Grandala by Glen Valentine – China
The Grandala is a unique bird, currently placed in the Thrush family. The males are a brilliant bluish-purple, while the females are also striking with their chocolate brown, streaked plumage. The bird does resemble a thrush in shape and size but is also extremely Starling-like in appearance and behavior and has previously been placed in that family.
The species is restricted to the snow-covered slopes and peaks of high mountains and passes through the Himalayas and southern and central China during the summer months but undertakes an altitudinal migration to more sheltered, lower altitude, grass and coniferous covered valleys during the harsh, winter months.
Throughout its limited range, it is a difficult bird to find as it is unpredictable at even its most reliable sites. Highly nomadic, it undertakes massive migratory movements corresponding to changes in weather and season. It also naturally occurs at low densities and is often strangely absent in areas where the habitat and altitude seem perfect. The scarcity with which one encounters the species, coupled with its incredibly good looks and unbelievably vivid, brilliant blue color make it one of Asia’s most desired birds.
Grandala by Glen Valentine
We were fortunate to encounter a wonderful flock of about 200 of these gorgeous birds during our China – Sichuan tour during May earlier this year. The flock allowed us to approach them within touching distance and hopped around at our feet for unbeatable, walk-away views of these spectacular birds. Our China – Sichuan tour remains arguably the best trip in which to see this sought-after Asian specialty.
Black Mannikin by Wayne Jones – Papua New Guinea
We struck black gold on our last morning in Kiunga on the Papua New Guinea III tour: about 20 Black Mannikins in some grassland near the airport. This endemic is normally only found much further south, and this was the first record in over 10 years of Rockjumper tours to PNG! On top of that, we also had four beautiful Crimson Finches alongside the mannikins – only the second record for a Rockjumper tour.
Black Mannikin by Frank Smith
Green-breasted Pitta by Andre Bernon – Uganda
Our Green-breasted Pitta sighting was of a pair of birds in the Kibale Forest in Uganda. After specifically targeting this species that morning, we had no luck and were very disappointed. We left an area where we heard a pair calling before dawn and decided to give up after a few hours and a failed attempt at locating them. As we headed through the forest, tracking a huge troop of chimpanzees, a pair of these highly sought-after birds flushed up from our forest track and saturating views were had by the entire group!
Green-breasted Pitta by Chris Gooddie
Harpy Eagle by Forrest Rowland – Brazil Pantanal
Choosing a highlight from this year’s Pantanal of Brazil tour was surprisingly difficult. As if 5 jaguars, a family of Giant Otters, Giant Anteater, and countless fabulous encounters with Hyacinth Macaw wasn’t enough, we saw a Harpy Eagle! And we didn’t just “see” a Harpy Eagle; we felt the wind created by the Harpy’s wings as it flew 25 feet above our heads and perched, in plain view. To add to the gobsmacking wonder of the experience, the Eagle appeared from below us at the cliff overview of the geodesic center of South America. It doesn’t get much more exciting than seeing a Harpy Eagle in Brazil, but to encounter such an icon at the exact center of the continent, was simply ridiculous.
Harpy Eagle by Forrest Rowland
Remote Colombia 2016
by Forrest Rowland
Though Colombia has recently earned more popularity among birders than any other country, there is still a lot to learn about this mega-diverse area. Over the years, we’ve developed various tours to cover as much of Colombia as possible. Our shorter Highlights tour hits all the main sites near Bogota, and the Central and Western Andes, while our Colombia Mega tour covers every hotspot from the Santa Marta Mountains to Mitu, in the Amazon bordering Brazil. Even with other offers, we were still only covering half of the fabulous sites available, missing several important areas because of Colombia being too rich to fit everything in!
With this in mind, our first Remote Colombia tour was designed to visit the must-see sites missed in our past expeditions, plus a few lesser-known sites that deserve further investigation. The plan was to encounter around 700 species – which we did. What wasn’t expected was that the birding, while amazing, would only be a part of this adventure!
Scarlet and white Tanager by Dušan Brinkhuizen
Beginning in the Eastern Andes, we headed east for the endemic Cundinamarca Antpitta, Green-bellied Hummingbird, and the myriad of birds available in the eastern foothills around Villavicencio. We then flew to Cali. Multicolored Tanager, Emerald and Crimson-rumped Toucanet, and 16 species of hummingbirds were enjoyed at the famed KM 18 feeders. In Anchicaya Valley, we found Gold-chested, Blue-whiskered, and Scarlet-and-white Tanagers, Lita Woodpecker, and Golden-collared Manakin – logging more than 250 species in 3 days!
Parque Nacional Natural Utria is as remote as you can get on the mainland. An 80-minute flight from Medellin, Bahia Solano and El Valle remain only accessible by plane or several days’ ride by mule. Situated in the heart of the Choco rainforest, we had access to specialties including Choco Tinamou, Baudo Guan and Oropendola, Black-tipped Cotinga, Slate-throated Gnatcatcher, and the enigmatic Sapayoa – only possible at a few sites worldwide. We spent two-and-a-half days exploring this stunning area, seldom visited by birders, before returning to Medellin, where we snuck in Yellow-headed Manakin and an unforgettable encounter with Red-bellied Grackles.
Finally, we explored the Magdalena Valley, picking up Bare-crowned and Magdalena Antbird, Antioquia Bristle-Tyrant, and Recurve-billed Bushbird en route to the Serrania de Perija. Until recently, a visit to this remote mountain range would’ve been near impossible without hiring a 4×4 and camping in one of the least visited places in South America. Thanks to ProAve’s persistent acquisition of land for conservation, a lodge was set up here to raise funding for the various projects they have running. Happy to oblige, we started with a visit outside Valledupar for some dry forest specialties like Crested Bobwhite, Lance-tailed Manakin, and Russet-throated Puffbird. Our exploration of the Perija range landed all known Perija endemic bird species, and all but one subspecific form – almost a certain future split. The scenery was equally spectacular! Unlike any other area of Colombia, the Serrania de Perija is extremely steep, crisscrossed with gorges and towering cliffs. Our exploration of some of the most remote birding hotspots could only conclude here, the latest frontier in Colombian birding.
Carunculated Fruit Dove by Glen Valentine
West Papuan Island Cruise and the Moluccas 2016
by Glen Valentine
David Bishop and Glen Valentine have just concluded an exotic and bird-rich charter cruise of the remote islands off West Papua and the seldom-birded Moluccan islands of Obi, Seram and Buru. During this epic two and a half week adventure across these little-known waters and tropical islands, our debut Rockjumper group was treated to a plethora of the region’s rarest and most spectacular and seldom-seen species. Kicking off on mainland New Guinea, they were delighted to track down the superb Blue-black Kingfisher and Black Lory, while the offshore island of Waigeo and a few smaller, neighboring islands produced displaying Wilson’s (arguably the world’s most spectacular bird) and Red Birds-of-paradise, Raja Ampat Pitohui, the extremely scarce and localized Brown-headed Crow, Island Whistler (possibly the second time any organized tour has ever seen this little-known species!) and Olive Honeyeater.
Moving on to the tiny island of Kofiau, they succeeded in finding both Kofiau Paradise Kingfisher and Kofiau Monarch (only the second birding group ever to have seen these almost unknown species!).
Obi then produced Moluccan (Obi) Woodcock (a species only very recently rediscovered and previously only known from a few specimens), the gorgeous Carunculated and Scarlet-breasted Fruit Doves, North Moluccan Pitta, Cinnamon-breasted (Obi) Whistler and Obi Paradise-crow.
Highlights on Seram included the spectacular Salmon-crested Cockatoo, Lazuli Kingfisher, very rarely seen Blue-eared and Purple-naped Lories, Seram Honeyeater, Long-crested Myna and the critically endangered Chinese Crested Tern.
The trip then ended with a visit to Buru, where they were entertained by Moluccan Masked Owl, the rarely seen and almost unknown Black-lored Parrot, the very rare Buru Green Pigeon, Buru Honeyeater, Buru Cuckooshrike, Black-tipped and White-naped Monarchs, Streak-breasted Jungle-flycatcher and Buru Thrush. The absolute cherry on top, however, was an incredible encounter with a pair of Madanga! This bizarre, white-eye-like species only occurs in the difficult-to-access highlands on Buru. It feeds on moss-laden branches and trunks like a nuthatch and is now placed with the pipits, but probably warrants full monotypic family status. Their very rare sighting of this species made them only the second birding group ever to have seen this legendary and, until very recently, completely mythical little beauty.
These were just a few of the mouth-watering specialties encountered during this incomparable birding adventure! Join Glen and Keith Valentine at the end of the year for what will certainly be a birding trip like no other. This undoubted adventure of a lifetime sees us sail the crystal-clear waters of the Raja Ampats and island-hop in search of a vast array of Indonesia’s most prized, beautiful and little-known avian gems, while also enjoying a wealth of rarely seen cetaceans and some of the most pristine coral reefs on earth!
The Remote Southwest Pacific 2016: The near-mythical Kagu close-up and birding Vanuatu post-cyclone
by David Hoddinott
On our recent South-west Pacific tour to New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji and Samoa, we notched a fabulous 79 regional endemics. This is a trip about quality rather than quantity; as, of the total of 134 species seen, there is an incredibly high rate of endemism. And we stayed in some lovely accommodations that provided us access to superb birding, beautiful scenery and some great snorkeling too.
Starting in New Caledonia, we enjoyed memorable views of the great Kagu! A unique and most impressive species placed in its own family, we felt very privileged to enjoy these great birds which were, until the early 1990’s, very difficult to see in the wild, at one point bordering on extinction. With local conservation efforts, their numbers, although still low, have improved markedly and are said to have climbed above 700 individuals today. Their lack of fear towards humans allowed for close views and exceptional photographs, making our encounters with them most memorable indeed. Apart from this, we notched up splendid views of the critically endangered Crow Honeyeater, sadly now numbering just 150 in the wild. Moving on to Vanuatu, we enjoyed superb views of the striking Vanuatu Kingfisher and scarce Tanna Fruit Dove amongst other highlights such as the delightful Buff-bellied Monarch.
Orange Fruit Dove by David Hoddinott
Fiji was hit by a huge cyclone last year which devastated many forested areas on the islands; however, we still managed to obtain great views of nearly all the endemics. We visited three main islands in Fiji. Taveuni, where we had a splendid day notching up numerous great sightings of Azure-crested Flycatcher and three marvelous sightings of the elusive and bizarre Silktail. On Viti Levu, we enjoyed notable sightings of Golden Fruit Dove and yet again we managed to see the very furtive Long-legged Thicketbird, which was only rediscovered a few years ago. On Kadavu, we notched up the four key endemics in several hours with Whistling Fruit Dove giving superb scope views whilst making its strange call.
Our final island was Samoa and here we enjoyed good views of the striking Blue-crowned Lorikeet, Cardinal Myzomela, beautiful White Tern and Buff-banded Rails which were notably common and seemed to appear on every corner. This ended off yet another superb South West Pacific tour which is becoming a most popular trip, often sold out well in advance!
For more on Melanesia, click here!
We’re constantly adding new trip reports to our website. Here are a few you may have missed. See all tour reports on our website here.
As usual, the “home team” did everything they could to make communications go well. I marvel at the apparent ease with which Sarah, Crystal and Alison could step in for their coworkers to answer questions and keep up-to-date whenever I contacted them about this trip. It just shows what a great team Rockjumper has in the office and how professional and knowledgeable each person is. I appreciate the assistance in setting up pre-trip hotel accommodations for me as well! – A.H.
I had dietary restrictions due to Type 2 Diabetes and every possible accommodation to meet my needs was taken care of in a very efficient way. Thank you. I enjoyed traveling to Australia with Rockjumper very much. – P.S.
Namibia, Botswana, and Zambia
I thoroughly enjoyed the tour. The organization was first class and trouble-free. Heinz Ortmann is an excellent guide. His handling of the logistics was excellent and his friendliness and knowledge of the birds and wildlife in general ensured that this was a successful and enjoyable trip. I would have no hesitation traveling with Rockjumper Birding Tours and Heinz again. – H.L.
Northern India 2016
Wayne is a superb guide. In addition to impressive birding skills, his patience, attention to detail, and even-keel temperament (no matter what the challenge) added a lot to the experience. And Ansar Khan, our local guide, was stellar – a truly exceptional birder, who also has great people skills and boundless good humor. Wayne and Ansar made this an outstanding trip, I would happily follow them again! – T.M.
Adam was a fantastic guide. He was very easygoing and patient, and handled stressful situations extremely well. I really appreciate the high quality of Rockjumper’s guides – this is a major motivating factor for me when selecting a tour company. – R.C.
I just want to say it was the most fantastic birding trip I have ever been on. It was completely off the charts… Forrest Rowland is an exceptional person, so easy going and very attentive. And blew my mind at the extent of his birding knowledge. An absolute privilege to have him as our guide. This tour will definitely not be my last tour with Rockjumper. You have opened my birding world!! – C.P.
We deal in the spectacular and one of our goals is to innovate and create new ways for you to discover and appreciate all corners of our planet. In this tour spotlight, we focus on the finer things of our home country, South Africa.
South Africa: Birds, Wine & Big Game
Well known among birders as a hotspot for cleaning up on special endemics, and for superb iconic African wildlife experiences, South Africa is also world famous for its wide variety of superior wines. Dozens of vintage estates, rooted within beautiful settings, produce award-winning wines, offer fine cuisine, and also offer excellent birding opportunities. We figured it was high time to blend these elements into one tour, and are proud to offer this exciting new departure in our home country.
Designed to soak up fantastic birds and wildlife, Rockjumper’s Managing Director, Keith Valentine (who appreciates fine wine and good food as much as anybody), put together this itinerary featuring a relaxed pace and easy walking. We visit carefully chosen Cape wine estates, including multi-award winning Meerlust and South Africa’s oldest estate, Groot Constantia. We’ll have ample opportunity to sample South Africa’s unique grape varietal – Pinotage – while also enjoying the region’s finest Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Shiraz.
Lion by Adam Riley
Besides grand wine estates, we visit the diverse ecosystem of the West Coast National Park, the spectacular Cape Peninsula and interior dry country riches of the Tanqua Karoo, where a bounty of endemic birds reside. And this trip is timed for Cape Wildflower season, when the world’s most colorful and spectacular floral extravaganza is usually at its peak. The Cape Floral Kingdom of South Africa is the smallest of the world’s six floral kingdoms, and a remarkable ⅔ of it is comprised of endemic species.
The second leg finds us in the wilds of Zululand, with exclusive use of a luxurious lodge, deep within the wilderness of a prime Big Five private game reserve. Not only will we enjoy comfortable game drives through some of the country’s finest birding and mammal habitat, but our wine adventure will continue too. Big Five game species abound, and we even have chances at African Wild Dog, Cheetah, Hippopotamus and more. The reserve boasts a list of near 400 birds, including many highly sought-after specialties, like Neergaard’s Sunbird, African Broadbill, Gorgeous & Grey-headed Bushshrike, Eastern Nicator and more.
From the endemic-rich Fynbos Kingdom of the Western Cape to the teeming wildlife of Zululand, this tour offers the very best of Southern African birding, game viewing and wine! Join Keith in September of 2017, or Keith and George Armistead in 2018.
Be sure to check up on our blog for regular features from Rockjumper staff about tours, news and birding adventures. Our latest features include Ecuador, Melanesia and more.
© Heritage Expeditions
Melanesia: The Most Well-Known Unknown Place on Earth
George gives the quick and dirty about a little known and seldom visited birding goldmine.
Reeves’s Pheasant by Clayton Burne
Rockjumper’s Best Birds of 2016
See what Adam, Cuan, Rich, Meg, and others have to say about our best sightings of the year.
The Rockjumper team covers a lot of ground, not just on tours, but at gatherings of birders the world over. Take a look at a few of the events we have attended recently, and catch up with us at one near you soon.
British Birdwatching Fair
19 – 21 August 2016
by Keith Valentine
Our yearly pilgrimage to the Birdfair in Rutland, England was once again a most enjoyable occasion. This year Rockjumper was represented by Adam, Andre, Holly and Keith. The sheer immensity of the event never wanes and as always, it was wonderful to be able to say hello and catch up with so many friends, clients and colleagues. If you have never managed to make a trip out to the UK Birdfair it is certainly well worth the effort, with marquees featuring an almost mind-blowing variety of stands. Everything from the latest binoculars and telescopes to field guides, birding gear, wonderful artwork, bird tour companies, conservation societies and much in-between are all featured. Now in planning mode for 2017, we look forward to seeing many of you there.
Luisa Fernanda Conto and Keith Valentine
African Bird Fair
3 – 4 September 2016
by Gareth Robbins
The annual African Bird Fair, presented by Rockjumper partner BirdLife South Africa, took place at the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden in Roodepoort, Johannesburg. Approximately 6,000 visitors attended, with opportunities to enjoy guided nature walks, photographic workshops and talks given at the Strelitzia Hall. Cardinal and Golden-tailed Woodpeckers, Cape Robin-Chats, Grey Hornbills, Crested Barbets, and Cape White-eyes were regularly seen from the stands and the impressive resident pair of Verreaux’s Eagles had everybody in awe as they soared above the gardens. A big thank you must go out to BirdLife South Africa for organizing such a memorable event.
American Birding Expo
16 – 18 September 2016
by Forrest Rowland
Rockjumper was privileged enough to sponsor the annual American Birding Expo this year. Taking place in Ohio, this event was pulled off near-flawlessly – surprising, after only its second time running! However, this already well-known festival drew out an impressive vendor turn-out, boasting representatives from two dozen countries. Our special thanks go out to Bill Thompson III, Wendy Clark, and the entire organizational team at Birdwatcher’s Digest, who pulled off such a smoothly-run event. Readers may recognize Bill’s name as the host of the This Birding Life podcast, a show dedicated to all things birding: from backyard birding to full-length tours, to interviews with well-known men and women in the birding world. We recommend stopping by to have a listen to one of his regular episodes.
Western Field Ornithologists Conference
28 September – 2 October 2016
by Forrest Rowland
With half a century of service to research and community ornithology, and a mission to bring bird enthusiasts together from throughout the American West, the Western Field Ornithologists (WFO) is one of the staple organizations in the realm of North American Ornithology. It was our great pleasure to support the WFO’s continuing efforts in research and education as a guest sponsor for this year’s Annual Conference and Meeting.
Held in beautiful Humboldt County in northern California, attendees enjoyed field trips to diverse habitats that included searching for Ruffed Grouse and Varied Thrush amidst towering Redwoods, scoping for Marbled Murrelets and Black Oystercatchers off stunning rocky beaches, and scouring riparian habitats for vagrant passerines.
The research papers presented covered a range of topics from news on the restoration of native habitats along the Lower Colorado River, to the latest on taxonomy and conservation issues of the world’s Plovers. Fabulous food and fun social hours were enjoyed by the participants, and it was our particular pleasure to sponsor the reception and social at the Riverwalk Lodge Conference Center in Fortuna. We appreciate the opportunity to support this venerable organization, and look forward to next year’s conference in Pueblo, Colorado!
Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival
2 – 6 November 2016
by George Armistead
One of the biggest and best birding festivals in the United States, the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, always superbly blends fantastic field trips with a great array of exhibitors and speakers. This past November was no different, and the 23rd instalment of the festival was another fantastic show. Rockjumper was proud to be on hand, supporting the event, and George Armistead was there, working the Rockjumper booth and leading field trips to find Aplomado Falcons, and to see the spectacle of thousands of migrating Franklin’s Gull’s along the Gulf Coast. It was another great year at the RGV Festival and we are already looking forward to our return in 2017.
George Armistead representing Rockjumper at the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival
Asian Bird Fair
11 – 15 November 2016
by Clayton Burne
Rockjumper made its inaugural appearance at the 7th Asian Bird Fair, hosted in the small town of Jingshan, Hubei Province, China. The Asian Bird Fair was rather different from most other bird fairs that I have been to; with a much reduced commercial aspect and far greater focus on environmental education and co-operation. Almost every Asian nation was well represented, affording me the opportunity to engage with our many birding partners to thrash out a number of new and interesting tours to the Asian continent.
There were far too many highlights to mention in a single entry, but the pomp and ceremony that the local Chinese government put into this event was simply staggering. From the Olympic-style opening ceremony to a 24-hour dedicated television channel chronicling the entire event! However, my personal highlight of the event would certainly have been the level to which China as a whole exceeded my expectations. Aside from the well-developed, modern infrastructure, the people were warm and hospitable. Combine this with a veritable culinary extravaganza and a host of birding opportunities, and it is easy to understand why I certainly cannot wait to go back.
Clayton Burne being interviewed by the local press
© Steven An
From February 17-19, the 3rd annual International Bird Fair of Colombia will take place in the lovely mountain town of Cali, Colombia. Boasting the largest bird list of any country in the world, and a bunch of swanky endemics, Colombia is the new global birding hotspot. Rockjumper offers a wonderful suite of Colombia trips, with expert guides like Forrest Rowland, Rob Williams, and Trevor Ellery (who lives in Colombia), and we are happy to have Wayne Jones on site for the birdfair in Cali in 2017. Look out for Wayne, and be sure to stop by and ask him about the latest news at Rockjumper.
Massachusetts Audubon’s 25th Annual Birder’s Meeting in Boston, Massachusetts
Since 1992, birders from around New England have come together every March to attend Mass Audubon’s annual Birders Meeting, and Rockjumper is proud to support the event for the 2nd year in a row. This year’s meeting is March 19th, and Rockjumper’s chief network officer, George Armistead, will be there running the booth for Rockjumper, at UMass – Boston. The theme of the 25th Annual Birders Meeting is Warblers: From Soundscapes to Landscapes.
With partners around the globe, we continue to build and strengthen the Rockjumper network, bringing people together whose primary interests are birds, travel, environmental education and wildlife conservation. We are happy to share the news here of the latest goings-on, with our partners at the American Birding Association and at iGoTerra.
The ABA & Rockjumper Saddle Up for Another Safari. It’s Tanzania in 2018!
Rockjumper is a proud partner of the American Birding Association, for years sponsoring support of the ABA’s Birder’s Exchange program, which provides resources for research and conservation projects throughout the Caribbean and Latin America. We also help raise funds for the ABA’s programs through events. In 2014, we teamed up for the ABA South Africa Safari and in 2016 we arranged the ABA India Safari. We kicked off 2017 with a highly successful ABA New Zealand Subantarctic Islands Cruise and various New Zealand extensions, and now in 2018, we are headed for Tanzania.
Tanzania is the quintessential African safari destination and provides the ultimate birding and big game experience. There exists nowhere else on the planet such an amazing volume and diversity of large animals; and, in addition to this, the country supports over one thousand bird species, many of which are large, bright, colorful and easy to observe. Our tour is designed to maximize both the big game and birding experience by selecting the very best and most accessible destinations in this vast and exciting land. These include the world famous Serengeti – home of the great wildebeest migration, which we expect to encounter, the spectacular Ngorongoro Crater – hosting the highest density of large predators in the world, and Tarangire National Park – renowned for its incredible birding.
For superb birding, masses of iconic animals, and tons of photo opportunities, join the ABA and Rockjumper for an incredible adventure into the heart of Africa. If you do, you’ll help support the efforts of the ABA’s Conservation and Community programs, an effective suite of initiatives focused on the birds and birders of tomorrow. View tour.
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At Rockjumper Birding Tours we were compiling, maintaining and delivering hundreds of different checklists covering birds and mammals, and sometimes reptiles, amphibians, plants and even fungi. As the business grew to 300 scheduled tours a year, we found that manually editing our spreadsheets just didn’t cut it anymore.
So in an effort to maintain professionalism, we formed a partnership with iGoTerra to improve our capacity to deliver quality, up-to-date, and typo-free checklists. iGoTerra now helps Rockjumper manage over 300+ scheduled, and multiple private tour checklists worldwide.
And we haven’t stopped there! We have now extended this partnership to our clients with a Free 1 Month Trial of their Premium package! Just like us, you could save a vast amount of administrative time and headache when maintaining your checklists.
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