During the preceding half year, we have been extremely busy conducting a multitude of successful tours to a variety of birding destinations. We hope you will enjoy reading about a few of our many tour highlights.
Our inaugural tour to Colombia recorded a staggering 683 bird species! Of these, the bird of the trip for most of the group was a thrilling male Colorful Puffleg, followed by a host of other endemic and highly sought-after species including Multicolored and Gold-ringed Tanagers, Bearded Helmetcrest, Golden-bellied and Black-thighed Pufflegs, Empress Brilliant, Parker’s Antbird, Bicoloured and Santa Marta Antpitta, Apolinar’s Marsh Wren, Bogota Rail, Yellow-tufted Dacnis, Beautiful Woodpecker, White-mantled Barbet, Chestnut-capped Piha, Yellow-eared Parrot, Chestnut-crested Cotinga, Star-chested Treerunner and Munchique Wood-Wren. On our extension, we were treated to a host of Santa Marta specialities, as well as those of the Guajira desert and the Salamanca area. Two of these, the Santa Marta Screech-owl and Santa Marta Ruddy Foliage-gleaner, have only been discovered or recognised in the last few years and we consider ourselves very fortunate for having seen them. Our November 2010 tour, guided by David Shackleford in conjunction with local Colombian bird expert Sergio Ocampo, is a guaranteed departure. However a few spaces do remain, so please contact us for this ultimate adventure to the world’s birdiest country!
The first few months of 2010 saw our successful 19-day road trip through Ethiopia repeated four times. The vast array of highlights ranged from the world’s rarest canid, Ethiopian Wolf to Walia Ibex and impressive troops of Gelada Baboons in the Bale, Simien and Ankober mountains, and little-known endemics that included Prince Ruspoli’s Turaco and Stresemann’s Bush Crow. In the impressive Bale Mountains, our tours also enjoyed Rouget’s Rail, Spot-breasted Lapwing, the difficult Abyssinian Owl, White-cheeked Turaco and Abyssinian Longclaw. The dry south of the country produced the much wanted Salvadori’s Seedeater, White-tailed Swallow, the critically endangered Sidamo Lark (which is predicted to become Africa’s first extinction unless drastic measures are soon taken), Red-naped Bushshrike, White-winged Collared Dove and Juba Weaver. The scenery throughout Ethiopia is breathtaking and this certainly adds to the overall enjoyment of the country. Areas such as the Rift Valley Lakes, Jemma Valley, Ankober Escarpment and Ghibe Gorge provided the perfect backdrop for excellent birding; highlights in these areas included Banded Barbet, Thick-billed Raven, Ankober Serin and Harwood’s Francolin. While the tours certainly produced superb specialities, it is often the prolonged views and amazing photographic opportunities that make Ethiopia such a memorable destination. We still have spaces remaining on early 2011 Ethiopian tours and we are sure many will be pleased to see that in addition, we are also offering exciting new photographic tours in conjunction with Oryx.
In January and February, Rockjumper groups headed to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and finally to the Antarctic Peninsula itself. Some of the highlights of the first portion of these 19-day voyages included Striated Caracara, Falkland Steamer Duck, curious Blackish Cinclodes and an amazing breeding colony of Black-browed Albatross and Western Rockhopper Penguins in the Falklands. After sailing past innumerable spectacular icebergs and enjoying unrivalled pelagic birding, our groups enjoyed some very special days on South Georgia. The experience of walking amongst colonies of impressive King Penguins in their hundreds of thousands will surely remain one of the lifetime highlights of all participants. Further highlights include Macaroni Penguins and Light-mantled and Grey-headed Albatrosses seen against the dramatic mountainous backdrops of this rugged island. An amazing spectacle and unexpected cherry-on-top of the February cruise was thousands of the Antarctic and Snow Petrels observed on and around icebergs and our ship (for an amazing image of this spectacle please see the July Image of the Month on our website https://www.rockjumperbirding.com/image-of-the-month/). On the Antarctic continent, Gentoo and Chinstrap Penguins kept us entertained as we explored the world’s most remote continent. Besides the constantly changing and beautiful scenery and the special birds, our cruises also produced a great variety of mammals; including Blue, Antarctic Minke, Fin and Killer Whales, Hourglass and Commerson’s Dolphins and Leopard, Southern Elephant and Crabeater Seals.
Morocco & the Canary Islands
Early in the year, David Hoddinott visited the fabulous and varied Canary Islands before leading two tours through Morocco with Mark Beevers. Our Canarian adventure was focussed on the two key endemic bird islands of Fuertaventura and Tenerife. Here we wrapped up all 9 endemics as well as the impressive Houbara Bustard. Moroccan birding highlights included Balearic Shearwater, Black Scoter, Common Crane, all three possible species of Sandgrouse on both tours, Houbara Bustard, a wonderful selection of wintering waterfowl which included a mega rarity Lesser Scaup, the critically endangered and very impressive Northern Bald Ibis, Bearded Vulture, Golden and Tawny Eagle, Barbary Falcon, Pharaoh Eagle-Owl, Levaillant’s Woodpecker, Thick-billed and Dupont’s Lark (the latter being David’s 2000th African mainland bird), Ring Ouzel, Moussier’s Redstart and African Crimson-winged Finch. Apart from the wonderful birding, we enjoyed the friendliness of the people, fascinating culture, wonderful tagine lunches, great accommodations and spectacular scenery.
Thailand is arguably Asia’s best birding destination, offering delicious food, friendly people, vibrant National Parks, great value for money and of course, phenomenal birding! We ran two superb tours this year and were treated to an amazing variety of star birds. Some of the undoubted highlights included Mountain Bamboo Partridge, spectacular Silver Pheasant, Siamese Fireback, Grey Peacock-Pheasant, Green Peafowl, White-rumped Falcon, Masked Finfoot, Barred Eagle Owl, Spotted Wood Owl, the mythical Coral-billed Ground Cuckoo, Black-headed Woodpecker, Gurney’s, Blue, Banded, Blue-winged, Hooded and Mangrove Pittas, Ratchet-tailed Treepie, Limestone Wren Babbler, Red-faced Liocichla, Spot-breasted Parrotbill, Giant Nuthatch, Black-backed Forktail and the bizarre Nicobar Pigeon.
In March and April, Keith Valentine and David Hoddinott led two extremely successful trips to Cameroon. Both tours scored a large number of Central African specialities and many of the region’s most sought-after endemics. Participants were treated to an astonishing array of rare, elusive, localised and stunning species. These included Black Guineafowl, Forest Francolin, Hartlaub’s Duck, Scissor-tailed Kite, Red-thighed Sparrowhawk, Long-tailed Hawk, Congo Serpent Eagle, Black Crowned Crane, Quail-plover, Egyptian Plover, Grey Pratincole, Bannerman’s Turaco, Sjostedt’s Owlet, Standard-winged Nightjar, Bare-cheeked Trogon, displaying Rufous-sided and Grey-headed Broadbills, magnificent Grey-necked Rockfowl (still recorded on every single Rockjumper Cameroon tour to date), Mount Kupe, Fiery-breasted and Green-breasted Bushshrike, Spotted Thrush-Babbler, Woodhouse’s Antpecker, Shelley’s Oliveback and Rock Firefinch, amongst many others. Some of the mammalian highlights included fantastic views of Patas Monkey, Spot-necked Otter, Kanki and Roan Antelope. Cameroon has never been an easy country to travel in, however, with each passing year the creature comforts and efforts towards tourism keep improving. So for those enthusiastic and intrepid birders out there, this is a must visit destination that will reward you with world class birding.
Malaysia & Borneo
These two regions of Asia always seem to provide a superb travel experience and like a great red wine, each passing year seems to get better and better. Our scheduled departure produced an envious array of top quality birds and mammals while our second adventure was a guide training tour which produced some of Borneo’s most wanted birds. Some highlights of these two excursions include Great Argus on its display ground, Bornean Bristlehead, Hose’s and Whitehead’s Broadbill, a pair of Crestless Fireback and Large Frogmouth in Taman Negara, Crimson-headed Partridge, Chestnut-capped and Everett’s Thrush, Malaysian Rail-Babbler, 7 Pittas – including Blue-banded, Garnet and Blue-headed, Tawny-breasted Parrotfinch, Red-legged Crake, Whitehead’s Trogon and Chestnut-naped Forktail. We also located the near mythical Clouded Leopard! Great views were had of Orangutan, Proboscis Monkey, Gaur and over 50 species of other mammals! With delicious food, good accommodations and phenomenal rainforest birding and mammal viewing, this is a trip you simply have to do!
Great Argus in Taman Negara National Park (Malaysia) by Adam Riley
Bhutan & Assam
In April, Glen Valentine and Markus Lilje led two tours to the famous Kaziranga and Nameri Reserves and the Himalayan Buddhist Kingdom of Bhutan, in search of some of the world’s most sought-after birds and mammals. Kaziranga produced intimate encounters with Indian One-horned Rhinoceros, Hoolock Gibbon, the rare Bengal Florican, Greater Adjutant and Pallas’ Fish-Eagle. Nameri again didn’t disappoint with its number one target, the rare White-winged Duck! Next, they visited the pristine forests of Bhutan and this year’s tours were as successful as ever. The montane forests produced unbeatable views of the gorgeous Satyr Tragopan, the resplendent Himalayan Monal, Blood Pheasant, much wanted Ward’s Trogon, extended views of Beautiful Nuthatch, Bar-winged, Spotted and the near-mythical Sikkim Wedge-billed Wren-Babbler, Cutia, the outrageous Ibisbill, Gold-naped Finch and impressive Rufous-necked Hornbill! With breathtaking scenery, unique cultural heritage and pristine forests replete with Himalayan specials, this is simply an unbeatable tour. 2011 is certainly the year to seriously consider Bhutan as a travel destination as the Bhutanese government has announced a 25% increase in the daily fee to visit this beautiful mountain kingdom, effective from 2012.
The Western Pacific Odyssey
This extraordinary cruise from New Zealand to Japan spends an entire month at sea and visits a number of the world’s most isolated and seldom explored islands and seas. The 2010 cruise, with 12 Rockjumper participants and Adam Riley on board, enjoyed numerous highlights and pelagic species included the rare Short-tailed Albatross, one of nine species of albatross seen on the tour, Beck’s and Collared Petrels, the recently rediscovered New Zealand Storm-petrel, little known Heinroth’s Shearwater and Japanese Murrelet. We also enjoyed a wonderful array of cetaceans, including False Killer, Pygmy Killer, Short-finned Pilot, Pygmy Sperm, Dwarf Sperm and Sperm Whales, Cuvier’s and the extremely rare Longman’s and Hubb’s Beaked Whales. A number of productive island landings were also made on the journey. Norfolk Island produced Scarlet Robin and Norfolk Parakeet, while one of the major highlights was the landing at New Caledonia, which gave us wonderful views of the incomparable Kagu, New Caledonia Crow, Horned and New Caledonia Parakeets, Cloven-feathered Dove, the sought-after and very difficult Crow Honeyeater, Red-throated Parrotfinch, New Caledonian Cuckooshrike, New Caledonian Imperial Pigeon and New Caledonian Goshawk. We next explored four of the islands making up the Solomon Islands and while on Rennell Island enjoyed great views of Rennell Shrikebill and Rennell Fantail before finding Finsch’s Pygmy Parrot, Mackinlay’s Cuckoo-Dove, and Silver-capped Fruit-Dove. Ochre-headed Flycatcher and Chestnut-bellied Imperial Pigeon were specials on Makira Island and Guadalcanal Island and Mt. Austin produced the sought-after Ultramarine Kingfisher, Buff-headed Coucal, Stephan’s and Bronze Ground Doves, Solomon Islands Sea Eagle and Solomon Islands Cuckooshrike. Our final island was Kolombangara Island where we found Duchess Lorikeet, White-capped Monarch, Yellow-vented Myzomela and Solomon Island White-eye.
Kenya & Tanzania
Our Birds & Big Game safaris to Kenya and Tanzania this year were nothing short of sensational. Following exceptionally good rains in the early part of the season, both countries were at their prime and we were treated to stunning vistas and scenery. As a result of the favourable conditions, both trips racked up nearly 480 bird species and a veritable feast of African fauna! Our exploration of the major sites including the Ngorongoro Crater, the Serengeti, Lake Nakuru, Mount Kenya, Shaba and Buffalo Springs yielded numerous specials. These included Somali Ostrich, Vulturine Guineafowl, Shelley’s Francolin, Sooty Falcon, Somali Courser, Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse, Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, Red-fronted Parrot, Hartlaub’s Turaco, Cape (Mackinder’s) Eagle-Owl, Bar-tailed Trogon, Somali Bee-eater, Southern Ground Hornbill, Tullberg’s Woodpecker, Grey-crested Helmetshrike, Rosy-patched Bushshrike, Red-throated Tit, William’s and Friedmann’s Larks, Karamoja Apalis, Golden-breasted Starling, Golden-winged Sunbird, Fire-fronted Bishop, Steel-blue Whydah and Golden Pipit. Mammals abounded, and apart from the annual Wildebeest migration which was in full swing, we encountered herds of African Elephant, African Buffalo, the endangered Black Rhinoceros, Grevy’s Zebra, Giant Forest Hog, Reticulated Giraffe, and Gerenuk. A host of predators including magnificent Leopard, Cheetah, Lion, Caracal, the elusive Striped Hyena, Bat-eared Fox and White-tailed Mongoose were also seen. This East African tour never ceases to exceed expectations and remains a must for any avid birder or naturalist looking for an unbeatable introduction to the African continent!
Papua New Guinea
This year Papua New Guinea once again proved to be extremely popular. David Hoddinott and Erik Forsyth led three very successful trips through this birding paradise. As usual, a wonderful array of Birds-of-paradise (25 species) were found, many showing off their incredible displays. Apart from the BOP’s, we enjoyed a large number of special and endemic species. Some of the highlights included magnificent sightings of some very rarely seen birds, such as the near-mythical New Guinea Flightless Rail and Forest Bittern. Other goodies were Papuan Harpy Eagle, Southern Crowned Pigeon, Black Honey Buzzard, New Britain Sparrowhawk, Doria’s Goshawk, Bismarck Black, Finsch’s Imperial and Pheasant Pigeon, the huge Pesquet’s Parrot, the bizarre Shovel-billed Kingfisher, stunning Flame Bowerbird, Spotted Jewel-babbler, Painted Quail Thrush on the nest and Archbold’s Bowerbird. If you haven’t been yet, pencil this one in as a must do!
Namibia, Botswana & Zambia
Rainer and Glen have just returned from a very successful 18-day overland safari of Namibia, Okavango and Victoria Falls. The weather was excellent and birding and mammal viewing exceptional. Every possible endemic on the route was seen well and some of these notable Namib specialities included both Dune and Grey’s Lark, Bare-cheeked and Black-faced Babbler, Hartlaub’s Spurfowl at exceptionally close range, Ruppell’s Parrot, Herero Chat and the striking White-tailed Shrike. Etosha was, as always, a treat! Several prides of majestic Lion were encountered, often at close range with the largest pride being 19 and including several tiny cubs! Elephant, Giraffe, Gemsbok, Burchell’s Zebra, Black-faced Impala and Springbok were plentiful and we were also treated to an amazing night time drama at the camp waterholes when Black and White Rhinoceros, Leopard, Honey Badger and Brown Hyena entertained us through the evenings. The lush woodlands and forests of the Caprivi Strip, adjacent Botswana and Zambia, produced huge concentrations of gaudy bee-eaters, kingfishers, barbets and rollers, as well as White-backed Night Heron, African Skimmer, Dickinson’s Kestrel, Burchell’s Sandgrouse and the spectacular Pel’s Fishing Owl!
Certainly one of Rockjumper’s staples is the “Pearl of Africa”, Uganda. This equatorial African country is one of the world’s premier birding destinations, combining excellent birding with a sizeable bird list, great scenery and some of the most unforgettable mammal watching experiences on the planet. Our July 2010 tour experienced sunny weather, and although a little dry in places (by Uganda’s standards), the birding was fantastic! Some of the top birds seen on our tour included charismatic Shoebill, three (!) Green-breasted Pittas showing outrageously well, Lagden’s Bushshrike, Nahan’s and Handsome Francolin, the secretive Neumann’s Warbler, Brown-chested Lapwing, Red-faced Barbet, Papyrus Gonalek, Pennant-winged Nightjar and Ituri Batis. Surely one of the world’s mega mammals is the Mountain Gorilla, and this primate, together with the Chimpanzee, provided us with unrivalled views as they went about their daily lives in their tropical rainforest homes in Bwindi Impenetrable and Kibale Forests respectively! Other highlights included the impressive Murchison Falls, where the Victoria Nile thunders through a narrow rocky cleft with spectacular results, and the north bank of the Nile in Murchison Falls National Park, where the majestic palm-studded savannas teem with game, all in the most appealing setting! All in all, we enjoyed a brilliant birding and natural history experience during this Uganda departure, definitely a destination to consider for any wildlife lover!
Egypt & Jordan
Rockjumper’s annual Egypt and Petra adventure provided a thoroughly enjoyable cultural and birding experience. The expansive land of Egypt has a long history of tourism, and modern amenities made for a most relaxing and fun-filled trip, whilst visiting some of the most iconic monuments of the ancient world! This region is also a prime destination for migrants, and this, combined with some interesting residents, makes for a surprisingly good birding experience in a land dominated by the Sahara. Our 2010 birding highlights included Egyptian Nightjar, Greater Hoopoe-Lark, Nile Valley and Palestine Sunbird, Greater Painted Snipe, Sinai Rosefinch, White-eyed Gull, Great Bittern, Baillon’s Crake, Syrian Woodpecker and Cretzschmar’s Bunting. Our experienced history guides added in depth information and enlivened our visits to the myriad of ancient monuments, while our three-day Nile Boat cruise was both entertaining and relaxing as we birded in style on the world’s longest river! Undoubtedly, the ancient rock-hewn city of Petra in Jordan was a major highlight of the trip, with a visit to the Red Rose city providing for a breathtaking experience and great birding!
Rockjumper’s debut tours to this fascinating Caribbean Island were guided by Luis Segura this March. Both our tours managed over 150 bird species, including almost all the possible endemics. Highlights on both tours included exceptional views of the incredibly beautiful Cuban Tody and Cuban Trogon and excellent experiences with the world’s tiniest bird, the minuscule Bee Hummingbird. Other notable sightings included numerous beautiful migrant and endemic warblers, the rare Zapata Wren and Zapata Sparrow, being serenaded by the lovely Cuban Solitaire and finding several species of special woodpeckers, quail-doves and owls. Besides this superb birding, our participants thoroughly enjoyed the uniqueness of this tranquil island, seemingly stuck in the 1950’s!
Other 2010 Rockjumper tours have included successful adventures to Sri Lanka (every single endemic recorded including crippling views of the rare Serendib Scops Owl), Northern, Central and Eastern India (Tigers, One-horned Rhinoceros, Ibisbills and a plethora of other superb birds and wildlife), China (no less than six species of cranes including the mega Siberian), Gabon, Central African Republic and Sao Tome & Principe (highlights included African River Martin, Black-headed Bee-eater, Grant’s Bluebill, Lowland Gorillas and baï’s filled teeming with some of the world’s last remaining rainforest megafauna), Panama (including Black-crowned Antpitta, Rufous-cheeked Hummingbird, Tacarcuna Bush-Tanager and Broad-billed Sapayoa), Indonesia’s Lesser Sundas (Bali Myna, Elegant Pitta and Komodo Dragon to mention a few), South Africa (the magical Big 5 and dozens of superb endemics) and the Philippines (Philippine Monkey-eating Eagle, Azure-breasted Pitta and Celestial Monarch amongst numerous rare endemics).