A lodge in Central America, where sightings of big cats seem to be more the rule rather than the exception? This sounded to good to be true - even for me as an avid birder - and put Chan Chich Lodge on my radar. But I probably would not have seen the place if it was for the cats alone. Some internet research revealed that the surroundings, privately owned and protected forest and farmland, offered great birdlife, including some sought-after Central American highlight species.
In early February this year, we got picked up in Belize city by Marvin, one of the lodge’s guides and took the three-hour drive deep into Orange Walk county, close to the border with Guatemala. The lodge is only accessible for guests, either by car (4x4 recommended) or aircraft from the city, via the airstrip of the nearby Gallon Jug farm.
After an informative and entertaining drive, with plenty of good birds already seen from the car, we arrived at Chan Chich lodge - a small piece of paradise on earth. The lodge is set up as a small village of wooden cottages (different price ranges), beautifully nestled in the middle of the forest and amidst unexcavated Mayan ruins that emerge as grass-covered hills to the sides of the property. As we learned, it was also for the protection of these ruins, that the owner decided to establish the lodge.
I've spent a larger part of december in Guatemala, el País de la Eterna Primavera ("the land of the eternal spring"). This Central American gem delivered what it promised:
Amazing birds and wildlife, breathtaking scenery and cultural highlights. Save the date: I will give a talk about my experiences as a backpacker searching for birds in Guatemala on 21 June 2017
at Naturhistorisches Museum Wien (Museum of Natural History in Vienna).
I can't say how often I've written this or something similar here or elsewhere. The coast and islands of the German wadden sea keep attracting me. On a recent trip through Germany, I paid the Nationalpark Schleswig-Holsteinisches Wattenmeer another visit to see friends, beloved places and birds. And I brought home some pictures.
Back from a great tip to the Middle East. We visited Qeshm island in Iran, the emirate of Dubai and tiny parts of Oman in the past weeks. I already posted some first images from Qeshm island in
the Persian Gulf below. But there's so much more. This post just shows some more highlight images, but I plan to prepare a page with the less beautiful record shots of interesting taxa.
As you might have seen in the previous two posts, it's nearly all about birds, no landscapes, people, macros.. This comes absolutely unintentional. I usually try to capture at least some additional impressions of my trips, besides the birds. On the way to Dubai, the lens release button of my Nikon D800 broke, so I couldn't change lenses for the whole trip. I didn't bring a spare body to save weight, due to my never-ending cabin luggage issues. Tied to a 500mm lens for four weeks, carrying a full bag of equipment, just to strengthen my back. During the very last days in Oman, even the autofocus system of the lens went down, technically carrying me back into the dark ages of manual focus. All pictures were taken hand-held, without tripod.
On our way to Iran we had a layover day in Dubai. We used it to visit one of the parks closer to the aiport as well as the Dubai creek, where we surprisingly found two Black Drongos
(Dircrurus macrocercus), a Pied Kingfisher (Ceryle rudis) and many of the more common urbanized/introduced bird species of the emirate. When leaving Iran, we spent some more
days in this crazy, over the top city. Birding was not outstanding in most places, except for Ras Al Khor wildlife sanctuary, where we counted more than 16 Greater Spotted Eagles (Aquila
clanga) including one marvellous juvenile fulvescens.
The thoroughly positive experiences of a trip to Iran in 2014 drew me back to this wonderful country. This time, I wanted to add some research to the regular birding, dig deeper into some
taxonomic subjects and so I'm out with Christian and Martin on the desert island of Qeshm in the Persian gulf, to take a close look at the local bird life, in a country visited by very few
We are still out there - doing very well - but there's so much to see and so many photos worth sharing remain on my camera every day, that I put on this first set already now.
A visit to South Tyrol and its amazing Dolomite Alps produced beautiful and instructive sightings of mountain birds, some photos and very good mist-netting (bird ringing) at Val Gardena with some of the certainly very few Ladin speaking bird ringers in the world!
There were many highlights of our two days up at Gardena Pass/Jëuf de Frea/Grödner Joch/Passo Gardena. What struck me the most was the never-ending traffic of seemingly hundreds of Nutcrackers
(Nucifraga caryocatactes) transporting throat sacs full of seeds of Swiss Pine (Pinus cembra) across the pass from southwest to northeast. We caught around 30 of them in the
mist nets (all but one adults!), nearly all of them with dozens of pine seeds in their sublingual pouches.
Dilan to Iacun Prugger for making this possible and for your overwhelming hospitality!
September 2015 sees the release of the new Swarovski Optik EL family of binoculars - the best binoculars out there, Austrian-made, now even further improved!
I had the honor to act in a short film, promoting the passion for birdwatching and the new products. We filmed in April and June 2015 in Seewinkel, Austria, as well as Varanger, arctic Norway.
Thanks to Swarovski Optik and Mario Kreuzer for the great collaboration!
In Norway, although we were very busy filming, I could take some photos of the amazing bird life of this outstanding birding destination - you'll find a selection below. Sometimes it was really hard to concentrate on the acting, when Arctic Redpolls where hopping on the ground around me, or when Stellers Eiders were swimming right behind the camerman.. While shooting in Varanger, I could watch an amazing total of six bird species I had not seen before in my life.
To me, the genus Phalaropus is something extraordinary, within the already extraordinarily charismatic group of waders. Of the two species of Phalaropes occuring in Europe, only Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus) breeds outside Iceland. Phalaropes are among the few sexually dimorphistic European bird species, with "more beautiful" females than males. The female's plumage is more contrasty and more intensively colored and they also behave a little macho-like compared to the quiet males.
On the recent trip to arctic Norway, I had the chance to spend some time with these astonishing creatures after work and to take some pictures in the never-setting midnight sun. The task was extremely difficult in the low light conditions with a monopod, 500mm lens and the Nikon D800's mediocre high ISO performance. I left the right gear (which would have been a tripod and the 70-200mm lens for this confiding species) at home, as I didn't expect too much time for photography on this trip.
I still managed to get some decent shots - enough to please me at least.
The short report of the latest trip to the Po Delta (in German) is online here.
I'm currently enjoying the fabulous birds of the Seewinkel with a group of BirdWatch Ireland. See a photo of tonight below, taken from the terrace of our hotel. White Storks are apparently doing well despite the recent period of cold and rainy weather (which changed into a veritable heat wave yesterday). The depicted pair on the main square of Illmitz raises three chicks and we've seen plenty of (so far) successful pairs in Marchegg today.
I've been visiting the Po Delta in northern Italy since 2003. For the last week, I was guiding a group of BirdLife Austria to this productive birdwatching destination again.
The thing that amazes me most about this region, besides the good birds, is the amazing number of birdwatching opportunities. There are plenty of walks and hides, some old and overgrown though. There must have been a time where the "Po Delta Regional Park" was heavily developed as a birding destination. But I didn't see any new hides and the site guide (the one with the Little Egret in front) is unfortunately very old. I found a new one here, which I used a lot this time. This PDF is apparently quite new, though it also lists very unproductive, disappointing sites (such as Canneviè) or sites with unusable hides (Valle Bertuzzi, eastern shore). Trip report coming soon!