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Category Archives: Conservation

Where are all the Birds???

Over the past month or so, we have heard from many people asking about a noticeable decline in birds coming to their feeders. Where are all the birds???

There are many factors in play, but it is quite normal to notice a drop in feeder activity at this time of year (late summer through early fall), when there is an abundance of wild seeds and berries. This year in particular has been quite extraordinary in terms of the natural food available.

In the words of Pennsylvania naturalist Scott Weidensaul,

Keep in mind that we’ve just experienced one of the mildest Octobers (following one of the hottest Septembers) on record, both following one of the wettest summers in years. The abundance of natural food this year is truly extraordinary; there’s widespread and heavy acorn crops, a ton of cones of most of the conifers, lots of forb and grass seeds in the meadows and fields, and heavy berry and fruit crops. For example, in some woodlands here in Schuylkill County I’ve seen the ground almost carpeted with the dark blue (and highly nutritious) fruits of black gum, which are usually eaten almost before they hit the ground by catbirds, thrushes and other migrants.

Also, folks overlook the fact that while they may have the same species at their feeders year-round, it’s often not the same individual birds from season to season. I’ve heard from a number of people specifically that their goldfinches have disappeared. I know from banding over the years at my home that we have several seasonal changing of the guards of goldfinch populations, and that the individuals that are here during the summer are replaced by a different cohort in the winter. Given how mild it is, and how significantly the weather has impacted migration this fall, I’m not really surprised that while the summer resident goldfinches have moved out, the wintering birds haven’t shown up yet.

I suspect once it gets cold, and especially if we get some snow cover, we’ll have normal numbers. But even in the worst winter conditions, research has shown birds only get an average of about 10 percent of their diet from feeders, and this year the real smorgasbord is out in the wild.

Birds, Coffee & Culture in the Land of the Maya

Pink-headed Warbler; Antigua Guatemala
Guatemala! Clockwise from upper left: Antigua Guatemala, Blue-throated Motmot, Sunset over Lake Atitlan, Cinnamon Hummingbird (Chris Fischer Photography)

Clockwise from upper left: Antigua Guatemala, Blue-throated Motmot, Sunset over Lake Atitlan, Cinnamon Hummingbird.

Guatemala’s Highlands and Lake Atitlan, March 9-18, 2018

Join us next March for a 10-day journey to Guatemala that will include great birding, scenery, food, world-class coffee, and cultural experiences. Along with the best montane birding opportunities in this scenic country, we will take time to experience the wonderful and colorful living culture of the Maya. We will visit Mayan markets, learn a bit about Guatemalan people and their Mayan culture and also visit the world renowned colonial city of Antigua and the picturesque Lake Atitlan (where we will also have the special opportunity to participate in the first ever Guatemala Bird Fair).

Clockwise from upper left: Elegant Euphonia, Red-legged Honeycreeper, White-naped Brush Finch, Pink-headed Warbler.

Clockwise from upper left: Elegant Euphonia, Red-legged Honeycreeper, White-naped Brush Finch, Pink-headed Warbler.

Guatemala is a fantastic country with a diversity of rich habitats for birds, from montane cloud forest to lowland forest. Led by Chris Fischer, this tour specifically focuses on the highlands of the Chiapas-Guatemala Highlands Endemic Bird Area, where many regionally endemic birds can be found. Our target species will include the Highland Guan, Ocellated Quail, Fulvous Owl, Black-capped Swallow, Black-throated Jay, Bushy-crested Jay, Rufous-browed Wren, Rufous-collared Robin, Blue-and-white Mockingbird, Pink-headed Warbler, Azure-rumped Tanager, Bar-winged Oriole, and Black-capped Siskin, among others. There will be an option for those who are physically fit to endure a steep and difficult hike up a volcano in search of the rare but spectacular Horned Guan.

Horned Guan, locally known as "Pavo de Cacho," on Cerro Paquisis, near Lake Atitlán in Guatemala.

Horned Guan, locally known as “Pavo de Cacho,” on Cerro Paquisis, near Lake Atitlán in Guatemala.

Hummingbirds will make an impression with a great diversity of shapes and colors. Some lodges have started using hummingbird feeders, so species that were once quite difficult to find are now much more reliable. These include the Rufous Sabrewing, Slender Sheartail, Green-throated Mountain-gem, Azure-crowned, Blue-tailed, Amethyst-throated, Garnet-throated, Sparkling-tailed, Wine-throated as well as tiny and local Emerald-chinned hummingbirds! We will have a great chance to leisurely observe many of these little gems.

Rufous Sabrewing, San Juan La Laguna, Guatemala (Chris Fischer Photography)

Rufous Sabrewing feeding on a banana flower at a coffee plantation near San Juan La Laguna, Guatemala.

Part of the focus of this tour will also be to enjoy, study and learn about North American birds in their wintering areas. Guatemala is vital to northern migrants, including many species that summer here in northeast Pennsylvania. Seeing “our” birds in a different context adds immensely to a fuller understanding of their lives and also of how these birds unite people across borders.

Joining this tour will make you a partner in helping international conservation. The National Audubon Society and Asociación Vivamos Mejor, based in Panajachel on Lake Atitlan, have teamed up to train Guatemalans to become birding and nature guides. Along with our primary tour leader, we will have their local guiding help throughout this trip, and in turn are helping them make a living while protecting a healthy and diverse ecosystem. Birders who choose to take these tours in order to see and enjoy the natural riches will have a direct economic impact on the local people resulting in preservation of local habitats that maintain a healthy, viable ecotourism industry.

To reserve your place on this tour, contact Chris Fischer at (570) 446-9597 or cfischer@nepaaudubon.org. This tour will be limited to a maximum of 8 participants.

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ITINERARY

DAY 1: Friday, March 9 – WELCOME TO GUATEMALA!

Arrive at the International Airport La Aurora in Guatemala City, where you will be met by your guide upon arrival. Our tour begins with a short 45-minute flight to Flores in the evening. Greeting at Flores airport and transfer to the hotel by hotel shuttle.

Overnight and Dinner at Hotel Isla de Flores. (D)

DAY 2: Saturday, March 10 – YAXHÁ

Following an early breakfast at the hotel, we’ll make our way to the atmospheric lakeside site of Yaxhá, a former ceremonial center and city of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization. This is the third-largest archaeological site in Guatemala with more than 500 structures, including about 40 stelae, 13 altars, 9 temple pyramids, 2 Mesoamerican ballcourts, and a network of causeways. Yaxhá is situated within the Maya Biosphere Reserve and is also part of the National Park Yaxhá-Nakúm-Naranjo, which protects lowland rainforest.

This is a terrific location for parrots, with passing flocks easily observed from the top of the temple in the mornings and evenings – including Red-lored, White-fronted, White-crowned, and the less common Mealy parrots. We’ll also be sure to check for raptors resting on top of the nearby trees. Among the possibilities are Ornate Hawk-Eagle, Black Hawk-Eagle, Plumbeous Kite, as well as many migrant raptors that occur in the area as their wintering grounds.

Overnight and dinner at El Sombrero Ecolodge. (BLD)

DAY 3: Sunday, March 11 – TIKAL NATIONAL PARK

We continue our way to Tikal, the largest excavated archaeological site in Mesoamerica with more than 3,000 structures in an area covering more than 6.2 square miles. Once one of the largest of the Classic Maya cities, Tikal was the first site of the Maya civilization declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979. In 1955, the area around Tikal was declared as the Tikal National Park, with the preserved area covering 220 square miles. The park is within is part of the Maya Biosphere Reserve, the largest Neotropical rainforest north of the Amazon basin.

Temple IV, Kapok Tree (Cieba Tree), Red-lored Parrot. (Chris Fischer Photography)

Clockwise from upper left: Tikal ruins, View from Temple IV, Kapok Tree (Cieba Tree), Red-lored Parrot.

Home to more than 400 species of birds, there’s arguably no other place on earth where you can combine birds with archaeology on this scale! We will have the opportunity to explore the trails inside the jungle and climb temples. As with Yaxhá, ancient structures amidst the forest offer great opportunities to see canopy birds and regional endemics like Ocellated Turkey and Black-throated Shrike-Tanager. Our target bird here will be the rare and magnificent Orange-breasted Falcon.

Orange-breasted Falcon, Tikal, Guatemala (Chris Fischer Photography)

Orange-breasted Falcon, Tikal, Guatemala.

In addition to the birds, we should see a variety of wildlife. White-nosed Coaties, Agouties, and Gray Foxes are commonly observed walking around the park grounds, and Geoffroy’s Spider Monkeys and Mexican Black Howler Monkeys in the forest canopy. While rare, it is also possible to see jaguarundis and jaguars!

Overnight at Hotel Jungle Lodge. (BLD)

DAY 4: Monday, March 12 – TIKAL – ANTIGUA GUATEMALA

Our lodge is located just outside the park gate, allowing us an early morning start. Following an early breakfast at the hotel, we’ll continue to explore the ruins of Tikal to cover more of the forest and look for species not seen before.

Afternoon transfer to Flores Airport for the 45-minutes flight back to Guatemala City followed by transfer to Antigua, Guatemala.

Overnight at La Posadita Hotel. (BLD)

Antigua, Guatemala (Chris Fischer Photography)

Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala.

DAY 5: Tuesday, March 13 – ANTIGUA GUATEMALA

Antigua Guatemala is the most important and enchanting city of colonial Guatemala. Founded by the Spaniards in 1543, Antigua is now a beautiful blend of ruins, restored colonial buildings, and new buildings in colonial style. It was declared “Monument of America” in 1965.

Today, we’ll start with a half-day walking tour of Antigua (approx. 3-4 hrs). We’ll visit the Central Plaza, surrounded by the antique Cathedral, the Municipal Government Building, and the Palace of the Captains General; colonial churches and monasteries.

In the afternoon, we will visit La Azotea Coffee Farm and Museum, well known in Antigua for its high-quality coffee, long time tradition and commitment to Guatemalan culture. The Coffee Museum exhibits introduce you to the history of coffee in Guatemala and explain the growing and processing of the golden bean.

Overnight at La Posadita Hotel. (BLD)

Mottled Owl, Los Tarrales Reserve, Guatemala (Chris Fischer Photography)

Mottled Owl, Los Tarrales Reserve, Guatemala.

Shade-grown coffee at Los Tarrales Reserve (Chris Fischer Photography)

Shade-grown coffee at Los Tarrales Reserve

DAY 6: Wed., March 14 – ANTIGUA – LOS TARRALES

We continue our journey towards Los Tarrales Reserve, a private nature preserve and shade coffee plantation located on the southeastern slope of Atitlán Volcano. At just over 2,000 ft. in elevation, this special location lies in the heart of the Pacific foothills where the lowlands of the Pacific coast meet the western highlands.

With access to a variety of habitats, Los Tarrales has an exceptional bird list. We’ll enjoy watching Orange-chinned Parakeet, Cinnamon Hummingbird, White-throated Magpie-Jay, Rufous-naped Wren, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Yellow-throated Euphonia, and Spot-breasted Oriole among others. We’ll also be looking for such species such as Orange-fronted Parakeet, Long-billed Starthroat, Barred Antshrike, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Yellow-olive Flycatcher, Masked Tityra, Long-tailed Manakin, Tody Motmot, White-throated Thrush, White-winged Tanager, Blue Seedeater, and Bar-winged Oriole.

In the afternoon, you’ll have the opportunity to take a tour to observe the traditional process of coffee production. Experts will guide us through the gourmet coffee cycle, starting in the nursery and following these small grains in their process of growth, careful collection and selection. We will discover how the unique characteristics of Guatemala’s climates and terrain combine to create the perfect conditions for growing the best coffee beans. Afterwards, we’ll continue our journey towards Panajachel, one of twelve lakeshore villages surrounding Lake Atitlán.

Overnight at Hotel Dos Mundos (BLD)

Birds of Lake Atitlan. Clockwise from upper left: Gray-backed Solitaire, Prevost's Ground Sparrow, Rusty Sparrow, Slender Sheartail. (Chris Fischer Photography)

Clockwise from upper left: Gray-backed Solitaire, Prevost’s Ground Sparrow, Rusty Sparrow, Slender Sheartail.

DAY 7: Thurs., Mar. 15 – LAKE ATITLÁN – SAN JUAN LA LAGUNA

We’ll travel by boat across the calm waters of Lake Atitlán to visit the fascinating lakeside Mayan village of San Juan La Laguna. Enjoy this bustling indigenous community where weavers work the colorful textiles. We will visit the community project of Rupalaj K´istalin (meaning “Mayan Face” in Mayan Tz’utujil language and referring to the hill overlooking the village), showcasing the daily activities, traditions, culture, handicrafts and art work of the Mayan Tz’utujil culture.

We’ll return to Panajachel, where in the evening we will participate in the welcome dinner kicking off the inaugural Guatemala Bird Fair!

Overnight at Hotel Dos Mundos. (BLD)

San Juan la Laguna, Guatemala (Chris Fischer Photography)

The town of San Juan la Laguna, Guatemala.

DAY 8: Friday, March 16 – GUATEMALA BIRD FAIR

We’ll have a full day to participate in the 2018 Guatemala Bird Fair, with optional activities including your choice of the following sites for a birding day trip (with key bird species noted for each):

  • Corazon del Bosque – Pink-headed Warbler, Yellow-eyed Junco
  • Rey Tepepul – Azure-rumped Tanager, Blue-crowned Chlorophonia, Resplendant Quetzal
  • La Cascada (San Juan) – Prevost’s Ground Sparrow, Rufous Sabrewing
  • Tzankujil – Elegant Euphonia, Blue-throated Motmot, Prevost’s Ground Sparrow
  • Volcán San Pedro – Horned Guan, Wine-throated Hummingbird, Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo

Overnight at Hotel Dos Mundos (BLD)

DAY 9: Saturday, March 17 – BIRD FAIR – GUATEMALA CITY

Today you will be able to choose another one of the sites listed above for a birding day trip. Afterwards, we will depart towards to Guatemala City, where you will spend the last night of your visit in a comfortable hotel in the city. The tour officially ends upon arrival at our hotel in Guatemala City.

Overnight and dinner at Hotel las Americas (BLD)

Squirrel at Tzankujil Reserve (Chris Fischer Photography)

Squirrel at Tzankujil Reserve

DAY 10, Sunday, March 18 – GOOD BYE GUATEMALA!

Breakfast at the hotel. The hotel offers a free hotel shuttle for when you need to get to “La Aurora” international airport for your flight home.

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THE DETAILS

PRICE: $2,450 per person

TOUR PRICE INCLUDES

  • Internal flights between Guatemala City and Flores
  • Private transportation for all transfers and excursions, as per itinerary
  • Accommodations on a twin/double basis (single supplement $300)
  • Almost all meals as indicated in the itinerary above: (B)reakfast, (L)unch, (D)inner
  • Local birding, nature and culture guides
  • Entrance fees & permits for all birding and cultural areas visited
  • Drinking water will be available in our vehicle(s) for the duration of the tour

NOT INCLUDED:

  • International airfare to/from Guatemala City
  • Food, alcoholic beverages and services not specified in the itinerary
  • Beverages of any kind during meals
  • Tips for guides, driver, hotel maid, etc.
  • Optional tours
  • Personal expenses

TO RESERVE YOUR PLACE:

Please contact Chris Fischer at (570) 446-9597 or cfischer@nepaaudubon.org. This tour will be limited to a maximum of 8 participants.

Sunset Over Lake Atitlan, Guatemala (Chris Fischer Photography)

Sunset Over Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.

All photographs on this page are the copyright of Chris Fischer Photography and may not be used in any manner without express permission.

Goshawk Sightings Sought

Northern Goshawk, photo by David Brinker.

Northern Goshawk, photo by David Brinker.


Northern Goshawk is a rare, difficult to study forest raptor that seems to be declining in population and breeding range. It is one of the rarest nesting raptors in the state and a notably elusive and secretive species. It is a flagship species of the big woods and the wildest parts of the state, sometimes called the “ultimate forest raptor” due to its size, wildness, and fierceness. It currently is considered “Near Threatened” in Pennsylvania.

Reports of Goshawk sightings in the state are being sought on behalf of the Pennsylvania Goshawk Project, which is run by a subcommittee of the Ornithological Technical Committee (OTC) of the Pennsylvania Biological Survey (PABS). The PA Game Commission (PGC) is cooperating with this project and protecting goshawk nests on its properties.

Any assistance with finding goshawk territories and nests helps with our research and conservation efforts to protect this magnificent raptor.

Goshawk reports can be e-mailed to goshawk@psu.edu. Any goshawk observations during the breeding season, from late March to June, on game lands should be sent to pgcgoshawk@pa.gov. Reports to either the Pennsylvania Goshawk Project or the Game Commission will be treated as confidential.

For more information about the Pennsylvania Goshawk Project, visit www.pabiologicalsurvey.org/goshawk. There you can find images and audio to aid identification as well as forms, instructions, and contact information.

See also an extensive news story on PA eBird: Northern Goshawk: Reports Needed for “the Ultimate Forest Raptor”

Please share this information with other outdoors people!

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