September 2009

Your favorite Tweet Club is back.

Twitter club for birders. We need a better logo! Could anyone please come up with something?

Twitter club for birders. We need a better logo! Could anyone please come up with something?

Not as long delay this time, but still delayed. I hope to be able to get the tweetclub #006 out by next Thursday Oct 1, so please submit your contributions in the comment section below before Tuesday Sep 29 . See earlier tweet-club postings to understand the rules and how this works.

I am having somewhat difficult time to get enough participants in the tweet-club in spite of the overwhelming results. Some of you may think it comes off as a bit spammy, but in reality for those of us on Twitter who follow more than 100 people have a hard time to actually see all things that are relevant. Therefore, highlighting blogposts about birds that have been selected by the individual birdblogger and additionally have past my “filter” (strictly commercial posts or non-bird related posts will not pass) guarantees excellent reading and posts you don’t want to miss. You also have a chance to spread your blog to people who don’t regularly would read your blog. I have around 4600 followers on Twitter.  Quite obviously not all are birders, but if we could provide interesting blogposts about birds that have lots of wow-factor in them (I repeat great photos, something very funny, a great story, something useful, a top 1o list, a tutorial etc have the chance to reach far more people that you usually reach) then we can also engage more people to maybe become birders and ultimately active guardians of nature.

Facebook-club for Bird Bloggers.

I have talked about this idea in previous posts. Now it is time to introduce it here as a fixed strategy. Some explaining: From the past tweet-club results I have picked those that got over 100 clicks and presented these on my Facebook (some 1800 Facebook Friends – mostly birders). Unfortunately, it I can’t measure my out-going links from Facebook (if it is possible – let me know!), but it ought to be significant. If you have a great story or photo it may even be re-Facebooked by some of friends. For a specialized hobby like ours and with the relatively few birders on Twitter, Facebook reaches more birders. Twitter can reach more people and especially people that may have a beginning interest in nature watching. Facebook reaches the already converted souls and the friends of friends. The two compliment each other. It is therefore logical to take the Tweet-club also to Facebook.

A few things to think about.
1. By publishing links to other bloggers, you will appear less navel-gazing and self promoting. Sure, Facebook in itself is a self-promoting media, but your Facebook friends will love you even more if you not only promote yourself.
2. But, don’t overdo it. Only share things you truly like.
3. Share the link only once or at the most twice if you posted at an odd hour and get very few responses.  Since Facebook is an mutual opt-in social media system it means that most those who are following you as Facebook Friends are truly interested in you and contrary to Twitter will read almost every update.

Newbies on the Tweetclub

We have some new participants for this weeks tweet-club. I have chosen posts from their blogs since they either did not supply a specific blogpost, it was not about birds or it contained a stream that can’t be seen in some countries. Sorry to these bloggers for that inconvenience.

Here are the tweets you should retweet (and of course read and comment).

  • RT @Journowl The cheaper sex ……for Imperial Eagle
  • RT @JKissnHug Very confident Sandhill Cranes were raising young in popular Michigan park
  • RT @SoaringFalcon1 The burrowing owl is threatened in California. Larry Jordan gives all the background. (had 104 hits prior to tweetclub launch)
  • RT @irenapuella Great shots of Asian Owls (had 16 tweets for this link before launch.
  • RT @ falconmountain Pallid Harrier in Finland. Good flight photos.
  • RT @NC_N8 Everyone has heard about the Christmas Bird Count! What a bout the Fall Bird Count?
  • RT @2birderstogo Nothing like a jay to lift your spirits and cure your ills.
  • RT @kolibrix Do you want to birdwatch in Manu, Peru and support the indigenous communities get into eco-tourism?
  • RT @LadyWoodpecker Last day of summer. What to do? Go birding on the shore of course

I also had contributions from BirdExplorers and Dani in Catalunya, but since I got no twitter account from neither, I can not include them. Please submit again next week.

Last tweet club results.

The results from tweet club 4 were a bit more modest than usual, but both long delivery time of the blogpost as well as rather few participants gave lower numbers.

@SoaringFalcon1 36 clicks
@kolibrix 59 clicks
@DawnFine 64 clicks
@birdfreak 66 clicks
@journowl htp:// 73 clicks
@gwendolen 85 clicks

Gwendolen’s Vulture call got most clicks.

Leave contributions for next weeks tweet-club. Contributions by Tuesday, por favor.

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Join Devorah Bennu a.k.a GrrlScientist in Manu

GrrlScientist - Devorah Bennnu

GrrlScientist - Devorah Bennnu

It  is a great pleasure to me to announce that Devorah Bennu – GrrlScientist will help out promoting the Amarakaeri Communal  Reserve, which essentially is a protected area in continuation to Manu National Park on the other side of the river. Last week I posted updates about our strategy inviting prominent bird and nature bloggers to promote community sustainable ecotourism and act as hosts for a series of special monthly blogger departures until the end of 2010.  The first trip with Devorah is coming up very soon as it is scheduled for Dec 6 (new date) so the takers can join a Satipo road trip prior to the immersion in the Amazon lowland. Read the detailed Manu itinerary.

Some bio from her Grrl Scientist’s blog.

GrrlScientist is an evolutionary biologist, ornithologist, aviculturist, birder and freelance science and nature writer. A native of the Pacific Northwest, she relocated from Seattle to NYC with her parrots after earning a BS in Microbiology (emphasis in Virology) and PhD in Zoology (Ornithology) from the University of Washington. In NYC, she was the Chapman Postdoctoral Fellow at the American Museum of Natural History for two years, pursuing part of her “dream” research project by reconstructing a molecular phylogeny of the parrots of the South Pacific islands and published in SCIENCE (September 2009) and NATURE (August 2009. GrrlScientist has written a blog about science since 4 August 2004. That she has a profound interest in birds is shown by her frequent column called Birds in the News. Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted) by GrrlScientist, is one of the most popular Natural History blocks on the net with several thousand hits daily.

The interview

Q. Who is GrrlScientst?

GrrlScientist is a lifelong student of nature and birds are my first, and best, teachers. For that reason, I’ve dedicated my life to learning everything I can learn about them. Birds inspire me to learn more about the world and for that reason, they motivate me to strive to be better than I am. Ever since I watched a large group of Waxwings perched on a fence on a cold and snowy January morning, carefully passing a bright red berry from one bird to the next, I’ve been fascinated by birds; their beauty, their behaviors and their ability to survive seemingly impossible circumstances.
Why do they do what they do?
How do they know where (and when) to go when they migrate?
Why are there different species in different parts of the world?
Do they perceive the world the same way that humans do?
How do birds communicate with each other?

Q. Tell me about your love of parrots?

Parrots have been my companions and my family for most of my life, so I have a strong emotional connection to them. But beyond that, I view parrots as ambassadors. They help people to understand birds, especially people who might never have looked at a bird as anything other than buffalo wings or an annoyance. Parrots — gaudy, outgoing and personable — are the one group of birds that people from all walks of life are most likely to recognize and are most often impressed by. As a result, parrots provide people with a window into the lives of birds and in doing so, they help sensitize people to all birds, they help us learn to appreciate the lives of birds and they teach us the value of protecting and preserving birds and their habitats so future generations can discover the same joys that we  experience through them.

Q. What makes you a great host for the first blogger’s Manu community lodges?

I am a great host for the Manu community lodges birding expedition because of my enthusiasm, knowledge and desire to learn. I love new experiences, and birding provides that rare combination of connecting with a small group of my fellow explorers, learning more about the birdlife in a particular area of the world, and sharing the wonder and beauty of that with others through my words, photographs and other media.  Because I have been writing the popular science blog, Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted), for more than 5 years, I have a well established platform where I can publish these articles, essays, photoessays and other media where the public can follow everyone’s adventures for free

Q: The communities have difficulties getting started with eco’tourism in  spite of lodges be donated to them. How do you think this initiative  with a birdwatching outfitter inviting bloggers can make a difference?

I really don’t know how to respond to this because I am not familiar with this situation. However, once I am there, I am certain I’ll learn more how the local communities can make eco-tourism work better for them and my blog can serve as a conduit for information exchange to this end between my readers and the local communities.

Devorah recently aspired an official blogging status for an Antarctica cruise by Quark Expeditions. The fact that she came in 3rd among 708 bloggers with over 2200 votes shows how extremely fortunate we are to have Devorah Bennu as our first official Manu blogger .

Once again,  sign up NOW for a trip to the Manu area with Devorah Blennu and expert local guides from Kolibri Expeditions. Your participation will do a lot of good for the community and their efforts to conserve a piece of the Amazon and find a sustainable way of living that respects their mindset and traditions through true eco-tourism.

Oct 23

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Tony Pym reports from the Fiji Petrel Expedition.

With an attempt to put some content on my always too unfrequent blog, I have decided to share birding news that come my way. I have previously posted to posts on this fascinating expedition. The first was a summery of the planning and execution of the discovery of Fiji Petrel.  The second an interview with the expedition leaders Hadoram Shirihai and Tony Pym.

Here is a report from Tony Pym from the The Fiji Petrel Expedition published on the listserver Seabird-News on Sep 18 of significant sightings recorded between May 12-22, 2009 near Gau island.  Observers were Hadoram Shirihai, Tony Pym, Joerg Kretzschmar and Dick Watling.  The records clearly indicate why the observers consider this marine area a new and important hotspot for seabirds.

MURPHY’S PETREL: One photographed on 16 May. There are no known records from Fiji and the literature suggests this record is also the first for the Western Pacific. This is an extraordinary record of vagrancy for a species that breeds no closer than the western Tuamotu Archipelago (2,000 km. to the east of Fiji), with usual migration to the north and east of the breeding islands.

KERMADEC PETREL: Birds varied from very pale to all dark. We observed this species in 2005, 2008 and 2009 and believe it to be regular in Fiji waters, and that it may breed.

PHOENIX PETREL: One, on 21 May, is apparently the first confirmed record for Fiji waters.

MOTTLED PETREL: This long-distance migrant moves from breeding grounds in New Zealand to the North Pacific, but has seldom been recorded in Fiji waters. It was seen (and photographed) almost daily during the expedition in 2009.

WHITE-NECKED PETREL: One briefly inspected the chum on 18 July 2008. The bird might have been a Vanuatu Petrel P. occulta, although it was seen alongside several other species and considered too large. Both species can be expected in Fiji waters.

BLACK-WINGED PETREL: Two; one in heavy moult (14 May), the other fresh plumage (16 May). The species’ status is uncertain in Fiji waters, where it is little known, despite breeding as close as New Caledonia, Tonga and the Kermadec Islands.

GOULD’S PETREL: A few seen, almost daily during the expedition, amongst the many P. brevipes, with which it was considered conspecific in the past. All were P. l. caledonica. The paucity of records in Fiji waters may be attributable to a lack of knowledge in separating it from pale-phase P. brevipes. The possibility that P. leucoptera also breeds in Fiji cannot be excluded as apart from New Caledonia, Cabbage Tree Island (NSW, Australia), and possibly Vanuatu, the species has now been found breeding far to the east, in south-east (French) Polynesia (Bretagnolle et al. in prep.).

COLLARED PETREL: Numbers increased during the late afternoons, suggesting most were breeding birds returning to Gau. 10% were the dark-bellied morph.

TAHITI PETREL: The most frequent petrel. Most are believed to breed in northern Fiji e.g. on Taveuni.

PARKINSON’S (BLACK) PETREL: Our observation on 17 May, of this New Zealand endemic breeder, is the first for Fiji waters.

CHRISTMAS (KIRITIMATI) SHEARWATER: A bird seen en route to Gau, 12 May, is the second for Fiji waters.

WEDGE-TAILED SHEARWATER: Breeds on many islands in Fiji, but relatively few seen (c. 30), all were dark morph, and we are unaware of pale forms in the region.

BULLER’S SHEARWATER: Observed on two days during the 2009 expedition – only three previous records in Fiji waters.

SOOTY SHEARWATER: Few seen on most days during the expedition. Some showed quite dark underwings, had apparently short bills, and their feet projected beyond the tail in flight. We mistook some as Short-tailed Shearwaters, and these odd birds require future attention. Both shearwaters are regular in Fiji waters.

FLESH-FOOTED SHEARWATER: Surprisingly, our 21 May sighting is only the second in Fiji waters; the first was a bird captured off Gau, also this year (February 2009).

WILSON’S STORM PETREL: Observed on four days, always at the chum.

WHITE-FACED STORM PETREL: A single on 16 May had the pale, virtually whitish-grey, rump
usually associated with P. (m). albiclunis,  which breeds on the Kermadec Islands, New Zealand and possibly Norfolk Island, Australia.

WHITE-BELLIED STORM PETREL: We photographed the first for Fiji waters, in July 2008, off Taveuni Island.

BLACK-BELLIED STORM PETREL: One on 16 May at the chum, the second confirmed record in Fiji waters.

POLYNESIAN STORM PETREL: This attractive storm petrel was first recorded in Fiji from a bird taken on the nest in September 1876 on Kadavu Island. There were no further confirmed records until 19 July 2008 when we photographed a bird at chum, and then another was seen on 14 May 2009.

MATSUDAIRA’S STORM PETREL: The first record for Fiji waters of this Japanese breeder (and Indo-Pacific migrant) was on 13 May. The closest region from where the species is regular is the Bismarck Archipelago, Papua New Guinea.

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Chorillos fish market

Luciana at fish market Chorillos. IMG00163-20090920-1320

Went birding with Luciana today with no binoculars and no telescope. The only thing we carried…well Luciana carried ….was her elephant and bird-folder. I carried my Blackberry and these are the photos produced from the camera within the BB. We headed down to Chorrillos’s fishing port. I have been going there quite a few times with Luciana and Elita. It is a good place also to see Inca Tern and Peruvian Seaside Cinclodes, although we did not see any today. Actually,it is a cool place to take kids as, one may buy some cut up fish for a Sol (35 cents) to hand out to the Peruvian Pelicans.

IMG00149-20090920-1303Be sure to bring the ID-kit!

IMG00156-20090920-1311Thumb on Peruvian Pelican.  Somewhat similar to elephant, right?

IMG00160-20090920-1313Hey, I want to show you something!

IMG00159-20090920-1312Don’t be shy!

IMG00161-20090920-1313Look. Here is my elephant!

IMG00166-20090920-1324All sorts of fresh fish can be bought at the Chorillos fish market

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Fiji Petrel Interview.

Fiji Petrel. First photograph. The Tubenose project. Hadoram Shirihai.

Fiji Petrel. First photograph. The Tubenose project. Hadoram Shirihai.

I am pleased to announce a short interview with the main players of the recent discovery at sea of Fiji Petrel that I reported last week.  Both Had0ram Shirihai and Tony Pym have kindly answered my questions. I meant to send this earlier, but had to leave for Cuzco for a few days.
If you have additional questions to ask Hadoram and Tony, please put them in the comment field and I will forward them.

Hadoram Shirihai (47)

In November 2007  Hadoram Shirihai re-discovered and photographed Beck’s Petrel in the Bismark Archipelago.  Again, he is the main executor of a new major seabird discovery as the news and photos of  Fiji Petrel circulated around the world  yesterday. He has an impressive track record of excellent, very thorough and well researched books already published, such as being author or co-author of major birding literature such as Birds of Israel , Sylvia Warblers and The Macmillan Birder’s Guide to European and Middle Eastern Birds.
In the mid 90’s he started getting more focused on seabirds his extensive travels in the southern seas culminated with the definite reference and guide book for Antarctica and the seabirds in the vicinity with the publication of The complete guide to Antartic wildlife in 2001 with a revised and extended second edition 2008. His travels over the seven seas also resulted in an authoritative guide for marine mammals: Whales, Dolphins, and Other Marine Mammals of the World (Princeton Field Guides)

Hadoram has several on-going book project such as Photographic Handbook for Western Palearctic Birds with Lars Svensson, Photographic Handbook of Birds of the World with Hans Jörnvall for which Hadoram himself has to provide around 5000 species  and the definite work on seabirds that all seabird fanatics are waiting for The Tubenose project. It is this latest project that drives Hadoram to make these far-flung expeditions to search for and photograph seabirds rarely or never previously photographed.

The natural question for seabird “locos” like myself. When is the book coming out, Hadoram?

It probably will be ready for publication in 3 to 4 years, depending when John Cox will end his great plates, but in the meantime Vincent Bretagnolle (my co-author) and I are working on the text, more photo/chumming expeditions and on publication of c. 10 scientific papers… Good books takes time to make, you have to wait if you want a good one… Tony will be happy to answer your other questions.  I am on my way to Brazil…

Hadoram native of Jerusalem, Israel, travels for around 5-6 months per year for his book projects and nowadays calls Zurich, Switzerland his home is coming to Peru next year to continue his photographic work for the Photographic Handbook of the Birds of the World. Kolibri Expeditions is getting the privilege to make all the logistical set-ups.

Tony Pym

Tony Pym is senior guide for Ornitholidays and guide many of their pelagic cruises. He is well renowned among pelagic birders and shares a lot of his sightings and news on the list servers  specialized on pelagics. He also has an excellent web-page on Seabirds and Cetaceans. Since Hadoram is travelling Tony kindly answered my remaining questions.
After the aborted expedition in 2008, how sure were you that you were to try again?

After the problems in 2008, if anything this made us more determined to get back to the area. In fact, there were many more problems than solely mechanical problems with the boat but these are for a future chat, not publication! It was very frustrating for us after much planning to be leaving the South Pacific last year, seeing such good birds in the few days and believing the Fiji Petrel was there, somewhere waiting to be seen. After much discussion between the team we decided on a different timing, the dates being co-ordinated between us with particular reference to the possible breeding season. The paper outlines much more about this and the reasons for working given sea areas.

Was it hard to get paying members to the two expeditions in 2008 and 2009?
There are few amateur seabird enthusiasts who wish to be at sea continuously searching for petrels, and have the money also for the travel and real costs. We needed this money up-front also, so that the boat could be charted and other accommodation/logistics put into place in advance of our arrival. The cost was equally shared, with hopes of some refunds from both company and private support, including that from the main conservation societies (listed in the scientific paper).

How did you manage to keep quiet since May and why?
The team agreed an embargo; to not release any photos or information from seeing the first bird to actual publication of the paper. Everyone had to keep to this for maximum impact on a given date (that day was 11 September). Any release of a photo could take away from both the paper and the announcement.

Was there any particular reason why the announcement comes with the publication?
The BOC agreed that the paper was of sufficient importance for its next issue, as we wanted. From May we had to write the paper – 20 pages has been published – with a deadline for publication in the next bulletin, September. We agreed with the editor that the bulletin, with its scoop, had to be mailed and on subscribers’ doorsteps before we released the press announcement. This was agreed with BirdLife also, and the embargo date agreed was yesterday. On the same day, any postings to Newsgroups, other media could take place. This would give maximum take on the plight of the bird, in the world’s press, resulting in many thousands seeing the photos and notes on the same day. This method meant the likes of BBC, USA-Today, Sky News, AOL and newspapers like the Guardian, Daily Telegraph and other big players in new wires would all have the info at once. Also, we had here the opportunity to advertise the BOC, BirdLife, NatureFiji and others in one big hit.

Who were the members on board in 2008 and 2009?
The team in 2008 were Hadoram, myself, Joerg Kretzscmar, Geoff Jones, Patrick Blomquist, Dick Newell and Dick Watling plus others, mostly Fijians on the ground backing us. In 2009 there was Hadoram, myself, Joerg, Dick Watling and again many backing us on the boat and ashore.

The dark small cockilaria like petrel that got away in 2008. Was it IT? Did Patrick, Geoff and Dick Newell see that one well enough to stay at home this time?
Yes, the small dark petrel could have been the bird, but it was seen only by Hadoram, Jörg and myself. The others did not pick up the bird as it came in at distance, disappeared behind a wave and shot out the other way. So, Geoff, Patric and Dick Newell have not seen Fiji Petrel…unfortunately for them, after their efforts in 2008.

Last question: So what is next? Any other lost species you are going to search for? How do I sign up?
As for future expeditions we are planning at least three more at present, but you’ll have to wait for their announcements within the seabirding community. Suffice to say, all involve very rare seabirds….and the world is a big place!

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First photograph of Fiji Petrel from off  Gau Island, Fiji

Fiji Petrel. The Tubenose project. Copyright: Hadoram Shirihai

Fiji Petrel. The Tubenose project. Copyright: Hadoram Shirihai

This is fantastic news. The Fiji Petrel has been seen and photographed off  Gau Island, in the Fiji archipelago. A press release a couple of hours ago from Birdlife International reveals many details, such as the species is known only from one specimen collected in1855. That is 154 years ago. Alright, the article admits that there been a few reports of birds landing on the roofs on houses on Gau island that possbly were this species. But without photos or specimens, it is hard to be sure.

The article also describes the very interesting chumming method used:

The main ingredients of chum? Fish offal cut into small pieces and mixed with very dense fish oil, to which water was added and then frozen in 10-kg blocks. The chum was prepared a few weeks ahead by volunteers from the BirdLife Affiliate in Fiji, NatureFiji-MareqetiViti, the official BirdLife Species Guardian for Fiji Petrel.

Frozen chum blocks persist for up to one-and-a-half hours, creating a pungent and constant oil slick, which attracts petrels from some miles away. On the second day, the first Fiji Petrel appeared, approaching the chum slick from downwind, slowly zigzagging over the slick, and suddenly changing direction to drop onto a small floating morsel.

Expedition for Fiji Petrel in 2008

Hadoram Shirihai, the expedition leader and main author of the forth-coming Tubenose guide and Tony Pym a veteran seabird expert and bird guide are no newbies in the area. Already last year 2008 I received an email on the Seabirds Newsgroup on June 27 reading the following.


Now only one place left!

The chance to maybe see Fiji Petrel; never reliably recorded at sea to date. We have the right boat, tons of chum aboard (literally), and good/honest/reliable seabird companions to share with!! We need just one more pair of good eyes.

We sail from Suva, Fiji on the 16 July, returning 26 July. There’ll be other stuff too, like Collared and Tahiti Petrels to look out for (and who knows what else!)

If you’re interested get in touch now with Hadoram Shirihai for more info…

Look forward to seeing you on board
Tony Pym

Tempting! Very tempting!

But the trip did not end well. In another email on August 8, 2008 to the Seabirds News group Tony Pym writes:

The Fiji Petrel Expedition 2008

Gau Island in Fiji Archipelago

Gau Island in Fiji Archipelago

This year’s mission to try and observe the Fiji Petrel at sea unfortunately had to be aborted after three days due to mechanical problems with the boat. Two chumming sessions on the journey to Gau, the island where birds have been grounded in the past, produced four Kermadec Petrels (only the second record for Fiji waters), a White-necked Petrel (though possibly a Vanuatu Petrel), 20+ Tahiti Petrels, four Collared Petrels and one probable, though brief, Providence Petrel. Of special note was a small ‘Cookilaria-sized’ dark petrel seen by three of the team, which flew under the Kermadec’s giving a direct size comparison.

On the second day at sea we chummed some 16 miles southeast of Gau. Two Polynesian Storm-petrels (the first confirmed in the Fiji and Samoa biogeographical region for 132 years) were observed plus two more Kermadecs. Tahiti Petrels numbered about 16 over a three-hour period and two Collared Petrels were distant. Once more, a small dark petrel was seen momentarily, only to fly into the sun’s glare.

Following the boat’s technical problems the group decided to fly to Taveuni in the Fiji Islands and try for seabirds there (and the endemic landbirds in any spare time). We could charter only a high-speed sports boat and chummed the first day 18 miles offshore and the second day at the Vuna seamount. The highlight was a White-bellied Storm-petrel (a species never reliably confirmed from Fiji waters) on the first day and three Gould’s Petrels on the second. Day totals were 50+ Tahiti Petrels, one Collared Petrel on the first day and 30+ Tahiti Petrels on the second – on our return to the quay at dusk we had a gathering of an additional 50+ Tahiti Petrels, waiting to return to their breeding burrows ashore.

So the expedition for Fiji Petrel had to be aborted after the second day due to engine malfunction. The members of the team must have felt very heart-broken, especially those that had chipped in at the very end. Nevertheless, some good birds were seen. The small all dark “Cookilaria” sized dark petrel could have been the Fiji Petrel which is remarkably small. I wonder what the team-members think of this bird in hind-sight.

Fiji Petrel. The Tubenose project. Photo: Hadoram Shirihai

Fiji Petrel. The Tubenose project. Photo: Hadoram Shirihai

2009 and a new expedition in 2010.

The present successful expedition was carried out in May 2009 and the results are being published in Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club (The first observations of Fiji Petrel Pseudobulweria macgillivrayi at sea: off Gau Island, Fiji, in May 2009 Bull. Brit. Orn. Cl. 129:129-148). Only 8 birds were seen in 11 days, which indicates that the species is extremely rare and deserves its Critically Threatened status.  Since molt patterns and tentative age was observed, predictions can be made when to best search for the species at land. Finding the breeding areas is the most important step for its conservation.  A new expedition to find the breeding area is planned in 2010.

Interview with Tony Pym and Hadoram Shirihai

I have had the pleasure of meeting with both Tony Pym and Hadoram Shirihai. Although, I can’t say I know them well, still well enough to feel comfortable to send off some questions.  I hope to get answers by tomorrow to follow up on this teaser.  Stay tuned!. Read the interview here.

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Amarakaeri – birdwatching next to Manu flashback.

Sharpbill. <i>Oxyruncus cristatus</i>. First record from Manu. Photo: Alex Durand

Sharpbill. Canopy tower at Blanco Lodge. Maybe the first record from Lowland Manu? Photo: Alex Durand

Some of you may recall my post from last year about the communal reserve Amarakaeri and how we Kolibri Expeditions were going to start using the community owned lodges in our itineraries for birders. Don’t remember? Check out this. Birdwatching in Communal reserve next to Manu.

In short:

  • 8 indigineous communities of 3 ethnical groups Yine, Matsiguenka and and Harakmbut form the communal reserve Amarakaeri in
  • They receive aid for various projects in managing the reserve including the donations of at least 400.000 dollars to build 4 lodges. (I am a bit uncertain of the total,but this is more or less the money spent on building the lodges).
  • They formed a communal eco-tourism company called Wanamei.
  • Although they did  get a lot of guidance and training work-shops by the funding non-profits, they still have difficulty reaching the market and providing a product that stands out compared to the many already established tour operators in the Manu area. They had no commercial partner.
  • And this is where Kolibri comes in. Our idea: They could become prime birdwatching lodges with trained native local resident guides. No lodge in Manu have resident guides. Eventually, they should step away from being “cheap” lodges, but rather high-end, but that is a different project all together. Birding helps the initial marketing efforts.


Although, our interest may sound altruistic, there is obviously also a thought that it will be a good business venture for Kolibri Expeditions. We currently only run some 6 birding tours per year to the Manu area and with this low volume it really does not make much sense to operate our “own” lodges. We could of course play it safe and just keep on doing what we have done so far. Most people I talk to warn me to try to work with communities.  The sensible thing to do is to continue do a good job and slowly but surely through our successful trips build our reputation. For that business model we don’t need to own or manage any lodges.  Kolibri needs to grow just a little bit to be able to maintain stafff of 5 full-time at the office and 5 birdguides.

To me, doing the” right and correct”  becomes a bit boring. I have been told that our “rough” birding expeditions to new areas  risk to spoil our reputation, as things always don’t go as planned. It is true. We are taking a risk. But it is fun to expore new areas and we can build new awareness when we visit. I sure would like to see Carpish and Satipo road as prime birding destinations in the future. If we don’t promote these areas who will? Finally, we have managed to get a conservation project started on Satipo road together with Rainforest Partnership.

Shaman Mateo and his family at Centro Medicina Tradicional (CMT). Photo: Alex Duran

Shaman Mateo and his family at Centro Medicina Tradicional (CMT). Photo: Alex Duran

Our collaboration with the Amarakaeri may or may not be a way for us to enter with our “own” operation in the Manu area. It is an alternative way that feels right. Most, if not all other commercial companies are not interested in investing in or working with the communities, as there are no guarantees for the investments they make. Many contracts have been broken and many intentions have failed in the past.

But there are facts that still make this interesting. First of all for most operators of birding tours, owning a lodge would be more of a headache than an asset. The costs are enormous and the payback slow.  However,  here most of the infrastructure is already there. Relatively small investments are needed that can be covered by small donations. For further development, we shall persuade conservation and sustainable development non-profit agencies and NGO:s to invest in infrastructure that will be fully owned by the communities against a committment of conservation and sustainable development. This way, the commercial risk for us will be relatively small. We will be a  marketing vehicle for the communities. I have no idea if this will work, but  it would be a shame not to try. If it works it shall be a feather in the cap for us and of great satisfaction. Hopefully, we shall make enough goodwill, to grow from a very small company that runs max 6 Manu trips per year, to one that runs Manu trips every week. In the process we are also helping out the local communities giving them a sustainable alternative.

Amarakaeri updates

Since I wrote the linked blogpost on Amarakaeri above, there are some important news.

  1. I took the idea to develop these lodges to a high end lodging operation. The idea was that the lodges should eventually become highend luxury lodges, because only as such can the sustain a large number of community members and give substantial income. This would need rather large investments, but after some initial marketing as prime birding lodges it would be the logical step to take. A commercial partner from start experienced with luxury lodging would be desirable. However, soon I realized what I mentioned above. They are interested in the area, but would not like to have a partnership without having actual ownership of the investments. Therefore, I have changed strategy and now build this campaign on the social media platform and with the help of donations by NGO:s and individuals to cover necessary investments on short and medium term.  RainForest Partnership of Austin, Texas that are now starting an eco-tourism/conservation project on Satipo road in Central Peru has expressed interest in this project as well.
  2. Two of the lodges – the best ones for birding – Charro and Blanco- are deserted and not in operation as I write this. The last rains got some of the gear wet and it has been destroyed, and since there were hardly no booking, the clearing has overgrown. Cost to get them going is around 6000 US$ dollars in total. We are setting up some promotional trips from December, 2009 to raise the money needed.  Kolibri is also sending a volunteer this month to get the lodges in top shape prior to our first trip. I am also looking for ways that people can donate directly.
  3. More than half of the park is threatened by oil-exploits by Hunt Oil. Read this link now: While there may not be much one can do about this, there should be a lot of eyes inspecting the actions and voices to be raised when/if the prospecting is too damaging. Having an alternative industry such as eco-tourism will possibly not save the reserve from oil exploition, but will ensure that it is done in the most sustainable way. Of course, for the sake of conservation and for the eco-tourism in the area, I hope that no fossil fuels will be found and that Hunt Oil will loose interest in the area. While it may be possible to actually get oil out in a sustainable way, we have yet to see examples made in practice in Peru. Hunt Oil has not got a good track record regarding the natural gas in Camisea.

In any case, many of the indigenous groups are forming resistance. The battle have just begun and your support for an alternative sustainable showcase both for the community as well as the rest of the world in more urgent than ever.

Our strategy.

  • Volunteers. A volunteer is initially expected to cover his/her own costs and that of a native assistant. This cost is around 20-25 dollars per day. When groups enter food costs are being covered.  Eventually, when the project is running fully, volunteers will have food costs accounted for.  Minimum stay is one month.
  • Bloggers promotional trips. We have invited some of the top nature and bird bloggers on our monthly fixed departures running from December 2009 to December 2010. Each participant on this trip automatically donates $100 to the project.
  • Donate directly. If you donate $100 to this project we grant you  a $100 discount on your next trip with Kolibri Expeditions lasting more than 7 days.  This is a win-win offer. Only valid for new bookings as of per today.

This way it should be possible to get the lodges up and running. When they are functional, they will also be more interesting for other operators using them.

What you should expect visiting the community lodges of Amarakaeri!

You should expect the unexpected! Then your mind is set at the right level. The lodges are remote and they are logistical nightmares to run. We have had some incidents that most birders would not bother too much about as long as they see birds. Some of these inconveniences listed here have happened in the past and may happen on your trip. I also supply solutions to these “disasters”.

  • run out of tea – drink coffee or chocolate or stock up on a secret supply.
  • run out of coffee – not at the same time as we ran out of tea.
  • shower curtain missing at Blanco Lodge – shower with your clothes on or in the dark
  • too few candles -bring a flashlight and plenty of batteries
  • no mineral water in the end and had to rely on boiled or treated water – bring purifying pills or a filter bottle just in case.
  • a missing towel – bring your own
  • a lodge did not have soap – bring your own.
  • the generator did not work so batteries could no be loaded – Bring plenty of batteries and consider a suncell charger. UPDATE: Kolibri has purchased a small generator.

Obviously, we will do our best to anticipate so that these problems do not happen, but if one such problem does emerge there is not much you can do except accepting the situation and make the best of it. That is why you need to have an open mind and understand that logistics here are difficult.

As for the birds you should see close to 300 species on this trip including the Macaw lick at Blanquillo. There are 12 species of primates regularly seen. Giant Otter is a speciality of the area. Tapirs are often seen in the dry season. Harpy Eagle can be seen at a nest for an additional charge of 50 US$ (this is not our operation and is paid at the spot) near Puerto Maldonado.

Your next step is to tell me when you want to go.

Carpish-Satipo road add-on.

I have already talked much about the community project on Satipo road that we are developing.  By adding Satipo road and the Carpish area in Central Peru, this pretty much replace the need to do Manu road more extensively prior to the Manu trip and it saves you money. All together it will give a  great and very complete 17 day trip with possibly over 600 species. One may through in a daytrip in Lima in between.

A 17 day blogger program would look something like this.

Day 0. Arriving in Lima. Some birding in Lima if time permits. Flight at 13.55 to Cusco allows to bird Huacarpay in the afternoon. Alternatively, with a very early flight you may make a one day Machu Picchu visit.

Day 1-8. Manu community lodges. On arrival in Lima some birding nearby.

Day 9. Pelagic or Lima day tour. Night bus to Satipo

Day 10-17. Satipo road and Carpish. Program forthcoming, but it would include Golden-backed Tanager, Junin Grebe, Diademed Sandpiper-Plover and White-bellied Cinclodes.

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How to credit when credit is due on Twitter?

Say you see a funny phrase on Twitter as I did yester day and you want to retweet it. This phrase was so cute but it had no RT prefix crediting someone in specific.

I tried to search for the term on, but although I got  page after page with hits there is no immediate way to find the first mention.  The tweets containing this phrase is ordered with the latest mention first, but it would take me endless clicking page per page to get to the first, if ever.

Desired search fucntions on Twitter.

Two things really. As indicated above getting a search of say the 100 first mentions for a phrase would be great.

Another variant on the same theme would be to search for tweets on a specific date and time of day.

Why? If not for anything else, to be able to give credit to the right person. If you come up with something really catchy, someone else would not take the credit as easily.

Here is a twitterism that I thought I came up with first. But after doing some searches on on the internet I found several that predates mine.

I twitter, therefore I am.

However, my friend Kathy Licari countered on Facebook, which must be a first:

“I don’t Twitter, therefore I am…..not?”

Ha, ha!!!

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Biography Vultures

Vulture blog logo

Today is International Vulture Awareness Day and this is my contribution to the IVAD09 blog festival Since my childhood I have always loved vultures. Kind of strange as there are no vultures in Sweden. But all those savanna nature films with several species of vultures shown and the “Fauna” collectable  animal enciclopedia by the Spanish filmer and pioeneer Felix Rodrigues de la Fuente – worthy a blog post on his own – completely had me. My interest totally toppled with the above scene from the Jungle book – which unfortunately is cut off but continues……

Buzzy: Oh, blimey, there you go again. The same once again!
Ziggy: I’ve got it! This time, I’ve really got it.
Buzzy: So you got it. So what we gonna do?
Dizzy: Hold it lads. Look, look what’s coming our way.
Flaps: Hey, what in the world is that?
Ziggy: What a crazy looking bunch of bones.
Dizzy: Yeah, and the’re all walking about by themselves [They look at Mowgli who sits down on a stone]
Buzzy: So what we gonna do?
Flaps: I don’t know– and now don’t start that again!
Ziggy: Come on lads, come one let’s have some fun with this little fella, this little [flockey?] [They all fly down to Mowgli]
Flaps: Blimey, he’s got legs like a storky.
Buzzy: Like a stork, heh-heh, but he ain’t got no feathers.

I started guiding for a Swedish nature tour company called Temaresor in the late 80s and in the years to come I managed to get trips where I could see vultures live. It was like the books and films of Felix came alive. Here are some highlights.

  • Breeding Griffon Vultures in the Cevennes, France
  • Impressive Griffon Vulture migration at Tarifa, Spain
  • Lammergeir in the Spanish Pyrenees
  • Several species of vultures just like I pictured over a dead Zebra in Tanzania
  • Most of the severely threatened Indian sub-continent vultures in Nepal and Dehli, India.

Eventually, I ended up in South America and got to see vultures here as well . Although the New World vultures  (derived from stork ancestry NOT. Newer data suggests, as David Ringer points out in his blog that they are not close to storks after all, but rather should be treated like a seperate group close to Falconidae.) are not related to the old world vultures (derived from hawk-raptor ancestry) they share similar biology. The are all highly social species who find their food spottily but in large concentrations. A carcass can feed several individuals so there is plenty of food for many. Therefore, vultures have developed systems of visual cues to let other individuals know that there is a food resource nearby. It can for instance be set off by the way a vulture  descends to a spotted carcass.  Vultures fly high not only because they can spot food from a far with their excellent eyesight, but also so they can see what the other vultures do.

The species in the Cathartes genus (Turkey Vulture and Greater Yellow-headed Vulture) can sense smell, which is unusual with birds in general (but shared with for example the Marabu Stork). Therefore, other species such as Condor and King Vulture will always keep an eye on visual cues from the Turkey Vultures and the Yellow-heads.

One of my best moments of guiding involving vultures was at Paracas on the desert coast of Peru. A group of Swedish non-birders made an excursion to the Paracas peninsula to view sea-lions and flamingos.  It was a beautiful afternoon with soft warm sunlight playing with the pastel colors of the desert sand dunes. All of a sudden a woman exclaimed.

Gunnar! There is a huge black bird out there with a bright red head. It is beautiful!!!

Yes, she had seen the Turkey Vulture. From that moment I realized that it is much more rewarding for a guide showing birds to non-birders than to birders. Birders often forget to see the beautiful in the common and the trivial.

The vultures in Peru has been subject of persecution. A couple of years ago they had to suspend all day flights to Iquitos in Loreto department in the middle of the Amazon rain forest, because the “highly intelligent” politicians in Iquitos had granted permission to build a garbage dump next to the airport. What were they thinking? The result, of course -risk of collisions and flights needed to fly in very early before the thermals or in the evening.
The officials tried eradication campaigns (yes…vulture slaughter)…but soon had to realize that it did not fix the problem. Recruitment of new vultures flying in from other parts of the jungle was always swift. Eventually, the dump was moved… the other side of the road across from the Allpahuayo-Mishana reserve, threatening polluting the ground water in the area. Fix one problem and create another is very common in Peru.

The Condor.

Andean Condor.  Photo: Gunnar Engblom

Andean Condor. Photo: Gunnar Engblom

The condor is not doing well in Peru. In many suitable areas it is strangely absent. One can only deduce that the persecution one hears about – poisened carcasses and direct hunting – is frequent. In spite of more environmental aware population in general, in areas where livestock are held and especially where there is a thriving alpaca and vicuña wool industry, the Puma will be seen as the most abominable of all creatures. Also the Condor is suspected to kill, in spite that the biologists say they only eat dead animals. The locals describe Condors harassing young livestock pecking their eyes and anus (soft parts) to such extent that the animal become weakened and dies. On one tour some years ago one of our clients, Kelly Cotten of Texas witnessed this on a hike near Abra Malaga in Cusco.  It should teach us to listen more to the locals!

On one occasion guiding again a group on non-birders, I was asked by the group members as we headed to Machu Picchu whether we would see any condors during our visit. I said: Nah, it is a bit too low and warm for condors at 2000m and furthermore the whole area is covered by forest. It is not really Condor habitat. The day of our visit to the Machu Picchu citadel high above the Urubamba river that snaked below the clouds were low. We could still see the famous profile of the sugar loaf Wayna Picchu mountain in front of us, but the higher peaks of more than 3000 meters were covered in clouds.

All of a sudden I hear my clients commenting in front of me as we climbed to the Inti Huatana – the famous sun dial hitching pole rock sculpture:

– Hey look! What a big bird! Is it an eagle?
– No, I think it is condor, said the second client.
– No, it can’t be, because Gunnar said it does not occur here

Right! Birds fly and on this overcast day they couldn’t see nada higher up. Two condors, an adult and an immature, flew across the Huayna Picchu background. Stunning! And everybody awed!

Andean Condor needs conservation

A way to see if there is a healthy condor population is counting adults vs immatures. It takes 6 years for the condor to acquire full breeding plumage. If the ratio is 1:1 the it is a stable population. However, if the ratio gives more adults than juveniles it means there is high juvenile die-off before maturity which concludes that the overall population is decreasing.

It was so much more refreshing after many trips up the Santa Eulalia Canyon 3hours from Lima to find that the population of condors is significant and with many immatures. Read more about the condors in Santa Eulalia Canyon here.

I have been pushing for, without much success I am afraid,  that the condor ought to be the national bird for Peru and Condor Pasa the national anthem. That would help sell Peru in the world wouldn’t you think? Hand on heart, in spite of the Condor being present in many countries, which country do you think of when Condor is mentioned in an Andean context. Or the other way around, what bird comes to mind to anyone – birder or non-birder – when somebody says Peru?

Lifting the Condor to national bird would both help its conservation and become a poster species for tourism.

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Twitter club for birders. We need a logo! Anyone can come up with something?

Twitter club for birders. We need a logo! Anyone can come up with something?

Long overdue, mainly because the birth of my daughter Anahi a month ago and a very busy birdtour season here in Peru. Someone said on my facebook that I should enjoy and not feel bad about this since I have my priorities straight.

That is it. Let’s tweet.


Results of last tweetclub #003.

Here are the proofs that this really works to drive traffic to your blog.  During a week the participants of the tweetclub retweets the articles posted here minimum 3 times. It is important to use the link provided, so that I can measure the click success.

The winner is Dawn Fine with her post on “How to make a digiscope adaptor”.  Noticable that all participants got more than 100 clicks. What if we would have been 15 or 20 particpants?

Leave a link below to the next tweetclub. Hopefully presented by Thursday next week – if my priorities don’t get in the way :-).

Related posts:

Check these to understand what the birdblogger’s tweet club is all about and how it works.

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