Today will go down as one of the most challenging and muddy days of any tour Tom has ever led. Darwin, the local guide, took us on a '200 meter' trek to see the globally endangered El Oro Parakeet. Only discovered in the mid 1980s this is the star attraction along with umbrellabird here. Seeing both as we did is extremely difficult and rare. We managed to photograph both, but we paid our dues! It was a muddy, slick and steep hike, and multiples longer than 200 meters, but it was well worth the journey!

Here are a few pics to illustrate why rubber boots are recommended for this trip. Luis was not happy to see us after he had just cleaned his bus!

Here our guide Darwin, and Diane, help Gail through one of the deeper 'wallows'.



DAY 1 - This morning our Ecuadorian adventure began. We left the Quito Sheraton early and met Galo at the airport, flying on to Guayaquil. Once there we met Luis, our driver and headed directly towards wetlands and rice fields south of the city. Among our many great birds the highlight was a spectacular close view of a Horned Screamer!

We continued on to Puerto Bolivar on the coast where we enjoyed a good seafood lunch at the Caribe Line restaurant, while frigatebirds, gray-hooded gulls and pelicans cruised the shore.

We left the lowlands after lunch and entered the foothills ascending to around 500 meters elevation near Pinas. Our destination was the Buenaventura reserve and Umbrellabird lodge. The hummingbird feeders here have to be seen to be believed!


Our number one target here was the namesake bird for the lodge, the very rare and tricky to see Long-watted Umbrellabird. On our first full day we had great weather and we had spectacular views of both female and male umbrellabirds. The muddy slick hike to the birds made for a fun adventure, but it was a big payback.

The fruit and nectar feeders at the lodge pavilion/restaurant made a great place to study the hummers, and other colourful species. This male Green Honeycreeper was a common and beautiful attendant of the feeders.

This cheeky Brown Coati was one of a small band of these trouble makers that took advantage of the bounty of nectar and fruit.

One of the most common hummingbirds was the dainty bee like Green Thorntail. This female hovers near a feeder before getting her nectar reward.

This region boasts many restricted range species. The Pale-mandibled Aracari was one of these specialties. Here he is trying to crunch up a huge beetle for a snack.

There are so many hummers at the feeders here that they regularly perch making great photo opps in the small trees around the pavilion. This aptly name male White-necked Jacobin is one of the common show stoppers here.

Hermits are one of those hummingbirds that look rather ho hum on the colour plates but their behaviour and structure make them a hit. This White-whiskered Hermit, along with Barons Hermit, was a regular at the feeders.


Siskin Madness

All the snow has made for great birding here the last few days in Wheatley. I now have a male Eastern Towhee as a regular, plus an adult Red-shouldered Hawk, and at least two Cooper's Hawks. The finches are the real highlight though with small flocks of White-winged Crossbills landing in the yard the last couple of days, plus a few redpolls, and today one male Purple Finch at the feeders. The most abundant bird by far though has to be Pine Siskin. There were ZERO siskins here on January 7th, but today I counted an incredible 110 individuals at once.

I didnt even need to use the blind to photograph them they were so tame. On two occasions siskins even bumped into me as they flushed from the ground. They were landing all around me and the handheld 100-400 lens was perfect. On many occasions they were more than full frame at 400 mm so I had to back off to around 300 mm to get better framing. Here is my best portrait from the shoot.

Many of the siskins would feed and then fly to an area to 'drink' snow. I'm presuming this aids in the movement and digestion of seeds in their crop. Here is an image of one of the siskins drinking snow.

I was impressed with how incredibly agressive these little finches are. Space on the two tube feeders was at a premium and they frequently would fan their tails and wings and show off the bold yellow bases to tail and wing feathers. The threat displays were impressive. Often this wasnt enough and birds were constantly being displaced and knocked off the tube by incoming competitors. Here is an image of the display.

Speaking of the yellow flashes, Pine Siskins show remarkable variation in the intensity and extent of yellow in their plumage (see Sibley for an illustration of the yellow variant). Below is a pic of one several individuals in this group that were intensely yellow.

Small flocks of Common Redpolls have also graced the feeder but not with the same numbers or predictability as the siskins. Still I managed to get a few images of this individual. I hope to get a few more tomorrow before heading to Ecuador for a month. Please watch this blog for updates throughout the trip!


In The Beginning...

Okay so this is baby steps. But I did figure it was time. Everyone tells me I go to such cool places, and I do travel a lot, so here it is... Tom's blog.

Its snowing for the maybe fiftieth day in a row here, and its around minus 25 C with windchill. Okay so maybe a mild exaggeration from a guy who just got back from two weeks holidays in sunny Tucson, but I have been home for nearly a week.

I figure a good way to start is to look back at 2008 and post my top moments of the year. And what a year it was, with trips that took me to four continents for the third year in a row.


Top of the list had to be Tanzania in April 2008. If you have the money, or even if you don't... do yourself a favour and visit the African savanna before you die. If there is any life in you at all, it will make you cry with joy to know that places like this still exist.

Because I was also shooting video and guiding, I only took my little point and shoot Canon G9 on the trip. This shot of a female Black-necked Weaver was taken from directly below the nest - looking straight into the entrance.

There were so many highlights of the many trip it was hard to pick out just a few photos. But here are some of my favourites. First, a mother lion and her cubs.

Then there was the remarkable sunrise balloon ride over the Serengeti... followed by a champagne toast and hot cooked breakfast! Luxury mate, luxury... Thanks, Lily!

It was hard not to love the genets that prowl the rafters of the open air restaurant at the Ndutu lodge... and yes, they are wild!

The genets are there because yellow-winged bats can often be seen roosting around the lights in the lodge. And the sharp witted genets swat them out of the air for dinner. Here is their quarry...

When Lily and I arrived before the group, we were greeted by a monsoon rainfall. This brought a spectacular nocturnal display of frogs. I counted over two hundred individuals of eight different species around the lights on two nights. It was mind boggling!

Now that I have one stake through the heart of my dear buddy Paul, here is another of a rock agama. Paul is a huge fan of herptiles, and I have a dark sense of humour (don't worry Paul, I am not putting the cameleon shot in!).

PANAMA IN OCTOBER - A lifer country!

A trip to Panama in October with Lily was mostly for r and r. We both loved the country, and really enjoyed culture and history of the canal zone and Panama City. I spent a fair bit of time birding and was extremely well rewarded. The compact nature of the country, the high bird diversity and excellent lodges make this a great birding destination. Two of the highlights for me were repeated encounters with ant swarms and the specialists they attract, and finding two new species for Panama - Northern Wheatear and Curlew Sandpiper. Below is a photo of the Northern Wheatear which I found in late October near the city of David in western Panama. Quite a shocker!

Below is a photo of Ocellated Antbird. This species is rarely seen away from antswarms and such was the case in Panama. I saw groups of them four times on this trip, and every time it was following an antswarm. These 'professional' antbirds often have specialized musculature in their legs for hanging onto branches and vines above and away from the ants. This allows them to snatch any insects that are flushed by the ant march. I took this photo with only a 300 mm lens. The image is not cropped. I was covered with ants and I waited for an hour, but it was well worth the wait... a stunning bird!


A trip co-led with Mike Malone to southern Oaxaca state in Mexico in March was a wonderful blend of culture and nature. It was great to have only one hotel change in the trip, and the days were varied and rewarding. To show you that I am not just a bird geek, I'm posting a photo from the inside of the remarkable cathedral near the central zocalo. It has to be seen to be believed!


In November Lily took off with her big chill group and I headed to Ottawa to meet the new addition to the clan. My nephew Michael and his wife Cherie were proud parents of Dylan, born in May 2008. His brother Cameron was also pleased by the new family addition. It was great to visit with the gang and to meet this little character!

And yes that is Uncle Tom holding on to the little blighter... though my dear sister made sure the diaper was clean beforehand!


We had a really fun group for a one week quick tour of the Avalon peninsula of Newfoundland in early July. The focus was seabirds and marine mammals. Highlights included the boat trip to Witless Bay, finding the second provincial record of Roseate Tern, a wonderful hike to the fossil beds of Mistaken Point, great dinner theater, the gannet colony in the fog, and that amazing iceberg on our day to Bonavista! Here are a few of my favourite pics.

Heres a closer look at that berg with some people for perspective. It was amazing to hike up the shoreline right next to it!

And finally my personal favourite photo of the trip. Hard to believe its not a bird, isnt it?


It is hard to beat South Africa in the southern spring. Once again I got to guide a group there in September and we recorded 448 bird species and 57 mammals - both superb totals. September is my favourite time to visit, because the Cape region is alive with colour from the incredible fynbos plants, and places like Kruger are still cool and the mammal viewing is easy before the spring rains. Below is a stunning male Malachite Sunbird feeding on a protea at the Kirstenbosch botanical gardens near Cape Town.


Paul Pratt and I continued our annual big day quest. This time we spent ten days in Saskatchewan. The birding was phenomenal, and among the many highlights of our trip were the provincial first Black Swift that Paul spotted in the Cypress Hills. The published ABA record for Saskatchewan was 174 species and on June 1st we attempted to break that record. We had perfect weather and the birds fell in place. The results exceeded our wildest dreams. The first bird of the day was Sora just a few ticks after midnight and the last and 202nd species was McCowns Longspur near the hamlet of Robsart. Below is pic of me at Jones Peak near Eastend taken by Paul. This was our second last stop on the day, and the spot we picked up our 200th (Violet-green Swallow) and 201st species (Rock Wren).


Sometimes its better to be lucky than to be good. On October 12th Paul and I did our annual Big Sit on top of the Holiday Beach hawk tower. Highlight of the day was a pre dawn Barn Owl calling as it flew west over Big Creek marsh (unfortunately before Paul had arrived). As I was leaving Paul chased me down to relay word of a phone call from Bob Wickett who had just seen a frigatebird flying over his fishing boat a few km south of Colchester. The chase was on! Paul and I raced down towards the harbour in separate cars, both thinking the same thing... chances are slim to none of seeing the bird, but we had to try. We were thinking a lot of scope work might come through. We both came to a screaming halt as we entered town. There RIGHT OVER THE ROAD was the frigatebird soaring overhead. The image below was taken with my G9 which has only 4x optical zoom. Careful examination of Pauls photos later confirmed that it was indeed a male Magnificent Frigatebird. It stayed in sight for about forty five more minutes and was never seen again.