Category Archives: Travel

My top birds of the decade

I was very lucky to be able to travel during my years living in the Netherlands, which means I’ve seen some really neat birds. Even though my interest in birds was not too great during most of those years, my keen enthusiasm for travel was fueled by a desire to explore the unknown, so new wildlife sightings were routinely noted, especially later in the decade. It was hard to come up with this list of my favorite birds from the last 10 (really 6) years. I kept the list short at 10 – if I compiled the list next week I might pick 10 different birds. These are in no particular order.

White-tailed Ptarmigan

When I was a kid we spent a few summer holidays in Colorado, and I remember we would always look for ptarmigans. I don’t think we ever saw one. In April 2004 Arthur and I visited my parents and we all took a road trip to Colorado. At Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park we finally saw one. We weren’t yet ‘birders’ but I remember this bird made an impression on Arthur and me.

Common Kingfisher

We saw our first Kingfisher in the Netherlands on 25 August, 2007, during the Vogelfestival (Dutch Bird Fair). It was also Arthur’s birthday, and earlier in the day he had said he wanted to finally see a Kingfisher. His wish came true when we arrived at a bird hide in Oostvaarderplassen and fellow birders quietly pointed out a hunting pair to us.

Little Auk

We used to take walks along the pier at IJmuiden, and spot shorebirds like Ruddy Turnstone, Purple Sandpiper, and Eurasian Oystercatchers. One day in November 2006, we knew from looking at that a Little Auk had been seen there. The bird was easy to spot, because it had its own paparazzi. This was the first time I had seen twitchers honing in on a special bird. I loved it! The bird was pretty great too. A real cutie.

Exclamatory Paradise-Whydah

This bird makes the list mostly because of its cool name. This is one of many neat birds we saw in the Gambia in January 2007. On our guided birding trip we were joined by three hard-core Finnish birders who knew their Gambian birds backwards and forwards. We were so unprepared, we didn’t even know what kind of bird to look for when the guide called out “Green-backed Eremomela” or “Bronze Mannikin.” I knew what to look for when this bird was called out, though, since the name made an impression on me when I was thumbing through our Gambian bird guide. I was so excited that we got to see a male with the long tail feathers, since it was past breeding season and no guarantee.

Black Heron

We saw a lot of awesome birds in the Gambia, many of which were pointed out by our guide during our short birding tour. Our favorite birds, however, were the ones we found on our own. We watched a Black Heron hunting in the Kotu rice fields close to the coastal resort area. They hunt by using their wings to shield out the sun. Fish are attracted to the shade which the heron then hunts. Here’s a clip from Life of Birds showing the bird in action.

Egyptian Plover

This is another Gambian bird, and another one we saw with the guide. This bird is the target species for the Gambia, and it was the first time we went looking for a specialty like this. We got great looks of this really beautiful bird. The reaction of the Finns was priceless, too.

Egyptian Vulture

Here’s another bird with Egypt in the name that we didn’t see in Egypt. When we visited India in spring 2006, we traveled independently and stuck mostly to the popular backpacker sites like Jaipur, Agra and Delhi. One kind of off-beat place we visited was Kota, on the Chambal River. We took a cruise with a boatman in his simple motorboat and were pretty stoked to see a pair of Egyptian Vultures in a scrape on the rocky wall of the river. This was one of the coolest places I’ve seen a bird, ever. We were skunked on our target species, gharial (crocodile-like reptile), but this sighting made up for it.

Eurasian Spoonbill

Another bird I always loved to see in the Netherlands, where they were summer breeders. In late summer we could see them fairly reliably at our favorite local patch, Starrevaart.


Hoopoes are crazy-looking birds and I just love them. We’re lucky enough to have seen them in the Gambia, India, and in Spain, where they visited the neighboring woods of the house we rented for a week in Andalusia. I think we saw our first Hoopoe back in 2003 in Egypt at the temple of Karnak. We had no idea what the wild-looking bird was, but later I recognized it from our European field guide.

White Stork

I have two fun memories of this species. When we spent a week in Andalusia we stayed in a house far from almost everything, and we would drive along a major highway almost every day. On huge utility poles along the highway there were giant stork nests, all active. Some poles had several nests each. It was so neat. The other memory I have is seeing thousands and thousands of migrating storks coming down to the Sinai Peninsula when we went birding at a water treatment facility in Sharm El Sheikh. They just kept coming and coming, it was incredible.

Wow, I can’t believe I only picked one North American bird! We’ve been living here for just over a year and the last months birding here have been a blast. We’ve just barely started to scratch the surface of local birding and I’m looking forward to the next decade of birding which I expect will be primarily in the USA.

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Some favorite photos

I’ve been looking through my bird photos, trying to come up with my favorite birds of the last decade. I’m saving that list for another post, but I managed to pick out some favorite photos of birds that didn’t make my top ten list.

These twelve photos were taken in four different countries between 2006 and 2009 (since I haven’t been birding all that long and have only had my (super-zoom point-and-shoot) camera since ’06).

Can you guess what they are? They all link to Flickr where you can find out, or scroll to the end for a list.

Indian Pond Heron


Common Coot chick

Black-headed Ibis

Blue-winged Teal

Rufous Treepie


Red-breasted Nuthatch

Great Crested Grebe on nest


Red-vented Bulbul

Tufted Ducks

Indian Pond Heron: Kota, India;
American Robin: Great Smoky Mountains National Park USA;
Common Coot chick: Starrevaart, Netherlands;
Black-headed Ibis: Ranthambhore, India;
Blue-winged Teal: Viera Wetlands, Florida USA;
Rufous Treepie: Ranthambhore, India;
Chaffinch: Munster, France;
Red-breasted Nuthatch: Illinois USA;
Great Crested Grebe: Voorschoten, Netherlands;
Red-shouldered Hawk: Viera Wetlands, Florida USA;
Red-vented Bulbul: Jaipur, India;
Tufted Duck: Flevoland, Netherlands.

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Posted in Florida, France, Illinois, India, Netherlands, Travel, Viera Wetlands | 1 Comment

Unusual Animal Crackers

I think it’s fun to visit different ethnic grocery shops and find new foods (when we travel we always make time for a neighborhood supermarket, where we might spend hours looking at everything). Last year at a Chinese grocery shop in Rotterdam we picked up a few things, including this box of animal crackers. Is that a happy box, or what?

box of animal crackers

I’m used to crackers shaped like big game like elephants, hippos or tigers. My favorites from this box were the pigeon (tasted like animal cracker), eagle (same) and penguin (same). Have you ever seen a porcupine animal cracker? How about a Tapir, or a dog? And isn’t that tiger kind of adorable-shaped?

unusual animal crackers

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Smoky Mountain Robin

Driving home from Florida last month, we took a detour through Great Smoky Mountains NP to avoid a 150-mile detour caused by a rock slide blocking the highway. We might have been faster than the detour if we hadn’t stopped a couple of times to watch bears foraging close to the road. At a scenic outlook I took this photo of an American Robin. I was trying to take a picture of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in this same tree, but it flew off before I could catch it. I didn’t notice the robin right away but he was so kind to patiently pose for me. Our robins are mostly gone for the winter, and I miss them.


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Two lifers at someone else’s local patch

We checked into our hotel late, after 10+ hours on the road. A stand with tourist brochures beckoned me. I showed Arthur a bird park flyer with a photo of an alligator. When the hotel clerk heard us wondering about the northern boundary range of alligators, she said she saw them all the time. They hung out at one of her favorite spots, a place where she and her girlfriend often walked – a city park not far from the hotel.

The Great Swamp Sanctuary is a 842-acre preserve in Walterboro, South Carolina. We headed there the next morning, before another long day of driving home from Florida.

Great Swamp Sanctuary

From the website: South Carolina’s newest nature-based attraction, the Great Swamp Sanctuary in the City of Walterboro offers visitors the ultimate Lowcountry experience, combining history, culture, recreation and education in a singularly southern lowlands setting. Just three minutes from I-95, this environmental jewel is ideally positioned to serve as the gateway to other nature-based centers in the state and as a catalyst for the lucrative ecotourism market.

The park was quiet on the morning we arrived. Light was bad but the walk was not. First, we didn’t see many birds. But there was more to see.

Great Swamp Trail

Life on a tree trunk

Great Swamp Santuary

Great Swamp Trail

One of the paths ended alongside the swamp. There the sanctuary really came to life. Woodpeckers, warblers, wrens, herons. We spent an hour there, standing, looking, marveling. We heard a familiar-sounding call but never saw the bird scolding chick-a-dee-dee-dee-dee – our lifer Carolina Chickadee.

Great Swamp Trail

Pileated Woodpecker

Great Blue Heron

It was getting late, and we were at the far end of the small park. We headed back to the car, walking as hurried travelers, not as birders. The huge spider web we had carefully ducked under on the way out was forgotten until we had passed it again – without incident. A large bird flew across the path ahead of us and we were back to birder mode. Arthur found it after a beat and there it was, our lifer Barred Owl.

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

We shouldn’t have been surprised, since there’s a photo of a Barred Owl on the sign at the entrance (scroll up), but we were. Surprised and thrilled. We hit the road again after watching the owl for a bit. Never got to see a South Carolina alligator, but that was fine with us.

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Cattle Egrets gathering nest material

The shuttle Endeavor finally launched mission STS-127 yesterday, and we weren’t there to see it. We’ll try again with another of the remaining 7 shuttle launches – we really want to see one! On that note I found one last video from the trip last month to share with you. At Viera Wetlands we watched this group of Cattle Egrets gather branches from a dead tree to use as nesting material. The egrets would work at the dead branches and once they had one they were satisfied with, they would fly over the road to a large heronry.

When we first noticed this behavior, we stopped the car to watch them. Unfortunately this spooked the birds – but they were on a mission! They just moved to the nest dead tree down the road. When we slowly approached on foot they did not seem to mind as much, but we still kept our distance. It was fun to watch them!

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Posted in Florida, Travel, Video, Viera Wetlands | 1 Comment

BPW: Cliff Swallows

On our drive back from Florida last month we took a detour to stop at the Unclaimed Baggage Center shop in Scottsboro, Alabama. On the way we stopped for breakfast in Ft. Payne, Alabama, where we saw a colony of Cliff Swallows.

Cliff Swallows

They were perched on service wires and flying around a man-made stream. The birds also frequently made stops under a pair of small pedestrian bridges that crossed the stream.

Cliff Swallows

Cliff Swallows

These Cliff Swallows were life birds for us and it was a lot of fun to watch their antics.

Cliff Swallow about to take off

Bird Photography Weekly is a regular collection of user-submitted bird photos from all over the world. The new edition comes out every Sunday. Thanks to Birdfreak for hosting this great blog meme – go have a look!

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Posted in Bird Photography Weekly, Life List, Travel, Video | 4 Comments

2 lifers at Disney Wilderness

On June 16th we visited the Nature Conservancy’s Disney Wilderness Preserve near Kissimmee, Florida.

First we did some leisurely birding from the car on the drive in to the parking area.

Wild Turkey
Wild Turkeys hanging out by the side of the road

Despite this lousy photo, we did have a pretty good look at this lifer Swallow-tailed Kite as we approached the parking area.

Swallow-tailed Kite
Swallow-tailed Kite

Eastern Bluebird
An Eastern Bluebird greeted us at the parking area

The Preserve, established in 1992, spans 12,000 acres and includes several different habitats including swamp, wetlands, scrubland and flatwoods. Parts of the preserve are home to the endemic Florida Scrub Jay, but this area of the park is normally off-limits to visitors.

Again it was hot so we limited ourselves to a short walk on the John C. Sawhill Interpretive Trail.

The first sign of life on the trail

Disney Wilderness Preserve

Our second lifer of the day a Brown-headed Nuthatch, which we saw along the trail shown above.

Disney Wilderness Preserve

When we left the trail we signed out of the preserve’s trail register and noticed the only other recent visitor had been on the trails the day before, for just 15 minutes. We lasted about an hour and a half in the heat.

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Still hot, still waiting

Today we visited the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. During our visit, we learned that the next launch attempt for Endeavour will be early Wednesday morning, which means we need to get there late Tuesday night. We’re still melting here with temperatures (upper 80’s to mid 90’s) and high humidity that we’re just not used to. This Rock Pigeon we saw yesterday at the Intracoastal Waterway Park under the Merritt Island Causeway was pretty hot, too. From a distance we saw it swimming in the Indian River. At least, it looked like it was swimming. It was probably standing on a rock in the river but whatever it was doing, it was getting pretty wet. You can see the wet, disheveled feathers in this photo I took shortly after it left the water for a sunbath on the railing. I wish I could have jumped in the water, too.

Hot Pigeon

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