PO Box 9021, Wilmington, DE 19809, USA
E-mail: font@focusonnature.com
Phone: Toll-free in USA 1-8
 or 302/529-1876





noting tours in Alaska, Argentina,
Brazil, the Caribbean, Chile, Costa Rica,
Ecuador, Iceland, Japan, Panama
and some bird taxonomy changes

The Jabiru has been seen during recent FONT tours
in Belize, Brazil, & Costa Rica



FONT E-News, October 30, 2012: Upcoming Birding & Nature Tours in places so different from each other: Brazil, Estonia, Ecuador, also in the Caribbean, and elsewhere in the Neotropics

FONT E-News, July 27, 2012:  Bird Taxonomy Updates, including 2 Murrelets where there was 1 

FONT E-News, June 20, 2012: Our Recent Tour in Iceland, with Puffins, Ptarmigan, Phalaropes, Foxes, Whales, & More

FONT E-News, June 6, 2012: Snowy Plover, Kirtland's Warbler & Wolves in Wisconsin

FONT E-News, Mar 31, 2012:  Our Recent Tours in Costa Rica & the Dominican Republic  

FONT E-News, Jan 7, 2012: Our Recent Tour in Chile, with Parakeets, Penguins, & the Pudu

FONT E-NEWS, Oct 4, 2011:  A Quiz with 2 Questions, and 2 Big Eagles

FONT E-NEWS, Sep 19, 2011:  Tours, including one in Brazil where Roosevelt was in 1914

FONT E-NEWS, Aug 10, 2011: Jaguar & Jabirus in Brazil

FONT E-NEWS, Aug 5, 2011: Presentations about Birds & Other Nature to Groups & Organizations

FONT E-NEWS, Jul 27, 2011: Again a Gallinule as it should be & more

FONT E-NEWS, Jul 22, 2011: Lists & a Quiz, Tours, & Frogs 

Earlier FONT E-NEWS Bulletins in 2011

The above link to E-News relating to: Iceland, Puffins, Brazil, the very rare Forbes's Blackbird, the very rare Northern Muriqui, Belize, Japan, Chile, and a newly-found Storm-Petrel.

A  Chronological List of Upcoming FONT Birding & Nature Tours

FONT Past Tour Highlights     Narratives & Photo Galleries relating to Past FONT Tours  

FONT E-News, Volume 22, Number 7

October 30, 2012

Upcoming FONT tours in places as diverse as Estonia & Ecuador,
and our upcoming winter-time tours in the Caribbean,
and the tropics of Central & South America

Above: an Umbrellabird in Ecuador,
Below: butterflies in Brazil


There's a fine book entitled "River of Doubt" by Candice Millard relating the interesting story of how the Rio Roosevelt in AMAZONIAN BRAZIL came to be called that, describing the journey there by the former US president, Theodore Roosevelt, in the early 20th Century.
The book is well worth the read, even if one were never to go there, but especially if one does. And Focus On Nature Tours will be there January 4-13, 2013.

The "River of Doubt", as Millard calls it, or the Rio Roosevelt, as it came to be known, was, according to the jacket of the book "black and uncharted, snaking through one of the most treacherous jungles in the world. Native people armed poison-tipped arrows haunted in the shadows. Piranhas glided through its waters (and still do). and boulder-strewn rapids turn the river into a rolling cauldron.

After his election defeat in 1912, Theodore (or Teddy) Roosevelt set his sights on the most punishing physical challenge he could find, the first descent of an unmapped, rapids-choked tributary of the Amazon River.
Together with his son Kermit, and Brazil's most famous explorer, Candido Mariano de Silva Rondon, Roosevelt accomplished a feat so great that many, upon his return to the US, refused to believe it.

Along the way, Roosevelt and the men with him faced an unbelievable sequence of hardships, losing their canoes and supplies to punishing whitewater rapids, and enduring starvation, Indian attack, disease, drowning, and a murder within their own ranks. Three men died, and Roosevelt himself was at the brink."

Well now, travel can be done to that area, very interesting for nature, without any such hardships, and the FONT tour will be at a comfortable lodge on the bank of the river, with trails going into good forest for an assortment of wildlife, including notably birds, and also butterflies, mammals, amphibians & reptiles, and plants.

Among the birds to be found during the tour are these: Razor-billed Curassow, Dark-winged Trumpeter, Crimson Fruitcrow (a cotinga), Crimson Topaz (a beautiful hummingbird), Crytic Forest-Falcon (described not that long ago), several species of macaws, the White-cheeked, or Kawall's Amazon (a parrot described recently), Pavonine Quetzal, Curl-crested Aracari, Gould's Toucanet, Spangled Cotinga, Pompadour Cotinga, Black-necked Red-Cotinga, and Harpy Eagle.

With the good fortune of encountering an ant swarm, there's good fortune of seeing a nice number of ant-following birds, such as the Pale-faced Antbird (in the genus Skutchia, named after the renowned naturalist who died a few years ago, Alexander Skutch), along with the good-looking White-breasted Antbird and other birds that follow the ants. Such an experience in a Neotropical rainforest is not like any other.

Among the mammals in the area: Silvery Marmoset, Brown-mantled Tamarin, Red-bellied Titi, Prince Bernard's Titi, Bolivian Red Howler Monkey, White-nosed Saki, White-fronted Capuchin, Tufted Capuchin, Brown Woolly Monkey, and Peruvian Spider Monkey.
And that's just the monkeys       .
Other mammals would be: Giant Otter, Southern River Otter, Brazilian Tapir, Collared Peccary, White-lipped Peccary, Red Brocket Deer, and a few different different wild cats.
In the river, both the Amazon River (or Pink) Dolphin and the Tucuxi (or Gray Dolphin) occur.


Completely different are the scheduled upcoming Focus On Nature birding and nature tours in ESTONIA. Nature abounds there also, but yes, so very different than what's in the tropics.
FONT Estonia tours are scheduled for April 1-7 and June 17-24 in 2013.
During the April tour, there will be many birds including about a thousand Steller's Eiders and groups of male Ruffs dancing at their leks. Also at leks will be Black Grouse and Western Capercaillie. And among the many other birds, there would be a nice assortment of woodpeckers.
During the June tour, there will be a nice assortment of nature with some fine birds, butterflies, plants, notably orchids, and mammals.
The birds would include: Corncrake, White-tailed Eagle, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Great Snipe, Common Crane, Penduline Tit, Citrine Wagtail, various Old World Warblers, and the European Nightjar and a few different owls, with maybe the Great Grey.
Mammals would include: Raccoon Dog, Roe Deer, Red Deer (in North America known as Elk), Elk (in North America known as Moose), European Beaver, European Pine Marten, European Badger, Siberian Flying Squirrel, Ringed Seal, Wild Boar, Eurasian Lynx, Gray Wolf, and the big Brown Bear.
We'll spend a night in a comfortable hut in the forest, specially designed for the observation of the bear, and hopefully the wolf.


Another tour experience, completely different again, will be our upcoming birding and nature tour in ECUADOR, March 14-25, 2013, mostly in the southern part of the country. At various elevations and in a variety of habitats, we'll be in comfortable accommodations in reserves where there also would be rare and endemic species, including specialties of the Tumbesian Region of southern Ecuador and adjacent Peru.
In the 6 reserves that we will visit, among the over 300 species of birds that we will see, there will be a tremendous assortment of colorful and striking hummingbirds and tanagers, as well as tapaculos, antpittas, other antbirds, various flycatchers, foliage-gleaners and other birds of that ilk, cotingas, conebills, parakeets, and potoos.
Mammals where we will be include: Spectacled Bear, Mountain Tapir, Andean Paca, Puma, and Pudu (a small deer). These are all hard to see, but we will be where they are. Easier to see would be the Andean Coati.     


When it's winter in the Northern Hemisphere, it's a great time for birding & Nature tours in the CARIBBEAN, and FONT has such tours scheduled in both 2013 & 2014. And there are even a couple later this year, in 2012:
in the CAYMAN ISLANDS & JAMAICA, November 28 to December 7, 2012
Our tour scheduled for PUERTO RICO, January 13-18, 2013, would be out 28th birding & nature tour on that island.
Other tours are scheduled to go to the DOMINICAN REPUBLIC and the LESSER ANTILLES.


Also warm when cooler further north is another region with some great birding and other nature, CENTRAL AMERICA, where upcoming birding & nature tours include those in:
BELIZE: March 1-10, 2013
GUATEMALA: April 9-21, 2013
And later, scheduled for when teachers and some others can more readily go:
COSTA RICA: June 29-July 12
PANAMA: July 12-19 

There is more about these upcoming tours (and others), and more as to the various birds and other nature to be found in the FONT website. Please take a look:  www.focusonnature.com
All the best,

Armas Hill  

A White-tailed Tropicbird
photographed during a FONT tour in early 2012
in the Dominican Republic

FONT E-News, Volume 22, Number 5

July 27, 2012

One Murrelet becomes Two, and what became of Caprimulgus?

Now here's a name to try to say quickly: "Scripps's Murrelet".
Yes it is the correct spelling , and it's now the name of what was part of the Xantu's Murrelet. Now Mr. Xantu only has a hummingbird for a namesake.

The Scripps's Murrelet, Synthliboramphus scrippsi, occurs at sea in California. It ranges outside the breeding season north, rarely, to northern California, and more rarely to Oregon and Washington State.
It breeds on islands off southern California: San Miguel, Santa Cruz, Anacapa, Santa Barbara, San Clemente, and formerly Santa Catalina, and in western Baja California, Mexico on San Benito, and Coronado and San Jeronimo islands. On larger islands (such as San Miguel, Santa Cruz, and San Clemente), it is confined largely or entirely to offshore rocks.

The other half of what was the Xantu's Murrelet is now the Guadalupe Murrelet, Synthliboramphus hypoleucus. It breeds on offshore rocks and islands off western Baja California, Mexico from Guadelupe Island south to the San Benito islands.
Breeding is unconfirmed on San Martin Island, in Baja California, and San Clemente and Santa Barbara Islands in California, USA.
It presumably winters offshore within the breeding range along the Pacific coast of Baja California.

Other changes in the 53rd Supplement of the American Ornithologists' Union Check-List of North American Birds, July 2012, include the following:

If you've been in Costa Rica and you've seen what has been the Gray Hawk in BOTH the northern and the southern parts of the country, you can add a species to your list.

Gray Hawk

From northern Costa Rica north to Arizona and Texas, and rarely New Mexico, it is still the Gray Hawk, with the scientific name of Buteo plagiatus.
From southern Costa Rica south into South America, it is now the Gray-lined Hawk, Buteo nididus.
South of Costa Rica, it is in Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, Trinidad & Tobago, the Giuanas. It is further south, west of the Andes to western Ecuador and east of the Andes to Paraguay, northern Argentina, and southern Brazil.

If you've been in Costa Rica, you may have another adjustment to your bird-list. it is now the Costa Rican Brush Finch, Arremon costaricensis, in southwestern Costa Rica and adjacent western Panama, and the Black-headed Brush Finch, Arremon atricapillus, further east in Panama. Both of these were part of the Stripe-headed Brush Finch of further south, in South America, Arremon torquatus

If you've been to the Galapagos Islands, the Galapagos Shearwater, now Puffinus subalaris, has been split from the Audubon's Shearwater. Genetics have shown it to be more closely related to the Christmas Island Shearwater.

Other changes in 2012 relate to genera:

The genus of the Calliope Hummingbird is now Selasphorus, the same genus as the Rufous, Allen's, and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds
The Calliope was in a genus of its own, Stelluta.

Caliope Hummingbird

Three North American finches are now in a new genus. The Purple, Cassin's, and House Finch are now Haemorhous.
Previously they were in Carpodacus, an Old World genus containing the Common, or Scarlet, Rosefinch and other similar species.

House Finch

Some of us learned Caprimulgus as the genus for the crepuscular and nocturnal birds known as "goatsuckers". That Latin word, Caprimulgus, means "goat-milker".
Aristotle, among others, a long time ago, accepted the belief of shepherds that the birds would fly to the udders of goats for their milk, and thus the name.
Of course, in reality, those birds, both in the Old World and the New World, feed on flying insects.

Not due to nomenclature, but for anatomical reasons, Caprimulgus is GONE in the New World. The new genus of most of those birds is now Antrostomus, and for some others, Hydropsalis.
Those in Antrostomus include: the Chick-will's-widow, the Eastern Whip-poor-will, the Mexican Whip-poor-will, and the Buff-collared Nightjar.
Others in Mexico and Central and/or South America are: Rufous Nightjar, Tawny-collared Nightjar, Yucatan Nightjar, and the Dusky Nightjar.
Those on Caribbean islands are the Greater Antillean Nightjar, and the very rare & localized Puerto Rican Nightjar
Birds formerly in Caprimulgus that are now in the new genus Hydropsalis include: the White-tailed Nightjar and the Spot-tailed Nightjar

Rufous Nightjar

15 species of wrens, of Central & South America, and Mexico, are now in new genera:
Now in Pheugopedius, these Wrens: Black-throated, Black-bellied, Rufous-breasted, Spot-breasted, Sooty-headed, and Happy (guessing it's "happy" now to be there).
Now in Thryophilus, these Wrens: Sinaloa (that's the rarity that was found a couple years ago in southern Arizona), Rufous-and-white, and Banded.
Now in Cantorchilus, these Wrens: Stripe-throated, Stripe-breasted, Plain, Bay, Riverside, and Buff-breasted.
All of these wrens were in the now-defunct genus Thryothorus.

Some raptors in Central and South America are now in different, or new, genera:
The Montane Solitary Eagle has been merged into Buteogallus, the genus of the Black Hawks (the Common and the Great) and others.
For the Plumbeous Hawk, of Panama for example, one now has to type more letters as Leucopternis plumbeus has become Cryptoleucopteryx plumbeus.
Also exiting Leucopternis have been the White Hawk, now Pseudastur albicollis, and the Barred Hawk, now Morphnarchus princeps.
Cryptoleucopteryx, Pseudastur, and Morphnarchus are all new genera, and each of the 3 species just mentioned, the Plumbeous Hawk, the White Hawk, and the Barred Hawk are the only members of their genera.

White Hawk

The Central American Smoky-brown Woodpecker has been moved from the Veniliornis genus to Picoides.

Also in the AOU 2012 Checklist, there is the first NEW bird species to have been found in the United States in nearly four decades, 37 years.
But the bird was identified in a museum collection! It has been seen in life, but not often.
The bird is the Byron's Shearwater, Puffinus byroni. It was described in 2011, but from a specimen that had been collected in 1963 on Midway Atoll, northwest of Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean.
At that time, that small shearwater was thought to be a Little Shearwater. Later, a second specimen was tagged and recorded on Midway in 1990.

In February of this year, DNA tests on 6 specimens of Puffinus byroni, found on the Ogasawara Islands of Japan, alive and dead between 1997 and 2011, determined the birds to be Byron's Shearwaters.
It is assumed that the species still survives in the uninhabited Japanese Ogasawara Islands.

The above narrative, along with some photographs, as well AOU changes in summary for the last 3 years are in the FONT website:  Taxonomy Revisions

Also, most the bird-lists in the FONT website have now been updated to reflect the new changes. Those that have not yet been will be soon. 

If you missed, in a previous FONT e-mail bulletin, the narrative of our recent Focus On Nature Tour in Iceland, it is here:  Iceland June 2012 Tour Narrative

And, now, a photo gallery of mostly birds from that June 2012 FONT Iceland Tour:

And, now in our website also, a photo gallery of nature during our March 2012 Costa Rica March 2012, again mostly birds, but also some mammals, butterflies, and reptiles. 

Regarding a reptile, here's some news about what has been said to be the rarest snake in the world, the Saint Lucia Racer, Liophis ornatus. This year about a dozen were found!

Liophis ornatus occurs only on the tiny Maria Islet off the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia.
It was declared extinct back in 1936, with its population having declined on Saint Lucia following the introduction of the predatory Mongoose, causing its disappearance on the island.
But on the offshore 30-acre, rocky Maria Islet, it was found again in 1973.
And, now, more recently, this year, after it was thought to have gone extinct again, 11 individuals were found there on the islet, bringing it back from the brink again.
The Saint Lucia Racer is a small, brown, non-venomous snake, that can be gentle and docile. 

An interesting item such as this are among those in the lists & photo galleries of various wildlife throughout the FONT website:

I recently, this week, had the good experience of doing a program, at a birding club in Pennsylvania, about "Birds & Other Nature in Chile", incorporating some poems by the renowned Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda.
You can read here:  those poems and others by Neruda

And I would be pleased to give such a program to other clubs and organizations about Chile, Brazil, Costa Rica, Iceland, and other fascinating places. Please contact us if interested.  

FONT E-News, Volume 22, Number 4

June 20, 2012

A Recent FONT Tour in Iceland, with Puffins, Ptarmigan, Phalaropes, Foxes, Whales, and More 

An Atlantic Puffin 
photographed during 
the FONT Iceland Tour in June 2012
(photo by Gabi Hauser) 

During June 2012, we truly had a wonderful and enjoyable tour in Iceland. We circled the entire island, counter-clockwise, and then some as we went to the westernmost point in Iceland, the impressive Latrabjarg Cliffs where we saw thousands of nesting seabirds including Fulmars, Kittiwakes, both Common and Thick-billed Murres, and the favorite of most, the Atlantic Puffins.

While Iceland itself is of course an island, the fourth largest island in the Atlantic, and called Island by the locals, we visited two notable smaller Icelandic islands during the tour: Flatey in the big bay known as Breidafjordur, and Heimaey, one of formerly 14, now 15 islands in the Westmann Islands group. At both we also enjoyed, again, that favorite of most, the Puffin.

Also during the tour we were at the most powerful waterfall in Europe, the largest glacier in Europe, and the lake with the most ducks of any in the world. 
We saw volcanoes and more waterfalls, and many birds in addition to those already mentioned, as well as other wildlife too including 2 Blue Whales, the Northern Minke Whale, White-beaked Dolphins, 3 Arctic Foxes, both Gray Seal and Harbor Seal, and Reindeer, as well as an assortment of wildflowers
All of these natural aspects of Iceland were in addition to some fine food and Icelandic culture (and wonderful weather). 
During our last day, which was the Icelandic Independence Day, prior to our departing flight, we were in the capital city of Reykjavik, where the Icelandic people, young, old, and in between, and with some in old-time garb, paraded down the main street, commemorating their country's national holiday.
When our tour was finished, we all felt that we had really experienced Iceland, one of the most beautiful places on Earth, in so many ways.

Above, I have just skimmed the surface as to our FONT Iceland tour in June 2012, our 18th tour in that country. A more-complete narrative follows:

During over two decades, there have been FONT birding and nature tours on varied islands throughout the world, including those in places as far-flung as the Caribbean, Japan, and Iceland. 
In the Caribbean, we've been to Barbuda and Barbados, Dominica and the Dominican Republic, Saint Lucia and Saint Vincent, as well as the Caymans, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and Guadeloupe.
Off the west coast of the main Japanese island of Honshu, we've been, over a half-dozen times, on the tiny island of Hegura, in the Sea of Japan, where in the spring, bird migration has been extraordinary. And we've seen specialty birds and butterflies on the small Japanese islands of Amami and Okinawa.

But different than any other island we've visited has been Iceland, a place with fire and ice and much in between, and many birds. As of our June 2012 tour, we've done 18 tours in Iceland.
Iceland, about the size of the US state of Kentucky, has with it a number of smaller islands. During our June 2012 Iceland Tour, we visited two especially notable, Flatey and Heimaey.

Flatey is one of over 2,000 islands in the big bay in western Iceland with a big name,  Breidafjordur. Like Hegura in Japan, Flatey Island is very small, only about a mile long and less in width, and with only a very few motorized vehicles, almost none. Cars can not exit the ferry onto Flatey, as they can not onto Hegura. On Flatey, we saw two tractors and one small utility truck.
In the small village, there are some wooden buildings painted various colors. The place is picturesque. Our weather was superb, making our time on the island and the setting and scenery equally so.
Only 4 people live year-round on Flatey. The other cottages, along with a small hotel and restaurant, are only in use in the summer.  

Whereas people are few on Flatey, birds are many. 
As we walked along the lane, as noted as stated without a car in sight, there were some Red-necked Phalaropes walking on the road with us, catching some small little insects as they went, on the ground and on roadside flowers. Those little phalaropes were literally at our feet. Others were on nearby pools of water spinning around as phalaropes do.
On the roof of one of the small houses, a male Snow Bunting sang a beautiful song. Nesting Snow Buntings are rather common on Flatey.
In the air, above us, Common Snipes were displaying, or winnowing in fast flight, with the reverberating sound that comes from from their wings. Another shorebird, or wader, the Common Redshank continuously scolded us as we walked along our way. Even better at scolding were the Arctic Terns. "Shrieking" would a more appropriate word for them, and even though there's no "Common" as an adjective in their name, they were.
Along the mostly-rocky coastline, there were Common Eiders, many of them, and mostly with their little ones, eiderettes.
Also among the birds along the coast, there were European Shags, that we watched fly, fish and swim.  
As we sat on some coast-side rocks, Black Guillemots in breeding plumage, with their black bodies, white wing-patches, and red feet, were beside us, or on the nearby water.
As we sat on a grassy bluff by the sea, Atlantic Puffins, with their bright red feet, were below us on the water. Others flew out from their burrows between the seaside rocks. Northern Fulmars flew out from their stony perches.
Flatey was a wonderful place to be, and during our entire time there the birds that were always around kept reminding us of their presence. In all, we saw 18 species of birds on the island. But it wasn't so much that we saw 18 species. It was that we "experienced" them.  


A swimming European Shag photographed during 
the FONT Iceland Tour in June 2012
(photo by Gabi Hauser)     

Heimaey Island is one of 15 small islands off the south coast of Iceland known collectively as the Westmann Islands, or in Icelandic, Vestmannaeyjar. The islands are said to have been created entirely by volcanic activity, after the end of the last glaciation and since. Most recently, the 15th of the islands, named Surtsey, was created during a submarine eruption between 1963 and 1967.

Heimaey is the largest of the Westmanns, and the only island of the group inhabited by people. All of the islands are inhabited by birds, notably seabirds, with many of them nesting on sheer cliffs.
Under 3 miles in length, Heimaey Island has had some dramatic volcanic history. In January 1973, an eruption began there, just beyond and above the one town on the island. The entire population of about 5,000 people was successfully evacuated during one night by boat and plane. The eruption continued until May. Lava flowed down into the streets. About half of the town became submerged by it. During our visit in June 2012, we saw remnants of houses now covered by volcanic soil where flowers, notably Lupin, flourish.

The Westmanns, including Heimaey Island, are, as just noted, the haunts of many nesting seabirds. 
During the ferry ride to and from, and near the islands, we saw Manx Shearwaters, Northern Gannets, Great Skuas, Parasitic Jaegers, and gulls, along with many Arctic Terns, Black-legged Kittiwakes, Northern Fulmars, and numerous alcids including Common Murres, Razorbills, and Atlantic Puffins - a plethora of puffins.     
Manx Shearwaters breed in Iceland only in the Westmanns, and the Gannet and the Great Skua are most commonly seen in Iceland along and off the southern coast.

But it was in far-northwest Iceland where we saw the most seabirds. At the western end of a rugged peninsula, at the western end of Iceland that is also the western end of Europe, we visited the Latrabjarg Cliffs. From there, it is about 300 miles across the sea to the hyperborean coast of Greenland. 
The Latrabjarg Cliffs are massive and truly one of the most impressive places anywhere in the world, and especially so for those who like being where birds are.
The cliffs rise to over 1,650 feet above the ocean, and they continue for 12 kilometers, or 7 and a half miles. And they teem with nesting seabirds including a huge number of alcids, fulmars, and kittiwakes.

A Black-legged Kittiwake cliffside 
during the FONT Iceland Tour in June 2012
(photo by Gabi Hauser)

Among the alcids at Latrabjarg, there are tens of thousands of Thick-billed Murres (known in Europe as Brunnich's Guillemots), alongside vast numbers of Common Murres (known in Europe as Common Guillemots).
About 40 per cent of the Common Murres in the North Atlantic breed in Iceland with, it has been said, over a million pairs.  About 75 per cent of the Common Murres that breed in Iceland do so on the 3 largest bird-cliffs of the western fjords of northwestern Iceland. One of those 3 cliffs is Latrabjarg.
Those same 3 cliffs in northwestern Iceland, including Latrabjarg, are the nesting sites of about 90 per cent of the Thick-billed Murres that breed in Iceland, and that area has the largest number of Thick-billed Murres in the North Atlantic. It has been said that about 580,000 breeding pairs of Thick-billed Murres nest in Iceland.   

An estimated one-third of the world's Razorbills nest at Latrabjarg. We saw them nicely on the ledges, either standing erectly or resting on their bellies.
The Razorbills at Latrabjarg constitute the largest known colony of the species in the world. About 60 per cent of Icelandic Razorbills breed there. The population of Razorbills in Iceland has been said to be an estimated 380,000 breeding pairs.
But it is the Atlantic Puffin that is the star of the show at Latrabjarg. Late in the day, atop the cliffs, there are just so photogenic. And so tame, allowing humans to be unimaginably close to them. 
I watched people lying on the ground as they photographed the Puffins. The lying people and standing birds were eye-to-eye.     
I couldn't help but observe as I watched the few dozen people who were there, either lying on the ground or walking on the dirt path, within reach of the Puffins, that they certainly were smitten by them. 
All the people noticed, of course, the impressiveness of the place and the swarms of seabirds on the cliffs, in the air, and in the water. But it was that "chorus line" of sorts of continuous Puffins, one after the other, and so very close, that got the most attention from person after person. People certainly liked the "Sea Parrots", as Puffins are also called.

Looking at the seabirds on the clifftop,
1,650 feet above the ocean,
during the FONT Iceland Tour in June 2012
(photo by Gabi Hauser)

Following here are some other birds with which we had notable experiences during our June 2012 Iceland Tour:

About half of the Great Skuas in the world breed in Iceland, with an estimated 5,000 pairs. Most nest on barren ground along the southeastern coast. 

One of the Great Skuas, that we saw in that region of Iceland, was very close to us in a pool alongside the road. Seemingly it was holding down some prey in the water. The big, dark bird with the splashing is what first caught our attention. After that went on for a while, however, the Skua lifted up into the sky but with nothing in its talons.

Late the previous evening, we had watched two dark-morph Parasitic Jaegers (or Arctic Skuas) methodically creating havoc among Arctic Terns, and some gulls and shorebirds (or waders), as they, the jaegers that is, continuously and quickly flew around above the other birds nesting on the grassy ground. But in the end, at least as long as we were there, those Parasitic Jaegers came up empty-taloned as well.
Nearby, another predator was in the air and then on the ground, a Short-eared Owl

Red-throated Loons (or Red-throated Divers) in their breeding plumage as they floated on a pool of still water, were, with whatever name, memorable. 
Actually, they were beautiful with their burgundy-red throats, light-gray heads, and the lines on the back of their necks. But when that species vocalized, it lacked the beauty of the sound of the Common Loon (or Great Northern Diver) that we also saw.

The Common Loon nests in Europe only in Iceland, and two other birds also have that same distinction, the attractive Barrow's Goldeneye, and the more than attractive Harlequin Duck. The colorful male Harlequin is downright gaudy. 
But the most fascinating aspect of the Harlequin Ducks that we watched was how they swan so well underwater in a very swift river. Both males and females did so together in pairs. But the female appeared to stay underwater longer in the fast current.
The Barrow's Goldeneye and Harlequin Duck were just two of the species of waterbirds that we saw in the area of Lake Myvatn in northern Iceland. That lake is said to have the most nesting ducks of any lake in the world.
One of the most colorful of the waterbirds that we saw there was the Horned (or Slavonian) Grebe in its bright breeding attire. How many birds are there with bright yellow-orange head plumes?

Lacking much color were the Glaucous Gulls and Iceland Gulls that we saw saw along the coast in northern Iceland. They were all-white, with one species, the Iceland, a smaller version of the other. 
The Glaucous Gull is quite common in that area. 
The Iceland Gull was not, as we were there in June. The Iceland Gull is more common in Iceland in the fall, winter, and spring. Actually, the Iceland Gull does not nest in Iceland. It does so further north, in Greenland. A few, mostly non-adults, linger in Iceland in the summer.

In the highlands of north-central Iceland, we enjoyed the Pink-footed Geese. Generally they were timid birds, keeping their distance, but we saw a nice number of them well. We saw flocks of Pink-footed Geese, and a few, at various places, with their young.

A book that I like is entitled "In Search of the Pink-Headed Duck", referring to a duck now thought to be extinct that was in India. In the book, the searchers found much, but not the non-existent duck. 
However, the Pink-footed Goose can be found, as we did find it, in the wild highlands, where no people live, in Iceland.
Also in that area, at some ponds, we found breeding-plumaged Purple Sandpiper, and also in their breeding attire, Long-tailed Ducks.
The Purple Sandpiper does not nest along the coast, and where and when the species does, it is the male that rears the young, with the same role also had by male Red-necked Phalaropes that were also with nesting territories in the same area where we found the Purple Sandpiper.  
Female Red-necked Phalaropes have more color and a bolder pattern in their breeding plumage than the males. 
The Long-tailed Duck has just been classified by Birdlife International as a "vulnerable species", as globally its population has been declining. That is unfortunate, as it is such a beautiful bird, both the male and the female, and both in and out of breeding plumage.

Another bird that is as "non-existent" now as the Pink-Headed Duck is the Great Auk. It did live, formerly, in Iceland, and in fact the last known Great Auks lived there. From the top of a cliff along the south coast of Iceland, we could see the offshore island where the last Great Auks died in 1844. Where we were on that cliff-top, there is now a large sculpture of the bird.

Returning to the Pink-footed Goose, and a positive thread: The total Pink-footed Goose population of Iceland and Greenland combined, in the autumn, has grown ten-fold during recent decades, from about 23,000 birds in 1952 to 230,000 birds in 1995. Most of those birds winter in Scotland and northern England. They depart from Iceland in October.

I've noted that during our June 2012 tour in Iceland that we saw the goslings of Pink-footed Geese and the ducklings of Common Eiders.
Among other birds that we saw as youngsters with adults were those of Greylag Geese, Eurasian Oystercatcher, White Wagtail, and Snow Bunting, in addition to cygnets with Whooper Swans.

In addition to the displaying of many Common Snipe, high in the sky, there were flight displays, again and again, both in the video and audio mode of European Golden Plover, Common Redshank, and Whimbrel.
Among passerine songsters during the tour, there were two Turdus thrushes, the Redwing and the Blackbird. 
The former is common throughout Iceland. The latter is a recent addition to the spring and summer Icelandic avifauna. It is localized.

Outside, one day, where we were having a lunch inside, there was, on the other side of the window, a nice grouping of Redpolls, also feeding on food provided for them.
The resident endemic subspecies of the Common Redpoll in Iceland is Acanthis flammea islandica, sometimes referred to as the "Icelandic Redpoll".  

Another day, after our dinner, in a field behind the restaurant, there were Ptarmigan. First, a male Rock Ptarmigan was nicely in clear view on a rock, posing in the light of the late-day sun. Then the female appeared, equally as nice to view in that late-day sunlight. Not far from the nest, she also posed for a while, before slipping back to it in the grass. What a great experience that was - seeing the Ptarmigans as we did, with both Snipe and Whimbrel displaying around us, by a high hillside next to a pristine seacoast in northern Iceland - after having yet another good, Icelandic meal.    

The Rock Ptarmigan in Iceland in the summer is an endemic subspecies, Lagopus mutus islandorum. In all, globally, there are 27 subspecies of Rock Ptarmigan, with most on islands or in other remote places.   

Yes, there were birds during our June 2012 Iceland Tour - many of them. But, as probably it has been conveyed here, there were not just birds. 
We also saw the cliffs, volcanoes, waterfalls, glacial lakes, icebergs from a calving glacier, hot springs, boiling mud pools, steam vents and other geological phenomena, and innumerable wildflowers.

An Icelandic hot spring

In conclusion, some comments now about mammals we observed that included both Harbor and Grey Seals, Arctic Foxes, Reindeer, White-beaked Dolphins, Northern Minke Whales, and Blue Whales:  

We saw 3 Arctic Foxes. One was all-dark, the "Blue Fox", and two had white, or "off-white" tails. Later in the year, some Arctic Foxes in Iceland are all-white, as we've seen during our tours there in October.

We saw Reindeer, as we traveled, in 3 groups. The animal, with its scientific name Rangifer tarandus, is called Reindeer in Europe and the Caribou in North America.
It was first introduced into Iceland in 1771, with 13 individuals from northern Norway. There were no further introductions.
Numbers increased and peaked in the mid-19th Century. The population then declined rapidly, until less than 200 were left in 1940.
Now, only in eastern Iceland, numbers have increased again, and are stabilized at about 3,000.    

Off the north coast of Iceland, with a scenic backdrop of snow-topped mountains and coastline, we had the very good fortune of seeing two magnificent creatures, two Blue Whales. 
The Blue Whale is the largest of all living creatures on Earth. And it is the largest ever known to have existed. 
It can be with a length of 100 feet and the weight of up to 150 tons. We saw well portions of the bluish-gray backs of both animals, their fins, and the huge flukes of their tails before they dove. We were able to stay with them for 3 of their dives, each of which lasted about 10 minutes.
So big and so rare is the Blue Whale. It is estimated that only about 1,500 exist in the North Atlantic Ocean, with also about that same number in the North Pacific Ocean. The Antarctic population is said to be only about 6,000 individuals. 
The Blue Whale in the northern oceans is one of 3 subspecies, Balaenoptera musculus musculus. It is believed that the populations, or subspecies, in the Northern & Southern Hemispheres never meet.
We were so lucky that our path, as we did a counter-clockwise "circle tour" around Iceland, and the path of the Blue Whales did meet.

A Blue Whale photographed during the June 2012 FONT tour in Iceland,
1 of the 2 Blue Whales that were seen

The Blue Whale is classified as a globally endangered species. Following the slaughter of 30,000 of them in the Antarctic season of 1930-31, the population never really recovered. But at least, now into the 21st Century, it is not extinct.
When the big Blue Whale was given its scientific name by Linnaeus in 1758, it sometimes is thought of as 18th Century humor, as the Latin "musculus" means "little mouse". But that word can also mean "muscle" and that would be appropriate for the largest animal the world has ever known, that constantly swims and dives deeply in the ocean.

Also during that same sea-trip off northern Iceland, we saw at least one Northern Minke Whale and a couple pods of White-beaked Dolphins, along with a Pomarine Jaeger (unusual for Iceland) and numerous Arctic Terns, Northern Fulmars, some Common Murres, and again Puffins, with many of them, in groups, sitting on the surface of the sea and then sometimes flying and more often diving.

Yes, we were fortunate to see the Blue Whales, but also fortunate to see and experience so much else during our June 2012 Iceland Tour, that was the 56th FONT tour in Europe and the 18th in Iceland.

A traditional Icelandic lunch 
in the northwestern fjords region 
during a FONT Iceland Tour 


FONT E-News, Volume 22, Number 3

June 6, 2012

Snowy Plover, Kirtland's Warbler & Wolves in Wisconsin

SNOWY PLOVERS in North America are usually along the Gulf Coast, the Pacific Coast, at various places in the West, and occasionally in the area of the Great Lakes.
A SNOWY PLOVER in Pennsylvania, at Presque Isle in Erie, on June 3 & 4, was the 4th record of the species in that state. A day or so previously, apparently the same bird was at Conneaut Harbor, Ohio, also by Lake Erie.
The first SNOWY PLOVER in Pennsylvania was, oddly, in Berks County, not near a Great Lake or any seacoast for that matter, in June 1886. In a museum, it was initially mislabeled as a PIPING PLOVER.
The second SNOWY PLOVER in Pennsylvania was at Presque Isle in Erie in May 1986, one years after the state's first.
There was one other between 1986 and 2012.   

Another unexpected bird this spring in Erie, Pennsylvania was a male KIRTLAND'S WARBLER, seen and photographed on May 22.
There was one previous record of the species there in May 1997, and maybe another unsubstantiated occurrence.

The overall population of the KIRTLAND'S WARBLER has increased in recent years, and there has even been an expansion of its breeding range.
In the US, in 2011, during surveys of nesting areas, there were 1,838 singing male KIRTLAND'S WARBLERS, up from record lows of 167 in 1974 & 1987.

Historically, KIRTLAND'S WARBLERS nested only in Michigan, in Jack Pine forests in the central part of the state.
In recent years, the species has also been nesting in the US in Wisconsin, and in Canada in Ontario.
In Adams County, Wisconsin, from 2007 to 2011, at least 45 KIRTLAND'S WARBLER NESTS produced an estimated 54 to 72 fledglings.
In June 2007, the KIRTLAND'S WARBLER was found nesting in Ontario, Canada, about 100 miles north of Ottawa.
In Ontario, from 2007 to 2011, seven KIRTLAND'S WARBLER NESTS produced at least 23 fledglings.

There will be a FONT tour in Wisconsin later this year, in October, not when the KIRTLAND'S WARBLERS are in the state, but when lots of other birds will be at various places that we'll visit. 
Additionally, we'll be going to the International Crane Foundation and in northern part of the state we'll be with people of the Timber Wolf Alliance. About 800 wolves are now estimated  to be in the state.
For info:

A howling wolf


FONT E-News, Volume 22, Number 2

March 31, 2012

Recent FONT Tours in Costa Rica & the Dominican Republic

Recent FONT birding & nature tours have been in two places 
good for both birds and other nature, Costa Rica & 
the Dominican Republic.
Costa Rica is well known for its varied Neotropical birding, and 
the Dominican Republic is also good for birds, including about 
30 species endemic to the Caribbean island of Hispaniola.    
Our recent Costa Rica & Dominican Republic tours were enjoyable 
& with lots of birds and other nature seen.    

In March 2012, there were two back-to-back FONT tours in Costa Rica, one in the northern part of the country, and one in the southern
Places that were visited were in the highlands and lowlands, up on volcanoes and down by the seacoast, and including the dry "cattle country" near Nicaragua and moist "rain forest" near Panama. 
And these were just some of the habitats where we were. There were others in between the dry and wet, and the high and low.
Our March 2012 Costa Rica tours were our 31st and 32nd in that country.  

During the northern and southern Costa Rica tours combined, as many as 372 species of birds were found. All but just a few were seen. There were some that were only heard. All were alive, except for one: a Chiriqui Quail-Dove, that had recently died, by a dirt road on the Caribbean slope.

Among the 371 living species of birds during the tour, there were a number of notables, including: Jabiru, King Vulture, Aplomado Falcon, Pearl Kite, Swallow-tailed Kite, White Hawk, Black Hawk-Eagle, Sungrebe, Southern Lapwing, Long-billed Curlew, Scarlet Macaw, Green Thorntail (both male & female), the Snowcap, Resplendent Quetzal, Baird's Trogon (both male & female seen nicely), Long-tailed Manakin, Turquoise Cotinga, Three-wattled Bellbird, both Fork-tailed and Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, Streak-chested Antpitta, both Long-tailed and Black-and-Yellow Silky-Flycatchers, Tropical Mockingbird (a recent arrival in Costa Rica), and the Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager (a very localized endemic in Costa Rica - 1 of 3 endemic Costa Rican birds that we saw - there are only 4).   

Where tinamous are heard, one knows that the tropical forest is still good, as it has been for a long time with its assortment of wildlife. We were glad to hear Tinamous, mostly Great and Little, at a few places during the tour.
Tinamous are more often heard than seen, considerably more often, but we did have wonderful sightings of a Thicket Tinamou walking on a forest floor, and of two Little Tinamous (one a moment or so after another) crossing a country road just ahead of us.

Wonderful to hear, at one of the places where we stayed in the mountains, were the late-day and early-morning sounds of nightingale-thrushes, many of them with their plaintive calls, near our nice cabins. We saw them as well: the Ruddy-capped and Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrushes
The Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush was "further up the road".      

It was noted here (3 paragraphs ago) that the Tropical Mockingbird is a "recent arrival" in Costa Rica. Also in that category, during our tour, were: the Pearl Kite (also noted above), and the Mouse-colored Tyrannulet and both the Red-breasted and Melodious Blackbirds.  

In all, there were so many birds. We saw more Double-striped Thick-knees than usual. We had a wonderful look at Mangrove Cuckoo, and our second Black-billed Cuckoo ever (in 32 CR tours). 
We enjoyed hearing and seeing a Common Potoo at dusk (only our 3rd time in 32 tours).
The Toucans, as always, were enjoyed, both the Keel-billed and the Chestnut-mandibled, as were the Tanagers, as colorful as ever. Most colorful among them were the Golden-hooded, Silver-throated, Bay-headed, and Flame-colored, along with the frequently-seen Cherrie's Tanager. The old name of the Cherrie's, the Scarlet-rumped Tanager, related more to its bright coloration.
Brightly-colored Euphonias that we saw included the Yellow-crowned, Yellow-throated, Spot-crowned, Tawny-capped, Thick-billed, and Scrub - all of them colorful.
Other brightly-colored birds included 3 species of Honeycreepers (Shining, Green, and Red-legged) and 2 species of Dacnis (Blue and Scarlet-thighed).
And of course, not to be omitted in the "colorful category" are the hummingbirds. During our March 2012 Costa Rica tours, we saw 32 species of hummingbirds.
But birds of all sorts were enjoyed, including the finches, seedeaters, and sparrows
Finches included the Peg-billed and the Large-footed (also known to us as "Bigfoot").  
Seedeaters included the White-collared, Variable, Yellow-bellied, and Ruddy-breasted.
Sparrows included the Stripe-headed, Black-striped, and Orange-billed (the last of these especially fine to see).
The Volcano Junco, a resident on only the highest mountains, was a special treat for us.
And lastly, as brightly-colored as any of the birds categorized above as "colorful" was the male Painted Bunting that was seen during a boat-ride, late one afternoon, in mangroves. 
The nearby male Mangrove Warbler was not bad to see either, with its yellow body and rusty head in the late-day sunshine.

As already said, there were "so many birds". At the end of the tours, we all had to "narrow it down" to only ten, our Top Ten favorites
Here, collectively, are those favorite birds of the FONT tours in March 2012 in Costa Rica:

 1 -  Resplendent Quetzal
 2 -  Snowcap
 3 -  Three-wattled Bellbird
 4 -  Silver-throated Tanager
 5 -  Long-tailed Manakin
 6 -  Bay-headed Tanager
 7 -  Golden-hooded Tanager
 8 -  Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher
 9 -  White Hawk
10 - Gartered (formerly Violaceous) Trogon
11 - Baird's Trogon
12 - Streak-chested Antpitta
13 - Little Tinamou
14 - Sungrebe
15 - Blue-crowned Motmot
16 - Volcano Junco
17 - Olivaceous Piculet
18 - Tropical Mockingbird
19 - Pearl Kite  
20 - Green Thorntail
21 - Aplomado Falcon
22 - Green Violetear

Not just birds were seen during our March 2012 Costa Rica tours. 

Among the mammals, there were 3 species of monkeys, with the often-encountered Mantled Howler Monkeys, White-faced Capuchins, and the least common of the monkeys in Costa Rica, the attractive Squirrel Monkey. Also: Coatis and Agoutis.
Among the reptiles, there were Crocodile and Caiman, Iguanas and Basilisk.

Among the many and diverse butterflies, there were the Blue Morphos, that could not ever be ignored, along with an assortment of Longwings, Leafwings and Daggerwings, and Sulphurs, Sisters, Crackers, and Peacocks.

In all, it was a wonderful two tours in a country that's great for nature, with birds and otherwise, and during which we also enjoyed some wonderful places and fine times, along with some good wit, good humor, and good eyes.

Click the following link to read more about our March 2012 tours in Costa Rica:

More about the FONT Costa Rica Tour in March 2012 


Among the birds during the 18th FONT tour in the Dominican Republic, in February 2012, was one that we've never encountered previously, the Eastern Chat-Tanager, a skulker and a rarity, and one of the least observed of Hispaniolan endemic birds. 
Actually, the bird is 1 of only 3 of the over 30 Hispaniolan endemic birds that is endemic to the Dominican Republic, not occurring in Haiti, the other country on the island of Hispaniola. The other 2 Dominican Republic endemics are the rare Ridgway's Hawk and the Bay-breasted Cuckoo.
The Eastern Chat-Tanager was seen during our February 2012 tour as we spent some more time than usual in the high mountains in the middle of the country known as the Cordillera Central. We birded there mostly at an altitude of about 7,500 to 8,000 feet above sea level. The highest peak in the entire Caribbean is in that area, at 10,319 feet above sea level.
Another avian denizen that we encountered there was another bird that does not lend itself to much observation, the secretive Bicknell's Thrush. Nearly the entire population of that species winters on the island of Hispaniola, in mountainous forests composed of pines and other highland plants.
Also in that area is the only populations of the Rufous-collared Sparrow outside Central and
South America, as well as a very isolated resident population of the Pine Warbler, a species otherwise in North America and in the nearby Bahamas.

In the Dominican Republic, on Hispaniola, in the central mountains and elsewhere, there are a number of interesting birds, including endemic species and subspecies, with rarities among them, that we enjoyed during our tour, along with some other nature also endemic and rare.

Click the following link for photos from our February 2012 tour in the Dominican Republic:  

A Photo Gallery of Dominican Republic Nature, Scenery, & Culture during the February 2012 FONT Tour  

FONT E-News, Volume 22, Number 1

January 5, 2012

The Recent FONT Tour in Chile: With Parakeets, Penguins, and the Pudu

Our recent birding and nature tour in November 2011 in Chile was enjoyable indeed!  It was spring there, in that beautifully scenic and diverse country.
We went from the Andes Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. From Santiago, in central Chile, we went south to Chiloe Island, a wonderful place to be.

Among the birds during the tour: Andean Condor, Burrowing Parakeet, Slender-billed Parakeet, Humboldt Penguin, Magellanic Penguin, Gray-breasted Seedsnipe, Many-colored Rush Tyrant, Crag Chilia, Snowy-crowned Tern, Great Grebe, Kelp Goose, Flightless Steamer Duck, and Black-necked Swans with cygnets riding on their backs.
Also: 3 species of oystercatchers, and 4 species of cormorants including the beautiful Red-legged Cormorant.
And these are just some of the birds. There were many more.

Among the mammals during the tour: a Kodkod (a wild cat), a Pudu (the smallest deer in the world), a Grison, an Akodont (a vole-like mammal), and the Marine Otter (a relative of the Sea Otter of the Northern Hemisphere).


The following are some excerpts from the full narrative of the tour in the FONT website:   

A rare, endangered, and localized bird in Chile is the Burrowing Parakeet, a large parakeet about the size of a smaller macaw.
Also called the Patagonian Conure, it has an array of colors. Its upperparts and long tail are olive-green. Its rump is yellow. Its head is olive-brown. It has a gray forecrown and white around its eyes. It has a white breast band. Its abdomen is yellow, with a streak of red on its belly. Its wing primaries are blue. It has yellow legs and pale red feet. Putting all this together, the bird has, yes, an array of colors.
The species also occurs in Argentina, but west of the Andes in Chile, where it is called the "Tricahue", it is an isolated, endemic subspecies.


Two species of penguins that we saw on rocky islets, alogn a picturesque stretch of the Chiloe Island seacoast, were close together, but breeding with their own kind.
Superficially similar, they were the Humboldt and the Magellanic Penguins. Basically, the Humboldt breeds along the Pacific Coast of South America from that Chiloe Island site north, while the Magellanic breeds from there south (and also on the Atlantic side of southern South America).
With the penguins, that were on the rocks and in the water, we saw Fuegian (or Flightless) Steamer Ducks, Kelp Geese, Kelp Gulls, the attractive Dolphin Gull, South American Terns, and 4 species of Cormorants: the Imperial, the Rock, the Neotropic, and the Red-legged.


Chile is long and narrow, rather like a string bean" of a country. Its length is one-tenth of the Earth's perimeter, extending 38 degrees of latitude.
Putting that in distances we can relate to, the length of mainland Chile is 2,700 miles (or 4,345 kilometers). It is the equivalent of going from Ketchikan in Alaska to the southernmost tip of Baja California in Mexico.

And with that length, comes diversity. And that's why Chile is as interesting and fascinating as it is.
In the far-north, there is a very dry desert, as dry as a desert can be in the world.
In the far-south, there is rainforest, about as wet as a forest on this planet can be.
And another factor adds to the diversity of the nature of Chile. Even though it is narrow, with an average width of 110 miles, the elevation in that width is from sea level to the high mountain peaks of the Andes. Actually, from the offshore submarine trench that parallels the Pacific coast to those Andean peaks, there is a difference of about 40,000 feet.

Due to the tremendous variety of natural environments and climates, a summary of what has been found naturally in the long "string bean" of a country reads like this:
4,600 flowering plants, 1,187 mollusk species, 606 crustacean species, 1,179 species of fish, more than 43 amphibians (a few have recently been discovered), more than 94 reptiles (again, a few recently discovered), 456 bird species, and 148 species of mammals.


We traveled south, crossing the Rio Bio Bio. It is at that river that the aspects of the countryside become "Patagonian".

South of the Bio Bio River, in a region of forests and snow-covered mountains (many volcanic), settled mainly by German immigrants, after a wonderful dinner and even more wonderful pastries for desert, a step outside the door of our hotel in the darkness of night was awe-inspiring.
There were no cities, or even town, for miles in any direction. What there were in the clear sky overhead were stars - more stars than imaginable. There were thousands to the eye, and innumerably more with a scan of one's binoculars.
It had not been dark long, so a satellite shone with reflected light as it went across the sky. Later, a falling star, or meteor, blazed its way in an arc. The planet Jupiter was brilliantly bright. In binoculars, four of its moons were there as they should have been.

There was not a single cloud in the sky. Actually, that wasn't true. There were two: the Magellanic Clouds, Nubeculae magellani - the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) and the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC), two irregular dwarf galaxies that appear in the sky in the Southern Hemisphere to be rather close to each other. Of course, "close" is relative.
Those two "clouds", looking like fuzzy patches, are members of our Local Galaxy Group, orbiting our Milky Way Galaxy.

Described first in Arabian astronomy back in 964 A.D., the Magellanic Clouds are only visible at the southernmost point of Arabia.
They were observed during the expedition of Ferdinand Magellan when it circumnavigated the world in the Southern Hemisphere, and later the name "Magellanic" was applied.

Having said that the two Magellanic Clouds appear relatively "close" to each other, they are roughly 21 degrees apart in the night sky, and the true distance between them is about 75,000 light-years (so not so "close").
Until the discovery of the Sagittarius Dwarf Elliptical Galaxy in 1994, the Magellanic Clouds were the closest known galaxies to our own.
The LMC is about 160,000 light-years from us, while the SMC is about 200,000.
The LMC is about twice the diameter of the SMC (14,000 light-years and 7,000 light years respectively).
For comparison , the Milky Way (containing us) is about 100,000 light-years across.

The Large Magellanic Cloud lies between the constellations of Dorado (the Swordfish) and Mensa (the Table Mountain). Overhead, that night in Chile, there were also the constellations of Cetus (the Whale) and Eridanus (the River), long as it was with its bright star, Achernar. Among other nearby constellations were Hydrus (the little water snake), Tucana (the Toucan), and Octans (the Octant).
None of these constellations are ever visible in the Northern Hemisphere.


We went to see the Araucaria trees that grow on the higher mountain slopes in the Bio Bio Region. The national tree of Chile, Araucaria araucana, is most interesting.

Araucaria trees were among the earliest of seed-bearing plants. Their fossils have been carbon-dated back to the Mesozoic Age. They do have a "prehistoric look" to them. During the Jurassic Period, 180 million years ago, they were food for sauropods.
The trees grow up to 165 feet. They live as long as 1600 years, and some longer. It takes them more than 20 years to bear seeds. When they do, they have male cones in August and females cones, a s we saw, in November.


Something special on Chiloe Island, at the time of year when we were there, were the large flocks of Hudsonian Godwits.
About one-quarter of the entire population of the species spends the Austral Summer on that island. They feed in big flocks on mudflats that can be expansive due to a significant difference between high and low tides. Those large flocks are generally composed of just the godwits, and it is not unusual to see hundreds of them at one place and time.
Scattered about on the mudflats are also Whimbrels, but never in flocks, and often vocal whereas the godwits are generally quiet. And there are smatherings of peeps, usually Baird's Sandpipers.

To read the full narrative of the FONT November 2011 Chile tour, please click:

To see a gallery of photos from the FONT November 2011 Chile Tour, click:

If you like poetry, and especially poems about birds, there's now a special feature in the FONT website, with poems about Chilean birds accompanied by photographs. The poems are by the renowned Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, who lived from 1904 to 1973. For his poetry, he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971.

Click here for the special feature:  http://www.focusonnature.com/ChileNerudaBirds.htm

The poems and photos in the feature relate to these birds: Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Wandering Albatross, Peruvian Pelican, Black-faced Ibis, American Kestrel, Black-necked Swan, Andean Condor, Southern House Wren, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Great Egret, Gray Gull, Black Vulture, Long-tailed Meadowlark, Ringed Kingfisher, Magellanic Woodpecker, White-tailed Kite, Magellanic Penguin, Southern Lapwing, Many-colored Rush-Tyrant, Chimango Caracara, and the Dodo.
The last of these of course was not a Chilean bird.

My favorite of the above poems is that about the Black-necked Swan. And not necessarily because it's the shortest.

Wishing you a good year ahead,

Armas Hill

A link to upcoming FONT birding & nature tours in 2012 & into 2013:

And, here now, to conclude, a poem by Pablo Neruda, about himself, written shortly before the end of his life.

Entited:  "The Poet says Good-Bye to the Birds"  

A provincial poet
and birder,
I come and I go about the world,
just whistle my way along,
submit to the sun and its certainty,
to the rain's violin voice,
to the wind's cold syllable.

In the course
of past lives
and preterit disinterments,
I've been a creature of the elements
and keep on being a corpse in the city:
I cannot abide the niche,
prefer woodlands with startled
pigeons, mud, a branch of chattering parakeets,
the citadel of the condor, captive
of its implacable heights,
the primordial ooze of the ravines,
adorned with slipperworts.

Yes yes yes yes yes yes,
I'm an incorrigible birder,
cannot reform my ways -
though the birds
do not invite me
to the treetops,
to the ocean,
or the sky,
to their conversation, their banquet,
I invite myself,
watch them
without missing a thing:
yellow-rumped siskins,
dark fishing cormorants
or metallic cowbirds,
vibrant hummingbirds,
eagles native
to the mountains of Chile,
meadowlarks with pure
and bloody breasts,
wrathful condors
and thrushes,
hovering hawks, hanging from the sky,
finches that taught me their trill,
nectar birds and foragers,
blue velvet and white birds,
birds crowned by foam
or simply dressed in sand,
pensive birds that question
the earth and peck at its secret
or attack the giant's bark
and lay open the wood's heart
or build with straw, clay, and rain
their fragrant love nest
or join thousands of their kind
forming body to body, wing to wing,
a river of unity and movement,
severe birds among the rocky crags,
ardent, fleeting,
lusty, erotic birds,
inaccessible in the solitude
of snow and mist,
in the hirsute hostility,
of windswept wastes,
or gentle gardeners
or robbers
or blue inventors of music
or tacit witnesses of dawn.

A people's poet,
provincial and birder,
I've wandered the world in search of life:
bird by bird I've come to know the earth:
discovered where fire flames aloft:
the expenditure of energy
and my disinterestedness were rewarded,
even though no one paid me for it,
because I received those wings in my soul
and immobility never held me down. 

Pablo Neruda's poems were of course written in Spanish. The translation by Jack Schmitt


FONT E-News, Volume 21, Number 15

October 4, 2011 

A Quiz with Two Questions (A Sentence with Two Qs)

"What Species are they?"

Number 1:

In 1784, in England, a man named Thomas Pennant published "Arctic Zoology".
In it, there was a beautifully detailed engraving of two birds. One was a Pied-billed Grebe, shown as it should be, on the water.
But the other bird in the illustration was problematic.
It was standing on the bank of a shore, with its webbed feet firmly on the ground.
It was in strange company being with the grebe, but even more strange (or wrong) was its being on a dirt bank.
Also incorrect in the engraving was the thrust of its head, the splay of its legs, and the angle of its body.
But so few Europeans, if any, who looked at the beautiful engraving, had ever seen the bird. So the image did not seem implausible.
The species had yet to be described. It would be, 5 years later, in 1789.
But its nest would not be found until nearly 200 years later, in 1974. That was even though ornithologists looked diligently for it for decades.
That nest was found to be high in coniferous trees, miles away from the sea where the bird usually seen, and no where "the dirt bank of a shore" where the bird never is.
That first nest was found in the most populous state in the United States.

Number 2:

This bird has evolved a complex, communal social system, of "cooperative breeding".
The colony, of this species, is an extended family (kinship) group that consists of a breeding core of 4 or more males, usually brothers or a father and his sons, who share up to 3 related females, usually sisters or a mother and her daughters.
Older offspring may join in the group as "helpers", attending to the granaries and assisting in raising younger birds.
The word "granaries" is a clue.
Such granaries are found in the most populous state in the United States.

The above & more can be found in the FONT website: www.focusonnature.com

scrolling down the left-side of the home-page to the appropriate bird-list and photo gallery.

In the same list as the two species above, there is also interesting information about these birds:
Short-tailed Albatross, Ashy Storm Petrel, Leach's Storm Petrel, California Condor, Clapper Rail, Surfbird, Rock Sandpiper, Heermann's Gull, Common Murre, Cassin's Auklet, Spotted Owl, Anna's Hummingbird, Nuttall's Woodpecker, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Loggerhead Shrike, Island Scrub Jay, Yellow-billed Magpie, California Gnatcatcher, Swainson's Thrush, Varied Thrush, Wrentit, Tricolored Blackbird, California Towhee, Savannah Sparrow, Song Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow. 

Both of the species in the quiz above are likely to be seen during the upcoming FONT West Coast USA Tour, September 7-16, 2012.   

Two Big Eagles, each about as Big as Eagles can be

Eagle Number 1: the Harpy Eagle

Just published in the Journal of Raptor Research is the news that between October 2000 and December 2006, nests were found in Panama of 25 breeding pairs of Harpy Eagles in the province of Darien. Most were in tropical rain forest at an average altitude of nearly 400 feet above sea level, ranging in elevations from 150 to about 900 feet. Nest densities are estimated to be 4 to 6 in about 50 square miles. Each breeding pair occupies from 8 to 12 square miles of forest. This nesting density of Harpy Eagles is the highest that's known for the species throughout its entire breeding range.  

The Harpy Eagle is the national bird of Panama. And the next FONT birding & nature tour in that country is scheduled for July 22-28, 2012
There has been a re-introduction program underway in Panama of the Harpy Eagle, outside the Darien, and in what was the "Canal Zone".

There's a list of Panama Birds in the FONT website, with over 900 species. It's being updated, and now nearly done.

Eagle Number 2: the Steller's Sea Eagle

Another large eagle, in another part of the world, is the Steller's Sea Eagle. The length of the bird (the larger female) is more than 3 feet. Across its wings it is about 7 feet, from one wingtip to the other.
The total population of that species is less than 5,000 and declining. It nests only southeastern Siberia, not far from the sea. Most (more than half) winter on the northernmost island in Japan, Hokkaido.   
The Steller's Sea Eagle is solitary where it breeds. But is is social where it winters.

Sometimes during our winter tour in Japan we see a few hundred of them. We always see dozens. And we always see them well. Our next FONT birding & nature tour to Japan, including Hokkaido, is scheduled for January 25-February 6, 2013.

In addition to the Steller's Sea Eagle on Hokkaido, also, during the tour, we will see White-tailed Eagles, Red-crowned Cranes, and the Blakiston's Fish Owl, one of the largest and rarest owls in the world.

A complete list of Japan Birds is in the FONT website, with over 560 species. That list has already been updated, and contains a number of photos.  

Information about all upcoming FONT birding & nature tours is in the website: www.focusonnature.com 

Wishing you the best,

Armas Hill     


FONT E-News, Volume 21, Number 14

September 19, 2011

Upcoming Tours, including one in Brazil where Roosevelt was in 1914

Before referring to the Rio Roosevelt in Amazonian Brazil, let's refer to the FONT (Focus On Nature Tours) website: www.focusonnature.com

If you haven't visited there lately, you are, by all means, welcome. There have been some recent updates.

On the upper-left of the home-page, you might go to the "ARCHIVES" where some "older" materials have been presented in a "new" way.
On that section, you can go back in time to some FONT tours, over the years, in: Arizona, Brazil, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Hungary (& Romania & Slovakia), Iceland, Japan, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Sweden.

A number of you may have been receiving our BIRDLINE e-mail bulletins, including one recently summarizing birds disrupted by the hurricane/tropical storm Irene in the Northeast US.
That Birdline and others are kept for reference, and can be read by going down the right-side of the FONT website homepage, to the file entitled "Birdline".
In it, there are some Birdline archives, including features about the Red Knot in both North & South America (from 2005), and about the Woodcock, or "Timber-Doodle" (from 2000).
More such features will be added, and we have many in our "archives", from the Birdline, done by Armas Hill, on the telephone & internet for about 30 years, and on the radio for about 10 years.
Although occasionally an item not related to birds is included in our BIRDLINE, we also send out periodically an e-mail called NATURELINE, referring to various aspects of nature other than birds. If you'd like to receive NATURELINE, please let us know.

A major part of the FONT website has been the LISTS of birds and other nature that occur at the various places where our tours go. Some of these lists are also PHOTO GALLERIES.
To get to these lists and photo galleries, scroll down the left-side of our website home-page.

There have been updates lately to some of these lists, including that of the birds in Guatemala. In the list, 711 birds in the country, 557 of which have been found during FONT tours.

Our Annual Holiday Tour this year will be in Guatemala, Dec 26, 2012 to Jan 5, 2013, in both the highlands & lowlands of the country, and including the Mayan site at Tikal, a great place for birds & other nature.
During this Guatemala tour, previosuly, we've enjoyed 3 species of hawk-eagles (during one morning), Orange-breasted Falcons (at Tikal temples), ant swarms in the forest with many birds, the Pink-headed Warbler, Pheasant Cuckoo, and what's said to be the most beautiful bird in the world, the Resplendent Quetzal.
Also, the rare Horned Guan! The status of that bird, by the way, has recently been changed, unfortunately, from "endangered" to "critically endangered".

Our list and photo gallery of Japan birds has recently been updated. In the list, 561 birds in the country, 393 found during FONT tours.
We're scheduled to go to JapanJanuary 25-February 6, 2013
Going, of course, to Hokkaido, to see the Steller's and White-tailed Eagles, Red-crowned Cranes, and more, including the Blakiston's Fish Owl, one of the largest & rarest owls in the world.

Our lists and photo galleries of California birds and butterflies have just been updated. In the bird-list, 624 birds in the state, with 263 found during FONT tours (only in the late-summer & fall). Some interesting information about these birds & butterflies is incorporated into the list, and more will be.    
Our next West Coast USA Tour, in Washington State & California, will be September 7-16, 2012. Please contact us soon if you'd like to join to see many birds, killer whales, and some truly beautiful country.

There is still availability on some upcoming FONT tours in the Caribbean (when there may be wintry weather where you live) and in Belize, January 13-22, 2012.

Info in the Amazonian bird-list in the FONT website has just been updated. Nearly 1,100 birds (1,094) in that list, and those found during FONT tours are coded as to where & when.

We have a tour scheduled to Amazonian Brazil for May 4-14, 2012. To be along the river where Theodore Roosevelt was in 1914, after he was US president.

Birds during our upcoming tour that are possible, there and elsewhere, are: Razor-billed Curassow, Dark-winged Trumpeter, Crimson Fruitcrow, Crimson Topaz (a wonderful hummingbird), Crytic Forest Falcon, several species of macaws, the White-cheeked (or Kawall's) Amazon, Pavinine Quetzal, Curl-crested Aracari, Gould's Toucanet, Spangled Cotinga, Pompadour Cotinga, Black-necked Red Cotinga, Black-bellied Gnateater, Rusty-belted Tapaculo, and even Harpy Eagle.

Mammals that are possible include: Silvery Marmoset, Brown-mantled Tamarin, Red-bellied Titi, Prince Bernard's Titi, Bolivian Red Howler Monkey, White-nosed Saki, White-fronted Capuchin, Tufted Capuchin, Brown Woolly Monkey, and Peruvian Spider Monkey.
Also: Southern River Otter, Giant Otter, Brazilian Tapir, Collared Peccary, White-lipped Peccary, and Red Brocket Deer.
Both the Amazon River (or Pink) Dolphin and the Tucuxi (or Gray) Dolphin occur.

There's a fine book relating the story of how the Rio Roosevelt in Amazonian Brazil came to be called that, and describing the journey there by the former US president, Theodore Roosevelt, in the early 20th Century.
That book is entitled "River of Doubt", by Candice Millard, and it is well worth the read, even if one never goes there, but especially if one does.

The "River of Doubt", as Millard calls it, or the Rio Roosevelt, as it came to be known, was, according to the jacket of the book, "black and uncharted, snaking (at that time) through one of the most treacherous jungles in the world.
Indians armed with poison-tipped arrows haunted in the shadows, piranhas glided through its waters (and still do), and boulder-strewn rapids turn the river into a rolling cauldron.
(What's in italics, I added.)
After his humilating election defeat in 1912, Theodore (or Teddy) Roosevelt set his sights on the most punishing physical challenge he could find - the first descent of of an unmapped, rapids-choked tributary of the Amazon River.
Together with his son Kermit, and Brazil's most famous explorer, Candido Mariano da Silva Rondon, Roosevelt accomplished a feat so great that many, upon his return home, refused to believe it.

Along the way, Roosevelt and the men with him faced an unbelieveable sequence of hardships, losing their canoes and supplies to punishing whitewater rapids, and enduring starvation, Indian attack, disease, drowning, and a murder within their own ranks. Three men died, and Roosevelt himself was at the brink."


Although they had risen well before dawn, it was almost noon by the time Roosevelt, the outdoorsman, George Cherrie, and Dr. Jose Cajazeira, and their three paddlers finally climbed into their dugout on the morning of February 28, 1914, and headed off down the river in pursuit of the rest of the expedition, which had left camp nearly 4 hours earlier.

Sympathetic to how difficult it had been, and likely would continue to be, for the naturalists (Cherrie & Cajazeira) to collect specimens for the museum while they were on the River of Doubt, Roosevelt had directed the other two dugouts and two balsas to go ahead without them when Cherrie heard some birdcalls near camp that morning.

Cherrie made it worth Roosevelt's while, capturing six birds, including a large "red-headed" woodpecker and a brilliant turquoise-blue cotinga.

Once back on the twisting river, Roosevelt and Cherrie resumed their search for signs of life. Their efforts were rewarded by an otter splashing in the river, and two tropical birds called guans.
With his face east in shadow beneath his deep sun helmet, Roosevelt watched as the jungle glided past him, with its towering trees and blue-sky reflected, like a trembling inverted world, in the water's dark surface.
He drank in the rich array of beauty, admiring the many brightly-colored butterflies that "fluttered over the river", and marveled at how a spark of sunlight could cloak the electric green jungle. "When the sun broke through rifts in the clouds", he wrote, "his shafts turned the forest into gold".     

As Roosevelt, and the others, paddled quietly down the river, a long, deep roar suddenly erupted through the jungle. It was the voice of a Howler Monkey, one of the loudest sounds of any animal on earth.
It can be heard from 3 miles away, and is formed when the monkey forces air through its large, hollow hyoid bone. The result is a deep and resonating howl that vibrates through the forest with a strange intensity, echoing so pervasively that its location can be nearly impossible to pinpoint.

As important as the river was to the expedition, it was a capricious and unrelible ally. Like many rivers in South America and elsewhere, it could change character quickly and dramatically over a very short distance, and with profound consequences for an expedition. Swollen and swift during the rainy season, it was cluttered with dangerous debris and pocked with shifting whirlpools that could flip a canoe and trap a man under the water in a matter of seconds.

Even more complex and dangerous than the river itself were the fishes, mammals, and reptiles that inhabited it. Like the rainforest that surrounds and depends upon it, the Amazon river system is a prodigy of speciation and diversity, serving as home to more than three thousand species of freshwater fishes - more than any other river system on earth.
Its waters are crowded with creatures of nearly every size, shape, and evolutionary adaptation, from tiny neon tetras to thousand-pound manatees, to pink freshwater boto dolphins, to stingrays, to armor-plated catfishes, to bullsharks.
By comparison, the entire Missouri and Mississippi river system that drains much of North America has only about 375 fish species.

Able to swim freely through large swarths of the jungle during the rainy season, for example, certain Amazonian fish, such as the tambqui, have evolved teeth that look like sharp molars and are tough enough to crack open even the hard, cannonball-sized shell of the Brazil Nut.
The ancient, eellike South American lungfish has lungs as well as gills. Unless it surfaces every four to ten minutes for a gulp of air, it will drown. But during the dry season, while other fishes around it die as the ponds and streams dry up, the lungfish survives by burrowing into the mud and taking oxygen from the air.
Still another species, the so-called four-eyed fish, has eyes that are divided in two at the waterline by a band of tissue. With two separate sets of corneas and retinas, the fish can search for predators in the sky above and at the same time look for danger in the water below.

There's more in the FONT website: www.focusonnature.com
Wishing you the best,

Armas Hill     

FONT E-NEWS, Volume 21, Number 13

August 10, 2011

Jaguar & Jabirus in Brazil

In Brazil, FONT conducted its 50th birding and nature tour in that country since 1991.

In Mato Grosso do Sul, in a region known as the Pantanal - a region known for its wonderful wildlife, there were large concentrations of birds, along with mammals and other nature.

Previously, we had seen Jaguar during 4 Brazilian tours in Mato Grosso do Sul, once previously during the day, and 3 times previously at night.

On August 10, 2011, at about 10 o'clock in the morning, we had another daytime Jaguar sighting. By a channel of water. it was at a concrete covert, for just a short time, before disappearing into the covert and probably out the other side.

Where we saw the Jaguar, we travel about in the area on high, open vehicles. The previous night, in such a vehicle, we enjoyed a great look at an Ocelot, after seeing 3 Giant Anteaters, Crab-eating Foxes, Marsh Deer, 6-banded or Yellow Armadillos, Capybaras, and Caiman. We saw 3 species of nightjars, and heard another.

Among the numerous birds, during this tour in Brazil, were Jabirus (the largest American stork), the Hyacinth Macaw (the largest parrot in the world), the Greater Rhea (the largest American bird), and the Toco Toucan (the largest toucan). In all, nearly 200 species of birds.

Wishing you the best,

Armas Hill

To Top of Page

FONT E-News, Volume 21, Number 12

August 5, 2011

Preentations about birds & other nature to groups & organizations

In the Focus On Nature Tours website, we now have photos of over 1,300 different kinds of birds, mammals, amphibians & reptiles, butterflies, marine-life, wildflowers, and other nature. 

Using this large resource of photos, we're giving presentations to various groups, clubs, and organizations. Such upcoming presentations are now scheduled for the next few months in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We'd be glad to give such a program to your group, even if you're further from us. Yes, even as far away from us as Texas.
Presentations are prepared relating to Brazil, Iceland, Japan, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Spain, Chile, as well as about hummingbirds in various countries.
Please send us an e-mail if you're interested. We promise to make it an enjoyable and interesting show.

A tour is in our schedule for the fall, to be about a week in Wisconsin and Minnesota, October 13-21, 2012, including visits to the International Crane Foundation and the renowned "Birds in Art" exhibit at the Leigh Yawkley Museum in Wisconsin, and the Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory in Minnesota, where the raptors should be flowing by during their southward migration.

Information about this, and other upcoming tours still with availability, is of course in our website: www.focusonnature.com
including tours in September & October 2012, will be in the Western US, Sweden, Iceland, and in the warm Caribbean during the winter months in 2012 & 2013.

Wishing you the best,

Armas Hill  

FONT E-NEWS, Volume 21, Number 11

July 27, 2011

Again a Gallinule as it should be, and more

In July 2011, in the latest supplement of the AOU (the American Ornithologists Union), it became the Common Gallinule throughout the Americas, Gallinula galeata, now a distinct species from the Common Moorhen, Gallinula chloropus, of the Old World.
After all, it is GALLINULA galeata

Common Gallinule

The only other member of Gallinula in the New World is Gallinula melanops, the Spot-flanked Gallinule in South America. 

And the Snowy Plover of the Americas, Charadrius nivosus, is distinct from the Kentish Plover, Charadrius alexandrinus, of the Old World.

The Mexican Jay in the US has a new scientific name, Aphelocoma wollweberi, as a portion of its population in Mexico has been split to be a new species, the Transvolcanic Jay, Aphelocoma ultramarina.


A Mexican Jay during a FONT tour

Further to the south, if you've seen the Chestnut-mandibled Toucan in Costa Rica, you may be interested that it is now part of the more-southerly Black-mandibled Toucan, Ramphastos ambiguus.

If in the West Indies or northern South America, you've seen what has been called the American Bare-eyed Thrush, it now has a new name, the Spectacled Thrush. It is still Turdus nudigenis.

Among the Wood Warblers, throughout the Americas, there has been a major taxonomic revision. In North America, no species have been "lost", and none have been "gained", but there have been some notable changes as to the genera.
"Parula" is still in the common English names for the Northern and Tropical Parulas, but that genus is now gone.
What has been a large genus, Dendroica, is now gone.
The birds that have been in it, as well as the two Parulas, are now in the genus where, until now, there has only been one bird, the American Redstart. That now large genus is Setophaga.

A female American Redstart

The genus Wilsonia no longer exists. From it, the Hooded Warbler is now in Setophaga, while the Canada Warbler and the Wilson's Warbler are now in Cardellina, where previously there was only the Red-faced Warbler that only reaches the US in Arizona.
Also now in the expanded Cardellina genus is the Red Warbler in Mexico, and if you've never seen the dainty Pink-headed Warbler in Guatemala, you might like to know that it is now in Cardellina as well. The Red and the Pink-headed Warblers were in the now defunct genus, Ergaticus.

The Connecticut Warbler is now the only member of the Oporornis genus. The similar Mourning and MacGillivray's Warblers, along with the Kentucky Warbler, have now gone to Geothlypis, the genus of the Yellowthroats.

If you've seen the Barbuda Warbler or the Saint Lucia Warbler on those respective Caribbean islands, or the Adelaide's or Elfin Wood Warblers in Puerto Rico, the Arrowhead Warbler in Jamaica, the Vitelline Warbler in the Cayman Islands, or the Plumbeous Warbler on Dominica or Guadeloupe, you may wish to know that they are all now in the genus Setophaga, rather than Dendroica.

In Mexico and Guatemala, the Fan-tailed Warbler, formerly the sole member of Euthlypis, is now in the genus Basileuterus, along with, among others, the warbler that has the largest range of any in the Americas, the Golden-crowned Warbler, that has also now been called the Stripe-crowned Warbler.

In the Bahamas, there is now a new species. The Bahama Warbler, Setophaga flavescens, is now distinct from the Yellow-throated Warbler, formerly Dendroica, now Setophaga dominica.

According to the July 2011 AOU List, the Yellow-breasted Chat is still a "problematic" warbler, and the Mountain Chickadee remains as it has been, one species.

What you've read here, is now in the FONT website: www.focusonnature.com

reached from a link on the left-side of the home-page: "Bird Taxonomy Update, as of July 2011".
And the new nomenclature is being incorporated into the various bird-lists in the website.  

Some of the warblers now in Setophaga genus are among birds that should be seen during our upcoming West Coast USA Tour, September 7-16, in Washington State & California. Setophaga warblers such as the Hermit, Townsend's, and Black-throated Gray.

What has been the Common Moorhen, or Gallinule, was first described by Carl Linneaus, the doctor and botanist in Sweden who provided, in his 1758 publication, the 10th edition of "System Naturae", the classification of birds and animals that has continued to this day. The first of the 3 American subspecies, that are now known collectively as the Common Gallinule, was not formally described as a subspecies until 1818.

It is most interesting how many species of birds, mammals, butterflies, amphibians and reptiles, other wildlife, and of course plants, from throughout the world, were described by Linneaus, in the woods of Sweden in the mid 1700s.

We're scheduled to do a birding and nature tour in Sweden, during which we'll pass by the woods near where Linneaus lived, September 22-28, 2012. It's a great tour for bird migration in enjoyable, picturesque countryside.   

We'll be seeing the "other" American Gallinula species, the Spot-flanked Gallinule, during our tour in Chile, January 13-22, 2012.

If you'd like to see the dainty Pink-headed Warbler, we will, during our Festive Holiday Birding & Nature Tour in Guatemala, December 26, 2011 - January 5, 2012. That now-Cadellina species is in the mountains of Guatemala, where we will be during the first part of the tour. During the second part, we'll be at the Mayan ruins at Tikal.

Earlier this year, we saw the Barbuda Warbler, now Setophaga subita, during our tour on the tiny West Indian island of Barbuda. That bird is no where else in the world. We're scheduled to be there again, during our Lesser Antilles Tour, February 4-12. 2012.
Also during that tour we'll be in the haunts of the Plumbeous Warbler, Setophaga plumbea, on the islands of Dominica and Guadeloupe.

Information about these & other FONT tours is on our web-site: www.focusonnature.com
A 10 per cent discount is available on FONT tours for groups of 4 people or more.
Wishing you the best,

Armas Hill   

FONT E-NEWS, Volume 21, Number 10

July 22, 2011

Lists & a Quiz, Tours, & Frogs

In the Focus On Nature Tours (FONT) website: www.focusonnature.com
there are numerous lists, some with photos, of: birds, mammals, butterflies, amphibians & reptiles, marine life, plant life, other wildlife. Just scroll down the left-side of the home-page to the links.

Lists of birds include those, among others, in North America (in 6 parts), Arizona, California, Colorado, North Carolina, Texas, and in Mexico, and the Caribbean (in 2 parts), Hispaniola, Jamaica, Lesser Antilles, Puerto Rico, in Central America (in 4 parts), Belize, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama, in South America in Argentina, Brazil (in 3 parts), Chile, in Europe (in 2 parts), Iceland, Spain, Sweden, and in Japan (in 2 parts).

Now, here's the quiz:

In one of the bird-lists just noted, in which there are over 375 species, there are these birds:
Red-breasted Goose
Mandarin Duck
Black-browed Albatross
Sooty Tern
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
American Robin
Siberian Rubythroat
Cerulean Warbler
Rustic Bunting

What is the country?

If you send us an e-mail, correctly naming the country, you'll be entitled to a 10 per cent discount on a future tour to that country.
I must note that during our nearly 20 tours in that country, we've never seen any of these species, but they are on that country's "list" of birds that have been documented as occurring there.

As mentioned above, there are other lists of nature in the FONT website. One that has just been done is a complete list of amphibians and reptiles in Brazil.

In that list, over 1,525 species. But what's quite fascinating is that if that list had been done just 30 years or so ago, it would have had one two-thirds as many species.
Since the 1970s, just over 500 species of amphibians and reptiles in Brazil have been described as new to science.
Since the year 2000, nearly 200 species have been described there. Many of them have been frogs, but there have been lizards and snakes also.
Many have been actual discoveries, rather than taxonomic "splits" of previously-known species.

When I was typing the list, I almost felt as if new frogs and the like were being found as I typed!  It made it, for me, an enjoyable project.

And all the more fascinating as throughout the world, it is often being noted that frogs and their kind are either declining or disappearing. Species that were once known to exist, or were even once common, have been searched for unsuccessfully.

Regarding Brazil, it is, granted, a big, very big country. And in many places in the country, there has been little natural exploration.
A number of the newly-discovered amphibians have limited ranges, in isolated forest and hills.
What would be interesting would be to pursue further and find out how many of the "new" species are rare.
Interesting also, would be to find out, but unfortunately we probably never will, how many species that existed in recent decades were never discovered.

In the Brazil Amphibian & Reptile List, there are about 800 species of amphibians and 500 of reptiles. of those, over half of the amphibians (456) are endemic to Brazil. And about half (246) of the reptiles are endemic.

Also in the FONT website, a List of Mammals of Brazil has also just been completed, with just over 600 in the country. Of them, 175 are endemic.
And there have been some discoveries of "new species" in recent years, including, among the larger animals, a new peccary, a new deer, and a few new monkeys. In all, about 100 species of monkeys and allies are now known to live in Brazil.
40 per cent of the Brazilian mammals classified as threatened are primates.
With the 600 mammal species noted, Brazil has the most of any country in the world. 66 of the Brazilian mammal species are classified as endangered.

As to birds, there are about 1,720 species in Brazil (that's why the bird-list in our website is in 3 parts).
Approaching 1,100 species of birds have been found during FONT tours in Brazil.
190 of the Brazilian bird species are endemic, and more than that are considered threatened.

My doing a Brazilian Amphibian & Reptile List came about, partly, as some people traveling with me in Brazil have commented that I should encompass more relating to Brazilian nature (there's so much! ), in addition to the birds that have, over the years, been my main emphasis.
And so I will be adding other website files and printed material also for categories such as Brazilian orchids and Brazilian fruits.
The second of these categories, by the way, have been especially enjoyed during our Brazilian tours at meals - especially the wonderful fresh fruits on the table at breakfasts!
About 825 different types of fruits are grown in Brazil, and over 300 different kinds are from plants native to the country.

As noted, Brazil is a big country. And, as there have been 49 FONT tours in Brazil, during the last 2 decades, we've been to a number of very interesting places. Having said that however, we've never seen anyone, at any of those places, either observing or studying frogs. But there must be such people, somewhere, somehow, across the country, because as I've noted here, so many new species of particularly amphibians have recently been discovered.

Our next FONT tour in Brazil, is May 4-14, 2012. Click here for more about: Upcoming FONT tours in Brazil 

A tour scheduled for the fall, to be about a week in Wisconsin and Minnesota, October 13-21, 2012, including visits to the International Crane Foundation and the renowned "Birds in Art" exhibit at the Leigh Yawkley Museum in Wisconsin, and the Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory in Minnesota, where the raptors should be flowing by during their southward migration.

In September 2012, there's still some availability on our tour in Washington State & California, September 7-16.

Our hearts have gone out this year to people who live where we've toured in the past, in Arizona and in Japan.
In Arizona, there has been disruption, and sadly destruction, at some of the places we've enjoyed visiting.
Regarding Japan, we just received a message forwarded to us by someone in Australia who traveled with us 3 times in Japan over the years. That message, from a nature center where we've been near Tokyo, relates how things have been there as of late. For example, this summer, due to the problem of there being less operative power plants in the country, there has been a strongly restricted use of energy.
In 2013, we'll go to Japan again, January 25-February 6, for the various cranes, eagles, and Blakiston's Fish Owl, on the northern island of Hokkaido and the southern island of Kyushu.
Nest year, we're scheduled to go to Arizona, again, August 26-September 7.

The other day, while going through some files, I came across a little blue notebook filled with Japanese writing on the left pages and corresponding English writing on the right.
An elderly man from California, who was on one of our Japan tours in the 1990s, and who had previously worked for the U.S. State Department in China, took the time to translate for me, some text from a Japanese book about, of all things, gulls. He did that translation, and I remember that he enjoyed doing it, during spare time, mostly in the evenings, during the tour.
So, now, I'm pleased to have found that little note book, with Graham's little writing, describing the various plumages and cycles of the likes of the Vega Gull and others of that ilk in Japan.

It brings to my mind another occurrence at the end of a FONT tour in Iceland a few years back, when one of the people on the tour, from New Jersey, asked me to take him into Reykyavik, before we went to the airport, to the Hofdi House where President Reagan and the Soviet Secretary General Gorbachev had met in 1986.
When we got there, that same man who had taken a number of nice bird photos during the tour, walked about photographing the house. His wife told me at that time that he had been there previously when Reagan and Gorbachev were, as he had been at that time the US ambassador to the Soviet Union. She told me that he wanted to go back and see the place again, one more time.

Such people, from tours in Japan and Iceland, are among the many fine people that I've had the good experience of meeting during FONT tours over the years.
Earlier here, I referred to lists of birds, mammals, and other nature. But the most important list I have here is that of 2,103 people who have participated, during the last 2 decades, on FONT tours and pelagic trips.
1,684 of those people participated more than once. That's about 80 per cent.
And about half of them participated more than twice, with a nice number doing so as many as a half dozen times or more.

Wishing you the best,

Armas Hill  

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