Sunday, September 8, 2019

Post #165 - Should eBird charge platform users?

While hanging out with eBird staffers Brian Sullivan and Mike Kelling on a recent Alvaro's Adventure's pelagic trip, I asked if the eBird brass had ever considered a user fee. There aren't plans for one, but I couldn't help wonder more about the benefits and drawbacks of that proposition. This post explores those thoughts.
Let me start by professing my undying admiration (love?) for eBird. An ingenious and intuitive interface, the open-access database organizes my sightings, outputs lists for every imaginable geography, and functions as a permanent record of my birding history. Synergy guarantees that every user - active or casual - benefits at a level greater than his/her individual contribution, and the pooled data are an invaluable resource for trip planning and list building. The platform has become an integral part of my birding experience, and I wish it had existed when I started birding as a seven-year-old Philadelphia pinhead. I am envious of generations who have their entire birding histories archived in one electronic place.

My goal is to color in this map with birds,
experiences, and personal connections.

Given the utility the platform offers, I find it surprising eBird hasn't asked data depositors for a direct financial contribution. Wait, why depositors? Well, folks who deposit data usually want their sightings curated into nicely organized lists (that takes engineering dollars, right?) Data depositors are also the most likely to use the platform's advanced features - Target Species, Top 100, etc - to further their own birding interests (more engineering dollars). Sure, eBird needs depositors to exist, but most birders deposit their birding data in the database for their own benefit, not eBird's. Fortunately, the interests of users and platform are coincident, and putting data anywhere else - local hard drives and pieces of paper included - is a comparative waste of time and synergy. And yes, eBird has outsourced the cost of data acquisition (i.e. optics, transportation) to users, but any user who wants to be credited for that unavoidable birding overhead is smoking hella crack. Synergy assures eBird does more for each data depositor than vice versa, so we're all getting more than we put in anyway.

Collecting eBird data in Colombia

So, tell me data depositors: What is eBird worth to you? Forget the obvious favor you're doing the platform and put an annual value on the user side of the admittedly-symbiotic relationship. I'd happily cough up $50/year to deposit my data, have it curated, and benefit from eBird's many user-specific features. I know, I know - eBird has thrived without charging users, so why start now? Well, here are  two hypothetical benefits of implementing a user fee.

1) Revenue could be used to engineer additional features into the platform. A person-to-person contact feature into which users could opt, a carbon-free checklist designation to encourage 'green birding', and voice-responsive data entry for the phone app are some ideas. I'm sure readers have dozens of others, and I love to hear them in the comments section (much better than emails since everyone can read comments).

2) I've long thought a 'birding license' an interesting idea. Hunters and fisherman need licenses, the fees often going to support conservation, so why shouldn't the same be required of birders? (And yeah, I realize hunting and fishing extract biological resources whereas birding does not.) I know an eBird registration/maintenance fee wouldn't have the same conservation value, but an eBird fee - and having one's name, sightings, and numbers show up in the database - would signify a person's desire/willingness to contribute to citizen-science and facilitate the community synergy I described.

Great Egret - Adrea alba
Canon 400mm f/4 IS DO II + 1.4x III on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/3200 at f/8, ISO 800

There are, however, an equal or greater number of reasons why a user fee would hurt the platform. Here are a few (feel free to mention others in comments). 

1) A fee structure will motivate some percentage of current users to quit the platform and therefore contract the amount of data deposited. If input drops 1%, then it doesn't matter; if it drops 30%, then that's a problem. I suspect most data comes from loyal users - the sort who would sacrifice a lot if they abandoned the platform - so it's doubtful the loss of even large numbers of casual users who submit 6 checklist a year (or only accept shared checklists) would be significant. eBird is like cocaine; it doesn't take much to get addicted and there aren't a lot of casual users.

2) I realize any fee will hit birders at the lower end of the economic spectrum hardest, but the vast majority of American birders are in a financial position to afford $50/year. More concerning for me is how any hypothetical fee would hit international birders, specifically in developing countries where $50 might be a more significant sum. The loss of those users would be a big blow to the database.

3) I imagine some of eBird's current funding is contingent on the platform remaining open-access (i.e. free to all). It's really cool that anyone can use the platform as is, but I wonder it would ever make financial sense for eBird to institute a fee. Someone at Cornell has probably done the cost-benefit analysis, but their financial situation might change in the future.

So where does all this leave us? Well, there's an easy way to reconcile everything I've discussed above; in lieu of a user fee, financial-able eBird users should donate to The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. Alternatively, it's also possible to become an official lab 'supporter' for just $44/year (link for that honor here). While the lab should not be reduced to a single project, I'm going to look at the maintenance of my newly-established membership as my annual eBird user fee. I'm honestly a bit embarrassed it took me so long to make the connection between eBird's value and my individual ability to support the lab, and I hope this post will help others from making a similar mistake. If you're an eBird user and already donate, then I'm sorry for dragging you through this! If a few people donate as a result of this silly post, then all users will benefit, right?

Next up? More distractionary drivel from my feeble bird brain, in some form or other........

If you missed the last post, check it out - it's loaded with photos of Black Skimmers and American Oystercatchers. 

American Oystercatcher - Haematopus palliatus
Canon 600mm f/4 IS on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/4000 at f/5.6, ISO 640
Extreme bokeh - all blurring in camera, not in photoshop

Black Skimmer - Rynchops niger
Canon 400mm f/4 IS DO II on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/5000 at f/5.6, ISO 640
Just kept that upper/right wing!

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Post #164 - Photographing nesting skimmers, terns, and oystercatchers at Nickerson Beach, Long Island

While visiting my family outside Philadelphia earlier this month, I snuck away for a few days of photography on Long Island. The renowned Nickerson Beach (eBird hotspot) in Nassau County is three hours from Philly (and just an hour from Central Manhattan) and heathy numbers of nesting American Oystercatchers, Common Terns, and Black Skimmers guarantee the spot heavily photographed between May and August. Chicks of those species are the main attraction, and the near constant presence of people renders Nickerson's nesters very approachable. I'd seen many memorable frames from Nickerson over the years, so I was stoked to have my first crack at this spot during my recent East Coast swing.

I'll hold the Nickerson logistics and strategies until later and offer 11 photos to show what's possible at this fantastic site. I'd planned to shoot skimmer chicks, but the presence of other photographers with their lenses trained on the same and limited number of photogenic examples was a turnoff. I want unique frames, so I abandoned the chicks, found my own space, and focused on photographing flying skimmers and feeding shorebirds instead. I had to adapt my plan, but I walked away with frames other shooters overlooked or found too challenging. My arms were useless after swinging the DX2 and 600mm for 2-3 hours each morning! Every shot in the post was taken handheld (i.e. without a tripod).

***Click the first image for a larger view, then
arrow through the rest in that better format***

Black Skimmer (with Killie minnow) - Rynchops niger 
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/1600 at f/5.6, ISO 1600
Lucky this was sharp with the slow shutter!

American Oystercatcher (with sand flea) - Haematopus palliatus
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/3200 at f/5.6, ISO 1250

American Oystercatcher - Haematopus palliatus
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/3200 at f/5.6, ISO 800

Black Skimmer (with needlefish) - Rychops niger
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/3200 at f/5.6, ISO 800

American Oystercatcher - Haematopus palliatus
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/4000 at f/5.6, ISO 500

Black Skimmer - Rynchops niger
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/3200 at f/5.6, ISO 640

Ruddy Turnstone - Arenaria interpres
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/4000 at f/5.6, ISO 640

Ruddy Turnstone - Arenaria interpres
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/4000 at f/5.6, ISO 640

American Oystercatcher - Haematopus palliatus
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/4000 at f/5.6, ISO 640

American Oystercatcher (with Sand Flea) - Haematopus palliatus
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/2000 at f/8, ISO 800

Black Skimmer - Rynchops niger
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/3200 at f/5.6, ISO 640

So, yeah, Nickerson is pretty sweet! Now, onto logistics/tips/strategies for those motivated to visit in the future!

First, parking at Nickerson Beach is FREE before 9am and after 5pm (it's $37 otherwise), the best hours for shooting. As long as you enter before 9am or after 5pm, you're gold; staff do not, for example, come around at 9:15am and ticket cars already inside. When you enter, you'll go around a sharp right-hand bend (red on above image) and see 3-4 entrance lanes in front of you. If it's before 9 or after 5, the ticket booths will be closed and cones will block all but one of the entrance lanes. Just drive through the open lane, continue another 200 yards, and turn left into the large parking lot I've marked on the map above. Park in the southeast corner (decent restrooms, open early and late), follow the trail over the dunes, and walk 300 yards east to the primary nesting area holding the highest number of birds. I saw birds in the secondary area from a distance but never checked it out since I was so wrapped up with the primary.

This is an old arial. The primary nesting area is
now filled with beautiful beach grass. It's perfect habitat.
Approx arc of summer sun through the day in yellow.

Second, the oystercatchers, terns, and skimmers nest and hatch/fledge young at different times. The oystercatchers breed May into June, the terns June into July, and the skimmers July into August. These are the loose windows, and there is leeway for each species. During my visit (August 5-8), for example, there wasn't an oystercatcher chick in sight; a few terns were still feeding young, and the skimmers were in full swing. So, you need to pick your species if you want to focus on chicks.

Black Skimmer - Rynchops niger 
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II on EOS 1DX Mark 
1/3200 at f/7.1, ISO 640

Third, the lighting can be a bit tricky as the beach runs east-west. It is important to arrive early (more on that in the next section), and shooting is mostly restricted to the eastern and western ends of the roped-off nesting areas when it's sunny. The sun does swing to the south of the colony mid-morning, but it's too steep to use by the time it does. Overcast offers a bit more positional and temporal flexibility, but you'll lose color and contrast and your auto-focus might hunt a bit more when the birds are against the dunes (if you're seeking flight shots). The sun illuminates the surf beautifully at the beginning and end of each day, and the best results are obtained from getting onto your belly and shooting parallel to the beach as birds chase the waves in and out.

Black Skimmer (with Menhaden) - Rynchops niger 
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS 1DX Mark 
1/2500 at f/4, ISO 2000

Fourth, go early and/or stay late. The sun rises between 5am and 6am and sets between 8pm and 9pm during the summer months, and the best shooting will be 2 to 2.5 hours after or before those events, respectively. If it's sunny, the rest of the day will be plagued by steep lighting, ugly shadows, and washed out colors. There are always fewer general beachgoers in the morning, so it's best to drag yourself out of bed and use those earliest hours. I arrived at 6am, shot from 6:30am to 9:00am, birded elsewhere until 5pm, and returned to shoot until sundown. Ssunrise/set times will vary over the summer, so be sure to research the times ahead of your visit.

Peregrine Falcon (eating tern fledgling) - Falco peregrinus
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS 1DX Mark 
1/1000 at f/5.6, ISO 1600

Fifth, Nickerson is NOT a good place to shoot skimmers skimming. You may get an occasional pass along the front beach, but they mostly feed on the bay behind the barrier island. There is no access to that area as far as I could tell. You'll see the feeding birds returning over the dunes and along the beach, and you'll be able to capture the sort of flight+prey shots I've shown here once you identify the feeding lanes and understand the light angles. As always, look to keep you shutter at 1/2500 (and preferably 1/3200 or 1/4000) for flight work.

Sunset Sanderlings
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/5000 at f/4, ISO 400

Lastly, there are a lot of good birding spots around Nickerson. I would particularly recommend the compact Oceanside Marine Nature Study Center (eBird hotspot, but closed Sundays and Mondays) north across the bay and the expansive Jones Beach (main eBird hotspot) to the east. Lido Beach Passive Nature Area (eBird hotspot) is virtually across the street from Nickerson and worth a quick stop if you have time to kill. Down the road, Point Lookout (eBird hotspot) can hold interesting waterfowl in winter. Birding on Long Island is generally slowest in summer, but I still found enough birds to hold my attention during my August visit.

OK, that's it for this installment. Not sure what's up next, but I'll think of something...

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Post #163 - I found some banded birds.....

I've written about banded birds previously (Post #118, September 28, 2017), but I was fortunate to find two tagged shorebirds on Long Island (NY) last week, a coincidence I will use as fodder for another entry on the topic. Before I jump into those examples, I want to quickly rewind to March of last year (2018). I was photographing at the Foster City shell bar when a flock of ~150 Marbled Godwits landed at water's edge. Scanning the group, I found a bird sporting a small leg flag. I snapped a few record shots of the subject and reported it to this website when I returned home that evening. It was an easy process, and three days later I received a certificate of appreciation for my report.

Marbled Godwit 4Y

The certificate indicates Godwit 4Y was at least a year old when he was banded in Bristol Bay, Alaska, his likely breeding ground, in June of 2008. While it's pure conjecture without sightings/data from the intervening years, it's fun to think he might have made the journey between Alaska and California 20 times in the decade since he was banded. More advanced GPS devices now permit researchers to track birds in real time, but there will always be something wondrous in imagining what a leg-banded bird does in-between sightings.

OK, let's return to this past week on Long Island. I was photographing American Oystercatchers at Nickerson Beach in Nassau County when this banded Sanderling wandered straight into my viewfinder. He's shown investigating a san flea shell an oystercatcher discarded 10 seconds prior.

Post-breeding Sanderling KCP on Long Island

The accompanying certificate reveals the bird banded in Cape May, New Jersey in May of 2016. While the bird probably nests in the Arctic and migrates to/through the mid-Atlantic each fall/winter/spring, additional sightings are necessary to piece together its individual history. The certificate does not indicate if mine is the first sighting of this bird, but it would be really interesting to know that and the locations/dates of previous reports, if they exist. This bird seems to frequent a heavily-birded stretch of the eastern seaboard, so it's very possible someone reported him before I did. I doubt that information is publicly accessible, but someone might know something I don't.

Certificate for banded Sanderling (Banderling) KCP

My other find, a Ruddy Turnstone, came from Jones Beach, just across the inlet from Nickerson. I was scanning a salt marsh from a fishing pier when this guy came walking down the railing in search of bait scraps. I was in birding mode and without my camera my that mid-morning point (light was too harsh), so I jogged the 200 yards back to the car, grabbed my rig, and returned to document my find. He'd dropped onto the pier deck in my absence, so I laid down on the wood planks to get a clear shot of his flag.

Ruddy Turnstone 812 at Jones Beach

Like the Sanderling, the turnstone was also banded in the mid-Atlantic, specifically in Delaware in 2017. We have no clue of his life history, but I can't help but wonder if he migrates through Reed's Beach on the Delaware Bay each year. Tens of thousands of shorebirds stop there to feed on horseshoe crab eggs, so it seems totally possible he could be among them. Who knows - maybe someone has reported him from there in the past?!?!

Speculation aside, finding banded birds - and specifically highly migratory examples - is a rare and satisfying occurrence, one on par with finding a rarity as far as I'm concerned. GPS tags will eventually render leg bands a technology of the past, but I'll keep looking for banded birds until then. It's a good feeling to know my casual birding might help some underpaid and overworked researcher.

If anyone cares, here is my small collection of banded birds and certificates.

That's it for now. I have some really cool photos from Long Island, so please stay tuned for those in a future post. Here's a preview showing a Ruddy Turnstone in much nicer early morning light. You gotta get low if you want your shorebird images to have impact!

Ruddy Turnstone - Arenaria interpres
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II on EOS 1DX2
1/4000 at f/5.6, ISO 640

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Post #163 - Bay Area Bar-tailed Godwit - by bike!

Opened in 1967, the San Mateo Bridge stretches 7 miles across the middle of the San Francisco Bay. It is the longest bridge in California and allows nearly 100,000 vehicles to commute between San Mateo and Hayward each day. It does not, however, feature a footpath or bicycle lane, a complication making a mid-bay crossing impossible for pedestrians and cyclists. Those can use the Dumbarton Bridge ~12 miles to the south, but detouring to that span is an impossibility for walkers and a big inconvenience for riders.

Ariel view of San Mateo Bridge 

Enter Bar-tailed Godwit, an Old World species which also breeds in Western Alaska. The bird is a rare but regular vagrant on the Pacific Coast, and I figured one would eventually appear in my Bay Area surrounds, a suspicion confirmed when an individual was recently discovered at Ora Loma Marsh in Alameda County.

Breeding plumage Bar-tailed Godwit from Adak, AK
Photo from Laura Keene (check out her flickr account)

Bar-tailed Godwit records from eBird

Though Ora Loma March is 10 straight-line miles from my apartment, the bike ban on the San Mateo Bridge would force me south to the Dumbarton, a circumstance rendering the vagrant godwit 34 riding-miles from my home. At 68 miles round-trip, my pursuit would need be calculated and organized to maximize the prospect of success.

My godwit pursuit

The initial godwit report - not posted until 10pm Sunday, July 21st - noted the bird was observed on the late-afternoon high tide that day. The reflexive approach would have been to aim for the same tide on Monday, but I wanted to know the bird had established a minimal pattern before investing 68 riding miles into it. A 5- to 6-hour bike chase can wipe me out through the following day as well, so I need to be selective in which birds I chase. I'm generally willing to concede short-staying vagrants (i.e. one day wonders) to ensure a higher overall success rate on chasing birds which remain in their discovery areas. I can chase a rarity that is 15 miles away (~1 hour) without thought, but the calculation steepens as the intervening distance grows. It's a similar calculation in the car, albeit with infinitely fewer variables in the equation.

Panorama of Ora Loma March

When the godwit was reported on the same late-afternoon high tide on Monday, I knew Tuesday was my day. I powered south out of San Mateo at 2pm, crossed the Dumbarton, and continued north along the eastern bayshore to arrive at Ora Loma at 4:20pm. The rising water had already concentrated hundreds of shorebirds in the marsh, and another birder (James Watts) and I split the task of scanning the roosting throngs, him from one end of the assembly and me from the other. James spotted the bird within a few minutes, and I bounded the 100 yards to his scope for a killer view of the sought rarity. The bird spent the next hour resting and preening before being flushed by a low-flying Turkey Vulture at 5:30pm. Half a dozen others arrived in that interval, and all enjoyed point-blank views of the rare shorebird.

Phonescoped winter plumage Bar-tailed Godwit
Bay Area bike bird #288
Traditional ABA bird #733 (#731 Lower 48)

The WNW headwind riding back across the Dumbarton and along the western bayshore was heavily impeding, but I fought through it and returned home at 8:20pm. Bike-birding celebrations are always broken into two parts, the first half in the field when the bird is observed and the second half when I return home safely. The godwit was my longest single-day chase since moving to the Bay Area, so my sofa felt great when I finally collapsed onto it to watch Deadliest Catch at 9pm!

It's worth mentioning the godwit was seen again at 7pm on Tuesday evening (after I'd departed) but not on subsequent days. In this instance, delaying for a day was the perfect move, but I'm sure I'll get burned at some point. It's inevitable in this game......

Friday, July 26, 2019

Post #162 - Epic bike-birding battle with Parakeet Auklet

There have been some epic rivalries in my lifetime: Red Sox versus Yankees, PC versus Mac, the Empire versus the Rebel Alliance. None, however, can hold a candle to Dorian versus Parakeet Auklet, an unrelenting 3-year battle that finally resolved this past week. To fully understand the struggle, I offer the following background and history.

Parakeet Auklets in Alaska. I haven't birded AK, so
Marc Kramer (birdingbybus) hooked me up with this shot.

Parakeet Auklet is a small member of Alcidae, a Northern Hemisphere bird family including murres, guillemots, auklets, murrelets, and puffins. Collectively and commonly referred to as Alcids, they share a general black-and-white color scheme, strong underwater swimming abilities, and an endearing terrestrial clumsiness. If you don't think Parakeets Auklets are super cute, then you have no soul.

This one from Tom Ford-Hutchinson, also from Alaska

Parakeet Auklets breed colonially on cliffs around the Bering Sea and adjacent bodies but disperse to sea during the non-breeding season. We don't know much about their pelagic wintering grounds, but at least a few reach waters off Washington, Oregon, and California each year. Though there are a few coastal records, but pelagic trips from Westport, Washington offer the best chances of observing this species in the lower 48 states. 

Parakeet Auklet eBird records for summer (L) and winter (R)

Given that background, it was hella unexpected when a representative appeared at Land's End in San Francisco on July 13th, 2016. There is only one eBird record for that bird - likely because it vanished before others could pursue/relocate it - but the unlikely story renews when the presumed same bird reappeared at Land's End a year later, on July 16th, 2017. I'd moved to San Mateo in May, so I jumped into the car and sped to San Francisco with hopes of adding the unlikely auklet to my ABA list. My Bay Area Bike List hadn't become the obsession it is now, and I didn't want to risk the bird disappearing given its brief stay the previous year. I missed the bird on that first try, July 16th, but secured it on my second two days later. Yay.

The area the auklet had favored each July

It was really sweet to see such a cool bird outside its usual range, but the euphoria waned in subsequent days, mostly because I knew I could have biked the 46 round-trip miles instead of driving them. Regret eventually overcame me, and I biked back to Land's End to redeem the auklet on July 21st. I was unsuccessful on that day, and I missed a second time on July 23rd before leaving for Philadelphia a few days later. By the time I returned from the East Coast, the auklet had departed. Boo.

I thought 2017 was the end of the story, but the bird reappeared for a third July in 2018. It stayed for the better part of a month, but I was in Colombia during his entire visit. We couldn't properly renew our rivalry with me away, but I could almost hear the bird mocking me from a distance. Ugh.

Fast forward to 2019. The damn thing comes back for a fourth consecutive July, but I'm in Colombia again. (And yeah, I know it's totally neurotic to monitor the CA list while traveling.) Fortunately, the bird stuck around, and I returned to the Bay Area to make another self-powered attempt on the 12th. Result? Miss. Undeterred, I made an additional attempt on the 16th. Result? Another dip. My addictive personality in full effect, I made yet another attempt on the 20th. Result? Booyah!

Phonescoped record shot of SF Parakeet Auklet

A group of ten of us had nice views of the bird as it fed and preened in the surf below its favored Hermit Rock. It was really great to share the bird with others, most of whom had missed it previously. The auklet was a tremendous bike-birding triumph, one requiring 5 trips and 230 miles of cumulative riding (46 miles per attempt). I'm sure there will be more chases - bike and car - in my future, but I doubt I'll ever chase another individual rarity 7 times (twice by car in 2017, twice by bike in 2017, and thrice by bike in 2019)!

More adventure coming, so please stay tuned. Also, here's a recap of my recent Colombia Photobirding trip for Alvaro's Adventures. It was really sweet!

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Post #161 - Recap of my Colombia Photobirding tour for Alvaro's Adventures

My inaugural Colombian Photobirding Adventure for Alvaro's Adventures was an unbelievable success! We found 376 species in 11 days and experienced no logistical snafus save for a local protest blocking one of the main inter-Andean arteries. That impromptu rock-and-log blockade forced an hour detour, but understanding participants absorbed the delay without grumbling. Driving in Colombia - as in much of Latin America - is notoriously inefficient, and roadside drama is par for the course. Whether it's cows crossing the road, an overturned sugarcane truck, or a dancing mob of soccer fans, Colombian travel is always an adventure!

The intrepid octet with Howler Monkey accompaniment at 
Otún Quimbaya (Colombian co-leader Andrea Beltrán at far right)

As for birds, our incredible total featured 46 species of hummingbirds, 9 species of parrots/parakeets, 11 species of antpitta (9 seen), 8 species of tapaculos, 24 species of furnarids, 44 species of flycatchers, 7 species of cotingas, and too many colorful tanagers to count. Notably, we tallied 18 Colombian endemics, 15 seen and 3 heard-only.

***all photos taken at sites visited during the tour***

Sword-billed Hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera) against cloud
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS 1DX2
1/250 at f/7.1, ISO 500, fill flash at 1/16

Green-and-black Fruiteater - Pipreola riefferii
Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 IS II on EOS 1DX2
1/100 at f/7.1, ISO 2000

Our tour started in Cali and visited a wide array of elevational habitats between 3,000 and 13,655 feet in the Western and Central (930 to 4,138 meters) before terminating around Manizales and Pereira. For those unfamiliar with South American topography, it is vital to understand that the Andes trifurcate into three discrete ranges in Colombia. Species have evolved independently in each branch, and most of Colombia's endemics are found in and between the three ranges (all but one of the rest - Chiribiquet Emerald - evolved in the isolated Santa Marta Mountains on the Caribbean Coast). With time in both the Western and Central Andes, we were afforded a very wide sample of Colombia's diverse and highly-specialized avifauna.

Chestnut-bellied Flowerpiercer - Diglossa gloriosissima
Colombian endemic found only in the Western Andes
Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 IS II on EOS 5D4
1/320 at f/5.6, ISO 1600

Video at Tatamá National Park where we saw Chestnut-bellied
Flowerpiercer, Munchique Wood-Wren, and Gold-ringed Tanager

We designed this tour with photographers in mind, and clients had fabulous photo opportunities at many of the sites we visited. All participants birded together in the mornings, and the two die-hard photographers usually split off to do their thing at lodge feeders in the afternoon. The balance worked really well, and even self-described 'hardcore' birders had their cameras glued to their faces for much of the trip. With point-black views of so many incredible birds, everyone went home happy!

Crescent-faced Antpitta - Grallaricula lineifrons
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II on EOS 1DX2
1/80 at f/5.6, ISO 2000

Thick-billed Euphonia - Euphonia laniirostris
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II +1.4x II on EOS 1DX2
1/200 at f/8, ISO 1600

So, that's a very cursory overview of what transpired on our tour, none of which would have been possible without our wonderful ground operator Andre Beltrán of Birding and Herping. She was brilliant with the birds and a master of logistics, and I cannot praise her personality and professionalism enough. Andrea, Alvaro, and I are already planning next year's iteration; it will run late-June into early-July and probably be a day longer than this first run. Please contact me if you are interested in securing a spot. We only took 8 clients this year, so book early to make sure you aren't left behind!

It doesn't get any better than Termales del Ruiz!

Birders enjoying dinner at Tinamu Lodge.
Spectacled Owl flew in while we were eating!

You get the idea. Colombia is awesome. Come with us next year. And in case you're still waffling, here are a few more shots to convince you!

Rufous Antpitta - Grallaria rufula
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II on EOS 1DX2
1/80 at f/5.6, ISO 2000

Andean Motmot - Motmot aequatorialis
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS 1DX2
1/200 at f/7.1, ISO 1600

Buff-tailed Coronets - Boissonneaua flavescens
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II on EOS 1DX2
1/100 at f/9, ISO 1600, fill flash