Tanzania Black Neck Crane

May 4, 2023

A Guide to Our Top 5 Bird-Centric Trips

- By Jules Torti

Continue reading A Guide to Our Top 5 Bird-Centric Trips

On May 4th, the informal observation of Star Wars Day kinda steals the limelight (lightsaber?) from our feathered friends. Of course, we wish the fourth to be with you but, it’s also National Bird Day. A Pennsylvania school superintendent established the inaugural Bird Day back in 1894 (ahem, long before Star Wars!). Charles Almanzo Babcok’s holiday concept was the first to wholly dedicate a day to the celebration of birds–and what a pure joy they are.

Fittingly, as I sit in my remote office on the northern Bruce Peninsula in Ontario, Blackburnian warblers are streaking through the cedars behind my house. I can see a flotilla of mergansers and buffleheads on the lake. Last week our first loon cried out, its otherworldly haunting call echoing through the woods. The sandhill cranes have returned as well–which means it’s time to get the hummingbird feeder full and swinging for their return. Since my wife and I moved here five years ago, I’ve tracked the annual first sightings of bird species (and snakes, fireflies, porcupines and beavers too)–the natural patterns are a quick reminder of the awesome phenomena of nature and the enormous migratory journey that birds undertake.

For the twitchers, listers and birdists out there, every day is bird day, right? If you’re like me, travel destinations involve birds too. In February, when Kim and I went on the Patagonia Hiking Adventure in Patagonia (Chile), the first research I did was on birds–what can we see? I drafted a dream list in no time: Andean condors, Chilean flamingos, Magellanic penguins, long-tailed meadowlarks, rheas, crested caracaras, austral parakeets…

Crested caracara

We can travel with the best bird intentions but often it’s the unexpected sighting that trumps everything–like seeing a barn owl in a cave on Santa Cruz Island on the Galapagos Islands Yacht Adventure. A barn owl! In Ecuador! I was already on a bird high seeing endemics like the flightless cormorant, the Galápagos mockingbird and Galápagos penguin, boobies, lava herons and frigatebirds. For birders seasoned and new, the Galápagos Islands are a total bird nirvana–you can expect super close encounters with the birds (an experience that will spoil you forever!).

Blue footed booby

Here’s a quick reference highlight reel to Wild Women Expeditions’ top 5 bird-centric trips from the Serengeti to the Amazon:

Helmeted guinea fowl

1. Tanzania Safari

On safari, you immediately become part of the most incredible 11-day long scavenger hunt ever. From elegant grey-crowned cranes to helmeted guinea fowl, dashing lilac-breasted rollers and Kori bustards, every game drive is a beautiful surprise. There will be plantain-eaters, ostrich by the dozen, jacanas, oystercatchers, shoebills and hammerkops! The Wild Women Expedition guides on this trip are expert bird fanatics and each Land Cruiser has a field guide for the birds of East Africa. Wild Women Expeditions provides you with a checklist so you can document your sightings!

Common crane

2. Bhutan Hiking Adventure

Visit the natural sanctuary for hundreds of rare black-necked cranes that arrive annually during the last week of October from the Tibetan plateau to roost for the winter amongst the farms and villages. 

The crane is considered sacred and there’s even a festival dedicated to the bird’s return. The Black-necked species has an 8-foot wingspan and is the only alpine crane in the world. They favour the dwarf bamboo that grows in the valley’s alpine wetlands. In the Phobjikha Valley, locals honor and protect these elegant cranes as it is believed that they are connected to bountiful harvests and prosperity.

Bali bird

3. Bali Explorer

In West Bali National Park, grab a seat on the safari jeep tour and feel the pulse of the savannah and monsoon forest before stopping at the Bali Starling Sanctuary to learn more about the critically endangered species and the successful breeding and reintroduction program. When the project began in 2006, there were less than 10 surviving myna starlings. Now, more than 100 starlings inhabit the sanctuary.

4. India Horseback Riding Tour

Khichan is famous for the arrival of the Demoiselle cranes that roost here during the winter season (October to March). The birds migrate from the Mongolian steppes and at the peak (December to February) their numbers reach over 10,000 which is quite a mesmerizing sight to witness!

5. Peru Explorer

Observe the mad skills of birds fishing the depths and see the primitive-looking hoatzin (Shansho) eating leaves (see image above) on this deep Amazonian experience. The Neotropical hoatzin bird is saddled with a poor digestive system–it can take up to 45 hours for them to digest fermenting leaves! They are easy to spot as they spend over 80% of their time in lounge mode. On Sandoval Lake, you’ll also be in the company of hundreds of blue and yellow and red-breasted macaws returning to the cover of the palm forest at night. This area is also home to the very curious capuchin monkey–you will be able to watch their treetop antics from the boat.

Ready for a little bird homework? These books and Bryony’s blog will get you in the proper groove.

Field Notes from an Unintentional Birder by Julia Zarankin

A newbie birder “auditioning hobbies” after a divorce and career transition finds solace and wonder in the world of birdwatching.

To See Every Bird by Dan Koeppel

A lifelong obsession and kingfisher dive into the subculture of birding and 25 years tracking over 7,000 species–this is one human’s incredible attempt to see every bird on earth.

Be sure to follow writer + girl birder, Bryony Angell! As she suggests, “Birding is your next big thing, girlfriend! Join the flock!” Bryony writes about the pastime and culture of birding from the female perspective. She’s been published in National Audubon and Bird Watcher’s Digest, so she has chops!

Don’t forget, magnificent birds are everywhere. To celebrate Bird Day, take a walk in your closest green space and enjoy the local birdsong while you plot your next bird-centric trip with Wild Women Expeditions! I’m thinking purple swamphens, fantails, kea parrots and tomtits on the South Island of Wild Women Expeditions New Zealand Hiking Adventure in 2024!

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