Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Destinations: Costa Rican Bird Route - Costa Rica

The Costa Rican Bird Route is a bird-oriented eco-tourism destination. Located in north-east Costa Rica, it was the first project of its kind in all Central America and offers a great variety of birding and wildlife-watching opportunities. The actual route consists of 13 nature reserves within 12 official sites, specifically chosen for their high diversity of birds. The region is also the last remaining habitat of the endangered Great Green Macaw Ara ambigua and is thus the best place anywhere to see this wonderful but rare bird. By visiting the CRBR you are supporting conservation efforts in a region under threat. The CRBR is run by the Rain Forest Biodiversity Group. Check out their website where you will find all you need to know about this dedicated group of conservation, their work and also much to help you plan a trip to Costa Rica.

Monday, 28 December 2009

Guide Books: Chinese Wildlife

The cover of this handy guide to the wildlife of China is a colour photo of, yes, you guessed it, a Giant Panda. A stunning photo of a Snow Leopard graces the back cover. But this 202-page colourful book, in the Bradt Series, covers much more than the familiar species. There are main chapters on Landscape, Habitats, Mammals, Birds, Reptiles, Amphibians, Fish, Invertebrates and very useful Making The Most Of It and Where To Go. Chinese Wildlife is
the only English language book on China dedicated solely to wildlife and author Martin Walters has covered a great deal and packs in many tips for the visitor. The book is illustrated by over 300 colour photos by Heather Angel, many of them really mouth-watering. China is not only about the Great Wall, and this book proves it.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Destinations: Hortobagy National Park - Hungary

The Hortobagy is a flat region of grasslands, marshes and farmland dotted with large man-made fish-farms in the east of Hungary. This is above all a great birding area with species such as Pygmy Cormorant, Great Bustard, Saker, Red-footed Falcon and Aquatic Warbler breeding. On migration there over 100,000 Common Cranes, 100s of Dotterel and some Lesser White-fronted and Red-breasted Geese. Road 33, from Tiszafured to Debrecen, cuts right through the park and there is a visitor centre by the road in Hortobagy village. With the possible exception of the depths of cold winters the Hortobagy is worth a visit at any time of year.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Destinations: Everglades National Park - USA

The Everglades National Park lies at the very southern tip of Florida. This vast sub-tropical wetland is a paradise for birds and birdwatchers but also a great place to see American Alligators up close. Visiting is easy as roads into the area are good and board-walks run into some of the swamps and hardwood hammocks. There are also excellent Visitor's Centres at Everglades City, Shark Valley, Flamingo and Homestead, where everything you will need to explore the area is available: maps, books, guides, boat-trips, accommodation info etc. Once in the Everglades it is hard to believe the huge metropolis of Miami is so close.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Guide Books: Peruvian Wildlife

Peru is another great destination for lovers of wildlife. The full title of this Bradt wildlife guide is Peruvian Wildlife: A visitor's guide to the Central Andes, and that sums it up, for it is the Andes that will be the focus of any tour to this country. Indeed, this colourful (with over 220 photographs and clear colour maps) book mainly deals with the plant and animal species found at 3000m and above in 144 pages. Hotspots like Lake Titicaca, Machu Picchu and The Inca Trail are, of course, detailed and the are also sections on the Manu National Park and Inca traditions. This is a very useful pocket-sized guide.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Wildlife: Orca

The Orca Orcinus orca (aka Killer Whale) is actually the largest dolphin and not a whale at all.
It is one of those animals that everyone has heard of and that few would not want to see in the wild (many have seen them in captivity). Orcas have a striking black and white pattern and a prominent dorsal fin. They are superb and expert predators, eating large fish, seals, penguins and even other cetaceans. They travel and hunt in family groups called pods and are widespread throughout the colder ocean waters.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Wildlife: Silver-washed Fritillary

The Silver-washed Fritillary Argynnis paphia is a superb woodland butterfly which is common in summer (June-August) in the warmer parts of continental Europe. In Britain, however, it is more scarce, only found in some places in the south. They can have a wingspan of 6cm and have a strong, gliding flight. They are often seen in groups and make great photographic subjects, often keeping still when on plants.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Guide Books: A Birder's Guide To The Rio Grande Valley of Texas

Now in its 4th edition, this excellent site guide is published by the American Birding Association (ABA). Written by four birders with great experience of Texas and its birds, the book contains just about all the information any birder will need to embark on a "do-it-yourself" birding trip to the area. Numerous maps, detailed site information, notes on speciality birds, lists, campground addresses, and all kinds of advice and tips. A Birder's Guide To The Rio Grande Valley of Texas will get you to the best spots and maximise the number of birds you will see. It is available direct from the ABA and from most on-line wildlife and bird book sellers.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Wildlife: Snow Leopard

The Snow Leopard Uncia uncia is a secretive big cat that lives in the high, rocky, rugged mountains of Central Asia. It is an endangered species with between 3500 and 7000 thought to be in the wild. Countries where they are found include Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Nepal, southern Russia, Talikistan and Uzbekistan. Snow Leopards typically live above 3000 metres (about 9800 feet). They are notoriously difficult to see, though in recent years local guides and researchers in some of the above countries have started to take visitors on treks to track them and observe them. For more on this magnificent animal see the Snow Leopard Trust.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Guide Books: Sri Lankan Wildlife

For its size (about half that of England) Sri Lanka is incredibly packed with wildlife. There are Asian Elephant, Leopard, Sloth Bear, many exotic birds, a host of curious reptiles and more insects than anyone will be able to take in. Numerous species are endemics, too. No wonder then that Sri Lanka is a popular wildlife destination. This colourful guidebook (144 pages with 144 photos) is written by acknowledged expert Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne and follows the usual Bradt format with chapters on Habitats and Reserves, Mammals, Birds, Reptiles and Amphibians, Invertebrates and The Underwater World. There are also sections on Independant Travel, Tours, Photography Tips and more. Lists of books for further reading and conservation societies are particular good. All in all, most of the background and prep reading you will need is here in one handy book that can slip into your hand luggage or rucksack.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Destinations: Liminka Bay - Finland

Liminka Bay lies on Finland's western coast, in the Bay of Bothnia. The city of Oulu is just to the north. The bay is one of Finland's best birdwatching areas with the Liminganlahti Bird Sanctuary (WWF funded) at its heart. The best times to visit are May and August and September when migration is in full swing and wildfowl and waders are most numerous. There is an excellent information centre (see photo) which is well signposted from the nearby main road by Liminka village. Several trails and board-walks with birdwatching towers run from the centre and guides can also be hired. There is also hostel-type accommodation here.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Wildlife: Blue Whale

The Blue Whale Balaenoptera musculus is found in all the oceans of the world, though it is not as widespread as it once was. Sadly, whaling took its tool on this magnificent beast. It has been officially protected since 1967. Blue Whales summer in warmer regions, where they breed, and winter in cooler temperate and polar regions. The Blue Whale is the largest animal on our planet but feeds almost totally on tiny crustaceans. To see Blue Whales it will probably be necessary to join an organised whale-watching cruise.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Guide Books: New Zealand Wildlife

New Zealand is a unique wildlife destination that has a remarkable range of landscapes and habitats from the sea to Alpine-uplands. The islands are also home to many endemic species such as the famous flightless Kiwi (2 species in fact). Bradt's New Zealand Wildlife guide provides an ideal overview of the wildlife of this fascinating archipelago. There are main chapters on The Land, Habitats, Birds, Mammals, Reptiles, Amphibians and Freshwater Fish, Invertebrates, Plants and Fungi and also useful Where to Go and Further Information sections. Indeed author Julian Fitter has crammed a mass of information into just 192 pages. The book is also lavishly illustrated by over 180 colour photos and a dozen maps.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Wildlife: Fire Salamander

The Fire Salamander Salamandra salamandra is a handsome amphibian found in continental Europe. It mainly inhabits damp deciduous woodlands, usually in uplands and often by streams. Adults can reach 25cm in length and vary in colour and pattern. Most are black with bright yellow spots and stripes, though some are the opposite, being mainly yellow with black markings. Fire Salamanders are mostly nocturnal though they can be seen in daytime when crossing tracks and roads during or after rain.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Guide Books: Galapagos Wildlife

The Galapagos Islands are one of the world's most top wildlife destinations. Almost anyone who visits these unique islands, in the Pacific Ocean off the west coast Ecudaor, goes there to see the wildlife. The islands are well covered by guide books and literature on the species living there and thus reading-up and preparing for a trip is relatively easy. The simply named Galapagos Wildlife by David Horwell and Pete Oxford is a colour-photo-packed volume in the Bradt Wildlife Guides series. There are chapters on all the main animal groups (Invertebrates, Reptiles, Birds, Mammals), and on Habitats, Plants, The Seashore, Underwater and Conservation. Tips on on getting there, landing and visiting are accompanied by clear maps (120 in total) for the key areas. All this and more is crammed into just 144 pages, ideal for hand luggage and for slipping it into ones pocket once there. ISBN 1 84162 100 5.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Wildlife: Pine Marten

The Pine Marten Martes martes is a Mustelid: a family of small carnivores that includes weasels, minks, polecats and otters. They occur over much of Europe in mature woodlands, often areas dominated by conifer. They are often locally common but, besides being mostly nocturnal, they are often wary of humans and hence not always easy to observe. Pine Martens can be separated from their close relative the Beech Marten (aka Stone Marten) by its yellow throat (Beech has a white throat) and longer ears and legs. Photo courtesy of Heatherlea.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Wildlife: Polar Bear

The unmistakable Polar Bear Ursus maritimus is an animal just about everyone wants to see. They live in the Arctic region with populations in Canada, Alaska, Greenland, Russia and islands off Norway. And you can see them in the wild, with several destinations geared up to getting people up close, in safety, to this magnificent creature. Two well-known Polar Bear watching places are Churchill, Manitoba in Canada and the Svalbard archipelago between Norway and the North Pole where around 5000 Polar Bears are said to live. Here is a great site with all you need to know about Polar Bears including a list of responsible tour operators.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Accommodations: The Mountview Hotel - Scotland

This 3-star hotel in Nethybridge, Inverness-shire, Scotland, is a great base from which to explore the Cairngorms National Park and Speyside. It is owned and run by Heatherlea Birding and Wildlife Holidays who have a range of expertly guided excursions to see the likes of Capercaillie, Black Grouse, Ptarmigan, Dotterel, Slavonian Grebe, Golden and White-tailed Eagles and Corncrake. Mammals in the area include Otter, Pine Marten, Wild Cat, Mountain Hare and Red Deer. Longer trips to the Scottish coast and islands focus on seabirds as well as cetaceans.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Destinations: Addo Elephant Park - South Africa

Addo is conveniently situated near the Garden Route on South Africa's Cape (see map). The park was established to save the last herd of African Elephants that hung on in the region in the 19th century when all around had been shot. It's an easy park to explore with good, well marked driving routes, decent accommodation, a flood-lit waterhole and daily wildlife drives with rangers. There are only a few Lions here and indeed few other big predators but plenty to see including Buffalo, Black Rhino, Plains Zebra, Greater Kudo, Red Hartebeest, Impala, Warthog, Suricate and, of course, plenty of African Elephants. An endemic flightless Dung Beetle is another star turn at Addo and so piles of elephant dung on the roads here should be carefully driven around!

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Guide Books: Madagascar Wildlife

This is another beautiful book from Bradt packed with colour photographs of 275 species. Madagascar Wildlife is great background reading on the unique fauna of this remarkable island. Almost 300 species are covered, including, of course, the famous lemurs but also many incredible birds and insects. Newly discovered species and recently protected habitats are all dealt with, too, and practical advice on visiting the key national parks and reserves. There are also special features on the evolution, camouflage, night-time wildlife and conservation. Though rather slim (at 176 pages) authors Hilary Bradt, Nick Garbutt and Derek Schuurman have put together a superb practical guide. ISBN 978 1 84162 245 3.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Destinations: Krka National Park - Croatia

The Krka National Park lies in Central Dalmatia, in Croatia, along the scenic, often rushing Krka River. Krka is home to a good range of reptiles, such as Hermann's Tortoise, Moorish Gecko, Balkan Green Lizard, Dalmatian Wall Lizard, Dalmatian Algyroides, European Glass Lizard and Leopard Snake. Common birds include Yellow-legged Gull, Scops Owl, Cetti's and Subalpine Warblers, Spanish Sparrow, Blue Rock Thrush, Western Rock Nuthatch and Cirl Bunting. Pygmy Cormorants are increasing and Rock Partridge not uncommon. In summer Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush can be seen. Raptors include Short-toed and Golden Eagles. In summer butterflies, such as the endemic Dalmatian Ringlet, abound and dragonflies hawk over the numerous waters. In peak holiday periods the areas around the waterfalls here can be crowded, so best to visit "off-peak" or on a working day. Also, beware of going "off the beaten track", meaning walking off marked trails as there are areas here where mine-fields have yet to be cleared and some places are not well marked. Krka NP lies just inland from Sibenik, just over an hour from Split.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Accommodations: Serra dos Tucanos - Brazil

Serra dos Tucanos is an excellent small lodge within the Tres Picos State Park, south-east Brazil. This is a great base from which to explore the Atlantic rain forest where over 100 endemic birds occur - around 200 species have been seen in the lodge's grounds! Serra dos Tucanos caters specifically for birdwatchers, but naturalists and nature-lovers of all kinds are very welcome. There are landscaped gardens with two small rivers winding through them and adjacent rain forest where an array of flowering and fruiting trees attract a rich fauna including hummingbirds, tanagers, parrots and toucanets. When it rains many of these birds can be watched close-by at feeders on and near the veranda. Thus this is a great lodge for photographers. The en-suite rooms are pleasant, there is an outdoor swimming pool and traditional meals are prepared on site. All in all, this is a fine birding lodge.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Guide Books: Slovakia

This fact-filled book is the only English language guidebook devoted to this small central-eastern European country. First published by Bradt in 2007 it is written by Lucy Mallows, who lived in Slovakia for several years. It is impeccably researched and a must for all visitors to the country including those who love the outdoors and those in search of wildlife. It is also lavishly illustrated with colour photos. ISBN-10: 1 84162 188 9.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Wildlife: Wolf

The Wolf (aka Grey Wolf) Canis lupus is surely one of the most noble animals on the planet. Seeing a real, live, wild Wolf is not easy. In some parts of the world, for example in Canada, Russia and Romania, they are not as rare as they once were, however they are wary creatures, usually keeping well away from humans. Some tour companies organise wolf tracking and watching tours (in N America, Poland, Romania, Finland, Spain, etc) and joining one of these is often the best way to maximize one's chances of seeing this carnivore. Yellowstone National Park in the USA is one of the few places were wolves are possible to observe without joining a tour, though even here up-to-date local information will still be needed.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Destinations: Tatras National Park - Poland

The Tatras National Park (Tatrzanski NP) in southern Poland, lies right on the border with Slovakia. This is Poland's highest mountain range and is mostly rugged, hiking country. The highest peak is Rysy (2499 m). Forests reach up to around 1800 m and above that is dwarf pine and pastures and boulder and scree country dotted with tarns. The gateway to the highest peaks is the city of Zakopane (a major winter sport centre) which is about 110 km south of Krakow by road. Key birds at the higher elevations are Alpine Accentor, Water Pipit, Lesser Redpoll and Wallcreeper. Though difficult to see, being shy of people, there are Wolf and Brown Bear. Alpine Marmots and Chamois are also here and easier to observe. Other birds are Golden Eagle, Willow and Crested Tits, Nutcracker and indeed most of the typical Alpine-forest songbirds one would expect. In suitable old forests there are also Ural, Pygmy and Tengmalm's Owls, Hazel Grouse and White-backed and Three-toed Woodpeckers. A convenient cable-car runs up into the high peaks from Kuznice near Zakopane.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Guide Books: Mediterranean Islands

Published in 2008 this excellent book is the "all you need to know" about the Med's islands. Over 1000 islands are covered from large, populated ones like Sardinia and Malta to tiny uninhabited islets. There are sections on tourism, ecology, geology, history, wildlife, vegetation and more. The book is packed with information and data, including 300 maps, and illustrated with 290 colour photographs, some of them superb. Each section is written by an expert on the subject and the whole volume carefully compiled and edited by Charles Arnold. Wildlife watchers and birders can greatly enhance their explorations of the Mediterranean by using this this book and it is great value at 20 pounds. ISBN: 978-0-9556489-1-5. Visit the book's website: MediterraneanIslands

Monday, 26 October 2009

Destinations: Iwokrama - Guyana

Iwokrama (full title is the Iwokrama International Centre for Rainforest Conservation and Development) is a wonderful example of how science, conservation, eco-tourism and a local community, can work together to protect an endangered habitat. In this case almost one million acres of tropical rainforest and wetlands in central Guyana. The facts and figures are impressive... the highest number of bat species in the world, the world's largest freshwater fish (the Arapaima), Giant Otters, Black Caimans, Jaguars and Harpy Eagle and 100s of species of rainforest birds. And you can stay there in comfortable chalets and be shown around by expert guides! See the Iwokrama website at: www.iwokrama.org

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Destinations: Tres Picos State Park - Brazil

The Atlantic Rain Forest (Mata Altantica) in SE Brazil is an area of very high bio-diversity. At the heart of the region is the 46,000 hectare Tres Picos State Park which lies around 2 hours north of Rio de Janeiro by road. Tres Picos is particularly rich in birds with over 100 endemic species amongst its 450 species. Endemics in and around the Park include Solitary Tinamou, Maroon-bellied Parakeet, Plain Parakeet, Saffron Toucanet, Black-capped Foliage Gleaner, White-throated Woodcreeper, Spot-backed Antshrike, Spot-breasted Antvireo, Scaled Antbird, Ruby-crowned Tanager, Brazilian Tanager, Three-toed Jacamar, Chestnut-bellied Euphonia, Saw-billed Hermit, Sombre Hummingbird, Black Jacobin, Violet-capped Woodnymph and Brazilian Ruby. Of course there are many other great birds, and other wildlife, too!

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Destinations: Danube Delta - Romania

Around 82% of the delta of the River Danube lies in Romania (18% is in the Ukraine). This fantastic wetland is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of some 5800 km2, including the steppes and coastal lagoons to its south. It is a particulary good birding destination (European White Pelicans in the photo here) though in season dragonflies abound and mammals include European mink, which is now sadly very rare elsewhere in Europe. The only way to really explore the delta is by boat and the inland port of Tulcea is the gateway. Most tours start from Tulcea and given the size and logistics involved, it is usually best to join an organised group birding tour.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Wildlife: Blond-crested Woodpecker

There are some great looking woodpeckers on the planet and Blond-crested Woodpecker Celeus flavescens is right up there with the best. This spectacular bird is found in South America, from eastern Brazil south into Paraguay and Argentina. It's most striking feature is it's long blond crest which contrasts sharply with the rest of it's dark plumage. Although essentially a forest bird, it regularly visits lodges in its range where fruit is placed out for birds.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Guide Books: South African Wildlife: A Visitor's Guide

This colourful guide in the Bradt Wildlife Guides series is a solid background reading for a trip to South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland or Zimbabwe. The author Mike Unwin has packed as much info and photos as possible into 284 pages. Chapters includes Habitats, Mammals, Birds, Herps, Invertebrates and Tracks and Signs. Besides the big star mammals like Lion, Leopard, Elephant and the Rhinos, the mutitude of other, often equally exciting little creatures, get good coverage, though of course everything could not be covered. It is not a true "field guide" but a book that is well worth getting in advance of a trip to the region to provide insight and overview. ISBN-10: 1 84162 060 2.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Destinations: Guyana

Guyana is a great destination for wildlife watching. It lies on the north-east shoulder of South America and is the only country on that continent where English is the main language. There is a 459km long coastline, savannas in the south and vast forests of which 80% are pristine. There are some truly fantastic landscapes and sights such as the 228m high Kaieteur Falls, too. Mammals include Manatee, Jaguar, Giant Anteater, Capybara, Agouti, Tapir, Giant River Otter, Red Howler Monkey and Black Spider Monkey. Reptiles include Black Caiman and Anaconda. There are over 800 bird species including some real gems like Scarlet Ibis, Sungrebe, Sunbittern, Scarlet Macaw, Red-fan Parrot, Blood-coloured Woodpecker, Guianan Cock-of-the-Rock and Harpy Eagle, as well as numerous other antbirds, cotingas, woodcreepers, birds of prey, curassows, guans, parrots, parakeets, nightjars, potoos, hummingbirds, trogons, kingfishers, jacamars and toucans. Guyana is one of the poorest countries in the region and away from the capital Georgetown remote lodges are of varying standard. But these are the places you will want to stay at to be at the heart of the largely untouched forests and close to the wildlife. The photo here is of a Manatee surfacing in a channel in the capital Georgetown.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Wildlife: European Bison

The European Bison Bison bonasus (aka Wisent) is a huge, impressive herbivore that lives in mainly in mature deciduous forests. Big bulls can stand at almost 2 metres at the shoulder. They are often nocturnal, herds of up to 30 resting by day. It was brought back from the verge of extinction in the early 20th century and today the place to visit to see this animal in the wild is Poland. In particular the Bialowieza National Park, in the very east on the Belarus border, is a key area and park rangers here often know where the bison are to be found.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Destinations

Where are the best places to glimpse Leopards? Get close to Great Bustards? Admire Aardvarks? Video Wallcreepers? Watch Whales? Track Wolves ? Photograph Crocodiles and Caimans ? Quite simply, where are the best places on the planet to watch wildlife? Who are the best local guides ? Who are the responsible operators that you should travel with? Lots of questions. This blog intends to help you answer them... watch this space!