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:

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


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!