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Birding while traveling, or traveling TO bird?

How many of us travel forum members seek out birds while on a trip, or, better yet, take a trip just to see a particular bird? I’m an amateur bird watcher and a member of Audubon for at least 20 years now and recently came across a website that highlights different bird and animal species called explore.org. Below is a link to the website. I particularly enjoy seeing the sandhill crane migration at the Rowe Sanctuary at the Platte River in Nebraska using this live camera feed. Have never been there but you know, i might just travel there to see these wonderful birds. Anybody here travel to see birds?
[explore.org][1]
https://explore.org/livecams/national-audubon-society/crane-camera?emci=720dd678-1f97-eb11-85aa-0050f237abef&emdi=1eae147d-a197-eb11-85aa-0050f237abef&ceid=3878250

Posted by
3789 posts

I can't recall an entire trip only to see birds, but I know adding birding to my travels, particularly as a solo traveler, has certainly enhanced my travel these past 10 years. It is one of the few aspects of travel I splurge on for local guides. I don't take global organized tours, as unfortunately, birding is a niche market and they charge for the luxury.
Though Canadian, I have enjoyed participating in local Audubon birding outings if there is one in my area when traveling south of the border. Most are generous to traveling guests. Often a guide means a private trip, so the down time offers chats about so much more. I find having a common interest means a relaxed camaraderie which is such a change from the normal travel days when I have to 'do it all' and taking in so much new stuff. Sometimes my brain needs a break and my soloness needs some human interaction.
Adding in birding means equipment and clothing, so trying to 'pack light' particularly for extended travel, takes some planning and investment - but so worth it :-)

Posted by
4882 posts

We always take binoculars with us on any trip and more often than not also our lightweight scope and a tripod. We leave the heavier Swarovski at home since buying the lightweight scope. We always take a checked bag unless on a short week long city break, as we also have half ton of his camera equipment to also carry.

We have been on a few organised birding tours, but the prices have rocketed in the past 5 years. We had an appalling experience with Naturetrek in Bolivia which put us off group tours. We had an excellent birding, wildlife and culture holiday last year just before the pandemic hit on a private tour in Sri Lanka with Walk with Jith. It was cheaper than trying to organise this ourselves. Highly recommended.

For Europe, we have the definitive Collins Bird Guide app on phones and tablets. It’s easier than carrying our paper copy. Before any trip, we read reports on cloudbirders.com to find the best local sights.

Posted by
3789 posts

I like fatbirder website for researching IBAs, ramstar sites, businesses and companies that support birding in whatever country I am interested in. That plus 'hotspots' in eBird may dictate whether I diverge from the normal tourist trail for specific birding areas, or just what areas in cities are good to bird.
The added bonus is that binocs are great for seeing ceiling details in buildings.

Posted by
430 posts

A bit tangential but since you mentioned explore.org...
There's a wonderful Northern Lights live cam in Churchill Manitoba. Have spent many a night gazing since virtual is the travel mode du jour

My favorite birding spots: Scotland - Lunga island, puffins and more; Point Pelee - Lake Erie, Canada (spelling is not right); corkscrew swamp - Audubon - Florida (Immokalee, near Ft. Myers); Circle B Bar Ranch - Bartow, Florida (near Lakeland, Polk County).
Birding is fun. Great way to stretch our boundaries and see territory we, otherwise, would not notice.

Posted by
1365 posts

I'm one of those folks that likes to bird while traveling but haven't traveled just to Bird. Planning on primarily birding trips after retirement. In general, I haven't done much birding in Europe since much of my travel there is to cities and towns.

Have enjoyed the birding in India, Ethiopia, Eastern & Southern Africa, parts of the Caribbean, Northern S America (Guyana, Suriname, Fr Guiana) + Brazil, and Central America.

Next up - have 2 trips later this year to the Caribbean (Grenada, St Vincent's, DR) and just booked part of my airfare next March to Gambia and Senegal. Really looking forward to the Gambia portion.

Posted by
14409 posts

I'm not as serious as an amateur bird watcher but I do enjoy any animals in nature so I look for opportunities on my European travels. I enjoy spotting and watching storks raising their chicks in spring and "went out of my way" in Andalucia to see flamingos and to see puffins in the Shetlands, and the fairy penguins near Melbourne Australia.

I'm very lucky that here at home we have a goodly number of local birds and we have about half a Billion birds migrating through the country in spring and fall.

Posted by
725 posts

Thinking about the subject, I guess that I have actually travelled to a certain area just to see a bird for the first time. Even though I didn’t travel very far, it involved planning and an overnight stay. Every year in Othello WA, the community celebrates the sandhill crane migration and highlights many of the various land formations around the area of Yakima. The Missoula Floods created many coulee and river valleys in the area. There are huge boulders out in the middle of fields where you couldn’t imagine there being anything else but flat land.

As for taking my binoculars on trips, I do on some occasions but they are somewhat heavy and I really start to “weigh” (pardon the pun) the importance of its use. Having binoculars available to look at ceilings and other in situ masterpieces in cathedrals and churches might be a deciding factor for me to pack those heavy binoculars in the carryon.

Posted by
725 posts

Oh, and I have also connected with other Audubon groups to go on field trips if I am in the area at the right time. I visited a state park in St. Augustine FL with an Audubon group and another time, I set up an all day field trip to the Patagonia area of Arizona with Audubon. It was so much fun.

Linda,
I have traveled with small binoculars and they are still heavy and bulky. I never really used them to look at ceilings or art. I just hauled them around. So, my travel rule now is that I don’t carry binoculars unless I know I am going to view wildlife. Opera glasses may be more practical for ceilings and art work. Also, there are cheap plastic type monoculars and binoculars that are significantly lighter. Probably not the best clarity, but can do the job with much less weight.

Posted by
14409 posts

I have Nikon binoculars that weigh 14 oz. and are 5" long and about 4" wide and zoom from 8x to 24x. I've never found them bulky or particularly heavy. I take them on most of my trips and often use them to see details of buildings ceilings, stained glass, as well as birds. I've even used them at plays and concerts. I must have bought them 20 years ago. I'm sure by now there are stronger lighter ones.

Another option is a monocular.

Chani,
Binoculars are great at concerts.
Are your Nikons hard plastic? My compact Barskas with glass lenses still feel heavy. Cost range?

Posted by
8414 posts

I've done a couple of organized birding tours thru Road Scholar and they are fairly reasonably priced and the birders are pretty low key. The guides I had on both trips were excellent and I saw tons of birds.

Linda, if you want Sandhills, I'd also suggest SE Arizona in Dec-Feb which you'll have to admit is a good time to get away from the Northwest, lol!! Whitewater Draw east of Sierra Vista has thousands....the birding guide I had there estimated 15,000 the day we viewed them. I just got back from a few days in Yellowstone and saw quite a few Sandhills there. It's not unusual as they do breed there but I felt like I saw more than I usually see this time of year.

I also did a Road Scholar trip to SW FL a few Januarys ago which included Corkscrew Swamp that Sun-baked mentioned as well as Ding Darling on Sanibel Island. I stayed on Sanibel a few days on my own before the program started just to see the Roseate Spoonbills. We did see them during the program but I wanted to make sure.

I also did a Road Scholar tour of Provence that included a stop at an Ornithological park south of Arles to see Flamingos and that was one of the deciding factors in taking that particular program.

If I am going on an actual birding tour, I take my good birding binoculars. If I'm just on a regular tour I take an old pair of Nikon Sportsters that are small, 8X25 and fit easily in my purse. I do use them for ceilings and outsides of cathedrals to look at the stonework. I carried my good birding binoculars on a regular tour right after I got them and decided the weight was not worth the small amount of time I had to bird yet I always like to have something handy!

PS...in "normal" years Road Scholar usually has programs to watch the Sandhills in NE!

Posted by
725 posts

Pam, thanks for your tips on the Sandhill Cranes. I will definitely take a trip sometime in the future to Arizona in the winter for that.

Chani: it sounds like I have very similar binoculars to yours but I still find it a lot of weight to add to my carryon. If I know of a particular bird species that I have never seen before that would likely be seen on that trip, I would take the binoculars.

Sunbaked: I plan on visiting Scotland for the first time, maybe in 2023/24 and will appreciate your suggestion for Lunga Island. I viewed puffins in Seward AK on a Kenai Fjords tour/cruise about 15 years ago. It was loads of fun but my daughter felt otherwise (didn’t stomach the boat too well) Ha!

Maria, thanks for the website tips.

Posted by
1275 posts

I guess I have...
3 day bus trip w my mom to Nebraska to see sand hill cranes

Day trip out if merida Mexico to see the flamingos

South of Tampa to see the manatees at the power plant.....

Posted by
1365 posts

I'm curious what binoculars the birding folks use and if you are happy with them.

I have been using a Canon 12x36 Image Stabilizing pair for the last 5-6 years and have been very pleased. The IS negates the hand shaking and they aren't heavy.

Posted by
132 posts

I've taken a puffin trip in Maine which was very good and also in my neck of the woods I've been known to go for the weekend normally to the coast specifically for birding.

I haven't done anything internationally yet but I am oddly fascinated by flamingos and have spots in Bahamas, France and Italy that I would like to visit one day to see flamingos.

I enjoy photography so my money was invested in my telephoto lens. My binoculars are Celestron brand. They suit me just fine. When I bought they were recommended by the Audobon Society for novice birders.

Posted by
3789 posts

I started with cheap heavy Bushnells when I wasn't sure I would bird. Then in 2015 bought lighter and better Zeiss Terra EDs and I love them, but they do seem to have an eye cup fault so my women birding pals on FB don't recommend them. They are still my day to day & long trip binocs. Not sure what I will replace them with when I need to. Love the Zeiss lens, but may now be priced out of my budget.
For Christmas I got Vortex Diamondbacks 8x32 - 16 ounces roughly 4x5inches. I will admit, they are better for closer tree birding than panning distance with thousands of geese and ducks in migration - seems to be an eye strain thing...but I expect them to work fine for the forest or city birding of SEAsia or other primarily 'tourist' trips with birding attached.

Posted by
14409 posts

Mine don't have image stabilization which makes it very hard to use them at the higher magnifications without a surface to rest them on, but when I find one, the images are very good up to 24x.

I have to admit I don't carry them with me all the time because of the added weight in my backpack. More than once I've schlepped them all day and not used them; more than once I've left them behind and wished I'd taken them.

Sun-Baked yes, hard plastic. I bought them about 20 years ago so even if I remembered what they cost, it'd be irrelevant now.

Posted by
4882 posts

My bins are Swarovski 10 x 32 and are fantastic, particularly in low light. What makes the difference wearing them for days at a time is using a harness, which takes the pressure off my neck and back. My husband’s Leica bins are much heavier, but also great image quality.

Posted by
8414 posts

I agree with Jennifer...a harness makes all the difference.

I have Leopold 10X50 and they are great for me. I tried out a bunch but the barrels on these fit my hands better than some of the others. At this point I don't have trouble with image stabilization and the Leupolds. I also like the Vortex brand. I've got a Vortex scope that has good optics...not as good as Swarovski but good enough.

When I am some place like Yellowstone or on a birding adventure I put my binoculars on when I get dressed in the morning, lol!! It does lead to crumbs on my lenses at times, hahaha.

Deborah, there are also some Flamingos in the very SW of FL that might be accessible. I've not gone seeking them out nor have I looked on ebird to find locations. The ones I saw in France made me so happy even though that Ornithological "Park" had some stinky water in it's ponds. We did see Flamingos in the various rice fields around there as well.

Chani, Thanks for your response.
Linda,
Go to Oban, Scotland on the west coast. You can take a beautiful train ride there. Lovely town. There are boat trips out to Staffa and Lunga. When you get closer to your trip - you can post for more specific details. It was an easy thing to do and I still have great memories. Don’t know how much the pandemic has affected travel to Scotland.
Pam,
I didn’t know Fl. had flamingos outside of zoo’s. I don’t think they are native. I know South America has some indigenous Flamingos. But, Florida has many transplants including myself. The Flamingoes probably come here for the fresh shrimp in the keys. Roseate spoonbills are cool. Never know when I am going to see them. Always feel lucky when I do.

Posted by
3789 posts

I wonder if the flamingos in FL are runaways from the Flamingo Gardens near Weston?
Flamingos were one of my 'must see birds' from when I was a kid and even when not a birder. I have seen them in a number of places now, and though the thrill is less, they still make me smile.
I think the first time was on the bus ride from port in Tunisia in 1976 at 19...my first solo trip. But despite a good sized pink haze in the distance, it was only the guide pointing them out that I would have realized they were birds.

Maybe we should all get with Rick and write a new guide for European Birding Travel. Birding is usually socially distanced, so I think we are good to go.

Posted by
8414 posts

Sun-baked - I'd heard of the small numbers in SW FL years ago when I still lived in FL but I was not a birder then. Here is a link to an NPR story from 2018 so apparently the ones I'd heard of way back when were called "invasive".

https://www.npr.org/2018/03/06/590378419/floridas-long-lost-wild-flamingos-were-hiding-in-plain-sight

Audubon:

https://www.audubon.org/news/its-official-flamingos-belong-florida

e-bird Range map for American Flamingo

https://ebird.org/species/grefla2

OK, so I've now decided that next winter, Covid willing, I'm heading to SW Florida for a sun/warm weather fix and a Flamingo hunt, lol!

Posted by
2276 posts

I've encountered bird watchers who have travelled long distances to see a specific bird, so it certainly happens.

Personally I've not sought out birds on a trip. Apart from a boat trip in Scotland to see, among other things, puffins. But I enjoy nature and if there is a good opportunity to see birds in the area, why not?

At home I try to do it more, especially in migrating season and migrating cranes, swans and geese pass through the area.

Pam,
Thanks for the article links. I got a kick out of the information. Just have to love the priorities of birders. The world could be on fire and ornithologists continue working on pressing issues such as determining the homeland of a flamingo. I appreciate the bird community and wish I could have a job like that! The photos are stunning. Cool bird!

Posted by
2883 posts

Linda, thanks for this wonderful thread. I've done both birding while traveling and traveling TO bird. I too am an amateur bird watcher and have enjoyed seeking out opportunities while traveling as well in our own back yard. Some of our favorite memories are: Australia at the Kuranda Rainforest on the Skyrail Cableway to view the Macaws, Lorikeets, Cockatoos, Parrots, etc. It was the ultimate "eye candy!" Kangaroo Island to see the Fairy Penquins, Pelicans etc. Spotting the elusive Cassowary on the side of the road in Southern Australia. The Camargue, south of Arles to see the amazing pink Flamingos. Florida- more Flamingos. Caribbean- especially St. Lucia for the Hummingbirds spotted at our hotel (Anse Chastanet) (Antillean Crested and the Purple-throated Carib). Cannon Beach, Oregon- Tufted Puffins on Haystack Rock nesting in their natural environment. Hawaii- Crested Cardinal, Nene, Cattle Egrets and Finches. We especially enjoy the Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge that is walking distance from our accommodation in Maui. At home we live in a wooded area and enjoy the wildlife. Our pond is a frequent stop for two resident Barred Owls -Aristotle and Archimedes ;) plus other native birds stopping to bathe and preen. We have occasional Great Blue Herons visit as well.

Thanks to all who have shared their experiences!

Posted by
2164 posts

I love birds and have not gone birding per se, but I have 2 particular places I love to visit and each has a very unique bird watching opportunity for me to enjoy. I am really glad I can follow both on various FB pages until I can get there again.

My first stop in Budapest is always the little petting zoo on Margit sziget--I visit in May and the 4 pairs of nesting storks are there and they are just a glorious thing to see as they go about their nest sitting duties--they take turns--and even when eggs or baby storks are present they still do their funny beak clacking mating thing. I will usually visit them a couple of times for an hour or so each time. The person who runs the Margit sziget FB page was kind enough to post lots of photos of the storks this week after I mentioned I was missing them. There is also a Hungarian nest cam page I follow-- right now egg hatching is imminent.

First day in London always includes time at the Tower to observe the antics of the ravens...one year I was rewarded by finding one of their feathers. To say I am obsessed with them is putting it mildly!

Posted by
725 posts

I am just loving all these stories and suggestions for spotting certain species of our fine feathered friends. Some time in May, my hiking friends and I (some look at birds too, but is not their focus) ... will go to Umtanum Canyon (near Yakima WA). I will seek out the Lazuli Bunting and the Western Tanager - my friends will hike the ridge trail in the meantime. They aren’t life birds for me anymore but are just so beautiful. Oh, and I’m sure we may spot and hear some warblers.

Yes, I agree that a harness helps a lot to deal with the weight of the binos and also for hands free when you need them for eating a croissant from Bakery Nouveau. Hee hee.

Happy birding and happy traveling all.

Linda

Posted by
725 posts

Crows and ravens can be pesky but oh, aren’t they clever. They crack me up.

Posted by
725 posts

Janis: if you go back to Hawaii (Big Island and Kauai) check out the honey creepers near the volcano. They like Ohia forests. My daughter studied them back in the day. Apapane, Akepa, I’Iwi.

Florida is great for birding in general. Many birds migrate to and through Florida. We get to see different birds during different seasons, year round. It’s great for lazy birders as well. Example: I know a nice Mexican restaurant where you can sit next to a large window and enjoy both endangered gopher tortoises and endangered scrub jays along with a meal and sangria. You can also carry raw peanuts into a field next to the road and just wait for the scrub jays to fly into your hand for the nuts. You can see bald eagles and ospreys just while driving anywhere near lakes. The sandhill cranes and turkeys may even walk around your yard.

My concern is that Florida’s human population has increased significantly and is still growing to the detriment of nature.

Posted by
2883 posts

Linda, thanks for reminding me of the honeycreepers! I recall seeing them in Kauai, Maui and the Big Island. Gorgeous birds with interesting beaks. I’ve seen the red & yellow versions. Are they becoming extinct now?

Posted by
8414 posts

Linda, Crows/Ravens are something else, aren't they?

There is a wonderful TED talk on some experiments the Univ of Washington did on crows on campus and their memory is fantastic, if disturbing, lol.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0fiAoqwsc9g&t=17s

Years ago I was on a snowmobile trip in Yellowstone. We'd stopped at a geyser basin to walk and most of us had our day packs bungee'd onto the backs of the sleds with the zippers down or inaccessible. One friend did not and we came back to the parking lot to find the Ravens had gotten into her pack, delicately pulled out her brown bag lunch without disturbing anything else and feasted on her leftover steak from the night before. We shared our lunches with her but she did not think my PB and honey compared with the thought of her leftovers, lol.

I love Lazuli Buntings and Western Tanagers! I was out to a recently discovered (to us) birding spot yesterday and we saw our first Kingfisher of the year. All I could do was say "blue" but my brother caught it too, lol. White Pelicans and Tundra Swan along with a copulating pair of Cinnamon Teal (I am really glad I am not a female Cinnamon Teal) and some of our usual suspects.

Posted by
725 posts

Janis: not extinct, I think, but greatly reduced. Daughter helped biologist from UH Hilo band and take blood samples from some of the birds off the Saddle road on the Big Island during her biology studies in the mid90’s. It was an experience for her that is for sure.

Pam: love your Raven chowing down on steak story. They are very clever. I saw a Kingfisher on my Vashon Island ferry commute a few days ago. With Kingfishers, I usually hear them before I spot them. Killdeer in West Seattle near Alki/beach drive couple of weeks ago.

Birding is fun but getting out and exploring different parts of the world to do so, is an extra bonus.

Posted by
2883 posts

Speaking of crows- our daughter said a crow landed on her head a few days ago!! This was in Seattle. What's up with that? Fortunately she was okay. Phew!

Posted by
8414 posts

Janis! That is weird...maybe she was near a nest?

Posted by
8414 posts

I thought of this thread today in Costco....my brother made a run earlier today and spotted some Zeiss TL Pocket 10x25 bins for $289.99. He talked me in to them as he thought they would be much lighter weight than my current Leupold 10x50's. The optics seem very good - have not tried them in the field yet as blessedly we are having rain today...just sighted them in from the front porch. I was surprised how good the depth of field is and could really bring in the detail on a nearby magpie nest. Plus could see actual rain drops, lol. They are not Swarovski level optics but they are quite good and better than my Leupolds (which are probably handicapped by being full of crumbs, lol).

They are about the same size as my old Nikon Sportsters which I'd been using for travel as they are purse/pocket size. The Zeiss are lighter (11 1/8 oz without the case or strap) and much better optically. The Zeiss come with just a soft fabric pouch but they fit in the case from the old Nikons so that's handled.

They are $10 more on the Costco website so if you are in the market and have a warehouse in your area, I'd add them to your list.

(PS For some bizarre reason I thought not having a cart would prevent impulse buys but sadly, that strategy did not work, hahahaha!! Air Pods, a new beach towel to go under my yoga mat for practice in hotel rooms on my upcoming trip, shirts, etc, lolol! Yeesh...)

Posted by
725 posts

Pam, I got a chuckle out of your failed attempt at curbing the Costco impulse buys. I don’t shop at Costco all that often but I can relate to picking up items NOT ON THE LIST.

I am long over due for some new binoculars and hea, I have to fill the gas tank.... soooooooo.