Sunday, December 1, 2013

Next five years

My owling plans for the next few years.

Constantly evolving.....

Sulawesi  and Java

Gunung Gede: Bartell's wood, Javan scops and Javan owlet
Tangkoko: Minhassa masked, ochre bellied and spectacled boobooks
Sangihe: Sangihe scops
Gunung Ambang: Minhassa masked, cinnabar boobook and spectacled boobook
Peleng: Banggihi scops and ochre bellied boobook
Togian: Togian boobook, ochre-bellied boobook and possible scops
Lore Lindu: Minhassa masked, ochre-bellied, Speckled and white spotted/cinnabar boobooks

19 Thu work day Portland  930pm-1020pm on Horizon Seattle
20 Fri d130 Eva to Tapei
21 Sat a510am Tapei, d900am-a120pm Jakarta, drive to Gunung Gede w Indra
22 Sun Gunung Gede w Indra
23 Mon Gunung Gede w Indra
24 Tue early AM bus to Jakarta Garuda d11.00am a330pm Manado Tangkoko Alfonds
25 Wed AM Tangkoko PM drive 5 hour to Gunung Ambang Alfonds
26 Thu Gunung Ambang Alfonds
27 Fri AM Gunung Ambang PM drive 5 hour to Tangkoko Alfonds
28 Sat Tangkoko to Manado Lion Air 0700-0750 Sangihe w Wesley
29 Sun Sangihe Lion Air 0815-0905 MDC to Makasser d1110am w Lion Air a1250pm Makasser d1605pm w Lion Air a1735pm. No Sun departure to Peleng
30 Mon Wooden boat departs from Luwuk to Tataba (6x per week, except on Sunday), departs at 10:00AM, then hike to Kokolomboi.Another possibily you travel by a fast boat or Ferry to Salakan, then from there you hire a vehicle to Tataba and hike up to Kokolomboi. Returning from Tataba or from Salakan.
it operates 6x per week as well, the same schedule as wooden boat schedule.
1 Tue Peleng ferry to Luwuk, then 5 hour drive to Ampana full moon
2 Wed Ampana to Togian Is by speedboat  around 9am takes 90 min see try and prebook
3 Thu Togian Is speedboat 9am takes 90 min Ampana 10 hour drive to Palu (there is a plane, but it departs around 1035am)
4 Fri Palu to Lore Lindu with Nurlin
5 Sat  Lore Lindu w Nurlin
6 Sun  Lore Lindu w Nurlin
7 Mon Lore Lindu drive to Palu  Garuda d715am a845am d220pm a845pm Taipei, d 1140pm a730pm Seattle d930pm-a1016pm Portland

Carita Beach (possible if have extra time).

Reddish scops (rarely seen, one distant heard only and one recording on xeno-canto).
Oriental bay owl photo in HBW and referenced in Burung Nus.
Brown boobook seen occasionally.
Javan owlet seen regularly

Gunung Gede

Barred eagle waterfall trail, cibodas and air panas trail
Brown boobook-main trail (unspecified)
Bartell's, first 600m of main trail
Javan owl first 600m of main trail
Mysterious brown scops Cibodas, behind guest house
(Dinosaur Park-could be same as start of main trail-go through dino at end of road-Bartell's and Sunda (common)
From Waterfall trail (raised trail), back to Cibodas Javan owlet and Javan scops.
From Waterfall trail turn off to Air Panas (hot springs) Javan scops (not rare).
1.5 hour above hot springs is Kandong Badak (Rhino Hut) on a saddle between Gede and Pangrango, trails on either side have Javan scops.

Bodogul (nearby, but need to drive) is a good mid-elevation site for Javan owlet.


Note airport is at Tahuna.
Rainbow Losman (Wesley's) is in Lelipang which is south about 20km, then inland about 3km. This is a good site for the scops owl. It also occurs at Gunung Sahengbalira (the mountain above Lelipang). Directions to the Rainbow Losman:
Tell to driver, Saya mau ke Desa atau Kampung Lelipang (Rainbow losmen), Tamako.
Naha air port to Kampung Lelipang (Rainbow Losmen) about 46-50 km.
Possibility the car price Rp. 300.000 but ask again to driver when you are  at Naha airport.
Berapa bayar mobil kalau antar saya ke Kampung Lelipang (Rainbow Losmen), Tamako.
Its also been seen on the coast road, about 12 km N of Tahuna.


Good site for Ochre-bellied boobook. Speckeld less common. Now reliable for Minhassa masked-wol.  Northern boobook occurs.

Tangkoko Batuangas Overlook (about 5 km inland) has MMO
Batu Putih Village MMO, OBBb
Tangkoko Lodge MMO
Dove Resort SBb
Temboan Hill OBBb

Another site Gunung Mahawa has MMO and SBb the later much more regular than Tangkoko

Gunung Ambang

Above 1200m MMO, CBb, SBb
Below 1200m (cultivated fields) MMO and SBb
General all three species

Ferry from Luwuk to Tataba It operates every day, except on Sunday. departs at 10:00 or 11:00AM, the harbor (Pelabuhan) is next to the ferry in the center of town.
From Tataba, you can travel by a wooden boat again returning to Luwuk, if it's not on scheduled, find out a hiring vehicle to drive you to Salakan, Fast boat or Ferry departs in the afternoon to Luwuk, at 03:00PM. 


Recommended to stay at Wakai cottage on wakai island, from there find out a man with his motorbike on riding you to the Football field, then hike up for 1.5 hour hiking to the forest to find Togean Boobook at night. 
You can travel by a public boat departs from Wakai to Ampana, and catch a public departs in the afternoon, but you'll arrive in the next morning, it takes 8-9 hours driving from Ampana to Palu.
Public boat departs at 10:00AM from Wakai to Ampana.
Another possibility you can leave one day earlier to Ampana, and stay one night at Oasis hotel.
then next morning find-out Wings Air flight flies to Palu, and meet you at the airport, drive up to Lore Lindu.

Birding on Taliabu & Mangole


If you can figure out how to get here then there are a load of gripping endemics to be seen!

Key bird species:

Sula Scrubfowl, Meyer’s Goshawk, Sula Hanging Parrot, Moluccan King-parrot, Sula [Maroon-chinned] Fruit-dove, Taliabu Masked-owl, Sula [Moluccan] Scops Owl, Red-bellied [Sula] Pitta, Elegant Pitta, Slaty Cuckooshrike, Sula Cicadabird, Red-backed Thrush, Island Thrush, ‘Taliabu Bush Warbler’, ‘Taliabu Leaf Warbler’, Henna-tailed Jungle-flycatcher, Helmeted Myna, Bare-eyed Myna. Plus a host of endemic sub-species.

Birdwatching locations:

The eastern Sula island group is made up of three large islands: Taliabu, Mangole and Sanana. None of them have had many birdwatchers visit, largely because they are an adventure to get to! As a result they are still ripe for exploration. All three islands have seen extensive commercial logging over the last decades. While this has led to widespread degradation, it has at least left lots of logging tracks entering the forest.
In recent years the few birdwatchers that have been have focused on the area around the small town of Jorjoga on the north coast of Taliabu. From there it is around 5km south-east to a smaller village called Binadesa. This is near the edge of degraded forest and has access, via logging tracks, to forest at higher elevation (where camping is the only accommodation option).
Aside from this area, you could try almost anywhere. The largest region of intact forest is in the hilly interior of west-central Taliabu. This could, in theory, be accessed from pretty much any coastal village, including behind the larger town of Bobong. The best tactic is probably to travel around the coast asking people about the distance and routes to the good forest. These are notoriously difficult questions to get answers to, but if you ask in the right way you should eventually make some progress! (what is the right way to ask? Anyway that avoids ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers, as the answer to them is nearly always ‘yes’!). Mangole also has hill forest in its centre, while Sanana is probably the most heavily degraded of the three islands, and the only reason you might end up here is in the process of trying to get to Mangole or Taliabu.
When you have made it to the place, the birds that await include Sula Scrubfowl, Sula Hanging Parrot, Moluccan King-parrot, Maroon-chinned Fruit-dove, Taliabu Masked-owl (few recent records, mostly from degraded lowlands, but also to 900m), Sula Scops Owl, Red-bellied (Sula) Pitta, Elegant Pitta, Slaty Cuckooshrike, Sula Cicadabird, Red-backed Thrush (lowlands), Henna-tailed Jungle-flycatcher, Helmeted and Bare-eyed Myna (the latter commoner in the lowlands, often in degraded habitat). The highest regions of the island also support an endemic form of Island Thrush, an undescribed Bush-warbler, and an undescribed Leaf-warbler!

Access and Accommodation:

Tailabu, Mangole and Sanana are not easy to get to, even by the standards of Maluku. There is an airport on Sanana (you can see it!) but at time of writing no scheduled airlines appear to fly to it. This could change, with Ternate and Ambon being the likely origin. Beyond that, your options are limited to boats. Assuming you don’t have the money for an expensive charter (in which case you can go where you like, when you like) then your options are limited to infrequent public boats, operating to mysterious timetables. Boat routes that appear to exist include from Peleng/Banggai (possibly even starting in Luwuk?) to Bobong; Ambon to Sanana; Sanana to Mangole(Mangole town? Dofa?) and Taliabu (Bobong? Loseng?); Ternate, via Bacan to Taliabu (Bobong?). If the weather is rough at the time you plan to visit, it might well be an idea to consider going somewhere else instead. Small boats plying the local routes are prone to sinking. Apparently the strait between Mangole and Taliabu islands has the world’s second biggest whirlpool…
To find info on boat timetables you can try Pelni’s website (for big boats) but for any other company there is probably little alternative than to get yourself to the relevant port of origin and ask there. You should then be prepared to wait anything from hours to weeks for the next scheduled service.
Once on Taliabu or Mangole then there is a reasonable network of coastal roads, or you could take to a smaller boat and get around that way. Just ask in one village how you get to the next!
For accommodation there are basic places to stay in some of the bigger towns (particularly the port towns) but outside of that you should be reporting to the Village Head (Kepala Desa) on arrival and so can ask them for assistance in finding somewhere suitable to stay. If you visit active logging concessions you should also report to the site manager, and get permission to enter.


(Can fly from Manado)
Sangihe scops owl (recording)
The standard ‘slow’ boats all run at night, and separate boats serve each island. They usually depart three times a week, going out one night and coming back the next, and take Sunday off. By the slow boat from Manado it is around 6-7 hours to Siau, 8-10 hours to Sangihe, 12-14 hours to Talaud. The boats are comfortable, if you can get yourself one of the top deck cabins, and are generally pretty sea-worthy! On Talaud it is most easy to get off the boat as soon as it lands on the mainland at Melonguane, and then take a ojek north to the town of Beo which is the best base. The boat makes the journey too, but it will take you several hours longer to get there. Repeat this trick in reverse when it is time to leave to save yourself some more time.
There is also a ‘fast’ boat to Sangihe (that sometimes stops in Siau on the way). This also runs three times a week, but travels by day. The boat has pretty comfortable airplane style seats, and cuts the journey to Sangihe down to about 6-7 hours.
Unfortunately getting boats from one island to the next is pretty unreliable. You could ask around in the relevant ports for information on boats that may be available, but it is safer to expect to have to return to Manado each time and take the normal routes. To get find out the latest boat schedules, to book a ticket, and to get on a boat, head to the docks in Manado. The ticket offices are along the street opposite the ‘Hotel Celebes’, and the boats themselves board from just behind the offices. You are unlikely to need to book in advance, unless you are planning to travel during a holiday period (like Christmas or Easter).
Scheduled flights to Sangihe and Talaud seem to come and go. The airline most likely to run the routes is ‘Wings’, a subsidiary of Lion Air. You’d need to ask a travel agent or at the airport in Manado to find out what is on offer at the time of your visit. If flights are running, they are not usually daily, so the overnight boats still present the easiest way of getting to the islands.
For Sangihe there are several basic hotels in Tahuna, but a better base is in the village of Lelipang at the Rainbow Losmen. This is also the place to hook up with the best local guide, Wesley Pangimangen (+6281523847827;, who can show you around and show you all the birds.

Togian Is
(Boat From Luwuk)
Togian hawk owl (recording)

(Boat From Luwuk)
Banggai Scops (Under Sula scops on Xeno-canto)

Birding on Peleng & Banggai

The Banggai Archipelago lies off the eastern side of Sulawesi and is dominated by the large island of Peleng, and the smaller island of Banggai. The islands are very interesting for birding, sharing characteristics with both Sulawesi and the Sula Islands to the east, as well as holding its own specialities such as Banggai Crow.

Birding these island means making your own way around and doing some exploring. A couple of sites are known quite well, but there are definitely more interesting places still to be found.
Around Salakan
Around the capital ‘city’ of Salakan are extensive areas of degraded lowland forest, interspersed with agriculture. Access to these forest areas is possible from the main roads north and south of town. Just look for anywhere interesting and dive in. One area that has been visited several times lies around 10km north, near the village of Kawalu where basic accommodation can also be arranged by the Village Head. Birds seen in this area have included Sula Scrubfowl, Ornate Lorikeet, Ivory-backed Woodswallow, Grosbeak Starling, Banggai Fruit-Dove, Sula Hanging-Parrot, Banggai [Moluccan] Scops-Owl, Ruddy Kingfisher, Red-bellied [Sula] Pitta, Red-and-Black Thrush, Henna-tailed Jungle-Flycatcher and Helmeted Myna
Tataba and Kokolomboi
To get to good condition hill and sub-montane forest you will have to travel to the west of the island, where the village of Tataba makes a good base. Walking inland (up!) from here takes you to the small village of Kokolomboi after around four hours walk. The trail passes from coastal agriculture through degraded mosaic forest, to intact forest on the hills and ridges. Birding can be productive along the whole route, but is excellent in the hill forest near the top. Birds seen here include Ornate Lorikeet, Ivory-backed Woodswallow, Banggai Fruit-Dove, Sula Hanging-Parrot, Moluccan King Parrot, Banggai [Moluccan] Scops-Owl, Red-bellied [Sula] Pitta, Slaty Cuckooshrike, Northern Golden Bulbul, Banggai Crow, Red-and-Black Thrush, ‘Peleng Leaf-Warbler’, Henna-tailed Jungle-Flycatcher, Rusty-bellied Fantail, Drab Whistler and Helmeted Myna
Elsewhere on Peleng
Further exploration of the South-West of South-east of the island could be rewarding. The coastal strip will usually be degraded, but venturing inland on foot will almost always access better habitat.
The island that gave its name to the archipelago, and in turn the crow, generally receives far less attention from birders than its larger neighbour Peleng. However, it would still make for an interesting visit, rewarded with many of the same birds as Peleng and who knows what else…

Access and Accommodation:

Getting to Peleng is relatively straightforward from the Sulawesi town of Luwuk; now served by regular daily flights from Makassar (Merpati, Lion). From Luwuk you will then need to get to the port and try and catch a ferry to Peleng. These go most regularly overnight to Salakan, but some morning boats go direct to Tataba (but not every day it seems).
A road follows the coast on Peleng, so it is possible to drive, bus or motorbike your way between Salakan and Tataba (and beyond, if you desire). The birding sites around Salakan can also be reached by vehicle (a motorbike, most easily). To reach Kokolomboi from Tataba requires walking for a few hours.
For accommodation there are plenty of places in Luwuk (check a book like Lonely Planet). There are also simple hotels in Salakan. Outside of these places, including Kokolomboi and Kawalu) you should be reporting to the Village Head (Kepala Desa) and so can then ask for assistance in finding somewhere to stay. At time of writing Pak Maleso in Kokolomboi is able to assist birders visiting the village, and he can maybe be contacted by email at is Another local, Pak Labi, can also assist those arriving in Tataba, and can be contacted (at time of writing) on +6281245450834

(also Siau scops (chocolate boobook occurs on Siau). Siau is about 8 hour ferry from Manado) and Kalidupa scops-doubt recordings exist)

Ethiopian stuff:

Measho Legesse
Abiy works as a free-lance guide for a number of different companies, and can also be contacted directly (
Merid Gabremichael of Birding Abyssinia
Elias Bayou (David's guide)

Melka Ghuba (Dawa River)

This site is on the way from Negele to Yabello and often visited shortly by visiting birders. We arrived somewhat late and had difficulties finding all targets. Hence we decided to spend an extra half day here. We camped in a backyard of one the shops in this small village. Again, the local people asked for entrance fee / tourist tax. Once arranged, people were most friendly and not obtrusive.

The stretch between Bulbul and Hudat offers some good acacia birding, but we concentrated on the area near Melka Ghuba. Next to a communication tower there is a dirt track (4.87067916617, 39.3172396084) that leads to the river (where people get their water). This area was very rewarding.

We also explored the classic site, being on the other side of the bridge. Just past the bridge there is a dirt track to the right (4.864287, 39.317107). We followed this to the end and wandered around in that area. Later on we tried our luck on the other side of the main road (left at the bridge) which worked out fine with a Pel's Fishing Owl as the surprise of the trip!

Highlights: Juba Weaver (2 birds near the river - 4.8698026, 39.307501), White-winged Collared Dove (easily heard and seen in the morning and evening, rather quiet during the heat of the day; later on we also found one bird in the next village), Yellow-vented Eremomela (after some searching we found up to 5 birds in the acacia scrub), Black-bellied Sunbird (on both days a few seen, 6 in total), Pel's Fishing Owl (a nice surprise! a single bird flushed from its day roost near the river - 4.8640351, 39.320298), Black-faced Sandgrouse (50+ flying overhead near the river), Magpie Starling (on both days, 7 birds in total),Shelley's Starling (daily good numbers), Somali Crombec (a single bird), Acacia Tit (a few).

Bishangari Lodge has african scops and wood owls
2017 Oman and Ethiopia
Jan Omani owl, (Pharaoh Eagle owl), Cape Eagle owl, African wood owl, African scops owl, Abyssinian owl (and Ethiopian little owl)

2017 Sulawesi
Sep-Oct Sulawesi golden owl, (Talibu masked owl), (Sula scops owl), Sangihe scops owl, (Togian hawk owl), Cinnabar hawk-owl, Orche-bellied hawk-owl and Speckled hawk-owl

2018 Palau and Philippines
Apr Palau owl, Mindoro Scops and Mindanao boobook

Japan and Palau for the endangered Blakiston's (while they have a regular location) and Palau owls. Philippines and either Taiwan or Malaysia/Thailand to pursue the missed Philippine owls.

1. PDX-Addis (approx $1800 return)
2. Addis to Bale Mountains (8hr) (Abyssinian owl, African scops, Mackinder's,  African wood)
3. Bale Mountains
4. Bale Mountains*
5. Bale Mountains to Addis (8hr). Addis to Awash** NP (3hr) (Ethiopian Little owl, African scops owl)
6. Awash NP
7. Awash NP
8. Awash to Addis (3hr). Addis to Mombasa (c250 via Nairobi), taxi to Sokoke (Sokoke scops, African wood owl, African barred owlet)
9. Sokoke
10. Malindi-Mombasa (2 hours by bus), Mombasa-Tanga 4 hours by bus
11. Tanga-Pemba fly $95 (daily afternoon) (Pemba scops owl)
12. Pemba-Tanga-Amani NR 4 hours by bus (Usumbara eagle owl, Sokoke scops and African wood owl)
13. Amani-Nairobi, 698km
14. rtn home

African scops, Spotted eagle and southern white-faced owl are also possible. (All occur at Tsavo East for example)

*Public Transportation (8 hours):

Buses leave from the Mercato bus station where you are advised to purchase your tickets the day before you plan to travel. Tickets can be purchased from the ticket windows located behind the bus parking lot. To locate the specific ticket window, listen for people calling for either Goba or Robe. Buses are divided into three levels, with Level 1 being the most comfortable, and Level 3 the least. Ticket prices reflect the level, but average around 150 Birr each way.

Buses are scheduled to leave at 6am although they don’t always leave on time. You are advised to arrive around an hour before departure. Buses stop for a brief lunch break. If your destination is Dinsho, you must call werage (rhymes with garage) once you have reached town, and the bus driver will stop to let you off. Dinsho is the first substantial town after passing through the mountains. The entrance to the park is at the top of the hill on the outer reaches of town.

Getting Around

Minibuses leave Dinsho from the center of the main road in town (unless it is a market day when larger buses pass through). There may be a wait, and a “broker” may put you on a list for when the minibus arrives to guarantee you a seat. They may ask for payment in return; 5 Birr is sufficient. Buses go to the Robe bus station, and from there other buses leave for Goba, Shashemene, Adaba, Agarfa, Dodola and further afield. Bus destinations are identified by attendants who call out names of towns and cities. Travel time between Robe and Dinsho is about 40 minutes, and between Robe and Goba only about 15 minutes.

If you are travelling with a lot of bags or large bags, they may be tied to the top of the vehicle and you may be charged a fee of 2-5 Birr per bag. When taking public transportation, it is strongly advised to start early in the day as schedules are highly unpredictable. Travel on large market days is usually much smoother as more buses are traveling between towns. Hitchhiking is not recommended.
** Little owl occurs between the campsite and the lodge
Madagascar and East Africa
1. PDX-Nairobi
2. Nairobi-Thompson Falls, 185km, (Mackinder's Eagle owl)
3. Thompson Falls-Lake Baringo, 157km,  (African scops owl and Spotted eagle owl)
4. Lake Baringo-Kakamega, 231km, (African wood owl, red-chested owlet and African grass owl)
5. Kakamega
6. Kakamega-Nairobi, 348km, Midday flight to Malindi, taxi to Sokoke (Sokoke scops, African wood owl, African barred owlet)
7. Sokoke
8. Malindi-Mombasa (2 hours by bus)
9. Mombasa-Tanga 4 hours by bus
10. Tanga-Pemba fly $95 (daily afternoon) (Pemba scops owl)
11. Pemba-Tanga-Amani NR 4 hours by bus (Usumbara eagle owl, Sokoke scops and African wood owl)
12. Amani-Nairobi, 698km

Blakinson's fish owl
Mindoro Scops
Mindanao hawk-owl
Japanese scops owl
Oriental scops
Rykuyu Scops owl

.Pryer's scops
Rykuyu hawk owl
Northern boobook

Togakushi has Oriental and Japanese scops and northern boobook. To get there take a shinkasen (1 1/2 hr) from Tokoyo to Nagano, and then a frequent hourly bus to Togakushi.
Okinawa has Rykuyu scops, Pryer's scops and Rykuyu hawk owl. the two scops occur at Kin reservoir in the center of the island and the hawk owl and Pryer's scops occur at Kijoka in the north of the island. A rental car would be the best way to get around. Good info on Okinawa
Mt Halcon is the location for Mindoro scops.
PICOP is the location for Mindanao hawk owl.
Possibly could add Taiwan for Lanyu scops, himalayan wood owl, collared scops and Oriental scops (Dasyueshan Forest)

Highway 18 runs past Alishan up to the visitors centre (with increasing km markers). At the visitors1 PDX-MNL
2 MNL-Mt H
3 Mt H
9 OK
10 OK
15 HOK

2 Tawny fish-owl
3 Mountain scops and Himalayan Tawny
4 Collared scops
5 Lanyu Scops
6 Lanyu Scops
8 OK
9 OK
14 HOK

Highway 18 runs past Alishan up to the visitors centre (with increasing km markers). At the visitorscentre the road changes to Highway 21 (with decreasing km markers thereafter) as it winds its waydown into the Toroko Gorge. We had Mikado Pheasant (male) at km 94 on Highway 18 on twoconsecutive days (at 1600hrs) and we had two Chinese (Taiwan) Tawny Owls between km 91.5 and93.5 also on Highway 18 (bathing in puddles). We also had Chinese (Taiwan) Tawny Owls around thevisitors centre. 
Highway 18 runs past Alishan up to the visitors centre (with increasing km markers). At the visitorso and Mainland SE Asia in Jan or Feb 2015

Japanese scops owl
Blakinson's fish-owl
Singapore scops
Reddish Scops
White-fronted scops
Oriental bay owl
Collared scops
Brown fish owl
Oriental scops
Tawny fish owl

Rausu in NE Hokkaido has reliable Blakinson's fish owl. Best to fly from Tokyo to Kushiro, then rent a car and drive 4 hours to Rausu. (Or take a bus).
Sime Forest, Bukit Timah, Alexandra Hill, Bukit Brown, Palau Ubin, Sungei Buloh, Bukit Batok and Pasir Ris in Singapore is a good location for Singapore Scops.
Panti forest reserve Oriental bay owl and reddish scops owl, near southern Malaysia. 21KM N of Kota Tinggni, which is 41 km north of Johor Bahru-about 2 hours from Singapore. From Johor Bahru it's possible to fly affordably via KL to BKK.
Or Taman Negara (Oriental scops Nov-Mar) or Negeri Sembilan (Malaysia) for Reddish scops owl. Taman Negara-4 hour from JB to KL, 4 hour from KL to Jerantut.
Krabi occasionally has brown fish owl
Kaeng Krachan (West Thailand) has bay owl, white-fronted scops, oriental scops, collared scops. Also has brown fish owl-but probably not easy. Hourly buses to Phetchaburi (2hours), from Bangkok then 52km to park, takes about 2 hours.
Khao Yai has brown fish owl and collared scops
Nam Nao national park (Central Thailand) brown fish owl. Three daily flights from Bankok to Khon Kaen, or 6-7 hour by bus or 8 hours by train. Hours buses to the park (2 1/2 hours).
Preng Veng, Cambodia has brown fish owl and collared scops owl
Nam Bai Cat Tien national park, just north of Saigon has brown fish owl. Best to reserve accomodation and avoid weekends and holidays. Take a Dalat bound bus and get off at Park entrance, then 24km by bike. Total time from HCMC c 4hours. A visa is required to enter Vietnam.

Note fly into Tokyo. Fly from Tokyo return to Hokkaido. Then fly Tokyo to Singapore, travel overland to Saigon, then fly from Saigon to Tokyo. This trip works best if can purchase discount tickets between Tokyo and SE Asia.

pdx-Quito $650
Mindo for cloud forest pygmy
Near Quito for Andean pygmy
Amazon for Northern tawny bellied
fly Quito to Galapagos for $450, plus $100 permit for Galapagos barn and short-eared owl
Fly Quito to Guatemala for Guatemalan pygmy $720

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

2013 Oaxaca and Chiapas Trip Report


In 2013 I went to southern Mexico to find some owls. Here's what happened......

April 12th Tui dropped me off at PDX mid-afternoon. I had been feeling a bit nervous about the trip for a few days, so it was good to finally get started. I flew on Alaska Air down to LAX, which was a zoo as usual. I had plenty of time to figure things out. The automated check in machines were broke, and there was a good deal of confusion at the Aeromexico desk. The plane however was brand new, and real plush.

April 13th. Benito Juarez airport in Mexico City was calm and urban. After a three hour wait I caught a short flight to Oaxaca City.  It was just as a remembered. Clean and calm and beautiful. I ate a traditional Oaxacan breakfast at a cafe next to the bus terminal, then emailed Tui and re-hydrated.

An hour later I catch a decently fast bus to Tehuantepec, that crossed a lot of rugged cactus covered limestone mountains. Tehuantepec, is hot and busy. I ate a couple of cabeza tacos. The counter of the cafe has an entire bull's head on it, from which the chef carves cabeza meat. I caught a share taxi to Puente Tejas. The driver tells me a great story about walking for 10 days to cross the border. He then made his way to Idaho, where he worked as a gardener for three years, then bought a Silverado and returned home with his prized truck. From Puente Tejas, its a 7km walk to the right to the Guingola ruins. I hiked down the gravel road for about 2km, when I took an obvious track to my left which led to a dried up canyon that originated from the huge limestone escarpment above. The forest here is deciduous thorn forest with a few cacti. I arrived well before dusk, and was covered with sweat bees as I waited. Soon the bees attracted half a dozen lizards which perched on and around me, and ate the bees! A Ridgeway's pygmy owl started calling near by, and I was able call it in by whistling and get excellent views. I saw its streaked crown  bold white spotting on it's scapulars and long pale-banded tail which it pumped side to side as it sung. What a  great start! I was playing the Oaxacan screech owl recordings to find the best one, when I heard a Oaxacan screech owl respond. A rough "bouncing ball" song! I walked up to a gully and flushed a screech owl in daylight. Amazing! I decided to wait for night to see if I could get a better view. I dozed in the early evening listening to the sound of two or three pygmy owls singing. At dusk I played the recording again. A big screech owl flew into the adjacent tree. I got to see it's indistinctly marked brown back. Each time I played the tape, the owl moved, so I eventually got to see its yellow eyes, and indistinctly marked breast.  On my way back to the main road I taped again, and with in two seconds a Oaxacan Screech flew in to the tree. This time I saw the bushy, lightly marked eye-brows, a gray bill with a greenish gray tip and bristly feathered toes. Like the first bird it was brownish gray. Another nearby Oaxacan screech owl called. In the distance on the mountain side I could hear a loud "kow kow kow" . I could not assign it to an owl so perhaps it was a mammal?

It was a short happy hike to Puente Tejas, where I easily caught a share taxi to Tehuantepec. I bought a bus ticket to Tuxtla. I ate some good street food and caught the 2315 to Tuxtla and fell sound asleep soon after boarding.

April 14th I arrived at Tuxtla at 4am. Too tired to do anything I found the nearest hotel and crashed until noon. It was great to shower and change into clean clothes. I caught a combi to the plaza, which I recognized from nineteen years ago. I emailed Tui and Jose Luis (the guy who was helping me organize a trip to El Triunfo). I then set off for El Sumidero-the hilltop reserve that overlooks the canyon. After a couple of false starts I figured the route out. On board the combi up the hill, I set next to a Mexican rocker, with a heavily pierced face and long hair. He wanted me to translate a Metallica song, which I couldn't do. He had the hardest time believing that I love punk music, and kept commenting on my short gray hair. I got dropped of at the top of Tuxtla, and from there it was a pretty grueling climb to the top of the plateau. I had my back pack on, which was heavy with water bottles, and the sun was relentless. At the top of the climb I stashed my bag under some trees, then walked along the now level road. Pretty soon a guy in a truck offered to give me a ride to the end of the road. He warned me that it wasn't safe here after dark. This was a bit awkward as he offered to take me back to town. I slipped away from him and found a nice shady place to wait for dark. My waiting place was right next to the cliff that overlooked the flooded canyon almost 1000m below. It was an incredible view, made all the better by a dirty red sunset. While I waited I heard a Ridgeway's pygmy-owl, but it didn't come in to my tape.

I prepped my ipod and speakers, then set out along the road back towards Tuxtla. The first time I played for Guatemalan screech owl, I got a response! I tried to get close to the owl, but as I noisily advanced on it through the dry forest, it receded. Eventually I gave up and tried for a more aggressive bird. Still this was a good start. At my next stop which was adjacent to the turn off for the penultimate mirador, a medium sized owl flew in. I was able to spotlight it right away, and to my surprise I had missjudged the size and it was a screech owl. It had a brownish back, whitish eye-brows, yellow eyes and a  gray-horn bill. It was not strongly streaked below, but was a little more strongly marked than last night's Oaxacan screech.The owl then flew into a thicket and commenced singing a 3-8 second toad-like trill, which gradually became louder. Wow a Guatemalan screech owl. Brilliant! (There were no references to the species occurring at this site online; only an old reference from Howell's book). I spent 15 minutes trying top obtain a better view, and despite getting very close to me , it behaved like a typical vermiculated type and remained artfully out of view.

About 1-2 km down the road, where there is an exposed cliff on the left side of the road, I taped in a Mexican Mottled Owl. I had lovely close up views of this gorgeous owl. It's so much more beautiful in the flesh than on paper. After turning off my light, I could watch the owl calling in silhouette. Its dark body pumped rhythmically. In the vicinity I heard whiskered screech owls-what a surprisingly low elevation, but the call sounded spot on. I heard another Guatemalan screech, and then two more near the turn off for Coyota Mirador. Finally by the deer crossing sign, I encountered a singing Ridgeway's, and got brief views. I also found several buff-colored nightjars in the area, heard a potoo and a lesser nighthawk.

I found my back pack easily and dusted off the invading ants. Nearby I found a side road that led to a flatish area of grass and rocks that overlooked Tuxtla below. Above me the sky was orange from the clouds reflecting the city's sodium lights.  The air hummed from the overhead power lines. After such a brilliant night it took a while to calm my self and sleep. I dream that I showed my mam a flooded graveyard. She was frightened in the dream.

April 15th I awoke by my alarm at four. It was good to get up as the ground beneath was rocky and I was cold. It was a brief steep rocky hike back to Tuxtla. I found an Oxxo and bought coffee and juice. Then I caught a combi down to the zocalo. At the zocalo, I sipped my juice and watched the city awakened. At six, I caught a cab to the meeting point for the group that I was to accompany to El Triunfo. The trip was arranged by Jose Luis Rangel Salazar, , a biologist from San Cristobal. A photographer named Sergio greeted me. We chatted in Spanish for a while while the rest of the group, mostly graduate students and photographers assembled. It was a surprisingly long drive to Finca Prusia interrupted by a tasty lunch and a flat tire.

It was quite a long wait at Finca Prusia, an old coffee estate, while our group and a second group of photographers were ferried up to the trail-head in a pick-up. At the trail-head our gear was loaded onto mules. Then we commenced a long hot 12 km hike to the camp. I arrived around 6pm. The camp at El Triunfo was absolutely beautiful. It was a clearing of small buildings surrounded by mountains covered in subtropical cloud forest. The mules grazed the pasture, no doubt relieved as we were to be done with the hike. We were given blackberry juice and gorditas served with fiery chilies.It tasted perfect. At dusk we were served a good dinner. While eating Pedro, one of the owl guys heard a fulvous owl. We shot out of the dining hall and realized it was really close. It tried spotlighting the bird, but it moved deeper into the forest. I brought out my player, and taped it, but that didn't help. Then Pedro explained to me that tapes were banned in the reserve. Ah shit! The owl had fallen silent and I gave up and finished my dinner.

After eating I left alone and explored the trail that loops around the North side of the camp. I was able to get brief views of a flying fulvous owl! It looked magnificent in flight-huge, broad winged and utterly silent. This was a bird I really wanted to see in full color. To that end I worked the entrance trail until midnight. Surprising fulvous owls are common here and I hear about eight birds. I saw a couple of ringtails and lots of tall trees. At one point I got really close to a singing bird, but the tall trees made it impossible to see it.

Back at the cabins the photographers were worried about me. They thought I was lost or eaten by pumas.

April 16th. I slept until nine, by which time the camp was abandoned. I climbed the ridge above camp, which led through somewhat stunted cloud forest. Mostly I was killing time until the owls came out. Still it was a beautiful place. I was half expecting to track down a day roosting owl, like all the photos I had seen online. At the top of the ridge I was surprised that the haze prevented me from seeing the Pacific-but it's been a dry spring and the air was dusty. At lunch we are served amazing tacos with sour cream and fiery hot sauce.

That afternoon I work the Bandera trail, which follows a small creek. Along the trail I got to see a horned guan- a near mythical and absolutely gigantic denizen of the mountain. No owls though. I return for more food and a hot shower. After dinner the guys arrange for me to assist with their research-on the relation ship between the hour, the moon and the frequency of fulvous owl song.

Pedro, Jose-Raul and I took a longish hike along the same ridge trail I had followed earlier today. We heard about eight fulvous owls. One was really close, but fell silent as we tried to locate it. We were all done by eleven, but I was too tired to go out on my own.

April 17th. My alarm awoke me at four, but sadly I ignored it. At dawn I got up with everyone and after breakfast, Jose-Raul and I set out on the ridge trail. We got great views of a pair of horned guans and chlorophonias, plus a hazy view of the Pacific. After lunch I lazed around and read books. I slept a bit, then birded the clearing. Best bird was a female black-crested coquette. After dinner we heard a fulvous owl. I tried to find it, but despite getting close the tall trees made it impossible.

Just before dusk, Pedro and I departed on another fulvous owl survey along the Bandera trail. We heard many birds. (In contrast top a trip a few months ago when few were heard and none along this trail). Several birds called as pairs, the first call would be from a male, soon followed by a very similar, but slightly higher call of a female. We were done surveying at eleven. We indulged in quesadillas and hot chocolate before going to bed.

April 18th. This time, I got up when my alarm went off at four. I stealthily left the camp and returned to the Bandera trail. This trail passes several clearings, which I thought would be helpful for seeing owls. I heard a short screech that sounded like the call of a female spotted owl. Immediately after I heard a pair of fulvous owls dueting.  The dueting built to a crescendo of rapid and excited calling. Perhaps it's mating season for fulvous owls? I heard more fulvous owls along the creek. I also encountered a brilliantly pied skunk. It was very confident, and was disinterested in moving off the trail. I followed it cautiously for quite a ways before it moved aside and allowed me to pass. Just before dawn I heard a crashing above me, which turned out to be a spider monkey. (Apparently they are quite rare, and this sighting generated a lot of interest back at the camp). As the skies began to lighten I heard another owl. I eventually saw it fly across a clearing twice. The last view was good enough to see the pattern of markings on the flight feathers. I hiked happily back to camp, and arrived as all were leaving. This was perfect, as I could sleep soundly all morning.

We ate excellent chicken empanadas for lunch. How many times could we revisit the same poor chicken? (Fried on Monday, tacos on Tuesday, made into soup on Wednesday and refried in empenadas on Thursday)! After lunch, I walk around the loop near the camp, and find a small snake and another horned guan. Back at the camp, Brenda invites me to watch a quetzal's nest. This turned out to be not as exciting as I would have imagined. For two hours we waited in a hide, being bitten by many mosquitoes. All we see are a long tail feather protrude from the nest hole.

That night Pedro, Brenda and I survey for Fulvous owls. It's not that productive and we hear about three birds.

April 19th. Pedo and I leave at 5 am to check out a potential nest site. Unfortunately we see and hear nothing by dawn, when we give up and return for breakfast. After breakfast Nancy takes me to visit the remote sound recording devices used to record the calls of guans and owls at El Triunfo. We pass the quetzal nest, and get great views of the male bird looking out of the nest hole, with its tail held over its head like a squirrel.

The hike back to Finca Prusia was easy and uneventful. The drive back was hot and dusty. We stopped again at Jaltenengo for a late lunch. I had time to email Tui. Just out of Jaltenengo one of the cars in our convoy dies. Eventually it's abandoned along with it's unfortunate owner. It's a really long dusty drive to Tuxtla. Along the side of the road we pass many brush fires, whipped along by strong winds.

In Tuxtla there is a soccer match and traffic is truly terrible. Eventually we drop off most of the group, before driving up to San Cristobal with Jose-Luis. We arrive after ten in San Cris. Jose-Luis does not want me to visit Huitepec after dark, which is a bit frustrating for an owler. He suggest a good hotel for me.  I find a hotel to stash my backpack. I hide my gear under a jacket and walk out to the zocalo. I have to ask three different cabbies about Huitepec, before I find one who knows the reserve. Ten minutes later he drops me off at the entrance. He hovers, concerned that the entrance is locked. I grin at him and give a thumbs up, hop the locked gate and slip as quietly as possible into the oak forest without a light to give me away to unseen observers.

April 20th. Once I was deep in the forest and away from people, I started owling, My fist target was bearded screech-owl. An apparently fairly tricky little owl. After an hour of working the oak forest I heard a barely audible reply. Amazingly I found the bird overhead and really close. It looked very small for a screech owl. It showed white eye-brows, yellow eyes, bare legs, its back was warm chestnut brown and it's chest is white with brown occelated crescents. The song is a very quiet trill, shorter and lower in pitch than the Guatemalan screech's. Excellent! A beautiful little owl. Reminds me of bare-shanked screech or cloud forest screech. Now for the others! I hiked into a valley on the right side of the reserve, and from there up to a col, then left to a peak. From the peak I descended along the other side of the ridge. I played and listened regularly for unspotted saw-whet, but got no response. I did hear a Mexican Mottled owl close to the summit. I was anxious to see the saw-whet, having missed it in Costa Rica, it was my most wanted bird of the trip.

As I descended from the peak the trail became very indistinct, I had to hunt around at times to locate it. Eventually I returned to a major trail, which lead me to a shelter. It was four in the morning, and I was really exhausted. I fell asleep for an hour, then awoke freezing. I headed back into San Cris. It was long walk, about 10km, and I didn't have change for a cab or combi. It took a while for me to find my hotel, but once I did, I slept beautifully 'till noon. Feeling restored I walked back to the reserve. Foolishly I had lost my hat, and had hoped to find one for sale on my long sunny walk to the reserve. Instead the sun beat down on me mercilessly. I also mistakenly thought I had seen a hotel near the reserve. Alas there was none, so I had to haul my gear all the way to the reserve. I very carefully buried my bag in the reserve, as it was frequently used as a route by local people between their farms and San Cris.

Once free of my gear, I worked on Guatemalan pygmy-owl for a couple of hours. I then took a break to buy a tasty torta and have a coke, before returning to the reserve for two more hours of pygmy-owl searching.

Night fell, and I switched to searching for saw whet-owls. I tried the main loop trail, which looked excellent, with mature trees, laden with epiphytes. Alas no response. By 930pm I was feeling really tired. I unearthed my gear and set up my tent.

April 21st I set my alarm for 230am. I hiked up to the col and down the far side. Near the abandoned research station station I get a really weak response from a saw-whet. The bird is clearly near me, but is neither aggressive nor persistent in it's response. Soon it's fallen silent and I eventually give up.

I also work the loop trail, but get no response. Now it's 630am and I make my way to the road. I catch a combi to San Cris. I find a shit hotel, and drop off my gear. Behind the hotel the road is barricaded by protesters, demonstrating for the rights of indigenous people. Then I catch a cab to Moxviquil reserve on the other side of town. It's a pine covered hillside that apparently has Guatemalan Pygmy-owls. I rapidly climb the hill, then explore the fields and scrub covered hills beyond, before returning back to San Cris by mid morning.

Back in town I buy a hat at the market and find some coffee and hot tamales from a street vendor. Ah that's better. I returned to the hotel to call a guy Javier, who was recommended as a guide and schedule an owling trip to Huitepec tonight. At the hotel an amazingly unsexy old whore argues withe the desk clerk about room rates, then drags a remarkably youthful and somewhat unfortunate looking client to her room.

After using the internet I catch a combi out to Occosingo Road. I miss Howell's site and instead explore a road to the right, 3km from the turn off. I work the area to the left of this road. I find lots of great habitat with a mosaic of pine forest and humid epiphyte rich humid oak forest. Jose-Raul had warned me that this was not a very safe area. The land is controlled by indigenous people, who were at war with the state of Mexico in the 1990s, and bad feelings towards outsiders continue to this day. I do my best to dodge the indigenous people I do see. The one group who sees me does not respond to my "hola". Soon after the heavens open, and I am soaked by a ninety minute rainstorm.

At four the rains let up and I was able to continue my pygmy-owl quest, but it was to no avail. I soon caught a combi back to San Cris. In town I ate a delicious burger and changed to another combi and went out to Huitepec. The rain stated again, and continued for an hour. I was beginning to think that Javier was not going to show, when he arrived on his motor cycle just as the rain let up. Javier turns out to be a park guard I had met yesterday. He is a nice guy, but definitely not a passionate bird guy. He takes me to the partially cleared valley on the right side of the reserve, where the owls held territory last year. Alas we get no response. After that he looks a little deflated and we wander the loop trail and tape for saw-whets, but get no response.  I am beginning to tire of Huitepec, its a very small reserve and it's easy to lose hope working the same trails. We call it a night and I catch a cab back to town and get some sleep.

April 22nd. I leave my hotel at six, walk across San Cris to the combi station, where I eat good tamales and drink hot coffee. I catch a combi to Howell's site on Occosingo road, and start birding at 7am. The dawn is misty, damp and absolutely beautiful. Above me are cliffs of limestone, bathed in the yellow light of dawn. The forest smells wonderful and reminds me of Northern Arizona. I work the road until it ends in fields, then climb the ridge, and work my way along, until I descend onto the road I worked yesterday. I see lots of good birds including pink-headed warblers. At one point I think I hear a distant pygmy-owl, and see a stocky small brown bird fly, but it's far too brief a view to know for sure. By 11am I give up and return to San Cris, collect my gear from the hotel. I try calling a guide at Volcan Tacana that Jose-Raul recomended to me, but just leave a message. I email Tui and change some dollars to pesos, then catch a direct bus to Tonala.

Tonala is really hot and humid. I slog up the main drag towards the combi stand, when a Mexican DEA agent gives me a ride. We chat about this and that. I take the combi to Puerto Arista and survey the scrubby fields along the way. Puerto Arista is a run down seaside tourist village. I am eager to leave without drawing attention to myself. After buying water I walk 1km east of town, then take a track on the north side of the road to a patch of decent looking scrubby woodland. It's late afternoon, and I take it easy under the shade of a palm and prepare for tonight. Above me a caracara protests my presence. I try my Pacific screech-owl tape, which is really quiet, and curse myself for not figuring this out earlier.

Dusk falls and a big bright moon rises. I eventually get a single response, but no follow up and fail to find that owl. I hear at least two Ridgeway's pygmy owls calling in the distance.My rechargeable speaker craps out, and I am forced to switch to a less powerful AAA-powered unit. Now the tape is really quiet. Across the road I locate a singing pair of Pacific screech-owls! I got a great view of both birds. The song is a gruff, (but softer than Oaxacan screech,) series of 6 bouncing ball notes. These big screech owls have yellow eyes, have gray-brown upper parts, limited black encircling the facial disk, obvious loose ear tufts, their legs are covered in bristles, the chest shows few markings, just a few long thin lines, the plumage is noticeably loose. Brilliant! What a relief  It's a crap location with lots of barbed wire and only small patches of forest and lots of rough pasture.

Although it's 10pm, I catch a share taxi immediately  Along the way to Tonala I see a big dark-backed barn owl perched on a fence post. It was a beautiful night. The radio played melancholy music and everything was perfect. At the bus depot I catch sight of my self in the bathroom mirror. The barbed wire fences of Puerto Arista had gotten the better of me, my shift was really torn up and I have dried blood all over my arms. I ditch my shirt and find some empenadas and horchata to recharge. I catch an 1155pm bus to Tapachala.

April 23rd. I have amazing dreams as the bus takes me to Tapachala on the Guatemalan frontier. I arrive at Tapachala at 3am. I sleep at the terminal for a couple of hours. I take a cab to the combi terminal, and then take a combi to Union Juarez.  Juarez is a hillside town set in shade coffee plantations. I ask around for a phone to call the guide at Volcan Tacana. Surprisingly there is no public phone, but I do get to stash my gear at a hotel by the plaza.  At the next village I ask around for the guide who apparently lives here.  A lady at the store calls his house but unfortunately he's not home, so I buy six liters of water and six packs of biscuits and set off on foot to Chiquihuites.  Fortunately after a mile a couple of public health workers pick me up in their car and take me the rest of the way.  At Chiquihuites I buy a huge breakfast at a store then set off up an obvious trail to Tacana.

According to Jose-Raul, unspotted saw-whet owl are easy at Papales, a refuge about halfway up the volcano.  I taped for Guatemalan pygmy owl along the way.  It takes about 3hrs to arrive at the signed refuge, where there is a small farm adjacent and I pay the farmer 10 pesos to use it.  On arrival I feel pretty unwell so I decide to sleep until dark.  I awoke at 7pm and feel really rough, feverish and weak.  I take a very short walk to check the trail and then return to the refuge and fall asleep.  I briefly awoke during a violent thunderstorm then later in the night to vomit copiously   The rest of the night is spent in a state of feverish sleep.  The floor is hard and everything is sore and I feel terrible.

April 24th.  At 7am I awaken to an incredible orange glow through the gaps in the refuge's walls.  I open the shuttered window and see an amazing sunrise beneath me.  The whole land is brilliant green, above the sky is glowing orange.  I return to my sleeping bag, too sick to go out and look for pygmy-owls.  I sleep on and off until 4pm and finally get up and drink a lot of water, take some Tylenol and Advil and eat a few biscuits.  As I come back to life I take a few short walks on nearby trails.  I try for the pygmy-owls but get no response.  Pink-headed warblers are common here.  The weather is cloudy and nearby I hear thunder.  I'm concerned there will be another storm tonight that will ruin my chance at the saw-whets. I consider packing up and leaving, but decide to stay.

At dusk I begin climbing and taping for pygmy-owls.  By 8pm I'm about 400 meters past the first house above Papales and it's quite dark.  I start taping for the saw-whet.  No response so I descend 100 meters down the trail.  I think I hear something and descend another 100 meters and hear a clear song.  I sit down before an open tree and begin to tape again.  Nothing happens.  I play again, nothing, then again.  Something moves in the back of the tree and and I hear the sound of the owl's claws grasping a branch.  I aim my light --- and there it is.  My most wanted owl in Mexico!  Beautiful.  Its so small its almost completely uniform chocolate above and orange buff below, has a bold facial disk around its yellow eyes.  Its hard to believe after those cold nights in Costa Rica and three nights of searching in Huitepec.

Now its time to go home.  I walk back to the refuge, pack and hike quickly off the mountain.  The trail is slick from the rain and I fall a lot.  At the last patch of forest before I enter Chiquihuites I hear a pair of fulvous owls calling. I tried to tape them out but they didn't respond. In the village there was no one to ask for a ride so I walk on towards Union Juarez.  3 kilometers below Chiquihuites I hear another pair of fulvous owls which again don't respond to tape.  Even though its a cloudy night a big moon makes for a bright hike.  I find the hotel and retrieve my left possessions.  I grab a room, wash my clothes and shower.

April 25th.  Its a little after midnight when I finally get to sleep and just after 4am when I awaken to catch the first combi.  Its a fast ride down the mountain to Tapachula.  The first direct bus to Oaxaca doesn't depart for 21 hours so I take a bus to Aaringa.  From Aaringa I take a 2nd class bus to Juchitan.  This bus is really shit, its slow hot and barely limps across the isthmus of Tehuantepec.  Its mid-afternoon when I arrive is Juchitan, which is really hot and windy.  I pick up my last bus to Oaxaca.  Its a long winding ride through the mountains to Oaxaca.  The last hour is under a beautiful full moon.

At Oaxaca I eat Tlayadas, a meat and salad grilled quesadilla. I find a decent hotel near the zocalo, then walk around and drink a couple of beers. The city is old and beautiful. At the zocalo their is an encampment of demonstrators fighting for the rights of indigenous people. People of all classes mill about, the poorest sleeping on park benches, while the more comfortable imbibe. It's a perfect night with the full moon, and so many people on the street. It seems like such a waste to sleep, but it's getting late and I have a long journey ahead.

April 26th. I get up early and take a cab to the airport. It's a lovely clear morning. The flight to Mexico city is  great. I spend a few hours at Mexico city, then catch a flight to LAX. From LAX I find an earlier flight than the one I was booked on and make my way home to Portland. What a brilliant trip.

Monday, March 25, 2013

2013 Canada


In 2012 I tried to find all fifteen species of north western owls. I failed. I didn't see a boreal owl. with the same goal in mind I ventured to BC to look for boreal owls. The rest of my quest to see all the northwestern owls in 2013 can be found at

3.23.13 I left Portland late morning and drove east through the Columbia gorge to Biggs, then north through Yakima, Soap Lake, Omak and then across the border. At Skaha lake I saw a forest fire burning in the twilight on the far side of the water. At Oakanagon Falls, just south of Penticton, I turned east along Weyerhaeuser Road, and climbed high into the plateau above town. As I climbed ponderosa pines gave way to lodgepoles pines and spruce.  Weyerhaeuser Rd eventually turns into Shuttleworth creek road. I parked the car at kilometer marker 22, adjacent to Rabbit Lake. At this time of year the forest is totally snowbound. The road however is plowed to allow year-round forestry in the area.

It was bloody freezing out, and despite layering a lot of clothes, I was immediately cold as soon as I started owling. I stratergized that I would tape every 300m for a minute, then wait three minutes. I also stopped every 100m and listened. Their was a three quarter moon, and mostly clear skies. The relatively flat terrain  cold and small pines, created a very boreal environment. For much of the walk I could hear coyotes, whose cries were amazingly vivid. The lakes was named for the snowshoe hares, that inhabit the area. Everywhere their tracks criss crossed the snowy road. I found one in an alder thicket. Perhaps because of the cold, and because this was my first serious attempt to find boreal owls in the spring I felt really excited. This was heightened by the hauntingly beautiful night and sense of being on a very difficult mission.

After a couple of hours an owl flew in a couple of minutes after I had done taping. In the spotlight I enjoyed great views of a beautiful barred owl. I assume it had flown in with the intention of eating the "boreal owl" that it had just heard. The gray stix owls are just absolutely beautiful, and barred are definitely one of my favorite owls.

As I walked down the road, and way from the hungry barred owl, I heard two barred owls dueting. I also heard Canada geese calling that night.

At kilometer 29.3 a minute after taping I heard a very distant song in response to my taping.  I approached closer and taped a little more, but it fell silent. A few minutes later I saw the silhouette of the owl fly by. Eager to see the bird properly I taped some more. A few minutes later I heard the bird's wings brush against the tree. Soon I found the bird about 20' away. I got absolutely fantastic views for several minutes as it flew between perches. He never sung again, but very actively bobbed and tilted it's head to get a view of the intruder. Amazing. It had been 11 long years since I have seen a boreal owl!

Just as I stopped enjoying the boreal, I heard a distant engine. A minute later I was able to hitch a ride back to the car with a local couple in a pick-up. The driver was really surprised to find me out here, after midnight, and really enthusiastic to help me, and share in my good fortune. I had to ride in the bed of the truck, which was fucking freezing. The driver said he would drive extra slow, which to me seemed really fast, I thought that my face was going to freeze off with the wind chill. The white civic was practically hidden against the snow, and my heart missed a beat as we slid to a stop to avoid hitting it.

3.24.13 I raced off the plateau down to Okanagon Falls, where I had reception and could text Tui about my good luck. I drove back into the States, until exhaustion took over at 2am. I pulled off the road just north of Omak. At my camp site I heard a family of great-horned owls calling across the valley. I set off on foot, the bright moon overhead, and frost underfoot, but failed to see them as they were high on a wooded cliff.

It was a short cold night and I slept only sporadically until first light around 6am. It was a long drive back to Portland, uneventful and made more so by the lack of good radio. Still what an amazing weekend!

Sun rise on the long drive home
Many thanks to Russell Cannings ( or and Chris Charlesworth ( or, both local birders for their excellent advice.

Monday, February 25, 2013

2013 Costa Rica Trip Report


In 2013 my dad agreed to fly out to Portland to take care of our 2 year old Charlie. My wife Tui and I took the opportunity to visit Costa Rica. I tried my best to squeeze in as much owling with out pissing off my wife. Here's what happened......

2/6 Dad and Charlie dropped us off at PDX at 6am. We caught the American flight to DFW and then on to San Jose. We took a van out to Thrifty, where we had to wait an age while dissatisfied customers argued and cursed at the feckless agents. Fortunately we were upgraded to a Diahatsu 4x4. Although Tui had mapped to route to our B and B; Vida Tropical, in Alajuela, we got turned around. Once I started asking around it quickly became apparent that Ticos don't really use street names. A nice guy called the B and B and drove us there. Vida Tropical was informal and friendly.

2/7 We awoke early from the street noise and bright sun. We had our first of many Gallo Pintos for breakfast, then set off on foot to explore Alajuela. The weather was cool, but the sun was brilliant. Soon we hit the road and made our way over the ridge above town, and then down the long descent to the Caribbean lowlands. Past Pital the road became rocky, and the Diahatsu's harsh ride made the rest of the drive tedious. The lodge-Laguna de Largato was recommended by the guide we would later use: Leo (, as a site for Central American Pygmy Owl.

The lodges resident guide, Zac cheerfully let me know that he had never seen the pygmy owl. A bit disheartened, we decided to while away the heat of the day on a nature walk with Zak. He pointed out lots of plants and a couple of strawberry poison arrow frogs. Eventually as the sun's heat waned, we broke away from the group and started owling. Tui eventually retired, but I continued. About ten minutes before it got dark, I got a response. (I was on the trail that bisected the main road 1km North of the lodge and about 75 m east of the main road). Soon an angry Central American Pygmy owl was criss-crossing in front of me in some dense second growth. I only saw the bird in flight, but was able to ID it by call. What a great start.

When I got back to the lodge, I told Zak-he was eager to go out an look for it tomorrow. He agreed to take us out to look for some resident black and white owls after diner. We soon got a response along the main trail, just 50m from the lodge. Much to my surprise a beautiful Mexican Mottled owl was the respondent. We enjoyed great views of a bird perched low above the trail. It was a mid sized owl, about 30cm long, with dark eyes, without ear tufts, with very dark upper parts and a streaked breast. It's call was a single note-a questioning, almost two part hoot, repeated at intervals.

Later that night I heard the resident black and white owls calling. I tried taping them from our balcony, but they immediately fell silent.

2/8 I got up before dawn  and took Zak to the pygmy owl site. The bird responded, but was more wary, and we never got to see it. Still Zak was pleased to have heard it. While waiting for breakfast one of the guys found a big fer de lance by the trail, right where we had found the mottled owl last night! After breakfast Tui and I returned to the same area and saw both species of macaw. About 300m east of the site, Tui's whistles drew in a calling Pygmy Owl. We were unable to locate it, and it soon stopped calling.

It was a long bumpy ride back to Pital. From there we went to Albergue de Socorro which is on the north slope of the ridge that separates the central valley from the Northern lowlands. This turned out to be a great home stay. The food was great, and our host really kind and interesting. After lunch we were taken down to the river, where we saw tapir tracks and puma scat. After dinner we drove up the road and looked for bare-shanked screech owl, however it was windy, and we soon gave up.

2/9 I was awakened at 5am, by howler monkeys. After breakfast our host took us to see some amazing waterfalls. On route we found a small group of howlers sunning themselves on top of a large tree. These were Tui's first moneys.

We parted ways with our host and drove to Sarapiqui to visit a modest archaeological site and museum. We then hustled back over the mountain and met Leo at a MegaSuper near the airport.

Leo directed us across the dense traffic of San Jose and onto the interamerican which led us into the Cordillera de Tallamanca. The drive through the mountains felt very familiar, having hardly changed since I was here in 1999. We drove straight to a site in Savegre, which was supposed to have nesting Costa Rican Pygmy Owls. We waited for over an hour, as the light fell. Leo tooted constantly, but to no avail. As a compensation, the oak forest was absolutely beautiful, and was highlighted by wonderful late afternoon light. As dusk descended we drove to a secret, (ask Leo), site for Unspotted saw-whet owl. Having no luck there, we returned to Miriam's Comidas Tipicas for a great diner. We stayed in a cabin, just below Miriam's restaurant.

Later Leo and I explored trail 1, at Miriam's, and found a silent Bare-shanked screech owl, near the first stream (about 200m from the cabins). The bird came in to a tape. At first we thought it was a Mottled Owl, because it looked huge. It had no obvious ear tufts, but prominent pale eye-brows and a white line that encircled it's nape. It had yellow eyes, and a pale breast that had a darker area in the upper chest. Each breast feather had a dark center shaft, creating streaks, and a dark tip, giving an occilated appearance. The feet were yellowish and bare. It held it's wings open when perched, and the tail was fanned, enhancing it's large appearance. Great. What a fantastic owl! At one point, it clung from a vertical vine, perfectly doing what a cloud-forest inhabiting owl should do!

2/10 I awoke at 230am and brewed a potent cup of coffee. After a drink, I found Leo and we drove to the secret saw whet site. We spent the rest of the night trawling for the owl, but to no avail. Leo used a lot of tape, and lights, and we didn't really penetrate the habitat.

We returned to Miriam's at 6am. While parking the car, Leo heard a Costa Rica Pygmy-owl call. After a few minutes of taping, it flew into another tree. I got brief flying views. Not the best, but still a new owl! Having secured all the owls, but the saw whet, I decided to ask Leo to leave today, rather than tomorrow as we had originally planned. His owling style was quite frustrating to me. It was a bit awkward explaining this to Leo, but we paid him for two day's work, and drove him to a truck stop on the interamerican. Leo certainly wasn't thrilled about having to take a bus home!

Once we had dropped Leo off, we parked at the entrance to the new Los Quetzales national park, and hiked down the dirt road to La Providencia. It was a beautiful sunny day, and the sun was intense. At about 2km, where there is a strong right-hand bend, on a down hill section of the road we heard a Costa Rican pygmy-owl. The bird was high in a densely forested slope. I tried to get under the bird, by climbing the slope, and could twice deduce where it was from a cloud of mobbing humming birds that swarmed it perch. But no luck. Tui and I returned up the road a few hundred meters, and played the tape, It worked, the owl flew over the road. We got progressively better and better views of the bird as it eventually descended onto some small trees above the road.I saw yellow eyes, a finely streaked face, and rufous collar and occipital face. Head and upperparts were brown-clearly a brown morph bird. The tail was dark with 6 or 7 whitish bars. The breast had a center that was brown, and brown flanks, between them two white white areas. Song was a rapid piping, prolonged for about 30 seconds. Notes were vaguely paired.  Excellent. A beautiful bird.

We ate a great lunch at Miriam's veranda, surrounded by lots of common birds. After lunch we tried to organize a horseback ride, but failed. We did see a stunning pair of quetzales by the river. We lazed away much of the afternoon at Miriam's. We walked trail 1 in the afternoon, and then ate another delicious meal at Miriam's. After last nights exploits we went to bed early.

2/11 I awoke at 1am and returned to the saw-whet site. This time, I spent a lot of time listening for responses. I also probed the habitat. At one point I saw a pair of low, wide-set eyes in my light. Scared of a puma, I advanced, so as not to appear like prey. The eyes eventually raised to reveal themselves to be those of a cow! By 4am, it became quite windy, and the owling potential poor. It was also really cold-the grass was encrusted with frost. An hour later the wind relented, and I frantically tried to locate an owl, before the skies lightened. It was to know avail, and soon I was done for.

I heard a Costa Rican Pygmy owl near the cabin, but this time it flew away in response to the tape. Back at the cabin I dozed for a couple of hours. Tui and I then ate a great breakfast and said goodbye to Miriam. We drove to Fela's horseback riding down the hill and enjoyed an easy 90 minute ride along the valley bottom. Another first for Tui.

We then drove across Cerro de Muerte, which was beautiful-so bright and clear, and on to Bosque de Tollumuco above San Isidro. We ditched our bags at the room, and then drove on to Cloud Bridge Rainforest Reserve. Here we hiked up a rugged canyon past many waterfalls.

We ate late at a restaurant at km 119 on the interamerican. We had a perfect view of San Isidro, far below. At the edge of town a couple of brush fires burned spectacularly in the night.

Back at Tollomuco I found a very cooperative bare-shanked screech-owl, and enjoyed views down to 5'. Like the last bird, it held its wings open and fanned it's tail. Unlike the last bird, it called a lot. I also got to discern it's greenish-gray bill.

2.12 We ate another huge breakfast. Our host Lise showed us sequential pictures of the screech owl's ground nest. What am amazing find.

We drove down to the Pacific coast, where we visited Hacienda Baru. At the visitor's center we saw photos of spectacled owls, so we scanned the forest carefully, but came up short. We did get to see lots of white-faced capuchins. Tui also got bit by a swarm of ants. We found a sloth curled up on the ground, looking like it was dying. The Pacific was big, quiet and beautiful.

We drove North West along the pacific highway to Quepos, where we ate lunch and watched the tide come in. The drive back to Vida Tropical was easy, apart from some rush hour traffic in town. I had thoughts of venturing out that night to redeem myself and find a saw-whet. Instead I hatched a plan to travel to Chiapas to satisfy my quest.

2.13 Another beautiful morning. I am sorry to leave such a beautiful country, but excited to see dad and Charlie. Surprisingly we were able to drop off the rental car with no hassles. Everything else went well on our flight home.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

2011 owling


Near the beginning of the year I hatched a plan to focus on world owling. This is something that very few people are doing. I was attracted to the idea of focusing on one group of birds. And owls, for me, are the best group. There is something wonderful and sometimes terrifying about going out into the forest at night looking for owls.

Once I had the germ of the idea I went to Portland Central library to pick up a copy of Konig's wonderful owl book to learn more. Then I consulted with my good friend John Fitchen over a couple of pints at the Yukon Tavern. The last thing I needed to do was to ask Tui, my pregnant wife if I could go to Peru in the fall, after our son, Charlie was born to chase owls. She said yes!

The below entry details my exploits in and around Portland Oregon. The Peru trip can be found at

12.31.11 Taped out a pygmy owl near on the Metro property near Skyline School. First pygmy owl for Tui.
12.24.11 Returned to Stanwood, WA. Saw three snow owls on a dike including one very heavily marked bird, presumably a first year female. Also saw two short-eared owls, a male and female off of Eide rd.
12.17.11 returned to Wyatt road with Tui and flushed a barn owl from the same barn. Then revisited the same stand of small pines at Locust Grove and saw two great-horned owls. One was being mobbed by a cooper's hawk.
12.4.11 northern pygmy-owl seen 3 miles south of mp4 on Larch mountain. Did not respond to my tape. Car broken into!
12.3.11 Barn owl flushed from a barn on Wyatt Rd. A great horned owl and three long-eared owls flushed from a stand of small pines at Locust Grove. Female barn owl flushed from cotton woods in De Moss County Park.
11.25.11 Stanwood, WA, Tui, Vai and I twitch a snowy owl. Also at least 13 short-eared owls are hunting in the fields.
10.31.11 Tui and I were walking with Ziggy, when a great-horned owl landed on a street light next to the Mausoleum.
9.25.11 in an abandoned barn along Tygh Ridge Road, found a male great horned owl. Bird seen very well at close range.
9.24.11 Saw two great horned owls near eight mile road, SE of the Dalles. At the Dufur Gap campsite, heard a pair of great horned owls and elicited a response (heard only) from a western screech owl.
9.23.11 heard two barn owls at UCP. Tui saw one fly overhead.
9.17.11 went owling at Tideman-Johnson park. After 20 minutes heard a Western Screech. For the first time I heard the bird land-on a wet branch-with a splash of drops. Once heard it was easy to spotlight.
9.13.11 walking with Tui and Charlie at dusk. We heard several barn owl screams from the top of the mausoleum.
9.6.11 walked to the Mausoleum and down the steep bank to Oaks, then clockwise around Oaks and out of the south entrance. Saw one western screech in response to the tape. Heard 3 other birds.
8.31.11 Barn owl flew by the corral at Exit 18. Seen briefly at dusk. Tui was with me, but missed it.
7.18.11 recently fledged barn owl at exit 17.
7.13.11 pair of western screech at N end of oaks
7.12.11 three western screech, include 1 juv at N end of Oaks
7.6.11 one great horned near Tryon visitor's center, mobbed by crows
7.3.11 flammulated heard only at Metolious wildlife refuge
6.30.11 one barred owl by Tryon Ck, mobbed by robins.
6.27.11 one owl calling on west side of Lost lk. Two short notes, followed by a longer hoot. Strix-like.
4.11 roosting western screech at south end of Oaks. Seen twice. Then came in to tape at night.
4.11 northern pygmy heard briefly at mountain quail site in Washington County
3.11 great horned at south end of oaks. Seen at night.
3.11 western screech heard on Yukon and 20th.
2.11 western screech heard in Woodstock neighborhood.
1.11 short-eared at Broughton beach at dusk.
1.11 great horned owl seen and heard at the road to the South Jetty of the Columbia.