IE Blog

 

If the Galapagos Islands had an official mascot, it would probably have to be the Galapagos tortoise. These ancient-looking creatures can weigh over 500 pounds and live over 150 years, and they’ve played a vital role in the history of the archipelago.

The Galapagos Islands’ natural resources have been exploited ever since their accidental discovery in 1535, from the marauding pirates of the 17th-18th centuries to 19th century whalers. Able to live for up to a year without food or water, the Galapagos Tortoise was nearly hunted to extinction for its meat.

The species’ situation grew even more dire after fishermen brought goats to the island of Española around the dawn of the 20th century. The feral goats’ feeding habits destroyed the native vegetation, and the Galapagos tortoise population along with it. Their total numbers dwindled down to around 3,000 in the 1970s, including just 15 of the Española sub-species.

The Galapagos tortoise was in serious trouble. But it laid the groundwork for one of the greatest success stories in the history of wildlife conservation.

giant-tortoise-close-up

DARWIN & THE THEORY OF EVOLUTION

These land-based reptiles were a key influence on Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. During the five-year Voyage of the Beagle (as his book on the expedition came to be known), the young naturalist observed that tortoises from different islands clearly differed in size and appearance, suggesting that they genetically adapted to their respective environments.

Tortoises on islands with ample water and short, close-cropped vegetation had curved front edges to their dome-shaped shells. Tortoises from arid islands had much longer necks and a high front peak on their shells, allowing them to stretch their heads vertically in order to reach branches of cactus and other plants.

Darwin subsequently theorized that species such as the Galapagos tortoise evolved over time in order to survive in their surroundings, and that natural selection determined which hatchlings would develop the physical ability to survive. And while science has considerably enhanced our understanding of animal behavior, genetics, molecular biology and population dynamics, Charles Darwin’s discoveries remain the key to our understanding of the natural world 150+ years later.

baby-galapagos-tortoises

GALAPAGOS TORTOISE CONSERVATION

Fortunately, modern-day Galapagos tortoise conservation efforts have proven remarkably effective, with an estimated population of around 20,000.
They started by eradicating all the goats on Española, bringing in trained gunmen on helicopters to shoot them. Then they began a captive breeding program at the Charles Darwin Research Station on the island of Santa Cruz. Scientists use incubators to control the sex of each egg, turning it warmer to make “hot babes” and colder to create “cool dudes.” Once hatched, the babies are labeled with numbers, which makes them look like a reptilian NASCAR race waiting to happen.

The Station was once home to the most famous celebrity in the Galapagos Islands, Lonesome George, who passed away in 2012 and was the last of his Pinta Island subspecies. But equally deserving of acclaim is Diego, a Galapagos tortoise originally from Española. When Diego was returned to the Station from the San Diego Zoo in the 1970s, there were two males and 12 females of his subspecies at the station, but they weren’t breeding. Diego taught the others how to mate, and has since produced more than 1700 offspring, earning him the nickname “The Professor.”

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Eventually the Galápagos National Park Service reintroduced these captive-bred tortoises to Española island, marking and occasionally recapturing them over the years. As a result of these efforts, today 10 subspecies of Galapagos tortoises survive in the wild, with thousands of captive-bred juveniles released onto their native islands and strict laws in place to ensure their protection. Experts recently revealed that the tortoise population is now stabilized and may not need further human intervention.

It’s difficult to describe the feeling of being within a few feet of a creature four times your age and at least twice your size, but the experience is both humbling and heartwarming. Here, mankind and animals are learning how to co-exist peacefully and sustainably. And the Galapagos tortoise stands tall as a symbol, not just of the islands they call home, but of wildlife conservation efforts all around the world.

How to Go

Inspired to explore the famed Galapagos Islands and walk among the giant tortoises? International Expeditions offers year-round Galapagos cruises along with land-based options in the islands. Check out IE's incredible Galapagos tours and start planning.

How to Help

International Expeditions was a founding member of IGTOA, a non-profit group dedicated to funding projects to combat invasive species and illegal activities within the Galapagos National Park, and promoting ecological education. Read here for more on Galapagos Islands conservation projects.

La Estrella Amazonica, IE’s Amazon riverboat, is the first vessel in the Peruvian Amazon with onboard internet service! That means we are lucky to now receive almost daily updates on wildlife sightings from our expedition leaders!

Expedition leader Angel Cardenas reporting from our November 7, 2014 Amazon River cruise. Each picture below was taken by Angel during our excursions over the past two days.

Yesterday and today have been amazing days in the rainforest! All our guests are happy and we are having good weather.

Today on our excursion we saw an incredibley rare HARPY EAGLE!

During our morning jungle walk we observed a Fer-de-lance Snake! Both sightings made our morning!

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In the afternoon, along Pacaya River, we saw Red Howler Monkeys, Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, Orange Backed Troupial and Scarlet Macaw.

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Learn more about the wildlife of the Amazon and common sightings during our Amazon Voyage by clicking here to see a wildlife checklist.

colombia-tour-group-otun-quimbayaColombia expedition leader Greg Homel checks-in from the road, where his group is enjoying time in Otun Quimbaya. This 489-hectare nature sanctuary was established in 1996 and provides much of the water to aqueducts throughout the famed Coffee Triangle.

NOVEMBER 9, 2014: Group Photo from my International Expeditions Colombia tour during our expedition to this expedition to this wonderful Central Andean Reserve in Risaralda, Colombia.

Some of the notable sightings here are Red-ruffed Fruitcrow, Andean Cock-of-the-Rock and Cauca Guan. Happy to report that we were successful in seeing all of them and many other great natural sights, including a troop of Red Howler-Monkeys!

Tomorrow we visit Parque Nacional Los Nevados and climb to over 13,000' elevation! We hope to see Yellow-Eared Parrot, Andean Condor and the endemic Bearded Helmetcrest.

 

Puma ©Alex Macipe

The puma or mountain lion is a large yet very secretive cat. Often, the presence of these cats is only made visible in finding tracks. Even tracks bring on excitement and a little apprehension as it means there is a large predator in your vicinity.

The mountain lion is found from North America through Central America and down the length of South America to its extreme southern tip — Patagonia.  Amazingly, the mountain lion is fairly common in Patagonia and a person’s chances of seeing one during International Expeditions' Patagonia tours is far better than observing one anywhere else within it very extensive range.

The mountain lion is a stealth predator that is extremely patient and a stalk of its favorite prey, guanaco may take hours. Remaining out of sight of the sharp-eyed guanaco is a challenge and guanacos prefer to stay in “wide open” habitats where their eyes can serve them well in watching for lions. A mountain lion stalking prey may travel well around a herd of guanacos to get up-wind and to a better place of concealment where the guanacos may be more likely to pass by much closer. Pumas rely on a very quick but brief burst of speed to leap on the back of a fleeing guanaco and a bite on the back of the neck of its victim is usually the death blow.  

Recent research on the pumas of Patagonia has revealed some really amazing differences in these southern most cats compared to their kin in North America. In North America, mountain lions will make a kill and return to feed on it numerous times until it is either completely consumed or other predators such as wolves or bears force it to leave its food cache.


In Patagonia, there are no other large predators, but pumas here kill 50% more prey per year due to being forced off of prey by an unlikely species — Andean condor.


It has been well documented that condors arrive in mass to the kill site of pumas. This makes the pumas nervous and they sacrifice their kill to the multitude of scavengers. Mountain lions typically require about 5-7 pounds of meat per day and not being able to return to cached food due to big condors consuming the remainder of meat, results in mountain lions in Patagonia having to kill prey much more frequently. In Patagonia, male mountain lions may reach 150 pounds while females only achieve weights of around 80-100 pounds.

Due to the wide open spaces of Patagonia, and especially the area of Torres del Paine National Park, where International Expeditions travels on our Patagonia tours, there is a very good chance for patient observers to view a mountain lion.  A good vantage point, a guide with a spotting scope and knowledge of puma behavior and, with luck, an observation of a mountain lion could be the reward.


Naturalist Greg Greer is a favorite among IE travelers, and has gained a reputation for his friendliness and good humor, along with his incomparable knowledge of natural history. Greg's photos and articles have been widely published in books and magazines, including Georgia Outdoor News, Bird Watcher’s Digest, Alabama Outdoor News, Riversedge and Southern Wildlife.

Friend of International Expeditions Bret Love, editor of GreenGlobalTravel.com and a finalist for USA Today’s Best Couple Travel Bloggers award, sat down to interview Ana Maria Perez, the Expedition Leader for our people-to-people Cuba tours. Following is an excerpt from his original story.

We were excited to get a chance to speak with one of IE's Expedition Leaders, Ana Maria Perez, about growing up in Cuba, the evolution of Cuban attitudes towards the U.S., the richness of Cuban culture, and the wealth of natural and historical attractions the island nation has to offer.

What are your favorite memories of your childhood in Cuba?

I grew up with my grandma in a small town of eastern Cuba called Chaparra, in the province of Las Tunas. Mom was working in the province capital to support us all. Every time I close my eyes looking for a happy memory to better my day, I remember family gatherings.

On August 18 every year, we would all come to my grandma’s to celebrate her birthday. No matter how old she was turning and how scarce things were, there would always be cake, ensalada fria (a macaroni salad with ham or chicken and pineapple), and bocaditos (little sandwiches). Sometimes a roast pork on a spit if we could afford it. And always music and laughter and gifts. Family is the most important asset to Cubans.


cuba-street-paradeIn what ways has Cuba changed over the years?

Progress is undeniable, although slow. The 21st century Cuba has evolved to a more open and accepting society, partially because of the need to survive and the loosening of restrictions by the government. Cubans don’t see foreigners, especially Americans, as evil anymore. Visitors are welcome and treated like family.

Despite restricted use of the internet, most Cubans find access to information and technology from the rest of the world. Some own 3D TV sets and other “gadgets” that some of us in North America still don’t have. The Cuban community abroad is so huge, and these expats take care of their families on the island with remittances and goodies they bring. The entrepreneurial mindset is rapidly developing, as a result of the government legalizing small private enterprises to some extent. The growing number of paladares (private restaurants) is amazing.

Social discipline is one aspect that needs urgent attention - keeping the streets clean and garbage free, recycling, and doing jobs right without expecting any kind of extra compensation are some of the issues that need to be addressed.


cuban-guest-hugCan you explain how “People-to-People Cuba Travel” is different from a typical vacation?

The People to People way of traveling focuses on human interaction that allows Americans to understand the side of Cuba they don’t completely get, while also allowing Cubans to see the other side of the coin and compare their reality to that of the rest of the world. There are priceless experiences from the trips I have led.

One time, when interacting with students in an arts school in Matanzas after a magnificent spontaneous performance, one of the students dared our group to play something for them. Herm, a teacher and musician traveling with our group, went to the piano and played a classic American song. We were all in awe, silently singing to his music.


You’ve led several IE expeditions to Cuba. What do the American travelers you’ve led seem most surprised by during their time in Cuba?

Americans find it hard to understand how Cubans can be so happy with so little. I think that’s their biggest shock. By the end of the tour, most of our guests have found their own answers.

 

Most people don’t think of Cuba as a nature-lover’s paradise. What can travelers expect to see in places like Topes de Collantes National Park and the Zapata Peninsula’s UNESCO Biosphere Reserve?

Nature is particularly impressive in Cuba. When Cuba comes to mind, most people think of music, cigars, rum and vintage cars. But, as we move away from Havana and the other cities, to the mountainous areas of Topes de Collantes and the Zapata swamps, our guests realize that there’s much more to Cuba.

The beauty and diversity of the bush, the fascinating endemic bird species (including the world’s smallest, the bee hummingbird), and the masterful ways in which our naturalist guides bring it all to life help draw a broader picture.

There’s a lot of history in Valle De Los Ingenios and the city of Trinidad. What makes these places such important UNESCO Heritage Sites?

When we get to Trinidad, it is time to close our eyes and go back in time while our guide tells us the history behind this beautifully preserved colonial town and its cobblestone streets. What Trinidad and the Valle de Los Ingenios meant to Cuba, and to the world economy, as the world’s number one exporter of sugar, and the rich history of its ingenios, give it a special place in the history of humankind. Thus the well-deserved title of Patrimonio de la Humanidad.


cuba-musician-weaverI originally fell in love with Cuba via the country’s rich cultural traditions. Can you talk about the importance of music and art to the Cuban people?

Music and art are essential to every Cuban. Art is thoroughly encouraged by the government. Talent is developed in art schools – any age, any form – for free.

Kids grow up seeing their parents play music and dance and sing to the rhythm while they clean the house, cook, or do laundry. Music, from reggaeton to salsa to classical, is everywhere. You get on an almendron (the old American cars that serve as taxis) and music is playing. A party is not a party without music and dancing!


Some people may be nervous to travel to Cuba because it was off-limits to American for so long. What words of advice would you have for those who are considering a visit?

Open your mind and your heart to Cuba, and you will understand, accept, and inevitably let Cuba captivate you. Life as you know it will not be the same after Cuba. You’ll learn not to take everyday facts for granted, like running water on tap, a shelf full of products in a grocery store, and new shoes every time the old pair is getting uncomfortable. At the same time, you’ll likely get back to work and want to hug your colleagues and play music to spice up your day. You will hopefully become an even better human being, and do even more for our common Mother: Planet Earth.

Read Bret's complete story on GreenGlobalTravel.com.
 

patagonia-elephant-sealThe Southern elephant seal is an animal with an amazing number of accolades: Largest pinniped and deepest diving are just two very impressive records established by these incredible creatures. I have been extremely fortunate to observe Southern elephant seals at many haul sites on International Expeditions' Antarctica and Patagonia tours.

Southern Elephant Seal Quick Facts:

  • There are only two species of elephant seals: northern elephant seal and southern elephant seal. They derive their name from the hemisphere they are found in.
  • Elephant seals were hunted brink of extinction before being declared a protected species during the 19th century.

  • Males elephant seals can sire as many as 500 pups.

The Southern elephant seal is the largest seal, even longer and heavier than the Northern elephant seal and the walrus. Large bulls may reach 7,000 pounds, with the record belonging to a monster elephant seal that was shot on South Georgia Island in 1913. That elephant seal was a massive 22.5 feet in length and weighed 11,000 pounds. These are also the largest of the order carnivora, considerably larger than the polar bear, brown bear, African lion and Bengal tiger. Elephant seals are named for their extremely large nose...almost like a shortened version of an elephant’s trunk. The large nose is proudly only a male characteristic. Males battle each other for breeding rights with a harem of females and the nose is used to produce an incredible array of noises that reverberate in the highly flexible proboscis. Males battle fiercely and the sight of two huge bulls fighting is not soon forgotten. There is often considerable biting and tearing of skin and blubber by the large canine teeth of these huge seals. Virtually all adult bulls carry battle scars from previous year’s dominance fights. I have, unfortunately been on haul beaches where the stench of a big bull that has perished, permeates the air, especially down wind, for quite some distance. Penguin colonies are quite odiferous, but the stench of a decomposing 7,000 pound seal is something that has to be experienced as no words can adequately describe such a smell. Amazingly, live elephant seals will lay right next to a decomposing carcass as if oblivious to the smell of the fallen male.

Southern elephant seals also hold the record for deepest dives for a pinniped and actually, only the sperm whale is known to dive deeper than the elephant seal. The record diving depth is almost 8,000 feet deep, although most dives are less than 2,000 feet in depth. Males dive deeper than females and males may remain submerged for over 1.5 hours. Their dives take them down to their prey which consists of large fish, squid, skates and rays.

At known haul out sights, numbers of Southern elephant seals may be observed lounging on gravel or sandy low lying beaches. While molting (shedding of skin), elephant seals are more susceptible to the cold and thus they do not enter the water during this time. Large patches of skin and fur are shed and the seals almost appear to be diseased when in this condition. Once the new fur and skin is intact, they once again enter the ocean, where they actually spend a majority of their life. On most trips to Patagonia, the observation of a group of Southern elephant seals will certainly be one of the many highlights of a trip. Knowing a little bit of the amazing natural history of these creatures will make one even more greatly admire these giant behemoths of the Southern tip of South America.

 

Naturalist Greg Greer is a favorite among IE travelers, and has gained a reputation for his friendliness and good humor, along with his incomparable knowledge of natural history. Greg's photos and articles have been widely published in books and magazines, including Georgia Outdoor News, Bird Watcher’s Digest, Alabama Outdoor News, Riversedge and Southern Wildlife.
 

Through the generosity of IE guests Kathleen Egan and Eleanor Morpheu, this summer every family and school room in the small village of Cedro Isla, Peru was given a Sawyer point-of-use water filtration system. This was also the first time this village has participated in the Adopt-a-School Program, which IE has long-supported through our involvement with CONAPAC. International Expeditions’ Amazon Cruise Destination Manager Tracey Hinds was on-hand when the materials were delivered to the village.

“The entire village met us upon arrival at the riverbank. Children of all ages had prepared signs and posters and were all lined up to welcome us. If they had had a red carpet, I am sure they would have rolled it out but none the less, we all felt it was there.

“The older boys had prepared some traditional songs and dance and we dressed in hand made costumes. They even had a smaller child dressed as a jaguar mascot! Small kids took our hands and walked with us to the community center where the whole village joined us for the activities. So many, dressed in their Sunday best, performed songs, poems and dances. We took so many pictures and shared with the kids who love to see themselves. That always gets a smile out of the shy ones.

“Representatives of CONAPAC, along with the IE guests, began the task of handing out toys, art supplies and books to each child. Teachers were presented with classroom materials as well as some sports equipment. Local leaders also stepped forward and were given various materials to share with the village. While Peru provides free education, often times the schools and families don't have needed supplies - like notebooks, pencils, rulers and construction paper - that children need to complete lessons.

“Once the school supplies were distributed, (CONAPAC representative) Cynthia began the presentation and instruction of the Sawyer Water Treatment Systems. She explained the procedure and began with a muddy bucket of water taken directly from the river. It was a solid brown color looking a bit like chocolate milk. Soon after she completed the first step of mixing the water and mineral block, you could already begin to see how the water was separating the liquid and solids. While we were waiting the required one hour for the settlement, we turned our attention to some more entertainment by the children and plenty of picture taking.

"While enjoying the entertainment, I noticed a small toddler just learning to pull up and stand. She had on a pretty pink dress and little white shoes. Knowing what was coming next, I thought about the water she may be currently drinking on a regular basis. If it dripped on her dress, it would most likely leave a stain. I imagined what the health benefits might be for her as she grows as well.

“As time elapsed and we focused again on the previously dirty bucket of water, you could hear all commenting on how clear it already looked. As Cynthia turned on the filter however, the water emerged into the lower bucket and all were amazed at the crystal clear water that only an hour ago had been so dark and full of debris. The kids kept getting closer and closer so they could have a good look and as soon as we got the cups ready, the line was already forming, wanting to get a taste of the clean water. Kids and adults alike tasted a sample as well as some IE guests. The kids were more than happy to have a large cup and pass it on to the next but would immediately get in line for seconds. You could see some of the mothers smiling as they discussed the transformation. I can only imagine how excited I would be to know that my child would be getting this wonderfully clean water and to know I would have it in my home for cooking and drinking at my leisure.

“If clean water stopped coming out of my faucet this afternoon, my day would most likely come to a halt right then and there in order to get it fixed. It is funny how something we take for granted every day, something that never crosses our mind, makes such a difference when you don’t have it.  It was an amazing sight to see the transformation of the dark, dirty water turn into something inviting and refreshing just sitting there waiting to quench your thirst. I was both impressed and excited for the community but now, also thirsty.”


To learn more about these projects and how you can support IE's efforts to bring clean water to the Upper Amazon Basin, contact Emily Harley at emily.harley@ietravel.com.
 

kelp goose - claudio vidalAt first glance, it appears that the entire population of Kelp geese is male...but wait, on closer inspection of the rocky shorelines of Patagonia, there is a female kelp goose accompanying every male. The reason for this first glance discrepancy is the sexual dimorphism between males and females of this species. Males are brilliant white, standing out on the black shoreline, while females are brown and aptly camouflaged in the vicinity of a male. What are most apparent on the hen are her yellow legs and feet and white tail.

Kelp geese are very appropriately named as their diet is largely comprised of kelp, which is a form of algae that grows prevalently in tidal zones of Patagonia. During high tide, much of the rocky shoreline is under water and it is at that time that Kelp Geese roost or just relax until the ebbing tide once again exposes food for the geese. Kelp geese nest in fairly close proximity to the ocean and the young of kelp geese as well as all forms of waterfowl are extremely precocial. That is upon hatching, they are able to walk, run (waddle fast) swim and they feed themselves as well. The young, numbering as many as seven goslings follow the parents to the edge of the sea where they amble over rocks, mimicking the adults in feeding on algae. Large rocks can be quite an obstacle for tiny goslings but the birds have very sharp toenails and they can climb rocks quite well. This is a necessity for a bird that needs to survive at the shoreline. The young goslings, however, are extremely vulnerable to the risks of being small. Predation by skuas is a common occurrence and not many of the goslings survive through their first couple of months post hatching. Skuas are a brown colored bird, similar in shape to a large sea gull, but their wings are quite pointed and they are extremely agile flyers. Skuas will take eggs and young birds and they are one of the most feared bird species in the Patagonia region.

After the nesting season, Kelp geese form loose flocks and it is during this time that flocks of around 20 kelp geese can be seen in one area where they feed very amiably during low tide. I take great pleasure in observing these lovely geese and on Patagonia tours through the Straits of Magellan I have seen many hundreds of these geese…lots of white ones and upon close inspection, just as many brown ones.

Photo © Claudio Vidal

Naturalist Greg Greer is a favorite among IE travelers, and has gained a reputation for his friendliness and good humor, along with his incomparable knowledge of natural history. Greg's photos and articles have been widely published in books and magazines, including Georgia Outdoor News, Bird Watcher’s Digest, Alabama Outdoor News, Riversedge and Southern Wildlife.
 

September 22 is World Rhino Day, and wildlife celebrity Joan Embery was good enough to talk to International Expeditions about the current state of elephant and rhino conservation efforts in Africa.

"Being the largest animals on land, elephants are a sight to behold roaming the plains of Africa. I’ll never forget my first trip to Africa after years of handling and caring for elephants at the San Diego Zoo. I was overwhelmed at the sight of these amazing creatures – large herds of females with calves and the immense, lone bulls.

"Having no natural predators and a lifespan of 60 years, it is unthinkable the elephant population has plummeted at the hands of human-induced activities. While once numbering in the millions, elephants now number in the thousands due to poaching, conflict with humans and habitat loss and degradation.

"If you can imagine a majestic animal weighing up to 15,000 pounds but having skin so sensitive it can feel a fly landing, that has a trunk with 40,000 muscles useful for uprooting trees or picking up a blade of grass, one who’s extremely intelligent, social and plays a key role in maintaining the balance of all other species in the community, you have the African elephant. What a tragedy it would be if rather than having actual elephants to celebrate and be in awe of, we have only our imaginations.

elephant-ngorongoro-crater"Like elephants, rhinos too are in serious decline as victims of poaching and habitat loss. Since 1960, the black rhino has been reduced by 97.6%. Rhinos are killed almost exclusively for their horns, which are inaccurately thought to possess medicinal qualities and are revered as a status symbol. The horns are simply keratin – the same material found in your hair and fingernails.  Also like elephants, rhinos are integrally tied to biodiversity – when rhinos are protected, many other species interacting with them and sharing the same habitat are too.

"Since my first trip to Africa I have seen the steady decline of rhino and the need to engage the public for spreading awareness and supporting conservation. Conservation efforts do work! The Southern white rhino would not exist today if not for it.

"Together we as humans can navigate the issues and alter the landscape in a positive direction for both these animals and ourselves."

To find out how you can learn more and make a difference, please visit joanembery.com/Institute

September 16, 2014

The Nuances of Birding

Our friend and expedition leader Greg Greer shares more about his passion for birding, and how he has seen the transformation of a traveler into a true birding enthusiast.

"Oh no...we have a birder on this trip!"

How many times have I heard this over the years? More times than I can count! Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your own interest in birds, I AM A BIRDER! I guess admitting one's addictions is the first step in either a cure or further obsession. Birders are a unique assemblage of people from an amazing assortment of careers. For some people, I think birding is a huge distraction from what may be a very stressful job, a person with a propensity to list things (such as bird checklists), or it can simply be an average student, airline pilot or taxi driver who caught the "birding" bug.

For me, the challenge of looking for a particular species, learning everything you can about it and then being successful in finding the species is a very real high. Probably similar to the high that runners talk about and kayakers describe when shooting down a waterfall, is the high a birder feels when they hit the milestone of 300 birds, 400 birds, 500 birds, 600 birds and 700 birds for North America. There is a tremendous sense of accomplishment, and birders love to meet high goals that they set for themselves. 

What is so wonderful about birding is that a person can look at birds anywhere they happen to find themselves. It often starts out in one’s own backyard or it may have its beginning on a trip. I have been an expedition leader on many International Expeditions nature tours over the years, and I have frequently had guests that found a new sense of excitement while on an international trip - the excitement of birds. The birds that take people by surprise are not the little brown birds nor the big ostriches and often not the mighty birds of prey. The birds that capture a person’s heart are usually birds like lilac-breasted roller in East Africa, cock-of-the rock at Machu Picchu, paradise tanager in the Amazon Basin or a lovely vermillion flycatcher perched on the carapace of a giant tortoise in the Galapagos. These smaller spectacular species are what often provides the “hook” in a person becoming interested in birds. Of course, not everyone goes stark-raving mad over their new found obsession but for some reason birding often becomes quite addictive. There should probably be warnings posted on bird books, in binocular cases etc that the use of those products may cause obsession in a certain percentage of the population and users need to be aware of such precautions before jeopardizing the rest of their life and possibly friends, family, relatives and certainly other travel companions. (Tongue inserted firmly in cheek!)

One thing that I have learned over the years is to never impose my passion on someone else unless they seek your same interest. While on trips, it is very easy to determine who likes birds, who likes flowers, who likes reptiles and who likes everything around them. I love the folks who want to take in everything as they never set themselves up for disappointment.  Some birders, on the other hand, can have an amazing day in the field but because they did not see one particular species, they are disappointed. Thank goodness I am not of that mindset as a day in the field is always a day to treasure...whether you are or are not a birder.

Afterall, a bad day in the field is better than a good day in the office!

Naturalist Greg Greer is a favorite among IE travelers, and has gained a reputation for his friendliness and good humor, along with his incomparable knowledge of natural history. Greg's photos and articles have been widely published in books and magazines, including Georgia Outdoor News, Bird Watcher’s Digest, Alabama Outdoor News, Riversedge and Southern Wildlife.

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