I am always interested in visiting new places and birds are always high on the list of things to see. Meadow Lake Guest Ranch completely exceeded my expectations when It came to birds and biomes with my total count coming to 97 species in 2.5 days. Not only were the birds awesome but so were the log houses and the hospitality. It is very rare that I am able to explore a vast range of habitats and see so many birds in such a small area but this little gem hidden away in the interior of BC was all that and more.
Meadow Lake, like so many of the lakes around the area, is a closed system. This means that water typically flows into the lake but not out, with almost all the water leaving by way of the sky. These lakes are usually salty and are sometimes called soda lakes named for the white edges in the summer months. What does this mean for birders? It means a there are birds found here that are rarely found anywhere else in the province of BC. American White Pelicans and American Avocets which are two very rare species found here in the spring and summer months. The lake is not so salty that fish and invertebrates are found here as well. This of course attracts all the regular freshwater birds. There are also micro-climates and different natural features which lend itself to providing homes for a host of other species as well. Examples are the cattail marsh at the east end of the lake and the south facing rolling grass slopes, the pine and spruce forests on the north and mixed in for good measure are the ranch lands and poplar stands. This all translates to GREAT BIRDING.
Panama is a beautiful country with a multitude of interesting sights to take in during a visit there, with birding being one of their specialties. The country is about the same land area as West Virginia who has just over 300 species of birds that live or visit there. Panama is home to more than 978 distinct birds and the exciting realization that there are new species in some of the more remote areas. To put that in perspective, there are 914 recognized species in United States and Canada combined! There is a fantastic mix of North and South American birds with some being migratory and others that are resident species. There are also several endemic species which means that they can only be found in within the borders of Panama. The Panama Canal is something to see as the large ships are moving through the locks, but more importantly, you must see the jungles around the canal that have been protected as green spaces and are relatively untouched since the building of the canal. This buffer around the canal is an amazing place to see some of the lowland birds in this tropical country. Other excellent birding areas of the country are the mountains extending out of Costa Rica, the grasslands on the pacific coast, the mountain chain extending out of Columbia, the lowland forests and the vast shoreline on both the Pacific coast and the Atlantic Coast as well as desert climates complete with cacti.
The amazing colors of Panama's Birds are something that you notice immediately, with some of the birds looking like rainbows. There are several different species of Toucan, all with different painted bills, Trogons with their bright colors and pattern coded tails, Hummingbirds with the iridescent feathers only showing when the sun is hitting them just right and the Tanagers filling all colors of the spectrum in all corners of the country. There are birds with cryptic coloration so well camouflaged, they have white speckles on their wings to imitate the look of filtered sunlight sitting on a leaf. Some birds look so similar to a branch that they are undetectable even when passing by within a couple feet. The niches that birds fill here are also incredibly far ranging with that reason being, the diversity of the landscape. There are birds that dwell here that have a special symbiotic relationship with plant species as well and have adapted a bill that is so specialized it is only suited to collecting nectar from a handful of flowers. The beak adaptation matches the length and curve of a flower’s tube virtually making that bird the only pollinator. The are also the Antbirds that have forged a binding relationship with army ants and are found only in the presence of these fierce insects. The Frigate birds, “pirates of the sky” who are canal residents who's main source of food is by stealing from other sea birds. The overwhelming diversity of birds in this little country makes it a birders paradise.
Not only is Vancouver one of the most beautiful cities in the world, but it also boasts world class bird watching. This country is spread out over a multitude of Micro ecosystems, from the spectacular snow-capped mountains to the north, to the farmlands in the south and east. All of it is transected by the mighty Fraser River meandering through marshland, multi-armed, to the Pacific Ocean to the west. This little portion of heaven is also one of the major stops on the Pacific Flyway giving it one of the best spots for migration birding. It rarely freezes solid along the coast in the winter months, which makes it one of the only spots in Canada for winter birding of terrestrial migrants. Vancouver is solidly in the Temperate Rain Forest as well as having areas that are in the rain shadow of Vancouver Island. These two environmental facts give it an average yearly rainfall difference of 55 inches. In the south, near the border, there is just 45 inches of rain contrasting with the 99 inches that fall along the mountains to the north, all of which is located within an hour’s drive. If you are looking for an amazing birding experience, Vancouver is one of the world’s best and as a bonus, you will get the amazing scenery thrown in for free.
Belize is a rustic country with a very small population which is absolutely perfect for nature photography and birding. While looking for places to stay in Belize I did a considerable amount of work. I had also decided that I was going to hire a guide for a couple days on this trip, which is something I don’t usually do, so it added to the level of reconnaissance I was planning. Wading through the internet I found several locations, but one seemed to stand out with the positive responses to the stay, the people and the birds. The Crystal Paradise Resort was that place. All of the comments on the travel sites kept mentioning “The Tuts” and how welcome everyone felt under their roof. For someone who is travelling to a new country for the first time, this kind of feedback is exactly the thing that someone needs to feel comfortable. It also turns out that the Tut brothers are very fluent in the language of birding and have extensive experience guiding all over Belize. That was the clencher, I signed up for a three night stay with two days of guided bird watching.
Belize has come up several times when talking with people about birding abroad. I heard it was clean, the locals were friendly, the countryside was pristine and the birds were everywhere. My trip to Belize proved that I could not find one argument to the contrary. It is all of those things and more. The three “Bullseye” birds I had always wanted to see in the wild were the King Vulture, Limpkin, and Golden-hooded Tanager. I recalled The King Vulture from the perspective of a young, impressionable 9 year old zoologist when on a family visit to the San Diego Zoo. Seeing this somewhat ugly yet captivating raptor always intrigued me and I wanted to see it in the wild. The Limpkin intrigued me when I dipped on it in Florida and I started looking into the strange half crane, half rail. The Tanager, well…he was just the cherry on top. Who wouldn’t want to see this beauty up close?