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Start the New Year With A “Bird Venture”

By Dasha Morgan

Simon Thompson and the talented guides with Ventures Birding Tours have planned a year full of awe-inspiring hikes and trips to explore bird life, both locally and internationally. The company leads small groups of naturalists and birders to an unusual and interesting part of the world to find birds. One is sure to be guided by a knowledgeable expert, who knows both the terrain and the birds of the area— both within North America and throughout the world. As the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina are a magnet for birders and people interested in nature, Ventures Birding Tours has many day trips planned as well.

A group of birders look intensely to get a better view of a wonderful bird before it flies away. Photo by Simon Thompson.
A group of birders look intensely to get a better view of a wonderful bird before it flies away. Photo by Simon Thompson.

Nearby Day Trips

On Sunday, January 12, Aaron Steed has planned a day trip—Duck Day– to explore the lakes and reservoirs of Henderson, Haywood and Buncombe Counties. Winter is the best time of year for waterfowl here in WNC, and most of the birds should be in their full breeding colors. Or later in the month on Sunday, January 26, Michael Plauche has planned a trip to Townville, South Carolina, where a variety of the tiny sparrow is the top draw, including a vesper, savannah, song and white-crowned sparrow. Birds you would be unlikely to see at your feeder. If lucky you might even get to see a Great Horned or Barn Owl that day. These local trips leave in the morning at a designated spot and return in the early afternoon. From warblers and woodpeckers in the highest peaks and spruce fir forests around Mt. Mitchell to tanagers and cuckoos in the rich lowland woodlands of the South Carolina Piedmont, new and exciting birding destinations are found. Hot drinks and a lunch from locally produced farms is provided with the all inclusive cost of $60. For more information and to find out about other day trips, go to birdventures.com.

Further Afield

Ventures Birding has many trips planned in 2020, starting in early January to the Chesapeake area then another to Panama. In February 2020, Simon Thompson and a local guide are giving two tours in Ecuador. The first one from February 5 – 15th, is to see Ecuador’s fabulous Hummingbirds. Locally, many have undoubtedly seen the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird as it stops by at a flower or feeder in their yard, when they are migrating. You can’t help but love that dazzling, colorful, tiny creature. Hummingbirds are so named because of the humming sound created by their beating wings, which flap at high frequencies audible to humans. They hover in mid-air at rapid wing-flapping rates, which vary from around 12 beats per second in the largest species, to in excess of 80 beats per second in some of the smallest.

The African penguin is a species of penguin confined to southern African waters. Like all extant penguins, it is flightless, with a streamlined body, and wings stiffened and flat. Photo taken in South Africa by Simon Thompson.
The African penguin is a species of penguin confined to southern African waters. Like all extant penguins, it is flightless, with a streamlined body, and wings stiffened and flat. Photo taken in South Africa by Simon Thompson.

If you decide to take this February Ecuadorian Venture Tour with Simon, you will see a dazzling display of tanagers, flycatchers, and hummingbirds. The trip is to the east and west slope of the Andes. To get the most out the trip, the elevation is varied, and as a result a great selection of birds, including hummers, are seen. On the last trip, apparently 50 species of hummers were seen! The accommodations will be comfortable and convenient to the best birding posts across the Ecuadorian Andes with excellent food and friendly people. This Venture tour stops for the night at a number of lodges as the group travels across the passes in the Andes to some of the hot birding spots. An overnight location is the Wildsumaco Lodge at a comfortable elevation of about 1480 meters (4,900 feet) at the base of the Sumaco Volcano, an active volcano east of Quito. Another overnight will be spent at the country style Septimo Paraiso Lodge, which has a pool and is surrounded by a cloud forest famous for its biodiversity and noted for its outstanding range of bird species.

Found in Ecuador, the Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager is a common, widespread tanager of lower Andean cloud forests. Large and brilliantly patterned in yellow, black, and blue, this species is conspicuous and unmistakable. Photo by Simon Thompson.
Found in Ecuador, the Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager is a common, widespread tanager of lower Andean cloud forests. Large and brilliantly patterned in yellow, black, and blue, this species is conspicuous and unmistakable. Photo by Simon Thompson.

Keep in mind that the Andes Mountains make up the highest mountain range outside Asia, so there are some spectacular views all along the way. Ecuador has an area of only 109,483 square miles and is therefore about twice the size of Georgia (59,425 square miles), yet 1,540 species of birds have been recorded in this one country—of these 133 are hummingbirds. For comparison, according to the data from the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology, in the whole continent of North America (9,540,000 square miles) there are only 2,069 bird species.

Perhaps it would be interesting and fun to spend the whole month in Ecuador and explore two totally different areas of the country? Simon Thompson follows his first tour with another one also in Ecuador, one around Sani Lodge on the Napo River, the largest Ecuadorian tributary of the Amazon. The tour group must fly from Quito to Coca. Near the Sani Lodge is a 118 foot Observation Tower and hikes of rainforest trails. Over 565 species of birds have been seen around the Sani Community so far, including species of macaws, 8 toucans, 7 jacamars, 50 antbirds, 30+ tanagers, 70+ flycatchers and an excellent selection of mammals. The sounds of Red Howlers are a constant morning sound, and it is not uncommon to see family groups resting in the treetops. Squirrel Monkeys, Tamarins and Marmosets are also fairly common, and the lake near the lodge is home to a family of Giant Otters and Black Caimans. Around the Lodge there are many alternatives for relaxing, such as birding from the bar, on the boat dock in front of the Lagoon or simply to relax in the hammocks. Perhaps one may wish to sample the popular Pilsener or Canelazo. This week in the Amazon Basin will give you a great insight to the birds and wildlife of an incredibly diverse part of the world. This trip runs from February 15th to the 23rd and can run in combination with the Hummingbirds of Ecuador trip from February 5-15. For more information.

If someone is really feeling adventuresome— but perhaps Ecuador isn’t for them—there are many choices to consider either nationally or internationally: the Bhutan, Panama, Northern Minnesota, Ecuador, the Pyrenees, Nebraska, Colorado, Costa Rica, Italy, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, Spain’s Canary Islands, or even South Africa. The list goes on and on. There are shorter trips and longer ones, all led by a knowledgable guide. Perhaps you have always been fascinated by the Puffin bird, then a trip in July to Maine with its rugged coastline and historic lighthouses would be the perfect trip to take. Or if the majestic owl intrigues you, then perhaps a 5 day trip to Northern Minnesota would be the right one to go on in early February. Both are lead by Kevin Burke.

More About a Few of the Venture Tour Guides:

Simon Thompson

Originally from Suffolk, England, Simon has lived in North Carolina for over 20 years. Prior to moving to the US he lived in Lebanon, Kenya, Yemen, and Ghana, where his interest in birds and natural history began. In addition to traveling extensively in the United States, Simon spent six months in China studying the crane and birds of prey migration as a member of the British “China Crane Watch” expedition. He is on the board of the Elisha Mitchell Audubon Society in Asheville, NC. As owner and operator of Ventures Birding Tours, Simon has led many birding trips all over the world. He and the other guides periodically give lectures at The North Carolina Arboretum, at Wild Birds Unlimited and elsewhere.

Aaron Steed

Aaron has been interested in birds and natural history his entire life. Originally from Wilmington, NC, Aaron holds a B.S. in General Biology from the University of North Carolina at Asheville and has worked numerous ornithological field positions in North Carolina, Texas, Kansas, California and Arizona, focusing primarily on endangered or imperiled species (such as the Black-capped Vireo and Lesser Prairie-Chicken). Instead of going to graduate school in 2013, Aaron decided to take the opportunity to become a professional bird guide and began working for Ventures Birding, leading local day trips in the Western NC region.

Michael Plauche

Michael grew up in south Louisiana, spending his time exploring the bayous, swamps, marshes, beaches and forests. In the mid-2000’s he discovered birding and became a dedicated and restless birder. In 2015 he moved to Brevard, NC, and is involved with the Transylvania County Spring Bird Count, the Brevard Christmas Bird Count, and he regularly leads walks with the Transylvania County Bird Club, as well as many scheduled trips with Ventures Birding Tours.

Kevin Burke

Kevin was introduced to birding while taking an ornithology class in Ohio and has been birding every day since. He has a degree in Resource Recreation and Tourism from the University of Idaho. He really started to hone his birding skills while living on the coast of North Carolina teaching environmental education. Birding has brought Kevin across the country and abroad. Originally from Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, Kevin Burke now lives with his wife and two young children in Hendersonville, NC.

Learn More about the Birds Around You

The Venture Tour website says: “We offer an increasing number of tours annually throughout the USA and worldwide, ranging from laid-back, relaxed birding trips that include a healthy dose of cultural and/or historical attractions to more comprehensive birding adventures fit for the most intrepid travelers.” All you have to do is select a time and place, sign up, plunk down a deposit (See the website for pricing), then head out with friends and family for a wild naturalist adventure. Isn’t it time to be adventurous and try something new in the New Year?

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