The colorful and beautiful turquoise-browed motmot found in Honduras. Photo courtesy of James Adams
As your garden demands less attention at this time of year, perhaps now is the time to learn more about the creatures flying to your bird feeder. With the help of experts in our area you can study and learn a great deal about the winged creatures who are flying around outside. Where are they coming from; where are they headed? Western North Carolina has been fortunate to have attracted Simon Thompson, to help answer these questions. Originally from England, he moved to Asheville from Tryon and organized a company that leads birding outings, natural history tours, and trips around the world: Ventures Birding. Early on, he developed a keen interest and understanding of bird life and gives programs at The Arboretum, Wild Birds Unlimited and elsewhere. With his tours he travels to some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world and helps you explore them.
Coming up this Sunday, December 11, is an easy birding trip for locals called “Duck Identification Day.” Winter is by far the best time of year for waterfowl in the mountains of North Carolina, and most of the birds should be in their full breeding colors in anticipation of the upcoming breeding season. Males are the most distinctively marked of the sexes and the easiest to identify. The group will meet at 9:00 AM at Wild Birds Unlimited, 10 Crispin Court, Asheville, 28803, and proceed from there. Duck Migration – In general, the majority of ducks & geese (aka waterfowl) breed in the ‘north’ – from the midwestern US north through Canada to the Arctic. As the summer ends and fall comes along, it’s not long until things start freezing over in the far North. Since many ducks find food in aquatic environments, freezing conditions prevent ducks from doing so, resulting in the southbound migration of many species. Each species has a different distribution in winter, but here in WNC we are far enough south that we avoid serious freezing conditions most of the time, and so ducks that spend the winter in the area usually have open water available to them.
The group will explore the lakes and reservoirs of Henderson, Haywood and Buncombe Counties—such as Beaver Lake, Lake Julian, Lake Junaluska, or Lake Lure— hoping to see a selection of Mallard, Gadwall, Hooded Merganser, Green-winged Teal, Canada Goose, Bufflehead, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Ruddy Duck and many more. $50 is the cost for this approximately 6-hour guided trip, which will include hot drinks and a luncheon. Due to the weather, most probably the group will dine in a restaurant to warm up a bit from the cold. Aaron Steed, who has birded all over the southeastern US as well as New Mexico, Colorado and Texas. will be the guide. Aaron has been interested in birds and natural history his whole life and has led birding trips across Central America and the USA, from Panama to Belize, and from Texas to Minnesota.
Later in January you may be tempted to venture out on a trip to Honduras in the Pico Bonito National Park on the north coast of Honduras. This is Venture’s fourth trip to visit the Pico Bonito Lodge, which is a luxury eco-lodge that combines all the comforts you would want on a vacation (pool, spa, restaurant, bar, WIFI, etc.) with the close proximity of nature (lots of trails, bird feeders, gardens – the grounds are surrounded by a national park of the same name). Our winter months correspond to the dry season in Honduras, so the group shouldn’t have to deal with much, if any, rain. It stays warm most of the year – lows in the 70s, highs in the 80s/90s.
Often referred to as the jewel of Central America’s Caribbean coast and some to over 420 species of birds, the 400 acres property in Honduras and the surrounding National Park will be the base for the whole week. The dates are from January 22-29, 2017, for a trip to “one of Central America’s new and up-and-coming eco-destinations.” There are several ecosystems within the local area, and one should see everything from the Magnificent Frigatebird along the coast to the endemic and declining Honduran Emerald in the nearby dry forest. Here again Aaron Steed will be your guide, with hikes along rainforest trails and snorkeling along the world’s second largest barrier reef as added possibilities for an exciting trip. Call for more specific information and prices at 828 253-4247 or for the full itinerary and prices, go to http://birdventures.com/Honduras2017.html.This is only one trip in many that is being offered by Ventures Birding Tours throughout the year. Many more U.S. and international tours can be found on their website.
For those a bit less adventuresome and asking just to get started in birding, Ventures Birding is offering Birding Basics again in 2017. There will be one on a Saturday or Sunday of each month, and these last just two hours. Bird watching, or ‘birding,’ has become one of the most popular hobbies in recent years in the United States, with over 50 million people currently reporting that they watch birds! When you consider the sheer diversity of birds (there are almost 10,000 species worldwide!) with all the different shapes, sizes and color forms it is no surprise that birding is so popular. The beauty of birding is that you can do it almost anywhere – city, state and national parks, or even your own backyard!
This introductory walk has been designed to open people’s eyes to the birds around us here in Western North Carolina. If you’ve ever been interested in learning about birds and how to identify them but never have known where to start, then this educational, introductory bird walk is just for you. A few minutes will be spent talking about binocular basics – how to use them, where you can buy them and what you should look for when buying. Then there will be a talk about which field guides are best for learning. The group will walk around the Beaver Lake Bird Sanctuary and look for and listen to our local birds for about 1.5 hours. Pre-registration is required: Cost: $25 for adults; $15 for children aged 10 and over. The pace is slow and easy. Go to http://birdventures.com/DayTrips.html for more information.