What if you were given a free holiday every month for a year…where would you go and what would you see? Here is Keith Betton’s ideal birding year:
January : Japan – for wintering cranes and sea eagles
The great flocks of wintering Hooded and White-naped Cranes at Arasaki on the southern island of Kyushu is a spectacle that everyone should see at least once. Then, amidst the snows of Hokkaido you can watch Japanese Cranes dancing and, best of all, the late winter gathering of Steller’s Sea Eagles along the southern edge of the Sea of Okhotsk.
February: The Galapagos Islands
So you won’t get a big trip list – maybe 60-70, but feel the quality! You’ll get 25 or so endemic birds, as well as several near-endemics. Make sure you book onto a small 15-20 berth boat, and wake up in a different place every morning. Swim, eat, drink, bird, swim, eat, sleep! Repeat daily for 9 days!
March: Thailand, the best of Asia
Asian birding is great and Thailand represents it at its best. A good combination is the highlands, lowlands and coast. Even within miles of Bangkok there are parks full of birds. Make suere you look for wintering Spoon-billed Sandpipers in winter.
April: Spain – the mountains and marshes
So this is a short haul trip for me, just two hours from home. But Spain offers so much – raptors, bustards, cranes and plenty of breeding passerines. Head for the Coto Dońana near Seville, and then move on to Monfragüe National Park further north where you can see Griffon Vultures, Peregine Falcons, Egyptian Vultures, and more. May is good too, but late April is the best time. The Pyrenees are a terrific spot for Lammergeiers, or Bearded Vultures.
May: USA – warbler migration!
Those warblers! If you like American warblers then get yourself to one of the watchpoints such as Cape May in New Jersey or Magee Marsh in Ohio. Time your visit to catch a birding festival and you won’t be alone (early May for Magee Marsh), and the sight of hundreds of birders watching hundreds of warblers is impressive in itself!
June: United Kingdom – a mix of seabirds and others
OK so I’m staying close to home. I carry out loads of breeding surveys so I need to be around to see what’s happening with “my” birds. But I love the islands off Scotland and maybe Orkney or Shetland will be a side trip for me. These islands have cliffs that are teeming with breeding seabirds – and in early June all of the chicks are just hatching out.
July: Brazil – the Pantanal
You could do 10 different itineraries in Brazil and still have plenty to go back for – but I really like the Pantanal. This seasonally flooded wetland plain will be dry now, and but that means that the wildlife has to be more concentrated around the marshy areas that remain. Hyacinth Macaws are just one of the specials here. Take an extension to the southern Amazonian rainforests of the Rio Cristalino Jungle Reserve and you’ll have a great chance of seeing a Harpy Eagle!
August: Papua New Guinea for birds of paradise
This is the only country I have visited that has more than 800 local languages. It is both a birding a cultural experience with many areas still relatively unexplored. Whether you are near the capital of Port Moresby or up in the mountains at Ambua, your birding opportunities are huge with over 20 species of Birds of Paradise to find. But be realistic too – this is hard birding. Nothing is easy – the birds often hide and the journeys can be long. But PNG will reward you if you give it time.
If I had to choose somewhere other than home to finish my days on this planet – it would be Australia, and in particular the state of Queensland. Their tourism slogan says “Beautiful one day, perfect the next!” – and it’s a good description. Regardless of which state you visit, September is a good time as it’s springtime. It will remain good until early December and then the heat is on. But Australia rarely disappoints.
October: epic Argentina
This is a country of epic proportions, famous for its vast plains, high mountains and wild scenery. Its birds are both spectacular and diverse, but to really get its most hidden gems, it is necessary to drive it, sail it, and walk it. Both ends offer brilliant opportunities. The dry Chaco is at one and the Patagonian steppes are at the other.
Nov : Chile – the northern half
Basing yourself around Santiago, a two week trip to Chile offers you so much variety – a corner of Patagonia, the high Andes, the Atacama Desert and the Pacific Ocean. Ideally you should try to duplicate everything you have done in Argentina.
December: the ultimate Antarctica, South Georgia & Falkland Islands
For me, this is the ultimate trip. Most trips are memorable, but this one is unforgettable – there is a difference! Vast penguin colonies, spectacular icebergs and a wonderful variety of seabirds. For most people, South Georgia is the highlight of this tour, while the South Orkney Islands and the Falkland Islands have their own specific attractions.
So that’s my perfect year. What would yours look like?