Hawks Aloft Inc.
PO Box 10028
Albuquerque, NM 87184
Phone: 505 828-9455
Fax: 505 828-9769
E-Mail: gail@hawksaloft.org

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Hawks Aloft Blog

Blog Topic: General

Welcoming Western Tanagers

Luckily for us, New Mexico is a major migratory pathway, which makes Spring an exciting time to be living along the Rio Grande. Nearly half of all birds found in North America are migratory, meaning that they travel annually in order to access resources like food and nesting locations, and for some species, to escape cold weather. 

Western Tanager by David Powell

Since we are now quite nearly into May, most birds have made their move from wintering grounds to summer nesting grounds. Migratory birds tend to travel along natural land formations like mountains, rivers, or coasts. Most of New Mexico is in the Central Flyway, and the Rio Grande is a primary pathway for dozens of bird species making their way through this part of the country.

One striking species that travels to New Mexico to nest is the Western Tanager. Adult male Western Tanagers are nearly impossible to miss—they have a broader stature than warblers (which they are occasionally mistaken for), with mostly yellow bodies, contrastingly dark black wings and a striking, mottled red head. The more muted female is yellowish allover with similarly dark wings.

Female Western Tanager by Larry Rimer

Breeding in coniferous forests farther north or juniper-pine at lower elevations, they are also no stranger to backyard feeders in the springtime in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and further north. Since they primarily feed on fruit and insects, if you want to lure them to your little corner of New Mexico, provide jellies as food or stock your yard with suet and, of course, a bird bath.

Arriving primarily from Mexico and Central America, this species, like many songbirds, travel to their nesting territories by night to avoid predators. Research suggests that they use the Earth’s magnetic fields, and perhaps even star patterns to orient themselves.

Image by Keith Bauer

Throughout the Spring in our part of the world, you might spot Western Tanagers foraging among the trees or hear the males’ stuttering, ascending and descending song. Oftentimes, the call of the Western Tanager is compared to that of the American Robin, though it is often shorter.

Have you spotted any Western Tanagers in your neighborhood, backyard, or on a hike lately? Tell us in the comments! 

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Simple Backyard Birding in Albuquerque

As we all social distance and stay home during what we hope is the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us are searching for enriching activities to pass the time. Even if we make our way out to natural spaces, maintaining a distance from each other can be difficult. That’s why it’s best to get your bird watching done from your yard, if you have one. Even if you don’t, you can take a moment to appreciate the common species of birds that populate our city and are often quite easy to spot!

Some that you might catch a glimpse of throughout the city include: 

Image by Alan Murphy

Rock Dove

Often maligned, the Rock Dove, AKA the pigeon, is abundant throughout much of the world and chances are, this is the most common bird in your neighborhood, no matter where you live in Albuquerque. Even though they are familiar, take a moment to appreciate the resiliency of the species and their long-running relationship with human beings. For example, Egyptian hieroglyphics suggest that pigeons were domesticated over 5,000 years ago. For an added challenge, see how many variations in plumage you can spot on your block—rusty brown and even nearly entirely white are two possibilities. 

Image by Larry Rimer

Greater Roadrunner

That quintessential bird of the West. Their amazing adaptations give us pause—that they can eat a venomous snake or a scorpion, for example. Or that their moisture-rich prey offers them an opportunity to take in water in such arid climates as the Chihuahuan Desert. These birds are abundant in many parts of Albuquerque and throughout the spring, you may catch a glimpse of their elaborate courtship rituals.

Image by David Powell

Curve-billed Thrasher

Secreted away in chollas and paddle cactus, the Curve-billed Thrasher is almost as quintessentially Southwestern as the roadrunner. Easily identified by their long, curved bill, these birds are often spotted foraging for seeds, berries, insects, or even visiting low-hanging feeders. Next time you’re out in the yard, see if you can’t spot the yellow eyes of one of these thrashers peering back at your from a cactus. 

Image by David Powell

Northern Mockingbird

The Northern Mockingbird has an abundance of calls that makes its song sweet and entertaining. Feeding on fruit, insects, worms, and even the occasional small lizard, they are often visible perching atop trees, shrubs, and utility lines. Your yard might be particularly attractive to this species if you have an abundance of hedges, fruiting trees and bushes, and grassy patches for ground foraging. You might even be taking this time to plant some of these as you stay home, and with good reason—after all, who wouldn’t want a few resident Northern Mockingbirds around, sweetly singing even into the evening?

Image by Tony Giancola

Black-chinned Hummingbird

Among the most common hummingbirds starting to nest in New Mexico as spring sets in is the Black-chinned Hummingbird. The males have an easy-to-spot deep purple throat that usually looks black. Setting up a hummingbird feeder with four parts water to one part sugar (no food coloring!) can attract these lovely nesting-season visitors to your neck of the woods. 

Getting familiar with the birds around your home and neighborhood is a great way to spend some time as you social distance and hunker down to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. It’s also a great way to connect young kids to the natural world and encourage learning outdoors. Make the most of it, and let us know what birds you’ve spotted recently in the comments! 

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Meet Two NMWRA Speakers

The second New Mexico Wildlife Rehabilitators Association Symposium is coming up! In anticipation of this capacity-building and deeply collaborative event, we’d like to introduce two key participants.

Robert Mesta, Coordinator, Liberty Wildlife Non-Eagle Feather Repository Program
David Mikesic, Director, Navajo Nation Zoological Park

Robert Mesta is a retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ornithologist. He spent his professional career working to protect, conserve, and recover threatened and endangered North American bird populations. His area of expertise is the recovery of endangered birds of prey. He directed national and international-level programs to recover the California Condor, Bald Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, and the Masked Bobwhite Quail. From 1999 to 2015 he coordinated the Sonoran Joint Venture, a bi-national bird conservation program between the United States and Mexico. Currently, Robert coordinates the Liberty Wildlife Non-Eagle Feather Repository Program, at this time the only program in the United States permitted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to accept, hold, and distribute non-eagle feathers to Native Americans for religious and ceremonial purposes.

David Mikesic , originally from Pennsylvania, began his career with the Navajo NationDepartment of Fish and Wildlife in 1994 as an endangered species field zoologist. Some of his favorite work was co-leading a 10-year Golden Eagle study and Ferruginous Hawk population monitoring across the Navajo Nation. In 2010, he switched positions within the department to manage the Navajo Zoo in Window Rock AZ and has been fortunate with many successes in modernizing the facility with his awesome staff. One major accomplishments was the construction and operation of The Navajo Nation Eagle Sanctuary that now houses 17 non-releasable Golden Eagles. 
Together, David and Robert will enlighten the audience about the history of feather use in the U.S. and the role of their respective organizations in efforts to reduce poaching.

Breakfast and lunch will be provided. Registration is $50. Complete details will be provided upon receipt of registration.
Click Here to Reserve your spot now!

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Birds in Winter

Avian Ambassador Beauty the Turkey Vulture stayed warm last winter by making a home indoors. Photo by Gail Garber.

While many birds prepare for long journeys south for the colder months, others prepare to endure the cold weather. Some birds, like many sparrows, find shelter in thick foliage, while others continue to roost in cavities—especially those of living trees, whose trunks hold more of the day’s heat during long, cold nights. Many birds also reduce some of their surface area by doing something you’ve probably noticed before—puffing up their feathers and tucking their head into their bodies.

Dark-eyed Junco in the snow by Kristin Brown.

Some of the most common winter birds are finches, sparrows, titmice, jays, woodpeckers, and chickadees. Since birds are warm blooded, just like us, they use some similar tried and true tactics to stay warm, like one of my favorites—putting on extra insulation. For birds, that is often an extra set of feathers that act as an insulator. Some geese, for example, do this. Many birds also eat more or higher-fat foods for an energy boost when the temperature drops. This can make the seed offered at feeders all the more important during fall and winter. The best foods to offer to your backyard birds at these times are those with a high oil or fat content, such as peanuts, hulled sunflower seeds, and suet cakes.

Another challenge many birds in winter face is access to fresh water. As lakes, ponds, and birdbaths freeze over, it can be incredibly difficult for them to find drinking water. Consider a heated birdbath, or at minimum regularly changing any water in your birdbaths so that during the day fresh water is accessible.

Pygmy Nuthatch feasting on high calorie foods. Image by David Powell.

Other strategies that birds use to stay warm include communally roosting (one researcher noted as many as 100 pygmy nuthatches entering the same pine tree on a cold winter night).  Bluebirds and many other species do this, too. Others, like chickadees, shiver, but not exactly the way we humans do. Instead, they use opposing muscle groups to create contractions that help them generate and retain body heat. Famously, others species such as hummingbirds go into a state of regulated hypothermia overnight and then spend extra energy to warm up again in the morning.

Still other birds have some unusual strategies. Take for example, our Avian Ambassador Beauty, who relies on the help of human friends to stay warm during New Mexico’s colder months. Beauty is a Turkey Vulture who came to us as a human imprint almost two years ago. Prior to her rescue, she had spent most of her life indoors, and as a result, is very cold intolerant. She spent most of last winter inside the home of our executive director, Gail Garber. This year, however, we have different plans!

So that Beauty can remain outside, we’ve designed an east-facing enclosure for her with windows and a dedicated heat source that it will ensure that it never gets colder than 50 degrees in her new home. Another way to support and care for birds during winter—or at least one in particular—is to make a donation to our GoFundMe to build Beauty’s new winter home!

On our GoFundMe page you can find more pictures and videos of Beauty, make a donation, or share it on your personal social media. As we all prepare the cold, please keep in mind the comfort of all birds, including Beauty!

Help us help Beauty stay warm this winter! Photo by Gail Garber

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If You Find A Baby Bird …

… this is a repost, but as calls to our Raptor Rescue Hotline surge with concerns about fledgling birds, it’s worth revisiting!

Barn Owlet that was safely returned to his nest by rescuers called to the site only to find the bird in question happy and healthy.

As spring progresses and the promise of summer takes shape in the form of longer, warmer days, a flurry of activity is taking place overhead. Birds are breeding and nesting, and soon, all the effort of courtship and nest building will come to fruition as a new generation hatches. For outdoor enthusiasts and bird lovers—especially those who have taken the time to provide a habitat for local birds in their yards—it is not uncommon to find a young bird, seemingly helpless and marooned. Yet, weak and clumsy as they may seem, it is a rare occasion when these youngsters need our help.

Frequently, young birds found on the ground are recent fledglings. This means they are just testing out their flight skills and it is not uncommon for them to end up grounded. If the bird appears to be mostly fully feathered, usually with short tail feathers, able to hop around and take short flights, it is likely a fledgling. If there is no looming danger to the young bird, leave it alone. Fledglings, while taking their first flights and gaining independence, are still in the care of their parents who are likely nearby. Keep pets inside and allow the bird to find its own way home. If this is an impossibility, perch the bird in a shrub or the boughs of a low tree.

American Kestrel fledglings

Occasionally a nestling may fall from, or be pushed from the nest before it is ready to fledge. If the bird is naked, or with very few feathers, it is safe to assume it is a nestling. If uninjured, take some time to try to spot the nest. If possible, simply place the nestling back in its home. The pervasive myth that if a young bird is handled by a human its parents will notice the scent and abandon the young is just that—a myth. If the nest can’t be located, you may engineer a small, makeshift nest from something like a berry basket or another small container with a few channels for drainage in the bottom. Line the container with soft materials and then secure it to a tree as near as possible to where the bird was found.

There are some exceptions to these general rules, however. If you find a bird, any bird, that has been injured by a cat, call a local wildlife rehabilitator. Almost always, a bird that has been attacked by a cat will need antibiotics. At Hawks Aloft we have a 24-hour raptor rescue hotline for birds of prey, and Wildlife Rescue, Inc. is also an option for birds and other animals that need rehabilitation. In addition, if the young bird is quite evidently injured (i.e. bleeding, wings drooped unevenly) or if you are absolutely certain that the bird’s mother is dead, secure the youngster in a warm, dry, and dark space and contact a wildlife rehabilitator immediately.

Robin fledgling on the ground

The impulse to help the animals we love is strong, but sometimes that care and concern isn’t in the best interest of those we seek to help. Often, the best thing we can do for the young birds we discover grounded is to resist the urge to intervene. If you have any doubts or questions about the appropriate course of action if you’ve found a baby bird, don’t hesitate to contact Hawks Aloft or a another local wildlife rehabilitator.

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Introducing the 2019 Hawks Aloft Quilt

As always, this year’s design was developed by world renowned quilter, and our executive director, Gail Garber. This particular piece was inspired by the many feathers collected during the summer months as our Avian Ambassadors molt. Incorporated into the design are the beautiful patterns of Swainson’s, Rough-legged, and Red-tailed Hawk feathers.

Of course, this quilt isn’t made in a vacuum—it is, in fact, an extremely collaborative effort. Usually, a group of 12 or so convene at Gail’s cabin in the Jemez Mountains. This year, however, it wasn’t meant to be, with large amounts of snow accumulating in the mountains. Instead, our intrepid quilters retired to the home of longtime friends of Hawks Aloft, Ed and Mary Chappelle in Corrales. There, a team gathered in the dining area and worked over the course of two days to put the quilt together—though from design to finalization takes much longer.

The feathers ready to be incorporated

In addition to Ed and Mary Chappelle, other quilters came together, including: Ed and Barb Deshler, Carol Meincke, Cynthia Figueroa-McInteer, Sami Sanborn, Stevel Elkins, Evelyn McGarry, Lizzie Roberts, Allison Schacht, and Donna Barnitz. The quilt then went on to Tisha Cavanaugh to be completed.

Barb Deshler hard at work

And Steve, too!

The quilt makes its live premiere every year at the Monte Vista Festival of the Cranes in Colorado, happening this year March 8-10. We sell raffle tickets for the quilt all year long, and put every dollar earned toward care for our Avian Ambassadors, education programs, research efforts, and rescue and rehabilitation.

The tools of the trade

Take a look at some of the quilts made in past years here, and get your tickets here. Keep your fingers crossed until December, when we will draw a winner at our annual holiday party!

And a nearly finished quilt emerged before the weekend was over!

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Our New Elf in Residence

Image by Larry Rimer

Just a few weeks we ago a new Avian Ambassador was permitted to us, trusted to our care and attention for the remainder of his life—the perfect holiday gift for all of us at Hawks Aloft.

This isn’t just any bird, it is in fact an Elf Owl, the smallest species of owl in the world, although it tends to stay further south, in the western region of North America on either side of the Mexican border. This petite, no-bigger-than-a-sparrow bird is quite scarce throughout most of New Mexico, so you can imagine our surprise at bringing this new friend into the Hawks Aloft fold.

This owl—yet to be named, more on that soon—was found in Tularosa, New Mexico, a village slightly to the north of Alamogordo in the southern half of the state. At any time of year, this is an unlikely spot for an Elf Owl to stake out—at the very, very northernmost tip of its range, and by some accounts, not within normal range for the species – period!  He was found with an injury and immediately transported to Alameda Park Zoo, where he was treated for a severe fracture to his left wing and for contusions throughout its whole structure.

Image by Larry Rimer

When the owl stabilized, he was transferred to us, where our own Lisa Morgan continued treatment along with Southwest Veterinary Medical Center’s Dr. Daniel Levenson. After many hours of treatment attempting to restore the bird’s flight, it become clear that full flight capabilities would sadly never be returned to him.

This species is not just adorable, they are threatened throughout much of their range, and are federally listed as endangered in California. Thus, it’s all the more of an honor, then, to have this particular owl in our care, so that he might share his story far and wide and bring awareness to the plight of his species.

Image by Larry Rimer

All of Hawks Aloft’s Avian Ambassadors have names that are educational—they say something about each bird’s species, or their particular story. For example, Malary, one of our Prairie Falcons, was named this because of her lovely falcon malar stripes. Her pal, and our other Prairie Falcon in residence, Sunny, got this name because it says something about the kind of habitat the species favors.

This month we are holding a contest to see who can name our newest Avian Ambassador. Got an idea? Email your best suggestions to Gail at gail[at]hawksaloft.org before December 31. In our January newsletter, the HAI Flier we’ll share a list of our top picks and will rely on you to cast a vote. (Not subscribed to the Flier? Sign up here!) We look forward to hearing your ideas, and in the coming months, stay attuned to upcoming Hawks Aloft events for your chance to meet our very own Elf in residence!

Image by Larry Rimer

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A Night to Remember

The tables were all set, pictures were hung, food was simmering, aprons were strung near the picture windows, and Hawks Aloft staff and a few key members of our team of Avian Ambassadors anxiously awaited the first guests to walk through the doors of the Anderson-Abruzzo International Balloon Museum to kick off our Falcon Fiesta.

American Kestrel, Waldo, greets visitors at the sign-in table

The Falcon Fiesta, which was held on Saturday, Sept. 15, was the second major event designed to raise money for our capital campaign–to break ground on the New Mexico Center for Birds of Prey. This center will house our Avian Ambassadors, provide a permanent site of rehabilitation for birds in need who come to Hawks Aloft through our Raptor Rescue Hotline, and a vital center for conservation education that will be, of course, open to the public. The center will be the first of its kind in New Mexico.


The Falcon Fiesta in full swing!

Months of planning came together for an evening of fun and celebration. The Cooperage provided a buffet of fine foods, while numerous local business, creatives, and makers contributed to several tables of silent auction items. A handful of businesses generously enlisted as sponsors and a host of pros donated experiential birding trips, photography sessions, and one-of-a-kind pieces to our live auction, expertly run by our emcee, Dennis Chamberlain. Cake was served, the New Mexico Falconry Association brought their trained birds, and a caricaturist sketched pieces for attendees so they could always remember the night.

The Falcon Fiesta wound down around 9pm, and tired staff and volunteers collapsed tables, loaded our cars, and headed home after seeing the success of an event that was in the works for many months.

An Aplomado Falcon was in attendance courtesy of New Mexico Falconers’ Association

Everything we do at Hawks Aloft is a collaborative effort. We rely on our relationships with our dedicated volunteers, the mutual support between our nonprofit and local businesses, schools, and other organizations, as well as the investment of people who care about wild birds and their habitats.

Thanks to all who helped make this event such a success–and keep an eye out for our next gala event to support the New Mexico Center for Birds of Prey!

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Eagle Updates from the Navajo Nation

The first of the eagles came to us on March 16. The bird–a juvenile Bald Eagle–had sustained a gunshot wound to the left wing, the tail feathers plucked, and had been left grounded for an unknown amount of time before an anonymous person discovered the bird and delivered it to the Navajo Nation Zoological Park.


The first Bald Eagle to arrive in care. Image by Larry Rimer

Immense efforts were undertaken to save the eagle’s life. Hawks Aloft volunteers Larry and Kim Rimer drove to Window Rock to pick up the eagle, transporting it to Gail Garber’s house in Albuquerque, then to Santa Fe, where Ty Horak and Nirankar Ambriz transported the eagle the last leg–to Cottonwood Rehab in Espanola and the care of Doctor Kathleen Ramsay. Though triage and surgery were quickly underway, existing infection from the birds injuries and hours on the ground eventually took this Bald Eagle’s life.

The second eagle in recovery

Just a few days later, on March 21, another eagle arrived with a similar story to tell. The bird had been shot and its tail feathers removed. Arlette Miller, our Raptor Rescue Dispatcher, took the call from the Navajo National Zoo and immediately set out from Albuquerque to Window Rock, then bringing the bird, again, to Doctor Ramsay for an emergency surgery.

It was determined over the course of this eagle’s lengthy recovery time that, although it could live happily in captivity, permanent injuries mean it will not be returned to the wild. This adult male Golden Eagle will live out the remainder of his life at the Navajo Nation Eagle Sanctuary, educating visitors with his story.

On March 30, yet another Golden Eagle was found in the same state as the first two.

A second Golden Eagle arrives with tail feathers removed

Discovered by a Navajo Agricultural Products Industry employee, this female Golden Eagle was quickly delivered to the Navajo Nation Zoo where emergency triage was performed. Chad Smith soon thereafter brought the bird to Albuquerque where Dr. Kariana Atkinson of Petroglyph Animal Hospital performed further triage and took X-rays.

At first hopeful that this bird might be re-released post-surgery, Dr. Atkinson’s team performed surgery to repair the bird’s humerus bone. Over the course of recovery, however, it became apparent that this bird, too, must remain in captivity for the rest of her life under expert care at the Navajo National Eagle Sanctuary.

Though under continued investigation by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Navajo Department of Game and Fish, the perpetrators have not yet been apprehended.

In late July representatives from Hawks Aloft attended a press conference at the Navajo Nation Zoo in Window Rock to receive news of the birds. Gail Garber, below, reports on the conference.

On Tuesday, July 31, 2018, Larry Rimer, Dr. Kathleen Ramsay, Lori Paras and I attended the press conference at the Navajo Nation Zoo in Window Rock. Below, I share comments from the Navajo Nation Department of Fish and Wildlife and also the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Navajo Nation Statement:
Golden Eagles, one of the most sacred birds to the Navajo People, have many threats to their survival on the Navajo Nation. They are threatened by climate change, drought, and excessive grazing, leading to low prey availability, disturbances to their nesting and hunting areas, lead poisoning, powerline electrocutions, vehicle strikes and other accidents. The Navajo Nation Department of Fish and Wildlife has been dealing another serious threat as well, illegal shooting for feathers.
The most recent of these illegal acts occurred in March 2018, as the Department’s Wildlife Law Enforcement Program responded to numerous calls regarding eagles shot with their tail feathers removed. These heinous acts were conducted solely for financial benefit, going against federal laws, tribal code, and the spiritual sacredness of the Golden Eagle.
Today, July 31, 2018, the Department is welcoming two of these Golden Eagles back to the Navajo Nation; unfortunately they both were severely injured from the gunshots and cannot be returned to the wild. Both eagles will remain in captivity at the Navajo Nation Eagle Sanctuary and will be cared for by the expert staff of the Navajo Nation Zoo for the remainder of their lives.

At the Navajo Nation Eagle Sanctuary. Image by Larry Rimer

Although we are pleased to be able to provide a home for these two eagles with our federally-permitted Eagle Sanctuary, the Department is disgusted by the acts of this person(s) that shot these eagles and removed their tail feathers. All efforts are being made by the Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to apprehend these violators.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Statement:
These rehabilitated eagles represent both the extreme cruelty and compassion of people. The Service is still investigating these crimes and hopes to see justice done. A reward is being offered for information in the case. We thank our partners, both those helping with the investigation and the rehabilitators who tended to these birds. We recognize the importance of eagles to our tribal partners and will continue to work through our tribal aviary program and National Eagle Repository to provide a legal source of feathers for cultural and religious needs.

We, at Hawks Aloft, want to recognizes and thank all of the partners who helped in the care and transport of these birds: David Mikesic and his staff at the Navajo Nation Zoo. Dr. Kariana Atkinson and Dr. Ray Hudgell at Petroglyph Animal Hospital, Dr. Kathleen Ramsay at Cottonwood Rehabilitation, Lori Paras at Santa Fe Raptor Center, Larry and Kim Rimer, Arlette Miller, Katrina Hucks, James Robinson, Nirankar Ambriz, Ty Horak, and Lisa Morgan.



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Adventuring on the Peruvian Amazon with Hawks Aloft and Wildside Nature Tours

Sunset on the Maranon River, Peru.  Image by Edison Buenano.

Water, water, everywhere! Our group of 17 called the La Perla riverboat home for 8 days, venturing out in large skiffs to explore the black water tributaries of the Marañon and Yucialli rivers, themselves tributaries of the might Amazon.  This trip was scheduled during the rainy season, when the rivers are in flood stage, facilitating access via boat to areas that would otherwise be impossible to reach during the much hotter dry season. Many of us were worried, needlessly, about the copious downpours featured in movies, but only one gentle shower graced our stay for about two hours. Diversity was the norm on this adventure focusing not just on birds, but all wildlife as well as native customs.

One of our group’s boats on the Amazon River. Image by Gail Garber.

One skiff was dedicated to birding and the other to photography. Of course, my choice was the birding skiff, where Edison Buenaño was our guide.  Birding the tropics seems to always be a challenge due to the huge number of species and the unfamiliar calls, but Edison, native to Ecuador and one of the premier guides in South America, knew each and every vocalization.  It was his excellent ear that lead us to see some very unusual birds, like the Hoatzin, a very rare bird indeed.

Hoatzin, Image by Edison Buenano.

In all, we tallied about 300 different species, depending on the choice of boat and whether you were looking in the right direction at the right time.  The Amazon and its tributaries are home to freshwater dolphins, including the Amazon River dolphin or Boto, a freshwater dolphin found in the Amazon and Orinoco Rivers of South Amercia. It is the largest river dolphin species in the world and comes in pink and gray.  One afternoon, there was an apparent feeding frenzy near the boat that yielded great looks at both pink and gray dolphins.  There were numerous sightings of Three-toed Sloths with young, and many species of monkey.

Pink River Dolphin. Image by Edison Buenano.

Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth and Baby. Image by Edison Buenano.

One of the highlights was visiting the local villages where we were treated to a traditional meal before visiting the school. We had brought school supplies to share and some soccer balls too!  The kids regaled us with songs and asked us to sing back to them which caught all of us adult Americans off-guard as we were not expecting that.  We all looked at each other dumbfounded; then one of us began singing Old MacDonald Had a Farm.  We all chimed with a “Moo Moo Here and Moo Moo There – EIEIO!”  Luckily there are no recordings of that!

Children in the School. Image by Gail Garber

The pond at the next village was chock full of the giant Amazon Victoria Lilies, complete with a Wattled Jacana family where parents and chicks were comfortably walking atop the lily pads with a spread of six or more feet.

Victoria Lilies. Image by Gail Garber.

We also watched an artist creating fibers from the slender leaves of  native plants and then using native plants to dye the strands in bright orange and yellows!  We visited the area Shaman who shared her knowledge of natural medicines and blessed our group in a ritual ceremony.

Fibers Removed from Native Plants. Image by Gail Garber

Native Woman Getting Ready to Dye Fiber Using Natural Dyes.  Image by Gail Garber


Dyeing Fiber

Kathleen Ramsay and her son, Ty Horak were among the participants; some of you might know her as “Doc”, the wildlife veterinarian that has cared for some of the most difficult rehabilitation cases in New Mexico.  On two different occasions, kingfishers collided with the La Perla windows, only to be rescued, revived and later released alive and well.

The morning cacophony was mostly dominated by seemingly endless large flocks of White-winged Parakeets traveling from their roosts to begin foraging.  One day, our astute local guide, Victor Ramirez Arevalo spotted a White-winged Parakeet trapped in a fishing net that had been hung out to dry.  While we anxiously cooled our heels on the skiff, he approached the local villagers to ask permission to release the little guy/gal.  Soon, he was stepping back aboard the skiff with a very stressed and overheated parakeet.  This time, it was my privilege to loosely hold the bird in Sami Sanborn’s neckerchief, while Bruce Stone dabbed water on the cloth to aid in cooling the bird.  We released the parakeet not far away, but safely away from the fishing net.  And, so it went, with first on new lifer and then another, and monkey antics galore.

Victor Rescues the Trapped White-winged Parakeet. Image by Joan Grissing.


White-winged Parakeet, feeling better and ready for release. Image by Joan Grissing.

While all meals on the La Perla were outstanding, the evenings were the best, when the staff morphed into “The Chunky Monkeys”, regaling us with local tunes and even dancing!  What could be better!

Amazon Riverboat Trip Participants


Map of Area Our Group Visited.

Our final quest was the Humboldt Penguin, along the coast.  Pucusana, an hour south of Lima, was our destination, where a rickety boat with a small motor awaited.  The abundant and beautiful Inca Terns a rickety boat to motor around a very large land formations, the territory of seabirds of all kinds.  The ocean swells were enormous and the little boat floundered along until we reached a cliff tucked back in among a deep cleft in the massive cliff.  As the tiny boat rose and fell with the roiling swells and appeared to be drifting right toward the rocks, the penguins appeared under the shelter of an overhang. We definitely earned that particular species!

Humboldt Penguins. Image by Gail Garber

About half of the group returned home that night while others traveled on to Machu Picchu and other far flung sites.  It was yet another Hawks Aloft Grand Adventure!  I hope you will join us in Guatemala in January 2019!

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