My Top Trips

I am constantly dreaming of my top places to visit, those places where there is an extra special bird or simply an awesome location that has to be seen. So rather, than jotting these species and places at the back of a notebook to gather dust only to be discovered again years down the line I thought that I would start to publish my top sites here. This can then be developed, updated and clickable 'forever'. I have tried to divide these into a sensible order; do you chose species order, alphabetical, months to visit or country's, I have decided on a regional format to begin with but may well develop this as things progress. I have no intention to make this a 'where to watch' and will leave this to Nigel Wheatley, it is simply a list of my top sites/species and the places where I would most like to visit to see them.

The photographs that I used have been gleaned from the internet, I aim to provide the photographer with full credit and a link to their website or blog, if you see that one of yours has been used and you object to this then please email me and I will remove it immediately, alternatively if you would like to supply a better image or additional information or links then I will add these. Contact me at simon@ecosa.co.uk


These are my top trips for Europe and North America, I will be adding South America, Asia, Africa and the rest shortly.


EUROPE

Great Grey Owl 

In my view this is the ultimate owl, enigmatic in appearance and in locality. I love the cooler mountainous areas and boreal areas in which it is found. Yes, there are many owls but this one rules supreme. I have tried for this owl in Finland and in California twice but failed on all attempts. I fancy seeing the bird in the snow, hunting, rather than a head and a tail sticking out of a nest. Winter trips are more difficult as the birds can be sporadic in their occurrence, for example, in Finland. Trips and sites include:


Great Grey Owl - Taken at the Hawk Conservancy Trust - Simon Colenutt


Long-tailed Skua Migration

This is a relatively easy one, the Long-tailed Skua passage at Aird an Runair, North Uist, Outer Hebrides (location here) is the place to go. The passage occurs in mid to late May as birds head north to their breeding grounds. However, onshore winds are essential for seeing good numbers of birds. Approximately 500 Long-tailed Skua and 1,000 Pomarine Skua pass by during an average spring.


Part of flock of 52 Long-tailed Skua - an amazing site! Photo by Stephen Duffield of Western Isles Wildlife who run tours throughout the islands.


Polar Bear
Polar Bear is the ultimate marine predator and in Europe the place to see them is Svalbard and Franz Joseph Land where the population numbers around 3,000. This is not a trip to do on foot! Most tours cover the islands by boat. I think that probably Naturetrek do the best Svalbard tips, see here. Walrus and Bowhead Whale are also regularly seen on this tour. WWF have been tracking Polar Bears, see here.

Polar Bear showing why it is top dog. 
Photo by Ashok K Vaish from the Pitara Kids Network website


Steller's Eider

Arguably the most amazing looking of the ducks (after Spectacled Eider!). THE place to see this species is Varanger Fjord but it is also present in Estonia and can be seen regularly in the north-west of Saaremaa. Finnature organise tours to see them at Varanger Fjord (birding map here) and this is perhaps the most popular way of seeing the species.


Steller's Eider - Daniel Bergmann. See more of his amazing images of Iceland at www.danielbergmann.com


Wallcreeper
Now this bird is my biggest bogey and for a long-time one of my most sought after birds. It started on 16th May 1985 when I was 14 and I bunked off school as the winds had gone south-east and appeared superb for a seawatch at St. Catherine's Point, I cycled from home just to arrive about 30 minutes after a Wallcreeper had flown in off the sea - imagine an 'in-off'!! I was devastated. I have subsequently dipped them in the Himalayas and in the Alps, I did see a distant silhouette of a bird flying from a cliff face but this is not good enough. To top it, for my 40th birthday, Sarah had commissioned a cake with an icing Wallcreeper on it! Now, I know that they can be relatively easy especially in the winter but I have just not taken the bull by the horns to twitch this one, maybe this winter. Reliable places to see them in the winter are:


  • Trigrad Gorge, Bulgaria tours here
  • Besancon, Franche-Comte
  • Top of the cable car at Funte de, Picos
  • Riglos, Spanish Pyrenees
  • Los Mallos de Riglos, Aragon, Spain
  • Colegiata Gorge, Alquezar, Spanish Pyrenees
  • Birdguides article on finding Wallcreeper in the Sierra de Guara, Spain here and an update to this article here


Amazing image of a Wallcreeper by Freeda6688, see more of her fantastic 
bird and wildlife photographs here

NORTH AMERICA


Alaska
Alaska is undoubtedly one of the places that I would most like to visit. It has some fantastic birds including Bristle-thighed Curlew, Red-legged Kittiwake, Steller's Eider but for me the star is Spectacled Eider. The Spectacled Eider in my eyes is one of the most mind-blowing of all ducks, ducks are much maligned but they really area a fantastic group. The Spectacled Eider has it all, gaudy, ugly, rare and remote. Barrow in Alaska is the famous place to go to see them. Alaska has many other attractions including the famous sites of Grizzly Bear (Katmai National Park) and Bald Eagle (on the Chilkat River) fishing the late summer Salmon runs.




This fantastic shot of a male Spectacled Eider by Brian Zweibel shows the uniqueness of this duck - nothing short of mind blowing! More of Brian's fantastic images can be seen on his website here


Baja California and Sea of Cortez

Baja and the Sea of Cortez is one of the best cetacean watching areas in the world with many species possible during a cruise that takes in both. Such a cruise takes in the rough Pacific coast of Baja and the sheltered waters of the Sea of Cortez, this diversity of seascape facilitates the diversity of cetaceans present. The highlights though are regular sightings of the worlds largest creature, the Blue Whale and eye to eye encounters with Grey Whale at San Ignacio. Up to 24,000 Grey Whales visit the area from the Bering and Chukchi Seas to mate and give birth. There is a large diversity of cetaceans to be seen including Bryde's, Minke, Fin, Bryde's and Humpback Whale.


  • Details of Naturetrek trip here 
  • Wildwings tour here
  • Baja Discovery tours here
  • Where to Watch Birds and Wildlife Baja


Grey Whale taken on a Baja Discovery tour, see their 
website for organised and custom tours here


Grouse of Central North America

There are five stonking grouse species that occupy the prairies of central North America, these are Sharp-tailed Grouse, Greater and Lesser Prairie-Chicken and Greater and Gunnison Sage-Grouse.  Birdquest appear to be the best option with their 'Ultimate Grouse Tour' to Colorado and Kansa's seeing all of these species plus White-tailed Ptarmigan, Mountain Plover and Dusky Grouse amongst other localised species. It would probably be possible to arrange this trip via a local guide but I believe the Birdquest tour is perhaps the easiest and most efficient way of doing the trip - if not the cheapest.


This fantastic shot of Greater Prairie-Chicken by Brian Zweibel shows the display off to perfection. More of Brian's fantastic images can be seen on his website here


Paul Jones's photo of a Sharp-tailed Grouse in full display shows the bird to perfection. More of Paul's amazing photos from around the World can be seen on his Flickr page here 


Humpback Whale

To me the Humpback Whale is the whale to get views of, acrobatic and charismatic but also relatively easy to see - not hours bobbing at sea for possible brief sightings, this is a shallow water lounger. While there are many places to see Humpback Whale I quite fancy seeing them in the States, the north-east is a good area with spectacular scenery but, personally, I am not sure why else you would visit - so Humpbacks seem to be a good reason to go there and see an area that may not attract me otherwise.




Humpback Whale breaching by Phillip Colla. Phillips beautiful images can be seen on his website Ocean Light here, keep up to date with Phillip's photographic expeditions here, some amazing shots.


Yellowstone National Park
Iconic Yellowstone. Established in 1872 and believed to be the fist National Park in the world largely located in Wyoming but extending into Montana and Idaho. The park covers an immense 3,468.4 square miles and is centred over the Yellowstone Caldera, the largest super volcano in North America. Its not so much the birds but the mammals (American Bison and Wolf) and the scenery that attracts me. I would especially like to visit in the winter months when the geysers and wildlife are at their most spectacular.


  • Google Park location here
  • Official park map here
  • Park Website here
  • Wikipedia article here
  • Where to Watch Birds and Other Wildlife write-up here 
  • 'See Yellowstone' Tours here

Biscuit, Yellowstone - Stunning winter scenery. Photo from 'See Yellowstone' tour company website



Western Canada
For me there are several reasons to visit Western Canada, and specifically British Colombia, but the highlights have got to be the Grizzly Bears fishing for Salmon and Orca, this is perhaps the best place in the world to get proper experiences of both. The Vancouver area is the best for these two species with the Orford River Valley, Bute Inlet, Great Bear Lodge and Knight Inlet areas best for Grizzly Bear and the Johnstone Straight off Vancouver Island best for Killer Whale. Mid-August to Mid-October is the best time to see the Grizzlies plucking Salmon from the rivers while July to August is the peak time for Killer Whale. So, I suspect that August would be a good time to visit. Some links to trips and information are here:

  • Where to Watch Birds and Other Wildlife write-up here 
  • Speyside Wildlife trip here
  • Bear Tours here
  • Whale and Bear Tours here
  • Kayaking with Orca here
  • Boat tours for Orca here
  • Vancouver whale watching here


Fishing Grizzly Bear from the Wildlife Trails website. The company run a range of 
tours to fantastic wildlife sites