This page summarises the tours I am involved with over the next few years. If you are interested in participating in any of these, contact details are provided.
Russian Far East: May-June 2021
Without question, one of my favourite parts of the world and somewhere I am fortunate enough to have visited almost annually since 2007. I am lucky enough to work in this region with Heritage Expeditions ( www.heritage-expeditions.com ) who, in my opinion, are the most experienced expedition company operating ships in this region. My favourite trips in this region are from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy to Sakhalin Island, a circumnavigation of the Sea of Okhotsk and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy to Anadyr.
The birds and wildlife of this area is phenomenal - a region I cannot recommend highly enough.
Spectacled Guillemot - one of the more range-restricted alcids Parakeet Auklet - another of 16 species of auks in the Russian Far East
Antarctica: December 2021-January 2022
I will be working as Expedition Leader for the French company Ponant and we will be visiting the South Shetland Islands and Antarctic Peninsula. This will be an excellent opportunity to see all the 'expected' species such as Gentoo, Chinstrap and Adelie Penguins, Wandering and Black-browed Albatrosses, as well as a selection of marine mammals including Leopard Seal, Weddell Seal and Humpback Whale. On one of the trips we will also be visiting the Falklands and South Georgia so should see plenty of additional species such as Striated Caracara, King Penguin and South Georgia Pipit.
Gentoo (left) and Chinstrap (right) Penguins - two of the species which are seen on trips to Antarctica and the South Shetland Islands
West Pacific Odyssey March-April 2022
This trip is run by Heritage Expeditions and we will sail from New Zealand to Japan making stops on Norfolk Island and New Caledonia before continuing through the Solomon Islands, Micronesia (Chuuk), Bonin and Izu Islands before disembarking in Yokohama. Not only is the trip fantastic for island endemics but we also see a superb range of seabirds.
Starting in the waters of the Hauraki Gulf we will look for New Zealand Storm-petrel, Black Petrel and Grey Ternlet before passing through the tropics where Heinroth's Shearwater and Beck's Petrels are amongst are targets, before finishing in the cooler waters south of Japan for Matsudaira's Storm-petrel, Short-tailed Albatross, Japanese Murrelet and Bonin Petrel. We will also look for 'New Caledonian Storm-petrel', the Band-rumped Storm-petrels we have seen in recent years off Northern New Caledonia (even though this species has previously not been recorded from the SW Pacific) and hope to find Bryan's Shearwater off the Bonin Islands.
The list of island endemics is equally impressive and we typically find 30+ endemics during our stops in the Solomon Islands as well as the Kagu and more than a dozen endemics on New Caledonia. On Chuuk, we hope to offer the opportunity to look for Chuuk Monarch and Faichuuk White-eye on Tol South and in the Bonin Islands the plan is to land on Haha-jima, the only island where the spectacular Bonin White-eye is found. Our final landing is scheduled to be on Hachijo-jima in the Izu Islands where Izu Thrush and Ijima's Leaf-warbler are likely.
Amazon wildlife cruise: September 2022
I pioneered this trip in 2015 and have led it several times since, with all cruises being phenomenally successful. Highlights have included spending almost an hour with a Harpy Eagle at about 60 feet as well as swimming with wild Pink River Dolphins, which as been described by some clients being as memorable as spending time with the Gorillas in Africa. We will travel on the same specially chartered river live-aboard from Manaus, Brazil. Manaus is at the confluence of the Rios Negro (a “black water” river) and Solimoes (a ‘white water” river) and this is where the two merge to form the Amazon.
Initially, we plan to travel along the Amazon exploring side channels, larger tributaries, as well as landing on river islands and in varzea (annually flooded) forest and terra firme (never flooded) forest. Each of these habitats has its own suite of birds and possibilities include Varzea Piculet, Cream-coloured Woodpecker, Amazonian Umbrellabird and Orange-backed Troupial.
We will then explore the Rio Negro and its tributaries. Whilst the “white waters” of the Solimoes and Amazon are rich in sediments, the Negro’s “black water” carry less nutrients (as they generally flow over more sandy soils) and as a result, there is a subtle difference in the forest and thus the wildlife.
One of the places we plan to visit along the Rio Negro is Anavilhanas which is the world’s largest fresh water archipelago with 400 river islands and a maze of waterways. Only accessible by boat, these islands are almost entirely uninhabited and home to many interesting birds including Crestless Curassow, Agami Heron and Festive Parrot. We should also the world’s largest water lily, Victoria Amazonica which can have a diameter of three metres.
The list of species we could see during the tour runs into the hundreds and include some of the most colourful bird families on the planet such as Macaws (Chestnut-fronted, Red-and-Green, Scarlet and Blue-and-Yellow), Toucans (including the Toco Toucan of ‘Guinness’ fame), Trogons, Cotingas and Tanagers, as well as the more cryptically coloured Antbirds, Woodcreepers and Flycatchers.
This trip is, however, not just about birds and we should also find an excellent range of monkeys, as well as both the Amazon (Pink) River Dolphin and the less well known Tucuxi.
Boat-billed Heron - a possibility on night-time boat trips Harpy Eagle: one of the most impressive eagles in the world
Amazon 'Primates and Parrots' Special: April - May 2023
This will be a repeat of the hugely successful ‘world first’ wildlife adventure I first led in 2018 and then again the following year We plan to spend a couple of weeks sailing downstream from the Brazilian city of Manaus exploring some of the remote rivers that flow into the Amazon.
One of our primary goals is to find some of the least known monkeys in Amazonia and over the course of this expedition, we will visit areas which are home to over thirty species, a number of which are extremely localised. Those we hope to find include Golden-white Tassel-ear Marmoset, Sateré Marmoset, Maués Marmoset, Silvery Marmoset, Midas Tamarin, Pied Tamarin, Hoffman’s Titi, Lake Baptista Titi and Amazon Black Howler. Other possibilities include White-faced Saki, Guianan Squirrel Monkey, Guianan Brown Capuchin, Spix’s White-fronted Capuchin and Spix's Howler. On our first expedition we saw an incredible 28 species on the main tour and extension and even more on the second cruise.
We will also spend some of our time searching for some of the unique birds which live in this rarely visited region and there are three special parrot species which we particularly want to find - Bald Parrot, Vulturine Parrot and Golden Parakeet (all seen in 2018). Other possibilities include six species of macaws, Blue-and-Yellow, Scarlet, Red-and-Green, Blue-winged, Chestnut-fronted and Red-bellied, as well as Red-fan Parrot and Crimson-bellied Parakeet.
We also intend to make several night time excursions and the nocturnal creatures we could encounter include Brazilian Porcupine, Grey Four-eyed Opossum, Giant Tree Rat, Black and Spectacled Caimans, Red-tailed Boa, Northern Ghost Bat, Greater Fishing Bat as well as an impressive selection of owls, nightjars and potoos. When exploring during daylight, we can also expect to see both Amazon (Pink) River Dolphin and the smaller Tucuxi.
Prior to joining our vessel in Manaus, there will almost certainly be an optional extension to a remote community-run jungle lodge near the isolated Amazonian town of Tefé. The lodge is located in the Mamirauá Reserve and has the unusual distinction of being built on a series of floating pontoons, rather than on solid ground in terra firme forest.
Our main objective for visiting is to look for the Bald Uacari, surely one of South America’s most spectacular monkeys, although we will also want to find the Black-headed Squirrel Monkey. Both have relatively restricted ranges, with the entire world population of the squirrel monkey being within the Mamirauá Reserve and we found both species in 2018 and 2019.
The area is generally flooded in April/May (as it is dominated by varzea and swamp forest), so we plan to explore the area using the lodge’s canoes. High water is, however, considered the best time to find primates here and locating these two special species will very much be the priority during our stay.
The lodge is also an excellent location for seeing other wildlife and over 360 species of birds have been recorded in the vicinity with the possibilities including Wattled Curassow, Sunbittern, White-chinned Jacamar and Paradise Tanager.
"In the wake of the Bounty", Central Pacific pelagic and island endemics: November 2023
This exclusive two week trip follows on from the highly successful tours I led to this region in November 2014 and then again in November 2018. We plan to sail on a specially chartered small expedition vessel from Mangareva in Eastern French Polynesia and spend two weeks visiting Pitcairn, Henderson and Oeno Islands before returning to French Polynesia and hopefully getting ashore on both Tenararo and Morane Islands.
There are some great endemics to look for including Tuamotu Sandpiper, Pitcairn Reed-warbler, Henderson Island (Flightless) Crake, Atoll Fruit-dove and the critically endangered Polynesian Ground-dove. Another 'landbird' we stand an excellent chance of seeing is Bristle-thighed Curlew – much easier here than in the wilds of Alaska !!!
The plan is to also spend a good portion of our expedition looking for seabirds and there are some real specialties in this remote part of the Pacific including Murphy's Petrel and Henderson Petrel, as well as more widespread species such as Herald Petrel, Phoenix Petrel, Kermadec Petrel, Polynesian Storm-petrel, Christmas Shearwater and both Blue and Grey Noddies. All the species listed above were seen on my previous visit along with Stejneger’s Petrel, Juan Fernandez Petrel, Gould’s Petrel, Cook’s Petrel, Black-winged Petrel and Black Petrel – a truly impressive list of tropical seabirds.
On both previous trips, we also saw and photographed the Titan (White-bellied) Storm-petrel. This poorly known bird is only known from a handful of records from the Central Pacific and is significantly larger than other forms of WBSP and deserves to be treated as a full species.
Whilst only an outside possibility, we will also be on the lookout for the 'lineata' storm-petrel which was collected in the Marquesas archipelago a couple of hundred years ago and was rediscovered a few years ago.
Henderson Fruit-dove - one of 4 landbird endemics on the island Bristle-thighed Curlew - an amazing migrant and likely on Henderson
My schedule for the rest of 2021-23 is taking shape and I will post updates in due course. There will also be a private trip to explore the Aripuana and hopefully Roosevelt Rivers where many of the "new species" described in the Special Volume of Handbook of Birds of the World can be found. The latter is a "by invitation only" trip but please get in touch in case any places become available.
Details of some of the other trips I will be involved with in the coming years are listed below:
New Caledonian seabird expedition: TBA
This expedition is aiming to continue the on-going project to resolve the mystery of the 'New Caledonian Storm-petrel' ('NCSP'), a streaky Storm-petrel which resembles New Zealand Storm-petrel ('NZSP') which was first discovered on the West Pacific Odyssey voyage (see below) in 2008.
Recent sightings, especially on two seabird expeditions I led to New Caledonia in 2013 and 2014 have confirmed that this taxon is different from NZSP and work by others has now conclusively proved this. On the more recent expedition, we identified some strong evidence that this species does indeed breed around New Caledonia and the plan is to return there with the aim of searching the localities we have identified for breeding birds. Our aim is to catch at least one individual which will be released after being measured, photographed and DNA samples collected.
To fund this non-profit expedition, a small number of people can come on the trip as 'paying participants'. If you are interested in joining the expedition, please click here for further details or contact me via the contacts page.
An article describing the full story was published in Birding World magazine (July 2013) and to see a copy of this click here.
'New Caledonian Storm-petrel' March 2013 - although similar in plumage to New Zealand Storm-petrel, this taxon is larger with heavier streaking and a number of other subtle differences. See my NCSP page for further information. The right photo shows an NCSP flying with a Tahiti Petrel.
Mexico Pelagic: TBA
This exciting voyage will be a repeat of the 2015 'world first' expedition and we will sail from San Diego with the objective being to look for seabirds around the Mexican islands of Guadalupe and Socorro. In 2015 we had some good looks at the critically endangered Townsend's shearwater around Socorro and also saw the endemic wren there. Offshore from Guadalupe, we found the extremely poorly known Ainley's Storm-petrel, indeed several of these birds actually landed on the ship after dark. As well as these species, there is an excellent chance of a range of other exciting seabirds including Black-vented Shearwater, Townsend's Storm-petrel and Least Storm-petrel. Both the IOC and AOU now recognise Ainley's (and Townsend's) Storm-petrels as full species, so those on the inaugral voyage in 2015 are amongst a handful of birders to have seen this species.
Our expedition also visits the only place where the almost mythical Guadalupe Storm-petrel was known to breed and whilst this bird has not been seen for many years, given how many seabirds have "come back from the dead" in recent years, we will certainly be on the lookout for anything resembling this 'lost species'.
Humboldt pelagic: TBA
WildWings first ran a trip down the Humboldt Current in 2005 and in October 2016, I led the follow up trip which involved spending just over a week sailing from Lima to Valparaiso (Chile). The trip was a great success and we saw some fantastic seabirds including Waved Albatross, Masatierra Petrel, Hornby's Storm-petrel, Markham's Storm-petrel, Peruvian Diving-petrel, Peruvian Tern and Inca Tern.
The trip also included a couple of days in Peru prior to joining the ship with a pelagic from Callao (port for Lima) and a visit to the nearby reserve of Lomas de Lachay for some speciality landbirds. Once we reached Valparaiso, we will flew further south for a pelagic targeting the newly described Pincoya Storm-petrel.
Subantarctic Islands of New Zealand and Australia: November-December
Run by my friends at Heritage Expeditions ( www.heritage-expeditions.com ), “Birding Down Under” is undoubtedly the best southern ocean pelagic seabirding trip in the world. The expedition visits all the key island archipelagos south of New Zealand and Australia, ie Snares, Auckland, Macquarie, Campbell, Antipodes, Bounties and Chatham.
This trip is a ‘must’ for the keen pelagic seabirder and the list of species we can expect to see is phenomenal. There are excellent chances of seeing three of the toughest (to see) penguins in the world, ie Snares Crested, Royal and Erect-crested and the trip list should also include multiple endemic cormorants, a great selection of albatrosses and petrels plus some very interesting island endemics, eg Auckland Island Teal, Chatham Pigeon etc.
This trip is also unquestionably the best in the world for the almost mythical Magenta Petrel and we could even see the extremely rare Chatham Petrel. A trip I cannot recommend highly enough.
Future trips planned
I have plans for a number of new and exciting seabird trips in the coming years and if you are interested in being updated when these are finalised, please contact me via the contacts page. Locations I am hoping to visit include an expedition to the Marquesas (French Polynesia) to look for the recently rediscovered 'lineata' storm-petrel, a voyage around the islands of Mauritius, Rodrigues and Reunion with the principle target being to look for the poorly known Mascarene Petrel, a trip through the southern Indian Ocean islands including Kerguelen, St Paul and Amsterdam, and a pelagic trip to the Chatham Islands off New Zealand for Magenta and Chatham Petrels. The intention is also to return to Vanuatu and Fiji at some point to look for Vanuatu and Fiji Petrels, birds I was lucky enough to see whilst guiding for Heritage Expeditions in April 2014.
Two of the classic species of the southern Indian Ocean and endemic to this region, Black-faced Sheathbill (left) and Amsterdam Albatross (right)