A Top Predator in Belize: The Harpy Eagle

In general, it is not easy to see forest raptors, and in the case of the Harpy Eagle, a low density species,  it can be more difficult still. But for many bird watchers this eagle, the largest in the Americas, a top predator, and the most powerful raptor in the world, is one of the “most wanted” species to include in their life lists.

Although this eagle has been seen sporadically in Belize over the past decade, it was not until a few short months ago that a team of investigators found the first active nest reported for this species in this country for over 60 years.

This incredible find injects a breath of hope for the conservation of the Harpy Eagle in this small Central American country.  Now, scientists are concentrating on monitoring the movements of the adults and the juvenile to learn more about their diet, behavior, and movements, and are also looking for new nests in areas close to the territory occupied by this pair.

At Whitehawk, we are planning several trips to key sites in Central America that will allow us to observe this incredible eagle.

Mountain Pine Ridge, Belize

The Mountain Pine Ridge, Belize is a birder’s paradise, particularly for raptor enthusiasts. Only two hours from Belize City, it is, as its name implies, a large expanse of Caribbean Pine Forest. However, it is a forest riddled with surprises. Pines give way abruptly to broad-leaf vegetation. Howler Monkeys can sometimes be heard, and occasionally seen, from mountain tops that look down onto an expanse of green jungle. Jaguars, pumas and tapirs continue to be seen on occasion, as well as deer and foxes.
The juxtaposition of habitats in Belize’s Mountain Pine Ridge, along with an abundance of water sources in the form of cool streams, natural blue pools and thundering waterfalls, has created important habitat for a large number of species and some amazing and hard-to-see raptors. Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, Stygian Owl, Laughing Falcon, Plumbeous Kite, Black and White Hawk Eagle, Black Hawk Eagle, and Solitary Eagle are just a few of the raptors that have been documented in the area. And it is one of the best and most accessible places in Central America to see Orange-breasted Falcon. Other birds that can be seen include King Vulture, Rusty Sparrow, Green Jay, and Plain Wren, to name just a few.
Whitehawk offers two trips to Belize, both of which include time spent in the Mountain Pine Ridge. Come join us for a birding adventure set in arguably one of the most pristine, beautiful settings in Central America.

Morocco Birding – Mountains, Sea, Marshes and Wind-swept Dunes

I don’t know what hit me first – the hypnotic music, the bustling voices in the marketplace, or the smells of spiced vegetables and meat grilling on open barbeques in the Djemaa el Fna Square in Marrakesh. This was the first stop on our week-long, winter, Morocco birding extravaganza and we didn’t want to miss a thing. We spent the night in Marrakesh, eating well, strolling among the crowd, and purchasing spices and souvenirs at the bazaar.

Early the next morning, we headed to the Ourika Valley, not far from the city. Snow covered the ragged Jbel Toubkal – the highest peak in Morocco. The bright sun felt good on our faces. This was going to be a great day for birding. Within minutes of arriving, we spotted a Bearded Vulture soaring on splendid wings over the snow-covered valley. As we walked, we saw Red-billed Choughs scampering on the ground in small groups, and Horned Larks and Rock Sparrows seemed to be everywhere. On our way down, we even saw a Little Owl and a lovely Moussier’s Redstart.

Though it was thrilling to see spend time with these birds, my heart was set on seeing the Bald Ibis. With only 300 individuals left, this is one of the most endangered birds in the world. As we slowly wound our way down the coast in search of this elusive species, we were treated with sightings of Audouin’s Gulls and Barbary Partridges. Joyfully, we finally spotted the dark shapes of the Bald Ibises as they wandered along the sand dunes, probing for insects with their long beaks. We parked and snaked our way quietly toward the beach, inching closer to the birds to get a better view, careful not to disturb them. We observed them for quite a while from a distance, taking photos and just enjoying the splendor of being in the presence of such an amazing bird.

After the thrill of spending time observing Bald Ibises along the Moroccan coast, we continued south, for there were more amazing birds to be seen. We visited the beautiful Souss-Massa National Park to see the Black-crowned Tchagra and the Moroccan Magpie. We saw Barbary Falcons perched on telephone poles in open fields, and at the Ouarzazate Lagoon, we observed Marbled Ducks, Ruddy Shelducks, Squacco Herons and Crested GrebesYellow Wagtails, White-crowned Wheatears and the flashy Blue-throats were common sights along the edge of the lake.

The next day we left the warm waters of Ouarzazate and headed to the Sahara. We stopped in the hills of Boumalne Dades to try our luck with some birds such as the Greater Hoopoe Lark, Bar-tailed Lark, Red-rumped Lark, Temminck’s Lark and Trumpeter Finch… We saw them all!

We arrived in the desert in the late afternoon to the sight of red sand dunes jutting from the earth, camels wandering lazily in the sun, and Brown-necked Ravens scampering across the ground. We took an ATV ride across the dunes to a small patch of palm trees where a small flock of Desert Sparrows could be seen flitting in and out of the trees. This species, once common throughout the area, is now almost limited to small oases in the middle of the desert.

Before leaving the desert, we were able to see some of the most charistmatic birds of the region: Tristram’s Warbler,  Desert Wheatear, Streaked Scrub-Warbler, African Desert Warbler, a good flock of Spotted Sandgrouse and finally, as a parting gift, the Houbara Bustard.

One of our last stops was in The Forest of the Cedars – where families of monkeys sat by the side of the road or in the trees, watching us with interest as we walked through the forest. Morocco really is a country of contrasts. Only a few hours ago we were in a vast desert. Here, shadowy paths wind between tall trees, and birdsong echoes in our ears. We spotted Mistle Thrush, Coal Tit, Levaillant’s Woodpecker, Eurasian Nuthatch, Short-toed Tree-Creeper, North African Chaffinch and African Blue Tit.

The week passed quickly. When I boarded the plane back home, I was filled with good memories of our Morocco Birding tour. It has been an enlightening and amazing trip filled with good food, great company, interesting culture, and of course, some pretty special birds – a total of 132 species in all. It was a fabulous way to ring in the New Year!

Nature Photography: Light as Feathers

Today we would like to introduce you to a new website called “Light as Feathers”. This site features fantastic nature photography by Whitehawk member Yeray Seminario. His wildlife photos, focused mainly on birds with a special emphasis on raptors,  document his travels around the world. You will see some captivating images of Orange-breasted Falcons, Solitary Eagles, Indian Vultures, and a host of other beautiful, charismatic species.

Whitehawk is on Facebook!

Little by little we are creating a website with high quality content and lots of information about our trips. We are now also on Facebook, a good tool to inform you about our activities and, of course, to deliver news about birds and conservation, contests, games and anything that might be of interest to followers of Whitehawk. If you’re not yet a follower of our site, just click the “like” button. The more the merrier!


Whitehawk Takes Off

Welcome to Whitehawk – a very different birding tour company. Founded by three biologists, it offers trips to meet most every one’s budget, while integrating bird and wildlife watching with a strong emphasis on environmental conservation and local community involvement. We have put a lot of work and forethought into designing secure and fun trips into the natural world that also benefit the people and the wildlife in the areas in which we work. Whether our clients come to bird watch, sight-see, or learn wildlife photography techniques, Whitehawk guarantees a rewarding, safe, and enjoyable experience.

Although we are officially introducing ourselves now, we have spent a lot of time planning and organizing different bird watching routes in the Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia – four of the seven continents! We work directly with local guides who have great skill and knowledge in their field, as well as a great passion for birds and their conservation. Who better than local bird experts to show you the marvels of nature found in their own “backyards”?

Though our goal is to see the greatest number of species, concentrating on local specialties or the most emblematic, we know it is important to leave time for relaxation and the simple contemplation of nature. After all, vacations are to be enjoyed!

We frequently update our blog with news, activities and chronicles of our journeys. We hope you enjoy touring through our website and that you are inspired to join us soon on one of our trips. Whitehawk takes off now!

Angel, Marta and Yeray
Founders of Whitehawk