2019 Year in Review

December 31, 2019

A few photos of our clients and friends from our tours this year!

2019 was an incredible year for Mountain West birding Company.  As we have come to expect, our Flammulated Owling Tours were tremendously popular and successful.  We offered 26 tours this year and saw or heard an incredible 183 Flammulated Owls between May 11 and August 19.  This year we shared these incredible birds with 109 other birders.  This all despite a late winter that forced us to seek out new locations to try for these owls throughout most of the early part of the season.  All in all Flammulated Owling remains our top tour, and we are excited to show these birds to even more folks in 2020.

One of our most incredible looks at Flammulated Owls ever!

We ran back to back sold out Mountain West Most Wanted Tours this past July.  On both trips, we saw Himalayan Snowcock, Cassia Crossbill, Flammulated Owl, Black Swift, Black Rosy-Finch, Gray Partridge, Lewis's Woodpecker, Calliope Hummingbird, Sagebrush Sparrow, Gray Vireo, Gray Flycatcher, Wilsons & Red-necked Phalarope by the 100's of 1,000's, and we had Chukar on the first tour but were skunked on the 2nd.  During our first outing, we tallied a total of 151 Species, and on our second trip, that number dipped to 140 species with several breeders having moved on.  Between the 2 tours, we saw a total of 164 species--not a bad haul for the northern Great Basin the last week of July!

2 more tours to the Ruby's with Himalayan Snowcock success!

In early May we ran a quick weekend tour to southwest Utah, visiting Lytle Ranch Preserve, Zion National Park, and a few other locations on the northern tip of the Mojave Desert. We ran into some technical difficulties during the tour, as it was the first outing in our newly purchased van--Otus!  Otus performed mightily, but a crack in an HVAC line component forced us to cut the trip short and miss out on a few montane species.  Luckily our major desert targets all showed nicely, with Green Heron, Common Black Hawk, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Bell's Vireo, Cactus Wren, Phainopepla, Black-chinned Sparrow, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Hooded Oriole, Vermilion Flycatcher, and Lucy's Warbler.  A pair of phenomenally cooperative California Condors were surely the highlight of the trip for the entire group!  We ended the tour with 150 species despite the hiccups!

Our unforgettable experience with a California Condor!

A one-off trip to Cassia County in late June yielded all the South Hills specialties we've come to expect: Calliope Hummingbird, Lewis's Woodpecker, Hammond's Flycatcher, Yellow-breasted Chat, Fox Sparrow, and Lazuli Bunting.  Around Twin Falls we also picked up Gray Partridge, Ring-necked Pheasant, Barn Owl, Burrowing Owl, and the incredible sight of 67 Swainson's Hawks following a tractor bailing hay in a random field!  This tour also added a new bird to our Idaho tours list when we stumbled upon a young Western Screech-Owl during our night in town.  This quick 3-day trip tallied 132 species.

The most cooperative Cassia Crossbill we've had on a tour!

During the course of the year, we also led a variety of other private, multi-day, specialty, and custom tours with a variety of clients from all over the United States, and several other countries.  During 2019 we tallied 246 species of birds in Utah, Idaho, Nevada, and Wyoming--the core states where we've been leading guided tours since 2005.  However, in 2019 we expanded our tour offering--opting to go big for our first tour outside of this region, with our Bali and The Lesser Sundas Tour in Indonesia in November.

Rote Boobook hasn't yet formally been described as a species!

If you've never heard of the Lesser Sundas, you're not alone.  Most birders unfamiliar with Southeast Asia have never heard of this string of islands on the southern edge of the Indonesian Archipelago.  For those listers obsessed with the endemic-rich region, however, know that between Sumba, Rote, Timor, Flores, and Komodo, a keen birder can snag 85 species found only on these islands. Our inaugural international tour was in the works for almost 18 months, and after a scouting trip in 2018, we teamed up with Bali Birding Tour and had a fantastic trip. 

Timor Sparrow on our first afternoon in Timor.

Of the 85 endemics, we picked up a whopping 79 (3 would be nearly impossible on our itinerary, and we missed 3 others with bad luck).  We also picked up 21 Java and Bali endemics on Bali and added another 40 Indonesian endemics across all the islands on our way to 292 species on the current Clements List.  In the near future, taxonomical splits will likely lead to the tour total for this trip jumping to around 311 species.

The Sumba Hornbill was a major highlight in 2019.

Some highlights from this tour included a Magpie Goose on Rote. From what I can tell this was a first island record, and one of just 3-4 for Indonesia away from West Papua. We saw all 4 endemic booboks (Sumba, Least, Rote, and Timor), all 3 endemic myzomela (Sumba, Rote, and Black-breasted), the incredibly difficult to find and range-restricted Mount Mutis Parrotfinch (only discovered in 2012), its cousin the Tricolored Parrotfinch, the critically endangered Black-winged Starling, and my personal favorites: Sumba Hornbill, Elegant Pitta, Javan Banded Pitta, Bali Myna, Flores Scops Owl, Red-naped Fruit-Dove, Sumba Buttonquail, Timor Sparrow, Timor Blue Flycatcher, and many many more!

And of course, this tour gave everyone incredible, up-close, encounters with Komodo Dragons!

2019 was an incredible year!

I just want to thank all of my clients for joining me on a variety of tours.  Looking to the future we plan to start offering even more international itineraries, as well as a few new stateside tours.  In January 2020 we have a sold-out tour to the Yucatan Penninsula, 2 more Most Wanted Tours in July, and are planing a pair of shorter Indonesian tours for the fall (Java and a Bali Extension)!  And in 2021 we are looking at possible tours to Jamaica, Panama, Cabo, and another expedition to the Lesser Sundas!  Stay tuned, and we hope to see you on a tour again (or for your first) in the future!

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