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"As far as I remember myself in childhood, nature has always inspired me and it was interesting for me to “discover” its secrets, observing wild mammals and birds in surrounding woods. This passion led me in my youth to the biological faculty of a university in central Russia, where I received a specialization in vertebrate zoology, but besides this, I was also interested in many other scientific disciplines that studied wildlife and biodiversity. After graduating from the university, the same passion for learning wildlife forced me to go to the remote area - to one of the recently opened nature (wildlife) reserves in the mountains of Central Asia. I have lived and worked in Central Asia for over 25 years and, I hope, have contributed my “2 cents” in the study and protection of the magnificent nature of this region. I defended my dissertation on the study and territorial protection of the Asian Houbara Bustard, which recently was divided as independent species MacQueen’ Bustard (Chlamydotis macqueenii), a species that is threatened with extinction due to persecution. But besides this, I dealt with many other issues of both academic and applied science, including the study of the ecology of species, their distribution and relationships, as well as the problems of their protection and sustainable use.
I continued to work in the field of biodiversity study and conservation in Canada. At the same time, here I had the opportunity to purchase a good camera for wildlife photography and this became my new absorbing hobby. I understand the danger for the future of human civilization on our Earth if we lose even a part of the magnificent diversity of wildlife that we are surrounded by now. But I am sure that we can save this splendid biodiversity if together with knowledge of natural laws, we learn to appreciate its beauty and recognize the legitimate rights to coexist in our beautiful world. Therefore, we invite photographers and wildlife enthusiasts to share their impressions and images from wildlife observation on our website, we also give the opportunity to sell you images through our store".
In this exotic author’s tour during the Christmas holidays, we will be able to see the nature and wildlife of the mysterious Madagascar Island, which separated from India about 88 million years ago, during the breakdown of the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana. Since then, the unique flora and fauna of the island have been formed in conditions of complete isolation. As a result of this segregation, 90% of the plant and animal species that inhabit the island are found nowhere else in the world. People appeared on the island relatively recently, although the opinions of scientists about the time when the first settlers arrived differed. Surprisingly, this island drifted close to the east coast of Africa. Madagascar is one of the world’s largest islands on Earth (4th by the area) – and only here we can see unusual long-tailed curious lemurs, mammals that belong to primitive primates, they are sometimes also called semi-monkeys. Only here we will be able to observe the funny Madagascar aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascarensis), which in appearance can be compared with an animal from a fairytale. This is only one modern species from the family. Also only on this island, travelers can find many endemic species of phlegmatic chameleons.
We will visit the best national parks of this island with untouched nature that speaks for itself, take a walk along the fantastic alley of baobabs, get acquainted with the life of the local communities, swim in the Indian Ocean, enjoy wonderful fruits and admire the magnificent landscapes of this tropical island!
Day 1. December 24 – Sunday.
Day of arrival in Tana (Antananarivo). Accommodation in a hotel in the city center. Christmas evening. Introduction of the group members at dinner with each other and with our guides. Christmas night in the tropics.
Day 2. December 25 – Monday.
In the morning, after breakfast and gathering at the hotel, visit the bird sanctuary, Tsarasaotra Park. We can observe there following species: White-faced Whistling-Duck, Black Heron, Malagasy Pond-Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Malagasy Kingfisher, White-throated Rail, Madagascar Swamp Warbler, Malagasy Brush-Warbler, and other bird species. Then flight to Toliara (former Tulear) and lunch after arrival. Check-in for three nights at a hotel on the first line in Mangily town.
Day 3. December 26 – Tuesday. In the morning before breakfast, an excursion to the “spiny forest” with endemism in the flora of more than 95%. In addition, we’ll be able to spot baobabs there. If we are lucky, we’ll hope to see the following bird species: Madagascar Harrier-Hawk, Running Coua, Crested Coua, Thamnornis, Subdesert Mesite, Long-tailed Ground-Roller, Archbold’s Newtonia, Red-capped Coua, Subdesert Brush-Warbler. Also in the “spiny forest,” we will be able to detect some species of snakes, geckos, Madagascar iguanas, and many other representatives of the fauna of “cold-blooded” animals. Photo 3029. On the way from the forest to the hotel, we will stop at a nursery where two extremely rare globally endangered species of radiated and spider tortoises are bred. In the afternoon you will have the opportunity to soak up at the beach. And in the evening we will organize a night excursion to the “spiny forest”, full of rustles, night voices, and shadows of the night inhabitants of the woods. We hope to see several species of lemurs, including the Reddish-gray mouse lemur and Petter’s sportive lemur, Lesser hedgehog tenrec – a close relative of Eurasian hedgehogs, Torotoroka scops owl, and much more.
Day 4: December 27 – Wednesday.
In the morning, after breakfast at the hotel, we will go to see a rare passerine bird – the red-tailed vanga. This bird belongs to the Vangidae family, which is endemic to Madagascar. After birdwatching, we will visit the botanical garden, which has a large collection of succulent plants, as well as other endemic plants collected from all over the island. After lunch, we will have free time, which everyone can use at their choice.
Day 5: December 28 – Thursday.
After an early breakfast, we check out from the hotel and drive to the Zombitse-Vohibasia National Park. Many interesting bird species of Madagascar can be observed in the park, including several species of Madagascar cuckoos (Giant Coua, Coquerel’s Coua), Cuckoo-roller, Lesser Vasa Parrot, rare Appert’s Tetraka, Long-billed Bernieria, endemic Stripe-throated Jery, Rufous Vanga, White-browed Owl – endemic to Madagascar. Besides, we will be able to see local lemurs -Verreaux’s sifaka and Hubbard’s sportive lemur and many other interesting species of animals and plants. After observations in the park, it will take us 3 hours to get to our next stop – a wonderful hotel located near the Isalo National Park. Here we will stay for 2 nights. If we have time after the move, we will walk through the picturesque surroundings around the hotel.
Day 6: December 29 – Friday.
After breakfast, we will head to the Isalo National Park for the day. Among the interesting birds in the park, we can see the Malagasy Turtle-Dove, Malagasy Coucal, Madagascar Hoopoe, Madagascar Bee-eater, Malagasy Kestrel, Malagasy Paradise-Flycatcher, Madagascar Lark and other species. The park is also home to the Verreaux’s sifaka and the ring-tailed lemur or catta lemur. Here we can also spot local endemic species of snakes, lizards and frogs, such as bright Malagasy poison frogs (Mantella sp.) and the graceful day geckoes (Phelsuma genus). After a long day filled with interesting sightings, we will meet the sunset at the Windows of Isalo.
Day 7: December 30 – Saturday:
After breakfast, we check out from the hotel and move to the Tsaranuru Valley to a new place, located near the Andringitra National Park (UNESCO World Heritage Site) with amazing panoramic landscapes. The transfer trip will take about 5 hours. The views there are just amazing! oto 4860 Photo 2802. We will stay for one night at the famous Catta Camp, where we will live in a neighborhood with ring-tailed or catta lemurs. Photo 2802
Day 8: December 31 – Sunday:
In the morning after breakfast, we will walk through the forest with Malagasy Coucal, Malagasy Bulbuls, sunbirds (Souimanga Sunbird, Malagasy Sunbird), Madagascar Magpie-Robin, Forest Rock-Thrush, and other interesting species. Besides, we will be able to observe different species of reptiles and amphibians, including Malagasy poison frogs, chameleons, and many others. Then we will move to Anja Park (2.5 hours), where we’ll have a chance to see its inhabitants such as the ring-tailed lemur or catta lemur and several species of chameleons. After observations in this park and lunch, we will drive three more hours to another national park – Ranomafana. The park was founded specifically for the conservation of bamboo lemurs (Hapalemur genus). Here we will stay at the hotel for 2 nights. We’ll have rest after moving. In the evening, we’ll celebrate the last day of 2023 and have a delighted New Year’s Eve dinner.
Day 9: January 1 – Monday.
After breakfast we will go hiking to Ranomafana National Park, where in the morning we will be able to watch birds: Blue Coua, Pitta-like Ground-Roller, Tylas Vanga, Red-tailed Vanga, Pollen’s Vanga, Nelicourvi Weaver, Madagascar Cuckooshrike, Madagascar Blue Vanga, as well as Golden Bamboo Lemur, Greater Bamboo Lemur, Red-bellied Lemur, Red-fronted Lemur, Black-and-white Ruffed Lemur, Milne-Edwards’s sifaka. Interesting species of lizards live in the park including flat-tailed Madagascar geckos (Uroplatus sp.), Madagascar day geckos (Phelsuma sp.), and many other species. After lunch, we will rest at the hotel, and after dark, we will go on a night hike to see chameleons, frogs, snakes, nocturnal insects, grey mouse lemur, and pigmy mouse lemur in the flashlight.
Day 10: January 2 – Tuesday.
After breakfast, we will check out from the hotel and move to another place called Tana. It is a long road with stops at different places to observe birds, mammals, and other animals. On the way, we will stop by an amazing reptile park, where we will see a couple of dozen species of chameleons, amazing Madagascar geckoes (Uroplatus sp.), exotic frogs, and much more! Near the park, we will stop for lunch at one of the local restaurants. Photo 4162. We will also visit the lemur park near the city and walk around the city center. We will spend the night in one of the hotels in the city of Tana.
Day 11: January 3 – Wednesday.
After breakfast, we will check out from the hotel and drive to the local airport for a flight to Toamasina, and from there we will transfer by boat to Palmarium. Transfer to Palmarium will take 3-4 hours by car and 1.5 hours by boat. Upon arrival in Palmarium, we’ll stay in comfortable bungalows in the forest near the lake. Several species of lemurs, chameleons, and butterflies live on the territory close to bungalows. In this unique place, lemurs are not afraid of people and let them come close. And at night we will have an excursion to observe the most beautiful creature of Madagascar – the mysterious local funny animal (“arm-leg”) called aye-aye…
Day 12: January 4 – Thursday.
After breakfast, we will go to watch the lemurs. We will spend the whole day at the Palmarium with lemurs, where we can see and feed indri, black-and-white ruffed lemur, and other species up close. Photo 0699. Among the birds, we can see the endemic Hook-billed Vanga. And at night we will watch the gray mouse and eastern woolly lemurs.
Day 13: January 5 – Friday.
After breakfast and checking out from the hotel, we will drive to a place called Andasibe. This way we’ll pass firstly by boat (1.5 hours), and then 4 hours by car. Along the way, we will visit various local craftsmen shops. We’ll have lunch on the way. In the evening after dinner, we organize a night excursion into the forest to observe mouse lemurs, insects, frogs, chameleons, and other animals.
Day 14: January 6 – Saturday.
In the morning after breakfast, we will have an excursion to Analamazaotra Special Reserve. Here we can see many interesting bird species: Blue Coua, Madagascar Ibis, Red-tailed Vanga, Nuthatch-Vanga, Red-fronted Coua, Madagascar Green-Pigeon, and Collared Nightjar. We also will find wild indris and diademed sifakas. Then we will stop by Vakona Lodge, where tame lemurs live and there is a farm of Nile crocodiles. Photo 4021 In the evening one more excursion to the night forest.
Day 15: January 7 – Sunday – Day of our departure.
In the morning after breakfast, we check out of the hotel and collect all the necessary things – we are preparing for our departure back to Canada. However, before arriving at the airport, we will still have the opportunity to stop by the reptile park, where we will be able to see various species of chameleons, uroplatus, frogs, snakes, as well as Cocorell’s sifakas.
Departure day. Transfer to the airport. Flight home.
Photo credit by Ivan Leshukov.
For more information and/or to book this tour, please contact the travel agency directly at YYT Travel Tours: 7851 Dufferin St., Suite 100, Toronto (Thornhill), Ontario L4J 3M4 Tel: 1.877.999.4768 or 905.660.7000 – TICO Reg: #4332359
This is a journey for nature enthusiasts, for those who are interested to see the diversity of ecosystems and biodiversity in all their manifestations. We will drive along mountain roads and visit places with rich biological diversity, as well as get familiar with the cultural traditions of the Kyrgyz people, who move to high mountain pastures in summer. We will have the opportunity to look at the plains and human settlements adjacent to foothills from the height of mountain passes, see the turbulent streams running down narrow gorges from snow peaks, enjoy the splendor and variety of colorful alpine meadows with marvelous butterflies fluttering over them, walk along the paths in the lush forest belt, hear the singing of numerous birds and the whistle of marmots warning their neighbors about the appearance of unexpected guests in their habitats… We will be able to dive into the clear waters of Lake Issyk-Kul, surrounded by snow-capped mountain peaks on the hottest days of summer. And also we will be able to explore the colorful and noisy Asian bazaars and immerse ourselves in the oriental flavor, where history and modernity perfectly complement each other.
Day 1: June 11, Sunday. Early morning arrival at the airport of Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan with a Turkish Airlines flight from Istanbul – accommodation at the Asia Mountains *** hotel, breakfast. Early registration. We’ll have time for rest and an introduction. After accommodation, you can take a dip in the pool with refreshing clear water, or you can immediately go to the lakes and ponds of the fishing farms (30 km) to observe waterfowl and near-water birds that inhabit water reservoirs in the foothills for birdwatching. We expect to see many waders, gulls, and terns, as well as long-tailed shrike (Lanius schach) and shikra (Accipiter badius). Return to Bishkek in the afternoon. It will be possible to visit one of the colorful oriental bazaars and get familiar with the city. The evening program will include a walk around the evening city after dinner or rest if desired.
Day 2: June 12, Monday. Full-day excursion to the famous Central Asia Ala-Archa National Park (2,200 – 2,400 m above sea level; 40 km), rich flora is presented in the park; many species of birds and mammals also inhabit its area. The park has amazingly beautiful landscapes and a huge variety of plants in mountain meadows, which change seasonally, but all are remarkably beautiful. Here we will walk through a mountain forest, in which many trees have an unusual shapes and create a unique mountain landscape – with sharp crowns of Tien Shan spruce, spherical trunks of Turkestan juniper or “archa” trees, and delicate fluffy foliage of Tien Shan birch. There are also many insects here and in summer we will have the opportunity to see the carpenter bee and many different kinds of butterflies. In some places, we can see wild ibexes and even snow leopards, but it all depends on a lot of luck. But bird watching allows us to hope for success and during the excursion, we will be able to observe many mountain bird species: common dipper, blue whistling thrush, rufous-napped tit, coal tit, red-mantled rosefinch, Himalayan rubythroat, Himalayan or snow vultures, bearded vulture or lammergeier and many other species.
Return to Bishkek in the evening. Overnight at Asia Mountains Hotel *** (B/Lunch-Pack/A).
Day 3: June 13, Tuesday. Full-day excursion to Alamedin Gorge (2,100 m; 30 km).
This forested gorge with a rather mild sloping landscape is part of the northern slopes of the Kirghiz Range, the highest peak of which – Western Alamedin – reaches a height of 4,875 m above sea level. On the slopes up to a height of 2,500 meters, there are main areas of mountain steppe and forests with Tien Shan spruce and juniper trees. Above this, there are subalpine and alpine meadows, which at an altitude of 3,700 meters turn into snowfields and glaciers. There we will get acquainted with the nature of the mountain forest and steppe. Also, we will be able to watch the birds, which we can attract using the application with the songs of typical species inhabiting mountain forests. During this trip, we hope to see white-capped bunting, red-headed bunting, common or pied rock thrush, and other mountain bird species. Return to Bishkek.
Overnight at Asia Mountains Hotel *** (B/Lunch-Pack/A).
Day 4: June 14, Wednesday. Drive towards Issyk-Kul lake and stop near Balykchi village (1600 m, 180 km). We will stop at several places to see the banks of Issyk-Kul Lake, as well as the rocky desert that stretches around. We will have a chance to see some desert inhabitants: small lizards, insects, arachnids and birds. Observation of bush birds: Excursion along the bank of the Issyk-Kul Lake. We expect to see birds of bush thickets: common rosefinch, Cetti’s warbler, and common redshanks. In the evening we’ll spot the nightjars and long-eared owls. We will also have the opportunity to walk in the evening along a semi-desert area to look at its nocturnal inhabitants in the light of headlamps. If we are lucky, then we have a chance to see nocturnal mammals – jerboas, wild cats, foxes, long-eared hedgehogs, and possibly jackals. Also, we will be able to highlight nocturnal invertebrates such as scorpions, camel spiders or solifuges, and tarantula spiders.
Overnight at the Royal Beach Hotel (B/Lunch-Pack/A) with a beautiful cool pool and access to the Issyk-Kul Lake shores.
Day 5: June 15, Thursday. A trip to the foothills of Semiz-Bel to Tory-Aigyr (50 km). There we explore the foothills with dry valleys and desert plains. In the basin of the Toru-Aigyr River, there are rock paintings [petroglyphs] of ancient nomads on stones and rocks; in addition, there are burial mounds and stone sculptures showing the elements of the ancient Turks culture. Arid plains and dry valleys are overgrown with patchy bushes and scarce semi-shrubs, among which are halophytes (salt-tolerant plants) and psammophytes (plants that grow on sands). Perhaps, we will be able to see wandering Bactrian camels in this place that graze on the foothill plains. Both on the plains and in the foothills we will be able to observe typical representatives of desert landscapes, including such birds as secretive Pallas’s sandgrouse, pied wheatear, greater short-toed lark, crested lark, grey-necked bunting, chukar partridge (mountain partridge), as well as a large long-legged buzzard. In addition, we will be able to spot fast small lizards (Eremias sp.) hiding in the shade of infrequent plants, as well as other well-adapted inhabitants of the semi-desert.
Overnight at the Royal Beach Hotel (B/Lunch-Pack/A) with a beautiful cool pool and access to the Issyk-Kul Lake shores.
Day 6: June 16, Friday. A trip to the Semenovskoye gorge (1,800 m, 70 km). The Semyonovskoye Gorge is one of the most famous and interesting places in the Issyk-Kul region. This beautiful gorge attracts tourists visiting Issyk-Kul Lake. The length of the gorge is about 30 km. Local enterprises are oriented towards the welcome of tourists: we will see local residents luring visitors with birds of prey or the opportunity to ride a horse through the gorge. There are many good places in the gorge for viewing scenic landscapes and the opportunity to see the glacial streams of the Ak-Su mountain river (which means “white water” in the translation named due to the foaming turbulent stream descending from the snowy peaks). In summer, there are many yurts for visitors set up in the Semenov Gorge, where everyone can taste national dishes: beshbarmak, koumiss, ayran, baursaks… We know about the meaning of all these words when we’ll visit this area. Birdwatching: On the excursion in the gorge we can observe birds of the forest belt such as white-winged grosbeak, red-mantled rosefinch, red-fronted serins, isabelline wheatear, booted eagle, kestrels, many other species.
Day 7: June 17, Saturday. A trip to the Turgen gorge of the Kyungen-Alatau ridge, to the Chon-Ashuu pass (3,800 m, 160 km). During this trip, we will have the opportunity to see the picturesque landscapes of the gorge, the fauna, and flora of the highlands, and subalpine and alpine meadows with their specific vegetation, including highly specialized and adapted to elevations forms and endemic plant species. We will be able to see wild marmots here, as well as possibly Tien Shan ground squirrels and pikas, small mountain mammals – relatives of hares, which got their name because of the communication system in the colonies when different individuals interconnect with each other by whistling or squeaking. On rocky screes near mountain streams, we can see an amazing large mountain wader – the ibisbill, hidden with its grayish plumage among pebbles on the banks of mountain streams. Among the bushes the white-capped buntings, and rock buntings sing cheerfully, sitting on the tops of bushes and trees. The Himalayan rubythroat – a nightingale with a red throat also inhabits shrubs and bushes at the edges of mountain forests in this area. At a height above the gorges, Himalayan vultures, residing at high altitudes, can soar; sometimes they are accompanied by other scavengers such as bearded vultures, which often glide over the slopes, looking for the bones of dead animals.
Overnight in Karakol at Turan guest house (B/Lunch-Pack/A).
Day 8: June 18, Sunday. Trip to Jety-Oguz gorge (50 km). On the way, we will visit the museum of the famous Russian explorer of Asia, Nikolai Przhevalsky, whose grave is located on the shore of Issyk-Kul Lake. In Karakol, we will also be able to see the Orthodox Trinity Cathedral built in 1896, the pagoda-style Dungan mosque (1899), and many preserved houses and buildings of the 19th century. Jety-Oguz gorge, translated from the Kyrgyz language as “seven oxen”, is located on the northern slope of the Terskey-Alatau ridge, enveloping Lake Issyk-Kul from the south. This gorge is situated at a distance of 25 km from Karakol town. The attraction of the gorge is the fold of red rocks “Jety-Oguz”. One of the rocks, called “Broken Heart”, is a place of pilgrimage for lovers. Near the ridge, at an altitude of about 2,200 meters above sea level, there is the Jety-Oguz resort, famous for its healing geothermal springs. The slopes of the gorge are covered with lush vegetation. In the city itself and around, we will be able to observe typical anthropogenic bird species, which include small laughing doves and masked white wagtails. During the trip to the mountains, we will also see rock buntings, an oriental turtledove, ruddy shelducks, mistle thrushes, grey wagtails, brown dippers, and other interesting bird species.
Overnight in the Tamga yurt camp, in the village with the same name – Tamga (40 km) (B/Lunch-Pack/A).
Day 9: June 19, Monday. Drive to the mountain town of Naryn (2,037 m, 300 km) through the Dolon pass (3,030 m). The settlement of Naryn was created as a small fortress on the trade routes that led from Kashgar (East Turkestan) to Central Asia, to protect traders (merchants) from the attack of robbers who raided trade caravans. The city appeared here in the middle of the 19th century, when, after the annexation of Central Asia to the Russian Empire, a Russian garrison was stationed there. We will have the opportunity to get aware of the history, nature, and culture of this interesting settlement. We will stop along the way at the Dolon Pass to observe the birds and mammals that we can spot in these places. It is possible to detect several high-mountain bird species here, which include alpine and red-billed choughs, as well as cinereous vultures, wall-creepers with bright red spots on their wings, brown dipper, water pipits, and other species.
Day 10: June 20, Tuesday. Full-day excursion to the Kapchygay gorge on the Small Naryn River (2,100 m; 70 km). Naryn and the adjacent mountain gorges are famous for their picturesque passes, turbulent mountain rivers, deep gorges, colorful lakes, and waterfalls, surrounded by mountain peaks with caps of eternal snow and high-altitude glaciers, replenishing the stormy streams descending from the mountains in summer. The local population preserves the traditional culture and lifestyle that has been represented by nomadic peoples for centuries. Many-day hiking and horseback expeditions through the Tien Shan mountains, as well as seasonal hunting tours for ibexes and Marco Polo sheep, are still going from Naryn. Rafting enthusiasts of different categories of difficulty also come here. However, our one-day tour will cover only a trip to the Small Naryn River with its fabulous abrupt ravine landscapes and the astonishing nature of the highlands. We will have the opportunity to observe mammals and birds that inhabit the slopes of the gorges, banks, and turbulent streams of the Naryn River. We hope to see several species of birds of prey here, including the golden eagle, and the long-legged buzzard, as well as small passerines: bluethroat, pine bunting, red-headed bunting, and 16 other species.
In the evening return to Naryn. Overnight at the guest house “At Baktygul” (B/Lunch-Pack/A).
Day 11: June 21, Wednesday. Trip to the alpine Son-Kul Lake (3,016 m, 150 km), the second largest and one of the most beautiful lakes in Kyrgyzstan. Only in summer, nomads (local herdsmen and shepherds with families) spend their time here, because, around the lake on the slopes, there are luxurious and lush pastures with an abundance of grass and wildflowers (edelweiss, gentians, and many others, including amazing sossurea, cousinia, and many other endemic families, genus and species). The entire lake is a nature reserve due to the numerous waterfowl that nest there in the summer. The trail leads through the pass Moldo-Ashuu (3,330 m), from where impressive alpine landscapes open up. Along the way, we will have the chance to observe the colorful bird species that inhabit the steep cliffs and rocks. These species include European roller, European bee-eater, lesser kestrel, eastern rock nuthatch, and other species.
In the evening we will arrive at the high mountain camp, where we will stay overnight in the yurts of the Bayish camp (B/Lunch/A).
Day 12: June 22, Thursday: We will spend a day in the vicinity of the alpine Son-Kul Lake (3,016 m) with its magnificent landscapes of alpine jailoos (high-mountain pastures) and unforgettable colorful sunsets. In summer, high mountain pastures are still dotted with yurts of semi-nomadic herdsmen who bring their livestock here to feed on succulent mountain herbs. Lakes lurk between the mountain peaks; some of them, depending on the glaciers, are seasonal. At an altitude of 3,000 meters, it is not hot even in summer. Therefore, many species of birds live here, which have adapted to inhabit high-altitude meadows and plains. We expect to see many different species, including the Mongolian plover, Eurasian and Himalayan vultures, bearded vultures, rock sparrows and snow finches, accentors, demoiselle cranes, several species of waders, and waterfowl.
Overnight in the yurts of the Bayish camp (B/Lunch/A).
Day 13: June 23, Friday. On this day we will drive from Son-Kul Lake to Chon-Kemin National Park (1,700 m, 300 km) through the Kalmak-Ashuu pass, located at an altitude of 3,446 m above sea level. The park got its name from the Chong-Kemin River, which originates from Dzhasyl-Kel Lake at the junction of the Kungei-Ala-Too and Zailiysky Alatau ridges and flows into the Chu River in the Chui Valley. The right slope of the river gorge is a natural border between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. We will stop along the way to admire the breathtaking mountain scenery, and identify interesting species of mountain plants with many endemics blooming at this time. We also expect to see marmot colonies along the way, as well as other mountain mammals and mountain bird species. Here we can see Himalayan rubythroat, mountain twite, common linnet, Egyptian Vulture, hill pigeons, and other bird species.
Day 14, 24 June, Saturday: Morning excursion to Chon-Kemin National Park (50 – 70 km). Chon-Kemin National Park, located in the valley of the same name, is a unique natural complex with diverse flora and fauna and many picturesque landscapes. It covers mountain belts from semi-deserts to glaciers at altitudes from 1,400 to 2,800 meters above sea level. On the territory of the park, there are 6 species of plants and 21 species of animals included in the national red book. Coniferous and mixed forests grow on the slopes of the mountains and in the valleys. We hope to see birds here, which are typical for the steppe and forest belts of the mountains. Among the inhabitants of the park, we expect to observe the tawny pipit, the masked white wagtail, the common rosefinch, the common sandpiper, the rosy starling, the Eurasian penduline tit, and 15 other species.
Return to Bishkek (130 km) in the afternoon with stops along the way to enjoy mountain scenery and birdwatching. Along the way, you can meet European Roller, Black-capped Night-heron, little grebes, terns, Spanish sparrows, and other 10 species of birds. Upon returning to Bishkek, we hope to have time to visit the oriental bazaar to buy small souvenirs, and spices and look at the variety of vegetables and fruits in the summer.
Overnight at Asia Mountains Hotel (B/Lunch/A).
Day 15: June 25, Sunday. Morning transfer to the airport. Flight home. June 25 – flight back to Canada with Turkish Airlines.
For more information and/or to book this tour, please contact the travel agency directly at YYT Travel Tours: 7851 Dufferin St., Suite 100, Toronto (Thornhill), Ontario L4J 3M4 Tel: 1.877.999.4768 or 905.660.7000 – TICO Reg: #4332359
In the summer of 2019, I visited Ecuador with my daughter. Elina went there for 2 months of studies to improve her knowledge of Spanish. I joined her when she completed her practice, and we planned together to explore this amazing country. We have selected a visit to three of the four natural-geographical zones in Ecuador: Amazon (eastern part of Ecuador), mountains, and coast. We did not plan only to visit the Galapagos this time.
Ecuador or the Republic of Ecuador is one of the countries, having the richest fauna and flora with an estimated highest level of biodiversity in the world per square kilometer. This is also one of the countries with the highest rates of endemism in the world. In addition, Ecuador is a country of unique culture and a long history of human civilization. The ancient history covers a huge period and goes back almost 17 thousand years ago. Modern history – from the 19th century to the present day – can be characterized as a period of struggle for independence, the formation of statehood, and the process of evolutionary development of society. Taking into account the value and uniqueness of biological diversity for the development of the country, the new Constitution of Ecuador (2008) contains an article that legitimately recognizes the Rights of Nature or the Rights of Ecosystems.
Amazonia (Amazon Region) in Ecuador stretches from the eastern slopes of the Andes to the lowland tropical forests of the Amazon Basin, occupying an area of about 130 thousand square kilometers. It is impossible to survey in detail this vast territory even during a long visit. We planned to stay in Amazonia only for two days, knowing that we can look only at very small pieces of jungles. Our choice focused on the town of Puerto Misahualli, still surrounded by the jungle, through which the Napo River flows. Yasuni National Park is located not far from the town; it is known for its rich biological diversity. A small Napo Wildlife Center was established in this park, to save wild animals and rehabilitate them back into the wild. The area near the river is surrounded by jungles with swamps and other wetlands, in which hoatzins, one of the most amazing birds with ancient morphological traits, still occur. In the area of the park and in the tropical forests around there are settlements of local indigenous peoples – the Kichwa-Anangu tribes; they are completely dependent on forest products, gathering herbs, and hunting wild animals.
Just before my arrival, heavy rains fell, which washed out the roads and even demolished one of the bridges on the way from Quito to Amazonia. Therefore, our bus took another safer road, which was much longer. As a result, we arrived at the final point of our journey very late. But the owner of a small hostel located in the jungle met us in the central square of Puerto Misahuali in the middle of the night. Another 15 minutes took the road to the hostel, and then we went up to the lodge along a narrow path illuminated by a flashlight beam. We stayed in a lodge that was still under construction. Its owner, Scott, has kindly provided us with the only guest room with access to the common dining room. The cottage is equipped with a comfortable shower and toilet. The house is supplied with electricity, but there is no internet connection yet. A small balcony adjacent to the dining room offers beautiful views of the river and the lush green jungles around. Scott began to build the guest-houses and make landscaping in the area around his house. Two of his assistants from Puerto Misahuali completed the construction of cottages for tourists, a small restaurant, and sanitary units. Volunteers from other countries helped with the design of the buildings and the new territory. All buildings are connected by a network of branching paths with picturesque bridges over water streams and small ponds that create habitats for amphibians and aquatic invertebrates. The buildings are located in a charming landscape surrounded by tall trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants. Bird feeders and bananas for monkeys attract forest dwellers, who can often be seen near the cottage.
Coming out of the house in the evening, visitors find themselves surrounded by velvet darkness, over which the pearly canopy of the night sky reveals itself with unusually bright stars and other night luminaries. Darkness is occasionally cut by zigzag flying fireflies. The darkness is filled with the noises of the night – the sounds of the jungle. First of all, it is a many-voiced choir of amphibians – frogs and toads, which begin their singing at dusk. From the voices, it can be assumed that about a dozen different species inhabit the local ponds. However, it was never possible to see them during the day. All amphibians are invisible, hiding in the depth of the ponds and in plants, growing on trees. By the presence of bromeliad plants in the trees, one can expect to find here bright tree frogs. Grassy bromeliads – evergreen epiphytic plants – can often be seen on trees. Tree frogs are associated with some of them. They settle on bromeliad clumps, sometimes very high on a tree. It is not easy to see frogs on trees or in bromeliads; although during the breeding season they can descend lower on trunks and become more observable. Reproduction takes place in the wet period. Some species lay their eggs right in the wet sinuses of the leaves, where the development of tadpoles takes place, which then turns into adult frogs. However, a considerable number of species also live in terrestrial reservoirs, as can be judged by night voices. In addition to frogs and toads, cicadas, owls, nightjars, night-herons, and other nocturnal birds join the night choir. In general, it is quite difficult to distinguish individual species in the polyphony of multiple jingles, but sometimes, when a bird flies closer, its voice begins to stand out among other nocturnal sounds. Bats also appear with darkness, slipping noiselessly among the crowns of tall trees. Some individuals quickly jump out of the dark and rush over a narrow strip of light rising above the house’s balcony in the hope of grabbing a gnawing insect or spider. Surprisingly, during our stay in the cottage, we did not see or hear mosquitoes or other bloodsucking insects. It is likely that the rainy period has just begun and they did not appear yet.
A clear starry sky, a chorus of nightly voices, flashing fireflies — everything promised a clear morning the next day and we prepared to get up early to watch the dawn and the birds arriving at the feeders near the open balcony of the house. But after midnight, the first drops of rain drummed on the roof, and in the morning we were awakened by the even sound of tropical rain. It then amplified, then calmed down by the oncoming waves, but did not stop. After morning dawn, only rolling streams loomed in the window, through which blurred silhouettes of trees and a gray river appeared in an obscure fog. Some kind of revival was heard in the crowns of the trees: birds from the Icterid (Icteridae, Passeriformes) family woke up there; it was a russet-backed oropendola (Psarocolius angustifrons). These birds are somewhat similar to the bright-colored American orioles; they even build similar nests, which hang from the tree branches, but rather large, resembling oblong baskets. Nests are closed at the top and with an opening entrance at the bottom. Despite the rain, the awakened oropendolas began to actively discuss the events of the new day, flying from tree to tree in pairs and small groups. Some of them have already built their dangling nests, and sometimes they flew inside to fix the inner trim. Others still constructed these nests and brought thin and long blades of grass to weave them into the walls of the nest. When the rain slightly calmed out, the yellow-rumped cacique (Cacicus cela) appeared (it is also a bird from the Icterid family). As soon as the rain subsided a little, both species began to rally out their relations, opening wings and showing bright spots on the tail and wings. Caciques and oropendolas are widespread in the Amazon region. They occupy in the jungle tropical forests the upper layer of tall trees. Both species show themselves by their noisy, loud voices and contrasting colors. Caciques have also very bright clear-blue eyes, contrasting with the overall black color of the plumage. In addition to these numerous two species, some other interesting birds flew up to the lodge, but we could not identify them behind a dense wall of rain. Several flocks of parrots flew over, small passerines emerged from the wet foliage and immediately hid again from time to time. The hummingbirds were not seen at all, apparently, they sat huddled in the thick shrubs and waited for better weather. Meanwhile, when Elina woke up, she made tea and was preparing to pour it into cups, when she suddenly found in one of them a large shaggy spider, somewhat resembling a tarantula. It is likely that the spider got into the mug to escape the rain. The spider did not want to leave its shelter, so we pick it out from the mug with a small sprig. Once on the balcony, the spider quickly ran down, hiding from the rain under the veranda.
In the late morning, the rain ended, but the heavy drops were still falling down from the wet trees. In the debris, located near the house, we heard a noise and spotted small monkeys with white faces jumping from branch to branch. The brown-mantled tamarins (Saguinus fuscicollis) came to check out the banana feeders. The monkeys were very careful, immediately soared up the tree trunk and hid among the high branches after insignificant stirring. However, they carefully examined all the trees in the area around the cottage, moving in small groups from tree to tree.
After observations of monkeys, we went to Puerto Mishahualli to meet with local guide Carlos and visit interesting areas around. The bright sun after the rain woke up nature: sparkling hummingbirds and small sparrow birds fluttered over the flowering shrubs; scavengers and other predators began circling in the sky. We met with Carlos near the central square, where other tourists were already waiting for a trip down the river. The monkeys – White-fronted Capuchins (Cebus albifrons) – were also nearby, occasionally descending from the trees and exploring the area in search of edible food remains.
Carlos enthusiastically began to tell us about birds and other animals living in jungles around the town. From time to time he interrupted his story that to show us a bird flying nearby. After several minutes of conversation, he offered us several possible trips, and he was ready to go to the jungle immediately! Frankly, leaving the lodge, we did not plan to go somewhere, as we intended to explore the surroundings and walk along the paths around the town, where there were really many attractive shrubs with birds and insects flying everywhere. However, the single magic word “hoatzin” affected us like real live bait on fish. Carlos said that the hoatzins live nearby Puerto Misahuali in the marshes, where people can always see them…
In my memory immediately appeared the pages from the ornithology textbooks and the description of this amazing bird. The Hoatzin (Opisthocomus hoazin) (the name “Hoatzin” came from the Aztec language) is the only species from the Opisthocomidae family and Opisthocomiformes order. It is the only bird on the Earth whose chicks have free fingers with claws on the wings. Adult birds lose these claws. This bird shows that an evolutionary connection between birds and reptiles is possible. Modern scientists suggest that the claws on the wings of the Hoatzins can be an adaptation to life in the dense tropical forest because other morphological traits do not indicate similarity with reptiles and are typical for all bird species. However, genetic studies conducted in 2015 showed that these birds appeared about 64 million years ago, in the time when the last dinosaurs became extinct. And, who knows, it is possible that Hoatzins or their ancestors, in their origin, are connected somehow with feathered dinosaurs. Hoatzins feed on vegetarian food, mostly leaves, but they can also eat flowers and fruits. This is the only species among birds, which is distinguished from others by the fact that the hoatzins digest plant food in a large crop, where bacterial fermentation of plants occurs in the same way as in the rumen of ruminant animals. This feature makes the Hoatzin “dung or stinky birds”, which have an unpleasant smell. The meat of the hoatzins also has a sharp, rotten smell, due to which birds are not eaten even by people from local tribes. Perhaps, this fact served to the preservation of these large birds — the size of a medium goose — in equatorial forests. Their habitats – riverside shrubs and swamps – also remain relatively intact, protecting this amazing endemic of the equatorial forests of the Amazonia. Therefore, to be in a place where you can see the hoatzin and not take this opportunity was completely unacceptable for me as an ornithologist and passionate birdwatcher. Elina also was interested to see the Amazon forest and its dwellers. At the same time, Carlos continued to list all new and new species to see, as well as interesting places to visit, more and more winning over us to him with his avid enthusiasm. Visiting places that Carlos called was interesting for both of us, so we almost immediately decided that we would use the offers. After short debates, we selected the boat excursion on the same day and jungle hike to a small forest reserve the next morning.
After a half-hour, we were on a small motorized vessel, well-equipped to serve tourists, driving along the Napo River. Carlos prepared rubber boots for both of us to hike through the jungle. Tropical landscapes with amazing trees pass by, but practically everywhere along the river, residential houses are built or are in the process of construction, occupied either by the local villagers or equipped as cottages to accommodate tourists. In some places on the river, we could see local artisan companies or families of gold diggers who washed the sand. The Napo River is known for its gold-bearing outlets, therefore many local inhabitants associate their income with gold mining. Stealthy white-winged swallows (Tachycineta albiventer) sailed by over the river very low, almost touching the water. A couple of other swallow species also flew near the water, but not so low. Not many birds were seen in this late morning time. We spotted two species of kingfishers – the Ringed (Megaceryle torquata) and the Amazon (Chloroceryle amazona), but both escaped so rapidly that we could not see their bright plumage in the details. The snowy egret fluttered from the shore; there in the shade – under the branches of the coastal plants, we could see its hidden nestling chick, which had already begun to fledge, but still kept the juvenile greyish plumage. We left Puerto Misahualli around 11 o’clock in the morning, for birds it was already the time of a day’s rest, so it was not surprising that we saw so little a number of birds along the river. We stopped on a sandy spit, from which the footpath went into the jungle. “Hoatzins …” – explained Carlos, we shook our heads knowingly and followed him under the canopy of the dark forest. Carlos slightly cleared the narrow path with his machete in places where lush vegetation locked the passage after the recent rains, but it was noticeable that the path was used and the road did not seem hard. The rainforest greeted us with relative silence, darkness and dampness. The silence of jungles was interrupted by the chanting of cicadas and the dialogues of ubiquitous caciques and oropendolas in the crowns of tall trees. Among other birds, Carlos heard only the great tinamou (Tinamus major), a secretive species, hidden in the darkness of wet rainforest. Two species of woodpeckers and a barbet, encountered on our way, flew away immediately, as soon as we approached closer.
The tropical equatorial forest is interesting not only by observation of birds. Many trees here are perfectly adapted to the conditions of life in a dark and humid environment. Probably, it should be said, first of all, about the walking palm or the cashapona (Socratea exorrhiza), – the unique tree, which has unusual stilt roots. According to local legends, these roots allow the palm to move from the place of growth to the side if something hinders the growth. But this statement was questioned by scientists, whose assumptions boil down to the fact that stilt roots make this palm more stable, as it grows to a height of 25 meters with a trunk diameter of only 12-16 centimeters. The second assumption is quite acceptable, given the swampy nature of the terrain and the absence of solid soil in the places where these palm trees grow.
Another interesting tree we saw on our way was the wild cacao or cocoa tree (Theobroma cacao). The word “cocoa” itself is also of Aztec origin. The cocoa tree is now widely distributed and cultivated outside of South America. But this species originated in the subequatorial regions of South America, most likely in the plains of the Amazonia, where this species still grows in the jungle in natural conditions. We saw later cocoa trees in mountainous areas also, but they were planted there, mainly for decorative purposes. The main cocoa plantations are located in humid plains, near Amazonia. Bromeliads were the most diverse among other plants. They grow in the tropical forest of the Amazonia as independent shrubs, as well as epiphytes on tree trunks or grassy plants inhabiting tree trunks and settling sometimes very high in treetops. Several species of orchids also were spotted, but in this season they had already finished flowering.
Among insects in the tropical forest, termites, ants, and cicadas are the most numerous. Termites and ants in the moist and swampy jungle arrange their homes in the trees. Termite houses do not look like massive hills, and resemble, most likely, wasp nests, although many of them have quite impressive dimensions. We were not focused on insect-watching but spotted several interesting species such as ants – leafcutters, giant ants, walking sticks, and bright dragonflies. Carlos warned us to be more careful with giant ants, as the bite of this species is painful and can lead to unpleasant consequences. Also in the dark wet forest, we saw several different types of mushrooms that were visible on the trunks of dead and dying trees.
Imperceptibly, the path led us to a swamp inhabited by hoatzins. A pair of birds sat close to the path. Hoatzins were in no hurry to fly away, assessing the degree of danger, which can be associated with our visit. Then, reluctantly, they flew far away that to hide on another side of the wetland. But after a while, this pair came back and settled down to rest in the middle of the swamp, so that we could observe them from a safe (for the hoatzins) distance. In total, in this swamp, according to Carlos, no less than 12-15 birds can be found. We could believe this because saw several more birds flying at a distance. Besides, we noticed on trees within this wetland several more parrots, a ringed kingfisher, a lesser kiskadee (Philohydor lictor) from Passerines as well as a greater ani (Crotophaga major) from the Cuckoo family. After watching the hoatzins, we went back to the river and continued our journey.
Further our way lay down the Napo River to the Wildlife Center of the same name. This center adjoins Yasuni National Park. We walked up the path, distorted by the night rain, to the visitor center, where we met another group, who had just returned from the excursion, and our guide descended towards us. It turned out that our guide, a student from the Netherlands, had practices in the center, studying the behavior of monkeys and, like many other students, volunteering in the nursery, helping to feed and care for animals, and also conduct excursions for visitors. The center was established for the rehabilitation and release of animals affected by contact with people back to the natural environment. Wounded and confiscated animals taken from poachers and smugglers are brought there. The staff of the center provides veterinarian help and food to the animals. When there is a chance to return animals back to the wilderness, they are placed in rehabilitation enclosures, from where they can be released into the Yasuni National Park after recovery. Those that injuries do not allow them to survive in the wild remain in the nursery for their life. Some of the released mammals and birds continue to keep close to the center, regularly visiting their feeding places. Wild animals, especially monkeys and many bird species, also regularly visit the center, as the nursery is located near the national park with a rich species diversity, and the animals living around us have the chance to get food in the center.
Visiting rules oblige all visitors to respect animal rights. Visitors to the nursery go along certain paths; if they meet on these paths the local inhabitants – monkeys, turtles, crocodiles, snakes, then the first rule prescribes to give way to animals, and only then to pass to people. Our guide warned that among the recently released inhabitants of the nursery there are monkeys who do not tolerate lenses and cameras turned at them. As a rule, these monkeys had a negative experience with people. Local tribes hunt them for food. The lens turned at the monkey may be considered as the last weapon, and there were already cases when angry monkeys snatched cameras from visitors and broke them. The second rule is to observe animals, as if they were in their natural environment, without attracting them closer or communicating with them. This rule is consistent with the practice of releasing animals back into the wilderness.
Several species of monkeys, tapirs, peccary, jaguars, ocelots, turtles, crocodiles, macaw and amazon parrots, toucans have been rehabilitated in the Wildlife Center. The parrots are permanently brought to the Center after they are confiscated from the bird traders, so the Center’s capacity is not always enough to accommodate all the incoming birds. But the saddest thing is that some birds, when after rehabilitation they are released in the wild, are caught by people again and sold on the same market. Therefore, one of the tasks of the Center’s staff and volunteers is to develop birds’ fear of people, as well as working with people – communicating with local tribes to develop sustainable ways to use natural resources and wild animals.
Humboldt’s squirrel monkey (Saimiri cassiquiarensis) groups often visit the Center looking for food given to animals in rehabilitation facilities. We spotted several groups of this monkey during our visit. We did not see many animals from the Center, as they slept (tapir, jaguar, and ocelot), but we were quite pleased with what we saw and heard. We looked and listened to interesting stories about the behavior of monkeys. Our guide showed us a golden-mantled tamarin (Saguinus tripartitus), a black-headed spider monkey (Ateles fusciceps), and a brown-woolly monkey (Lagothrix lagothricha). We felt that she (our guide) likes her subject of study and is passionate about the conservation of tropical animals. The local population – the Kichwa tribes – hunt on woolly monkeys; therefore, these monkeys consider people as a dangerous enemy. Wounded monkeys, who have already had the experience of negative interaction with people, most often got into the Center. In the same way, many other animals enter the nursery. Therefore, the staff of the national park and Wildlife Center works with local tribes, helping them solve the problems of poverty, survival, and development in modern times, and reduce the pressure on the wild natural environment, providing opportunities to work in the park. Local people from tribes also can sell their crafts such as hand-made dishes, baskets, and other souvenirs to tourists in the villages and the visitor center. Some money from sales goes to their producers, and some replenish the budget of the Wildlife Center. Prices in a small souvenir shop are established for foreign tourists, so the local tribes are quite satisfied with the income, which they can get from their production. However, the Wildlife Center does not have enough money and donations for all operations relevant to animal recovery and release, and the financial support to the Center is always welcomed. Part of the funds received from donors and eco-tourism goes to the education of youth from local communities. Boys and girls from local tribes get a chance not only to learn how to write and read, but also study foreign languages and get training to become guides in the ecotourism industry.
The next day, early morning we were already standing on the bridge, watching the amazing lilac light above the river, shrouded in clouds of fog, and the scarlet dawn over a thousand-year tree near the road. We had to go to the small Reserva El Para, located relatively close to the lodge. Carlos promised us to show a clay ravine where parrots are going to replenish mineral reserves. We arrived at the entrance to the reserve, where a local ranger, armed with a machete for a hike, was waiting for us. Together we went along a narrow path along a small stream. The path was overgrown or collapsed due to recent rains in some places. We were moved slowly, as the path was constantly going up and the road was blocked by fallen trees, landslides that fell on the slopes, or just something else. Flocks of parrots rushed high in the sky, both in the direction we went and back. The forest, surprisingly, was silent, even cicadas did not sing. We did not spot any mammals during our way. Only flycatchers and woodpeckers came across the road, but they were all far away and it was impossible to see them well. When we reached the site two hours later, it turned out that the ravine “swam” and collapsed slightly after the rains. The parrot gathering place was empty; the flocks of parrots flew over us, settling in tall trees around, but none of them was going down. After watching the parrots in the distance, we realized that we could not expect more and quietly went back down selecting another smoother path. The dark damp rainforest perfectly kept its secrets. In one of the places we saw signs of vital activity of the sloth, but the animal itself was well hidden somewhere in the crowns of tall trees. From time to time we stopped to look at interesting plants or mushrooms, insects or spiders. The flocks of parrots continued to fly high in the sky from the place, which we just visited. Several birds of prey circled in the sky. In general, the way back took about an hour. We only saw birds near the entrance to the reserve and in open areas along the road on the way back to Puerto Misahualli. The most abundant along the road was a species of birds from the cuckoo family — the Smooth-billed ani (Crotophaga ani). These birds, like many other American cuckoos, build their own nests and raise chicks themselves. Ani is a very communicable bird; they, instead of scattering in different directions, all flew in one bush, from where they curiously watched people. Many birds (ani) gathered in bushes around pastures, where cows were grazing. This is not surprising, since ani prefers to eat insect larva, and it is likely that large hoofed animals provide them with good food. Flocks of ani uncounted from 3 to 12 birds together.
Carlos drove us back to the town, and then we decided to walk from there to our lodge that to watch the birds along the road and we were not mistaken in our expectations! During the hour’s walk, we saw and could take some pictures of many interesting species than during our few hours of wandering in a dark tropical forest. Several species of hummingbirds, doves, flycatchers, caciques and oropendola, swallows and swifts, ani, and many other tropical species inhabit open landscapes. The birds did not hide there but continued to do their usual activities, just precautionary flying away from the strangers… When we left Puerto Misahualli later that day, we understood that 2-day stay was too short to view the magnificent biodiversity of the Amazonia. Among the places that must be visited is the Yasuni National Park, which is adjacent to a Napo Wildlife Center.
At the end of April – May, the migration of small songbirds begins in Ontario. By their small size and tinny graceful beaks, they resemble the warblers of the Old World. Warblers of the Old World belong to the Phylloscopus genus and include small insectivorous birds found in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Most of the American small songbird species, occupying similar ecological niches and specializing in insect hunting, are also called “warblers”. However, taxonomists distinguish warblers of the Old and New World. They place the American species in the family Parulidae or New World Wood Warblers. American “wood” warblers are very different from “true” warblers and have just some morphological similarities, related to adaptation and life to comparable environmental conditions. New World wood-warblers are small passerines that are also mostly insectivorous. During migration and at breeding sites, they vigorously examine trees and shrubs, skillfully extracting insects and arachnids from foliage and inflorescences, from the bark of trees and shrubs, and from other hidden places.
The Latin name of the New World wood warblers’ family – Parulidae – is associated with tits. The Old World tits belong to the genus Parus, described by Carl Linnaeus in 1758. Linnaeus, however, described one of the North American wood warblers – as the “American tit” – Parus americanus. The bird’s Latin name was soon slightly changed, retaining the root. This bird recently still was called Parula americana or Northern Parula and just recently was moved by taxonomists in another genus. Its Latin name now is Setophaga americana. However, the common name “Parula” is originated from the title given to this species by Carl Linnaeus. The entire wood-warbler family name – Parulidae – comes also from a Latin name designating tits – Parus and may be interpreted as “tit-like”. Obviously, both the species and the entire family have nothing to do with either tits or Old World warblers. However, our perception of passerine birds connects these unrelated taxonomic groups. Taxonomists consolidated the name of the family in 1947, highlighting the genus Parula as a type. It is noteworthy that the parula really looks somewhat like a tit: it has a slightly bluish color and when examining trees, especially birches, it can hang upside down, deftly clinging to thin twigs with its long fingers.
The New World Warblers – representatives of this family – occur entirely in the Americas. The family unites small insectivorous birds, many of which are brightly colored, especially males. All American warblers are rather small birds. The smallest species is Lucy’s Warbler (Oreothlypis luciae), weighing about 6.5 g with a length of a little more than 10 cm. Relatively large songbirds are Ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapilla) and Northern Waterthrush (Parkensia noveboracensis) with weight up to 25-28 g and length up to 15-16 cm. Most part of the birds from Parulidae family is associated with forest and shrub communities, nesting in shrub branches and in tree crowns. But there are also species that prefer to settle the nests on the ground, camouflaging them among the roots of trees.
Currently, 119 species of songbirds, belonging to 18 genera, have been listed to the family. It is believed that American warblers were originated and evolved in the northern part of Central America, where even now their species diversity is very great. During the interglacial periods, they spread far to the north, forming a group of long-distant seasonal migrants that fly to nest far beyond the tropical zones in the forested-tundra and taiga of North America.
These birds are found on migration in the Ottawa River Valley on their way to nesting sites in the northern boreal forests. The first migrants arrive in the Ottawa area in late April – early May. It is remarkable that some of the northernmost migrants appear in the northern latitude in late spring-early summer, they can be observed in the parks of Toronto or Ottawa only in late May-early June; they also begin to fly back prompt as early or mid-August. Thus, these birds have adapted to breed in a relatively short nesting season – one and a half to two months. In this period, they need to form pairs, find nesting territories, lay clutches, hatch, and raise chicks. Therefore, the size of clutches in migratory American warblers is quite large, they incubate up to 6-7 eggs and then feed large broods. For comparison, the tropical warblers from the same family usually have clutches with 2-3 eggs.
From May to early June, about 30 species of American warblers migrate through Ontario. Many of them stay for breeding in the orchards, parks, fields, and wetlands around large and small towns. But most migrants fly to the central and northern parts of the province and beyond its territory for nesting in boreal forests. Some the migratory songbirds, such as the Myrtle or Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata), American Yellow Warbler (Setophaga petechia), or Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas), are abundant and highly visible, while others are not always easy to spot even by a skilled naturalist. They migrate invisibly and quickly, trying to get to nesting places in northern latitudes as soon as possible. Many of those songbirds are characterized by a narrow food specialization. In nesting places, they hunt certain types of insect pests and caterpillars. In years when outbreaks of insect pests are observed, the populations of species-“specialists” also increases, then gradually reducing in accordance with the available natural resources.
It is not easy to spot many songbirds in the breeding places. Even having the bright color of plumage, they dissolve among the leaves of trees in the changeable play of light and shadow. But the presence of many species can be recognized by listening to their characteristic song. Some bird count techniques are based on the knowledge of bird songs and calls. For example, the famous “point count” method includes the identification of all birds around by their songs and calls from one point. The monitoring of breeding birds in North America has been conducted for over 50 years. Any citizen who has an interest in birds and their conservation may contribute his or her “two cents” to one of the bird monitoring programs by joining one of the environmental programs of Birds Canada, for example to the program on the Breeding Bird Survey or Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas. You also can contribute your bird knowledge to the citizen science program on birds survey – ebird, which holds the global database, collecting bird observation data from all naturalists.
In the spring, noticeable small “sparrows” appear on forest paths in the green belt of Ottawa. They often stay on the ground among the grass, collecting seeds of cereals and small weeds. Their modest variegated striped brownish coloration resembles sparrows. However, these passerines have only external similarities to real sparrows. For a long time, they belonged to Emberizidae (bunting) Family, and only recently they, together with other American sparrows, were singled out into a new family, which is called the Passerellidae or New World Sparrows. Five representatives of this vast family belong to the genus Zonotrichia or American sparrows. All birds from this genus have brown backs with black stripes and streaks and heads with distinctive markings – white, yellow, or black. Four of five species are North American dwellers and one – the rufous-collared sparrow – inhabits highlands from southeast of Mexico to Tierra del Fuego in the extreme south of South America.
The white-throated sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) is a Canadian patriot. If you enter the forest and hear whistles coming from the tree crowns resembling melodic and solemn “Oh! Canada! Sweet Canada, Canada, Canada“, then know that the singer lurking in the branches is a white-throated sparrow. This bird is widespread in the forest zone of North America. Small portion of the species population nests in the northeastern part of the United States, but nevertheless, the main breeding range of this sparrow covers the boreal forests of Canada. Some pairs of white-throated sparrows stay for nesting in Ottawa’s Greenbelt, but most of the birds fly for breeding to the north in boreal and taiga regions. For example, in Algonquin Park, the white-throated sparrow is one of the most abundant passerine birds. Its songs pour from almost every corner of the forest in the quiet morning from late spring to mid-summer. This sparrow begins to sing first at dawn – even before sunrise. On migration, the white-throated sparrow is also very widely distributed. It loves to visit bird feeders in green areas around towns and cities. And for the winter, most part white-throated sparrows migrate to the United States, where wintering birds can be seen even in Central Park in New York. More information about this bird you will find on pages of the Cornell Lab “All about birds”.
The white-crowned sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys) is a bird that breeds in the northern latitudes of North America – in the northern boreal forests, taiga, and forested tundra of Canada and Alaska. This sparrow inhabits shrub thickets and other bushy areas. In the migration season, the white-crowned sparrows may be observed in temperate zones of North America. They are often observed along trails, on grassy lawns, and in meadows in the green areas in mid-latitudes, where they collect small seeds of weeds and cereals, as well as small insects and other invertebrates. However, even during migration, they prefer to stay close to forests and can be spotted in many provincial parks of Ontario. In autumn, this sparrow does not appear early; it is a late migrant, which passage takes place in October. It migrates for wintering to the southern United States, sometimes reaching Mexico and Central America. Back migration in Southern Ontario takes place in early-mid May. At this time, white-crowned sparrows sometimes combine with white-throated, which also return to their breeding areas. Their joint flocks of both species can be seen feeding in dandelion meadows, under bird feeders on forest paths, and near houses. Near Ottawa, the first white-crowned sparrows appear at the end of April, and at the end of May, they already fly further north. The presence of white-crowned sparrows in the forest also gives out a characteristic melodic song. Males of this sparrow learn the songs in the places where they grow up (All about birds), they usually come back for breeding in the same places and therefore they have diverse local dialects of song and need to learn several dialects when living at the edge of the population range.
While hiking in one of the parks in Vancouver, my attention was attracted by small birds, which resembled females of the white-crowned sparrows, both in appearance and in behavior. But looking closer, I noticed “golden” caps – yellow spots in the center of the head and wide black “eyebrows” attaching from both sides to the yellow caps. These birds were immediately identified as the golden-crowned sparrows (Zonotrichia atricapilla), which inhabit the taiga forests in the uplands of the western edge of North America. The breeding grounds of these sparrows are stretched from northern Alaska and the Aleutian Islands to the central regions of the Yukon province in Canada. In fall, golden-crowned sparrows migrate along the Pacific Coast to the south of British Columbia, western United States reaching on wintering southern California. The white-crowned sparrow inhabits dense shrubs and other brushy areas. These sparrows are often found in many parks of Vancouver, where they, like other species of this genus, gather to feed under bird feeders. Just like their relatives, golden-crowned sparrows prefer to feed on the ground, collecting small seeds of cereals and other plants. Song mnemonics of this species are described in “Dendroica” as whistles “Oh! Deer me” or “ Teeeewwww twee twee”. Although miners from the Yukon hear their song as “No gold here” (All about birds). This species is also known for its vagrant behavior: individual birds during periods of seasonal migrations reach the Far East in Russia and Japan. Also, a small number of sparrows sometimes roam along the eastern coasts of North America, where they are observed from Nova Scotia to Florida.
My daughter and I were walking with heavy backpacks through the streets of the town of Banos in the province of Tungurahua in Ecuador. The town is adjacent to the northern foot of the active volcano Tungurahua in the Andes at an altitude of about 1800 m above sea level. Several “sparrows” with a melodious voice were jumping along the narrow streets of the town. We could see them only when we reached the hotel and dropped our backpacks. The remarkable features of the external appearance made it possible to quickly identify the species. These were the rufous-collared or “Andean” sparrows (Zonotrichia capensis) – a species that inhabit South America. This sparrow is distributed from Mexico in North America to the Tierra del Fuego archipelago on the southern tip of the continent. In July, when we voyaged and had a chance to observe these birds, rufous-collared sparrows roamed. They begin to nest in the Andes in December-January. Traveling in summer, we saw rufous-collared sparrows only in mountainous areas. Small flocks of sparrows were found both in their natural environment and in the vicinity of human habitation. However, they were most abundant in the streets of small mountain settlements. Like their northern relatives, the rufous-collared sparrows justify their recognition as the “plantain finches”, vigorously looking for food – seeds of plants and invertebrates – along the roadsides and among the grass on the meadows of mountain slopes. Their energetic song is reminiscent of the voices of their articulated fellows from North America.
Harris’s sparrow (Zonotrichia querula) is the largest species among Zonotrichia genus. The breeding habitats of this species are known in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, therefore, it is the only endemic breeding bird in Canada. Harris’s sparrow occurs in low-growing, stunted coniferous forests with adjoining shrubs in the forest-tundra regions. Because of its remote breeding areas, the first nest of Harris’s sparrow was found only in 1931 in Churchill, Manitoba by George M. Sutton (All about birds). This species overwinters in the United States, flying south in October over the prairies and mountainous regions of central Canada. They usually return back at the end of April-May, preferring to travel across the mountainous valleys to flying among the open prairies. Perhaps, the mountains allow better orientation in space and facilitate the return back to the beginning of the breeding season. In the nesting places, Harris’s sparrows feed on the ground, eating small berries, buds, and flowers, as well as small invertebrates. During migration and wintering, they also feed on the ground, collecting the seeds of herbaceous plants. The species can be recognized by its vivid whistling song. Harris’s sparrow is classified as Near Threatened by IUCN due to declining population that could be associated with climate change impact on the restricted habitats of this species.
One day in October I saw this species near one of the trails in the Ottawa Greenbelt. It was a bright adult male, but while I was preparing the camera, the sparrow disappeared and I could not take a photo of this species. It could be an individual that accidentally drifted from his usual route. Without documentation, I did not even include the species in the list of birds observed that day online in ebird.
It is the time now when two of the five listed species have already appeared in the Ottawa Greenbelt and around other settlements and parks of southern Ontario. This is a wonderful time for bird watching and wildlife photography. Have you been lucky enough to observe the “Zonotrichia” species during your hikes and travels?
IUCN – International Union for Nature Conservation – recently launched a new initiative, which aim is “Reverse the Red” or stop and reverse extinction of threatened species in the world.
ReverseTheRed is a global movement that calls for joint action and the belief that our community can ensure the survival of all the species we live with on this planet, as well as ensure the protection of all the ecosystems in which they live. The IUCN Species Survival Commission, which oversees this initiative, tries to involve as many stakeholders as possible in the conservation work. The Species Survival Commission unites more than 7 thousand experts who work in the field of biodiversity conservation in different countries of our blue planet. However, it is definitely clear now that it is impossible to preserve species without the wide participation of not only specialists and narrow experts working in the field of studies and conservation of species and ecosystems, but also the whole society, including different sectors that affect the habitats of species and their populations. Participation of local communities and concerned citizens can also contribute to the protection and restoration of species.
The IUCN Red List contains information on the assessment of species at the global level with an evaluation of the threats for species. All threatened species can be categorized as Vulnerable (VU), Endangered (EN), and Critically Endangered (CR). According to modern estimates, the Red List currently includes 37,400 species, that were categorized as threatened and the state of their populations is of concern at the global level. If you look at taxonomic groups, according to modern estimates, 41% of all amphibian species, 26% of all mammals, 14% of all bird species, 36% of all shark and ray species, as well as 34% of all gymnosperm (coniferous) tree species are threatened with extinction risk. And this is only among those taxonomic groups that have been assessed by experts. But there are still many taxonomic groups on the planet that have not yet been evaluated, for example, many species of invertebrates and angiosperms (flowering) plants, the diversity of which is very high on our planet and extinction of some tiny species may be almost invisible. By now, the conservation biology science and experts involved in nature conservation have accumulated knowledge and methods that allow the preservation of species and ecosystems, ensuring their survival and recovery. Experts from the IUCN Species Survival Commission argue that: We KNOW how to save species WE BELIEVE we can TOGETHER we will
While a strategy to reverse biodiversity loss is still under development, it is now clear that it will be an umbrella initiative to work with key partners to achieve biodiversity conservation and recovery tasks for species and ecosystems. The IUCN Species Survival Commission has identified the following mechanisms to achieve its ambitious goals: (1) Engage biodiversity conservation partners at national, regional, and global levels in the development of standardized tools and methods. The Reverse the Red initiative creates an umbrella mechanism for the conservation of species and ecosystems. (2) Work with pilot countries to refine and implement tools and collaborative strategies. Increase national capacity and commitment utilizing ReversetheRed framework for target species and ecosystem assessments, planning, and action. (3) Empower the country-based “Reverse the Red” partners to engage and activate their local communities through a diverse set of educational resources focused on biodiversity conservation, personalized experiences, advocacy campaigns, and behavior-change campaigns. (4) Establish a global reporting mechanism and forum to report on and celebrate the reversal of species extinction and ecosystem destruction. These mechanisms will provide the structure, tools, and framework for objective setting of the Global Species Congress.
You can support this initiative by voting for it at: Webby Awards People’s Voice – Reverse the Red. Images of threatened animal species from Nepal were used to illustrate this message.
The mating behavior of snakes is not so easy to see. The mating displays usually occur immediately after the snakes leave their hibernacula (this term is used for winter shelters, where snakes brumate of sleeping, similarly to hibernation of other animals such as mammals) places, where they sometimes congregate in large clusters. But getting to such a hibernacula without a special purpose and without knowing the peculiarities of the ecology of snakes is almost impossible.
But then one day at the end of April, on a forest path, the rustling of foliage attracted my attention. I did not immediately understand where the rustle came from, but looking around I spotted an extraordinary sight. On the dry foliage of last year, covering the first shoots of the breaking green growth, an unusual ball rolled, from which for a moment heads or tails appeared on the surface … Yellow stripes on the body made it possible to immediately identify the species – it was a mating procession of a Common Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis). One larger snake was distinctive from another dozen and half snakes of smaller size that are literally hovered around it. Squirming, first merging into one large ball, then stretching in a chain, the snakes continued their movement along the invisible pass in the dry foliage. But as soon as I took a step towards this extraordinary procession, the ball instantly became alert, assessing the situation, and began to disintegrate. Individual snakes crawled on the sides, looking for cover under the foliage, in the cracks between the hard rocks and between the roots of trees. Nevertheless, about a dozen of the most persistent continued to follow the largest snake. The presence of a small rock in the forest indicated that the snake hibernacula was somewhere nearby: snakes usually hibernate in cavities under rocks or in natural depressions formed under the roots of dead trees, where they can gather from several tens to several hundred or even thousands of individuals.
The common garter snake is widespread in Ontario. In the forests around Ottawa, it is the most common snake species. The slender body of garter snakes with a light stripe running along the keel from head to tail, with yellow or reddish longitudinal stripes on the sides and an elegant narrow head that smoothly merges into the body, allow anyone to immediately unmistakably identifies this species. The average length of a snake with a tail is 50-70 cm. Sometimes there are specimens that are larger – up to a meter in length, but they rarely can be found. Females are much larger than males. Only one female, accompanied by more than a dozen males, led the mating procession that I observed. This feature of the biology of the species directed to the fact that there are much more males in the population than females. Garter snakes are also remarkable by the reproduction features: they can both lay eggs, from which small snakes then hatch, and give birth to alive little snakes. Usually, individuals living in the north latitudes give birth to live offspring, and more southerly occurring counterparts lay eggs. In Ontario, garter snakes give birth to live young. During the season, the female can give birth from ten to forty offspring. But only a few individuals survive to adulthood since snakes are a desiring prey for both four-legged and feathered predators. In addition, a significant number of snakes are killed on the roads, under the wheels of cars in populated areas with a dense road network. In Ontario, there are two subspecies that are externally different: in the south, the nominative subspecies of Eastern Garter snake has the bright yellow stripes on the sides of the body, and in the northern subspecies, the red-sided garter snake has reddish-orange stripes.
Garter snakes are found in a wide variety of habitats, both in forests and in meadow communities as well as around wetlands. In the Ottawa Greenbelt and around, it is definitely a forest species, inhabiting light deciduous and mixed forests. The main food items for snakes are amphibians and earthworms, but on occasion these snakes can catch small rodents and passerines, as well as small fish. Hunting strategy includes two types of behavior. Sometimes, garter snakes wait for prey, attacking approaching animals. But more often they actively pursue their prey, effectively catching fast tadpoles and small fish.
Garter snakes are harmless to humans. But this does not mean that anyone can catch them. It must be understood that the capture of any living creature is a huge stress for the latter. Therefore, if you notice a garter snake near the forest path, walk by, or watch the snake from the side without trying to catch it.
The World Wildlife Day (March 3) this year highlights the role of forests for the livelihood of humanity. UN celebrates this day under the theme: “Forest and Livelihoods: Sustaining people and planet”. Forests in Central Asia occupy only a small part of the territory but play an enormous role in providing multiple ecosystem services and not only for local communities. First of all, forests regulate climate and water cycles, ensure food, fibers, and habitats for people and abundant wildlife. Forest have cultural and spiritual values. They serve as recreational places. One of the most important roles of the forests, especially in the mountains, is relevant to the allocation of space for evolutionary processes. The richest and diverse fauna and flora are presented in the forests.
Forests play a crucial role in Central Asia. Their loss impacts wildlife and human livelihoods.
In 2003, forests in Kyrgyzstan covered area in 769.5 thousand ha, including coniferous forests 280.1 thousand ha, hardwood forest 34,400 ha (ash, maple, elm), softwood (birch, poplar, willow) 14,100 ha, others 98,300 ha (walnut, apple-tree, almond, apricot); shrubs 342,6 ha (Forests of Kyrgyzstan, 2003). In 2010, forests in Kyrgyzstan covered 1,123,200 ha or 5.6% of the total area of the country (FAO, 2010). According to the assessment prepared by UNECE-FAO in 2018 (Tsevs, 2018), 160,000 ha of forest were lost in Kyrgyzstan in the last 50 years. The total forest area in 2015 was 637,000 ha or 3.2% from the country’s area, including 590,000 ha primary forest and 47,000 ha planted forest (UNECE & FAO, 2019).
In the past (about 100 years ago), forests in Tajikistan covered about 25% of the country. However, many areas were cut off for the development of agriculture. In 2010, forests occupied around 410,000 ha (Kirchhoff & Fabian, 2010), but the statistic of forest dynamics were complicated due to lack of adequate data management. The total forest area (assessment of 2015) is evaluated in 412,000 ha or 2.9% of the country’s territory, including 297,000 primary forests, 103,000 ha planted forest, and 12,000 ha naturally regenerated forest (UNECE & FAO, 2019).
The percentage of forest land in Uzbekistan is 7.3% (UNECE, 2015). At present, the total area of the State Forest Fund is 11,196.2 thousand ha or 25.2% of the total land area, including 7.2% of forest land (trees and shrubs). The State Forest Fund is comprised of desert land (81%), mountain lands (16%), valleys (2%), and tugai or river gallery forests (1%). According to law, forests in Uzbekistan are state property and national wealth. All forests are an integral part of the State Forest Fund, except for protective planting, forest belts, urban forests, trees on farmland, and gardens. According to NBSAP (2015), desert and tugai are most degraded and need urgent recovery measures. The agroforestry (walnut, pistachio, almond, and fruit) planting partly compensates for the degradation of mountain forests. However, it is not enough for the recovery of lost forested areas.
Forests provide habitats for many animal species. The diversity of species and subspecies is the most rich in mountains and river valleys. Many species are “least concern” and can be found during short visits to forested areas. However, many species (especially large birds and mammals, beautiful butterflies) are rare and threatened and included in the national red lists and red books. Examples of local communities involved in conservation gave positive results in many countries. The most striking such examples are in Tajikistan, where many charismatic large mammal species recovered last decades due to community participation in protection and benefit sharing.
Flora is very rich in the region, and especially in the mountain areas and in the mountain forests. Only around Issyk-Kul Lake in Kyrgyzstan, the plant diversity is evaluated in 1,500 – 1,800 species. The plant diversity in the region is more than 5,000 species. And, in particular, due to this fact, the region is evaluated as one of the biodiversity hot-spots: The Mountains of Central Asia.
The conservation and recovery of species and ecosystems are results of the cooperation between state agencies and civil society: environmental NGOs, grassroot groups and academia.
FAO, 2010. Capacity building for National Forest and Tree Resource Assessment and Monitoring in Kyrgzystan, Report, 19 p.
Kirchhoff & Fabian. (2010). Forestry sector analysis of the Republic of Tajikistan. GTZ/DED/CIM Regional Program “Sustainable use of natural resources in Central Asia”. Dushanbe, 2010. 56 p.
UNECE & FAO. (2019). Forest landscape restoration in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Paper 72, 66 p.
Algonquin Provincial Park during fall. Algonquin Provincial Park, located in Ontario, is one of the oldest parks not only in Canada, but in North America. It was established in 1893. At present, it covers the area of 7,653 sq. km. Located on the border between northern boreal forests and southern mixed and deciduous forests, the Park provides habitats for very rich diversity of animals and plants. Its convenient location makes it an attractive magnet for residents of Ontario, highways provides quick access from both Toronto and Ottawa sides. A variety of landscapes, an endless number of deep clean lakes, fast and slow-flowing water streams, a well-developed tourist infrastructure – all this contributes to the development of recreational activities in the Park. However, recreation does not interfere with the implementation of conservation tasks for preserving the rich flora and fauna due to the rational planning and location of access zones only in certain areas of the park.
Algonquin Provincial Park represents a place that attracts thousands and thousands of people at any time of the year. Ontarians and visitors from other provinces and countries come to the park to admire the magnificent landscapes, as well as in the hope of seeing the wildlife species typical of the southern taiga zone. Their expectations are not groundless. When visitors come to the park in a suitable season, they can almost always observe moose and white-tailed deer, beavers and muskrats, martens and foxes, otters and American minks not far the forest paths. Sometimes tourists can even see the American black bear or the Algonquin wolf, although the latter are very careful and rarely spend time near tourist trails with frightening smells and noise from people. In areas where bears live, warning signs are usually installed, and visitors are instructed about behavior how to react when they unexpectedly meet these inhabitants of the park closely.
Algonquin Provincial Park during fall is a great birdwatching spot. A significant number of breeding birds occurs here, many of which are migratory. They fill the park with their songs, chirping, cackling and squeaking from early spring to late autumn. But it is also home to a significant number of resident species. Near the trails in the coniferous forest, visitors can observe a completely fearless bird – the Spruce Grouse (Falcipennis canadensis). Spruce Grouse does not pay attention to the presence of people and can allow observers coming very close – to a few steps, continuing to examine the forest floor in search of buds, fresh needles or hiding insects. Another bird, which often even accompanies visitors in the hope of profiting from appetizing offerings, is the Canada Jay (Perisoreus canadensis). In the fall, Canada jays appear in crowded places and, on occasion, do not hesitate to descend on an outstretched hand with nuts or dried cranberries. The park’s specialists have been conducting long-term monitoring of the Canada Jay’ populations inhabiting its area, therefore, almost all birds are marked with colored rings arranged in a certain sequence, which makes it possible to recognize each bird. The rare Black-backed Woodpecker (Picoides arcticus) nests in the park. This woodpecker inhabits the burned-out forests or forests affected by outbreaks of insect-pests. Sometimes the large Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa) nests in the park. Among the migratory species there are many birds belonging to the different taxonomic groups – loons, grebes, waterfowl – ducks and Canada geese, herons and bitterns, gulls and waders and a wide variety of small passerines.
The number of tourists visiting the park is significant at any time of the year, but in autumn it is especially great. At this time, there are often days when the park administration is forced to close access zones for visitors, since the pressure on the park’s ecosystems is too big. In such days, numerous tourist cars form traffic jams on the entrances to the park and along highway 60 inside the park itself. But when you planning the visit to the park not at the very peak of the autumn season, then you can fully enjoy both the rich extent of calm autumn colors and scenes from the life of the wild park’s inhabitants. Each trail in the park has parking lots where you can leave your car, take a map with the route and follow one or more of your favorite paths.
Autumn is not only a time of colors and extraordinary sunrises; it is also a time for mushrooms to ripen. Mushrooms appear at the end of August – September along with morning fogs, rains and autumn coolness. The last year has been marked by the richest harvest of representatives of this nature realm. Bizarre shapes, colossal sizes, diverse types and miracles of adaptation undoubtedly draw attention to this living organisms. Mushrooms in the park are a great help in preparing for winter for representatives of the fauna. Fast American red squirrels have appreciated the fall harvest by storing mushrooms on tree branches and hiding them under tree trunks. It is certain that other animals do not pass by such wealth, but it is almost impossible to spy on such scenes.
All of these make Algonquin Provincial Park during fall season is the most attractive place to visit.
The migration of monarch butterfly along shore of Ontario Lake. In the fall of last year, we witnessed an amazing phenomenon that occurs every year, but possibly that not every year it is so intense. This phenomenon is the migration of monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) along the shores of Lake Ontario. In early September, we observed how individual butterflies and their small clusters easily rise above farm fields and flowering meadows and rush into the blue sky, driven by strange forces. Thus, the migration of monarch-butterflies starts.
In mid-September, I arrived to Toronto on business and keeping in memory of these soaring butterflies over fields and meadows, I suggested to visit the shore of Lake Ontario, where my friends observed congregations of butterflies many years ago. What if we are lucky this year with similar migration? Before that, we already knew that flying monarch butterflies gather during the autumn migration period in Point Pelee National Park in southern Ontario, where their migration clusters are monitored annually. But in Colonel Smith’s park in Toronto, where we planned to go, the monitoring of migratory butterflies is not carried out, since the clusters here are not so large and are not always observed …
On the first day – September 14th – we arrived at the park after dawn at about 8 a.m. There were quite a few monarchs on the bushes along the path leading to the lake, but all of them were kept alone or in small groups on the bushes of the goldenrod (Solidago ssp.), Canadian horseweed and asters, and on the branches of various bushes.
Butterflies just woke up, they lazily spread their wings and reluctantly flew from bush to bush when we approached them. Along the path closer to the lake there were many thickets of goldenrod and asters. Some movement was already noticeable there. The awakened monarchs scattered and settled comfortably on the flowers for morning feeding. Noticeable assemblages were nowhere to be seen. However, butterflies were everywhere, and there were surprisingly abundant. They gathered in small groups, mainly on plants of the goldenrod, where solitary butterflies and small clusters constantly moved and interacted with each other, finding out the dominance relationship. Of course, there were many butterflies scattered, compared to what happens here in the summer, but not as many as expected… We did not find monarch roosting places.
On the second day, we arrived at the park earlier – even before dawn and immediately went towards the bank, where on the eve we saw many butterflies dancing over the thickets and flowers. At first we did not notice anything – the sun had not yet risen and all the bushes and tree branches seemed equally gray. We walked slowly along the tree line, growing closely to the banks of Lake Ontario, carefully looking at the flower thickets, as well as bushes and trees. And finally – a miracle! Suddenly, the first rays fell on the still hanging branches of green maples and we saw that they were strewn with garlands of butterflies.
Butterflies merged with the surface of the foliage, they all sat with their wings closed and looked like a monotonous brownish-gray fringe, which at first we did not even distinguish from the surrounding foliage, because the butterflies were numb. First, we saw garlands of butterflies on one tree, then on another, then on a third, then more and more… Butterflies sat very tightly and it was impossible to estimate their number. But it was obvious that tens of thousands of monarchs gathered on the narrow strip of trees along Lake Ontario, and maybe more, because we stopped at a spot with a dozen trees to watch the butterflies.
It was gradually getting light. The rays of the sun peeked, then hid behind the clouds that had rushed at dawn. When a bright beam pierced through the clouds and illuminated the trees, individual butterflies spread their wings and bushes came to life from bright “lightings”. But the beam was hiding and again the monarchs closed their wings and fell into a lethargy. Nevertheless, the morning gradually came into its own, and with its light the living bulk on tree branches came to life and began to swarm.
The monarchs opened their wings, catching the energy sent by the sun’s rays, and preparing for a new day. Those that were higher in the branches were better stricken by sun and they woke up earlier. When the butterflies woke up and warmed up, they slowly took off from the bushes, circled around in a slow dance and gradually descended down into the thickets of flowering fodder plants – the goldenrod, Canadian horseweed and asters. A little more than half an hour passed and the morning magic disappeared. All the butterflies left their roosting places and literally disappeared into the surrounding thickets of grass and shrubs or, probably, flew away to south. At about 9 a.m., butterflies could only be seen fluttering over colored plant patches and feeding on flowers. There was nothing left on the trees. However, there was a memorable happiness and the urge to touch one of the secrets of the wilderness…
Well, of course, our wonderful pictures and videos of this amazing natural phenomenon of the migration of monarch butterfly remained… After a few days, the accumulations of butterflies in the park disappeared. It is likely that they flew to their wintering sites in Mexico in the Mariposa Monarca Biosphere Reserve, located in the pine and oak forests of the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt.
Whatever it is – the mass migration of monarch butterfly along shore of Ontario Lake is one of the wonders of the world, which keeps the secret of Universe that remains to be solved one day…