You haven’t yet booked a holiday this year and fancy seeing some birds. Where are the best places for bird watching – and why? Here are nine of the top bird watching destinations, both near and far.
Photo Credit: Wilson Diaz – Green Tours – Andean Cock-of-the-Rock
When National Geographic recommends a wildlife-watching destination as one of its best places to holiday during 2019, you stop and listen. To explore the Peruvian Amazon, try a trip down the altitudinal gradient of the Manu Road. Starting near Cusco at 3,300 metres altitude and take an enchanting fortnight to reach the Amazonian lowlands of Manu biosphere reserve. Conveniently spaced ecolodges provide excellent bases. Among the 500+ bird species you can expect are gaudy denizens of mid-altitude forests such as Andean Cock-of-the-Rock and Golden-headed Quetzal, and an equally dazzling but river-loving duo, Agami Heron and Sunbittern. Read More: Why Peru is the ultimate birding destination
Local Wildlife Specialist Tip
A new hotspot for hummingbird lovers in northern Peru – Aguas Verdes, a small village 76 Km north of the city of Rioja, Department of San Martín, north Peru. Because of its altitude of about 1500 meters, it allows lowland and mountain birds to occur together. The use of hummingbird feeders started at Abra Patricia Owlet Lodge and at Wakanqi Lodge with great success, and some rarities like Rufous-crested Coquette or several Hermits became very easy to see.
Wilson Diaz, Green Tours
Photo Credit: Luis Uruena – Manakin Nature Tours – Collared Aracari
The most bird-rich country in the world – 1,850 species and counting – Colombia is attracting attention from birdwatchers and general tourists alike. The wildlife-rich wetlands of Los Llanos are among The Guardian’s travel recommendations for 2019; the newspaper tips the tropical plains as a future ‘best place in South America for wildlife watching’. Avian stars include Jabiru, a towering stork. Complement these lowlands by exploring Andean mountains. Conservation organisation Audubon’s brand-new Central Andes Birding Trail is home to sought-after antpittas plus scores of hummingbirds, including the critically endangered Glittering Starfrontlet (every bit the jewel its name implies). Read More: Colombia, a land of birds and peace
Photo Credit: Al Henderson – Ebro Delta Birding – Greater Flamingo – Ebro Delta Northern Trip
Europe’s second-largest country boasts a hugely diverse landscape. With such varied habitats comes a mouth-watering range of birds – and all within two hours flight of home. Scan the skies for Lammergeiers cruising past snow-capped mountains. Let your eyes admire displaying Great and Little Bustards on unending plains, while your ear is enchanted by serenading Calandra Larks. Watch migrating raptors and storks funnel over Tarifa, journeying between Europe and Africa. Or gasp at avian bubblegum – the pink riot that is a flock of Greater Flamingos, loping their way across a coastal saltpan. Read More: Birdwatching in Spain
Photo Credit: Janine Williams – Pepper Bush Adventures – Superb Fairy-wren
The only country to be considered a continent in its own right, Australia features on Condé Nast Traveller magazine’s must-visit list for 2019 – on account of last year’s launch of non-stop flights from London to Perth. But where to go once you arrive? Queensland for South Cassowary (the world’s third-tallest bird) and Satin Bowerbird (the Norman Foster of the bird world)? Melbourne for Superb Lyrebird (an avian mimic par excellence, with a shimmering veil of a tail to boot)? South Australia for the neon and cobalt Splendid Fairywren, a bird even more stunning than its name suggests? Or the heart-shaped island of Tasmania, with its dozen endemic birds and exciting pelagic trips?
5). The Gambia
Photo Credit: Inglorious Bustards – Egyptian Plover
Yearn to escape the monochrome British winter for a bird-filled break in the sun? Fancy a taste of Africa without the travel hassle? The Gambia ticks all the boxes. Barely a 5-hour flight away, a week-long trip typically offers 270 species. You won’t even have to travel far each day, as The Gambia is barely 190 miles long and 30 wide. Colour is the name of the game here, with a rainbow of sunbirds complemented by stunners such as Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters, Yellow-crowned Gonolek, Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher and Egyptian Plover.
Photo Credit: Steve Race – Yorkshire Coast Nature – Above and Below Photography Trip – Bempton Cliffs, England
England is one of 2019’s top destinations for both Bloomberg and The Telegraph – and Yorkshire specifically makes The Guardian’s hotlist. In ‘God’s own county’, England’s biggest seabird colony should be on your radar this year because Bempton Cliffs is celebrating its 50th anniversary. If you were inspired by the RSPB reserve’s cameo on BBC 1’s Blue Planet UK, visit in spring or summer to see Gannets, Puffins and Kittiwakes at enchantingly close range. Read More: Bird Watching Holidays for Beginners
Photo Credit: Grant Reed – Letaka Safaris – Wattled Crane
As the Okavango River flows from the Angolan highlands into the arid Kalahari Desert, it engenders the justly famous Okavango Delta. Indisputably one of Africa’s finest destinations for mammal watching, Okavango excels for bird watching too. Common denizens of these expansive wetlands include African Pygmy Goose, African Skimmer and Western Banded Snake Eagle. But the country holds much more besides. Near Maun, search for the leggy Slaty Egret, the curious Pel’s Fishing Owl and the secretive yet spectacular White-backed Night Heron. For a change, birdwatch in Botswana’s drier east, where specialities include the locally distributed Orange River Francolin and Boulder Chat.
8). Costa Rica
Photo Credit: Costa Rica Birding – Sunbittern
The Sunday Times Travel Magazine’s top country to visit in 2019, Costa Rica is a tropical paradise that is superbly set up for the visiting birdwatcher. A plethora of ecolodges in and around protected areas makes for comfortable and exciting bird watching. Expect to be deafened by the song of Three-wattled Bellbird in the highlands, to be amazed by dancing firecrackers called manakins, and to search for the rare Mangrove Hummingbird on the Pacific coast. You’ll be smiling all the time, of course: Costa Rica regularly tops the Happy Planet Index, which measures how countries are doing at living long, happy and sustainable lives.
9). Chilean Patagonia
Photo Credit: Claudio F Vidal – Far South Expeditions – Torres del Paine National Park, Chilean Patagonia
In 2018, the Chilean government expanded the country’s national park system by an area almost the size of Switzerland. A large proportion of the land newly safeguarded lies amid Patagonia’s stunning scenery – with its year-round snowcaps, searing canyons and glaciated fjords. The birding here is fantastic too. Gasp at the might of an Andean condor, with its 3-metre-long wingspan. Search for Magellanic Plover, a shorebird so strange that it has no close relatives. Follow the route of Charles Darwin along the Beagle Channel to visit colonies of King and Magellanic penguins. And gasp at the world’s southernmost-living hummingbird and parrot.
James Lowen is a nature and travel writer.
Recent books include 52 European Wildlife Weekends (published by Bradt Travel Guides), which won the Adele Evans Award for Travel Guidebook of 2018, and Birds of Spain(Bloomsbury). His work also appears regularly in magazines such as BBC Wildlife and Bird Watching plus newspapers such as The Telegraph. James blogs at http://jameslowen.com and is on Twitter and Instagram as @JLowenWildlife