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A visit to the underwater museum MUSA near Cancun

On June 15, 2022, my plane landed at the airport near Cancun in Mexico. I hadn’t seen this trip coming long in advance because quite unexpectedly I had a new job! However, I still had two weeks of vacation days to spend from my old job and of course I wanted to go somewhere abroad. Coincidentally, I had read up not long before about the possibility of seeing Whale Sharks in Mexico. June should be a great time for this. So  I set seeing Whale Sharks as my main goal and in addition I would also go deeper into the jungle for a few days to try and score a new wild cat.

Whale Shark at last!

Birders are good at keeping lists. The lifelist comes first (obviously), then often also a national list and then there are a number of regional lists. Birds are excellent for keeping lists because their ability to fly always gives an element of surprise which make your list keep growing. For mammals there are also some fanatic listers, but that takes a whole different approach. For birds and mammals I also like to keep a list, but if you really want to be a serious competitor you need to pick either one of the two and completely aim your trip towards those species. For me however it’s more about seeing very beautiful and attractive species. That’s why seeing a Whale Shark was high on my list. The whale shark is the largest fish on the planet and a beautiful animal. So I definitely wanted to invest some time in that one, although it didn’t count in the lists that I keep.

Underwater photography in the Veerse Meer

Although the Netherlands is not known as a typical destination for snorkeling, it is certainly possible to see beautiful underwater life here without too much effort. Since I was going to Mexico in a few weeks to do a lot underwater photography, I thought it would be a good idea to practice and test everything out. Not far from me is the Veerse Meer where there are a number of spots where the water is quite clear. At Geersdijk I went into the water and swam around for an hour. I focused on photographing the jellyfish with beautiful evening lighting and the crabs were also a nice subject. I could go to Mexico reassured and I got some nice photo’s out of it!

A few days in the Azerbaijani Caucasus

We have arrived in the Caucasus! The plan was to see the Siberian Crane Omid on migration during the first week of our time in Azerbaijan, but Omid decided otherwise and stayed in Iran, for the time being, in its wintering area. Before our stay in Azerbaijan would end we had planned a few more days of birdwatching in the Caucasian mountains and so we decided to go do that. The plan is to immediately return to southern Azerbaijan if Omid does fly. So we are now in the Caucasus! Along the way we already enjoyed beautifully colored rock formations, but in the higher areas there is mostly a lot of snow.

Out and about in Shirvan National Park in Azerbaijan

In the spring of 2022 I suddenly find myself in Azerbaijan. The reason for this is this time not a special cat, but a special bird! The Siberian Crane is an endangered bird of which only a few thousand remain in the wild. In the eastern part of Asia that is. As far as we know, there is only one left in the western part of Asia and of course this bird has been given a name by now: Omid. That name was given to him in Iran, where it has been wintering in the same rice field for years. Equally dutifully, the bird takes off every year to fly back to Russia to its breeding grounds, only to fly back again in the autumn without any breeding succes. There won’t be a partner for Omid. Among bird watchers, there is an avid group that likes to see as many bird species as possible within the Western Palearctic (WP) ecozone. The chances of seeing a wild Siberian Crane within this area after Omid are virtually nil. However, Iran is not considered to be in this ecozone, which means that it is not possible to easily ‘tick’ the bird in its wintering areas. Therefore a small group of fanatic WP birders made an attempt to pick up the bird on its way to Russia when it passed through neighboring Azerbaijan. This was in 2020. A bird seen in Azerbaijan does count for the list! And they saw Omid! In 2021 there was a number of bird watchers that wanted to repeat their success, but corona prevented a trip to Azerbaijan. 2022 was the year it had to happen. I happened to be able to go and it seemed like a nice enough trip in any case so I landed in Baku on February 25, 2022.

A surprise on our way to the Caucasus

Planning a trip well is what I can recommend to anyone. The better the planning, the more you see! Yet the best travel stories usually come from the unexpected. Fortunately, experiencing unexpected things is also almost inevitable if you travel a bit adventurously even with good planning! Unexpected things can be a lot of things. The less pleasant things during the trip often lead to the best stories afterwards: that time you were stopped by the local police in the middle of the night, for example, or that moment when you drive backwards with the rental car and drive through a fence while the local neighborhood is watching. But luckily there are also unexpected things that you can actually enjoy while you are there!

A bumpy road to the Red-fronted Macaws

In November 2021 I traveled to Bolivia after first having visited Ecuador. I had about two weeks left to spend in Bolivia, of which at least five days would be in Jaguarland: a place where I hoped to see Jaguarundi, Jaguar and Ocelot. For the remaining part I wanted to go birding. I often have a certain or a few specific species in mind to go and this time the Red-fronted Macaw was at the top of the list.

When Murphy’s law works in your favour

Murphy’s law in short is that everything that can go wrong, will go wrong. If one thing goes wrong, the next thing will go wrong as well. For example when you’re in de supermarket and you happen to pick just that line that moves the slowest, when you try to pay you find out your bank account has been emptied and your car is being towed when you exit the supermarket. Then you’re not having your best day. It can also happen the other way around: a day that starts well only gets better. When you are looking for nice animals you might just be familiar with Murphy’s law. There are those days when you don’t manage to find anything good and then it quickly feels like Murphy has got it in for you. Luckily there are also days, scarce ones though (!), on which everything seems to go well. Those days make up for a lot that earlier went wrong.

Quest for the strangest cat in the world!

If there is one cat that doesn’t appear to be a cat at first glance it’s the jaguarundi. Because of the longish head with elongated body and short legs this cat appears more like a mustelid than a cat. Still it really is a cat and, if you manage to find a flattering picture of it, a pretty cute one too! This cat is quite widespread in Latin-America but it is nowhere easy to see. Some areas offer higher chances than others, but seeing a jaguarundi is often a chance encounter and most of the time they are just seen crossing the road in front of the car.

Antpitta’s: the secretive birds of the South-American forest!

Antpittas are often described in field guides as a ‘plump ball on sticks’ which is an accurate description. Antpittas have in common that they are indeed like little featherballs on two legs that can sit very still. As a result, antpittas are also difficult to find and it is quite an achievement if you as a birdwatcher manage to pull one out of the forest. Some antpittas are known for not being so difficult to find, but some are so reclusive that they have never even been photographed in the wild. The frustrating thing can be that many antpittas often do make themselves heard. Just so you know they are there, but you don’t get to see them! However it is well worth the effort to try to find them because despite their similar form they can have very different plumages with beautiful patterns and colours. During my trip to Ecuador in 2021 I became acquainted with this species group.