Birding and Bird Photography Blog by Leander Khil

Kategorie: South America

Some birds from French Guiana

I just returned from an exciting trip to French Guiana. This time, frogs were the more important actors in the rainforest. We took part in a study trip with the University of Vienna, studying Allobates femoralis, a small, non-toxic “poison dart frog” – more on this later, including photos. After four weeks at an undisclosed site in the primary forest, there’s lots to catch up with, so I’ll be brief again. I did a quick selection of bird photos from the trip, most of the first week at the coast around Cayenne (where watching and photographing birds is fairly easy) and a few from the Nouragues reserve. I consider the rainforest being one of the toughest landscapes to photograph birds in, so there weren’t to many lucky shots while searching for critters on the ground. But: The album includes to very special species in the end. My childhood dreambird, the Guianan cock-of-the-rock (Rupicola rupicola), which I finally saw at the inselberg of the Nouragues reserve and the unique Capuchinbird (Perissocephalus tricolor), which made a late appearance on the last day at the frog study-site. Those two posed for record shots rather than for really appealing photos..

Darwin’s Finches

Seeing Darwin’s Finches (the Geospizinae) was one of the great highlights of my trips in 2012. This group of 13 or 14 species of passerine birds (sources differ) is native to the Galápagos archipelago (with one further species inhabiting Cocos Island) and one of the immediate links to our understanding of evolution, adaptive radiation and natural selection in particular. According to today’s widely accepted theory, all of Darwin’s Finches evolved from one ancestral species which reached one of the islands. The birds started to occupy empty ecological niches of the young, largely uninhabited archipelago, transforming their morphology (look at their beaks!) driven by natural selection, developing separate populations and stopped to interbreed: new species evolved.
Understanding evolution must be one of the most significant realizations of modern humankind, here squeezed into a few sentences. For detailed and more profound explanations I really do recommend Jonathan Weiner’s detailed, yet comprehensible “The Beak of the Finch” which was my read while cruising the Galápagos Islands in August.

Sally Lightfoot Crabs

Sally Lightfoot Crab (Grapsus grapsus) is common along the rocky western coasts of the Americas. This large species is particularly abundant on the Galápagos Islands, where the strikingly and variably colored animals can be seen on the black volcanic rocks in large numbers. It was a joy to watch the perfectly adapted crabs clinging to the rocks and fighting against the surf smashing down on them repeatedly, every few seconds. All photos were taken on the Galápagos in August 2012.

Mixed Bird Photos from Peru

Not much words about this album. Peru was more about travelling and watching, less about photography (as in Ecuador and the Galapagos, I didn’t carry a 500mm lens with me). The only opportunities where I could take at least some photos were the fabulous Paracas national park and Huacachina oasis, near Ica. All photos taken in August 2012.

Galápagos Reptiles

Before I start preparing blog posts of the spectacular main reason to visit the Galápagos (you’re right, birds!) – I’ll show you photos of another fascinating group of animals, whose mostly huge members roam most of the islands of the archipelago.

Galápagos land iguana (Conolophus subcristatus) inhabits the islands of Fernandina, Isabela, Santa Cruz, Baltra, North Seymour and South Plaza. I had good opportunities to photograph them on the latter two. This mostly herbivorous species is thought to be (together with Galápagos giant tortoise) the evolutionary force to be responsible for the tall-growing prickly pear cacti. The iguanas feed on the cacti’s leaves, which the plant tries to avoid by developing trunks, often up to 10m high. Hence, the cacti are growing small and without trunks on islands without iguanas and tortoises.

Barrington Land Iguana (Conolophus subcristatus) is endemic to the 24 km² large island of Santa Fé.

Galápagos giant tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra) is one of only two species of giant tortoise alive (the other one being Aldabra giant tortoise from the Seychelles). There are several subspecies in the archipelago of which some went extinct during the exploitation of the islands by whalers, pirates and buccaneers. The last tragic episode being the extinction of Chelonoidis nigra abingdoni in June 2012, when well-known ‘Lonesome George’ died in the in the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz without a mate of the same subspecies.

Lava Lizards (Microlophus sp.) occur throughout the archipelago. There are nine species endemic to the Galápagos islands.

Marine Iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus) to my eyes is the most fascinating reptile of the Galápagos and one of the most outstanding in the world. This lizard is the only one to forage in the sea, being able to dive more than 15 m. The species is widespread and occurs in several subspecies, differing in size and color.


The first leg of my recent voyage to South America was partly a birdwatching trip at most. I travelled Ecuador for nearly three weeks with my brother and his workmate Tina. As I learned from previous journeys, birding on  a trip with non-birders is hardly possible and is well able to create discontent in a group. So I limited my passion to a minimum and more or less travelled as an average tourist, so far as this is possible for me… The longest lens I had with me was the (magnificent!) Nikkor AF-S 300mm f4, besides a 70-200mm, 60mm and 18-55mm.
We focused on getting a good overview of the country with its arid coast, high Andes and the rainforest of the Amazon basin and the, for my standards, epic climb of Chimborazo volcano, the highest mountain of Ecuador and the farthest point on the Earth’s surface from the Earth’s center. We succeeded on July 14, more than one month after the last successful roped party.

Galápagos sea lions

I’ll start to work off the images from South America with a non-avian post. Endemic Galápagos sea lions (Zalophus wollebaeki) are, in many of the islands of the archipelago, as conspicuous as the many extremely tame birds, iguanas and tortoises. The problem of what to point the lens at is a consistent (and serious!) one in the Galápagos and not rarely, I chose these interesting and rewarding animals as subject.
It’s amazing how close they live to humans: Sea lions occupy beaches, boats, sea moles and even benches (check out the last photo in the gallery) with no fear at all. Whelps waiting for their mothers frequently come over to people, smelling their shoes and clothes, checking if it’s not their mum who returned from the sea. I really had tons of amazing experiences with them.

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