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Bird enthusiasts breathed a collective sigh of relief last year when it was announced that the ivory-billed woodpecker, a species thought extinct for over 60 years, was alive and well and living in the Big Woods-Cache River National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas. The discovery was actually kept secret for a year so that the area could prepare infrastructure for what it assumed would be a large influx of birders and wildlife buffs.

If you are planning a trip to the refuge, bring realistic expectations as the odds of actually seeing the ivory-billed woodpecker are minimal. However, the Big Woods offers other rewards for birders with close to 260 species listed on the bird checklist for the neighboring White River refuge.

Little Rock Tours (tel. 800/933-3836; www.littlerocktours.com)and Mallard Pointe Lodge (tel. 870/589-2266; www.mallardpointelodge.com) near Brinkley offer extended guided tours on private lands adjacent to the rediscovery area. For a short trip, their all-inclusive Package #3 ivory-billed woodpecker tour includes two days with professional guides, a White-Cache area River Birding tour, a Dagmar Wildlife area tour, one night deluxe accommodations, all meals and drinks and boat rental. This trip is priced from $315 per person based on double occupancy. The #1 Package is priced from $1,295 per person and includes five days touring with professional guides, Dagmar Wildlife area tour, Huckabee Delta River Center, White-Cache area River Birding tour, US Fish & Wildlife Center and trails in St. Charles, four-nights deluxe accommodation, all meals and drinks, transportation around Arkansas, boat rentals and all admissions. Tours run in November and December, 2006 and January to March 2007 as the cooler months are preferable for visiting and actual bird sightings. Groups of 15 can choose their own dates and customize their itineraries.

Big Woods Birder's Lodge at Holly Grove (www.arkansas.com/attractions/attr_detail.asp?id=91510&r=Delta&city=Holly+Grove) and the Paradise Wings Lodge (www.paradisewings.com) also offer Big Woods birding tours related to the ivory-billed woodpecker.

Wings Birding Tours (tel. 888/293-6443; www.wingsbirds.com) features a selection of U.S. based and worldwide birding tours for professional and amateur birders. Their "Northern Arizona and Southwestern Utah" tour takes place from September 5 to 17, 2006 and begins in Phoenix with zoologist and birding expert Gary Rosenberg. This tour combines breathtaking landscapes with exciting bird watching, especially in the desert oases. Visit a variety of colorful canyons and monoliths sculpted from the massive Colorado Plateau, including Grand Canyon, Bryce and Zion Canyons, the Paria River in Marble Canyon, Monument Valley and the Petrified Forest, plus historic and scenic sites in Navajo country and eastern Arizona's White Mountains. The tour includes 12-nights hotel accommodation, transport in a 12-passenger van and an opportunity to see the following dozens of native species: Black-chinned Hummingbird, Pacific-slope and Cordilleran Flycatchers, MacGillivray's Warbler, Lazuli Bunting, Western Bluebird, Steller's Jay and Cassin's Finch ducks, California Condor, Mountain Bluebird, Pygmy Nuthatch, Grace's warbler, Western Tanager, Blue Grouse, Three-toed and Lewis's Woodpecker, Empidonax flycatchers, Western Wood-Pewee, Warbling Vireo, Hermit, Townsend's and Virginia's warblers, Black-headed Grosbeak , Green-tailed Towhee, Black and Say's Phoebes, Rock and Canyon Wrens, American Dipper, Williamson's Sapsucker, Clark's Nutcracker, Golden Eagle, Prairie Falcon, Townsend's Solitaire, Pinyon, Gray and Mexican Jay and Mountain Chickadee, Sage Thrasher, Rufous-crowned, Black-chinned and Sage Sparrows, Rufous and Calliope Hummingbirds, Pine Grosbeak, Band-tailed Pigeon, Hepatic Tanager, Gray Vireo, and Harris's Hawk. This trip is priced from $2,930 per person with a single occupancy supplement of $610.

Its Southern California: "The Southern Coast, Santa Cruz Island and the Salton Sea" tour will take place from September 20 to 30, 2006. Priced at $2,390 per person it includes 10 nights' motel accommodations, transportation in a 12-passenger mini-van and the leadership of acclaimed birding author and specialist John Dunn. The trip begins in Los Angeles and visits Camarillo, Santa Cruz Island, Huntington Beach Central Park, San Joaquin Marsh, Irvine, San Diego, Imperial Valley, Salton Sea, Calipatria, Galileo Hill Park. Species you may encounter include: California Quail, Allen's and Anna's Hummingbirds, Wrentit, California Thrasher, California and Green-tailed Towhee, Pacific Golden-Plover, Townsend's Warbler, Island Scrub-Jay, Black-throated Gray and MacGillivray's Warbler, Pink-footed, Sooty and Black-vented Shearwaters, Pomarine Jaeger, Elegant and Royal Terns, Long-billed Curlew, Marbled Godwit, California Gnatcatcher, Oak Titmouse, Mountain Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, Western Bluebird, Lawrence's Goldfinch, Little Blue Herons, Yellow-footed Gull, Least Bittern, Ruddy Ground and Inca Doves, Lesser Nighthawk, Costa's Hummingbird, Gila, White-headed and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Savannah and Sage Sparrow, Vaux's Swift, Gray and Vermilion Flycatcher, Lazuli Bunting, Western Wood-Pewee, Clark's Nutcracker, Pygmy Nuthatch, Cassin's Finch and Le Conte's Thrasher.

Bird Treks (www.birdtreks.com) offers tours throughout the year in 20 U.S. states and overseas. Their "Monhegan Island Maine" tour runs from September 25 to 29, 2006 and is priced at $1,195 per person. The tour departs by boat from Port Clyde, an easy ride from the Bangor Airport and takes you to the tiny island of Monhegan, one of the finest migrant and vagrant traps on the North Atlantic Coast. The tour includes expert guide service by Bob Schutsky, a veteran of 34 years of Atlantic Coast birding, entrance fees, all meals, lodging for four-nights and round-trip boat fare to and from Monhegan Island. Again the species list reads like an encyclopedia of birds: Red-necked Grebe, Philadelphia Vireo, Common Loon, Magnolia, Nashville, Wilson's and Orange-crowned Warbler, Northern Gannet, Great Cormorant, Yellow-breasted Chat, Surf and White-winged Scoter, Western Kingbird, Peregrine Falcon, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Wilson's Snipe, Merlin, Dickcissel, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Black Guillemot, Common Eider, Bobolink, Baltimore Oriole and Red-breasted Nuthatch.

The "Oregon Klamath Basin and Coastal Hotspots" is a ten-day tour taking in the Tule Lake near the California border renowned for its high density of waterfowl, raptors, and specialties such as Great Gray Owl and White-headed Woodpecker. Othercoastal locations visited include Yaquina Bay, Newport, Seal Rock, and Siletz Bay for masses of seabirds, plus Sauvie Island on the Columbia River. Spend a full day pelagic trip with Greg Gillson, traveling to Heceta Bank, which hosts the highest concentration of seabirds on the Oregon coast including multiple species of Albatross and enjoy two entire days exploring the Klamath Basin, with its forests, cattail marshes, dry sage areas, and huge Upper Klamath Lake. This is perhaps the best area in

North America to see large numbers waterfowl and raptors and nearly 350 species of birds have been identified here. The tour commences in Portland and is priced at $2,095 per person, double occupancy with a supplement of $475. That price includes Expert guide service, lodging for nine-nights, all meals for the entire tour, entrance fees, pelagic trip, and ground transportation within Oregon and into California.

The birding.com website (www.birding.com) provides listings of birding specialist tour companies and links to their individual websites worldwide. It makes an excellent resource for researching a birding trip or choosing an international destination.

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