Using eBird To Plan Your Birding Trip (Target Species Focus) In 10 Easy Steps

Over the last year or so, I have been using eBird to help plan my travels.  I am usually a species-focused birder when I travel.  That means I have certain species in mind and I will plan my trip to locations where I am most likely to see that species.  Another style of planning might be when you have a trip booked to a destination and you want to know where to go birding and what kind of species you might find there.  For example you have a business trip to Sydney and would like to get in some birding in your spare time.  But the steps below are basically what I do.

STEP 1

Go to eBird, set up an account or log in if you already have one.  Then click on Explore Data and scroll down to Species Maps.

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STEP 2

Enter the name of the species you want to see-either in English or the scientific name.  In the examples below, I will be using the Hooded Parrot which was one of my target species when we went to the Northern Territory of Australia.  The technique works no matter where you want to go and which birds you want to see.  African Grey Parrots in Uganda, Resplendent Quetzals in Costa Rica or Antpittas in Ecuador are all there to be found!

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Now that I have entered the Hooded Parrot, I can see where they are concentrated – just south of Darwin in the Northern Territory of Australia.  This tells me what airport I will need to fly into to begin my trip.  The darker the purple, the more sightings of that species have been logged in eBird.ebird4

STEP 3

Refine the search by using the dates I want to travel.  I will usually choose the quarter that represents the month I will be there and a 10 year data.  Sometimes I scale that back to the most recent 3 years if there are a lot of results.  Also pay attention to red points as they represent sightings of a bird within the last month.  I also click on “Show Points Sooner” on the right side of the screen to make all those points appear.

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By zooming in, I can see the big concentration of points around Pine Creek, Nitmiluk and Katherine.  I note that either would be a simple 2-3 hour drive south of Darwin.  I like to organize my birding for early mornings and late afternoons and use the middle part of the day to drive from one place to another.ebird6

STEP 4

Now I want to examine these “points” that represent bird sightings in more detail.  I will right click on each point in the general area and open in a separate tab.  I want to see what the numbers look like.  Are they big flocks being constantly seen over a period of weeks or months?  This indicates the birds are common to the area and you have a good chance to spot them.  You can also see exact locations such as which park, what street, etc.  This location looks really good, various people (including me) are reporting good sized flocks.  So now I want to examine the Hotspot in more detail.  Right click on “Explore Hotspot” highlighted in yellow.

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STEP 5

Research the Hotspots.  If you are a destination birder rather than a species-specific birder you can come straight to the Hotspot section (see Step 1) and skip the other steps.  Seeing my target species is exciting enough but seeing a lot more birds in the same area is even better.  If I have limited time, I want the most “bang for my buck” so I want a Hotspot that not only has my target but lots of other interesting birds as well!

I have highlighted in yellow the information I want from this screen.  “Get Directions” will get me a Google map to the exact location of the Hotspot.  On the right side, I am looking at how many species are in the average checklist to get an idea of what other birds can be seen and how common they are.  I also take note of names which appear on a regular basis.  These people will be locals, maybe even birding guides so their lists are more likely to be accurate.

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STEP 6

Examine the bar chart for patterns in when the birds are being seen.  For example the Hooded Parrot is commonly seen between July to December.  They haven’t been reported at all in this location between mid January to June so I am glad my trip is in September!  One thing to note:  This location is pretty popular and gets a good amount of reports.  If you don’t see the bird being reported in a particular month, always check to see if ANY birds have been reported in the month.  For example if I were going in March, I would be concerned that no one has reported Hooded Parrots in March but other birds ARE being reported so it’s not a case that no one has filed a report yet for that month.  Birders are there in March, the Hooded Parrots are not there.

Now I scroll though to see what other birds are likely to be seen in September – quite a few parrot species so this looks like a great spot!ebird9

STEP 7

OK I know it isn’t “green” to print things out but it can be very handy to have a checklist readily available.  This is the first time I used this feature on a birding trip and it was invaluable to help me remember what I saw.  It also helped me identify some birds.  I would Google the bird species and match the results against my photos.

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STEP 8

Most people have more than one target species in mind when they go birding.  I do this procedure for all of my main target species (usually parrots but also bowerbirds, fairy-wrens, Gouldian finches).  Then I compare the checklists and bar charts to see what is the fewest number of stops I have to make to get all the desired species.  I had about 20 “Must-sees” for this trip to the Northern Territory.

STEP 9

I  like to cross reference what I learned from this procedure with other birding reports such as those found on Cloudbirders, Surfbirds and anything else that pops up on Google!  Sometimes I find good recommendations for accommodation and guides.

STEP 10

Now that I have my birding Hotspots sorted, I can start to look at other travel arrangements.  I need to fly to Darwin, rent a car and get accommodation near each of those Hotspots!

Top 8 Airline Miles Programs – 2016 Edition

I last made my recommendations of which airline miles programs to join back in 2012 so with all the changes I think it’s time for an update!  Which programs are still good?  Which ones no longer exist?  Which ones are less valuable than before?  How can Australians and Americans get free miles from credit cards?  Read on!

WHAT MAKES A PROGRAM “GOOD”?

  • I attribute greater value to programs which require minimal outlay of cash (no fuel surcharges) and better opportunities to get miles from everyday credit card spend and sign up bonuses.
  • “Buy miles 100% bonus” deals may have value to people who have cash to outlay but since this is a guide for cash poor people who want to travel I am not including them here.
  • These recommendations are for eco-tourists so I haven’t considered luxury travel to Europe and Asia redemptions.
  • Free miles from E-Rewards is a plus.
  • I have not taken elite programs into account in any of the below programs.
  • I am not a credit blogger so please use other resources to find the best deals on sign up bonuses.

1.  American Airlines AAdvantageOne World member

Has more options between USA and Australia on Qantas, Air Pacific or Air Tahiti Nui, also great for LAN or AA to South America and Africa via Qatar or direct QF flights.  Can book several of their partners online with AA planning to add more as they go along.  One way awards at half round trip rates.  Save AA miles for long hauls if possible, use BA for short haul.  No fuel surcharges except BA and IB awards.  E-Rewards participant.

Americans get miles from Citibank co-branded cards and the grandfathered Barclays Aviator cards (not available to new applicants).  You can also transfer points from SPG best done in blocks of 20k to get 5k bonus.

Australians get miles by transferring preferably blocks of 40k Amex MR points to get 20k SPG, then blocks of 20k SPG to get 5k bonus.

2.  United Airlines Mileage PlusStar Alliance member

Good for awards to South-east Asia on UA, SQ & TG; Central & South America on Copa & Avianca and Africa on South African, Ethiopian and Egypt Air.  Also very good for intra-Latin America and intra-Africa.  E-Rewards participant.

Americans get miles easily via Chase’s Ultimate Rewards cards and co-branded United Explorer card.

Australians have a much harder time getting miles as the SPG route is a poor value at 20k SPG gets 10k United plus bonus of 2500.  Most Aussies will find Singapore a better Star Alliance partner.

3.  Singapore Airlines KrisFlyerStar Alliance member

Don’t keep miles in here if you can’t use them within 3 years because they expire whether you have activity or not.  Be careful of fuel surcharges on Asian routes.  Good for redemptions on NZ between Australia and Pacific islands & redemptions on Avianca & Copa for Central/South America trips as no fuel surcharges.

Americans get miles from Chase’s Ultimate Rewards cards, Citibank Thank You cards, American Express Membership Rewards & SPG.

Australians get miles from American Express Membership Rewards 1000:1000 and transferable rewards programs from Westpac and ANZ.

4.  British Airways Avios and Iberia AviosOne World members

Same Avios currency but you need to join both BA and IB’s versions to maximize it.  Pretty easy to earn Avios via E-Rewards and can also credit stays at Accor hotels to Iberia’s program and transfer easily between BA and IB.    Not a great program for long haul or itineraries needing connections but excellent for short haul within South America on partner LAN, the BA-Comair flights within Southern Africa or within Australia on partner Qantas.  Some nice 5th freedom flights in the Caribbean – Trinidad to St Lucia gets you between 2 islands with good birding.

Americans get miles from Chase’s Ultimate Rewards cards and co-branded British Airways card. You can also transfer points from SPG best done in blocks of 20k to get 5k bonus.

Australians get miles by transferring preferably blocks of 40k Amex MR points to get 20k SPG, then blocks of 20k SPG to get 5k bonus.  Aussies need to use a European or American address as they don’t accept memberships with Australian addresses.

5. Flying BlueSky Team member

Be careful as most redemptions here attract fuel surcharges.  Flying Blue can get you some places that are otherwise very difficult to get to such as Kenya Airways flights to Madagascar and Garuda domestic Indonesia flights (no surcharges).  Also use on short haul flights on Gol, Aerolinas Argentinas (no surcharges) and some other interesting partners.  Participates in E-Rewards.  Miles expire after 20 months of when they were earned unless you credit a Sky Team flight to Flying Blue.  Non-flying activities such as credit card spend and E-Rewards don’t renew your expiration date.

Americans get miles from Citibank Thank You cards & Amex Membership Rewards.  You can also transfer points from SPG best done in blocks of 20k to get 5k bonus.

Australians get miles by transferring preferably blocks of 40k Amex MR points to get 20k SPG, then blocks of 20k SPG to get 5k bonus.

6.  Virgin Velocity – Not in an alliance. 

Good for short-haul to New Zealand and Pacific islands, domestic Australia flights and sometimes long haul to USA and Asia.  Participates in E-Rewards.

Americans get miles from transfering SPG points best done in blocks of 20k to get 5k bonus.  You need an Aussie address to join.

Australians have numerous credit cards (basically every bank in Australia) that earn Velocity points directly or transfer there.  Keep an eye out for huge sign on bonuses which have greatly improved in the last year or so.  There is a new partnership with BP to get 2 points per litre with occasional targeted bonuses.

7. Etihad Guest – Not in an alliance

I never looked twice at this program until they partnered up with Flybuys.  I did a recent review with Aussies in mind (sorry Americans) and found some interesting options with partners and decent value to Africa.  Probably not a good program for Americans to join, better to use AA redemptions on Etihad awards.  Beware of miles expiring after 2 years, don’t transfer them until you are within booking range.  Activity does not renew the expiration.

Americans get miles from Citibank Thank You cards.  You can also transfer points from SPG best done in blocks of 20k to get 5k bonus.

Australians get miles from American Express Membership Rewards 1000:1000 and the new Flybuys partnership FB 10,000: EY 4000.

8.  Qantas Frequent FlyerOne World member

Use for domestic Australia or short-haul to NZ, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.  Has fuel surcharges on most routes with the possible exception of LAN intra-South America.

Americans get points from Citibank Thank You cards.

Australians get points from co-branded Qantas cards, just about every bank in Australia has them.  Unfortunately the Woolies and Optus partnerships are gone so much harder to get points now outside of credit cards.

Dream TravelObviously not everyone needs to use ALL these programs.  It depends on where you want to go.  Situations change so you need to be constantly evaluating.  A month ago I wouldn’t have considered Etihad Guest but now I can see getting at least 16,000 free miles each year just by grocery shopping at Coles and using bonuses.  From the previous list US Airways Dividend Miles is gone and the Avianca Lifemiles program is no longer as valuable as it once was due to devaluations.  It is no longer so easy to get Qantas miles as they eliminated their best “every day spending” partners.  American may lose it’s #1 position if they devalue their awards.  I say as long as it’s free to join a program, then do so as you never know what deals may come in the future!

 

Getting To Mauritius With Frequent Flyer Miles

Although most frequent flyer programs group Mauritius with Africa to determine it’s zone, there are far fewer options because not many airlines fly there.

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STAR ALLIANCE

South African Airways is the only Star Alliance member to serve Mauritius so you will have to get to JNB, then connect to Mauritius.  Availability on this route isn’t the best and sometimes only available in business class so if you can only afford an economy ticket this won’t work for you.

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Assuming you can find availability, one way (double for RT) awards would cost:

NORTH AMERICA – MAURITIUS 40,000 Y    80,000 J

EUROPE – MAURITIUS                30,000 Y    55,000 J

AUSTRALIA – MAURITIUS            50,000 Y     75,000 J

Given the distances involved, it is much better to combine Mauritius with South Africa and have a better chance of finding those elusive seats!

ONEWORLD

The only OneWorld carrier serving Mauritius is British Airways so the best programs to look at are American AAdvantage for long-haul segments and British Airways Avios for short hops from JNB-MRU.

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Beware of transiting LHR enroute to Mauritius as the airport taxes can be extremely high.  Try to route on QR via DOH or EY via AUH to JNB, then pick up the JNB-MRU on BA.  Assuming you can find availability, one way (double for RT) awards would cost:

NORTH AMERICA – MAURITIUS 37,500 Y    62,500 J

EUROPE – MAURITIUS                30,000 Y    37,500 J

AUSTRALIA – MAURITIUS            37,500 Y     50,000 J

American currently offers the best deals on mileage awards to Africa but these rates are unlikely to hold once the merger with US Airways is completed so if Mauritius/Africa is on your bucket list, this is a good time to book your trip!

SKYTEAM

Air France is the only SkyTeam member serving Mauritius but you can use Delta (if anyone is still a member of Delta) to book these awards.  If you are using credit card points or transferring from SPG, then Flying Blue is your best bet.  All SkyTeam members charge YQ fuel surcharge on these tickets so you are better off using United or American for long haul awards.  Here’s a couple examples for a North American award and a European award.  Flying Blue won’t let you route from Australia via Europe to Mauritius.

MRU FB1 MRU FB2AIR MAURITIUS

Air Mauritius dominates the market. Here is a list of their destinations from MRU.

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They are a partner of Air France Flying Blue but they are not a member of SkyTeam.  If you want to use Flying Blue miles to book Air Mauritius you will have to call in.  I tried on the MRU-TNR (Antananarivo) route but the fuel surcharges were so high it would have been a total waste of SPG points which can be better utilized elsewhere.  If you are booking a cash ticket, then Air Mauritius does have a lot of options, keep an eye on their website for specials.

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Support Miles To The Wild

If you enjoy this blog and would like to support MTTW, there are a few ways you can help.

REFERRAL LINKS – AFFILIATE

I have an affiliate relationship with Amazon.com and Scottevest.  If you use my links to begin your shopping I get a small commission at no added cost to yourself.

REFERRAL LINKS – NON AFFILIATE

I don’t have any kind of marketing relationship with these companies.  I joined some time ago using someone else’s referral link and now have links of my own.  If you use my link to join, you will get some kind of bonus as detailed below and then you will get a link of your own to share.  If there are any really good promos on, I will usually blog about them seperately.

UBER – Usually you get $10, a free ride or more depending on what deal they have going.  I get $10 in my account.

POINTSHOUND – We both get 250 miles in any of their partner airlines after your first booking.

ROCKETMILES – We both get 1000 miles in any of their partner airlines after your first booking.

TOPCASHBACK – We both get $10 free cashback in our accounts.  To receive your Tell-a-Friend bonus, the person you have referred must sign up to TopCashback from your link and earn $10.00 payable cashback or more. View the full Tell-a-Friend Terms and Conditions.

COPY.COM – Cloud storage, we both get an extra 5GB when you use my link.  Max of 25GB per account via referral bonuses.

CREDIT CARDS

Occasionally Chase and Amex have promos where people who have certain cards can refer other people by an email invitation.  The inviter gets a specified number of points and the invitee (you) gets a good sign up bonus.  An example is you get 40,000 Ultimate Rewards + 5000 if you add an authorized user and I get 5000 Ultimate Rewards for inviting you to get a Chase Sapphire Preferred.  Deals vary and are not available year round but if you email me I can tell you what I have.  The cards I sometimes have invitations for are:

Chase Sapphire Preferred

Chase Freedom

Amex SPG (USA)

Amex Platinum Reserve (and other Aussie Amexes)

If you are considering one of these cards and would like an invitation, please contact me on tara at milestothewild.com.

DO YOU HAVE CASH TO SPARE?

Don’t send it to me.  The whole reason I got into eco-tourism is because I am passionate about birds and parrots in particular.  If you are feeling generous, please send a donation to World Parrot Trust.  You can either donate to their general fund or choose a species to direct your donation to.

Donate to World Parrot Trust

Thank you in advance if you decide to use any of these links, I do appreciate it!  Even if you don’t, thank you for reading my blog and I hope you have some great birding & ecotourism adventures and I can be of some inspiration to you.

Multimodal Transport Search: Rome2Rio

I have already been blogging about how to use airline miles to make your eco-tourism travel dreams come true.  But what do you do when the destination you want is far away from the main gateway airport?  What if you don’t have the right kind of miles to get there?  Is a bus REALLY the cheapest option?

Enter ROME2RIO!

One the home page, you can enter any two destinations.