Birding Tourism

Subject: Birding Tourism
From: Tom Tarrant <>
Date: Sat, 03 Nov 2001 17:40:31 +1000
This was on Birdchat today, sorry about the weird symbols!
Tom Tarrant

Hi all,

I found this interesting and wryly humourous article today on The Times
(London) online version. It's about British
birders, but the sentiments obviously apply to those in North America
too. The world is obviously shrinking!



Birds of a feather, all together


There are few frontiers for the serious birder, who spends an average
£3,000 a trip but is content sleeping in a mountain
hut. Our correspondent investigates their world, in which no sacrifice
is too small in search of the birds

IN the macho world of adventure travel, our first thoughts probably do
not incline towards birdwatching. Extreme birding?
White-knuckle birding? Possibly . . .
â??Birders were the first to go into Nepal and Tibet in the 1960s,â??
says Mark Cocker, author of Birders, which mixes
tales of birding in the remote, the inhospitable and the recently
wartorn with accounts of the great New Hythe Tesco
Golden-winged warbler sighting of 1989.

â??Today itâ??s parts of the Philippines, islands off Indonesia and the
bits of the rainforest that have been left.
Afghanistan has been unsurveyed for 20 years. Weâ??re creeping into
Iran, but no one has been to Iraq recently.â??

But talk to Mark Beaman, and Iran is quite mainstream these days. â??We
go to places where we never see another Westerner
â?? Mongolia, Gobi desert, the Tibetan plateau. The really wild bits of
Ethiopia, West and East Africaâ??. Until the civil
war is over, heâ??s deferred plans to go to Angola and Somalia. â??The
landmines are off-putting to even the most
adventurous traveller at the moment,â?? he says, with regret. Beaman
runs Birdquest, probably the most extreme birding
travel company in the world.

â??You know those survival programmes on TV?â?? he adds. â??The ones
where the organisers put people through assault
courses and make them crawl through thorny bushes, pushing them people
to the limit of their endurance? They make us laugh
because we routinely do those sorts of things to see birds.

â??On some of our birding trips, say the one to Sichuan in China, we get
up between two and four in the morning, trek hard
for a few hours through mountains to get to the remaining forest
habitat, bird for about eight hours, trek down the
mountain and then do exactly the same the next morning.

â??Accommodation is very basic: concrete floors, filthy mattresses that
would be rejected by any Third World hostel. And
the foodâ??s terrible.â??

The average age of a Birdquester is 50.

For the keen birder, there are few frontiers, age included. Instead,
there are the â??life listsâ?? that keen birders will
make of all the birds that they identify. In Britain, it might take a
lifetime to see 500 species of birds, but you can see
the same number in two weeks in Ecuador â?? and thatâ??s an irresistible
challenge to a keen birder.

A less intensive way to mix with the extreme birding world is to attend
the British Bird Watching Fair, held annually at
the Egleton Nature Reserve in Rutland. It is where the global birding
community gathers each year, trading tips, checking
out the latest equipment and indulging in some travel one-upmanship, as
well as a highly competitive football tournament.

Mark Beaman, 50, 6ft 4in and clearly as tough as old boots, doesnâ??t
conform to the popular image of a birdwatcher.
â??Before I met him,â?? his girlfriend Hilary Lee says, â??I expected
someone in a tweed cap, Gannex raincoat and
binoculars down to here,â?? her hand hovering just above her waist. They
laugh as we sit outside the beer tent (10p from
every pint sold goes towards the preservation of the Gurneyâ??s pitta).
Mark explains that having long binocular straps is
seen as very nerdy indeed in ornithological circles. Serious birders
wear their binoculars high on the chest so they can
grab them faster when an important bird comes into sight.

Five years ago there were 46 travel com- panies exhibiting at the BBWF.
This year there are 83. â??Some people here will
spend £10,000 a year on travel,â?? says Steve Dudley, of the British
Ornithologistsâ?? Union.

Birding travel has come a long way since Beamanâ??s clients endured a
number of visits to mind-numbingly dull collective
farms and factories in Siberia during the late 1970s in the hope that
they could persuade their driver to stop off in the
forests en route to see Siberian rubythroats and lanceolated warblers.
Or when WildWings did its first trip to Antarctica
in 1991. (You thought that Antarctica was a trendy new destination?
Birders everywhere will be laughing at you.) â??A lot
of birding companies are going to an island in Polynesia now,â?? said
Mike Crewe, on the Limosa Holidays stand. â??Tua Motu
has a sandpiper that is endemic to the area.â?? â??Anything else worth
seeing there?â?? I query. â??Probably not,â?? he

The Tua Motu sandpiper is, however, a particularly exciting bird with
specially adapted web feet that allow it to climb
trees when the land is flooded. â??We had one client whoâ??d set himself
a challenge to see every sandpiper in the world.
The Tua Motu was the final one on his list.â??

And then thereâ??s Uganda. At a time when most foreign tourists have
been put off going there by violence along the border
with Congo and Sudan, Johnny Kamugisha, a guide, had just left a group
of birders on a 21-day holiday. â??Birders will get
up at 6am, with a packed lunch, and will bird all day.

Theyâ??ll come back in the evening and they wonâ??t go for a shower,
theyâ??ll sit down and mark off all the birds
theyâ??ve seen. But Iâ??m a birder myself, I understand.â??

â??Do birders ever complain?â?? I ask. â??Never,â?? says Johnny. They
donâ??t want luxury lodges either â?? or any of the
amenities usually demanded by tourists paying, on average, about £3,000
per trip. â??We give them a choice but they always
want to stay in the mountain huts so they can start birding earlier in
the morning.â??

This mentality is why extreme birders are among the worldâ??s most
perfect and conservation-minded tourists. They go in
small groups to underdeveloped countries. They stay in local hotels and
houses, ensuring that money goes directly to the
local people.

They are not interested in infinity pools, room service or even Tarmac
roads. They would definitely not want the slice of
prime forest destroyed to build a luxury hotel. They leave as few
footprints as possible, even if they do take thousands of

Birds donâ??t get killed, habitats are preserved. (Birders arenâ??t
particularly ecologically minded though, according to
Dudley. â??Too many emissions spent racing in a minibus from one end of
the country to the other.â??) Another cup of tea,
this time with a home-made flapjack, and I meet Diane Williams, a tax
inspector from Surrey. Sheâ??s been working her way
through Africa on her holidays. Next sheâ??ll be going to the Molapo
district of the Kalahari desert in Botswana.

She prefers a more rounded birding approach to that which some companies
offer. â??Some of the specialist birding tours
will drive past mammals to see a particular bird.â??

She thought for a minute. â??I find that a bit, well, twitchy.â?? She
wasnâ??t convinced by the binocular strap gauge
theory either. â??If youâ??re a woman the length of your binocular
straps are more likely to be down to whether you want
them banging on your boobs or not.â?

Ian Stewart
T.H. Morgan School of Biology
University of Kentucky
(859) 323-9499

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