Birding Ecotours and Covid-19

This blog was last updated on 25 February 2022. It was originally posted on 02 June 2020.

25 February 2022 update – the world continues to open as Omicron subsides

Good news is that restrictions are being eased more than ever before since the start of the pandemic, now that the Omicron wave is subsiding substantially (especially in the West and we expect to see the same in Asia soon). We’ve become very busy again, operating a large number of tours lately.

17 October 2021 update – the UK green lists most of the world

Great news for our valued UK clients: most countries in the world have now been put onto the UK green list. Please see the UK government details here, and watch that space for updates. This means that most of the tours on our website are now freely open to UK folks. Previously, our tours were already open to many other nationalities, and still are. The world is opening up nicely, what super news!

7 October 2021 update – further steady improvements since our June 2021 update

The second half of 2021 is proving nice and busy for us, with a lot of tours running. It’s not just our American birding tours that are running well, but it’s also a lot of our other trips such as Uganda, Mozambique, Namibia, Ecuador and others.

2022 trips are looking even better than our late 2021 tours. Within a week from today, we expect an announcement from the UK government which will hopefully mean that many countries get green-listed for UK citizens. Previously, our clients from the USA, Europe and various other parts of the world had been able to join our tours, and now these trips should also be open to UK citizens, yay! These include South Africa and hopefully a number of countries in Latin America. Some countries, such as Taiwan, Morocco, the USA, various European countries, etc. are already green-listed.

The 24 June and 22 February updates below are still valid, the main take home messages are that we require folks to be vaccinated to join our set departure trips (there may be exceptions for private trips, in some instances). Late 2021 and the whole of 2022 is looking great – in fact, some of our trips such as Hawaii, New Zealand and others are full, for 2022, and a number of others such as Minnesota are almost full.

24 June 2021 update – we’ve been enjoying operating some of our birding tours!

The 22 February 2021 update is still valid; please do kindly read that (especially the piece on our current vaccination requirement for set departure/group trips). Today our back-to-back Maine/Massachusetts trips begin, and indeed (as per the February update below) we restarted our tours with Florida in April – trip reports for this and other tours we’ve run in the last three months are linked to from our home page – just scroll down and look for “latest trip reports”.

We’re looking forward to running our Uganda trip in Augustour SE Arizona trip also in Augustour northern Ecuador tour in November, our Galapagos cruise and various other exciting trips – last-minute spaces are still available on these trips except for the Galapagos which filled fast with this year’s big discount. We’ve also worked very hard at converting a couple of our tours into single-country tours so we can operate them – 1) we have an extremely exciting Namibia-only trip for 2021 to replace our usual Namibia/Botswana/Zambia trip because the Zambian border is closed and we don’t want any potential issues with crossing into Botswana under the current pandemic circumstances, and 2) we have two Mozambique-only trips instead of our usual highland Zimbabwe to coastal Mozambique tour; on this tour we look for the highland Zimbabwe type birds just across the border in Mozambique, at the beautiful, remote Mount Tsetserra, along with African Pitta and other major targets, and we also have a pre-trip in search of Crab-plover and other desirables – the Namibia trip currently has a few places left but the Mozambique trips are almost full. We’re busy adding an additional Texas departure (in December) and a Hawaii birding tour in January, plus we also have various other trips going (please sign up for our newsletter here to be kept informed), including some great trips early next year (e.g. MinnesotaColombia and Costa Rica). We have also started running a good number of 1-day birding tours in England (Norfolk, and we can also help in adjacent counties such as Suffolk and Cambridgeshire), South Africa (e.g. Cape Town and Johannesburg) and Ohio.

We would like to emphasize that we make it easy for you to get Covid tests towards the end of each tour, or anything else that is needed to make things as easy as possible for you, as far as meeting the requirements needed for international travel (e.g. if you need a negative Covid test within 72 hours of returning home, as one example, we facilitate the process for you to make it all run like clockwork). Usually for example we are able to arrange for Covid tests to be brought to you at one of the hotels you’re staying at near the end of the tour – e.g. for Namibia and Costa Rica, it is the norm for us to arrange this, to take the hassle and worry away from you. You can e-mail us to check the exact details pertaining to any specific tour you are booked on, or interested in booking on.

Please very kindly also read the February update below as it is still valid and has some vital information about our current vaccination requirements for set departures as opposed to private tours:

22 February 2021 update – tours are starting to run again!

Since the 02 December update below, we’re pleased to announce that we will be officially re-starting tours from April 2021 onwards. Most people had been booking tours from July 2021 onwards, but some of our April through June trips are also now suddenly filling after folks receive their Covid-19 vaccinations. Our American birding tours in particular, are starting to fill at the last minute – e.g. Florida in April 2021 is now almost full, and Maine in June 2021 has just become a guaranteed departure. 

We’re accepting clients who have been vaccinated, onto our April through June set departure tours, and we will of course be abiding by strict Covid-19 safety protocols during these trips. For those who prefer not to get vaccinated, or who don’t expect to be offered the vaccine soon enough, we ask you to be patient and to wait a bit longer until the pandemic is under control, although you are of course welcome to talk to us about private tours if there is a way in which we can run them safely (which may be possible for certain destinations).  

Our worldwide birding tours from July 2021 are (overall) looking good and positive, but because of the possibility of borders being closed and quarantine periods potentially being imposed, some destinations are still uncertain (and for any new bookings received there is no penalty for postponing, should problems arise).

Naturally, safety is of paramount importance to us (and we are one of the very most cautious companies), so we will have social distancing and safety rules in place during tours (which we will inform all tour participants of). Hygiene is always of great importance to us, even during non-pandemic times, so this won’t change. But the good news is that for many tours, we are now officially running them in a single tour van, rather than necessarily requiring caravanning in separate cars, as long as tour participants have been vaccinated. That is one of the main updates since 26 October 2020 below.

For those who feel more comfortable booking 2022 or 2023 tours, that is good with us and the 2022/early 2023 ones are filling steadily.

We’re looking forward to hosting you on the next tour!

02 December 2020 update – promising news:

Today (2 December 2020) the first vaccine was approved in the UK and we expect the same will happen shortly in other countries – at least two vaccines are far more effective than anyone had thought (around 94 %). This is a game-changer as it is essentially safe from a Covid-19 point of view for you to embark on a trip if you’ve had access to this (originally we were only hoping for vaccines to be 50-70 % effective). Private trips may be easier/safer for us to run than stated on our 26 October 2020 update below, and hopefully our set departures might be up and running slightly sooner than we’d thought, too.

26 October 2020 update (please see above for more recent, encouraging, developments though):

Please kindly refer to the 22 February 2021 update above, which has the latest information. We are leaving the below on our website though just for interest, for folks to see what the situation was like in October 2020 – things have improved since then, yay! We are now starting to run socially distanced birding day trips in places such as Norfolk in England, Ohio (where our American office is based) and across South Africa. Due to the danger of Covid-19, our day trips will function differently from how they usually do. We now have to ask that you meet our guide at the birding site rather than share a vehicle and abide by certain precautions (details of which we will send you when you contact us). Please do ask us about our currently approved day trip birding sites, and you can see our revised Covid-19 day trip protocol here.

In terms of longer trips, we have postponed all our set departures tours from April through December 2020 and are now assessing our January to March 2021 trips. Please of course feel free to contact us at [email protected] if you have questions about your trip with us during these months. If you’re considering booking a new trip, then we recommend booking trips from July 2021 onwards (quite a number of our later 2021 trips have limited spaces left, many people are already booking 2022 trips, and a few people are already booking 2023 trips).

Any deposits you pay from the date of this blog update (26 October 2020) onwards, will be transferred to a postponed trip without penalty, if Covid-19 prevents the tour from running in the year you book for and if your travel insurance company doesn’t cover it. As always, we do essentially require you to purchase travel insurance within a week after booking (and if possible, one that covers Covid-19).

We’ve noticed that several other birding tour companies are stating that they will “socially distance” while on their birding tours, to somehow try and make their tours safe even in the midst of Covid-19. We on the other hand believe that we sadly can’t run our set-departure trips at all due to the high risk of Covid-19 (and these trips are indeed being postponed). We may however consider running private trips (in addition to our carefully constructed day trips), and we’ll assess these on a case-by-case basis. While Covid-19 is still rife, we don’t feel it’s safe to fly, or to share a van with other birders. Some companies talk about regularly cleaning the tour vehicle seats and leaving more space in the vans than usual, but we believe that if anyone in the group has Covid-19, everyone in the group is likely to then catch this disease from the air in the van (and in normal times we anyway like to leave adequate space in the vehicles, with empty seats and places for optics and other gear). Hygiene on our tours has always been extremely important to us, and the proposed addition of hand sanitizer and the regular washing of hands, as mentioned by other companies, will not be a new feature on our tours. We noticed that some tour companies have rules such as “participants must not touch their faces” but we acknowledge that human beings will in fact subconsciously touch their faces if for example they have a sudden itchy eye or nose. So, regrettably, we’re essentially “waiting it out” until Covid-19 is no longer a significant risk, rather than attempting to run “socially distanced” trips. Safety comes first, for us.  

We’re hopeful that from the second half of 2021, the future will start looking a lot better, and again we encourage bookings from July 2021 onwards. But we acknowledge that we might need to transfer your deposit to 2022 if our timing is too optimistic. Our tentative guess as to when things will be safe again (mid 2021 onwards) is based on what we hear from health organizations across the world but naturally the timing might need to be updated. Hopefully by the end of 2020 or the start of 2021, we’ll have a better idea.

Thank you so much for your amazing understanding. Honestly, we’ve seen the best in people during this trying year, and we would very sincerely like to thank all our brilliant clients who have been patient with us and stood with us despite horrid circumstances that test anyone’s patience.

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