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Getting to know our guides

Getting to Know our Guides – Wian van Zyl

By | Getting to know our guides

Article written 20 Oct 2017

When you’re with Wian you are bound to have a good laugh and an enjoyable, fun-filled time exploring nature! His undying passion, enthusiasm, chivalry, and willingness to go the extra mile are characteristics hard to find in some modern day bird guides but are all characteristics which make Wian, well, Wian! John spent some time chatting to this bush-loving, elephant dung consuming latest addition to the Birding Ecotours team to find out how his passion for all things alive, and specifically birds, started.

 

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JohnGive us a brief history of your childhood and what fueled your passion for birds and birding.

Wian: I grew up on a 50 000 acres Big 5 Private Game Reserve in the Waterberg region of the Limpopo Province in South Africa. For most of my primary-school life I was home- schooled, which meant that I spent more time out in the bush with my Dad than behind the books. It all obviously started with larger mammals, moving to creepy crawlies, and to trees (my Dad is an ecologist), and eventually at the bright-eyed age of 13 years a Southern Red Bishop in breeding plumage sparked the addiction of hunting down all things feathered and figuring out what it was that I was looking at. Looking for that adrenaline-filled satisfaction of successfully identifying birds on my own definitely took over my teenage years.

 

John: What countries rank the highest on your ‘to bird’ list?

Wian: I would love to head over to any South American countries as soon as I can!

 

John: Do you have a favorite bird or bird family?

Wian: I don’t know why people always ask this question… It’s so difficult to give one favorite! But gun to my head I would say owls. I absolutely go bonkers for owls!

 

John: Star Wars or Star Trek, and why?

Wian: Most definitely Star Wars! Because lightsabers are so much cooler than “pew, pew, pew” guns.

 

John: Are you a scope or binocular type of guy?

Wian: Binoculars! They’re much lighter, easier, and cheaper, not to mention how one’s skills really get put to the test when trying to get good views of the birds.

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 John: Do you have any other hobbies or interests?

Wian: I enjoy hiking and mountaineering. If I can’t go birding I go and climb mountains. And I really also enjoy a good day out fishing (both in locations where there usually are birds anyway)

 

John: If you had one more day left to live, what would you spend it doing?

Wian: Climbing the Himalayan Mountains looking for snow leopard and Himalayan Snowcock.

John: Do you have a favorite book?

Wian: I’d say my favorite book is “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Dr. Steven R. Covey. It’s a good read, challenging one’s character and mind to strive for a greater quality of life.

 

John: What formal training have you undertaken?

Wian: I am a professionally qualified Field Guide through the Field Guide Association of Southern Africa (FGASA). And I’m about to start a degree in politics, which will keep me busy when not on tour or in the office.

 

John: The craziest thing you have ever done to see a bird?

Wian: Walking through knee-deep mud on the banks of the hippo- and crocodile-inhabited Olifants River in South Africa in search of the stunning Pel’s Fishing Owl (I told you I go bonkers for owls.).

 

John: Your life motto and how you apply this to your day-to-day life?

Wian: “Achieving greatness is a step by step process”. I have goals and plans for my life, and, I know this is obvious, achieving it is a marathon and not a sprint. So I start every day with my dreams and goals in mind and focus on making decisions that would get me there, and I work hard, as if success is around the corner.

 

John: The top five birds you want to see the most?

Wian: Shoebill, Bee Hummingbird, Snowy Owl, Greater or Lesser Roadrunner, Orange-bellied Parrot.

 

John: Describe yourself in three words?

Wian: Young, crazy, and joyful

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John: Your best birding experience to date?

Wian: Walking in a grassy field to flush Marsh Owl, and after the first two popped up the grassland just erupted with owls, and we stopped counting at around 40 individuals!

John: Do you have a bogey bird and what is it?

Wian: Who doesn’t have a bogey bird? I’d say the most frustrating bogey (out of many) would have to be Bat Hawk. I’ve tried many a time at apparently “very reliable” and “easy to find” spots, and I just can’t seem to find this mythical creature.

John: What do you enjoy most about guiding?

Wian: Meeting people from all over the world, listening to their life stories, and getting to know where they’re from.

 

John: What’s the list you work on the most and what’s its total?

Wian: I work on the IOC Southern Africa list, and it’s currently at 682. I’m planning on growing it as I travel more and more.

 

John: What excites you most about Birding Ecotours?

Wian: The fact that I can be associated with a world-class company that has professional and passionate employees with great enthusiasm for all thing nature and conservation. And don’t forget the pretty amazing food on tours…

 

John: What advice would you give to a budding young birder?

Wian: Learn your LBJs as soon as you can! Don’t delay, and don’t just rely on calls – they don’t always call!

Getting to know Jason Boyce

By | Getting to know our guides

Article written 15 Jul 2015

Jason Boyce loves people. He delights in sharing his infectious knowledge and passion for the natural world with kids, adults, and anyone lucky enough to meet this great Birding Ecotours guide. Our guest blogger Rachel asked him a few questions to get to know him better…

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 Rachel: Tell us about your childhood and family?

Jason: I was born in Pretoria, South Africa. When I was 4 years old we moved to the Western Cape to the small town of Bredasdorp. Only a couple of years later and we relocated back to Pretoria, where I have lived ever since. I have a sister, who is 3 years younger than I, and we were both schooled at Cornwall Hill College in the Pretoria area. I have fond memories of visiting the Kruger National Park, Pilanesberg, and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park as a youngster. My parents have always loved family holidays to the bush – and I never ever objected!

R: What ignited your passion for wildlife and, in particular, for birds?

J: My grandfather is a birder – he has been for about 45 years – and is definitely the biggest contributing factor to my passion and love for birds. Together with my parents, he allowed me to experience and learn about the natural world from a young age. I do not see myself continuing in life without wildlife and sharing in the beauty that is nature.

R: Do you remember some of your earliest wildlife encounters?

My dad has often reminded me of the time when he taught me to say my first Latin name, of a Henkel’s Yellowwood tree we had in our garden in Garsfontein – Podocarpus henkelii; I must have been four years old. About 10 or 11 years later, I remember doing my first big trip to Botswana and the Caprivi with my grandfather and family. What an amazing experience! The Delta and the new birds and mammals were completely overwhelming, not to mention sharing in my grandfathers first ever Pel’s Fishing Owl sighting after many years of searching. A special trip!

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R: If you could describe yourself in only three words, what would they be?

J: Passionate, Positive and Caring

R: What formal training have you undertaken?

J: I have a National Diploma in Sport Science and I’m almost fully qualified with a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Management.

 R: How has birding enriched your life so far?

J: Birding has enriched my life mainly because of the friendships that I have made through it. I love birding with others that have the same passion for birds, photography and nature in general. I’m always awed by how incredible nature is and by the diversity of birdlife worldwide. The other area within my career that has enriched my life is having the opportunities to travel and learn about new countries.

R: What items never leave your side on a birding trip?

J: Unfortunately I have to say that my phone is always with me on a birding trip. It’s so useful to have different reference sources at your fingertips, which now include not only calls and illustrations, but photographs, sonograms, detailed distributions, a bucket load of good text as well as birding destination accounts.

Secondly my Nikon 10×42 Monarch, which I’ve used since 2006 and is still going strong.

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R: What are your top three birding destinations?

J: I like this question! J Of all the places I have birded, Tarangire National Park in Tanzania, the Choma area in Southern Zambia and back in my ‘home’ turf – Mkhombo Dam Nature Reserve in the north-east of Pretoria are my favourites.

R: What is at the top of your birding “bucket list”?

J: We all know there is never a single bird that can take that honour… well maybe there is, but I can’t decide, so some of mine are Sooty Albatross, Shelley’s Eagle-Owl, any bird-of-paradise, as well as Red-billed Streamertail.

 R: Do you have a favourite bird / bird family?

J: Yes – Hirundinidae (Swallows and Martins) and the larger aerial feeders family! While this is not taxonomically correct – I really love all the fast, agile and acrobatic aerial feeders. While swallows, such as Greater Striped Swallow and martins, such as Banded Martin are right up there, I also love Alpine Swift and some smaller raptors that feed on the wing, birds such as Eurasian Hobby and Dickinson’s Kestrel.

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R: What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done to see a bird?

J: Besides maybe driving 12 odd hours through the night on a couple of occasions, I think I might have done more crazy things to end up dipping than actually getting the bird! Lying flat on my stomach in soft cold drizzle listening to the hooting of Striped Flufftail a couple of meters from my nostrils – only to end up dipping – ranks highly!

R: Do you have a bogey bird?

J: I’m quite relieved to say that I finally managed to tick my biggest Southern African bogey bird last year, the Dusky Lark. I now don’t have a real bogey bird, but perhaps Arnot’s Chat could qualify for Southern Africa, as I’ve only seen it in Zambia and Tanzania.

R: What is your life list and year list so far?

J: South Africa has been greeted with its second ever Snowy Egret this year, and I reached an awesome milestone with that individual bird, as it became my 1000th African species. My South African year list, though, is at 518 species.

R: What advice would you give to people getting into birding?

J: Get out there and spend time in the field! The more time spent in the field observing, the quicker you will learn.

R: Other hobbies and interests?

J: Music, guitar, photography, children and people in general.

R: If you had one more day left on this earth, how would you spend it?

J: Simply just spend it with my family: my amazing sister and my awesome parents – couldn’t ask for much more but to be with them for one more day.

R: Dreams for the future of Birding Ecotours?

J: Im very, very, VERY excited for Birding Ecotours moving forward! We have become one of the top birding tour companies in the world in the last couple of years, and I believe we can be just as good as the top guys very soon! We have a lot of new specialised tours, including pelagics, mammal and butterfly tours that we would like to launch soon. To add to this, the continued contribution to relevant and necessary conservation projects keeps me enthusiastic about giving back to the natural world!

Another dream would be to set up kids birding adventure camps across Africa – a place where we can educate and give back to African countries in terms of teaching, but also protecting birds in the continent.

R: Dreams for the future?

J: To travel Asia on some specialised birding and mammal and general wildlife tours! To one day see half of Asia’s bird species. 

I would also like to run Childrens Care homes in Africa, where children are cared for and loved and given a chance in life. To educate parts of Africa about the natural world.

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Getting to know Andy Walker

By | Andy Walker, Best birding guides, Birding guide, Getting to know our guides

Article written 07 Jul 2015

Birding Ecotours guide Andy Walker lives, dreams and breathes birds. This passionate pitta-lover took some time out to share his story with our guest blogger Rachel in this interview.

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Rachel: Tell us about your childhood and family?

Andy: I grew up in Warwickshire, England, with my parents and younger sister. My parents, grandparents, and aunties and uncles have all helped to shape me into the person/birder I am today. I remember being incredibly excited when I received my first pair of binoculars aged 8. These opened my eyes to a whole new world; but I hear that my grandparents took me to the local park to feed the ducks when I was a toddler, which was probably the start of it all – so blame them!

With my new binoculars, birding in the garden became the next-best thing. I remember setting up a bird hide with assorted ‘stuff’’ I could find in my Dad’s shed, so that I could watch and log all the activities at the bird boxes. My parents also gave over part of their garden to me so that I could look after it and plant what I wanted.

Birding in the garden turned into regular walks around the local churchyard and the surrounding countryside and local nature reserves, then the wider UK area on family holidays – these holidays always had an emphasis on the great outdoors – beautiful Cornwall, Wales, Suffolk, Northumberland, Norfolk, and Yorkshire. I remember coming across an adult male Red-spotted Bluethroat while in Norfolk. Someone let me look through their telescope as it hopped into view – it blew my mind!

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As I got a little older I became more familiar with Africa and developed a fascination with the continent; I even started planning a birding circuit around it! So when I was 15 and my parents were offered a teaching job in Kenya I was over the moon! Luckily they accepted the offer, and we moved over there for a couple of years for the duration of their contract. Moving from the UK to Kenya ignited a passion for travel, which to this day is incredibly strong!

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R: If you could describe yourself in only three words…

A: Eat, Sleep, Bird!

R: What formal training have you undertaken?

A: I have a BSc. (Hons) degree in Countryside Management and Ornithology – this three year degree course was (at the time) the only place in Europe where you could read for a degree in Ornithology.

Since my degree I’ve also carried out further professional development and am a Full Member of the ‘Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management’ and a Full Member of ‘The Association of Environmental and Ecological Clerk of Works’.

R: When did you realise that birding would become a career for you?

After living in Kenya I wanted to be a guide, so from that point on I worked on that as being my goal – this took me out of Africa and into Central America, where I was to focus my birding for the next ten years. Living and working in Costa Rica was great fun.

R: How has birding enriched your life?

A: It gets me to new places, visiting new and different habitats and landscapes as well as meeting new people. As a birder you are always looking and listening intently – all of the time! This means you are more likely to come across other interesting things such as rare plants and animals. For me, birding is also a way to relax. Just me and the birds!

R: What items never leave your side on a birding trip?

A: My Swarovski binoculars and Swarovski telescope! My digital camera for that all-important record shot when a pitta pops into view! A field guide to wherever I am. A notebook.

R: What are your top 3 birding destinations?

A: Australia, Kenya, and Costa Rica

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R: What is at the top of your birding “bucket list”?

A: I have three: to go to Papua New Guinea and see the birds-of-paradise, see some more pittas (all of them!), and to see Shoebill and Pel’s Fishing Owl.

R: Do you have a favourite bird/ bird family?

A: Pittas – I got into pittas a few years ago after meeting Mike Edgecombe (Chairman of the Oriental Bird Club) in Malaysia – he took me under his wings at Fraser’s Hill, gave me some sound advice on stalking pittas, told me to read Chris Gooddie’s excellent ‘The Jewel Hunter’, and the rest is history!

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R: What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done to see a bird?

A: My biggest twitch involved driving from Yorkshire to the top of Scotland (8+ hours), getting a boat to an island, walking across the island, seeing the bird, turning around and doing the reverse journey to get home in time for work the next day. The bird in question was a Sandhill Crane. I’ve also twitched Sweden and Latvia for Northern Hawk-Owls – being successful both times.

R: Do you have a bogey bird?

A: It was Ovenbird until I saw loads of them in America this May! I’d previously dipped them in the UK and Costa Rica… I think my big bogey bird is really Shoebill. I dipped this in Uganda – the Nile was in a 50-year high flood, no Shoebills. When we got info on a site my dad’s Land Rover broke down, so we spent the rest of the day sitting on a road in the middle of nowhere in northern Uganda, watching some Lions watching us.

R: What is your life list?

A: I’m about 18 off 3,000 on my life list. I’m excited to see what 3,000 will be – hope it’s something decent!

R: What advice would you give to people getting into birding?

A: Don’t give up. Unfortunately there will probably be a time when social pressures make you think you are odd because of being a birder – ignore them! Go birding! Never stop learning. No matter how many birds you’ve seen, or how often you’ve seen a particular species, don’t stop watching it. You never know what you may learn this time around. Don’t be afraid to ask questions from people more knowledgeable than you. Invest in a decent pair of binoculars and a field guide – spend time reading the guide before going into the field. Make sure that birding is always fun.

R: Other hobbies and interests?

A: When I’m not birding, chances are I’ll be watching or listening to some cricket from somewhere/anywhere in the world. Luckily for me we have a great cricket team in England. I genuinely feel really sorry for the poor guides in South Africa, their national cricket team struggles on year after year with their sub-standard collection of old blokes drafted together to make up the numbers – unfortunate, but someone’s got to be at bottom of the pile…

I have two border terriers. I love spending time walking them through the beautiful countryside near my house in Yorkshire. I’m also into music, you can’t beat a bit of country music.

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R: If you had one more day left on this earth, how would you spend it? 

I’d go birding with my dogs – do a big day. I should probably hang out with my family too, I guess. I could combine that, right?

I’d probably like to just go and stand on the hill behind my house in Kenya, just to soak up that view of the Rift Valley for one last time…

R: Dreams for the future?

A: Get to 8,000 species, please! See all the pittas. See Pel’s Fishing Owl and Shoebill. Get all around Asia. Live in Africa again.

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Follow Andy’s Blog  and follow Andy on Twitter and Instagram @awbirder

Join Andy on some exciting upcoming Birding Ecotours birding tours including Australia, China, and Malaysia.