Getting to know Joshua Olszewski

We find out more about one of our newest members of the Birding Ecotours team, Josh, who has had a passion for birds and birding since he can remember. Josh is based in South Africa and is excited to lead African birding tours as well as tours further afield.  

Joshua Olszewski birdguide

Give us a brief history of your childhood and what fuelled your passion for birds and birding.

I honestly don’t know why I have this obsession with birds. All I know is that I’ve been deeply interested in them for as long as I can remember, ever since I was three years old. I never had any family or friends who were interested in birding, but I was definitely encouraged to follow birding by my mother. She saw that I was passionate about it and constantly bought me field guides (even as a child who couldn’t yet read) and took me out on birding day trips and weekends away. That was more-or-less how it started.

What are some of your favorite countries you have birded?

Aside from South Africa (because it is so familiar to me), I would have to say Argentina; a country that is truly vast and covers a wide variety of habitats, and therefore hosts a plethora of incredible (and many endemic/near-endemic) bird species like Black-legged Seriema and Rufous-throated Dipper. Israel would also be a close second; being in that country during migration season and witnessing the spectacle of thousands of raptors flying overhead during the course of many weeks was truly unforgettable, along with the many interesting desert species that occur there.

Joshua Olszewski birdguide

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

From the many I could choose, I would have to say Australia and the Philippines; each has so many strange and exotic endemics and near-endemics!

Do you have a favorite bird or bird family?

No, that’s like asking me to pick a favourite child!

Are you a scope or binocular type of guy?

Both; scope for scanning water bodies, plains and seawatching (and for digiscoping rockjumpers!), binoculars for everything else.

Do you have any other hobbies or interests?

Within the field of nature, I’m interested in all forms of flora and fauna, but birding is my mainstay. Aside from nature, I enjoy being active, training, running etc. I also play piano and enjoy playing around with music production.

What formal training have you undertaken?

I have done my FGASA NQF2 nature guides training course and have recently completed their specialist NQF4 southern African birding course.


What is the craziest thing you have ever done to see a bird?

My colleague, Dominic, and I drove 750 kilometers (nine-hour drive) from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth to see South Africa’s first Spur-winged Lapwing, sitting in a dodgy canal next to the freeway. We then arrived, saw the bird, and headed straight back home, making it 18 hours of driving in 24 hours!

What do you enjoy most about guiding?

Probably meeting really great people and getting to show them new birds. Seeing a bird that you see all the time, through the eyes of someone who has never seen one before is a truly refreshing and exciting experience. I never grow tired of showing people the special birds that I get to see so often. Obviously being able to travel and see birds that I’ve never seen before is also amazing.

The top five birds you want to see the most?

I think some of the pheasants would be right up there, like Reeves’s Pheasant and Great Argus. I also often fantasize about some of the unique Southeast Asian island endemics such as Invisible Rail (love the name), Philippine Eagle (iconic and endangered) and Coleto (strange starling, also with a cool name).

Your best birding experience to date?

Coincidentally stumbling upon a Chaco Eagle at the end of a three-week trip to northwestern Argentina, after having cleaned up most of the other Chaco, Yungas and Andean specials of that region. This was the one Chaco target that we didn’t have a method to find and were banking on just bumping into one somewhere; and we did, on the third-last day of the trip!

Do you have a bogey bird and what is it?

Thick-billed Cuckoo, the bugger just won’t show itself no matter how many times I go to Kruger National Park.

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

Probably my South African list, currently on 752

What excites you most about Birding Ecotours?

The opportunity to introduce people to the amazing birdlife around the world, traveling to see birds that I don’t get to see often, and working with some of the most knowledgeable and experienced birders I know.

What advice would you give to a budding young birder?

Bird for the birds, not for the list! I see many people these days getting so caught up in the excitement of collecting ticks on their lists that they forget about the root of birding, which in my opinion, is simply to enjoy observing birds. It’s okay to have lists, I do, just like most birders, but as long as that doesn’t become the primary reason behind why you are a birder, you’ll be good!

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