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Birding Site Guide


Many birders, despite how fanatically attached to their local patches and home country, at some point turn their thoughts to the birds of foreign places. It is natural when you see a good rarity at home to wonder where it came from and what other fantastic birds might be found there. 

No matter where you live in the world, if you do not travel you are restricting yourself to 10% or less (usually far less) of the world’s species. If you want to see more species (and not everyone does) chances are you will need to fly, probably towards the tropics, to do so. The tropics and the tropical forests especially are where most of the world’s birds are, no single suit of habitats is richer in biodiversity or endemics (though the worlds islands combined have around 10 times more species and endemics per land area, though half of these have become extinct in historic times) (Newton 2003). 

There are many barriers to overcome before you venture abroad in search of birds for the first time, and if possible it is therefore better to go in a group. Specialist bird tour groups with expert leaders are all very well, they will do all the hard work for you. However it is often cheaper to do it on your own, but considering the logistics, language barriers, money pits and other hassles it is worth going with a guide it if you can afford it. If you cannot afford a guide you are faced with some difficult problems, not least of which is language. Fortunately if you are reading this then you know English and this is the most widespread language in the world. It opens doors to most of the Commonwealth countries, where a good percentage of the population will speak English; Kenya and India for instance. Or if you have decided against the tropics, then you could consider the USA, Canada (though French is an equal language here) and Australia. 

Health Concerns 

A lot of choice, but lets assume you have picked India because you are at least familiar with some of the bird names because they occasionally turn up at home in Europe (if you are European), since relatively few rarities come from Africa to Europe. Your next worry will be flights and health. Flights are now safe, easy, cheap and instant to book online; try Just the Flight (see Selected Links). As for health you will have heard all the horror stories, no doubt all true, but in reality rare. Chances are you are a healthy rich Western kid staying in nice hotels and drinking bottled water, the worst you are likely to experience is a dodgy stomach and sunburn. Perhaps your most serious worry is malaria (the world’s biggest killer), sadly 80% of people who die from malaria are young children, the old and people who are malnourished or have other serious compounding ailments, and who lack access to decent drugs and medical care. We in the West are not children when we embark on these ventures, we are well fed and have no serious ailments and have excellent drugs and the best medical care available if needed. This is not to say you will not catch malaria, but if at the first hint of illness you see a doctor for treatment and follow his advice through, it is unlikely to kill you. Its seriousness depends on the type and strain, the worst being cerebral malaria of tropical west Africa, which is a killer. Other types are re-occurring, flaring up at intervals even years afterwards (if you are in tropical parts), but the commonest type is a one off illness and varies as with the common cold in its severity, see the WHO website for expert summaries. Wherever you are however, if you feel ill do not delay an hour seeing a doctor, it may be malaria and the sooner diagnosed the better, or it may be something else so you must seek expert advice immediately. 

Keeping Your Personal Checklist in Your Email Account 

It is not unfair to a say that the internet has revolutionized modern travel, from online bookings, to information on where to go. Perhaps the single largest change has come with email, it is now possible to keep in touch from wherever there is an internet link, and this can even be done real time with video with MSN for no more cost. The price of using the internet is also a major advantage over any phone, being often hundreds of times cheaper and often more reliable. Because email address books are kept in your account you do not need to remember numbers or prefixes for country codes. 

With the BSG website you can check out your intended sites before you leave (if they are not covered, why not submit a report either while you are over there or when you come back) and just print off the sites you need, or if you are worried about luggage weight, print them off on arrival. 

The other important consideration is keeping a personal checklist. What if it gets lost, tatty, ripped, wet, covered in illegible scrawl and crossings out? Do not worry, BSG has the answer, do not bother with paper lists, keep it on the internet as I do, in your email account. Of course you will still need to take a notepad for in the field and it would be helpful for updating your list later if you marked new species. With internet lists you cannot loose or damage them, you can access them anywhere (especially with WAP phones) and you can back them up to another account if you want. 

Before you go email the country list to yourself, there are many websites that offer country lists, a popular one is Avibase. Copy the list into Excel and save it, then copy and paste it directly (or attached to) an email and send to your email account. Put the start date of your trip on it. When at your destination visit an internet shop, open your list and save to computer or USB. Update the list with birds seen and save (remember to put the new date on the file name), with a USB doing this is very easy, just update and save, you can back up by emailing the list to yourself. With a cd it is a little more complicated, some internet shops only allow you to save to desktop, this is fine, but some places do not allow you to save to their computers at all, in that case when you have updated the list either copy (do not cut) directly into an email and send to yourself or save to cd (every shop sells cd for pence). If there are problems like no cd drive on your computer ask the assistant to help, the master computer always has a cd drive. Even if you have successfully saved your new list to cd it is still worth backing it up by sending a copy on a self addressed email. If you do not manage to save your new document before emailing, it will be the old copy you are sending not the new one you see on the computer screen! Do not close your new document until it is safely on cd or in your email account and you have opened and checked it (the sending may not be always quick with satellite internet but arrival is instant). If you get to an internet shop and the internet is not working (satellite internet can be temperamental in cloudy or stormy weather) save your new list to USB or cd and send at the next opportunity. 

There are some hints and features you can add to your checklist that will help to make it better. Add 2 blank columns next to the species list. In one column put in the site names of the place you first saw that species. In the other column, one line below the foot of the species list put this formula in the cell =SUM(A1:A812). The A refers to the column and the numbers refer to the first and last line of the species column as read off the Excel sheet on your screen. Having typed the formula in now press return and move the cursor to a blank square. Every time you see a new species you place a number 1 in that column next to the species cell. The formula cell will automatically keep a count of the number of species you have seen. 

If you intend visiting more than one country in a trip, do as above for the first country visited and then with the new list for the second country again insert the same formula in the same way. In a second cell add the following formula =SUM(cell of first formula)+number of species seen in first country. The first is the number of species you have seen in this second country the second is the total for both countries. So the second cell formula will look something like =SUM(A381)+274. 


After hire cars this subject can, but mostly does not cause the biggest headaches. Firstly travellers’ cheques may be safe but they can be a pain to cash. ATM cash machines are now universally available and easy to use, with instructions usually in several languages. It is important when using ATM to always draw out the maximum amount as you are charged per transaction not by amount. With UK machines at least (I am not sure of elsewhere) the machine gives you your card back before the cash so you cannot forget it, with foreign machines this is not the case, make sure you get your card! 

Whatever way you get your money it is important to have a backup, either a second cash machine card, a visa or debit card, lots of cash dollars, travellers cheques and online banking etc. It is equally important not to keep these together. Put one card in your wallet and leave the other concealed in your baggage in the hotel or in their safe. Carry a few loose notes, or 2 wallets (one with no cards and a few notes only) then if you get mugged, hopefully they will be fobbed off with the few notes. Photocopy your passport and leave the real one somewhere safe. 

If your new card arrives while you are abroad with the expired one, get it sent out to a safe address by registered post or courier. If you do not know a persons house you can have it sent to arrange for it to be sent to a bank or embassy. 


GPS, Laptops, Solar chargers, mobile phones all need the right adaptors and voltage, check before you go at an electrical shop that you have what you need for the country you intend to visit. Remember many items are not earthed in undeveloped countries, and do not leave items such as computers, mobile phones and GPS plugged in during electrical storms. 

Author: BSG