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Favoured types of birding trips

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Old Sunday 24th March 2019, 17:54   #1
JTweedie
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Favoured types of birding trips

I was wondering how most of you engage in overseas birding trips. Do you book with tour companies? Or with guides? Or go on your own?

Many of the tour companies seem to be really expensive, so I'm interested in finding out if booking with a guide would be a cheaper way of doing this.

If you do use guides, what have your experience been like? I assume you'd need to do a lot more organisation on your own such as booking accommodation, but do guides put on transport to get around?

Do you use any resources for finding guides?

Thanks.
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Old Sunday 24th March 2019, 18:26   #2
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What we tend to do, is self organise a trip and then at various points, we'll pick up a guide locally. It's proven effective in both birding and cost terms in the past.

It does need a lot more work, you plan the route, book accommodation and usually, hire and drive a car yourself. If you want all this done for you, that costs, it's not just the birding you pay for and don't forget, if you take a guide with you, you're paying their accommodation and food rather than just a daily guide fee.

I prefer it this way, researching sites and birds, gives you much greater knowledge in the long run and there are books to help with almost every destination these days and when there aren't, you have Birdforum!
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Old Sunday 24th March 2019, 19:37   #3
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For a tour company, you pay for organization, companionship and certainity. Lots of people simply cannot spend time on planning trips.

Shorter trips we organize ourselves. We also hire and drive a car. It is much more rewarding - not only cheaper but you are more flexible. You want to change plan - no problem. But organizing a trip takes time - about as many evenings as the trip itself.

Hiring local guides or local tour companies is a very good option. Only you need a trip report or information from a friend whether the guide is good. In practice, I have a loose group of several people who often follow each others footsteps. One goes to Borneo, next year I go to Borneo and so on. I hire Eldhose from Thattekad, next year my colleague and his wife hire Eldhose in Thattekad. Local guides and companies are considerable saving of money, and again you get flexibility. World tour companies, too, very often take a second local guide at the locality. However, I don't take an unknown guide or a company because you can easily have a holiday from hell.

Another considerable advantage is that if only 2 or 3 people are with a local guide, they see much more and far easier than a tour of 7 or 9 participants. All these skulking rainforest birds, which tour companies agonize to see, suddenly become quite easy. It is especially because we are - luckily - at the upper end of spectrum of fitness and eagerness of travelling birders. Yet another gain is that I like to watch mammals and cultural sights. If you self-organize, it is no problem.

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Old Sunday 24th March 2019, 21:34   #4
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Organized tour I would do, but is very expensive.
I am sure it is worth to go by Birdquest, but I have not income for such pricy tours.
Further organized tours book convinient accomodation, which often away from birdwatching place like in Kaeng Krachan NP in Thailand.
I prefer tent in national park. In the morning I will wake up by bird sound. Get up go round for 2 yours, than have breakfast.
Where this option is not possible, with tent in national park, like in Costa Rica, it is not my prefer target.
Mostly I rent car and tent.
Argentina was excellent, but car rental is very expensive now. But for birding one of the best country, which has much lower crime than other countries in South Amerika, except Chile.
In Argentina I hired Guy Cox for some days. He is an excellent guide.
Maybe the most easy and save is Thailand. But avoid drive in Bangkok between Sunday afternoon until Saturday morning.
Guided day tour I made in Kaikoura ( New Zealand ). Maybe Kaikoura is non plus ultra for seabirds.
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Old Monday 25th March 2019, 02:54   #5
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What we tend to do, is self organise a trip and then at various points, we'll pick up a guide locally. It's proven effective in both birding and cost terms in the past.

It does need a lot more work, you plan the route, book accommodation and usually, hire and drive a car yourself. If you want all this done for you, that costs, it's not just the birding you pay for and don't forget, if you take a guide with you, you're paying their accommodation and food rather than just a daily guide fee.

I prefer it this way, researching sites and birds, gives you much greater knowledge in the long run and there are books to help with almost every destination these days and when there aren't, you have Birdforum!
I have travelled all over the world and this is exactly what I do. It requires a lot of research and planning but I find it more rewarding as well as a whole lot cheaper than going with a big tour company. Local guides are usually very good, perhaps even better than the big company guides as they live in the area. You can find guides with Birdforum, Birding Pals, Wildlifeandnaturedestinations, Birdtripper or just in Google. I also save on accommodation by camping or staying at BnB's. I try to get a place with a kitchen so that I can prepare my own food and avoid expensive restaurants.

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Old Monday 25th March 2019, 06:11   #6
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I was wondering how most of you engage in overseas birding trips. Do you book with tour companies? Or with guides? Or go on your own?

Many of the tour companies seem to be really expensive, so I'm interested in finding out if booking with a guide would be a cheaper way of doing this.
Booking directly with local guides is usually indeed much cheaper than through international companies.

If you book through a internationally operating company, you minimise the need for research and preparation (basically look up the catalogue and choose), you have the convenience and security to make business with someone in your country and speaking your language. You have the peace of mind to be taken care of by a company with long experience and high standards, who will go to lentghs to sort out any problems you may encounter. You also usually have a guide speaking your language. International tour operators usually cooperate with local companies, who do all the local logistics and provide the guide. So you pay for the local guide, the international guide, the local company, the international company and all this adds up of course.

If you deal directly with local guides, you cut on a lot of the costs listed above, but of course you need to do more research and organisation yourself. You have to make business (including sending advance payments) with someone in a fareaway country and possible through some language barrier. And you have more risks of course, depending how much information you find about the guide. If you go with a individual guide who hasn't a local operator behind him, he might also be less able to sort out logistics troubles or similar for you. But, as others say above, you are more flexible to get exactly what you want and with smaller groups as well.

Then there is complete self organisation, which is doable in most countries. You just need to do all preparation yourself, including site gen. In the country, you will inevitably spend some time figuring out logistics instead of being birding. If you don't know the birds there very well, you will loose a good percentage of birds a guide could have found for you. But it's cheap, and if you have the time, birding skills and willingness to prepare and get through locally by yourself , its the most rewarding way I guess.

So it's all a function of your personal preference, your time and money available.

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Old Monday 25th March 2019, 15:16   #7
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Most of it's been said already, but also note that it depends on the country you're visiting and how long you have to spend there. Some places are much easier to do independently than others.

For me, I like to spend longer if I can, and do it myself unless a local guide is compulsory for certain areas. I miss more birds than if I'd go with a tour, but prefer spending longer in the country for the same or less money, and get a much bigger thrill from finding and trying to identify the birds myself. But each to their own
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Old Monday 25th March 2019, 15:43   #8
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Having returned from a short solo birding trip to Colombia last week, I'd agree with the 'book local guides' opinions...I booked two day trips with established local birders, and saw way more than I would've done on my own, and I suspect a lot more than if I was with a larger group organised from Europe or USA.
The rest of the time I was on my own - either travelling or in nature reserves, and did struggle a little with ID, missing quite a lot I'm sure. However, I simply didn't have the budget for organising an extended tour, and I did have the satisfaction of self-finding some good birds...for me the balance worked well, but with a slightly bigger budget I'd book local guides for a higher proportion of the trip.
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Old Monday 25th March 2019, 18:49   #9
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Lots of good viewpoints thanks. I've been on holidays (non-birding) with tour groups before and while they've taken the burden of organisation off you and you get to mix with other people, they are expensive and their schedules can sometimes be a bit too inflexible.

I'll have a look at some of the sites mentioned if I'm thinking of going somewhere.
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Old Monday 25th March 2019, 18:51   #10
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If you deal directly with local guides, you cut on a lot of the costs listed above, but of course you need to do more research and organisation yourself. You have to make business (including sending advance payments) with someone in a fareaway country and possible through some language barrier. And you have more risks of course, depending how much information you find about the guide. If you go with a individual guide who hasn't a local operator behind him, he might also be less able to sort out logistics troubles or similar for you. But, as others say above, you are more flexible to get exactly what you want and with smaller groups as well.
I have hired many local guides in various countries from Guatemala to New Zealand. Never have I had to pay in advance and never have I had a language problem. Most guides speak at least basic English. If you are coming from France or Germany or some other non-English country this might be a problem if you don't speak English or the local language. Also, there is the advantage of not needing a guide for every day of your trip. You could go, for example, on a two-week trip and hire a guide for only two days of it. This method does require a lot more planning and self-reliance.
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Old Monday 25th March 2019, 18:55   #11
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I usually travel independently and have a preference for bird lodges, or wildlife lodges as a base, ideally with local guides or packages available for excursions to the best local areas.
Or just go it alone if the environment and birding is likely to be fairly straightforward.
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Old Tuesday 26th March 2019, 06:37   #12
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I have hired many local guides in various countries from Guatemala to New Zealand. Never have I had to pay in advance and never have I had a language problem. Most guides speak at least basic English.
Sure, I'm not saying that this would not work, and also not trying to advocate for booking tours, I was just trying to give the range of options.

We have once dealt directly with a local guide to arrange a tour in Peru for a group of people, including booking accomodation and everything. Of course he wanted an advance payment, as he had quite some work and expenses ahead of the trip. The tour was excellent value, way cheaper than through an international operator, but of course required some trust in the guy and speaking Spanish also helped...

Generally, I definitly prefer to go on my own and figure out locations and birds by myself.

On the other end of the spectre, I just had my first experience guiding a tour for an internationally operating agency and I also understand the appeal to the clients (maximum birding, minimum hassle), although it wouldn't be my cup of tea personally.

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Old Tuesday 26th March 2019, 09:28   #13
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Interesting thread.

I have to say that sometimes I am tempted to book a guided tour to avoid the months of researching the birding opportunities and planning the logistics of our birding trips, especially since my OH doesn't speak English and doesn't enjoy the planning process which, I, to some extent, instead do. But the costs for the three of us are forbidding, so maybe we'll save that option for when it's really necessary, such as for visiting countries where arranging the logistics would be too difficult or time consuming, or for example we have been tempted by a Spitsbergen wildlife cruise (now those are REALLY expensive!).

What I tend to do is: select a few possible destinations, brainstorm with my OH, select one based on timing, guaranteed and possible species and means of transportation (do we want to fly - which for us involves using hand luggage just for optics, so paying extra for suitcases etc - and hire a car or can we drive/ferry there?). And of course the driving options will dry up some time soon.

Timing is a big problem for us because having a school-age child means that we can only go during the school holidays (we have been known to make her skip a few days here and there but just for long weekends and such), which in Italy are restricted to summer (mid-June to mid-September), two weeks at Xmas and one week at Easter. This means that if we wanted to join an organised tour it will probably have to be one in the summer months, so something exotic and very far away, thus even more expensive.

Then I research the birding hotspots in the country/ies we have chosen, using Birdforum, trip reports from Coudbirders and those that other Italian birders have shared on the EBN-Italy mailing list, and sometimes also tour companies' reports. Then we plan the itinerary according to the selected locations and proceed to look for accommodation. We usually prefer to stay somewhere rural, often we try to self-cater, as being vegetarians is more difficult for us to find places to eat. For this reason I also research restaurants in the chosen area, so that we always have somewhere to eat nearby that caters to vegetarians.

When booking accommodation I always try to contact the establishment directly (unless it's some big hotel chain), as it's more flexible and it also tells you something about the owners/managers. Sometimes it can also be cheaper and it's definitely more reliable, as bookings made through third-party sites sometimes are mislaid or don't go through properly.

When booking airlines, especially low-cost ones I always book the seats in advance and pay for priority boarding so that we are sure of being able to keep our optics with us.

I am now in the midst of organising two trips: one at Easter to Austria (you might have seen my RFI in the relevant forums), and one in June to Corsica and Sardinia, so it will be a hectic couple of months!
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Old Tuesday 26th March 2019, 12:05   #14
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My current policy, as someone who has a very limited budget for these things, is generally to initially make a master list of "headliners" for the trip and then try to plan out how doable it is without a guide. If the birds are obvious at prominant and accessible reserves or sites, then there generally isn't the need for a guide.

If on the other hand, you are looking for birds that require more intimate local knowledge to stand a good chance of seeing, or you are looking for quantity of species my inclination is to hire a guide; almost all my lifer count days of the past 6 or so years have been with guides because that familiarity with the local species means you aren't wasting time not sure exactly where to look or trying to work out what something is.

But for sure guides are expensive - I've never been able to afford more than two days per trip, so it's about that cost/reward equation and trying to play the odds a little where you can.
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Old Tuesday 26th March 2019, 12:55   #15
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My current policy, as someone who has a very limited budget for these things, is generally to initially make a master list of "headliners" for the trip and then try to plan out how doable it is without a guide.
Exactly. What I failed to say above as I had to go elsewhere, is that, during our dedicated birding trips so far we have used a professional guide only once, in British Columbia 3 years ago.

Over the years we have found that local birders who are willing to guide foreign visitors usually have the same knowledge as a paid guide. To this purpose, we have used Birdingpal a lot and, on top of the success of these expeditions, we have also made long-lasting friendships. The reverse is also valid, and we have met with and guided many foreign birders (mostly people on family holidays who had set aside a day for birding) in search of some of the few local specialties. I have always thought that birding is more fun in good company and locals have inside knowledge that no-one else has. You also get to have a chat, share meals and car rides and generally learn things about the part of the world that you are visiting that you wouldn't learn with a guided tour.

Nowadays unfortunately the Birdingpal system is a bit cumbersome and if you are not a "pal" yourself you have you pay for membership, so we get fewer requests than some years ago, but it still works.

It would be nice as such a system could be in put in place her on BF. In the specific country forums there could be one "sticky" thread at the top that lists the local BF members willing to be contacted by PM and either give information or meet with foreign birders visiting their local patch (which should be specified, along with key species of course).
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Old Tuesday 26th March 2019, 13:28   #16
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I've only really birded in Western Palearctic, except Canada - but in the main I bird independently.
Sometimes I have used guides such as Finland to see the owls, also in Poland to see woodpeckers, and in Israel to see specialities like Sooty Falcon and Nubian Nightjar.

Doing your own research before you go is part of the thrill for me, and most species but not all, can be found that way..
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Old Tuesday 26th March 2019, 13:55   #17
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Doing your own research before you go is part of the thrill for me, and most species but not all, can be found that way..
I agree, and most of the time this is my preferred way.

One exception was the trip to Peru mentionned above. 500 lifers in a bit more than two weeks was quite something. Without guides, it would have been about half that number, I guess. I don't want to miss this experience, but I indeed prefer it when lifers are the product of my own preparation and field work...
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Old Tuesday 26th March 2019, 17:32   #18
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Part of the fun of independent trips is the planning, which I personally find to increase the anticipation. There is a plethora of information on the web, particularly using ebird, cloudbirders and this very forum. I've found that people who have been on similar trips are often willing to help out with locations for tricky species or even some of the logistical unknowns, and I've tried to impart my own experiences where I can as a reciprocity gesture.

Echoing what others have said, finding your own birds is undoubtedly challenging, but is arguably more rewarding than being driven from A to B and seeing species on demand, and the experience gained in doing so theoretically makes you a better birder. Although the chances of missing species increases, this ensures that you always have an excuse to return to countries (just in case you should need justification to either your partner or bank account!), though if there are specific birds that you simply must see, it is worth using a local guide, as this benefits the local community and shows the value of conserving areas. You also generally get to see the bird.

As to whether you should use a tour company or not, this is a personal question, but could be simplified to whether you wish to simply see X species / X number of species on a trip, or whether you want to run the risk of potentially missing out, but enjoying a greater personal connection with the place and species you see. There isn't a right or wrong answer, but perhaps the numbers of those who undertake independent trips over organised ones on this thread is indicative of overall enjoyment.
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Old Tuesday 26th March 2019, 18:39   #19
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Doing your own research before you go is part of the thrill for me, and most species but not all, can be found that way..
Agree. I enjoy doing the research. I know that many people don't.
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Old Wednesday 27th March 2019, 10:44   #20
Larry Sweetland
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Agree. I enjoy doing the research. I know that many people don't.
Although I prefer independant trips, I find doing the research a real pain, mostly because I'm so slow at using computers, eg I find ebird unendingly confusing!

Somewhat perversely, I actually find birding a new country is much less exciting these days, now that there is so much information available. I used to enjoy the thrill of 'discovery' a lot more in the past, when there was less gen available. It seems there's less and less point in going birding now, as it's all been done and on video, except I guess if you've got the time/energy/lifestyle to hit those less known areas (I don't unfortunately). Am I a bit weird?

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Old Wednesday 27th March 2019, 11:08   #21
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Am I a bit weird?
Sure, but without that you wouldn't be on birdforum

I totally agree. I also find most exitment in discovering places for which not much information is available. I do most of my foreign birding attached to my work trips, which often helps ending up in underbirded locations like Moldova or Tajikistan, and it's real fun to figure out places and the birds there.
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Old Tuesday 2nd April 2019, 12:57   #22
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It is possible to do proper research and go on your own to a destination and see "lots" of species, but usually those "lots" will be half of the species that you would see with a local guide, especially in forest environments. You need to know the birds songs, microhabitats and behaviour at that exact time. There is no internet research that can compite with a local guide knowledge. Besides, a local guide will also know about local culture, food, hotels, roads, etc. etc. etc. If you really want to maximize your birdwatching experience, just save a little more money and hire a local guide. I agree with the Birding Lodge or Ecolodge options, they might be a little more expensive (not always) but they usually have bird feeders, trails, and even birding guides.
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Old Wednesday 3rd April 2019, 07:21   #23
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I would also add to my earlier post that I try to do a bit of birding on a trip before the days I have guides. That way you can reduce the (expensive) time spent with the guide wasted on species you could have seen without them and spend more of the stuff that needs expertise.
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Old Wednesday 3rd April 2019, 11:47   #24
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If you really want to maximize your birdwatching experience, just save a little more money and hire a local guide.
This I think is where people's ideas might differ, because it depends what you mean by 'maximise your birdwatching experience'.

For me, the older I get the less easy I find it to get really excited while birding. When I've birded with a guide, I do enjoy it, and have seen birds I would otherwise have missed, but I get almost no actual thrill when the mega rare wotsitsname inevitably appears, even if it happens to be me that spots it first (after the guide has taken me to exactly where he/she knows it will be). After I move to another site without a guide I get much more excited crawling around trying to find things myself, and the buzz I get if I find something 'good' is what I would call "maximising the birdwatching experience". Over the years, looking back on birding's special moments, they're all when it's just been me and "my" bird. With a guide it's more like watching the telly.

I am in no way suggesting that birding with guides isn't a great thing to do, but people do get different things from this crazy hobby
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Old Wednesday 3rd April 2019, 12:43   #25
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....sorry it's me again . Compare and contrast these two birding experiences:-

1. You're on a trail in the forest...
You: "Did you hear that?"
Guide: "It is me playing a recording"
You: "Ah, what is it?"
Guide: "Look, there, here it comes....... Dullish-everythinged Antgleaner."
You: "Wow, nice one. Thanks. Wasn't sure you'd manage to find that one for me. Cool."

2. Your heart's beating fast because you've scrambled uncomfortably far off the trail, into an unfamiliar forest, in the direction of a call that somehow really reminds you of Commonish Antgleaner, which you last heard five years ago.
You: (quietly) I wonder.....could it be??... SH*T....come back you!....AHHH! Show us your head you little B.........oh hang on maybe it's just a...NO WOW!!!!! NO ********WAY! YES! YEEEEEEEES! At last! DULLISH-EVERYTHINGED ANTGLEANER!.....You little BEAUTY. Thank you little bird!"

Which of these is maximising your birding experience?
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