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How to Choose a Birding Tour (Part three of three) (1 Viewer)

Whilst discussing difficult tours, we do advise our tour participants to do the toughest tours first. One is more likely to enjoy tours that are physically demanding or require rugged travelling and camping when you have higher physical fitness and mobility levels. We consider Cameroon, Papua New Guinea, Madagascar and Angola as some of these countries that potential tour participants should consider doing sooner rather than later in the birding careers. At the same time we also advise birders to prioritize destinations where the natural environment is being degraded at a rapid rate and birds becoming more endangered. For instance the Philippines, Madagascar and parts of Indonesia should all be very high on an international birder’s priority list as sadly these countries are rapidly losing their endemic biodiversity.

While our tours obviously target mainly birds and we attempt to see as many as we can, there are always numerous other attractions that we would never ignore – and these often significantly add to your travel experience and may even be amongst the top tour highlights. The obvious secondary target on most tours is seeing the area’s mammals, be it in Africa’s big game reserves where this could hardly be avoided, or searching for Tiger and Indian Rhino in India, Jaguar and Giant Anteater in Brazil, or many smaller and less well-known species in other parts of the world. On our India tour we also spend time at the fabled Taj Mahal in Agra, while in Bhutan visiting a few of the spectacular Dzongs (Buddhist temple-fortresses) is a highlight for many of our guests. Egypt’s incredible archaeological sites obviously form a significant component of our tour through this ancient land, and have been a huge attraction for millennia. During travel days in particular there are often ample opportunities to to experience some of the local culture, although there may be times when we specifically target this aspect of travelling.

Many people enjoy the challenge of bird and wildlife photography, which can also be pursued on all of our tours. One thing that must be borne in mind however is that Rockjumper’s tours are intended primarily at finding and seeing the birds, rather than photographing them. Once we have found a species we will therefore stay around for the amount of time required for the group to adequately view and enjoy the bird. Photographers are welcome to use this opportunity to take images, and if done in a respectful way this can be a great enhancement to any tour, but only if the other participants (and the birds!) are not disturbed. Some tours are much better suited for bird photography than others, with open country destinations (eg South Africa, much of Northern India, Tanzania, Namibia and Brazil’s Pantanal for example) offering far more photographic opportunities than forest areas and countries where birds are still hunted (Papua New Guinea and the Philippines for example), thereby allowing a closer approach.

Another factor that people either seek out or try to avoid is a tour where you may experience a sense of adventure and discovery – be it due to uncertainties with weather, or getting to places where few other birders have ever visited. Some countries certainly offer this, such as Angola and remote areas of Indonesia, where ours tours have made significant discoveries and conditions can also be challenging. Papua New Guinea has a number of sites where you really feel like you are the only humans in that particular patch of remote forest, while a tour to Antarctica and South Georgia certainly visits some really remote places. Many countries do offer the necessary comforts that make our tours there seem less adventurous, where we stay closer to standard tourist routes such some of our tours to South or East Africa or Europe, although even here we get to experience off-the-beaten-track areas, which are just another aspect of the general birding experience.

Each tour leader is different and has his style of structuring the tour, and different styles will work better with some personalities than with others. This can certainly have an impact on your tour, although experienced leaders will have the necessary know-how to deal with most personalities and situations. Sometimes it can be a good idea to see what experiences other birders have had travelling with a certain leader, though this could never be considered totally reliable. Although every company has a certain idea of how they run a tour in general, there is no way of making every tour the same, even if run within certain parameters. Seeing how different guides and tour leaders bird can actually be a great way of improving your own birding skills. Every tour leader also has certain interests you may have in common which would affect your enjoyment of a tour; they might be particularly interested in mammals, photography or certain bird families for example, or might be up-to-date with recent taxonomical changes or scientific publications that could make your tour more educational and memorable.

Group size is a tough one to quantify because of all the various factors involved. Obviously the smaller the group the better your contact will be with the tour leader, and the more likely it is that your needs will be taken into account to a greater degree. Smaller group sizes do come at a financial cost however. Larger groups also mean that you would be more likely to find other participants in the group that you get along well with – many lasting friendships have been formed when like-minded people meet on birding adventures. There are also more eyes and ears to find what you are searching with bigger groups. A large group in a forest however can be frustrating as people in the back might miss some of the shyer species, although with a good rotation system on trails no single person should miss too many species that are only glimpsed. Rockjumper specifies beforehand the maximum group size which varies from 6 to 12 participants but we also have a policy of sending a second leader if the group size exceeds 8. This is often very popular as the second leader can also then assist at the back of the group or even split the group under certain situations as well as take care of logistics if these become time-consuming, as they can be in countries like Papua New Guinea where a single leader could be kept away from the group for extended periods.

No-one will ever see every single bird species but it is well within the realms of possibility to see a representative of each of the approximately 240 bird families. This goal is becoming very popular with international birders, allowing them to sample the great diversity of the world’s birds. If this becomes your birding aim, then tours have to be carefully planned to maximize the number of new bird families with the minimum number of trips. Some monotypic families in particular only occur on specific islands, so tours to New Caledonia, Sulawesi, Borneo and Hispaniola (Dominican Republic) would be necessary, and larger islands like Papua New Guinea, Madagascar and New Zealand each harbor several endemic families.

These are just some of the main considerations when selecting a tour. Finally we’d also like to point out a possible solution if you feel that you cannot find a scheduled birding tour that meets your requirements, and this is private or customized tours. Private tours are the simplest way for you to control many of the factors mentioned above, as you can then decide within reason exactly how you would like the tour to run. The participants can decide if they want to change the structure of an existing tour, the length, and time of year, as well as the group size and intensity of the tour to suit their specific requirements as much as possible. This is a very popular option and one that can often be offered at a lower rate than our standard tour costs provided other factors remain similar.

Some of the above aspects may be very important for some people and irrelevant for others. To get ideas of which tours would be best suited to you and your specific interest/s and style of birding, it is often best to talk to previous tour participants and/or guides that have experienced the destinations themselves. Rockjumper’s friendly office staff would also be happy to provide advice and answer an questions that you might have. Previous trip reports are also a very useful reference tool in this regard; and, of course, some good general research on the Internet is always a good idea.

We hope this helps to clarify some of the many considerations involved in selecting your particular birding tour of choice. We wish you all the best in picking your perfect tours in future and look forward to birding with you at some time, wherever in the world this may be!

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