British Birdfair aka 3 Days of Speed Dating with Nerdy Birdwatchers in a Steaming Mud Pit

Tuesday 4 am: Rising well before dawn after spending a fantastic weekend at the British Birdfair 2013. And though I’d rather be catching a few more winks, I’m so invigorated by the fair that I just have to write, say my thanks, and tell Americans about what made this fair so different from those we experience in the U.S. Disclosure: I am a nerdy birdwatcher, and proud of it.

Happy faces I met on day one. The estimable Derek moore, Alan McBride, and Mark Avery.

Happy faces I met on day one. The estimable Derek Moore, Alan McBride, and Mark Avery.

Rather than being a gathering where people come to take field trips and watch birds, Birdfair is a place to come and visit old friends, listen to a long line of talented speakers, and  shop for birding tours, clothing, books, and more inside the massive exhibitor tents. Now in its 25th year, the fair is a well-oiled machine and takes place at Rutland Water Nature Reserve, two hours north of London. It is run by the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust in partnership with RSPB with loads of effort from co-founders Tim Appleton and Martin Davies. Each year, the fair develops a conservation program in partnership with Birdlife International. Over the last 24 years, they have raised more than 3 million pounds for conservation!

The simplest description of the British Birdfair is that it was an incredible three days of speed dating with other nerdy birdwatchers in a steaming mud pit. Let’s break that down. The fair was hosted Friday through Sunday (as it is every August). Between 20,000 and 30,000 nature lovers and families from all over the UK came to visit with old friends, talk with vendors, learn about destinations and new products, and test the new line of optics (every major optics manufacturer brought their entire product line, which offered an incredible opportunity to find the right pick). Hundreds more people came from all corners of the globe to network and staff exhibitor booths. This resulted in a constant stream of warm bodies happily roaming the fairgrounds, which thanks to heavy, will-they-ever-stop rains on Friday morning followed by warm sun on Saturday, turned into a mud pit fit only for Wellies and Crocs (don’t dress nicely, ladies!). But jocularity abounded as birders sloshed from one tent to the next.

In fact, jocularity may be the resonant motif of the entire event. Even though I was, as veterans were keen to point out, a “Birdfair Virgin,” I felt incredibly welcomed and surprisingly at-home. As soon as I walked onto the grounds, I saw two warm, familiar faces and was soon joined by one more, two more, and one more still. That seems to happen every 50 feet, as veterans can attest. I met many people whom I’d known only through social media, but who were instantly recognizable and felt like old friends. We had great discussions about conservation projects, birding races, and burgeoning travel initiatives in under-visited areas. I learned it is not possible to get anywhere fast, and that making plans to meet up are often thwarted by some excellent conversation happening at another tent far on the other side of the fairgrounds. It doesn’t help your cruising speed when vendors reach out and offer you a sip of this or that to lubricate your interest. (That nummy nip of El Dorado came at a perfectly weary time; thank you Guyana Tourism!)

My Facebook status end-of-day Saturday:

Wow, what a day at Birdfair. Managed to make my way through 2 out of 8 tents. Great to see NTN contributors Alan Davies and Ruth Miller, Jonathan Meyrav, and Chris Lotz. Great to see Richard Baines from Yorkshire Nature Coast, Adam Riley and Forrest Rowland of Rockjumper, Carlos Bethancourt de Panama, Jeff Bouton from Leica, and Bill Thompson from Bird Watcher’s Digest, Guto from Avistar Brasil, Claudio from Chile, Dani from Spain (Birdquest), Mark Avery and Charlie Moores from the UK, Peter Jones from Andalucia Wildlife Guides, Dale Forbes from Austria (Swarovski), Peter Lobo aka “the man in charge of India,” James Adams and Robert Gallardo both from Honduras, David Lindo the Urban Birder, Sam Woods (Tropical Birding) and Alejandro both from Ecuador, Kerem from Birdwatch Turkey, Cristian Jensen Marcet from Spain (Audouin Birding Tours), Johnnie from Uganda, Horacio Matarasso from Patagonia, Courtenay Rooks from Trinidad and Tobago, Karissa and Vanesa from Extremadura, Mike Watson from BirdQuest, Dominic Mitchell from Birdwatch, David Chandler (co-author of 100 Birds to See in Your Lifetime), Ceri Levy of Extinct Boids and many more excellent people from all over the world. Mind officially blown.

This being my first year of Birdfair, I went to listen and learn as well as to plant seeds of partnership to help grow the “Nature Travel Network.”  I was thrilled to meet such a large selection of the world’s best birding and nature tour leaders and happy for the chats with tourism agencies looking to grow nature (sustainable!) tourism in their countries. I am glad to have met other writers and naturalists who may wish to contribute articles to NTN in the future. I am happy to strengthen bonds with old friends and explore if and how Nature Travel Network can help them be more successful. I also just loved ENGLAND! Everyone was so polite and helpful; not a single rude person was encountered, which helps eased this foreigner’s passage.

So, as I finish my third cup of coffee and rise above this jetlag fog, I want to say a warm Thank you to everyone I saw and met at Birdfair. It was an extraordinary experience and I can’t wait to see you again next year. Let’s stay in touch!

More shout-outs go out to: Jerome, Gerry, Alan McBride, Keith Hackland, Manuel Sanchez, Chris Galvin, Tristan Reid the Inked Naturalist, Dominic Mitchell, Gorka from Navarre, Gunnar of Kolibri, Xavier from Neblina, Philippa from France, Toni from the Ascension Islands, Yazmina, Trish from Zambezi, Richard from Bella Vista, Leon from Lawson’s, Sergio from Guatemala, Indranauth from Guyana, Matt from New Zealand, Tony and Claire, Chris Watson, Charlotte, who blogs from Uganda, and Bryan and Paul from Sunbird. And now this is getting dangerously close to an Oscar’s speech; I’m bound to forget someone I care about so if I did, just nudge me in the comments and I shall apologize and amend!

BTW: This year’s Birdfair supports BirdLife International’s Flyways Programme, and will focus specifically on the Americas, raising funds to support conservation efforts to protect birds that breed in the prairies and other grasslands in North America but winter south in the pampas grasslands of South America.

Alrighty, now back to work! Click one of the images below to open a slideshow.

Laura Kammermeier

Laura Kammermeier is the creator and managing editor of Nature Travel Network. She is a writer, website producer, traveler, birder and a birding/nature travel consultant. Laura has traveled Uganda, Europe, Ecuador, Belize, Honduras, Israel, and throughout the United States Read More

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  • Bob Warneke August 20, 2013, 14:26

    Sounds like quite a time, Laura. I hope the coming “American Birdfair” (yeah, it’ll happen) will someday be every bit as successful an event.
    p.s. If you happen to see Guto before you leave, give him my regards. I spoke at the first Avistar.

    • Laura Kammermeier August 20, 2013, 15:48

      Bob, I DID see Guto and had a nice little chat about the upcoming Avistar.
      The scale of the UK Birdfair is enormous…I’m still scratching my head as to how so many people come out to this event that has very few birds! It’s done so well. I do hope the USA can pull off a birdfair and know it will take years to achieve a similar potential, but…I hope someone will get started!

  • Alan McBride August 20, 2013, 14:48

    How accurate to be portrayed as a nerdy birder at a speed dating event. Proud to be a part of it as another Birdfair Virgin too. Thanks Laura, great to finally meet up.


  • Derek Moore August 20, 2013, 16:20

    Honoured to appear on this website and happy to be nerd.

    The reason the British BirdFair is so well attended is that it is held in roughly the centre of England making it reasonably easy for everyone to get there. Nobody would drive more than say 350 miles each way.

    To do such a thing in USA would seem impossible. May be you should think about regional events to begin with.

    Anyway it was great to meet you Laura and I look forward to 2014 even now.

  • CharlieBeau Diary of a Muzungu September 4, 2013, 09:41

    Hi Laura, thanks for the mention! it was great to meet you at Bird Fair 2013. It’s only the second year I’ve attended but I can’t see myself ever missing it again! Three days weren’t long enough, there were so many people I wanted to meet. I found everyone very friendly and approachable, met some conservation celebrities and got tons of ideas on how to develop my travel writing and my blog. Very inspiring to see the professionalism of tour operators from around the world too. And the art! There was some gorgeous stuff on display. And one thing I didn’t do? I confess. I didn’t get my binoculars out once, I was too busy nattering. How about you?

    • Laura Kammermeier September 4, 2013, 10:27

      Like you, I didn’t get the binoculars out. Much too much excitement for three days. Eager to return. Hopefully I’ll see you again next year!

  • Philippa Benson October 7, 2013, 12:18

    As another Birdfair Virgin and proudly nerdy birder, I can confirm Laura’s experience – Birdfair UK is absolutely incredible and WELL worth a visit. I was helping to man the French parcs stand and over the coming year we will be promoting the Languedoc Roussillon region as a new and upcoming bird watching destination. Somehow Laura and I managed to miss each other at Birdfair itself, but we had a fortuitous meeting on the train as we all headed back to Stansted to catch our planes in various directions. It’s always nice to meet in person. Thanks Laura for all your networking and for spreading the word about birds 🙂

  • Laura Kammermeier October 8, 2013, 08:52

    Philippa, good to hear from you here! Meeting you on the train was a serendipitous moment! Let us know how we can help promote the Languedoc Roussillon region to our readers. I hope to see you again – either there or at BirdFair!

    Cheers, Laura

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