How “The Biggest Twitchers” Respond to the Call of the Wild

Alan and Ruth

Alan and Ruth, world record holders for most birds seen in one year. And the nicest people you’d ever want to meet (Editor’s note!)

Have you ever felt the urge to heed the call of the wild? Have you heard the siren song of the natural world as it whispers to you, “Don’t just sit at your desk, come and explore, I’m here waiting for you’?  Well, we did, and we couldn’t resist.

Passionate about wildlife and birds in particular, we both worked for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds or RSPB, the largest nature conservation charity in Britain focusing on birds. We knew we were doing worthwhile work to further the cause of our particular passion, but having birds in the company name doesn’t necessarily mean there’s birding in the job description.  In short, we just weren’t seeing enough birds so one day we decided to do something about it.

‘Let’s take a year out and go birding around the world’ we said to each other and we couldn’t find a good reason why not.  And what started life as the idea for a gentle stroll around the world looking at birds quickly metamorphosed into an attempt to set a new world record for the most bird species seen in a single calendar year.  We called our big year in 2008 ‘The Biggest Twitch’; in Britain, to twitch means to chase birds, and we were about to embark on a whole year of chasing birds all over the world.The Biggest Twitch

As you can imagine, that raised the stakes quite considerably. Now we had to be in just the right part of the world at the right time of year to maximise our bird numbers, and that involved huge amounts of planning.  We found ourselves birding in 27 countries in 12 months.  That’s an awful lot of travel websites clicked on, airport departure lounges waited in, hire cars driven, hotel rooms slept in, vaccinations endured, visas stamped, and diary notes written up.

As our year progressed, we learned a lot about travelling the world.  We learned where to look for birds. We learned where to enjoy a really special wildlife moment and how to avoid the crowds. We perfected the art of travelling light by identifying the essentials you really need on a trip. Try wearing everything that’s still unused on the last day of your adventure and you’ll soon realise how much excess baggage you’ve been carrying around! Half as many clothes and twice as many memory cards is a pretty good rule of thumb.

And we saw birds, plenty of them.  Across four continents we travelled, seeing huge numbers of birds.  We broke the previous world record of 3,662 species in just ten months of travel, with the record-breaker being a Bluebonnet parrot on a golf course in Leeton, Australia. Of course, we couldn’t stop there so we kept travelling and enjoying birds right up until midnight on 31st December 2008, finishing on a mind-blowing 4,341 species, that’s nearly half the world’s birds.

So we’ve learned quite a bit about where to look for birds, and wherever you look for birds you’re likely to encounter all sorts of other wonderful wildlife too: wild mammals, amphibians, reptiles, insects, trees, flowers, and of course fascinating people too. And as we’ve looked for wildlife, we’ve been lucky enough to visit some of the most dramatic parts of the world on our travels including mountains, deserts, forests, rivers, snowfields and open oceans.

View of Llandudno

View of Llandudno, a seaside resort and town in Conwy County Borough, Wales. Ruth and Alan call this place home. © The Biggest Twitch

So how do you follow a year of travel? By keeping on travelling of course!  We now run our own birding tour company, also called The Biggest Twitch (, and we still travel. Now, however, it’s our turn to take out other people and show them the best birds and other wildlife that surround us. We spend all our time either out in the field sharing our wildlife with others or sitting at the computer writing about it. We want people to enjoy and appreciate ‘our’ birds and wildlife as much as we do and so on this website we’ll be writing about the best places to visit to watch birds and other wildlife on our home turf of Britain and Europe.

Click to enlarge:

We are lucky enough to live on the North Wales coast – that’s about halfway up on the left-hand side if you look at a map of Britain. Looking out of our office window, we can see the sea and if we throw open the windows and set up the telescope (which we do regularly!) we can enjoy views of Chough, Ravens and Fulmars and even Kashmir Goats on a regular basis without leaving home. Our ‘back garden’ is a carboniferous headland called The Great Orme which is managed as a local nature reserve; quite a dramatic wave-shaped landscape as you can see from the photo.

For a small country, Britain has an incredibly varied landscape, and we visit some of the best wildlife areas on a regular basis. We’ll be writing about the best places to visit and stay, and the birds and other wildlife that we encounter in North Wales, the Scottish Highlands and islands, the coastal areas of Eastern England and much more.  With Europe only a short hop away, we visit other countries regularly too, so we’ll be blogging about the wildlife adventures you can have in countries as diverse as Spain and Norway.

If there’s one thing that we’ve learned, it’s that travel definitely broadens the mind, and wildlife travel gives you the most extensive experiences possible. So if you want memories that will last you a lifetime, go on, give it a go. Listen to those wildlife whispers and get travelling.  The natural world is waiting for you. And while you’re at it, why not set a new birding world record? After all, you’ll give us the perfect excuse to go travelling and do it all over again!

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  • Editor March 22, 2013, 14:59

    Ruth and Alan,

    I love your story. So many of us can relate to this line:

    “Having birds in the company name doesn’t necessarily mean there’s birding in the job description.” And while most of us stay behind the computer and board room TRYING to live our passion, you got out there and did it!

    I honestly can’t even imagine taking on such a pursuit. But I’m glad you did!

    Look forward to hearing more about the best spots in Europe to go birding. I think a lot of us “over here” wouldn’t know where to start.

    Thanks, Laura

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