GOB 57 – Jollies, Junkets, Freebies & Fam Trips

Jollies, Junkets, Freebies & Fam Trips

(This article first appeared in the November 2014 edition of Birdwatching magazine)

It astounds me that those who have get more, and those who haven’t often get that taken away! Stars attending galas leave with goody-bags and the rich proclaim their superiority through the gifts their party guests take home. The richer you are the more you score for free what the hoi polloi dream of affording.

Birding is no exception… the best beloved may carry expensive optics given by those promoting their products. If you lead bird tours ‘familiarisation trips’ paid for by a tourist authorities etc. come your way. If you write about the birding world, that world may spread its wares at your feet hoping to impress you enough to review favourably.

Readers often assume that anyone who pens a few lines or has co-led a group will be inundated with exotic birding luxuries. It’s neither that simple, nor that bountiful.

Optics companies want their ‘review’ gear back after a while, only giving away optics to struggling third world NGOs, which is how it should be. Publishers send books, apps, videos and recordings to reviewers, which you might think a great way to build your library. But it’s not so great when they pile up screaming for your time and attention. My shelves filled long ago so I sell the surplus for Birding For All. Ones integrity gets in the way too – I tell it like I see it so some publishers regret sending me books, one even stopped altogether when I didn’t praise a book that bored me to sleep on page ten!

I have been invited on quite a few ‘fam’ trips and even managed to go on one or two. So why on earth would any of the above make me grumpy?

Well, while I’ve had lots of trip invitations that number has immediately dwindled when they realised that I have mobility issues.

Some immediately ask if I can send another member of my ‘team’. I first have to disabuse them, as my entire team consist of just me and Hawkeye, and she goes nowhere without her spider spotter and I go nowhere without my snake shoo’er. Some make no further mention of my mobility issues hoping that I will quietly go away. One immediately sent a mail back to me brusquely withdrawing the invitation.

I personally ran the gamut of emotions from anger through disappointment to a resigned sigh. However, as someone trying to represent less than fully fit nature lovers I was livid.

How dare governments, national birding organisations and eco-lodge owners baulk at tailoring trips to those who cannot walk the mile to their lodge though the rainforest, nor the couple of uphill kilometres to an oilbird cave! Their attitude, no matter how they wrap it up, boils down to a one-word riposte – tough!

On my own trips I have found that a little extra work by guides or tour operators would net the hard of walking all but the toughest of ticks. In five weeks in southern Africa I dipped out just one bird – Dune Lark – there was no way to get me, to it, without my agony or unacceptable disturbance.

However, I have missed loads when tour organisers could not be bothered with sussing secondary sites or think about different access.

The person monitoring Fernandina Woodpecker nest-sites in Cuba took me in his usual vehicle. A guide in India took me to three different Malabar Trogon sites at different times of day. I saw Painted Bunting on backyard feeders in Florida from someone’s lounge and Bachman’s Sparrow because my guide rang a guy doing a two-year study who then took me the prime viewing spot.

Many ageing birders find walking harder. Someone should tell the chambers of commerce, tourist boards and eco-lodges that ‘grey’ birders are a vast untapped market… and I’m the man to trail blaze – albeit very slowly with a limp on short trails!

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