About Us & Frequently Asked Questions
BIRDQUEST – THE ULTIMATE IN BIRDING TOURS
Hooded Grebe, the ‘grailbird’ for birders visiting southern Argentina (image by Dani López-Velasco)
Why do so many birders choose Birdquest? Why have we become one of the most successful birding tour companies in the world? Here is a simple summary of the features that make us stand out:
• Financial security
Birdquest is a birding tour operator of very long-standing (founded in 1981), with a high level of assets and the financial resources that can provide our clients with peace of mind. Birdquest is a United Kingdom government licensed tour operator. Our Air Tour Operator’s Licence (ATOL) number is 2937. The air holidays we offer are ATOL Protected by the Civil Aviation Authority of the United Kingdom, so your payments to us are fully protected. Even if you book a holiday that is not covered by the ATOL scheme, your payment is still protected in full by the strict United Kingdom Package Travel Regulations. This protection applies wherever you live in the world.
We cannot stress enough how important it is to book your birding tours with a bird tour company that offers you financial security. Almost all birding tour companies based outside the United Kingdom and some other countries in the European Union provide no financial protection whatsoever for their clients. This saves costs for them, allowing them to cut prices, but leaves you very vulnerable if anything goes wrong. If they become insolvent you may lose your entire payment.
• The world’s most comprehensive repertoire of birding tours
Birdquest birding tours include everything from easy-going bird and wildlife adventures that can be enjoyed by everyone to pioneering and sometimes demanding journeys to the world’s last birding frontiers.
We have shown our clients and friends more species of birds than any other birding tour company! The Birdquest Life List is currently nearly 10,400 species using the IOC world list!
• Our trips consistently do exceptionally well
This is entirely owing to the excellence of our guides combined with our carefully thought-out trip logistics and itineraries. Just take a look at our trip reports for confirmation.
• Expert, helpful and friendly guides and office staff
Our team has unsurpassed experience and our guides’ and office staff members’ aim is to ensure that every participant has a thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding tour.
• Very low group size limits
Birdquest group size limits are typically only 6-7 (occasionally more, as appropriate for the birding conditions). A direct result of our small group philosophy is a superior birding experience.
• Superlative trip materials
Whether it is our tour descriptions, our checklists, our pre-tour information or our tour reports.
• Fully inclusive tour prices that represent good value for money
Birdquest tour prices generally include all transportation (usually including all flights that are part of the tour itinerary), accommodations, meals (and bottled water where appropriate), field excursions, entrance fees and most tips/gratuities (including those for local guides and drivers).
Flights are excluded by some birding tour companies, presumably because it reduces headline tour prices. The reality is that tour participants cannot avoid paying these integral costs of the tour, and these items can often add up to a very considerable amount (even a huge amount on some tours).
Chinstrap Penguins (image by Pete Morris)
What is the Birdquest Birding Tours Philosophy?
Birdquest tours are exciting, friendly, small-group birding tours designed and guided by a team of guides and office staff whose professionalism, experience and knowledge are unsurpassed. Quality is Birdquest’s watchword and profoundly influences everything that we do. Our guiding philosophy at Birdquest is quite simple: it is to give you, our clients and friends, the very best, most rewarding and most enjoyable birding trips possible: in other words, ‘The Ultimate in Birding Tours’.
We want to stress those words ‘clients and friends’, as they sum up what Birdquest is all about. We do not just think of our Birdquesters only as clients, but also as friends. All of us in the Birdquest team are very conscious that we are here to look after you and we do everything we can to provide Birdquesters with a high-quality product. As we travel together for such long periods, we get to know each other very well. For this reason, we have a very special relationship with Birdquesters, and one never wants to let a friend down. As one regular Birdquester, who has taken numerous tours with us put it, “Birdquest is like a club, and I like being a member”.
Our tours emphasize the quality of the birding: our primary aim is to guide you to those birds which are truly memorable, localized or hard to find, and often all three. The remarkable field expertise of the Birdquest guides makes them particularly well equipped to find those sought-after species that are the most important highlights of a successful birding tour. Our carefully planned itineraries and our guides’ special skills, plus our willingness to keep on trying where necessary, have earned us a worldwide reputation for consistently showing those who travel with us an unusually high proportion of the truly special birds, a reputation of which we are very proud.
We would like to stress the importance of the quality approach versus the quantity approach. While we see a lot of species on many Birdquest tours, our focus on our tours is on quality. It is easy to pile up a slightly larger trip list simply by visiting as many areas as possible in the time available and thus seeing a greater number of widespread and easy-to-find species at the expense of difficult-to-find or out of the way specialities. At Birdquest we use our considerable knowledge and experience to deliver those quality birds in each area we visit so that you will not be ‘kicking yourself’ later when you realized what you missed.
Crimson-breasted Shrike (image by Pete Morris)
What is the Nature of Birdquest Birding Tours?
Birdquest tours are designed specifically for people who want to spend their time birding while exploring the world’s wild places. Birdquest tours are arranged and guided with a professional touch and with great attention to quality, yet they are decidedly informal, with a friendly atmosphere. A common purpose and a pleasant mix of people gives Birdquest groups a special camaraderie.
There is nothing unusual about the pace of Birdquest tours as compared with other birding tour companies who cater to the keener type of birder. The reason our groups do better than most is largely down to the skills and knowledge of our guides, and to our superior trip logistics, although we will admit to being quite persistent in trying to find the special birds for you!
A typical Birdquest tour is of moderate intensity, with either easy or easy to moderate grade walking requirements and comfortable accommodations and transportation. We also have some harder trips and even a small number that are pretty demanding as they visit remote areas with bad roads and very basic accommodations, and may involve quite strenuous hiking at times. This variation simply reflects the diversity of birding conditions that exist in the huge range of destinations that Birdquest covers.
If you are new to Birdquest and unsure of your physical abilities in relation to a particular tour, we invite you to contact our office and speak to one of our experts before booking. We want you to have a great time on our tours, and we regard helping participants pick the tours that are right for them as a very important part of our service.
The first hours of daylight are by far the most productive and interesting time for observing birds and other wildlife, so early starts are a necessity on all serious birding tours, as are quite long days in the field in many places (although we do take a break during the hottest hours when the tour logistics allow).
As well as being a thoroughly enjoyable experience that gets one away from the routine back home, Birdquest tours also provide a great opportunity to improve one’s field skills and overall knowledge of birds.
Birdquest tours often stay longer in a given locality than other birding tours to the same destination, since we know that the key to a truly successful tour is having enough time to find most of the special birds of the region in question: there is nothing worse than missing key birds through having insufficient time in the crucial areas! We also like to keep the proportion of the tour devoted to travel as low as is practicable so that you can have more time to enjoy watching birds and, of course, further chances to find the more elusive specialities.
Birdquest tours feature comfortable accommodations with en-suite bathrooms wherever possible, but in our diverse world such accommodations are not universally available, so in some destinations, we have to put up with the best there is. We naturally always give priority to the birding and the other wildlife potential when selecting our accommodations, but within this constraint we try, wherever there is a real choice, to choose hotels and lodges that are memorable and enjoyable places to stay in their own right.
Road travel in most countries is in small coaches or minibuses (passenger vans), but we often use cars or 4×4 vehicles in appropriate areas. Lunches on full days in the field tend to be picnics, but we often return to our accommodation to eat lunch or use a local restaurant.
There are few birders who do not enjoy watching mammals and other wildlife. Indeed, encountering a family group of Gorillas in the heart of Africa, watching a Tiger stealing through the tawny grasslands of India or spending time with a band of gentle but inquisitive Ring-tailed Lemurs in the forests of Madagascar are among the most magical moments in the life of a birder. In most parts of the world, mammals are not very obvious, but wherever one travels there are few better ways of seeing them than while out birding. Although almost all our tours are focussed on birds, we always take a keen interest in observing any mammals we encounter, or indeed reptiles, amphibians and other wildlife. We also have a number of tours that give major billing to star mammals.
By their nature, most of our tours visit regions far from areas of significant cultural interest. On the other hand, there are a number of wonderful places which are conveniently visited without detouring significantly from our birding itineraries and which add greatly to the rich tapestry of experiences that a birding tour provides. While we like to include opportunities to see something of these evocative reminders of a bygone age during appropriate tours, visits are inevitably of fairly limited duration.
Tufted Puffin is a perennial favourite and there is no better place for them than the Kuril Islands (image by Mark Beaman)
What can you expect from the Birdquest Guides?
The guide is by far the most important feature of any birding tour. All Birdquest tours are accompanied by one or more professional group leaders with the knowledge and experience to make the tour wholly successful. Birdquest guides know their areas thoroughly and take pride in showing those who travel with them the local specialities. Our constant aim is to try and ensure that every participant joining our tours has a great time and we strive to show every member of our groups as many of the birds found as is humanly possible.
Not only are Birdquest leaders highly skilled at finding and identifying birds, but they are also friendly, competent and approachable individuals who are experts at dealing with the day to day running of the tour, confidently coping with any problems that may arise and so greatly increasing the chance that everything will run smoothly. Guiding a birding tour in Europe or North America is one thing, guiding one in a developing country where logistical problems are a fact of life is quite another! Our combined experience in the field is such that we can justifiably claim unrivalled experience in many parts of the world.
In many places, there are no resident bird guides with the requisite leadership skills, but where practicable we obtain the assistance of local guides who have both an intimate knowledge of their home areas and the ability to look after our groups to the required standard.
Blood Pheasant (image by Dave Farrow)
What can you expect from the Birdquest Office Team?
As our Birdquesters so often affirm, the travel organizing skills of our office staff and their caring commitment to our clients and friends are second to none. Having such a dedicated and efficient team behind you makes all the difference when it comes to having an enjoyable tour, both before, during and after the tour.
You can call or email our office at any time and ask us any question you would like to. You are going to find helpful and courteous service, and we always enjoy chatting with actual or potential Birdquesters, so if you have any questions at all about any of our tours then please get in touch. We want to hear from you!
Siamese Fireback (image by Pete Morris)
What are Birdquest’s Group Members like?
First-timers often ask what kind of birders travel with Birdquest. The reality is that we cater to a very wide range of birdwatchers and even non-birding partners. There is nothing unusual about our client mix. Birdquesters range from complete beginners to experienced and expert birders. Birdquest’s tour philosophy is well-liked by those who are prepared to make a bit of extra effort to see the really good birds.
Being knowledgeable about birds is definitely not a requirement for enjoying Birdquest tours. We would say that at least two-thirds of those who travel with us would not consider themselves especially knowledgeable, or might even feel that their birding skills were a bit limited. Many would qualify as relatively inexpert but enthusiastic.
You need have no fear that you will always be the only novice amongst a clique of experts. Level of birding knowledge and skills is unimportant when it comes to enjoying a Birdquest, as our friendly, expert guides are well able to cater for the needs of all group members and indeed enjoy passing on their knowledge and enthusiasm to those who have only more recently been bitten by the birding bug.
The only qualifying requirement for our tours is being keen to watch birds, or at least being tolerant of other group members’ desires in this regard. If you are new to Birdquest and are unsure whether you or your partner would enjoy one of our tours, give us a call. We will be happy to have a chat with you and offer advice.
Age is also immaterial on most Birdquest tours, provided you are in good health and can walk reasonable distances on trails at a normal walking pace. Indeed we have a large number of tours where the walking effort involved is mostly or wholly easy. The age range of the great majority of Birdquesters lies between the early 40s and the early 70s.
The only requirements for enjoying the great majority of Birdquest tours are a desire to devote the tour to birding and enjoying whatever other wildlife we encounter, a willingness to make some extra effort to find those special birds, a love of the outdoors, a sense of adventure and an ability to get on reasonably well with others.
The very high level of repeat bookings, amounting to some 85-90% in any given year, speaks for itself and is the clearest possible indication of the quality of Birdquest tours and the very high level of customer satisfaction that they produce. Not only do we have an unsurpassed level of repeat bookings, but numerous Birdquesters have taken over 20-30 tours with us and some have even passed the 75 mark!
Most Birdquest groups have a distinctly international flavour, with several nationalities represented. Birdquesters come from every part of the developed world and from a number of developing countries as well. This remarkable international following is the best possible affirmation of the ‘world-class’ quality of Birdquest tours.
Sunbittern (image by Pete Morris)
What are Birdquest’s Group Size Limits?
Birdquest pioneered the move to smaller groups that many others have since followed. Birding quality is very important for the many discerning people who travel with us, so we typically limit our Birdquest groups to 6-7 participants in order to ensure better communication between the leader(s) and group members, and a higher chance of seeing skulking birds. In general, birding conditions determine appropriate group size limits, but sometimes also the tour logistics.
As we know from the many comments we have received from Birdquesters, there are few things more frustrating than birding in forest habitat in a large group of 12-16 including guides, or even being in a large group that is split up on forest trails and where you end up with the less experienced, or maybe just less lucky, guide!
Bar-bellied Pitta (image by Pete Morris)
What Tour Descriptions, Checklists, Tour Information & Tour Reports does Birdquest provide?
Our tour descriptions and itineraries on our website, bird and mammal checklists, pre-tour information documents and post-tour reports are widely lauded. The Birdquest checklists are powered by our partner iGoTerra (www.igoterra.com) who provide web and mobile applications for bird and wildlife enthusiasts and businesses. Their suite of services cover observations, rankings, lists, photos and trip management tools.
Preparation is an essential part of any birding tour and, indeed, most people find great enjoyment in looking up the birds, mammals and places they are going to see, and in savouring the delights to come. Birdquest tour descriptions and itineraries are very comprehensive, something in which we take considerable pride. Our guides’ knowledge of their favourite countries is generally unsurpassed and we enjoy giving a detailed description of the areas our tours are going to visit and the birds our extensive experience has taught us to expect.
We also provide all participants with an annotated checklist of birds and mammals that indicates the probability of any given species being seen during the tour. Our tour information gives details about visas, customs, currency, health, insurance, luggage, clothing, climate, bird books, maps, tour start and end information, flight times and tour routine.
A tour report is often sent out after the end of a tour. If you are considering joining one of our tours, you can read the most recent tour reports for that destination on our website (or download them and print them out).
Eastern Imperial Eagle (image by Mike Watson)
Is Birdquest Reliable?
It is extremely disappointing, after months of looking forward to a well-earned tour, to find that it has been cancelled due to insufficient interest. Birdquest has an outstanding record for reliability since the great majority of our tours operate as planned. We have achieved this reputation not just because our tours are popular but also because they are carefully costed so that they can still be operated when there are relatively few participants.
Resplendent Quetzal (image by Pete Morris)
Why do Birding Tour Prices vary so much?
At the end of the day, consistently high quality, whether it be the quality of the guides or of other services, cannot be provided at a significant discount. We employ guides whose field skills, background knowledge and organizational skills are such that they stand out from the crowd. Likewise, our office staff are highly talented people who will devote special care and attention while looking after our clients.
The other major difference between birding tour companies concerns the quality of the accommodation that each provides, the type of transport provided (for example, using 4×4 vehicles in East Africa rather than minibuses/passenger vans) and whether or not they include local tipping and the flights required to carry out the tour.
Using inferior accommodations and transportation can produce large headline price reductions, as can cutting out flights and tips for local drivers and guides. The latter two can amount to very considerable sums on many tours. Even we are often taken in at first when we see some apparently very low headline price and only later realise that no flight costs and/or driver and guide tips were included!
We at Birdquest choose not to go down such a path. So when you compare birding tour prices, check into what you will be getting if you opt for something that may seem like a bargain, but which may not turn out to be such good value after all.
Our aim is to provide birding tours that are unsurpassed in quality while still representing good value for money. Birdquest tours feature low group size limits, professional guides of great ability, superior itineraries that often spend more time in key areas or visit extra localities, and good quality accommodations and transportation wherever these are available.
Our tour prices include all surface transportation, accommodations, meals, bottled water (where appropriate), field excursions and entrance fees. We also provide a few drinks gratis.
We also generally include all integral flights in our itineraries and all tips for drivers, local guides and others involved in the tour (any exceptions are clearly indicated).
In a small group situation, expected tipping to local people, including drivers and local guides, can easily amount to US$300-400 or more per person for a three weeks tour. Local guides and drivers usually work extremely hard to make a birding tour a success, working very long hours, and, as they receive low basic wages, tips for them are not a pleasant bonus but a crucial part of their annual income. We feel it is preferable to include this major item of expense so that guides and drivers are properly and generously rewarded and tour participants are saved both the fiddle of having to pay out substantial extra sums in cash during a tour and, even more importantly, the potential embarrassment that inappropriate tipping involves.
Birdquest has a well-deserved reputation among local guides and drivers for tipping generously and we strongly believe that Birdquesters would not want these invaluable yet often poorly-rewarded members of our tour teams to be treated in any other way.
Obviously such a fully-inclusive, high-quality tour philosophy does not make for temptingly low headline prices, but we firmly believe that being upfront and wherever possible including unavoidable costs like integral flights and most expected tips/gratuities is what our clients deserve.
Spectacled Eider (image by Pete Morris)
What is the potential for Bird & Wildlife Photography on Birdquest tours?
The advent of digital photography has revolutionized the photographic potential on birding tours. Excellent images can now be captured in almost any venue, even in the dark recesses of the rainforest. Some of our tours provide a lot more photographic opportunities than others, however, and these are clearly indicated by such descriptions as ‘good’, ‘very good’ or ‘outstanding’ in the photography entries in our tour descriptions. It should be noted that we rate photographic opportunities conservatively compared to some, so we only rate the opportunities on most forest-dominated tours as ‘worthwhile’.
Standard-winged Nightjar (image by Janos Olah)
Is Smoking permitted on Birdquest tours?
There are few smokers left among birders, but we do ask those who still smoke to refrain from smoking in vehicles and during meals. We also ask them to take care that, when smoking in the field or at other times, they do not inconvenience other group members. Our leader will ensure the rules are followed.
Crested Auklets (image by Mark Beaman)
Is Birdquest committed to supporting Wildlife Conservation?
Birdquest is strongly committed to bird protection and to conservation in general. As well as being corporate sponsors of such organizations as BirdLife International, the Oriental Bird Club, the African Bird Club and the Neotropical Bird Club, we have raised funds directly for bird conservation projects in Cambodia, China, Ecuador, French Polynesia, Hungary, India (including Ladakh, where we paid for a huge animal shelter for a village to safeguard against stock losses from Snow Leopards), Madagascar, Malta, Mauritius, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Russia, Thailand and elsewhere.
Ecotourism operators are particularly well placed to influence governments when decisions are to be made concerning the future of important areas for birds and other wildlife, since the potential income from developing ecotourism can, in the long term, partly or even wholly offset the potential short-term gain from destroying an area. We keep a close watch on environmental issues in the countries we visit and frequently do whatever we can to support local or international conservation initiatives.
Snow Leopard (image by Mike Watson)