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Life on tour in deepest Asia ………

 Posted by on April 25, 2012  Features
Apr 252012

Rob Hutchinson from birdtour Asia, agreed to write a post for the CBC website, to show life as a tour guide, in deepest Asia.  It’s not all glamour, but the sights, sounds and smells they must come across, would more than make up for the 2am starts!

Have a read – it’s very interesting……………..some of us can only dream to visit such faraway places with strange sounding names and to see such colourful bird life.

Read it below, or to download the pdf, click here:  http://www.carsingtonbirdclub.co.uk/cbc/pdfs/BirdTourAsia_CBC_article.pdf

If you wish to see more of birdtour Asia – visit their website at:  http://www.birdtourasia.com

Thanks for the article Rob.



Living the life of a bird-guide – Rob Hutchinson

E-mail: robhutchinson@birdtourasia.com

My stomping grounds as a kid were the gravel pits and reservoirs of Derbyshire, some might say not the likeliest place to form a lifelong passion for birding, but it seemed to do the trick. I was fortunate to share this passion with other likeminded local birders and twitchers including my Dad, Pete, and to this day having seen more than 5000 species worldwide, some of the greatest memories were from the Derbyshire days. I was asked on a recent tour how my UK birding could possibly compare to travelling the world in search of birds and I was immediately transported back to some of my most memorable days; a Pallid Swift at Willington GP (at the time one of only a handful ever recorded in the UK), the county’s first Ortolan Bunting which popped up in front of Max Radford and myself on a glorious spring day, my first Derbyshire Red-necked Phalarope spinning on Willington ‘Gull Pit’ and an amazing Wryneck (one of the world’s very best birds!) that got me so excited that my hands were shaking too much to get a photo! During these times I was fortunate to become great friends with James Eaton and together we not only enjoyed much great birding around Derbyshire but also some memorable twitches and significantly our first adventures intoAsia.

These trips were truly mind-blowing, not only were there hordes of Palaearctic migrants that we dreamed of seeing in the UK but also new and exotic bird families like pittas, trogons and babblers that had us totally mesmerised and yearning for more. After completing university I couldn’t wait to get out and see more, so I spend the next years exploring and learning until in 2005 after years of travelling the length and breadth of Asia, James and I formed a bird-tour company, Birdtour Asia (www.birdtourasia.com), and we were living the dream. Now we were getting paid (not much admittedly!) to share our knowledge and find birds for birders from around the globe. The life of a bird-guide is certainly tough; for starters you don’t get to much sleep  with early morning starts the norm (2am on occasions!) and plenty of organising or owling to keep us awake late most nights, then of course the  expectation to find birds is enormous (and we don’t like to disappoint!). Nevertheless the chance to be out in the field seeing some of the world’s most amazing birds and mammals, and the thrill of seeing others enjoy them, definitely makes this one of the best jobs in the world.

It is not easy to establish a new birding company but we tried to set ourselves apart from others by restricting ourselves toAsiaand therefore building an intimate knowledge of the places we are visiting, keeping group sizes as low as possible, and of course  finding more birds than our competitors. The early years were slow but we soon established our reputation to the extent that some of our tours now fill more than two or three years in advance!

Below are some excerpts from  my most recent trip toBorneoto give a flavour of some of the thrills that makes the life of a bird guide so exciting….

Mount Kinabalu, Borneo

“Hitting the trails we found a much more obliging pair of Bornean Stubtails, and got great views of another pair of Fruit-hunters but still no sign of our desired broadbill or trogon. After a hearty lunch we headed out into the forest again, this time with mist and rain threatening. A Sunda Cuckoo came in and perched out before we hit the dark, misty trails again. Conditions weren’t ideal and many less dedicated birders might have opted for more time in the cafe, but we were soon rewarded with two Whitehead’s Broadbills which shone luminous green even in the dull forest and instantly become one of our top birds of the tour. We watched them for some time until they finally drew us to their nest which they were busily creating near the trail, an exciting find indeed! Further down the trail a pair of White-browed Shortwings showed fairly well, then a Red-breasted Partridge casually strolled off the trail only to vanish into thin air! Plodding on through the quiet forest we were again rewarded for our perseverance when a stunning pair of Whitehead’s Trogon appeared and gave us prolonged looks as they sat quietly nearby, and we celebrated the last of our major targets! The day finished with exceptional views of another pair of White-browed Shortwings which had clearly forgotten that the species should be elusive!”


Whitehead’s Broadbill and Whitehead’s Trogon, Mount Kinabalu     © Rob Hutchinson /Birdtour Asia


Sepilok, Borneo

“We were back again early the next morning and things had really livened up. First came a Rufous-collared Kingfisher, a stunning forest-dweller that we scoped before heading onto the canopy walkway. New birds appeared in quick succession; Black Hornbill, White-bellied Woodpecker, Red-billed Malkoha, Blue-rumped Parrot, Buff-rumped Woodpecker and Long-billed Spiderhunter being early performers. Bornean Black Magpies uttering their bizarre calls were appreciated, and then our main target, the utterly amazing strawberry-headed Bristlehead appeared, a group of three birds which actually stuck around for our whole time on the walkway giving a brilliant performance. The Bristlehead is in its own bird-family and is found only onBorneo, it is without a doubt the most desired bird for most visitors toBorneoand what a thrill and relief to have found it so soon!”

Bristlehead at Sepilok     © Rob Hutchinson /Birdtour Asia


Danum Valley, Borneo

“It was undoubtedly the mammals that stole the show this morning though, firstly a group of Bornean Gibbons including a young, feeding acrobatically in a fruiting tree, then later Vivienne’s sharp eyes spotted a mammal trying to sneak across a trail close by and we were all left incredulous as we stared into the undergrowth to be confronted by a Sunda Clouded Leopard! We were able to follow this magnificent creature as he sauntered alongside the trail before settling in a hollow to clean its pelt and long striped tail before disappearing into the forest, leaving us breathless at our encounter with one of the islands most elusive mammals! Rob’s first encounter in 15 years of visiting the island!”

“We started the afternoon in completely similar fashion when we followed up breaking news of an Orang-utan nearby. This iconic mammal had been notably absent so far so we were excited to catch up with this one which turned out to be a mother with a small young which clung adorably to its mother high in the canopy.”

Orang-utan and Sunda Clouded Leopard, Danum Valley     © Rob Hutchinson /Birdtour Asia


Kinabatangan River, Borneo

“As we made our way along the river system, it was no time at all before we heard the distinctive calls of Bornean Ground Cuckoo, one ofBorneo’s most enigmatic birds. Hearing these shy and elusive birds is just half the battle of course and getting views is usually not easy so we were ecstatic when one appeared in less than an hour, initially perched on a riverside tree but soon dropping down to the bank where it called away, with tail pumping, as we watched in awe. Taking to a quiet tributary we soon added river-loving White-chested Babblers, a frisky Hooded Pitta and Scarlet-rumped Trogon. The highlight though was a brazen male Blue-headed Pitta which came bounding out of the forest to investigate us and obviously liked what he found because he stuck around for an age, watching us from just a few meters distant! It was described by Bob as one of the most stunning birds he had ever seen, and I don’t think any of us could disagree!”

Blue-headed Pitta along the Kinabatangan River                          © Rob Hutchinson /Birdtour Asia


Rob Hutchinson

April 2012




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