Clayton Burne hails from Durban, South Africa. His previous experience includes working as a museum technician, five years of safari guiding and several years of ophthalmology. Clayton has recently completed a year long birding expedition around South America, accumulating an in-depth knowledge of the region’s birds and wildlife. He is now a full-time Rockjumper Birding Tours leader.
Clayton Burne hails from Durban, South Africa. His passion for birds led him to work at the Durban Natural Science Museum, where he conducted research in the Lesotho Highlands and most of the KwaZulu-Natal forests and wetlands. Following five years of safari guiding in southern Africa, he moved to the United Kingdom to pursue a career in corrective eye surgery. When the occasional few weeks birding in the tropics each year became unsatisfactory, Clayton packed his bags and headed to South America. What followed was a year of birding by bicycle and motorbike covering most of the continent, during which time he was able to accumulate a very in-depth knowledge of the region’s birds and wildlife. Clayton is now a full-time Rockjumper Birding Tours leader.
How did you get into birding?
When personal computers arrived in South Africa, I discovered spreadsheets – all I needed was something to list. Just before a family holiday to the eastern lowlands, I picked up an old photographic bird guide on the family bookshelf and found the thing to do just that. The need to twitch has been incurable ever since.
What led you to choose a career in tourism?
I started guiding by chance, taking a few American delegates from the 1998 IOC conference in Durban to my local patch. I was rather blown away at how happy they were at seeing what were rather common birds to me. When my family moved from Durban to a small farming town, there was no option to work at the local museum. I therefore took to safari guiding instead and even a long sabbatical was not enough to keep me from returning to the career I was meant to do.
What are your other hobbies and interests?
Reptiles, and snakes in particular. I enjoy breaking down the barrier of fear regarding snakes as well as capturing and releasing any that find their way into built-up areas. Otherwise, I enjoy most outdoor activities. If am not guiding or birding myself, then I’ll be on a bicycle or running a marathon. I read and write heavily and play more sport than I watch. I have a side interest in cricket statistics.
What do you enjoy most about being on tour?
Different countries and different people. Every time I get off a plane, there is a feeling of intense excitement – new experiences, new things to see, new people to meet.
What are your strengths as a tour leader?
I’ve lived and worked in several different countries and in vastly different fields. This allows me to interact easily and adapt quickly to my clients. I like to be prepared well in advance of my tours, but after much experience in South America and Africa, I have also learnt to think and adapt in real time. I also don’t switch off; I have seen some great birds while waiting at airports, gas stations and border crossings.
Are you a keen bird photographer?
I’m a keen snapper, but nothing approaching dedicated or professional. South American antpittas are the target of my desires. While my photographic success rate is low, the occasional image is well worth the challenge they pose.
Are you a lister; and if so, which lists are your main focus?
I am most definitely a lister, although I have yet to travel much further than an hour for a twitch. I keep on top of my World, South America, Africa, Trip and Year lists.
What are your future goals as a birding tour leader?
Personally, I’d like to see and/or photograph every species of antpitta! In numbers terms, I’d like to get myself over the 8 000 mark, push my South American list close to 3 000 and get my African list over 2 000.
What is your favourite place/country to guide?
South America – Colombia & Peru.
What is your advice to people who want to go to Colombia?
Be prepared to have your senses and body assaulted. A multitude of different habitats and climates are all in a day’s work here. A few weeks ago I left the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta with 19 endemics + numerous near endemics all seen in less than 48 hours. While that was certainly a major highlight, the sheer volume of species can be overwhelming at times. My continuous year of Neotropical birding in Argentina, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador was all that kept me slightly on top of the birds. Colombia is perhaps the only venue that could net over 1,000 species in a month.
While I enjoyed Peru almost as much (and saw many more endemics there), Colombia has a pioneering feel to it. Bird lists are far from complete, with new species being described and added yearly. I’d be willing to bet that many more new species are still to be discovered there.