Daniel Danckwerts grew up in southern Zambia where, from a very young age, he gained a strong appreciation for all things wild. His weekends were spent wandering through dambos and in miombo woodland, always in hot pursuit of the next lifer, or otherwise trying to persuade his family to join him on more distant trips further afield. From the age of about 9, Daniel was already an enthusiastic birdwatcher but, at the age of 10, he moved to South Africa to attend a boarding school. This move presented him with a smorgasbord of new potential lifers and opportunities for travel.
Daniel’s childhood passion for birds ignited a spark that led him to pursue an academic career, studying the feathered creatures he had so fallen in love with. After finishing his BSc, Honours, and Masters Degrees in Zoology at Rhodes University, Daniel completed his PhD – his greatest achievement to date – which centred around the population structure of tropical seabirds in the Indian Ocean. This research has critically influenced the conservation of several threatened species and has spring-boarded many future research projects.
As one of his greatest pleasures in life is sharing his passion and knowledge of birds with anyone who is willing to listen, it seemed almost natural that Daniel has progressed into bird guiding.
What got you into birding?
Family excursions during my school holidays were always centred around fishing on Lake Kariba or along the Zambezi River. When it became apparent that I lacked any interest whatsoever in the sport, I was given my first field guide as a form of distraction to allow for more peaceful fishing trips. At the time, my parents were completely oblivious to the monster that they had just created. It was in that moment that “Dan the Bird Man” was born and, much to my parents’ dismay, family holidays soon became centred around birding with some time spent fishing if and when time allowed.
What attracted you to a career in tourism?
The area in which I grew up is famed for Zambia’s only true endemic bird – the Chaplin’s Barbet. Thus, while at home in-between school terms, I regularly led visiting groups in search of this localised treat! Then, sometime during my university career, I founded Eastern Cape Pelagic Seabirding Tours, where I personally organised and led small group excursions out to sea in search of the ‘ocean giants’. I have found these experiences incredibly rewarding, and I’m truly excited at the prospect of building a career around that which I love the most.
Do you have any other hobbies?
Before I joined the team, I was fortunate enough to travel extensively for both pleasure and study. These opportunities fed a passion for wildlife and landscape photography. I believe this is yet another way in which I can share my experiences with others.
Are you a lister?
To me, listing and birding are synonymous with one another. For almost as long as I can remember, I have kept lists for the family farm in Zambia, for each province in South Africa, and for the various countries I have been fortunate enough to visit.
What are your strengths as a tour leader?
Being the youngest member of the Rockjumper team, I am incredibly enthusiastic and energetic. I take great pleasure in sharing my knowledge of birds with others and also prize myself in my ability to relate to people of all ages. I am also extremely persistent when it comes to birding and will not easily give up on a target or until every person in the group has attained satisfactory views. I believe these, and other, traits are invaluable when it comes to guiding.