David hails from the historic town of Lund in southernmost Sweden, where his fascination with birds dates back as long as he can remember. He is a passionate birder who loves sharing his encyclopaedic knowledge and unbounded enthusiasm with others; in his words, he is “a natural born bird guide”, as well as one of the best-known and most respected birders in Sweden.
Since 2006, David has been one of six members of the Swedish Rarities Committee, assessing records of vagrant birds from all over the country. He has published several papers in Swedish birding magazines on field identification and is also very active in writing about field identification and occurrences on different forums and mailing lists. For a total of five seasons, he has worked as assistant migration counter on the world famous Falsterbo Peninsula for the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, and within the Swedish National Environmental Monitoring Programme which dates back to the mid-1970s.
How did you get into birding?
According to my parents, I first started to watch birds at the tender age of five during family holidays, and soon became very keen. I vaguely recall an episode back in 1985 (aged six) when I took care of a European Nuthatch that had flown into a window. I also remember watching the garden birds and studying bird books before primary school. My interest grew even bigger when I joined the scouts and met an enthusiastic and award-winning leader. In the following years, we explored the birds and nature of Scania (my home province in Sweden), spending early mornings on bogs with displaying Black Grouse and canoeing on the rivers, enjoying its rich landscape of wetlands, lakes and forests. I soon joined my local birding club and became acquainted with older and more experienced birders. Once I met legendary birder Anders Jönsson, who introduced me to the spectacular annual autumn migration along the coasts of Scania, including the world famous migration over the Falsterbo Peninsula, I gradually became hooked on more advanced birding. In addition, I soon started to twitch vagrants all over Sweden (my Swedish list currently consists of 430 species out of a Swedish total of just over 500 recorded). Over the years, my interest then reached an even more advanced level as my field experience grew and from reading literature, as well as from my growing network among Sweden’s leading birders.
What led you to choose a career in tourism?
In 2009, I fell into guiding and the tourism industry quite unexpectedly when I was offered a guiding job with Scanbird Bird and Wildlife Tours, a company based in Malmö which was my hometown at that time. It wasn’t a full-time job but it gave me the opportunity to lead a handful of tours every year across southern Sweden as well as in Denmark and southern Europe. Then in May-June 2011, all of a sudden I was the local guide on Rockjumper’s inaugural Scandinavia Tour, and the Rockjumper tour leader was none other than David Hoddinott. And, well, the rest is history…
What are your other hobbies and interests?
Since my bird interest is quite wide and spans fields such as field identification, migration and occurrences, evolution, taxonomy, vocalization etc., it’s certainly very time-consuming, seeing also that it’s now my full-time job. I’m interested in natural history in general as well as in popular science and world politics to some extent. I’m always trying to gain as much information as I can before arriving in a new country as well as during my stay. I also like to listen to all kinds of music, especially getting exposed to local traditional music in various countries, which can be very interesting.
What do you enjoy most about being on tour?
To explore new destinations and to see the country and its wildlife through the eyes of the participants, and to gain ever more experience in all kind of fields. Aside from meeting new participants all the time from all walks of life, I also greatly enjoy meeting the local people and ground agents and learning from them about their country and its wildlife.
What are your strengths as a tour leader?
I think my best features are my good people skills, with a huge tolerance and acceptance for all kinds of people; that I’m fast in spotting and identifying birds; and my good general knowledge during a tour. I’ve heard several times from people that they have been very impressed with my ability to quickly put something in the scope, including under tough conditions such as in a dense and tall rainforest. Birds can move very fast and usually every second is important, especially if you are with many people in a group. To listen and learn about all kinds of bird vocalizations is to me a very fascinating subject and a great challenge. I think I have a good “music ear” and can feel that I often learn nuances and rhythms remarkably fast. I am a rapid learner when it comes to exploring new destinations and its wildlife, especially when being there and absorbing all kinds of information in real life. Even if it may sound like a cliché, I can say, from the bottom of my heart, that I’m happy only when my group is happy, and I always strive to ensure that everyone’s having a good time, and getting satisfactory views of everything we see. I firmly believe that it’s twice as much fun to share what you see with someone, compared with seeing it only yourself.
Are you a keen bird photographer?
I would lie if I say I’m not, but at the same time, I’m primarily interested in obtaining good record shots of interesting species/subspecies rather than getting a good shot from an artistic point of view. If I must choose between getting a good shot of, let’s say, a Racket-tailed Roller and a Sokoke Pipit, I’d rather choose the latter, simply because it’s a pipit and something I find more interesting and can better relate to as a Palearctic birder. :-)
Are you a lister and if so, which lists are your main focus?
I was more of a lister back in the days, and started to keep a country list for Sweden as well as Scania (my home province) many years ago. My first long distance twitch in Sweden was an adult Ross’s Gull (truly one of those dream birds!), which had settled in a Black-headed Gull colony at one of the birdy reed lakes up north in Sweden, some 400 kilometres driving distance from my home. I was then aged 16, and during the coming years, I connected with older and extremely keen twitchers, who took me on long twitches nationwide. Later on, my interest for listing gradually faded, even though I still find it worthy of sustaining my local Scania list (I think I’m still among the top 15 people with that particular list). So far I haven’t been counting my world list, and honestly, I think it’s more interesting to learn and study the birds rather than just ticking them off.
Any interesting stories or anecdotes from recent tours?
At the time of writing, nothing that really comes to mind from any of my past Rockjumper tours. However, a few years before I joined Rockjumper, I got the opportunity (in 2010) to participate in a Spoon-billed Sandpiper expedition to the autonomous province of Chukotka in the inaccessible and remote Russian Far East, just opposite Alaska within the so called ”Beringia biome”. Together with two Swedish and one Danish friend, I was away for one and a half months, from late May to mid-July. It turned out to be a true and extraordinary adventure, encompassing a 250 km flight with an old Russian MI-8 helicopter, several long rides of many hours with tracked vehicles out in the wilderness, boat rides on rivers with brown bears watching us from the nearby riverbanks, exploring vast river deltas on foot, and criss-crossing on foot through knee-deep tundra marshes etc. Our very first ride with the tracked vehicle was probably the most memorable one. Leaving in the morning, we were heading for a huge coastal spit, consisting of a dry tundra next to a river mouth, which was the prime breeding habitat for the Spoon-billed Sandpiper. Even though our Russian driver was extremely competent (had been driving these vehicles for 20 years!), it took us nearly 8 hours to move some 70 kms! On the way, we passed an abandoned and spooky army camp from the Soviet era out in the middle of nowhere; we swam with the vehicle across huge rivers; we crossed through deep willow jungles and marshes and over vast expanses of desolate and trackless tundra. Eventually, we reached our destination and I don’t think I’ve ever felt that sore when opening the back door and touching the ground with my feet. Imagine the feeling of having been inside a tumble drier listening to a jet engine and inhaling diesel fumes for a whole day..! However, we soon realized we had reached one of earth’s most magical places. We found ourselves standing on the shore of the Bering Sea, which was still predominantly covered by pack-ice by mid-June, and the silence was simply resounding – just the wind and the occasional whoop from a distant Yellow-billed Loon. King and Steller’s Eiders and Emperor Geese were feeding in the tundra pools, alongside very confiding and beautiful Red Phalaropes, and the occasional Aleutian Tern flew by. And then, when we least expected it, we heard the buzzing call of a Spoon-billed Sandpiper! A mere few seconds later we found ourselves watching a stunning male feeding just a few metres away!!! The whole experience was simply mind-blowing: the preceding ride to reach this remote place, the entire scenery and the spectacular wildlife in the area. We also had several close encounters with Brown Bears and at midnight, just before going to sleep in our tents, a Grey Wolf suddenly appeared and watched us for some minutes from just a few hundred metres away!
What are your future goals as a birding tour leader?
To improve my guiding skills. Also, to as quickly and efficiently as possible provide accurate directions (and in my case, in the English language as well!) when pointing out a bird for the group, is a critical feature and probably the most challenging ”technically”, and certainly something I need to practice as much as possible.
What is your favourite place/country to guide?
Since I started at Rockjumper in late June 2013, I’ve had the opportunity to guide in Madagascar, Ghana, Ethiopia, Mongolia, South Africa, India and Sri Lanka. They all have their own charm, but so far, I think there’s one country that made a special impression on me, namely Mongolia. I’ve always been fascinated with remote and desolate places, and I think it adds a little extra if you can combine extraordinary birding with a genuine nature experience in pristine wilderness. Mongolia has it all, as I see it.
What is your advice to people who want to go to Mongolia?
Be prepared to experience one of the most remarkable countries on earth, which offers an exciting array of specialized birds, encompassing a mixture from Siberia and Central Asia. Mongolia is a land characterized by vast and mesmerizing natural beauty, and with a very fascinating culture and music as well as interesting food. Try and absorb as much as you can of the endless steppes, the mystical deserts and the fabulous mountains with their vast taiga forests coming down from Siberia. Birding is easy, with relatively few species and open country birding most of the time. The local ground agent will make everything possible to provide the best camping facilities, and the meals they prepare out in the field are just remarkable, even in the most remote and desolate areas on the journey!