David Hoddinott has extensive experience leading birding tours throughout Africa, Asia and Madagascar. He is well known in birding circles for his endless energy and legendary bird spotting skills. His zeal for bird guiding has earned him the position as the senior leader at Rockjumper and a reputation as one of the world’s most talented birders.
David Hoddinott is a member of his local branch of BirdLife and sits on the KwaZulu-Natal and South African rarities panels. He has worked as the resident ornithologist at birding lodges in South Africa, Botswana and Ecuador, including an 18-month stint at the world-famous Sacha Lodge, and is now a full-time guide for Rockjumper Birding Tours. In February 2010 David reached 2,000 birds in Africa, which emphasizes his experience, passion and skill in this great continent! He continues to lead tours to all the major birding destinations in Africa including Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Uganda, South Africa, Cameroon, Ghana, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Malawi, Morocco and Tunisia, and seldom visited areas such as Angola, Sierra Leone, Djibouti & Socotra. He aspires to travel to extraordinary places and invites all those intrepid travelers with a sense of adventure to join him on his exciting adventures!
How did you get into birding?
At the age of 7, a friend of my folks set up his hide and photographed some Southern Black Tits that were nesting in our garden at the time. I was totally fascinated by this and have been hooked ever since! Then I met my great friend Adam Riley in 1993, and we did our first trip together to Kalahari Gemsbok NP. I have been travelling the world since that time, having started leading tours for Rockjumper in 2001.
What led you to choose a career in tourism?
I love the outdoors and am a naturalist and conservationist at heart.
What are your other hobbies and interests?
Sport (Rugby, Cricket, Athletics, Tennis and loads more), Running, Cycling, Stamp collecting, Fishing.
What do you enjoy most about being on tour?
Sharing amazing experiences and the wonderful world of birds with enthusiastic people; the sheer adventure of visiting often remote places that I would never otherwise explore; being in the outdoors!
What are your strengths as a tour leader?
Keen eyesight and hearing for starters; my vast experience and knowledge of a great deal of countries and their respective birds and other wildlife; good leadership skills, including patience and persistence (essential for any successful tour leader!).
Are you a keen bird photographer?
Are you a lister and if so, which lists are your main focus?
Any interesting stories or anecdotes from recent tours?
Adam told me way back in 2002 that we needed to do a “recce” (reconnaissance) trip to Ghana, as he had been requested by clients to set up a tour there in order for us to run it for them the following year. This group had toured several countries with Adam and Ghana was apparently their next and most sought-after destination. Adam and I therefore searched for information regarding birding trips to the country. As it was, no-one was offering any at the time and we could only find one very old trip report to Ghana from 1977. So, Adam then asked them again if they were sure that Ghana was where they really wanted to go, as we couldn’t find much information about birding there. They replied with a firm, YES and hence we did our research as best we could, planned an itinerary that included the major national parks, and did the reconnaissance trip, which turned out to be very successful. After returning home, we then set up the itinerary and ensured that all the necessary logistics were in place, after which Adam duly contacted them. They responded by saying: “You won’t believe it, but we actually meant to say The Gambia!” Well, we all just rolled with laughter at that! Fortunately, they then told us that since they knew we had been to a great deal of effort and expense on their behalf, they were quite happy to go to Ghana instead. This is what we subsequently did, and as it turned out it was a fabulous tour, and we have been running successful tours there ever since!
What are your future goals as a birding tour leader?
I am striving to see as many bird species in Africa as possible and to become the most experienced guide on the continent. I particularly enjoy birding in Africa and exploring new destinations; Rockjumper was the first birding tour operator to lead bird watching tours to Ghana, Angola and Sierra Leone, and I would like to continue this trend. I would also like to photograph as many of Africa’s birds as possible.
What is your favourite place/country to guide?
I think if you pushed me, I’d have to say Uganda. I have lead 11 tours to this fantastic birding nation and could easily do another 11! Yet having said that, it’s very difficult to choose only one destination as each country is so different in terms of birds, wildlife, habitats etc.
What is your advice to people who want to go to any specific destination?
Study your field guide before you go! This will give you a huge advantage in being able to find and see the birds much quicker than you would otherwise be able to do, therefore making the trip less frustrating and more enjoyable for you. If travelling with a birding tour operator, have a list of the species you’d really like to see and give this to your guide before the tour. And if travelling with us, then read our excellent pre-departure packs!