Dušan Brinkhuizen is a biologist and Rockjumper leader who resides in Ecuador. He graduated from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands with an MSc specializing in avian research. Dušan has been an avid “Dutch Birder” from a young age.
His studies included projects on extra-pair paternity, breeding systems, evolution of song, speciation and community ecology in countries including Australia, China, Hungary, Zweden and Ecuador. During fieldwork, he got seriously hooked on Neotropical biodiversity and wilderness. Dušan lives in the capital Quito where he has been actively involved in the ornithological community since 2007. Activities apart from leading birdwatching tours include scientific research, bird sound recording and bird photography. Dušan is a member of CERO (Comité Ecuatoriano de Registros Ornitológicos), Ecuador’s rarities committee.
How did you get into birding?
At the age of six, I went biking with my father (an ichthyo-archaeologist by profession but always inspired by the outdoors and nature) where he pointed out a striking blue bird that flew across the path. It was a stunning Common Kingfisher and all the excitement had me instantly hooked! From then on, I spent more hours in the city park looking for new birds than I spent time at home. During our annual family holidays, my uncle Mima, a keen speleologists, brought us to the remotest corners of eastern Serbia to search for my most wanted bird “Sivi Soko”, the Peregrine Falcon. At the age of ten a colleague of my dad’s, Jaap Schelvis, invited us to go birdwatching in the Eemshaven. That day I discovered a drake Blue-winged Teal, a very rare vagrant to the Netherlands, and there was clearly no going back; birding had become my ultimate passion. Soon I hooked up with more local birders including Bert de Bruin (at the time, a member of the Dutch rarities committee) who became one of my birding mentors in the early days.
What led you to choose a career in tourism?
My first introduction to avi-tourism was in Ecuador while I was doing field research in the Mindo area. At the time I frequently ran into tour groups and realized that I could be out birding with them instead of taking birds out of a mist net. Of course I still have a strong interest in scientific research but clearly, tourism is a more direct way of sharing my passion for birds with others. Coupled with the fact that tourism in Ecuador has a strong impact on local conservation, a career in tourism was an inevitable choice.
What are your other hobbies and interests?
In general, I like to travel (but who doesn’t?) and meet interesting people and cultures from all over the world. I also enjoy playing a good game of basketball.
What do you enjoy most about being on tour?
Being outside in nature and the wilderness is a delight. There are so many things to see and learn out there – enjoying nature is simply inexhaustible. I really derive great pleasure from sharing my knowledge and passion with others and aim to inspire as many people as I possibly can. And of course, adding a few “lifers” to my list is very exciting too!
What are your strengths as a tour leader?
Over the years I have gained a lot of experience as a tour leader. Also being a lifetime birder I developed a good understanding of how birding works, which is crucial for understanding clients. With my enthusiasm, I have always been able to create a good group dynamic which is very important to me. My background as a biologist and my expertise in bird photography are things that many clients have appreciated during tours. As a birder, my best skill must be my ability to recognize species by their vocalisations.
Are you a keen bird photographer?
Yes. I have been photographing birds with a telephoto lens since 2000 and my current setup is a Canon 100-400mm with a 70D body. If the situation permits I like to snap a few shots during a tour but any great bird image taken is a bonus. Some of my work can be seen on www.sapayoa.com.
Are you a lister?
Yes. Although numbers are usually not that important to me I do like to keep detailed track of all the species and taxa that I see. My current Ecuador list stands on 1521 species (IOC taxonomy), which is quite a lot for that country. I have to admit I did do some twitching in-country. A team of friends and I recently broke the world record for a Big Day in birding with 431 species in 24-hours. A little competition is just part of the game! I also like to keep track of current taxonomic changes (although I do not always agree with new splits or lumps).
What are your future goals as a tour leader?
One of my main goals is to popularize birding and inspire as many people as I can to travel so we can continue to protect more habitats around the world. Furthermore, I would like to improve my skills as a tour leader and expand my knowledge of birds throughout the world.
What is your favourite country to guide in?
What is your advice to people who are interested in going on a birding tour?
Go out birding as much as you can! Birding keeps you fit and it’s great fun! Furthermore, it’s a fantastic way to support conservation.