Keith Valentine developed his interest in the outdoors and birding at an extremely young age. After completing a Degree in Financial Management, Keith decided to follow his dream and become a bird tour leader. Keith guides for Rockjumper throughout the world and has an in-depth knowledge of our planet’s birds and wildlife. He has a particular passion for birding the rainforests of Africa and Asia.
Keith Valentine hails from Johannesburg, South Africa, where his interest in the outdoors, wildlife and especially African birds developed while he was still very young. Keith has always had a passion for adventure and while he was growing up spent more time away from the metropolis than within. Keith has through time in the field acquired extensive and specialist knowledge of the birds, mammals and overall ecology of many diverse regions throughout Africa, Asia and Madagascar. At 21 years of age, Keith became the youngest person to have ever seen 850 birds in the Southern African sub-region. His expertise has been gained through numerous field trips, where he has observed and studied birds and other wildlife and their behavior in depth. As well as researching the birds and wildlife of Africa, he holds a Bachelor of Commerce Degree in Financial Management from the University of South Africa. Keith spends most of his time guiding tours throughout Africa, Asia and Madagascar for Rockjumper Birding Tours. Keith has a wholehearted excitement for wildlife and birds and gains immense enjoyment from sharing these experiences whilst on tour.
How did you get into birding?
My parents were and still are extremely interested in the natural world and both Glen and I got exposed to so many parts of South Africa at a very young age. They always enjoyed visiting game reserves and hiking in wild areas where you just cannot help but see birds. I really got into listing at a very young age and have been actively keeping lists of everything seen since the age of 6. For me it was fun to go to these areas and see new birds but my initial attraction to birding was, in essence, the listing and the possibility of going out with the family and breaking last weekends day record set for Nylsvlei or the record set on our previous family holiday to Kruger National Park.
What led you to choose a career in tourism?
Two chaps named David Hoddinott and Adam Riley. At university, I studied Financial Management and always new that I wanted to travel the globe birding. I always pictured myself in the corporate world and birding internationally in my vacation time. Then I met David and Adam and heard about what they were doing with Rockjumper and that really started the wheel in my mind turning.
What are your other hobbies and interests?
Family has always been a big thing for me so I enjoy spending time with them and doing things together. I love going on holiday with them both locally and internationally and it doesn’t always need to be for birding! Photography is another passion of mine and time spent getting a really great shot is something I find extremely rewarding. I also really enjoy playing the guitar and writing my own music while I have a passion for sport (cricket, soccer and rugby) as well. Cooking is another one of my great passions and I find chopping away in the kitchen surrounded by developing flavors incredibly relaxing and enjoyable. I like cooking a wide variety of foods but I would say that 75% of my cooking tends to draw from a blend of South-east Asian and Indian. I have a weakness for spices!
What do you enjoy most about being on tour?
The exotic places you get to see and often even live in for a while. My mind jumps to places like Korup National Park, home of the amazing Grey-necked Rockfowl. I have been fortunate to spend many nights camping in the middle of this forest all because this bird lives here. That for me is incredible!
What are your strengths as a tour leader?
I am very calm and relaxed, confident and assured which all help when dealing with the odd interesting situation or just general logistics. I also know the birds intimately that we search for on tour and I am strong on calls and general identification as well. I also love the idea of breaking records and I find if you aim big you generally succeed! There is good, healthy, strong competition at Rockjumper and we all feed off each other in many ways.
Are you a keen bird photographer?
I love bird photography and keep lists of all the birds I have photographed and where I have photographed them as well.
Are you a lister and if so which lists are your main focus?
I have to admit I am a listing nut and actively keep lists for reserves, provinces, every country I have visited, year lists, continent lists and of course a world list. I couldn’t really say that one particular list is more important than another. For me, it is just finding sheer volumes of birds and then filling them in under all the applicable lists. Great fun!
Any interesting stories or anecdotes from recent tours?
I have a number actually but they all are pretty embarrassing for clients, so not quite sure if they are ok for this medium. Some are really funny!
What are your future goals as a birding tour leader?
To keep promoting the countries we guide and operate in. The places we get to visit as tour leaders are incredible and we are exposed to so much that I feel it is really important to make as many people aware as possible about the remarkable places they could potentially visit. I feel strongly about protecting what little wild areas we have left and believe that through birding tourism we can play an important role in helping preserve these areas that we all love so much.
What is your favourite place/country to guide?
I am from Africa, I grew up birding in Africa and love Africa but for me, there is something very exotic about birding out of Africa and I would say that my favourite countries to guide in would be the Indian subcontinent, Thailand, Peninsular Malaysia and Borneo. I love forests and all four of these regions have excellent lowland and montane forests to bird. The food is also very good and is a real attraction for me.
What is your advice to people who want to go on a birding tour?
Relax and enjoy the surroundings, take it all in, as much as you can, birding is meant to be fun.
“There are just not enough superlatives in the English language to describe the superb birding/holiday experience that we just completed with Keith Valentine. His birding skills are legendary and well known in Southern Africa, and he is well on his way to joining the elite group of birding guides known throughout the International birding community. Our recent month long custom tour with Keith provided us our best holiday experience in over 35 years of world travels to over 80 countries. I’ve had the pleasure to bird on 6 continents with many of each country’s top birding guides. Keith would match skills with any of them. His knowledge of the birds, their vocalizations and seasonal habitat preferences are astoundingly keen. He assured fantastic views of all, but the most difficult skulkers, providing outstanding photographic opportunities in addition to the enjoyment and study of the birds seen. He was also competent in identifying all the mammals, trees and flowers, and then providing interesting tidbits of information, making the experience even more memorable. And, if this wasn’t enough, he’s a great travel leader and companion. All of our personal needs were attended to caringly, promptly and efficiently. His keen sense of humor was always a delight. Add to this his glowing enthusiasm for each bird seen and you can understand our great pleasure with this trip.”
Tom & Edie Schall
North Padre Island, Texas
“I had the pleasure of meeting Keith as our guide for Rockjumper’s Eastern South Africa tour in November 2005. Keith has extensive knowledge of South Africa’s birds and was very helpful in pointing out the finer points of difficult identifications, both visual and vocal. Most importantly, he always did this with his usual cheerful attitude. I thoroughly enjoyed his company and the birding experience and would love to go birding with him again.”
Hicksville, New York
During Oct 19 to Nov. 6 2010, I participated in the Eastern South Africa and Western Cape Extension tour. It is the ultimate tour if you are birding for the first time in the African continent. The diversity of birds is over-whelming and unlike birding in the tropical Americas, the birds are easy to see! I personally added 419 lifers! The pace of the tour was ideal. Accommodations were top-notch and the meals wonderful. Keith Valentine is an unsurpassed tour leader. Extremely knowledgeable yet very laid back, approachable and quick to laugh. I have been on many organized bird tours but none come close to the standards set by Rockjumper on this tour. The bar has been raised!
St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada