Erik Forsyth originally hails from Scotland but lived in South Africa for thirty years, during which he became one of Africa’s most experienced birders. He now lives in New Zealand with his family, where, soon after arriving, he discovered a new bird for the country and is again fast becoming one of the nation’s top bird watchers. His expertise is backed up by a three-year Nature Conservation Qualification, as well as several years of hands-on conservation experience at various National and Regional game reserves in South Africa. Erik mainly guides in Asia and Australasia.
How did you get into birding?
When I was a youngster living in Scotland, I would often watch birds in the garden or nearby woods. We then immigrated to South Africa and, when I was about 18, I went on my first bird outing with the Witwatersrand Bird Club, seeing about 70 species on the day. The defining moment, though, was when we were standing under some acacia trees near the camp when a pair of stunningly beautiful Crimson-breasted Shrikes appeared and started duetting right in front of me. Needless to say, I was totally hooked for life!
What led you to choose a career in tourism?
Having a passion for the outdoors and all wildlife, it was a natural progression for me to become a Nature Conservation Officer with the KZN Wildlife Organization, where I was a guide, and then an eco-tourism manager in Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve. Here my time was devoted to showing people the diverse wildlife and amazing reserve that I worked in. Joining Rockjumper Birding Tours thereafter, I am now able to meet many fellow birders and show them beautiful birds in far-off and exotic locations.
What are your other hobbies and interests?
I am very keen on sports and watch cricket, rugby and football. My other interests are helping with census and survey work (birdwatching of course!) for bird organisations.
What do you enjoy most about being on tour?
The excitement that follows from having the whole group see the birds well is very satisfying and rewarding; catching up with clients from previous tours; seeing new birds.
What are your strengths as a tour leader?
Knowledge of the areas we visit and of the identity and calls of their respective birds; being very flexible, patient and compassionate; remaining unflappable when difficult situations arise; and, of course, having a good laugh with the clients whenever the opportunity arises!
Are you a keen bird photographer?
I am, but don’t have the right camera!
Are you a lister and if so, which lists are your main focus?
My Papua New Guinea and Asian lists are definite focuses of mine. I have a healthy African list which was last at 1780.
Any interesting stories or anecdotes from recent tours?
While birding in Papua New Guinea in 2011, I was telling the group that we would be very lucky to even catch a mere glimpse of the mythical Shovel-billed Kookaburra, only for a bird to then land on a stump 3m from us right in the open! That became a bit of a poor excuse for shy birds thereafter! On another occasion, while looking for South Island Brown Kiwi with two clients, I was tapped on the shoulder and heard the words, “Look behind us.” Turning around, we were surprised (and very pleased) to see that a kiwi was in fact following us, and then even forced us off the trail so that it could get past!
What are your future goals as a birding tour leader?
To gain more experience in Asian birds and to lead tours to China and Japan.
What is your favourite place/country to guide?
Ethiopia is my favourite African destination; I love birding with groups there. Papua New Guinea is fast becoming a home from home, with a range of some of the most beautiful birds in the world. One can quite simply never get used to the stunning beauty that the Birds-of-paradise have to offer!
India, however, is still my all-time favourite, with its superlative mixture of big game, diverse range of birds, cultural beauty in terms of temples and palaces, very hospitable people and, of course, the magnificent Bengal Tiger!
What is your advice to people who want to go to….?
Papua New Guinea: be prepared for an amazing adventure to a remote part of the world, where exotic looking birds display in the largest natural untouched forests!
Philippines: visit soon as these wonderful birds are disappearing fast due to an expanding population and shrinking forests. It’s getting harder and harder to find some of the more widespread species!