Glen Valentine grew up in South Africa’s Gauteng province where his unquestionable passion for birds and wildlife began at an extremely early age. His interest mounted as he explored every corner of Southern Africa with his family and at the age of 19, broke his brother, Keith’s record of becoming the youngest person to have seen 850 species of birds in the Southern African sub-region (Keith is also a full-time Rockjumper guide). Glen has been guiding full-time for Rockjumper in remote corners of Africa, Asia, Australasia, Madagascar and Brazil for more than a decade and has thus built an extensive knowledge of the birds and natural history of those regions. Glen also holds to his name a bachelor of commerce degree in accounting sciences from the University of South Africa. His exceptional birding skills and personable nature coupled with his extreme levels of enthusiasm will ensure a fantastic and memorable tour with Glen.
How did you get into birding?
I began birding at an extremely young age when my parents took up the hobby in 1989. I was four at the time. At first, we undertook “normal” family holidays that included some casual birding while enjoying the usual beach, hiking, general wildlife and site-seeing holidays. As my brother and I grew older we became increasingly interested in birds and by the time I was twelve (when we did our first family trip out of South Africa to Zimbabwe) I would say that “the bug had bit” and my growing interest soon became obsessive. Since then my passion for birding and my enjoyment of this wonderful and extremely rewarding hobby has increased even further and has resulted in me being able to guide for Rockjumper and explore the world for more than a decade, while enjoying the wealth of magical birds that the continents of Africa, Asia and Australasia have to offer.
What led you to choose a career in tourism?
After finishing my undergraduate degree in Accounting Sciences, I fell into guiding and the tourism industry quite unexpectedly when I was offered a guiding job with Rockjumper Birding Tours. I never expected to work in the tourism industry but I’ve never looked back since getting into it eleven years ago.
What are your other hobbies and interests?
I enjoy playing the guitar, playing tennis and cricket, writing and composing songs, gardening and photography. I also love hiking/trekking/bushwalking and camping in the outdoors.
What do you enjoy most about being on tour?
I really enjoy meeting new people and travelling again with friends that I’ve made on previous tours. I love experiencing nature and the many amazing wildernesses that the world has to offer and which we are very fortunate to experience on our tours. Obviously I also really enjoy seeing new places, birds and mammals, but it is also wonderful to go back to destinations that I’ve visited previously and to re-experience the great variety and diversity of wildlife that I’ve already seen and am familiar with. One of my biggest loves on tour is trying to see as many species of birds and mammals as I can and trying to break previous Rockjumper records when the opportunity arises!
What are your strengths as a tour leader?
I think my immense patience is one of my best traits. There are very few people out there that can rile me or irritate me. I have a huge tolerance and acceptance for all types of people and every kind of birder and their birding capabilities. Another of my best strengths is to easily adapt a tour according to the make-up and intensity of a particular group, being able to bird intensely and break records with hardcore birding groups, and to relax and show people an all-round good time with a less intense group of birders. I also love socializing with guests, am personable, kind, understanding, caring and passionate.
Are you a keen bird photographer?
I am quite a keen photographer and enjoy squeezing off a few shots when the opportunity arises. It’s always nice getting a good shot of a really great bird or animal, but it’s often difficult to incorporate photography with leading a birding tour.
Are you a lister; and if so, which lists are your main focus?
I am a lister! Lists keep it all exciting and a challenge. I keep the following lists of birds that I’ve seen and the following lists are my main focus: My world, Africa, Southern Africa, Madagascar, Asia, Australasia, New Guinea, Australia, bird family and Photographic bird lists, as well as a world mammal list. I don’t take any of them too seriously though and find it all just good fun, but I do enjoy seeing new birds and watching the tallies rise.
Any interesting stories or anecdotes from recent tours?
On a tour to Malawi one December, we were birding in the Liwonde National Park in the Lower Shire River Valley. December is summer in Malawi and this part of the world becomes extremely hot and humid during this time of year. However, with the heat, humidity and rain, comes one of the world’s most beautiful, elusive and enigmatic birds, the African Pitta. For several reasons, Pittas are one of those families that birders really want to see as every species of Pitta is extremely vibrantly-coloured and is generally rare and difficult to see. The African Pitta fits this category perfectly and remains one of the toughest of all the world’s Pittas to see. So there we were in Liwonde, with no real thought of seeing an African Pitta as, despite Malawi falling flat bang in the centre of the species’ breeding range, there are very few records of the species for the country. The birding was excellent that morning and we were picking up all the specialties of the reserve such as Brown-breasted Barbet, Livingstone’s Flycatcher, Lillian’s Lovebird, Racket-tailed Roller, Speckle-throated Woodpecker, Collared Palm Thrush and Boehm’s Bee-eater to mention just a few, and really just enjoying the birding and being in this fabulous reserve, when suddenly the obvious and familiar call of an African Pitta resonated from an area of thick riparian vegetation to the left of the road. There was, however, one major problem! The area where the Pitta was calling from was within the confines of a Black Rhinoceros Sanctuary that was cordoned off with massive, three-meter high elephant-fencing! As Those of you who are aware…most African national parks/reserves strictly prohibit one exiting one’s vehicle unless at a specially proclaimed camp, lookout or picnic facility due to the presence of wild, dangerous animals such as Elephant, Rhino, Buffalo and Lion. We, nonetheless, were desperate to see this near-mythical species and so we hopped out of the vehicle (there appeared to be no-one around) and began strolling up and down the section of the road adjacent to where the bird was calling from, hoping to perhaps obtain a view of it through the high fence. We were so engrossed in trying to see the Pitta that we had lost all care about being out of our vehicle and were startled when suddenly an armed ranger appeared from nowhere on his bicycle and wanted to know what we were doing outside of our car. We were extremely apologetic and embarrassed, and I duly explained that we were just looking to see if we could find a very special bird called an African Pitta. I explained to the ranger that the bird was calling on the other side of the huge fence (I pointed out the call to him) and showed him an illustration of the bird in the field guide. He seemed very curious and the whole scenario interested him greatly. He was then blown away by the colours of the bird as illustrated in the field guide and animatedly proclaimed, “That is the most beautiful bird I’ve ever seen! I want to see this bird!” I was shocked at his response and almost fell over when he suggested that we all crawl underneath a hole that he knew of in the huge Elephant-fence separating us from the Rhino Sanctuary from where the Pitta was calling. Still blown away by his offer, we followed the ranger as he led the way and within minutes we were witnessing one of nature’s most spectacular sightings – the calling display of the African Pitta! We were absolutely thrilled, to say the least, as was the ranger, and we happily gave the gentleman a nice tip to show our appreciation for his understanding and eagerness to show us the bird. What an amazing and unforgettable experience indeed!
What are your future goals as a birding tour leader?
I’d really like to see 7000 species of birds and 500 species of mammals during my career of guiding, with specific African and Asian goals of 2000 species for each continent. I’d also like to photograph 4000 species of birds and visit all seven continents!
What is your favourite place/country to guide?
In Africa, anywhere in East Africa, particularly Ethiopia but also Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda; and in Asia, Bhutan with Thailand and Malaysia/Borneo a close second and third.
What is your advice to people who want to go to Ethiopia?
For anyone who loves wildlife, the Ethiopian outdoors and wilderness is the perfect destination! I’ve never birded anywhere that has more birds (in sheer quantity) than this amazing country! The numbers of birds throughout the nation is truly staggering and Ethiopia hosts a wealth of great mammals too, including the endangered Ethiopian Wolf and truly impressive Gelada Baboon. The country also has the second highest number of endemic birds in all of Africa (second only to South Africa), making it an essential birding destination. However, having said all this, one does need to approach the country with an open mind as some of the accommodations are fairly basic and are certainly not what one may be accustomed to in the “western world”. Ethiopia is a “developing” country and therefore the infrastructure is not yet up to the standard that one may be used to back home. One is also exposed to several interesting and rather diverse cultures, and witnessing an eight-year-old Afar tribe’s boy strolling around the desert plains of the Awash area of north-eastern Ethiopia in a white robe, AK47 assault rifle slung over his shoulder, and a cleaver hanging from his waist that is nearly the size of his arm, is indeed a sight to behold! There is no need to be alarmed though as all these weapons are just for show and “part of their culture”. The Ethiopian people (especially in the highlands) are extremely friendly and the country remains one of the safest on earth. An open mind and a sense of adventure and humour will go a long way to enjoying the country and its amazing natural history, and I have no doubt that anyone with this attitude will rank Ethiopia as one of the world’s most enjoyable and best birding destinations! I cannot recommend and praise our Ethiopian Endemics tour enough!