Adam Riley and I started talking about the possibility of seeing two thousand species in Africa in the early days of Rockjumper Birding Tours, almost ten years ago. (Adam reached the magical milestone last year, as far as we know, only the third person to achieve the feat). During these years, I have been extremely fortunate to travel to some of the most amazing places on the planet, and especially in Africa, thanks to Rockjumper! This started in earnest in 2002 with “recce” (reconnaissance) trips to Ghana and Uganda between tours of South Africa. Soon I was doing a mammoth five-week tour of Southern Africa, followed by a “recce” trip to Cameroon. In between these tours, we explored further opportunities: next were Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Zambia, Kenya and Tanzania. This snowballed, and others quickly followed: Malawi, Gabon, Sao Tome and Principe, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, our amazing Kenya Mega tour, Socotra & Djibouti, and the remote Eastern Arc Mountains on our Tanzania Mega tour. During this time, I was also fortunate to explore other continents and to lead trips to China, Malaysia & Borneo, Philippines, Northern India and Sri Lanka, Ecuador, Japan, Thailand, Papua New Guinea, Antarctica and the “eighth continent” — Madagascar. So, as you can see, it has been an absolutely incredible journey!
Most recently, I travelled to the Canary Islands and Morocco. My Africa list stood at 1,983 shortly before leaving for this tour. With a group of friends, we enjoyed a remarkably successful trip in the Canaries, wrapping up all the specialities – which included ten new Africa species for me. We started off on the island of Fuertaventura, where we quickly found Berthelot’s Pipit. Shortly after, a superb Canary Islands Stonechat showed very well. The following day we were treated to a magnificent Houbara Bustard in full display, a remarkable sight indeed! A short flight saw us arriving on Tenerife where we soon found Plain Swift, Atlantic Canary singing in a tree in our hotel garden, Canary Islands Chiffchaff and Bolle’s Pigeon. With a little work, we then managed to track down the stunning Blue Chaffinch. Now it was down to finding the island’s most difficult endemic — the Laurel Pigeon. We searched tirelessly at several sites without success, eventually deciding on one last effort at a little gulley where we had seen Bolle’s Pigeon. Whilst searching at the site, a birder stopped to see what we were looking at and proceeded to give us some superb gen (which he had just got off the internet) on where to see Laurel Pigeon. Can you believe our luck and excitement! We quickly raced to the spot, which was about an hours’ drive away, and no sooner had we climbed out the vehicle — there was the pigeon! And not just one, but ten! These we scoped at length, enjoying truly magnificent views. You can just imagine the high-fives going around the group! A belated visit to a local park then produced Monk Parakeet, which meant that I had reached 1,993 species, needing just seven to reach the magical mark.
So, the single digit countdown was now on, and amazingly our first day in Morocco yielded two additional birds, notably Wood Lark and Eurasian Nuthatch in the Middle Atlas Mountains. Now I had just five to go! Travelling further through Morocco, we stopped at the vagrant hotspot of Oued Massa; and, true to its reputation, we picked up an unexpected Ruddy Duck — leaving only four to go. While sea-watching off Tamri later the same day, we then found several Balearic Shearwaters — three to go! It was only now that I believed it possible to get to 2,000 during our time in Morocco. Travelling east to the Sahara, we soon found Scrub Warbler (which had eluded me on previous trips), and only moments later, Maghreb Lark (a recent split of Crested) — oooooh yeahhhhh for the splitters!!! Incredibly, this meant that the following species would be the one to take me to 2,000! Our itinerary then took us to Zeida in search of the elusive Dupont’s Lark… Oh yes, we had to work for it alright! First, it meant a very early departure from our warm beds. On arriving pre-dawn at the site, we were blasted with the freezing cold wind howling off the surrounding snow-capped peaks. We battled through two hours of bitterly cold weather in search of this elusive blighter, but unperturbed, with numb fingers, we finally managed to track him down! We were all elated, but could hardly celebrate as we were so cold. That evening, however, the beers and wine were flowing, and there was much celebrating all around. (Isn’t it funny how we never seem to be content; we reach one milestone and simply move on to the next — human nature perhaps?) I have to say, though, that while the numbers are a real bonus, it’s still these incredible birds that give us so much pleasure. They take us to amazing places where we meet great people from all walks of life and share the most incredible adventures. It’s hard to call my job, work!
So, where to next? Well, there’s always 2100…or Asia…or South America!