American Birding Podcast



Gujarat, Take 2

6a00e5505da11788340134899ef480970c-250wiIn late November of 2010, I traveled to the Indian state of Gujarat for an event billed as the Global Bird Watchers’ Conference (GBWC). I had a great time at the GBWC, and I said as much in a post to The ABA Blog. Hundreds of folks attended the 2010 GBWC, and I counted it a privilege to make the acquaintance of dozens of them. One person who particularly impressed me was Uttej Rao, the impresario, for want of a better word, of the GBWC. Uttej is one of those people who accomplishes more in a week than most of us do during the course of a month. The GBWC was wonderful, as I’ve just said, and I assumed at the time that Uttej must have been very proud of what he had pulled off. I also assumed that Uttej probably wouldn’t leap at the next opportunity to cater to every whim and perceived need of some 500 birders all gathered together in the same place at the same time.

I was wrong.

Copy of gbwc_2012_logoThe second Global Bird Watchers’ Conference (let’s call it GBWC–2) wrapped up late last month, Uttej Rao again served as de facto impresario of the Gujarat-based event, and I again was honored to attend as a delegate. As I was preparing for GBWC–2, I had an obvious question: How would the event differ from the inaugural event back in late 2010?

Well, the birding was a bit different. In 2010, I saw lots of Crab Plovers and Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse but no Pheasant-tailed Jacanas and Small Pratincoles; in 2012, my fortunes were precisely the opposite. In 2012, I dipped on Laggar Falcon, which I had seen in 2010; but in 2012 I saw several Steppe Eagles, which I had missed in 2010. On the whole, though, I would have to say that both GBWCs presented delegates with similarly wonderful birding experiences: plentiful Paddyfield Pipits and Clamorous Reed Warblers both times, gaudy Green Bee-eaters and Indian Rollers along every roadside, and Sarus Cranes and Painted Storks in gratifying plenitude. Gujarat’s state list—oh, yes, they do that in India too!—exceeds 500 species, and both GBWCs showcased the state’s diverse avifauna.

But what about the actual events themselves? Did they differ one from the other? Yes, I think so. And in an interesting and important way.

Pied KingfisherI sensed that GBWC–1 was focused primarily on getting Gujarat on birders’ radar screens. Mission accomplished. The delegates at that event were, by and large, what you and I would recognize as birders, and serious birders at that: folks with fancy optics and long life lists, folks with extensive knowledge of flight calls and primary formulae. I think I can honestly say that we birders were impressed by the Gujarati avifauna, and I hope we’ve succeeded in communicating to other birders that the state is well worth the visit. (Right: The Pied Kingfisher is one of more than 500 species documented to have occured in the Indian state of Gujarat. Photo by © Saleel Tambe–

The delegates to GBWC–2, in contrast, were not, on the whole, what you and I would recognize as birders, at least not as serious birders. Instead, the delegates were drawn from a much wider pool of travel and tourism professionals. My take is that the vision of GBWC–2 was importantly expanded in scope and ambition. If GBWC–1 set out to make a case to birders, then GBWC–2’s objective was to demonstrate the viability of birding as a significant opportunity for the much broader tourism industry.


Here in North America, birding events are all the rage. Every North American state and province, it seems, puts on an annual field ornithologists’ convention. Myriad small towns—and some not-so-small cities—host birding festivals. Major birding symposia attract birders and vendors from all over. You get the picture.

What are some of the considerations that go into planning such events? In particular, what sorts of people do we give consideration to? I myself have been involved in the planning for a number of birding events, and I can tell you that all sorts of people enter into the equation: the evening speaker or speakers, of course; the workshop and field trip leaders; vendors, authors, and panelists for “stump the chumps”; the folks at the registration table; the all-important bus and van drivers; the emcee for the event; award recipients and other special guests. It just goes and on and on.

07gbwc2012-L Alain PascuaBut what about the media? Speaking from my own experiences, I can say that media representatives—travel writers with the newspaper, for example, or television reporters—tend to be an afterthought. If they seek us out, great. But how often do we go looking for them? Speaking again from my own perspective, I can say that I’ve put a lot of time and energy over the years into procuring big-name keynote speakers, top-flight field trip leaders, and responsible registration-table volunteers; conversely, I haven’t gone overboard with phone calls and other inquiries to folks with the media. (Above: Various means of transportation were employed by delegates to GBWC-2010. Photo by © Alain Pascua–

Why? Why is that? Is it because of the perception of little ROI, or “return on investment”? I mean, a famous keynote speaker practically guarantees high turnout; brilliant field trip leaders translate into high rates of customer satisfaction; and competent folks at the registration table make all the difference in the world. In all of those examples, the ROI is obvious: It pays, figuratively and even literally, to get good speakers, leaders, and volunteers.

But what’s the ROI for reaching out to the media? What’s the ROI for making overtures to writers and reporters with broad interests in travel and tourism?

I can think of two reasons for reaching out to the broader media.

The first reason is frankly mercenary. We birders could benefit from a little more—make that a lot more—mainstream media reportage. All things considered, it’s good to get exposure in newspapers and magazines, on television and the radio, etc. Media coverage of birding ought to translate into more public interest, better funding, and more resources for birding and for birders’ causes. True, a spot on the evening news probably isn’t going to cause a great bird to show up at the Podunk Prairie-Chicken Festival. But that coverage might well reap benefits—real, tangible benefits—a year or two down the line.

I said there were two reasons.

And the second reason, I have to say, is one that I’ve been slow to appreciate. Probably, I don’t yet fully appreciate its importance. But events like the 2012 Global Bird Watchers’ Conference are changing the way I think about birders and birding. In a nutshell, I’m coming to appreciate that there’s great value to be gotten from serious consideration of how everybody else relates to birding. Those non-birders and quasi-birders have perspective and insights that we birders lack. They have a grasp of issues and currents that we insiders often neglect. In certain key respects, they see the forest where we see only the trees.


Check out the following specimens of reportage from GBWC–2. The authors are not the sorts of folks who would ordinarily write for The ABA Blog or Birding magazine. Don’t be fooled by that. Don’t get freaked out by the lower-case bird names. (Um, they’re right and we’re wrong; I’ll blog about that some other day.) And don’t worry if some minor ornithological factoid was slightly misreported.

12gbwc2012- alain pascuaLInstead, try to see the big picture—a messy, complex, and glorious canvas of bird communities and human communities all in the same place at the same time. I hope the following reports will help you achieve that vision. They and others like them have helped me to expand my vision, I can certainly say. They’ve helped me to gain a deeper appreciation for the insights and instincts of everybody else. (Right: Photo by © Alain Pascua–

Here goes:

1. Irish travel writer Brendan Harding observes, “In this highly spiritual country there was no apparent conflict between man and his feathered counterpart. The land does not belong to one or the other, the land and its resources are simply, shared.” Click here to read Harding’s wonderful report in its entirety.

2. Paul Bernhardt, a Portuguese-based writer with Lonely Planet, emphasizes ecotourism in this report. “Gujarat is fast emerging as an eco-tourism hot spot,” Bernhardt notes, and “Avi (avian) tourism is a developing market and one that the conference organizers are keen to see mature.”

3. Coverage in the Times of India wasn’t quite as extensive as in Brendan Harding’s and Paul Bernhardt’s richly detailed blog posts, but we birders should be proud of any mention in the Times. That’s because the Times of India has the largest circulation of all English-language newspapers in the world. The Times ran at least three articles that I know of. I saw one in print while I was in Gujarat, and I can’t track it down online now. But here’s a nice overview of the event that’s still online. And here’s an article focusing on a distressing conservation issue that came to light during GBWC–2.

4. For sure, the Global Bird Watchers’ Conference was, well, global in its perspective. Nevertheless, the American example of birdwatching was frequently adduced by conference delegates—and by those reporting on the event. In his article appearing in the Indian Express, Senior Correspondent Adam Halliday cites data from two of the paragons of American birding: Costa Rica and the United States.

5. As great as the birding was in Gujarat, the dancing arguably took center stage. You don’t have to believe me!—Check out Pamela Lin’s delightful report for the Digital Journal.