American Birding Podcast



Open Mic: On Being the Youngest to 4000 Species

At the Mic: Mya-Rose Craig

It was August 2015 and even at 9 am, I was feeling the heat.  We had just arrived into Nairobi, Kenya and after 31 days of birding in East Africa, I was still enthralled.  We were at Swara Plains just south of Nairobi, watching new birds but it was the beautiful Red-Throated Tit that felt special.  Incredibly, it was my 4000th bird and watching it through my Swarovskis at age 13 years was perfect.  Having birded Uganda and Rwanda and seeing a huge 612 birds, I enjoyed watching Tanzanian birds here at their northern most range.

#4000 Red-throated Tit, photo by Mya-Rose Craig

#4000 Red-throated Tit, photo by Mya-Rose Craig

Back on our first day in Kampala, we visited Mabamba Wetlands, the home of the strange and rare Shoebill.  It is like an enormous pelican with a massive bill the shape of a clog and is in a monotypic family.  It evaded us until we tried a different area of the wetlands where we then immediately found one.  The Shoebill was huge and when it looked our way, it looked positively evil!  As we watched, suddenly it reached down and gobbled something up.  A few minutes later, it opened its wings and took off, soaring away.  I couldn’t have wished for a better start to our trip.


Shoebill, photo by Mya-Rose Craig

Soon after, we arrived in Kibale Forest with a target of Green-breasted Pitta, the only place in the world that this bird is ever seen.  We had to be in the forest pre-dawn and ready to move quickly:  The Pitta only calls once and then you have to quickly find it hidden on the forest floor.  Our ranger was late and we thought we had missed our chance. Our guide and ranger searched widely but didn’t hear one.  Mid morning, another ranger telephoned to say that they had seen a Pitta 4 miles away.  We drove and then ran to the right area.  Soon afterwards, our ranger ran towards us whispering “Pitta!”.  We rushed to the patch of forest from where he had heard the call, to find a Pitta 20 foot up in a tree which we watched for 15 minutes.  Every few minutes, the Pitta jumped up, flapped its wings and made a ‘brmp’ call, a fantastic breeding display which was hilarious to watch.  A fantastic experience I’m not going to forget.


Green-breasted Pitta, photo by Mya-Rose Craig

The highlight of my summer was indisputably traveling deep into Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, trekking for Mountain Gorillas.  We had climbed a steep ridge to get to a Mountain Gorilla group of 15, when the Silverback appeared and greeted us at the top of the ridge.  We watched as he beat his chest and called out to the rest of the group who were high in the trees, 80 feet above us.  Over the hour that we were with them, all of the gorillas in the group came down from the trees. A male Blackback and female almost touched me as they brushed past and I saw a mother holding her 5 day old baby protectively.  I feel privileged to have been amongst these majestic creatures, so closely related to us but so gentle.  It was especially moving knowing that there are only 880 left in the world and only in two forests.  You can watch a video I have made about this encounter here.


Mya-Rose and gorrilla, photo by Helena Craig

Our bird guide Robert is from Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and used to be a hunter. He told us how he became a guide after hunting was banned and was full of lots of stories of encounters between the gorillas and his village, not all of which were positive.  For instance, he found it unfair that his community were not fully compensated when the gorillas damaged their crops.  He told us about a woman in his village, who had been imprisoned because she threw stones at a female gorilla to scare it, but the gorilla died leaving a baby that also then died.

The Mountain Gorillas are stunning but also bring a lot of revenue to both Uganda and Rwanda.  I think that the people co-existing with these creatures should be fully compensated for any damage suffered by them and should receive a fair amount of the trekking permit fees, neither of which they get at the moment.

Having seen 4000 birds, my next target is to see 5400 birds, half the world’s species.  It would be brilliant if I could see that many before I was 18 years old.  I have been following the inspiring Noah Strycker in his Big Year and think that he will set a record that is virtually unbeatable.

My next trip is to Chile and Antarctica in December, which I am really looking forward to.  I have wanted to go to Antarctica since I was young and am very excited about the trip.  It will be my 7th continent which will be fantastic.



Photo by Oliver Edwards, used with permission

Mya-Rose will be remembered as the delightful 7 year old in the 2010 BBC4 documentary “Twitchers: A Very British Obsession” .  Still an avid birder, 13 year old Mya-Rose is a young birder, conservationist, environmentalist and writer. Living in the UK, she writes the successful Birdgirl Blog, with posts about birding and conservation from around the world.

Please support Mya-Rose by voting for her at  for ‘Blog of the Year Award’ and ‘Local Hero Award’ for her work in setting up Camp Avalon, the UK’s only birding weekend for teenagers.  For more information about Camp Avalon see here. The deadline for voting is 30 November 2015.

Mya-Rose is also a Bristol European Green Capital 2015 Ambassador along with environmentalists like Tony Juniper (ex-director Friends of the Earth UK) Bristol 2015 Ambassadors and has also been listed with the singer songwriter George Ezra and actress Maisie Williams from Game of Thrones as one of Bristol’s most influential young people. Please like her Birdgirl Facebook Page and follow her on Birdgirl Twitter