Vaughan first started birdwatching when he first noticed Common Wood-pigeons eating his grandfather’s brussel sprouts during the hard winter of 1962–3! He celebrated 50 years of birdwatching in December and has seen over 5,000 species in the world. BIRDFINDERS was established by Vaughan in 1993 (when he was treasurer of the Blackmore Vale RSPB members group), initially to arrange days out and short breaks to raise money for the group. He then arranged similar trips for other groups and from 1 January 1996 took a voluntary redundancy package from National Westminster Bank (where he had been an assistant manager) and concentrated on running the business full time. Since then Vaughan has led hundreds of tours to 80 countries and BIRDFINDERS has established itself as one of the market leaders. Svetlana is founder and principal tour leader of Kazakhstan Birdtours. Sveta is originally from Russia but lived in Kazakhstan for a long time after her university studies in Russia. She led scientific research in wildlife biology and was lecturer in environmental studies at the university in Almaty and has extensive knowledge of all aspects of Kazakhstan natural history and culture. She has birded widely around the world including Russia and other former Soviet Union countries. She moved to the UK and joined the business in September 2002 and now leads and co-leads tours to a number of destinations.
The ethos of BIRDFINDERS is to provide good value worldwide tours concentrating on seeing all the endemic and speciality birds of a country or part of a country. To achieve this we either use top UK or local guides. All of the tours are meticulously planned to ensure that the participants see all the endemic and speciality birds and in this respect we do target species rather than just going out in the field and hoping to see birds. Generally, if you target speciality birds then the common ones are seen during the process so we usually achieve very high species counts on our tours and presently hold the record for numbers of species seen on many of our tours. Most of our leaders use the latest equipment to ensure that participants see the birds and in this respect, we do use bird call/song playback in a responsible way to avoid causing distress to the birds. Generally speaking using playback responsibly causes far less disturbance to birds than aimlessly crashing through bushes! At present, we have a database of over 26,000 recordings of over 9,000 species representing some 90% of the known species in the world so you can be assured that your leaders will be in a position to show you the birds. We also use the latest Olympus LS-11 Linear PCM Recorder to make recordings in the field as well as Sennheiser microphones.
Additionally, many BIRDFINDERS leaders take photographs of birds, animals and scenery on a tour so that we can provide you with a free CD of the best images as a lasting memory of the tour. Vaughan and Sveta use the latest Canon DSLRs with Vaughan using a Canon 300mm f2.8 IS USM lens coupled with a 2.0x extender and Sveta using a Canon 400mm f4.0 DO IS USM lens to ensure that you get the very best of images. We also use many other useful tools on tours including green laser pointers and high-powered torches. Our latest torches put out up to 820 lumens and last over 2 hours (remember the days of the old lead/acid torches that lasted 20 minutes!) so that you have the best possible chance of seeing nightbirds as well as those in the daytime. We also use the latest highest powered Midland GXT radios to communicate between vehicles on tours and many of our leaders also use local SIMS in their mobile phones or dual SIM phones or even an Inmarsat satellite phone to ensure we are in constant touch with the outside world in case of emergencies. We use the finest optics available to aid participants on tours including Leica Ultravid 10 x 32 HD binoculars and the latest Swarovski STX 30–70 x 95 telescope. Finally, a plethora of other smaller equipment is taken on tours including books and maps, electronic converters and adaptors, infrared binoculars, laptops, repair tools, squeakers, and whistles where appropriate to ensure you enjoy the finest experience.
BIRDFINDERS also supply all of our clients with the latest checklists using Clements as the authority. All checklists include Latin names down to sub-species level in some cases and are updated annually when the latest Clements updates are received. This is of course a huge job, but we feel that it is important that our clients know the latest status on birds with species being regularly split and both common and Latin names changing. On many tours we also provide a report at the end of a tour together with an updated checklist.
Also, have a look at BIRDFINDERS prices. We are often cheaper than all of the other birdtour companies but without compromising the quality of a tour. Wherever possible, we use 3-star accommodation (always with en-suite facilities when available). Of course, at some locations such luxury is not available in which case we take the most comfortable possible option but where there is a large choice of accommodation we don’t use 5-star hotels when you are unlikely to use the various facilities that just increases the price of a tour. In many cases we stay at exactly the same accommodation as the other birdtour companies, and in some case in better accommodation. Occasionally the ‘headline’ price of some of our tours may look higher but look what is included. Often our tours are longer and more comprehensive so are actually cheaper on a daily basis. We take the attitude that you are unlikely to visit a country or part of a country more than once so it should be done properly the first time.
Finally, when you ring the office or email us you will probably be in contact with Jo Nash, our office manager. Additionally, other than our professional leaders, details of which you will find in the leaders section, we receive a great deal of additional help and support from Peter Basterfield (advertising, photographic editing and at the Birdfair), Ray Grace (technical help and at the Birdfair), Helen Heyes (editing, proof reading and at the Birdfair) Peter Lansdown (editing, proof reading and at the Birdfair) and Martin Tribe (brochure and website). In particular, Martin’s achievements in preparing our brochure every year and keeping our website meticulously up-to-date are instrumental to the success of the business. Only a birder can have the knowledge to achieve these tasks. Without all these friends, Birdfinders would not be such a successful birdtour company and we owe a deep debt of gratitude to them.