A lifelong passion for birds underpins the ethos at Tropical Birding. Keith Barnes started this bird tour operation 20 years ago with a friend. What has ensued is decades of birding experiences that span the globe. We chatted with Keith for insights on Africa as a birding destination and travel advice, as well as some of his stories from the last two decades of bird tours.
Tell us the story of how you ended up birding. How long have you been birding? Tell us more about Tropical Birding.
My Dad was a birder. When I was 13, we were going on a family vacation to the Drakensberg and he was obsessed with seeing Lammergeier (a spectacular high mountain bird-of-prey). I decided to educate myself by reading his bird books and then steeled myself for the unpleasant job of letting him down. With only 200 individuals in all of Lesotho, our chances were slim to say the least. In the process, however, I learned of the diamond-shaped tail, rusty-breast and black tufted beard and so, when a Lammergeier did fly just 25 metres over our heads later on that trip, it was not someone telling me this was magic - I knew. The adrenalin got me shaking (twitching) and I haven't stopped since. I studied Zoology/Ornithology at the University of Cape Town, wrote a few academic tomes, and then, with a friend, decided to start Tropical Birding in the year 2000. Over two decades, we morphed from a start-up in Ecuador and South Africa to a US-based operator running over 200 tours per year throughout the globe, specialising in birding, bird photography, and seeking enigmatic wildlife. It's been a blast.
The sun is setting. Tea, G&T, or beer?
I am old-school, G&T all the way - so long as I have a hand free for binoculars!
What is the first place that comes to mind where you would love to drink it along your route on one of your safaris? Why there?
Kasane, on the Chobe River in Botswana. Early in my birding development, we visited this place often and not only am I reminded of the spectacular birds and wildlife I encountered here for the first time, but mostly for the special times with my parents who indulged and encouraged my passion. I am who I am today because of times spent at that place with special people.