The current record for seeing the most number of bird species in a single year is 6,042 by Noah Strycker and this year another very enthusiastic and ardent bird watcher, Arjan Dwarshuis (who is currently in the Himalayas) has set out to break Noah’s record and spot over 6,042 birds.
How do we know all this? Well, Arjan was here in Sri Lanka as part of his tour (even though initially the island was not in his route map) on invitation by … and Jetwing Hotels to catch sight of our birds, endangered ones as well as those migrant ones who decide to holiday in Sri Lanka when they feel like it.
Ceylon Blue Magpie-Urocissa ornata
I want to show people how incredibly diverse our planet is and to really get them to think about getting local community involved in Eco Tourism and conservation. And show them that with a little bit of effort and money a lot can be done.
At first Arjan didn’t plan on coming to Sri Lanka and was going to go to Southern India. Then he got an email from Keerthi Weerasuriya of the Ceylon Bird Club and said “I see you iteniry and you’re not coming to Sri Lanka. We have 34 different endemics and many migrants, fantastic country and you will Sri Lankans are real hospitable bunch”. Then he started thinking about and changed his flights and replied to Keerthi “I’ve booked for four to five days in Sri Lanka”. Later he got a pphone call which said Colombo and he said “hey, this is Keerthi, so nice to hear your voice. Thought I will call you with the good news that Jetwing Eco Holidays is sponsoring your five day Birding trip to Sri Lanka”.
Arjan Dwarshuis with his travel buddy Max
“This was an auspicious start to my Big Year tour. We had a fantastic guide (Shantha) and he showed us everything and it was exactly what Keerthi said about the warm stay in Sri Lanka”, Arjan told us.
Q: How long have you been doing this?
A: Birding has been done since forever. I started not because an uncle or a parent or someone told/showed me how to do bird watching, but I sort of started off with it myself. When I was a baby, my mum threw me out in the forest and I was looking at the trees and birds. So from a very young age when we took a walk in the beach, I was coolecting shells and I was always checking the species of shells. Since I was like 10 or 12 years old I started counting birds, monitoring them and making short trips to Europe to see birds and then at one point I took it a step further. When I was 18 I did a 7 and half month trip to do bird watching through South East Asia, Australia and New Zealand. I hitchhiked from Santiago, Chile and all the way up to Peru on top of trucks and sleeping on the roadside – which was a real adventure.
During university time, I studied Archeology and did birding trips to remote locatuions like Papua New Guinea, Nepal and started my own company – the Birding Experience in 2014. With this company I do workshops, give talks and brief people what bird watching is all about. Also I do a lot of stuff for a Dutch television and do shows on bird watching. I actually met my girlfriend (who is also a birdwatcher) on a television show about bird watching. So the first time we met is captured on camera and I can replay it all the time.
Ceylon Frogmouth- Batrachostomus moniliger
Q: What made you take on breaking the world record?
A: Since for a very long time I have been obsessed in breaking the world record of bird watching which is something given to people in United States, Britain and other countries.
But birding scene in this area plays a big part in the world of birding and I want to put Dutch birding in the map and also it’s a great way of showing people who awesome my hobby is.
I will be travelling to 41 countries and show how amazingly diverse our planet is as well as the bird life is in those countries is. Best part is, the followers of Noah Strycker are now following me.
I do interviews with conservationists all over the world and I want to show the public that these people are making huge steps in bird conservation.
Q: You’re raising funds with this journey…what exactly are you raising it for?
A: I am raising funds for the BirdLife Preventing Extinction Programme. This was initiated by Bird Life International and it works with local bird life partnerships and species guardians. Species guardians are local people who really dig in and try to work with local communities to get them involved in conservation and show them to protect the birds and use eco tourism as way of income. Those species guardians play a vital role in this project and without them many species would have gone extinct. But they need funding as well to do this and that is why BirdLife appointed Species Champion such as Sir David Attenborough and Prince Albert II of Monaco who provide or raise funds and awareness for the guardian’s work. I am also a Species Champion and only (almost) 30 year old Post Graduate.
Q: How is this bird watching count verified?
A: Everywhere I go, I have someone trravelling with me. There will be a guide and a travel companion (like Max who is his long time birding companion and is with him now in the tour). I try to photograph and sound record as much as possible, especially the difficult species to show people “here look, I’ve really seen it”. But some records will be impossible to check and in bird watching you can never cheat. I am followed by the Guinness Book of Records on Instagram. My objective is to beat the record and get many people to follow me as possible. The closer I get to the record people who follow me will see the different species and all the programmes I am doing. I have instagram, twitter, facebook and another application which allows me to constantly add species with a GPS running with it and when I have wifi I can edit my sightings. This app also allows followers to see where I am along with my pictures and also chart that compares the old record holder’s status and my current status. My blog is dutchbirding.nl.
Q: How are you funding the trip?
A: Well I am funding myself as well as using this globally used funding scheme Just Giving. But sometimes the problem is it costs to raise funds as somebody has to handle the transfer, monitor and handle the cash flow. Normally you pay like 5% 5 to get a fund raiser going. There’s new British company called Tills that contacted me and said they would like to do my fund raiser as they believed it to be a cool way of me to get exposure. My aim is to raise 100,000 Euros.
Q: What is the route from start to end?
A: I started off in Netherlands and saw many birds as possible within a day and then we went to Emirates (Max will be travelling with him for two months). After Sri Lanka, they went to North West India for week and then a two week expedition to Agunatha Pradesh and then Thailand, West Malaysia, North Malaysia Borneo, three islands in the Philippines, Java, Papua New Guinea, all over Australia, New Zealand (this will be the first three months). Then comes Israel, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Madagascar, Malawi, South Africa, Ghana, Spain, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Curacao, Sudan, Brazil, Argentine, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Columbia, Panama, Costa Rica, Vernal, Jamaica, Cuba, Mexico and the United States. On average will spend just over a week in each country.
In Sri Lanka we spent five days and visited Sinharaja Forest, Horton Plains, Bundala Bird Park and couple of sites in Colombo for the dry zone species. We saw around 210 species and 151 new birds for me, 34 different endemics were also noted.
So right now Arjan has 38 countries to go and he left Sri Lanka with 342 species under the belt. He has 70 different local tour companies and guides that he’s constantly in touch with, a friend back home in Netherlands who’s monitoring his emails and corresponding with guides before he gets to a particular country.