On October 1st at midnight, I shall start Kolibri Expeditions’ Big Month after 4 days of scouting and birding in Puerto Maldonado. The goal is to get 1100 species before the end of Oct 31. This is the longest I will have ever spent birding in one go since I started birding I think.
No! I have never done a big year, and even on my long birding trips, there have always been one or two easier days with recovery.
Peru Big Month and the Fabulous Four of Birding
There are a few clients who have signed up for parts of the adventure and three top birders who I have invited to join me during parts of the 31 days in the field. They are Trevor Hardaker from Cape Town, South Africa, Noah Strycker from Oregon, US and Diego Calderon from Medellin, Colombia. If you want to join any of the sections you should sign up immediately. I am still offering one slot for the full Monty, 35 days of birding for only $7500. Ordinary, price is $8800. We start next week.
This will be a marathon of birding for me and the pace will be brutal. We do aim to see as many of the species as possible, even if only hearing the birds would suffice to count them as part of the record. Those joining me have to come to see! Just hearing would not be satisfactory enough. We will all need to fine tune both our skills and our equipment for this trip.
I have just arrived to the US for the American Birding Expo and as usual I am ordering stuff I need from Amazon. So I thought you’d be interested to learn what I am ordering to make this trip a success and what gadgets we are bringing. There is more to birding than just the binoculars.
Shop ‘til You Drop
First of all I am in need of a new backpack that can be brought as personal item on flights. It is important that it can fit under the seat. I opted for this cheap lightweight 35 litre backpack from Gonex. Additionally, I will also need a new cabin bag. My old one has a broken handle and is very uncomfortable to carry. I am ordering this convenient soft cabin bag which will be my main hand luggage. Look how much space I have now with no need to stand in line around the carousel waiting for my bags to arrive. Everything, shall be taken inside the cabin. I travel like a pro.
I have for quite a while now, not been recording bird calls when I am guiding, but for the Big Month, I do need some sort of documentation, and I think getting a nice light weight small pocket recorder would be advisable. This Zoom H4N Pro for just over $200 has been recommended as the internal microphones are quite good, which means I don’t have to deal with an external mic when we need speed for the big day. I can get a better microphone at a later stage. I used to have the ME-66 Sennheiser with the K6 battery module and windscreen. This is a great directional microphone and very popular among birder recorders, but it does set you back almost $500. Also, need fast SD-cards. I prefer 32GB, not larger, so I don’t have to clear space in my Mac in order to transfer to a disk.
Light and Cameras
Of course, one also needs a good torch. I have one already that I am quite pleased with, but Diego recommends this amazing owling torch from Olight. Diego also used the Phone Skope adapter for his telescope. I shall be playing with my Canon and the new 100-400mm lens I bought which should be back from service when we start the trip. It is an absolutely amazing lens. Trevor, the true photographer of the team of course will carry his bazooka – a Canon 500mm F4 (only $8999 )
My camera is the birder standard Canon 5D Mark IV. It is a fantastic portable combo for any birder with 100-400 lens.
I also use a powerful point and shoot camera the Nikon Coolpix P900 with 83x digital telephoto equivalent to 24mm-2000mm. It has served me well when my DLSR camera was being serviced, and it has a very stable video function. I saw it was on sale on Amazon for only $475! But perhaps this is because a new Nikon monster just came out with 125x magnification. It is equivalent to a 24-3000mm zoom lens! Check out the Nikon P1000 here.
Blend in with the Tribe and Sleep Management
Clothing is another matter. I have been wearing jeans in the field for as long as I can remember. I have never been a member of the khaki-club and probably broken every single dress code there is for birders. (Unreal birders wear Blue Jeans – to paraphrase a famous book.)
This time however travelling lightweight, it is essential to have items that dry quickly, so I am getting more appropriate clothes for myself. There are some good offers on Amazon. I am getting a pair of baggy trousers and a pair of stylish pants that also convert in to shorts, and I found a matching fast drying outdoor shirt as well.
One of the most important things for this long trip is to fight sleep deprivation. Micro-napping will be essential. Therefore, I have gone to length to find the best portable neck pillow. The Cabeau pillow is recommended by Tim Ferriss. I am looking forward to try it out on the plane back from the US.
Vitamins and Supplements
As a vegetarian, I have ordered a lot of supplements for those days in remote areas when eating enough greens and nuts simply is not an option. Some of the below are for my vegan wife, though.
Identification and Keeping Track
Finally, of course I should of course mention the only book you need. Birds of Peru by Schulenberg et al. Note that it is also available as an app if you prefer this, with all the calls from Peter Boesman’s CD. You should be aware that there are a number of important calls missing and that the xeno-canto library now contains a number of additions. A smart move is to download the Aves Vox Pro app to your smartphone. From this, you can download selected bird calls to your phone. The paid version is best, as it allows you to make lists. Another great app that every world birder should get is a subscription to is BirdsEye. I will be doing checklists for every location I am visiting and save those on my phone. The checklist will come
I am currently having problems with the Ebird app. It may be my iPhone that is giving me the problems, but in any case I shall be doing my Big Month on iGoTerra. They have a fantastic system to generate fast trip reports. Also, a great plus is that it keeps track of mammals and herps as well.
With iGoTerra you can:
– Select Clements or IOC
– Record observations on subspecies level
– Use iGoTerra Pocket for recording observations in the field, and then synch when internet connected.
– The Observation Diary (with lifers=Month-ticks, maps, photos, etc) can be shared on Facebook each evening
– Your life list will be visible continuously
– You can also record mammals etc.
– You can create your remaining target list
– Only one list needs to be run during a birding outing. This list can be shared to everyone’s own iGoTerra accounts and be uploaded to other systems like eBird.
Noah’s Birding Gadget Favourites
- Leica 10×42 Noctividbinocs
2. REI Vagabond 40-liter backpack
3. Mountain Hardwear down jacket
4. Birds of Peru field guide
5. SureFire Fury LED flashlight
and I always carry a pen and a good plastic spoon, says Noah.
Noah gives a good rundown on his gear in his Big Year equipment blog post, from which the featured image of this post is taken.
Diego’s Birding Gadget Favourites
- Phoneskope digiscoping adapter
2. JBL clip2 speaker.
3. A decent light for owling. Olight M2X-UT Javelot 1020 Lumens.
4. Swaro bins.
Trevor’s Birding Gadget Favourites
Trevor writes: I have always used Leica 10 x 42 bins and it will be no different on this trip! I will be bringing a Canon 500mm F4 lens with me for bird photography and possibly a 100-400mm lens as a backup and a 100mm macro lens for any of the smaller stuff we may find. I currently use a rechargeable LED Lenser torch which I am very happy with.
This project will not generate income rather, the contrary. Too few people have signed up so far. But it is Kolibri Expeditions 20th anniversary this year, and therefore I am determined to go through with it, despite raised eyebrows from the family and co-workers. The Amazon-links are affiliate links, so if you purchase something from these links, you will be supporting our endeavour.
What is more important is that the project will also highlight many of the most important areas in need of conservation. Putting them on the map with continuous blog posts and social media reports will hopefully inspire more people to come to Peru to bird watch. After the hard core birders, the more mainstream birdwatchers and bird photographers will follow, and soon the areas will attract other people interested in nature and to experience biodiversity first hand. All this is essential for conserving the most endemic rich areas and will bring incentives to invest in birding resources such as lodging, reserves, hides, and feeding stations.
Daily blogs of our progress will be updated on www.KolibriExpeditions.com/blog.
Gunnar Engblom is a Swedish birder who lives in Peru since 1998, where he operates birdwatching and nature tours for Kolibri Expeditions. He is also a dedicated 3:04 marathon runner, soon to resume training for Tokyo Marathon in March 2019. Currently, injured. In 2016, Gunnar additionally re-launched his rock’n’roll singer career with his band Guran Guran, and in 2018 they released a new single.