One of the really cool things I saw at BirdFair didn't necessarily have to do with birding--it's the Pentax Ricoh which takes a crazy spherical image that uses an app to let you rotate and sling the spherical panorama image around--it's really cool. I'd love to have one of these and put in the center of a bird feeder or better yet in the middle of some caracaras at the Martin Ranch in Texas--wouldn't that be a cool perspective? But I wanted to use this to give a sense of the scope of vendors and people at BirdFair. But as much as BirdFair is about businesses selling products and services, it's also about passion and connection (jet lag must be settling in because I find myself saying that like Mooj in 40 Year Old Virgin in my head).
But it's true, it's that passion and connection that also makes it such a brilliant fundraising event. Hats off to founders Tim Appleton and Martin Davies for organizing such the fair with a crackerjack network of volunteers (and thank you Tina Lindsay for answering all of my questions before I arrived). But the money raised from attendance tickets and booths makes it possible for BirdFair to donate large sums of money to conservation projects around the world.
As much fun as it is to learn about birding field trip opportunities in Norway, you can also learn about the efforts to create beautiful architecturally designed blinds or hides used (check them out, they are so cool) to watch the birds in the area--especially the sea duck hide, man oh man, we need one of those for my National Park!
But BirdFair is a great place to be inspired for ideas. Typically the companies you see at US trade shows are generally from Central and South America--at BirdFair, the companies are world wide: Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Israel, Ecuador, Panama and quite often it's not just the eco-tourism lodges or bird tour operators, it's also representatives of the government there to speak with you. And you get a global perspective.
I was very excited to see my friend Jonathan Meyrav who I met a few years ago while birding the Hula Valley in Israel. He's a loud and hardworking voice for this migratory hot spot and always generating ideas on how to help the birds he loves and shares with his family and friends. This past spring he organized the Champions of the Flyway, a big day aimed at raising money for a specific conservation project which for 2014 was Bird Conservation Georgia. I wanted to participate in that event, but I'd already scheduled myself for 5 other projects. So Jonathan and I talked about ideas for 2015 and whether I participate in the event or not, how I can help the cause. The thing I love about Jonathan is if he has a successful idea, he's not into hoarding it just for his area, he spreads the passion and love around. He learns from others and tells you what worked for his country and how that might apply to bird conservation in your own country--he's refreshing and inspiring to be around. Here's a fun 8 minute video that gives an overview--check out, the birds are bananas. And the end of it was the best use of Daft Punk I've ever seen.
Champions of the Flyway may also be one of the most diverse gatherings of birders I've seen--which is cool. I really like that I'm not the only female birder out there doing these sorts of things. I have an idea for a team I'd like to assemble for 2015, we will see if it happens.
The birding is certainly more intense in the UK and this booth based on the book series The Sound Approach uses sonograms to teach you bird songs. You listen to the calls as you read and kind of learn to see them rather than hear them. They are only available for Europe but if you were going over there, this might be a good way to brush up. Incidentally, these are co-authored by the founder of Lush Cosmetics...
Here's the new Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World a complete checklist whose taxonomy and contains illustrations and distribution maps for every bird species in the world. It's huge, it's beautiful, it isn't cheap and surely there won't be any changes, splits, lumps or elimination in the near future making it obsolete...right? I love the idea of an illustrated world checklist, but with how often taxonomy changes, why not make this digital so you can get the up to date changes?
So one of the things that I've heard from British birders who visit the states is how surprised they are to see so many women engaged in the activity in the US. And not just in a backyard birding capacity, but serious listing. As I walked around BirdFair, the sexes seemed to be evenly split. I mentioned this to my friend John and he said, "Nope, those are girls dragged along by their boyfriends or husbands."
I don't think that was 100% true, I did see some women paired off and heard them actively discussing birding in remote locations, but there were a few booths that I would visit and patiently wait for one of the booth attendants to be freed up so I could ask my questions and I would get, "You ok?"
Taking that as a cue for conversation, I would say "Yes," and before I could get further than that word, they would spin around and talk to the next available male customer in the booth (even if he arrived at the booth after I did). I was immediately dismissed as the "girlfriend" who would be a waste of time to talk to. As a former retailer, I could kind of understand--several times you've engaged in conversation with women only to have them say, "Yeah, I'm just here with my boyfriend." That would be frustrating. But on the other hand, I didn't care for the immediate dismissal. So at a few booths I found that I had to be a bit aggressive to show that yes, indeed, despite being female I am very interested in birding products and travel and yes, I am not afraid to travel to places where I might get dirty.
The Art Marquee was full of all kinds of art and photography. I wasn't allowed to use my camera in there, but walked around and took it in. I passed a booth and immediately recognized the prints of Katrina van Grouw who wrote one of my favorite books of 2013 The Unfeathered Bird.
I thought, "Oh cool, someone is selling her work!"
And then I realized...she was herself. And the prints were signed...and so I dropped some money that Non Birding Bill doesn't need to know about and purchased the above print of a budgie. I tried not to geek out too hard and I hope I didn't freak her out. But that was a real treat to be able to purchase a print from her in person and tell her how much I loved that book. Can't wait to get it framed and get it on the wall next to my Catherine Hamilton sketch.
There are lectures going on throughout the day at BirdFair. Some are twenty minute workshops on anything from photography, bird in different areas and conservation efforts. I did one of those on Smart Phone Digiscoping. Others are longer and a bit more entertaining, like Bill Oddie interviewing a woman who composes music for David Attenborough documentaries. I was part of one of those called A Question of Stork hosted by Stephen Moss. Above is the photo of my team and our opposing time was Matt Merritt, Bill Thompson (fun to run into him while across the pond) and Martin Davies. I was nervous about a quiz show thinking I wouldn't have much to contribute to worldwide birding but I was assured this was all about fun and improv and I thought, oh this is like some of the shows NBB and I do here like You're Making That Up or PowerPoint Karaoke and it's more about being funny than right.
It was clear about three questions in, you needed to answer correctly. But I did know a couple of obscure book and "famous" birder questions so I wasn't a complete loss to the team. My favorite part was the when one of our teammates had to mime to get us to guess a bird. That was hilarious and I'll never think of masked booby the same ever again. We lost by one point but I think people were entertained.
More on BirdFair is coming. This event is so huge, it cannot be covered in one post. And if you haven't caught on yet, it's a really cool event...and you should find a way to go.