Some people travel to gain life experience. Others travel for business, or for family, or for adventure.
Me? I travel for birds.
True, I also travel for those other things, but primarily most of my travel is centered around birds. And in 2019, I had a chance to take my first trip to England and experience the largest birding festival in the country. Its complete name is the British Birdwatching Fair, but everyone just calls it Birdfair.
Interestingly, Birdfair is held a bit in the middle of nowhere. Each year in August, the nature preserve of Rutland Water hosts over 20,000 birding enthusiasts. If I counted correctly, there are ten tents, each with between 16-100 booths. Each both represents a business or interest, such as:
- bird tour companies from all over the world
- binocular and scope vendors (“optics”)
- conservation groups
- food and drink
Best of all, when you attend Birdfair, you’re surrounded by people who love birds as much as you do!
Visiting SO MANY Booths!
My friend and I travelled from Florida to Rutland to enjoy as many of these vendors as we could visit! There were around 450 booths and I estimated we saw about 75% of them.
The downside was that it rained throughout the entire festival. We were literally the only two people not wearing Wellies (rainboots). Of course there was a booth that sold them, but neither of us could fit them into our luggage for the flight home, so we made do.
We traipsed through tent after tent until our feet were sore and tired as well as wet and muddy! But it didn’t get us down. We had tea and cake in the mud. We sampled craft gin in the mud. I bought a beautiful print of a barn owl in flight – from a barn! – in the mud. (I was standing in the mud; the barn in the photograph wasn’t muddy.) No amount of rain could dampen our spirits.
The main disappointment about the rain was that we didn’t get to actually do any birding while at Birdfair! But that was OK, because we’d been to the London Wetlands a few days prior, and after Birdfair ended, we went to Cley Marshes, Flamborough Point, Bempton Cliffs, and Stiff Key with a good friend and birder to act as our guide, so we just used those trips as birding adventure “bookends”.
We also really enjoyed several lectures. My favorite was one “30 Birds to See Before You Die” by Dominic Couzens. See, one of the things I learned while birding in England was that I’m what they call a “twitcher”. And I proudly admit it. I want to see as many species as I can, preferably in their natural, original environments, before I leave this earth.
Twitchers are people who take off at the drop of a hat to see a rare bird or one they’ve never seen before. I think it’s a bit of a derogatory term, but I love it. It just sounds so British. So being the species-chasing twitcher that I am, this talk really appealed to me. I purchased a copy of Couzens’s book 100 Birds to See Before You Die and had it signed.
My friend is a member of the Oriental Birding Club in England, so we already had a great group of people to hang out with. We got to enjoy a private happy hour put on by RSPB (The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) where Old Speckled Hen became my new favorite beer. It was a great chance to socialize with other birders and to learn about conservation efforts around the UK.
We stayed at nearby Wing Hall in Oakham. What a beautiful estate! We rented one of their adorable shepherd’s huts for a weekend of (rainy) glamping. It was the perfect balance between camping and comfort. And the view outside our front door was beautiful. It was a quick drive in our rental car from Wing Hall to Birdfair each day, where we parked in the muddy but otherwise convenient parking grounds.
After Birdfair ended on Friday and Saturday, we hit up two different local pubs for dinner and drinks with friends from the Oriental Birding Club. They shared some great stories, including a trip several of them had made to Indonesia to track down the elusive Seram thrush. We enjoyed local food (British food is actually quite good!) and several delicious beers.
Saturday morning we also went for breakfast to a roadside diner that was incredibly good! It was run by a husband and wife team, and I probably wouldn’t have had the nerve to stop in if one of our companions hadn’t already tried it and recommended it.
As I mentioned above, the weather cleared up after Birdfair ended and we headed north to the Norfolk coast. We enjoyed some amazing birding and my twitching self was able to add a lot of new species to my life live.
Would I go back? Absolutely. Because I didn’t get to see Chris Packham. In fact, I didn’t even know who he is at the time. You may not either! He’s one of England’s most famous wildlife speakers and conservationists. In fact, he was mentioned to us twice, and we play along even though we were clueless. Now I know better! I would also love to go back for more birding at Rutland Water, if we could get there when it wasn’t raining. And I would absolutely stay in those adorable Shepherd’s huts again!
Unfortunately, Birdfair was cancelled in 2020 and has been cancelled again in 2021, because of COVID. I hope it will be back by 2022 – and that our lives will have mostly returned to normal by then – and maybe I can go back. If not in 2022, then before too long.
After all, there are more species I still need to see!
If you would like to see more about our trip, as well as some of the bird photos I took, please visit this post on thehelpfulbirder.com.