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The popular stereotype of birders is that we’re obsessives, focused only on the feathered to the exclusion of anything else. The best test of that proposition, of course, is to repeat it to any one of the hundreds of thousands of birders who have, say, a family. Or a job. Or any other kind of connection to a real world that seems realer and more demanding every day.
Admittedly, birds and birding may dominate our thoughts and our activities when we happen not to find ourselves dealing with the everyday. But even the most single-minded among us are not narrow-minded. Birders are almost by definition interesting and interested people, and those interests—even if they don’t push birding completely out of mind—range widely. That’s what makes us such good company: No birds to be seen at the moment? We pass the slow times in conversation about a thousand other pursuits: history, gardening, music, food, literature, wine, travel, art.
The gardens of Krakow’s Wawel harbor migrants and resident birds alike.
For years now, Victor Emanuel Nature Tours has included among its birding excursions a group of tours that acknowledge the breadth of birders’ horizons, taking full advantage of both the natural and the human richness of some of the birdiest destinations on the planet. These tours are designed to appeal not just to birders, but to partners and traveling companions whose ornithological commitment is less consuming.
Most of them based in a single attractive, historic, and easily walkable city or town, my tours, under VENT’s Birds, Nature, and Culture rubric, always see plenty of birds: hoopoes and rollers in France, Great Bustards and bean geese in Germany, Fulvous Owls and Black-capped Swallows in Guatemala are just a few examples. But we frame these birding highlights within a broader, more comprehensive experience, visiting world-class museums, archaeological sites, and cultural landmarks.
The ruins of the Roman city of Glanum are an excellent place to look for bee-eaters and nightingales.
On some days, the emphasis falls more on birds, on others more on art and history, but most of our outings find us pursuing both interests simultaneously. Cirl Buntings and Crested Tits are all the more memorable when seen from the windows of van Gogh’s room at St-Honorat, Red Kites and Common Cranes even more impressive from Krakow’s royal castle. Sweden’s Barred Warblers and Curlew Sandpipers are at home among the Viking ship burials and ancient windmills of Öland, while Bearded Vultures and Alpine Swifts soar through the skies above Spanish mountains harboring caves filled with Neolithic art. The medieval flint churches of Norfolk stand right in the center of the most exciting birding in England, and our Black Sea cruises from port to historic port feature Dalmatian Pelicans and Audouin Gulls.
One of the great benefits of being a tour leader is getting to make birding friends from all over the world. But for me, leading Birds and Art tours means that I get to make friends, period, with people whose own passions—birds, art, and everything else—richly inform the way I see landscapes I thought I knew.
When he isn’t traveling the world in search of birds, art, and excitement, Rick Wright lives in northern New Jersey with his family, Alison Beringer and Avril Huang, and their black lab puppy, Quetzal.