The fact that my husband and I have just booked our third holiday with The Biggest Twitch is surely evidence of the quality of these trips, and the enjoyment we get from them. Ruth Miller and Alan Davies plan everything down to the smallest detail; all you have to do is arrive at the meeting point with your birdwatching gear.
There is a choice of day trips or holidays in the UK, or overseas holidays to a wide variety of locations around the world. Ruth and Alan take only small groups – a maximum of just six guests – to ensure that everyone is able to get the most out of their holiday, with the opportunity to look at the birds through Ruth and Alan’s top-of-the-range Leica telescopes if desired. Birdwatching with Ruth and Alan allows both beginners and experienced birdwatchers to improve their bird ID skills and learn more about the birds seen; they are very happy to answer questions and their enthusiasm is contagious. They do their best to ensure that every guest sees every bird and, on the holidays, the daily pre-dinner review of the day’s sightings using the check-lists provided allows guests to discuss and record the birds seen each day. It’s also possible to book a private, customised day trip in North Wales for just one or two people.
Last year my husband (a fairly experienced birdwatcher) and I (a novice) joined a five-day holiday in North Wales. The base was a small hotel, staying on a bed, breakfast and evening meal basis; lunches and tea breaks were taken in cafes and restaurants close to the birdwatching locations. Entry to reserves and all meals and refreshments (apart from alcoholic drinks) were included in the advertised holiday price, so there were no ‘hidden extras’ to pay for. As is usual on these holidays, everyone travelled together in an eight-seater people-carrier which allowed us to chat to Ruth and Alan and our fellow guests – and look out for more birds – as we journeyed to our next birdwatching location. The guests were a mixture of single men or women and couples, including one couple who were on holiday from America; on this occasion all guests were over fifty, although there had been some younger guests on our previous holiday with Ruth and Alan. A common interest always helps to break the ice and we were soon all chatting as if we’d known each other for years.
Every day started with an early morning pre-breakfast walk from the hotel, for those who wished to. I’m not an ‘early bird’ so my husband joined the walk, leaving me to sleep in until a more civilised hour. After breakfast, everyone got into the car with their binoculars and wet-weather gear (just in case!) The usual departure time varied between 8am and 9am, depending on the distance to that day’s first destination, but one morning we left at 6am in order to see a grouse lek (mating display), which only takes place very early in the morning, afterwards having breakfast at a cafe.
Some locations involved a walk around a reserve; at other times we’d just park the car and take a short walk to a wood or river, for example. Regular comfort stops were made, and there was no problem with a request for an unscheduled stop if needed. ‘Audience participation’ is encouraged, and on one occasion I was thrilled to be the first to spot a bird and point it out to the group (although I wasn’t knowledgeable enough to identify it!) Most days we visited four or five locations, and we saw around 60-70 different species of bird each day, with an overall total for the holiday of 125 different species, including less common birds such as pied flycatcher, chough, raven, ring ouzel, black grouse, crossbill, wood warbler and garden warbler. We usually arrived back at the hotel by 6pm, allowing plenty of time for everyone to freshen up and change before the review of the day’s birding, followed by a relaxed evening meal together.
Although the trips sound as if they’re for people who take their birdwatching very seriously, they are also good for novice birdwatchers, and great fun. My husband and I have different levels of experience but we both get a lot out of the holidays, and enjoy meeting others with the same interest. Ruth and Alan are very friendly with a great sense of humour and we immediately felt at ease in their company. In addition, we see far more birds with Ruth and Alan than we could ever hope to find on our own, and having someone on hand to confirm our correct identification of a bird is a huge confidence-booster. Our birdwatching skills have improved tremendously since we have been on these trips, as has our interest in the hobby, and we now go out birdwatching much more often as a result.