When in doubt over birding travel, always trust the counsel of your birding bestie (BB). In my case, my BB, Jessica, encouraged me to take the plunge and participate in the inaugural international Reader Rendezvous. This was during the 2016 American Birding Expo in Columbus, Ohio. She and I co-led the volunteer brigade: Jessica oversaw the event’s registration operation, and I (wo)manned all the daily spotlight speaker talks. One of those speakers was João Jara, of Birds & Nature Tours Portugal, and I decided to sit in on his talk—nice job perk, that—and within about five minutes, I was saying to myself WHUT I NEED TO VISIT PORTUGAL!
Shortly afterward, I shared my excitement with Bill Thompson, III, who informed me there was still one spot left on the Portugal: Birding an Ancient Land Reader Rendezvous scheduled for April 2017. Given my predilection for thrift, I agonized over the pros and cons. Fortunately for me, Jessica countered each of my concerns with legit wisdom. Thanks to her optimism and my willingness to stretch beyond my comfort zone, I registered. And so it was that, from April 17–28, 2017, I joined 16 other BWD subscribers to explore the Alcochete, Algarve, and Tavira regions of Portugal.
No way could I tell all the stories worth telling from this trip in a single blog post. Of course, we enjoyed some amazing birding. I personally saw or heard 160 birds. This being my first birding trip in Europe, virtually all were lifers for me, including European roller, little owl, greater flamingo, and little egret.
One thing you can count on with all Reader Rendezvous: some top-notch eats. At one restaurant, we were able to choose from the establishment’s freshly caught fish. And we definitely enjoyed our share of port. We were in Portugal, after all!
Of this trip’s many highlights, the one I most treasure is becoming good friends with both Bill and then-BWD Advertising Director Ben Lizdas. Sure, I’d become acquainted with them from past Bird Watcher’s Digest-domestic travel and volunteering, but in Portugal, we became capital-F Friends. We passed hours of bus travel telling stories, debating musical tastes (someone whose name rhymes with hill would NOT budge on his anti-Billy Joel stance!), and laughing until we cried. Bill even shared his intention to eventually bring Jessica and me on to work at Bird Watcher’s Digest.
No joke: that Rendezvous changed my life. Three years later, I’m now a part of the Bird Watcher’s Digest amazing staff—bittersweet though it is, without Bill. But because he imbued everything he did with the energy of 27 people, Bill left a thriving business to prosper in very capable hands. We have plans to return to Portugal (and Spain!) with João in April 2021, so if you want to be one of the first to be notified, join our early notification email list. And maybe it’ll be Jessica’s turn to experience Portugal!
Check out Kelly’s photos from the Portugal Reader Rendezvous
About the Author
Kelly Ball is the advertising sales director at Bird Watcher's Digest. She has a Walter Mitty complex regarding her personal birding feats. Outside of her work persona, she frequently practices yoga; walks and hikes with her hound dog, Baker; chills with her dude, Kris; and tries to accept her perfectly imperfect self.