At the outset of 2020, there were seven international birding tours on my personal calendar, and as the new year dawned, I was looking forward to an exciting year of travel ahead. I would have been on the road 185 days in 2020, adding four new countries to my life list, and dozens of new birds to my global list of lifers. I would have assisted birding tours here in the United States and represented Bird Watcher’s Digest at many of the wonderful birding festivals in the US and around the world. All of these plans came to a screeching halt in late February 2020 as we braced for the impact of COVID-19.
The purpose of this note is not to explain how a small business like ours has sacrificed, adjusted, fought, and reinvented ourselves as we’ve weathered this unexpected crisis. Suffice it to say, we’re doing it. Bird Watcher’s Digest is surviving the economic, social, and personal devastation that COVID has unleashed this year. Many of our sister organizations—close friends and colleagues we work with and love—are not surviving. We continue to navigate our way through the uncharted waters of COVID-19 day by day.
Thankfully, the BWD ship is still afloat. All core crew members are present and accounted for, healthy, hardworking, and heartened by the challenge. The BWD team is a crew like no other, and this captain is grateful every day for the dedicated and talented people I serve alongside. Having stepped into this role with rather wobbly legs exactly one year prior to the pandemic, this is certainly not something I expected, nor was it something I was prepared for. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine a crisis like this. Our small business has endured the tragic loss of three members of the Thompson family who founded our beloved magazine and managed Bird Watcher’s Digest for over 40 years. Now, immediately following that huge loss, we’re enduring the blow of this global pandemic.
Those of us in the birding travel and ecotourism business have been hit hard financially by the pandemic. We all desire complete healing, safe practices, and total eradication of the virus, and we fully support the protective measures put in place by governments and communities around the world. The birding community in the US is embracing these changes bravely. Birders and birding organizations understand what’s at stake, and we have made necessary adjustments in our lives to keep ourselves and others healthy. Why? Because birders care. We realize it’s not about us. We understand the meaning of conservation and protecting the lives of everything around us. We want what’s best for birds and people. At Bird Watcher’s Digest, we are 100 percent committed to the health and safety of birds and nature, and that of all our followers, attendees, and subscribers.
After months of consideration, deliberation, research, and careful examination, we have decided to move forward with a new, revised Reader Rendezvous schedule for 2021. In fact, we are doing more Rendezvous in 2021 than we ever have before! No, we are not disregarding the pandemic. But we ARE forging ahead to create a “new normal” in birding travel.
These are still troubling times, and we don’t expect that to change in the near future, but we feel that birding and birding travel can and should continue in a safe and responsible way. We are working to create tours that provide a wonderful opportunity to see great birds, to enjoy the company of others, to benefit from the expertise of local birding guides, and yet remain socially distant, sanitary, and safe.
Now more than ever we all need connection—with birds, with birders, and with the natural world around us. We believe we can create new, safer ways to experience birding travel.
We don’t presume to have all the answers, nor do we expect everyone to agree with this decision. Birding travel will not be an option for everyone in 2021 and beyond. We encourage anyone who is at elevated risk to avoid travel altogether until the pandemic is behind us. Your health and safety are our primary concern. But we aim to create birding tours that protect participants while retaining the essential joys of birding and togetherness. Our motto for Reader Rendezvous has always been “birding is better with friends,” and that still holds true. We’ll just keep our friends at a safe, social distance in 2021!
One major adaptation is the size of our tours. The 2021 tours will be smaller and closer to home (with a few exceptions), and we will host more tours. Attendees will not be together in close spaces at any point during our upcoming tours, and we are changing our transportation methods as well. These are just a few of the adjustments we’re making. You can read more about our new and improved COVID-resistant tour practices here.
Those of you who had planned to travel with us from March through September 2020 have been given the option to accept a refund or to invest your tour dollars in a future Rendezvous. We are still in the process of refunding many of you, as we have had to manage our finances carefully during the past five months. We are encouraged that many of you have opted to invest in a future tour with us, and we hope that our 2021 selection will please and entice you.
We are proud to offer TWELVE Reader Rendezvous in 2021, including ten domestic and two international tours. We will launch registration for several of these tours in mid-August 2020 and the remainder in mid-October 2020. We realize you will have questions, comments, and concerns as you consider joining us. We are here and ready to answer any questions you have, and to work with you to make sure we are all safe and comfortable. We are also open to suggestions and ideas you have to help us further improve our safe, COVID-resistant tour practices.
With hope in our hearts and sanitizer in our hands, the BWD Reader Rendezvous Team cordially invites you to come birding with us in 2021! Let’s create a new normal together, and celebrate birds, friendship, the great outdoors, and all the things in life that matter most.
President and Publisher
Bird Watcher’s Digest
About the Author
Wendy Clark is the president and publisher of Bird Watcher’s Digest, a career communications specialist, and an avid birder. She has three children and two grandchildren, and lives in Marietta, Ohio.