Around the world there are a whole host of birder gatherings, from Ornithological Congresses to lowly local get-togethers. Maybe as birders we just love to emulate the objects of our attention and flock together.
Obviously ornithologists gather to talk taxonomy and wildlife refuge wardens meet to swap conservation tips and lobby governments.
Birders, however, like to meet other birders. A few of us like the total isolation of solo birding, but most of us like to share the activity with a mate or birding buddy.
U.S. Birding Festivals
In the U.S. to date, most birding get togethers are either symposiums or festivals. Look up “symposium” and you’ll find its first definition as a conference or meeting to discuss a particular subject; the secondary meaning being a drinking party or convivial discussion. If I know birders, both definitions nicely fit the bill! Festivals tend to celebrate a particular species, habitat or flyway with the emphasis very much on collective birding with a side order of headline speaking events and the chance to meet the great names in birding. Several hundred to maybe a couple of thousand birders descend on a locality and enjoy some days rubbing shoulders with old friends and birding celebrities.
The British Bird Fair
In the U.K., the British Bird Fair follows a quite different pattern.
The BBF had humble beginnings a quarter century ago, when a couple of hundred guys got to chew the birding fat while wandering around a few dozen stalls in a large tent. Now, around 25,000 birders spend three days packing out ten or more massive tents, each housing 50 to 100 booths. That is not even to mention the several lecture tents, a huge events tent, the catering area and standalone outdoor booths.
Sure, it is held on the edge of a nature preserve, and you can test out scopes from the optics tent directly beside a wetland, and take an hour or two to wander around Rutland Water, but that is not what the BBF is all about.
If you look at the A-to-Z of exhibitors in the 80-page official BBF program you will find vast numbers of bird tour companies; a dozen or more national tourist authorities; many conservation organizations and charities; optics companies galore; an art tent packed full of artists and art works—one could spend the whole three days there with a watering mouth and rapidly emptying wallet—as well as dozens of professional photographers; a few local and many international bird clubs; accessories from clothing to bird food; book stores (one store owner told me he brings ten tons of books every year!); birding magazines; birding tech makers; film makers and much more.
It is no wonder, then, that there are a growing number of bird fairs around the world wanting to emulate the BBF.
The BBF is unique in many ways, but it is probably its international nature that really marks it as different. In just one part of my tent (Fatbirder shares a double booth with the accessible birding advocacy charity I set up, Birding For All) there are stands for Texas, Australia, New Zealand, Andalucia (Spain), Netherlands, Gambia, the Neo-tropical Bird Club and the Oriental Bird Club, the World Land Trust, international tour companies including Ornitholidays, BirdQuest and Rockjumper, WildTravel magazine, and dominating the tent, the multi-booths of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, our one-million-member-strong birding charity and the founder of BirdLife International.
Every year the mass of visitors get to meet hundreds of overseas birders and birding service providers from every continent! Virtually all of our home-grown birding celebrities (BBC TVs Bill Oddie, Chris Packham, Mike Dilger, et al) are there as well as some known around the world, such as Jonathan Scott, the filmmaker of The Big Cat Diary, and Nigel Marven, who presented “Walking With Dinosaurs.”
When I was signing my latest book, along with half a dozen other writers who were signing at any given moment, we worked out that, on any day there will be at least four-dozen birding authors at the BBF!
For me, one of the things I love most is being able to meet in the flesh people I have corresponded with, sometimes for years (this year I met up with Richard Crossley for the first time), as well as many old friends that I only ever see at the fair like a certain Mr. William Thompson, III, editor and co-publisher of Bird Watcher’s Digest.
American Birding Expo
Bill was telling me that the event he had mentioned to me at last year’s BBF is going to happen next year: The inaugural American Birding Expo, October 2-4 in Colombus, Ohio. British Bird Fair originator and organizer Tim Appleton has been sharing his years of experience with Bill so I am sure that this, combined with all of Bill’s experience as keynote speaker at birding festivals and organizing symposiums will make the Expo a rip-roaring success!
About the Author
Bo Beolens is best known in birding circles for his extensive web presence: Fat Birder - one of the world’s biggest and most-used on-line resources for birders and Birding Top 1000 lists the top birding websites by their popularity. He also has a monthly column in a UK birding magazine as The Grumpy Old Birder and has written articles in BWD and other magazines. He has had seven books published and more are in final edit… ‘The Eponym Dictionary of Birds’ came out in time for the British Bird Fair in August 2014. He also champions birders with mobility problems setting up a charity in 2001 Birding For All Having birded on six continents he also organises trips for others via his Anytime Tours website. If he ever gets time he goes birding! His wife Maggie and son Ash are keen birders but the rest of their children and some of their five grandchildren (21, 14, 12, 10, 5) have yet to be convinced... although two are now showing a healthy interest! Having reached the magical age of 65 Bo has recently launched a new BLOG: Angry Old Bloke