The Way-Off Coursers are a team of four birders: two Americans (Ben Lizdas and Bill Thompson, III), one Englishman (Mark Cocker), and one Canadian-Chilean-American (Alvaro Jaramillo). This team was hand-picked for their special talents, including both birding knowledge and life skills.
These skills are as follows:Bill Thompson, III: Publisher/Editor of Bird Watcher’s Digest. Doesn’t mind scanning the distant sky, even at night. Will help the team avoid bad shawarma. And bad karma.
Ben Lizdas: Sales Manager at Eagle Optics. Knows optics like no other. World-renowned cheese expert. Makes the best faces in group photos.
Alvaro Jaramillo: CEO Alvaro’s Adventures. Globe-trotting tour leader. Bird ID expert. Actually enjoys identifying gulls. Ice-hockey and punk rock fan. Speaks Spanish, American, Canadian.
Mark Cocker: Widely published natural history author. Reformed twitcher. Has an alter-ego named Barney, a Norfolk farmer. Speaks English with an English accent.
For the 2016 Champions race, the Bird Watcher’s Digest/ZEISS Way–off Coursers plan to conduct a Big Sit. “What’s a Big Sit?” you ask. It’s a stationary Big Day where you (and your team) try to see as many species as possible from a single location.
The members of the 2016 Way-off Coursers all have decades of birding experience and have participated in many Big Days, but the Coursers also have a history of going against the grain. The 2014 Coursers were the only Champions team to run a controversial south-to-north route. It did not prove to be a winning strategy for them in 2014, but it was the winning strategy for another team in the 2015 race.
Coursers Captain Bill Thompson, III, has a history of doing Big Sits during Big Day competitions, including in the World Series of Birding and the Great Texas Birding Classic. “We’re raising money for conservation, so it seems natural to conserve energy and resources (including our own) by staying in one place and letting the birds come to us,” Thompson said. The team will conduct their Big Sit at the Eilat Birdwatching Center – which is also sponsored by ZEISS.
You can follow the Coursers here: Twitter:#cotfwayoff, @billofthebirds & @bwdmag (Bill Thompson III), @alvaroadventure (Alvaro Jaramillo), @eagleoptics (Ben Lizdas). Follow the race at #COTF2016.
BillThompson, III (or BT3 as he’s known by many) is the publisher and editor of Bird Watcher’s Digest, the magazine founded by his parents in their Marietta, Ohio home in 1978. A birder for more than four decades, Bill is the author of many books on birds and nature, including the award-winning Young Birders Guide to Bird of North America. Bill was the captain of the Way-off Coursers team from the United States which competed in the inaugural Champions race. To help promote and support the 2016 Champion of the Flyways event, Bill wrote and recorded an original song, “River of Birds in the Sky” working with his bandmates (and fellow birders) in The Rain Crows. The song, and the accompanying video, are aimed at raising awareness of the illegal killing of migratory birds along the Mediterranean flyway.
I’m thrilled to be returning to the Champions of the Flyway bird race with the Way-off Coursers. When I’m not big sitting with my fellow Way-off Coursers, I’m generally traveling to birding events around North America and beyond as Sales and Marketing Manager for Eagle Optics, an online retailer for birding optics. Getting the opportunity to spend time with birders from around the world is one of the joys of this occupation, on par with the chance to enjoy a great diversity of birds.
Champions of the Flyway
With multiple nationalities and respective passports, Chilean, Canadian, and Californian, Alvaro Jaramillo hoped for a career in international spying. Alas, no one came knocking at his door. But his love for sitting in cars conducting surveillance of unusual goings on, and looking through high powered optics led him to birding instead. Here he has made quite an unpronounceable name for himself, writing the definitive field guide to the Birds of Chile, the Helm Guide to the Icterids, and more recently a photographic field guide to the Birds of California. He leads birding tours for his company, Alvaro’s Adventures, most of them in the Neotropics, including his signature Birds and Wine trip in Argentina and Chile. In California he is known for his love of gulls and seabirds, as well as operating the most fun, informative, and birdy pelagic boat trips in Central California, most of them out of the port of his home town, Half Moon Bay, California.
Mark Cockeris an author, naturalist and environmental activist who writes and broadcasts on nature and wildlife in a variety of national media.
His ten books include works of biography, history, literary criticism and memoir. His latest are Claxton: Field Notes from a Small Planet (2014) and Birds and People (both by Jonathan Cape), which was published to international acclaim in 2013 and was a collaboration with the photographer David Tipling. His previous book Crow Country was shorlisted for several awards, including the Samuel Johnson Prize, and won the New Angle Prize (2009).
For the last 35 years his home has been in Norfolk, where much of his spare time is devoted to the restoration of a small wooded fen called Blackwater. He is married to the arts professional Mary Muir, from whom he gets many of his best ideas!