The Birding Ecotours Youth Africa Birders

Gees [ghee-yis; guttural ‘G’]

Abstract noun; Sth. Afr. slang

An intangible ‘vibe’ or atmosphere, characterized by extreme excitement, adrenalin, positivity, and togetherness. Often associated with situations such as parties and get-togethers, and high quality banter.

Usage: ‘Let’s bring the gees to the game tonight!’, or ‘Wow, these gents have such good gees! Let’s be friends with those guys…’

Bustard-flatgroundThe Youth Africa Birders are a mixed bunch – they’re from opposite corners of South Africa, different ages, backgrounds, and birding experience. But they are united by their common love for birds, their African identity, their youthful exuberance, and their absolute dedication to the ‘gees’…

We’re very proud to be representing the African youth through Youth Africa Birding (YAB) – and online movement which seeks to encourage birding as a hobby for young people, and to create a community of young birders across the continent. Down on the southern tip of Africa we don’t get to experience the marvel that is mass migration, but we do see the effects downstream when birds are taken out en masse along their flyways. Even in our relatively short lifetimes, the effects of the decimation of migrating birds are being felt. Migrants to South Africa are steadily declining, due largely to both legal and illegal hunting along migration routes. We are proud to have had South African representative teams in the last two Champions of the Flyway events, and we are all too keen to take up the reigns this year and to do our bit for this crucial cause.

The team would greatly appreciate it if you would consider donating to this year’s cause using our ‘just giving’ page and assisting us in helping raise crucial funds for Doga, Turkey’s Birdlife International affiliate, as we help assist them to combat the illegal killing of birds on migration. Let’s bring the Guardians of the Flyway trophy back home to South Africa and show the international birding community what a true fundraising titan we are!

The past two years have seen the Birding Ecotours Bandits take part in the race, holding the South African flag high, however this year the Bandit’s are backing the youngsters and handing the reigns to us for a year, and for that we are extremely grateful to Birding Ecotours for their support and backing of this team!

What we lack in experience we make up for in enthusiasm, so watch out Eilat – we’re coming for you, and we’re gonna #BringTheGees!

The Birding Ecotours Youth Africa Birders

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Meet the Team

John Kinghorn

John Kinghorn

John Kinghorn (21) has been interested in the wildlife and nature since he was a child and has been traveling to the Kruger National Park since he was eight months old. He has a variety of varying interests, but biodiversity as a whole is where his heart lies, with bats and birds occupying most of his time when he is not studying toward an LLB degree through the University of South Africa. John is also a Member of the Field Guides Association of Southern Africa (FGASA) and is a qualified Terrestrial Level 1 Guide and National Bird Guide. He works as a guide and office staff for Birding Ecotours, is Chairman of Youth Africa Birding, and regularly helps raise awareness and funds as well as contribute data for various conservation-related organizations.

Being one of Southern Africa’s foremost young birders, having observed close on 840 species on the subcontinent, John has also traveled to many exotic countries in different parts of the world, including China, Australia, England, Scotland and the USA and recently (2014) broke the record for the youngest person to see 800 species of Southern African birds in a calendar year, making him only the sixth-ever person to accomplish this feat.

John’s incredible love for nature and conservation shines through in all aspects of his day to day life with his overall life goal being to share with as many people as possible, the fire that is his passion which burns deep inside of him and to help generate, through education, awareness across all age groups regarding conservation and the incredible wildlife we have on this planet.   

Werner van der Walt

Werner (22) has been interested in birding since an extremely young age and has travelled the Southern African sub-region extensively in his pursuit for all things avian. His travels have taken him on road trips through South Africa’s endemic rich West Coast, enjoying eastern bushveld specialities in the famous Kruger National Park, birding in altitudes of over two-thousand meters above sea level in the incredibly scenic Drakensberg in his quest for Drakensberg Siskin and Rockjumper and persevering through the oft times ‘dead’ birding that is to be had in Zimbabwe and Mozambique’s Miombo woodlands. When Werner isn’t birding, he is flying in a diminutive little Cirrus SR20 whereby he is completing his Commercial Pilot’s Licence, and even then he still can’t seem to shake off his avian obsession and keeps a fast growing list of over 30 species that he has seen whilst in the air.

Having officially started a bird list at the tender age of 15 but having been birding with his father for many years prior, Werner has seen over 770 species to date in the southern African sub-region, making him one of the highest ranking registered under 30 lister’s according to Youth Africa Birding’s national rankings. Having competed in two South African Birding Big Days, Werner is no stranger to what goes into planning a 24 hour day dedicated to pure birding and brings with him birding expertise, a true South African sense of humor and a sense of light heartedness to the team, all of which will prove invaluable through the duration of our trip.  

Although birds are his main interest, Werner also enjoys all other forms of biodiversity particularly frogs, mammals and reptiles. Werner contributes on a regular basis to both the Southern African Bird Atlas Project as well as to various conservation related organizations whether it be through raising funds or awareness and spends a lot of his free time exploring and birding his local patch. He also serves as vice-chairman of Youth Africa Birding and has proven to be a driving force when it comes to encouraging birding among the South African youth.

Werner van der Walt

Jessleena Suri

Jessleena Suri

Originally from New Delhi, India, Jessleena (25) has been passionate about all things nature from a young age. She is fortunate that her father is a diplomat, and has has spent much of her life moving from country to country. From visiting places like Yellowstone at the age of 4 to the wild wonders of Tanzania at the age of 7, the wildlife bug bit early, and has shaped the rest of Jess’ life. It was when she moved to South Africa in 2006 that the birding bug bit her. Living in Johannesburg (the world’s biggest man-made forest!) and regular visits to places like Kruger National Park cemented her conservation interests and sparked her interest in birds. Since 2010, Jessleena has been living in Cape Town and studying conservation biology and environmental science at the University of Cape Town. Inevitably, birds have ended up creeping into her research also and her true interests lie in urban ornithology. She has done research looking at the impacts of an urban river catchment on bird diversity in Cape Town and on the impacts of urbanisation on the health and diet of a local raptor, the Black Sparrowhawk. She is now embarking on a PhD looking at the impact of urban landscape structure and connectivity on bird diversity in South Africa.

Though she has only been “officially” birding since 2011, Jess has recently been taking her hobby more seriously, from participating in “Big Days” around Cape Town to slowly working her way through the birds of South Africa, to birding whenever she visits her family in exotic locations like Australia and India. Jess also sits on the committee of the university’s birding club, formed by fellow CoTF teammate Andrew. Getting the opportunity to participate in a Champions of the Flyway team in 2017 has been a real privilege for Jess, and she is excited about the prospect of contributing to an extremely important conservation cause whilst getting to discover Israel’s natural wonders at the same time!

Andrew de Blocq

Andrew, 24, is relatively new to competitive birding in the sense that he only started to keep lists in 2014. But since that fateful day, what was a passing interest has turned into an absolute obsession. Birding has literally shaped Andrew’s career, as he is now studying towards his MSc in Biological Sciences at the University of Cape Town, majoring in Ornithology and Conservation. His thesis covers the disturbance impacts of boat-based ecotourism on waterbirds, with a view to designing eco-friendly boat tours of least disturbance at De Hoop Vlei – a Ramsar-designated wetland and Birdlife Important Bird Area (IBA). This is being performed through the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, which is considered by many to be the top ornithological institute in the southern hemisphere, as well as all of Africa. In 2016 Andrew also founded and chaired the UCT Birding Club – the only dedicated student bird club in southern Africa.

In his spare time Andrew is a part-time bird guide for Birding Africa, leading tours around the Western Cape and also out to sea on pelagic trips for Cape Town Pelagics. He has a passion broadly for nature, but birds and mammals are special interests. Andrew is an enthusiastic and prolific contributor to the Southern African Bird Atlas Project, which maps the distribution of birds through the input of citizen scientists. When not doing bird related activities, he enjoys watching and playing a variety of sports, ranging from more obscure sports such as Ultimate frisbee to the more traditional rugby, cricket, and squash.

Andrew is very familiar with Big Days, and enjoys the pre-event planning and input almost as much as the day itself. In the 2016 South African national Birding Big Day, Andrew (together with Jess) was part of the top team in the Western Cape province, recording 201 species. In the 32 year history of the competition only a handful of teams have ever achieved this. While a double century seems unlikely for the Champions of the Flyway race, Andrew is keen to see how far the team can push it, and even more so to make the effort count through fundraising for this important cause.

Andrew de Blocq