Swarovski World Youth Birders

World youth Birders logo

A Zimbabwean, a Welshman and two South Africans walk into a bar….

Although what seems to be at first the start of a good dad joke, this passionate young team is anything but a joke. Comprised of a young, rustic looking Zimbabwean Safari guide, a Welsh gal who hand-rears wildfowl and preaches the conservation word, a high school ‘forwards’ rugby coach who likes to think of himself as a bird guide and the South African version of Goldilocks herself, except barefoot and with a remarkably good taste in khakis.

Assembled from all corners of the globe much like a birding version of the Avengers, the ‘Swarovski Optik World Youth Birders’ is a name which many of the Champions of the Flyway family associate with good banter, hardcore birding and a somewhat concerning addiction to both fresh pastries and falafels. The spirit of youth birding is at their core and embracing it comes purely as second nature, but striving to make a difference when it comes to the protection of our birds across the globe for future generations of young birders to enjoy equally as much as they do finds itself at the forefront of what they stand for and is what sets them apart from the rest of the flock.

Passionate, energetic, enthusiastic, knowledgeable and driven (with a healthy pinch of crazy), this is a team with a wind under their primaries like none before them as they campaign for our birds the world over and strive to make as much a difference as humanly possible all whilst having a blast, sharing their young outlook on birding and gathering the support of youth birders (and those young at heart) the world over as they carry through the theme of ‘birds don’t have borders, so why should we?’ and hopefully by doing so showing the world that youthful drive and passion can make an almighty difference.

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Meet the Team:

John Kinghorn

John (23) has been interested in the bush and nature since he was a child and has been traveling around South Africa with his family in their ongoing pursuit for wildlife since he was a mere eight months old. He has a variety of varying interests, but biodiversity and conservation are where his heart lies, with birds occupying most of his time. John is currently studying toward an LLB degree through the University of South Africa but is also a qualified terrestrial and National bird guide through the Field Guides Association of South Africa (FGASA). John’s infectious passion for the world’s avian gems and their conservation is portrayed in his high energy, enthusiastic approach to life, and just like in his rugby days, his willingness to tackle challenges head on. He is also the co-founder and senior expedition leader for his and Toni’s global birding and wildlife tour company called “Expedition Birding”.

Being one of Southern Africa’s foremost young birders, having observed over 850 species on the subcontinent, his eagerness to see and learn more has seen him travel abroad to many other countries across the globe in his constant avian pursuit. These include the likes of China, Australia, Israel, the southern Oceans, the United States and the United Kingdom (England and Scotland), and he is also one of only six people to have ever seen over 800 species in the southern African sub-region within the space of a calendar year and set the record for the youngest person to ever do so (19 years old, 2014). John also formed part of the history making southern hemisphere youth birding team who participated in the 2017 Champions of the Flyway event, which saw the team raise in excess of €8 800 for Doğa Derneği (BirdLife Turkey) resulting in them being crowned both the ‘Guardians’ and ‘Knights of the Flyway’; the first ever team from the southern hemisphere to be honored with an award/s. On top of this, John also formed part of the team known as the ‘Birding Ecotours World Youth Birders’ who found themselves the newly crowned record holders and race winners for the 2018 race.

John’s incredible love for nature and conservation shines through in all aspects of his day to day life and he likes to use the term ‘BirdVenturer’ to best describe himself, someone who is somewhere between a birder and an adventurer, traveling the world sharing his tales with like minded folk and generating awareness and funds for crucial conservation causes as he tries to make a difference.

Toni Geddes

The feisty one amidst our ranks, Toni’s (19) love for nature started from a young age having grown up in a wildlife conservancy where Zebras mowed her lawn and Fiery-necked Nightjars serenaded her to sleep. Rather than spending copious amounts of time sitting behind a computer or a TV, she spent most of all her school holidays exploring the famed Kruger National Park, traipsing around barefoot and picking up all sorts of creepy crawlies in sheer awe and admiration. Her love for birds and birding stemmed from many hours birding with her parents, who would often take her out at every opportunity they got, teaching her the ropes in between having to deal with her picking up Bullfrogs to take back to the house for ‘show and tell’ sessions. Before she knew it, she found herself ticking off the more common birds she was seeing and once the listing bug bit, her passion and love for birding began to grow at an exponential rate. Although the initial foundations of her newly fledged lifestyle, her love for listing soon morphed into a deeper appreciation for birds, their conservation and the breathtaking variety of over 10,000 species to be seen across the globe.

Toni is currently pursuing both a degree in Zoology and Botany through the University of South Africa as well as obtaining her field guide qualifications through the Field Guides Association of South Africa (FGASA), all whilst beginning to expand her horizons, travel more and explore what the world has to offer in terms of the plethora of bird species which have been enticing her for so many years as she assumes the role of co-founder and senior expedition leader for hers and John’s global birding and wildlife tour company, Expedition Birding. Toni’s passion for birds has seen her record close on 800 species on the southern African sub-continent, ranking her as the country’s highest under 30 female lister, at the tender age of 19!

Passion, enthusiasm and a positive outlook in even the toughest situations, accompanied by eyes sharper than a migrating Steppe Eagle, she is one of the team’s most crucial assets and definitely helped aid in the team’s successful title contention in 2018.

Jean-Michel Blake

The grandfather of the group clocking in at an ancient 26 years of age, Jean-Michel Blake was born and has lived most of his life in Harare, Zimbabwe where his passion for wildlife started and further fuelled over the years as he explored the area’s biodiversity. Since his teenage years, Jean has been a part of various birding and conservation groups and after finishing his A levels decided to pursue a career as a Safari guide. This challenging yet fulfilling occupation has seen him work in several national parks within Zimbabwe spending the majority of his guiding career in the famed Hwange and Mana Pools reserves..

Jean decided to further his passion for birds when he started bird ringing back when he was 17, and has since obtained his ‘A’ license through SAFRING. He is also a very eager participant of various Citizen science projects coordinated by the Animal Demography Unit based at the University of South Africa, contributing valuable data to various Mapping projects such as the 2nd South African Bird Atlas Project. In between guiding in Mana Pools, Jean finds himself exploring the Spotted Creeper ridden Miombo woodlands on the outskirts of Harare, his local patch, and assisting in expanding the growth in this 3rd world country of the increasingly popular lifestyle of birding. .

Excited at the prospect of being able to make a difference, Jean is a crucial asset to the team as he strives to bring to the attention of hundreds of Zimbabweans, the importance of birds and bird conservation and how Zimbabwe falls into the equation when it comes to the massacre of birds across the globe.

Dan Rouse

Dan (22) has always had a passion for birds and marine life having grown up on the South Wales coastline. Ever since she was a toddler venturing out to climb over rocks with binoculars strapped around her neck and a rucksack full of guide books, Dan has had a passion for conserving wildlife and environmental issues which led to her writing her first articles at the mere age of 12 on how to help garden birds during winter months. Since then, Dan has written about birds, her travels and wildlife in her column in a local magazine and had the pleasure of travelling to meet inspirational people and see some “ace” wildlife!

Having both a love and passion for the less loved creatures (Dan’s obsessive love for geese!), she began working for WWT in 2012 as a Learning Assistant, educating the public through talks and activities on wetland wildlife, as well as educating and teaching various school groups. Through her work with conservation, Dan has also been featured in a number of BBC/S4C programmes on wildlife and a regular interviewed nature nerd for tv and radio.

There’s nothing Dan is more passionate about than conserving species that often get overlooked or misunderstood, making her a welcome new addition to this team of aspiring conservationists!