Polly Nightingale

With Bird Fair just days away, I’m going all ornithological. It’s an apt moment to shine the spotlight on our feathered friends in all their many colours, sizes, shapes and guises. Timely, too, as ‘avitourism’ is currently one of the fastest growing forms of ecotourism.

BIG Who can fail to be impressed by the sight of the condor, soaring high on thermals, its grace belying its immense size. With a wingspan of 10 feet, this is a mighty bird, eliciting admiration and veneration and earning a place in local Andean myths and religions. It’s also widely used as a symbol of the Andes Mountains. Stay at Hacienda Zuleta and visit the Condor Huasai Project, which looks after victims of trafficking and hunting, unable to survive in the wild, for rare close-up views of these amazing birds.


SMALL The dainty hummingbird is my choice for this category. It’s a marvel in miniature, beautifully formed, so delicate. There’s something heart-warming about watching one of these tiny creatures as it hovers, the rapidly beating wings (50 times a second would you believe) making the familiar humming sound, poised perfectly as it extracts nectar from a lush hibiscus flower or special bird feeder using its long bill. You can see them in many places, and we particularly recommend Bellavista Lodge in Ecuador’s cloudforest, and Bosque de Paz in Costa Rica.


UGLY This isn’t really fair, but the shoebill stork wouldn’t walk away with any prizes in a beauty contest. Maybe ugly isn’t the word, but it’s undeniably odd, almost cartoonish in appearance, its huge beak looks grafted on. Words don’t do it justice. Just look – and this isn’t photo-shopped I promise! If you want to see this rare species for yourself head to the Bangweulu Wetlands of Zambia, where you can stay at the appropriately-named Shoebill Camp, and Uganda’s Murchison Falls National Park.


BEAUTIFUL The silhouette of the flamingo, tall and slender with impossibly long legs, embodies elegant beauty. Plumage ranges from a delicate shade of pale pink through to deep crimson and earns them their name, derived from the Spanish ‘flamenco’ meaning fire. This colour is determined by diet, so if you’re a flamingo you really are what you eat! Kenya’s Rift Valley lakes, especially Naivasha, Nakuru and Bogoria, plus Lake Manyara  in Tanzania are some of the best places in the world to see flamingos.


COLOURFUL It’s hard to beat the vibrant colours of the Amazon’s parrots and macaws. Emerald green, brilliant blue, egg yolk yellow and vivid scarlet are just a few. Some content themselves with just one colour while others opt for a dazzling blend. Watch them flock in their hundreds to a riverbank clay lick – it’ll be the most dazzling display of colour you’ll ever see! You can witness this spectacle in Peru’s Tambopata National Reserve, where you can stay at the Research Centre, near the site of the world’s largest known clay lick.


MY FAVOURITE Indulge me! Since I was tiny I was entranced by kingfishers. I had a collection of cards and pictures long before I saw one for real. And when I did, I was thrilled, and still experience that frisson of excitement when I see one now. In Tanzania I was lucky enough to see a malachite kingfisher in the mangroves while at Simply Saadani, fluffing up his feathers after a dip in the water, and then a larger pied kingfisher patiently posing for the camera. They’re still my favourites.


Whether you’re a fully-fledged (sorry!) twitcher, enthusiastic amateur or casual observer, bird watching provides much pleasure and enjoyment, and this mini celebration of all things avian is long overdue. If you want more, why not head to the Bird Fair, taking place from 21st to 23rd August at Rutland Water. And look in on our stand, 15 & 16 in marquee 3, to say hello!