July 21st 1998, I embarked on a year long epic journey across three continents having negotiated a few days off work, well 380 to be precise. The destinations were mostly remote, rarely visited, requiring a sense of adventure and a little bit of pioneering spirit but the rewards were plenty and remain as 'mostly' good memories.
Neil Bostock had decided to take 'another' year off whilst Keith Turner had a years sabbatical and the three of us had come up with an itinerary that was complicated, full and ultimately very tiring. Travelling across South and Central America, the West Indies with a 5 day break at home in February 1999 we encountered many 'dream' birds, destinations and our fair share of mis fortune and mishaps. Departing Eastwards in the February on the second leg of the journey my short time at home allowed me to purchase new optics, clothes and swap fieldguides plus enabling me to fly back out of the UK just before a Pied billed Grebe took up temporary residence near Ashford.
The second leg of the trip across Asia and the Pacific was incredibly tiring and demanding with trek after trek into the remote mountains of the Bismarcks off New Guinea, the Solomons and finally the awe inspiring Vanuatu! To repeat this journey would require sheer determination and logistical back up and we owe a huge debt to Jon Hornbuckle for sorting out the Pacific part of the trip whilst we were travelling across Asia. The list of rarities and mega birds was endless but these came at a price in terms of sanity, at times health, fitness and sleep deprivation. A trip of 70+ flights and connections, gruelling treks into the humid mountains with fantastic local porters, numerous boat trips including a capsize, earthquakes, two robberies, one at gun point and a host of helpful locals plus Gunnar and Jonas in S America and great company with many other birders partaking in the trip. Looking back the trip was a success on most parts with the help of keen, sharp eyes and logistical skills. Simon, Martin and Ashley enabled us to see some great birds, on their parts of the trip and thankfully we all returned safely back to the UK despite the trials and tribulations of life.
(Rennell Shrikebill . endemic to the island of Rennell in the Solomons)
10 years on would I do it again.......................... Probably not!!
Did I miss much in Kent that year......................Oh yes, July 98-99 was almost certainly the 'best' year ever on record for rarities in Kent.
Even now I'm asked as to whether I'll be travelling away again for a long time as it produced the goods in Kent!!!
It was a great year, never to be forgotten birding truly remote parts of the World and seeing birds rarely recorded before including some re discoveries and new information on some species.
What a fantastic hobby birding is and a great way to see the World.
The photo above though appearing somewhat 'dodgy' shows Jon on the RHS, Keith at the back and me at Camp Professor on Kolombangara a volcanic island in the Solomons sheltering from the rain. This island itself is host to many endemic bird species and a great place to bird.