When planning for a bird-watching trip, we work out the logistics of it to the minutest detail for an immersive experience. The basics like cameras, lenses, binoculars, where to stay e.t.c are arranged in advance. A human bird guide is however not given the importance it well deserves.
The decision of whether or not to a bird guide should be hired should not be designated to the last spot. On our part, we consider this an elementary element of a successful birding expedition. The advantages that a local and experienced hired birding help would bring on board far outweigh any drawbacks. At the top of the pros table is of course the wealth of knowledge that will be brought to the table. The kind of knowledge that is not found in books or online. It is that deep practical knowledge that comes from studying, training and a lifetime experience of living in that specific location.
For starters, bird guides know a lot about the birds that you are interested in. You want to know how the kakapo got its name? A bird guide will explain it better than any text might. The more local and entertaining the bird guide is, the more intriguing and immersive the narration will be. What you will learn about a bird during birding with a bird guide is a lot more satisfying than solo birdwatching. With their bird knowledge, the guide will also help you interact with the birds better. Picture the fun of getting close to the multicoloured quetzal, or having a front row seat to the osprey swooping on a prey. Such experiences rarely happen by chance. It takes knowledge from an experienced person to make it more than just a chance encounter. The bird guide will do that to you.
Bird guides, especially local ones, are no doubt conversant with the area you hope to do your birding. They understand the area, its culture and traditions. They know the best birding spots. Some of these spots will probably not be available in any literature. Their years of on-the-ground exposure means they know the best time to spot a bird species that is elusive. Your guide will know the best tree to climb if you want that one-in-a-million birding shot.
Factors like the terrain, weather, routes, safety, and available facilities can mean the difference between an exciting and easy-flowing experience from a stressful one. In the course of your birding trip you might inadvertently offend the locals. With a local birding guide, this can be avoided. The guide will ensure you skirt potential land mines like stumbling into an out-of-bounds revered site. He/she will ensure you respect local customs and recognize local sensibilities.
Besides the knowledge aspect, knowing what you are doing and where to do it means that your time will be well utilized. Saving on precious minutes or even hours would mean enough is reserved to observe and tick off as many birds in your list as possible.
Along the way, it does not hurt to make a couple of new friends. The shared experience when birding with a guide is a great place to form lasting friendships that traverse geographical boundaries. Bonds are created and others are strengthened. If you do get the chance to return to the same place again, there will be the satisfaction in knowing there is a friendly face waiting for you. So, if for nothing else, get a bird guide for the human bonding and shared experience and memories.