In this blog Chris van der Heijden, founder of www.birdingplaces.eu tells about how he started the idea of Birdingplaces two years ago and how it became an instant hit among European birders.
“It felt like European birders had been waiting for us. Directly from the start birders from all over Europe began to share their favourite birding areas. It was amazing. We took off like a rocket.” says Chris van der Heijden.
Where to watch birds in Europe? Every year when I went on holiday somewhere in Europe I got the same déjà vu. Finding good birding info proved to be difficult. In Spain, France, Italy, Germany, Sweden, everywhere it was the same. Yes, for the big and famous hotspots I could dig up some birding info alright. But the small, local, nice birding gems near my campsite or hotel… No trace of any detailed info, maybe with a bit of luck some general info online. Or only available in an incomprehensible language. Even for the top birding areas, information was often limited or not accurate. Buying an overpriced Where-to-watch-birds-book sometimes helped. More often these guides were outdated and the user-friendliness was far below zero (cryptic maps!). But maybe most important: these books only covered tiny parts of Europe.
Year after year I found myself heading for the local Tourist office. And every time there was this déjà vu when I asked: ‘Excuse me, are there any nice places for birdwatching in the area?’ Bird what? The employee from the Tourist Office looked helplessly at me and apologized for not being able to help me. Apologies accepted of course. Because after all these years I learned one thing: for non-birders it is difficult to understand what a birder is looking for. That boring plain, that muddy wetland full of mosquitoes, that bare and windy mountaintop, that dark damp forest, that swampy path through the reed bed. Why would you want to go there? Yes, we birders know better.
So there you are. Craving for some nice birding on your holiday. But no info available, nobody to help you and no fellow-birders in sight. So what to do? How can you find that beautiful viewpoint, that old forest or that small wetland? Which road should I follow? Is a circular walk possible? Do I need a telescope? How far do I need to walk? Are there any bird-watching hides in the area and if so, where are they located? Sometimes you are lucky and find some nice places yourself. But a lot of times you don’t. To hear upon returning home from holiday from a bird watcher friend that he visited a great birdingplace only 5 kilometers from my lodging address…
While I was working for several years at BirdLife the Netherlands (Vogelbescherming Nederland) an idea began to take shape in my head. Wouldn’t it be possible to create a birdwatching community where people could share birdwatching knowledge. A network of birders who help each other and share the places they like best. With the help of modern technology it must be possible to connect thousands of birders. And that should be possible in their own language. Eureka! That was it. Not a national website or community but a pan-European website connecting all birders in Europe. Enabling them to share their favourite areas, make their own maps and add all the info they think is useful, in their own language. It was August 2019 when this idea kicked in. The adrenaline rushed through my head, why didn’t I think of this before? Pan-European and multilingual. Could that work? A month later the first design of the website was drawn.
With my savings I financed the building of a website and the quite complicated database on which the website had to run. But we needed to find a sponsor to help us finance Birdingplaces in the long run. It was Leica that immediately saw the potential of the idea and promised us their support right from the start. In September 2019 we hired a webbuilder and a webdesigner to start building www.birdingplaces.eu.
The first version of the website went on a trial run in November 2019. Eight volunteers joined in to translate the website into English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Swedish and Dutch. And in December we ran a final month of trial to see if everything was working properly. It did! January 1, 2020 we officially launched Birdingplaces!
It felt like European birders had been waiting for us. Directly from the start birders from all over Europe began to share their favourite birding areas. It was amazing. We took off like a rocket. We were hoping for 1000 birding areas in the first year, but we doubled it. And we are still growing fast, already heading for 3000 birdwatching areas!
Sometimes when I open the map of Birdingplaces I can’t believe my eyes. Hundreds and hundreds of great birding areas, just to open with one click and with all the info for a couple of hours of nice birding. From an idea to a flourishing community of European birders in less than two years. That feels truly great! The free site guide for birding in Europe that I dreamed of. Made by and for birders. Birdingplaces has thousands of visitors every month and I’m sure the site will only become richer and richer the next years.
Which brings me to another important driver to start Birdingplaces. I have worked in nature conservation and rewilding projects for years and with Birdingplaces I wanted to contribute to the protection of nature. By introducing the fun of birdwatching to a wider audience and making it easy to find the right areas for birding. Because enjoying birds is the starting point of the will to protect them. That’s why our slogan is #EnjoyAndProtect! That’s why we encourage users to support BirdLife or become a member or donor of their national BirdLife-partner.
This year I was on summer holiday in France and it was different. Because there was no déjà vu. I didn’t have to do endless research. I just clicked open Birdingplaces on my mobile phone and in a circle of 50 kilometers I found five bird areas. Five birding spots that I didn’t know existed before. The birding was fantastic (Bearded vulture up close!). Realising that I was a happy user of this website called Birdingplaces made me smile. A true moment of bliss.
Many thanks to Leica for supporting our community and seeing the potential of www.birdingplaces.eu right from the start. And thank you birders for sharing all these great birding areas.