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WINGS Tour Leaders – Paul Holt

Paul Holt

Image of Paul Holt

Paul Holt was born in the west Pennine town of Burnley, Lancashire in 1963. Unable to remember the first bird he looked at, or when he actually started birding, he does recollect that there were natural history books and binoculars in the house from an early age. Passing the buck, Paul blames his parents for what’s been a lifelong interest in birds.

Joining a local branch of the Young Ornithologists’ Club (the junior branch of the RSPB) in the early 1970s brought Paul into closer contact with similarly like-minded youngsters and equally enthusiastic teachers. Bi-monthly meetings and numerous field trips to sites throughout the north of England ensued and his passion blossomed. ‘Local patch’ birding was the order of the day and Paul soon became an active part of the local birding scene. Trips further a field beckoned and this inevitably led to bigger and better things. Rarity chasing soon became another interest and his first successful “twitch” was for a Long-billed Dowitcher on the Lancashire coast. He was hooked. Trips throughout Britain, especially to the east coast and the Isles of Scilly, ensued.

A degree in Geography beckoned. The standard round of prospectuses and Open Days failed to whittle the choice of potential destinations down significantly and he finally opted to study at the University of Hull, a choice that he openly admits was significantly influenced by the city’s close proximity to the east coast of Britain and Spurn Point in particular. His choice was amply rewarded with an organised field trip on the second weekend of the first term, a field trip that led to Paul and the lecturer temporarily abandoning the group to chase a Pallas’s Warbler!

Family holidays had already kindled an interest in foreign birding. Paul’s interest in British rarities and potential rarities determined his choice of destinations in, what he had planned to be, a post-University ‘year off’. One year’s itinerant birding, interspersed with casual work that included dishwashing, cooking and waiting tables in restaurants, lead to another year’s travelling, and another as trips to India, repeated visits to the east coast of North America, Nepal, Thailand and China, accompanied by bouts of dysentery and giardia. Soon Paul had almost accomplished one of his targets by seeing almost all the species on the British list.

Paul’s trips had brought him into contact with several leading birders of the time, such as David Sibley and the late Peter Grant, who were then working for WINGS and Sunbird respectively. With minimum effort Paul was enticed into the bird-tour business. His first tour, a short jaunt around Cape May, New Jersey, with David Sibley and Will Russell, was far more fun than he’d expected, and so other tours, to Florida, Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, and Alberta, followed shortly thereafter. Paul’s main interests however were, and remain, in the Old World, and it was back here that he soon started leading trips. He worked to actively expand WINGS and Sunbird’s Asia programme, initially with new tours to Nepal and South India. Paul’s tour schedule soon blossomed and it wasn’t long before he found himself spending more time travelling than at home, a state of affairs that continues to this day.

The Indian subcontinent rapidly became the focus of Paul’s interests and he now finds himself having seen well over 1000 species, having led over 65 tours and having spent more than three years in the field in the region! Few western birders have more experience of the subcontinent than Paul.

The subcontinent still has plenty to offer and remains of primary interest -  indeed Paul’s favourite destination has been, and still is, magical Bhutan and his explorations with groups there have added more than 25 species to the Bhutan birdlist.

Paul’s ornithological interests still revolve primarily around the British, Indian subcontinent and Chinese avifaunas. He is a keen sound recordist and his huge collection of recordings from the Indian subcontinent are even now being incorporated into a soon to be published (hopefully) CD of the region’s bird vocalisations.

Tours

Updated: October 2020