Meet our Team

All our leaders have a strong background in conservation, with many having worked for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. More importantly, everyone has invaluable experience in their specialist areas and are passionate and enthusiastic about wildlife. Finally, all our guides have an essential good sense of humour!

Chris Townend
LEADER: Worldwide

Chris is the company owner of Wise Birding Holidays Ltd and lives in Devon with his partner Helen. When not overseas, he is often to be found on his local patch, the Otter Estuary looking for something unusual. He has found a number of exciting rarities in Devon including Devon’s first Little Shearwater and singing Blyth’s Reed Warbler, plus other exciting species like Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Red-eyed Vireo elsewhere in the South West. Chris has travelled throughout Europe, North and South America, Asia and his favourite continent, Africa, following his birding interest, as well as wildlife and conservation. Chris was employed by the RSPB for 7 years based at the RSPB’s HQ at Sandy for most of that time, in species protection. He was part of a team working to combat bird of prey persecution, illegal trade in birds and egg collecting. He then moved to Devon and worked on cirl buntings for 3 years including a year spent managing the cirl bunting re-introduction project. Now, Chris works full time as a guide for Wise Birding Holidays as well as taking time to develop new itineraries and grow the business. He has led birding holidays for over 20 years. His first passion is birds, but is closely followed by mammals, particularly the cats! He is a people person keen to share knowledge and ensure that tours are full of wildlife, humour and good quality cakes and puddings!

Dave Astins
LEADER: Oman, Eastern Europe & North America

Dave's interest in birds began at an early age with his first real birdwatching memory being a Brambling visiting his Sussex garden in the mid-1980s, although photos exist of him with a pair of binoculars at the tender age of four! When studying for his A Levels in 1985 he discovered that one of his friends and classmates, Mashuq Ahmad, was also into birds and that was it – birding became his main hobby.
 Dave started his degree in Plymouth, no coincidence it was a great place for a fledgling birder! After his degree he settled in Pembrokeshire where he has been birding ever since. 
Over 30 years later and Dave's ‘self-found’ list for Pembrokeshire is an impressive read and includes Black Scoter, Black Duck, Isabelline Wheatear, Greenish Warbler, Olive-backed Pipit, Caspian Tern, Laughing Gull, Bonaparte’s Gull, Semi-palmated Sandpiper, American Golden Plover, Short-toed Lark and Icterine Warbler.
Dave now runs Pembrokeshire based bird tours and carries out ornithological surveys. Although most of his birding is in Pembrokeshire, usually within walking distance of his home, he is well travelled. Birding destinations have included Oman, Morocco, Turkey, Cape Verde Islands, and North America.

Mike Langman
LEADER: UK, Greece, Turkey & S Africa

Mike is well known as a bird illustrator, Devon County Recorder (1996-2002), tour leader and avid Devon birder. Mike’s fabulous illustrations can be seen in almost every RSPB reserve from identification cards to large murals. Mike worked for the RSPB for nine years after leaving Art College and then pursued a career in bird illustration. His interpretation work for nature centre information boards can be found across Britain and in Europe. Much of Mike’s work can also be found in numerous international bird books and magazines. Mike spends much of his free time birding, particularly Berry Head in Devon where he spends many hundreds of hours seawatching and searching for migrants. His numerous hours in the field have been rewarded with many good finds that include Sardinian Warbler, Little Shearwater and Britain’s first Yelkouan Shearwater!
Mike has a very approachable character and he is always very willing to help others improve their birding skills and knowledge. These traits along with his exceptional field skills will be a great asset to the Wise Birding team.

Scott Reid
LEADER: Cyprus & Canary Islands

Living in the Isles of Scilly, Scott’s love for island birding, migration, and seabirds comes as little surprise. Scott has been obsessed with birds for as long as he can remember. Growing up in northwest England, he learnt his craft around inland woodlands and wetlands, whilst taking the opportunity of family holidays to the Welsh coast and overseas to broaden his ornithological horizons. As a teenager, Scott moved to Southern Cyprus where he lived and birded for three years. He returned to the UK to attend university where, alongside his studies, he founded a wildlife tour group, guiding fellow students on birding and wildlife holidays to locations including Iceland, the Scottish Isles, Cairngorms, and North Norfolk. Scott worked as a professional ornithologist before moving his young family to Scilly where he now works as a scientist in water quality. As well as birds, Scott has a thorough interest in marine and coastal wildlife, leading rockpool safari tours throughout the summer season. In addition, he rarely misses a Scilly Pelagic where he assists as a ‘spotter’ on Britain’s premier pelagic seabirding trips.
Despite a busy schedule, Scott still allows time to get out birding in search of migrants and vagrants. Some of his best finds in recent years have included Fea’s Petrel, Scopoli’s Shearwater, Pallid Harrier, Britain’s 3rd Cape May Warbler, and Scilly’s 7th Myrtle Warbler which was famously discovered initially by his wife and three children! His tours guarantee some of the very best island birding and wildlife that the east Atlantic and the Mediterranean have to offer.

Will Wagstaff
LEADER: UK, Isles of Scilly

For over 35 years, Will Wagstaff has been a freelance wildlife tour guide based on the Isles of Scilly in southwest England. In the spring, early summer and autumn, he leads daily walks, boat trips, and weekly digital presentations on the islands’ wildlife. During the winter months, Will operates as both an ornithological guide and a general wildlife guide on tours and expedition cruise ships through southern Europe, Africa, South America, the South Atlantic, and most frequently, the Falkland Islands and Antarctica. Will is Honorary President and Chairman of the Isles of Scilly Bird Group and also the regional representative of the British Trust for Ornithology. He was a bird recorder for seventeen years, regularly contributes to local and national magazines, and has also appeared as a local expert on regional television and radio programs. In 2001 Will wrote the first guide book to the Falkland Islands titled Falkland Islands: The Bradt Travel Guide and has recently (2018) finished the second edition. Will leads our Spring and Autumn tours to Scilly and with his enviable reputation for finding rarities we are very pleased to have him on the Wise Birding team!

James Lowen
LEADER: Brazil

James has been immersed in all aspects of natural history since he was able to walk, encouraging him to moult into a fully fledged wildlife writer, editor, guide, consultant and photographer. James is a multi-award-winning author writing about wildlife travel and natural history. His books include Pantanal Wildlife, a top-selling travel guide to Brazil’s great wetland where he will be leading our Pantanal Tour in September 2020. James is a top wildlife guide with a wealth of knowledge about birds, mammals and insects. He spent several years leading wildlife tours in South America and Antarctica. He is a very easy going guide with bags of enthusiasm and you could not be in better hands for our relaxed Pantanal tour. We are thrilled to have James join our growing team of leaders and we look forward to him leading more destinations in the future.

Oliwier Myka
LEADER: Poland's Birds & Mammals

Oliwier Myka is a field ornithologist, wildlife guide and nature conservationist. He comes from Białystok, a city located exactly between two top European spots for nature lovers- Biebrza Marshes and Białowieża Forest. Maybe that's why he became a naturalist! Since the age of thirteen Oliwier has been birding and exploring this North Eastern region of Poland. Over the years, he has taken part in ornithological surveys of several species in the Białowieża Forest studying the biology of Pygmy Owl and rare woodpeckers. Oliwier has also done similar work on the Biebrza Marshes researching the populations of Curlews, Great Snipes and other meadow-breeding waders. In 2015 he decided to make use of his field experience and to become an independent wildlife guide and a licensed Biebrza National Park guide.Oliwier has a Master's degree in biology, he is a fan of football (and regularly support his local team called Jagiellonia), he loves cartography and Podlasie (NE Poland).

Stu Elsom
LEADER: Jamaica & Japan

Stu is a professional ecologist, a tour leader and wildlife photographer based in Cambridgeshire. Stu has been a keen naturalist from an early age and has had a lifelong interest in birds and insects which has taken him to over 50 countries on six continents. Recently he has specialised in the birds of the New World with the avifauna of North and South America, and The Caribbean. Stu is an enthusiastic wildlife photographer and a member of the Royal Photographic Society Nature Group, where he was awarded his Licentiate Distinction (LRPS) in 2012. Over 800 of his images have appeared in natural history journals, magazines, CD guides and books. While birds are Stu’s main focus he also has a huge interest in insects, especially butterflies, moths, dragonflies, damselflies and more recently, hoverflies. We are very pleased to have Stu leading for us and his years of experience in guiding and easy going approach fit perfectly with the growing Wise Birding team.

Steve Blain
LEADER: N America & Ecuador

Steve lives in Bedfordshire and now works for the RSPB. Previously he worked as a bird guide in Ecuador for two years based in Quito where his regular patch was the Tandayapa valley on the west slope of the Andes. He has travelled five continents in search of wildlife, with South America stealing a special place in his heart for its incredible biodiversity. He has been the County Bird Recorder for Bedfordshire for a number of years and enjoys local patch birding. Steve also enjoys digiscoping and photography and is hooked on sound recording and ‘nocmig’ (recording calling migrants at night). Although a birder at heart, Steve also enjoys ogling orchids, tickling taruantulas, inspecting insects and seeking out rare cats whenever possible.

Steve Waite
LEADER: UK & Europe

Steve, another former Devon County Recorder on the Wise Birding team (2010 – 2015) has lived in Devon since 1991 and spends most of his time birding his local patch, the River Axe in the far south east of the County. Over the years his efforts here have rewarded him with some exciting finds including the Counties first records of Audouin’s Gull and Solitary Sandpiper, along with an enviable list of other rare and scarce species. After college Steve spent a couple of years volunteering at several bird observatories across the UK, and it was through this he secured a season working at Spurn Bird Observatory. Here, he was introduced to the wonders of bird migration (including learning the art of ‘vis-migging’) and rarity finding. All encouraged by the friendly and experienced staff, volunteers and local birders around him, to whom he is forever indebted to. It’s not only finding, watching and photographing birds that Steve enjoys. His interest spans across the whole natural world and he also loves moth trapping and stalking butterflies and dragonflies! Steve’s positive attitude to life, and his wish to always share his passion with others, makes him a very welcome addition to the team.

Steve Duffield
LEADER: UK, Western Isles

Steve grew up in a bird deprived area of East Lancashire which stimulated a desire to travel. This started with trips to Spain in his late teens and a lone trip to India and Nepal at the age of 19 which sparked the bug for birding and travel! He then spent 10 months travelling throughout South-east Asia and 3 months at Cape May, New Jersey where he also found the first Whiskered Tern for the US! Steve has also travelled to Ethiopia, Morocco, Ecuador, Argentina, Guatemala and throughout Europe. He graduated from Bangor Uni as a mature student in 1998 and spent 8 years working in conservation for the Wildlife Trusts, RSPB and SNH. This included 9 months on the Farne Islands where a passion for rarity finding took hold. Notable finds here included Calandra Lark, Black-headed Bunting and a Fea’s-type Petrel! Steve also spent 3 years in Shetland but finally moved to the Outer Hebrides in 2005 where he worked as a Goose Officer for 2 years before setting up his wildlife tour company. Steve lives on North Uist with his partner and two children. They own a couple of crofts where Steve is constantly trying to improve the area for wildlife as well as growing vegetables and looking after their small flock of Hebridean sheep. Steve enjoys all natural history including plants, cetaceans and moths and butterflies for which he is the County Recorder for Outer Hebrides.

Barry Embling
LEADER: UK, Forest of Dean

Barry is based on the Welsh Borders, where he previously worked in conservation on both sides of the border for RSPB and Woodland Trust. He was Site Manager at the RSPB’s famous Nagshead Reserve in the Forest of Dean for its Pied Flycatchers. Although a great place for wildlife with its rare resident birds, vagrants were more unusual, so he was very pleased to find Gloucestershire’s first Little Bunting whilst checking the cattle one day! Barry’s first wildlife experiences started a lifetime ago, living in Australia, and since then has included travelling to all continents as a guide and naturalist, including numerous repeat visits to special places in Europe and the British Isles. More recently Barry was the ship’s ornithologist for various cruise liners exploring the North and South Polar regions. Barry enjoys sharing his enthusiasm and knowledge for wildlife and he will be leading our short breaks to the Forest of Dean, plus a number of other UK tours in Wales and the South-West of England. We very much look forward to having Barry on the ever growing Wise Birding team.

Mark Lewis
LEADER: France, Ouessant

Mark works in seabird monitoring based in Aberdeen, where he manages a citizen science program that collects data on seabirds and cetaceans from ferries. Prior to this, he spent several years as a bird surveyor specialising in offshore bird and mammal surveys and before that he was a chef. Mark is a keen patch birder at Girdle Ness, though he has other patches that he visits regularly, including Sanday in Orkney, the island of Ouessant, Brittany, and the French Pyrenees. Mark’s interests include looking for rare birds, seawatching, and sound recording. He also enjoys cetaceans and butterflies. Along with Ryan Irvine he co-founded Patchwork Challenge, a patch birding competition and community. Mark is also a member of the Scottish, NE Scotland and Upper Forth rarities committees.

Tarvo Valker
LEADER: Estonia

Tarvo started birding at the age of eight and has been passionate about his hobby ever since. After working as a monitoring specialist at Silma Nature Reserve in Estonia, he decided to become a freelancer. Now, he is actively involved in bird surveys, wildlife guiding and nature education. Tarvo has been a long term council member of Birdlife Estonia and he sits on the Estonian Rarities Committee. Although a birder, Tarvo is also keen on mammals; especially the elusive Eurasian Lynx! He has guided many bird and mammal trips for 15 years and is one of the most experienced guides in Estonia. Tarvo loves all wildlife and enjoys sharing it with others. His huge field experience, friendly personality and good humour always make trips enjoyable and we our pleased to have Tarvo on our team.

Andy Foster
LEADER: Brazil's Atlantic Forest

Andy fell in love with Brazil during his first visit in 1995. After numerous further visits over the years Andy set up Serra dos Tucanos Lodge together with his wife Cristina. The Lodge ran for 14 years until they moved to their new base Itororo Lodge. Prior to Brazil, Andy worked on a wetland nature reserve on the south coast of England where he was responsible for bird and botanical surveys. In Brazil, Andy also assisted with the establishment of a local wetland reserve and conservation NGO based in the State of Rio de Janeiro. Now with over 20 years birding experience in the Tres Picos State Park of Rio de Janeiro state, Andy knows this area incredibly well. He has spent numerous hours in the field guiding birding trips and sharing his knowledge with many guests and he looks forward to more!

Ryan Irvine
LEADER: Falklands

Ryan lived in east Norfolk and has recently moved to the Falkland Islands! Prior to this Ryan worked for the RSPB in various roles in Wales, Scotland and Cornwall over a six year period. Ryan is a member of the Norfolk Bird Recording Council and when he isn’t on the Falklands he will usually be on his patch in East Norfolk. Patch birding is a real passion of his that ultimately led him to become a co-founder of the very popular Patchwork Challenge, the largest birding competition in the world. Ryan has found some exciting birds on his local patch including a Red-flanked Bluetail and a number of Red-footed Falcons. He has travelled extensively across the world through work and birding holidays. Though a bird specialist, Ryan is also very interested in mammals too. He is very experienced in cetacean identification as a result of his offshore work. Ryan has led tours for us to Sri Lanka, Turkey and Chile and is becoming a favourite with many of our clients. We hope he will be leading some new tours to South America in the coming months.

Andrew Kinghorn
LEADER: UK, Northumberland

Andrew is an avid birder living in Durham and has been interested in birds since he was a young teenager. Much of his birding is done around his local county and elsewhere in the north-east of England. He is most passionate about birding in and around his home county of Durham and as a result he became the Durham County Recorder (2017-2019) and later, Assistant County Recorder. Andrew has always been interested in vagrancy and rarities and he is a member of the Durham Records sub-committee. He even holds the record in 2014, for seeing the most species seen in a single calendar year within the British Isles! Away from Durham and the UK, Andrew has also followed his love for birding with overseas visits to numerous countries including Morocco, Israel, Bulgaria, Spain, Cyprus, Poland, Lesvos, and more! Birding aside, Andrew has worked in IT and as an Ornithological Consultant for a renewable energy company. He has an extremely easy going personality and is most happy when in the field birding and sharing knowledge and experience with others. We are very pleased to have him guiding some new tours for us in Northumberland and Europe.

John Wright
LEADER: Uganda and Western Sahara

John has been passionate about wildlife all his life. He took early retirement a few years ago and now spends most of his time out and about looking for wildlife.  John's local patch is South East Essex where the varied habitat allows him the opportunity to see many species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, butterflies and dragonflies.  John is the mammal recorder for the Essex Field Club and part of the volunteer team working for the RSPB to undertake breeding bird surveys, winter wildfowl and wader counts on Wallasea Island – part of the wild coast project.
John loves to travel abroad in pursuit of wildlife and has guided numerous foreign bird/mammal tours.  John has visited 37 countries on 5 continents looking for mammals, birds and other wildlife. John is a very competent birder, but his interest now is mainly mammals and he has enjoyed some fantastic encounters with many species over the years including Blue Whales, Polar Bears, Tigers, Snow Leopards, Clouded Leopards, Ethiopian Wolves, Hunting Dogs and Mountain Gorillas.  Whatever the habitat - tropical rainforest, desert, up a mountain, on the ocean or on his own local patch, John is at his happiest and most content when close to nature. A great addition to the Wise Birding team!

Richard Moores
LEADER: Western Sahara

Richard is a first class bird and mammal man working for a leading Ecological Consultancy, Biome Consulting. We are very pleased to have Richard as part of the Wise Birding team and he will lead some tours to the Western Sahara. In Richard’s own words “If it has got fur or feathers then I’m basically interested! I developed my zeal for ecology during many a formative hour trailing his gamekeeping father around the south Shropshire countryside. Whilst mammals have become a dedication, birds will always retain my devotion with migration and waders a real affection of mine. Happy in the Saharan Desert or an Estonian forest, if there’s a glimmer of hope of seeing something incredible, I will be at the head of the queue!’