Catching up with James Currie, host of “Nikon’s Birding Adventures TV”

James Currie will go to great lengths in pursuit of gold. But it’s not a pot of coins that keeps him in action through exotic locales. It’s the “golden bird” starring in each episode of his television program, “Birding Adventures”

Currie, a native of South Africa and life-long birder, is the entertaining host of the program, which takes viewers around the globe in search of avian action and endemic species. Although television shows have been produced for birdwatchers before, BATV (as it’s known to fans) has been the first to succeed for a broad audience. Fans credit Currie, who combines birding with excitement, humor, and adventure travel. He draws on more than a decade of experience leading wildlife and birding tours. The result is birding as never seen before on the television — or the Internet, where BATV episodes can be viewed even if the show is not available where you live.

Wingscapes has been a proud sponsor of BATV since early in the show’s existence, running advertisements on the program as well as providing Currie with BirdCam products for use in producing the show. We are honored to be affiliated with Birding Adventures and were excited when we recently caught up with Currie in Florida to discuss the show.

Q: How did Birding Adventures get its start?
JC: Birding Adventures goes back about four years ago when I was in South Africa. I remember watching a whole lot of fishing shows that were prominent in the United States at the time and thinking, ‘Wow, I haven’t seen anything like this on birding — not any kind of show that’s a travel show that takes you around the world where you can see awesome birds.’ So we started thinking along the lines of the fishing shows, where we would start off on a small network, gradually get sponsors behind us, look at taking the show to the next level, and eventually take it to the national level.

And that’s exactly what we’ve done. We’re heading into our fourth season in January, and through the support of our amazing sponsors, like Wingscapes, we’ve managed to get onto national TV. And we’ve just been offered the opening slot on Versus, which is now the largest outdoor network in the world, available to close to 79 million households in the United States. (See below for TV listings and where to find the show.)

Q: What were you trying to accomplish with the program?
JC: The whole concept revolves around a “golden bird,” an exciting species we’re questing after in each location. We want to really bring the passion of bird-watching across while keeping the show interesting, informative and packed full of adventure. I think that’s been where birding shows have possibly failed in the past — they’ve been too focused on birds and not focused broadly enough on the adventure aspect, the quest or the hunt, along with including all that good information and knowledge.

Q: Have you used the BirdCam in the program?
JC: We’ve included a BirdCam sequence in about 10 episodes.  The BirdCam has been an absolute joy to work with, and we’ve had really good luck with it.

Ridgway's Hawk – Dominican Republic
Red-footed Boobies - Belize
Western Bowerbird - Australia
Green Jays - Texas
Veraguan Mango - Panama
California Condor - California
Great Green Macaws - Costa Rica
Competitive Birding - Cape May

We did our California shows for one of our early seasons, and Wingscapes very kindly donated a BirdCam to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service at the Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge, which is involved in the California Condor Recovery Program. They set up the BirdCam at one of the carcasses and the images they got of California Condors (Gymnogyps californianus) feeding at carcasses were just incredible. In some images, they had nine or 10 different condors, all jostling and trying to get at the food source, and the images were just amazing.

Q: We’re glad to hear that! What do you like about using the BirdCam?
JC: There are a couple of things that I think make the BirdCam an amazing product. Certainly for our use on the show, it’s been really easy to use, easy to understand and set up. That’s one of the main things.

But what stands out for me most of all is the fact that birds and animals behave differently when there are no humans around, and you can witness stuff with the BirdCam that you just normally wouldn’t see.

A good example comes to mind. When we were filming down in the Rio Grande Valley, we were filming Plain Chachalacas (Ortalis vetula) all over the place and we were trying to find chachalacas with chicks, because it was near the end of the breeding season. We had absolutely no luck. We found tons of adults — we must have seen 50 to 100 chachalacas, but we couldn’t find chachalacas with chicks anywhere.

Our BirdCam was set up in the exact area we’d been looking in for these chicks, and at the end of the day, when we came back and I reviewed all the photos on the BirdCam, sure enough, there was a chachalaca chick that had come right up to the BirdCam. We’d gotten an awesome shot of it.

Q: When you’re using the BirdCam, where do you set it up?
JC: It’s actually been very useful for us to set up BirdCams on feeders at the lodges we stay at, especially in Central and South America where there’s a lot of activity at the feeders.

We were in Costa Rica at the Selva Verde Lodge, where we set up the BirdCam on a feeder. We got some amazing footage of all the different tanager species and a whole host of different birds, but interestingly, we also got a Grey-necked Wood-rail (Aramides cajanea) that had come right up close to the camera while feeding. You know, rails are not easy birds to see. Although the grey-necked is probably the easiest to see, it’s certainly not a bird you’ll just stumble across in Costa Rica. We didn’t actually see them when we were walking around and filming, so it was great to see that on the BirdCam.

BirdCams are really, really good for hummingbirds, too, because you can set them up right next to a hummingbird feeder. When we were in Panama, the hummingbirds were ubiquitous, coming in to the feeder all the time, and we got tons of great images. I think we got nine different species of hummingbirds, so that was really useful.

Q: Is there anything you haven’t done with a BirdCam that you’d still like to try?
JC: I haven’t played with the flash option on the BirdCam 2.0 yet. I’d like to try to get some nocturnal stuff.

We haven’t done any video with it yet, either, but I think that’s something we should try. The resolution isn’t as high as with our professional video cameras, but for animals or birds that are really shy — or if, for whatever reason, we’ve got to leave the area and come back to see what we get — we could incorporate some of that footage into a segment. I think that’d be a very cool angle to take.

Q: As a professional, do you have any advice for amateur BirdCam users?
JC: You know, a lot of people think of the BirdCam as something you can only use in your backyard, but I’ve found it really, really cool to just go out birding with it. If you’re in a pretty remote area where there are not a lot of other people around , you can actually just set the BirdCam up where you know birds will come.

One great example of how I’ve done this was in Belize. We were filming Red-footed Boobies (Sula sula) and Magnificent Frigatebirds (Fregata magnificens), and they were all coming into the trees on this one particular island. Using the attachments that come with the BirdCam, it was really easy for us to attach it to this particular tree where we’d seen some boobies coming. We set the BirdCam up with the distance set as far as possible, so we could get some wide shots, and sure enough, we got some great images of boobies that came after we left. At the end of the day, we got some really nice stuff.

The BirdCam is very cool to travel with, too. When we went to Australia in March, we set it up on the Western Bowerbird (Chlamydera guttata) at his bower. We got him displaying, picking up little objects for his bower, and fixing it with sticks and twigs. It was all stuff that yes, we got on film, but it was cool to have the still images to go with the film.

Q: Where is Birding Adventures taking you — and us — in the upcoming season?
JC: We’ went down to Ecuador in November, filming a seven-part series that is going to be fascinating. We actually went to the Galápagos Islands as well as filming two shows in the northwestern part of the country, one on the eastern slope of the Andes, one in the Napo, and one in the south. We also got some of the other unique wildlife such as the Marine Iguanas (Amblyrhynchus cristatus) on the Galápagos, which are pretty cool. In fact, we used the BirdCam to get some shots of the iguanas, because the BirdCam has been useful for us not just for birding but also for other wildlife.

In fact, in the Dominican Republic, we set up the BirdCam to get amazing shots of Rhinoceros Iguanas (Cyclura cornuta), which are endemic to the island. They’re found nowhere else. They’re really weird-looking iguanas, with two horns on their heads so they look almost exactly like rhinos. When we set up the BirdCam for them, we got male rhino iguanas coming to it and jostling and fighting with each other, which was pretty cool.

Q: How can readers see you in action?
JC: A lot of information and videos of all of the shows are on our website. Right now, the program is available on these cable channels and times:

  • DirecTV: R&R, channel 354, on Thursdays, 10:30 a.m.; Fridays, 1.30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.; Saturdays, 8.00 p.m.; all times EST
  • Untamed Sports: Wednesdays, 1:00 p.m.; Saturdays, 12:30 p.m.; Sundays, 3:30 p.m.; all times EST
  • Versus: Twice a week starting in January 2011

Thanks for pausing in your globe-trotting to talk with us, James!