12 April 2019

5 great years, 1539 fantastic travelers, thanks a 1000 times

And the winners are …

We celebrated our fifth birthday. And who’s birthday it is, has to give a round of course! We ask our participants to dig into the memory and choose their absolute STARLING moment. From all these moments, we picked – with a lot of effort, because wow! – the lucky winners. During the get together’s at the end of January we handed out the prizes: gift vouchers, a STARLING outfit, a day out with Billy Herman himself, a Kite backpack and even SWAROVSKI OPTIK binoculars. We received fantastic responses, and saw many happy faces.

Below you’ll find an extensive but delicious overview. Have fun reading and dreaming!

All images on our website are our own work and made by our participants and guides. So what you see gives a realistic picture of what you can see, experience and photograph yourself on our trips.

The ultimate winner

To whom we had to give away the SWAROVSKI Companion binoculars, became obvious when we saw Joris V.’s entry. He made a gem of a mini website to explain how the trips with STARLING made his dreams come true. With beautiful landscape photos and fantastic films, he lists his STARLING journeys. CLICK ON THE LINK AND ENJOY WITH A FULL LINE!

Congratulations, Joris. And thanks for everything!

One of the many phenomenal moments that Joris VDH. has experienced at the side of Bart Heirweg. © Jeffrey Van Daele

“Your tours make us dream and give us so much inspiration”

These 10 participants won a tour coupon of €50: Beatrice L., Dimitri D., Vicky V., Jurgen B., Willy V., Ruben S., Katleen P., Kris M., Monique V.D.B. en Christel V.M.

The tour coupons went to people who left us touching messages. This is how Beatrice L wrote: “Zimbabwe with Carole Deschuymere was a journey where I was scared of stomach a week before departure (…) I did not know how the journey went between the animals … must be very honest say that I didn’t have a minute of fear during that trip. Carole is a very adventurous lady! ”

Vicky V. sent us this nice response: “In May of this year we went on a trip for the first time with Starling (Belarus with tour guide Brecht). (…)

We were a bit concerned to leave on this tour as true beginning birdwatchers, in the company of a bunch of well-seasoned, hardcore birders! 

But we immediately felt welcome in the group and enjoyed it from the start till the end. ”

Jurgen B. learned a good lesson during his trip to Finland: “(…) Where the other hide had more bears, a glutton and a wolf in front of their lens, we saw three times 1 bear and especially many gulls. Personally I was pretty pissed off that no more animals had passed our hides, even though I had been looking forward to it so much. Afterwards it was a nice lesson that nature would not allow itself to be dictated, next time less expectations and more enjoyment of everything that beautiful nature just offers us. If there are beautiful pictures to be made, so much the better! It was a very nice trip, which I might do again, and they were nice fellow travelers. ”

Willy V. keeps track of all the unforgettable journeys he has made with STARLING. He adds: “I was there from the first year. Both Billy and the team are doing well for my part. Keep it up, gentlemen!”

Ruben S. says: “I don’t have many memories of STARLING yet. I do have nice ones, such as the black-winged kite that accompanied us at Kalmthoutse Heide during the Starling bird of prey workshop this year. Or the buff-breasted sandpiper, pectoral sandpiper and many other beautiful things at the shorebird workshop course at Lauwersmeer. ”

Katleen P. especially remembers the photography trip to Provence, where she not only made friends, but also a poem for travel companion Bart Heirweg, which you can admire further on. Beautiful right :)).

Sometimes our travelers really push their limits. For example, Kris M. traveled on an adventurous photo safari through the Kalahari desert. He initially thought it was quite comfortable that other people were driving the jeeps, and certainly because driving was on the left side of the road here. Right until local guide Anton told him: I’m going to teach you how to drive a 4×4!

Kris continues his story:

It was inevitable. Me, faint-hearted, behind the wheel of a 4×4, with Anton as instructor!

The Toyota Landcruiser was actually not too bad, even though it is and remains a colossus of a vehicle. I only got off the road a few times (preferably in places where there are no trees in the way 😬) and got stuck only once, and that was on the steepest slope of the day, so that doesn’t count 🤫 . After a few hours of driving, Anton asked to stop. We had to wait for the rest of the group that had fallen behind. ”

That nature encourages you to poetry is proven not only by Katleen and her fellow travelers above, but also by Monique VDB. The beauty of nature in Finland inspired her to do some graceful ballet passes with the guide: “We were out on the road today during another good night with many bears – big, bulky, small, hungry, funny and lazy – who passed our hiding places The goal for this afternoon was to spot different big game. It was not easy. (…) We did not find more than a few flowers and lichen and primeval forest. (…) Suddenly we were driving on an – even for Jan – unknown road. It was unclear whether it was still Finland or Russia, until we came across a Russian sign, unreadable for all of us, but the pictures said enough, behind the sign Russia started Forbidden Access, and then it happened: inspired by the dancing bears from the previous night, the swans on the lake in front of the hiding places: we pulled and stretched some muscles and we came on 1 leg in arabesque. Together with me Jan danced a piece of the swan lake to the Russian natural music of Tchaikovsky: tip-toe in Finland, on the border line, in Russia. ”

Christel V.M. surprised herself by traveling to far-away Canada, while she had barely traveled further than the church tower. It was the combination of a meeting with guide Jeffrey (at a lecture about Iceland, where she also met STARLING), the love for her Canadian musical youth hero Neil Young and the discovery of the photography tour with Bart to the autumnal Rocky Mountains that decided it for her. Did she think it was worth it? “Very good organization, good guidance (Jeffrey and Bart), wonderfully beautiful places seen.

In short: a child’s dream that thanks to the photography but mostly due to Starling, got fulfilled.

Will I still be traveling with Starling? Well, my next trip in 2019 has already been booked and I am already looking forward to the 2020 program! Starling: a big thank you for everything! “

“Your journeys make you dream and give you tons of inspiration,” writes Dimitri D. “So far I have had the honor of experiencing the combination of Iberian Lynx and Wolf. A great experience with the encounter of the merry duo. then I enjoy the playful interaction between mother lynx and her young. So rare, both the animal and the moment. I find that wonderfully inspiring. I have the habit of perpetuating these memories through photos and a report. “



Scroll further down for more special testimonials from our wonderful travelers!

Alone in the world & ‘think before you start’

Both Mieke H., An Vd.A., Lieve C. and Els S. will soon be walking around in a nice STARLING shirt.

When Mieke H. traveled on a photography tour to the Scottish Highlands, she imagined herself alone in the world: “On the quiraing we had to wait for ‘the light’ and I kept going one step higher up the mountain with a camera and tripod. For a moment I saw no one of my fellow travelers and I thought I was alone in the world !! THAT feeling was so intense, so special, so enjoying! ”

And then sounded from behind my back ‘mheeeeeeeee’. A sheep had her own thoughts about it, obviously. So much fun, so much smiling!Mieke

An Vd.A. experienced a fantastic nature and photography tour to the Galapagos Islands with her husband. She describes the breathtaking natural phenomena, the challenging photography, but also the fantastic guidance, the pearly white sand and the black lava rocks, the special fauna and flora, … “Anyone who has ever been taught about” the theory of evolution, “knows that Darwin is very impressed I was impressed by his visit to the Galapagos Islands. Following Darwin’s footsteps was an almost impossible dream for a long time. And then … two years ago I saw this nature photography trip from Starling via FB. Consultation at home … another consultation … Yes … registered and a last wait of a  little more than two years. We have seen the Galapagos and understood something that Darwin must have felt. A dream has come true … THANK YOU STARLING, TOP. More than recommended. ”

An VdA. on the first row and in the middle of some action in the Galapagos! © Yves Adams

Lieve C. is a loyal participant during our photography tours. She sent a real warning out in the world for any future travelers. She writes: “Think before you join Starling. You’re thinking: I ‘m gonna book that trip, close my eyes for a moment when I see the price 🤢 and it’s done? No, the misery only starts after your first trip: that beast never lets you go. (…) You know the website by heart and yet you secretly lurk every day at the state of affairs and you see with dismay: new journey, almost guaranteed departure, guaranteed departure, 3 – 2 – 1 places available and then the cold sweat breaks out! Action or you’ll miss the boat! Starling crawls under your skin. ”

You think: now I really stop, a last tour to finish it. But that never happens

“Guides such as Yves and Jeffrey will not help you to kick the habit. The others (Bart, Thierry, Carole) are no better, I think. “She concludes:” Certainly do not trust Billy, he just tricks you in plain sight!

Lieve C. photographing Red-footed boobies on the Galapagos.  © Yves Adams

And for Els S., traveling with STARLING was a revelation (thank you, Els!): “I used to travel alone and feel sorry for the people who had to join such a group. Starling was the first organization who convinced me to give it a try and it was great! Now I feel sorry for the people who ‘don’t’ travel with Starling You are always at the right time at the right place to enjoy nature at its best and for photos of course. Thank you, you are great! “

Fresh off the presses, Els S. and friends sipping a refreshing drink from Lake Baïkal. © Yves Adams

Dreaming of a next vacation

Els D. wins a complete STARLING outfit of the value of €100.

This is what Els D. writes in response to our call whether she had experienced such a hilarious/moving/exciting STARLING moment during one of our travels: “The answer is yes! But not one, several! Hilarious – on every trip there is a moment when you’re crying tears of joy. A pleasant group together, all with the same interest. If it’s the tiredness that strikes, hilarious moments are assured!”

After each trip you have new friends with whom you will stay in touch, with which you will reclaim the memories and with which you dream of a next holiday, to be able to relive such moments! Thank you Starling!

Moving – Seeing the Northern Lights for the first time, wow! Enjoying this came first for me at that point, and I set my camera aside. I fully enjoyed the light coming towards me while I was watching the spectacle lying on my back. The setting sun that provided a spectacular light and shadow play in the dunes of Namibia. Standing eye to eye with an orangutan in the jungle of Borneo.

Unforgettable and gripping moments!

Exciting – when we were stuck in Namibia by car, no satellite reception, 2 bottles of water, warm. Fortunately we had straws in the vicinity. Whoever drew the shortest was first fed to the lions (luckily I didn’t pull this :-)).


“Thank you for sharing these super memories, Els!

A satisfied Els D. on top of the jeep. Traveling with like-minded people and having good friendships is something you can’t make, it just happens

The thousandth bird species … or not?

Marc H. won a special backpack from Kite with this fantastic and funny story.

When we traveled to Morocco in 2017 for the ultimate birding trip, we were able to count Marc H. among our enthusiastic participants. His story is exciting and funny at the same time.

“In April 2017, I went with Starling on the ultimate birding tour to Morocco. A trip with a strong focus on birding, where we crossed Morocco and enjoyed very different habitats: coastal areas with estuaries, the High Atlas Mountains, rocky desert, sandy desert, high plateaus, cedar forests and wetlands.

There was a real chance that I would observe my 1000th bird species during this trip. It was exciting to see which bird species would get this status. Without me noticing it, our tour guides Billy and Johan had subtly coordinated their itinerary with this and one morning we stopped with our jeeps at the edge of a desert plateau, apparently looking for rock martins.

As usual in Morocco, locals popped up out of the blue. By constantly pointing and shouting “ibu”, an old man made it clear that he wanted to show us something. As a result, the well-prepared surprise fell apart, because I finally realized what it was about. ”

Moments later I stood there, smiling, gazing through my telescope at this spectacular pharao’s eagle owl, sitting in a hole. What a mega!

“That day after dinner a big chocolate cake suddenly appeared in front of me with the message: ‘Félicitations pour 1000 oiseaux’. Extremely considerate of Billy to prepare such a festive dessert in the middle of nowhere!

Later it turned out that an error had sneaked into the provisional count and that the eagle owl was not actually no. 1000, which of course caused a lot of hilarity. Yet for me this Starling moment with the ‘hibou’ has remained a sort of highlight that I will never forget. ”

During this wonderful journey we eventually observed 220 bird species. For myself, this resulted in no fewer than 30 new species plus a number of subspecies, which almost completely ticked off my extensive wish list!

“Moreover, we were also able to see most of the bird species. Many sublime sightings are still on my retina, such as the bald ibis, barbary falcon, drinking crowned and spotted sand grouse, coursers, marsh owl, Egyptian nightjar, thick-billed lark, Atlas and Temminck’s horned lark, Moussier’s redstart, African desert warbler, desert sparrow and Atlas crimson-winged finch, so the description as an ‘ultimate birding tour’ was really not out of place.

Starling, just a little extra!”

Well, Marc, we couldn’t have said it better ourselves. Thanks!

Marc. H. puts his thumb in the air the highest! You would too with your 1000th bird species ever observed. © Billy Herman

Fairy tale about failed mermaids, a family of bears and a wolf

Leen B.’s impressive account of her adventure during the photography experience to Finland in 2018 convinced us to give her the € 250 travel coupon for a next STARLING trip.

Leen B. writes: “Why on Earth did I convince myself to go to Finland in the spring? For example, I sentenced myself to being locked up in a hide from the early evening until the following morning. Warmly indulged in the cold spring night, that’s what I chose for myself, why am I doing this? We go into the hide in pairs.

Here we will wait a whole night on a rather rickety chair for a bear, perhaps a glutton…. or sit and watch a noisy gang of arguing gulls. Who will tell? The sun doesn’t really set during this time of the year and we are blessed with a thin layer of clouds covering the skies. Being on the lookout keeps me excited and I feel the tension rising in the tips of my toes. 

At the edge of the forest, a female bear arrives at the scene. Three playing youngsters follow in her wake. One barely deviates from mother’s side, the other two are less docile.

Fascinated, I sit on that not very good chair looking at them motionless. In my mind I’m jumping of joy. Not one but four bears at the same time! The message is to make as little noise as possible. Only folding up the mirror of our cameras breaks the expectant evening silence.

Stubborn teenagers, it will not be possible to make a family photo! The bad boys are ahead or they are left behind. There is always at least one out of the picture. They peek curiously through the foliage of the undergrowth. Moving into the wide world is still being postponed. The family strolls on and disappears into the forest again.

A while later a stubborn old male appears. A large swarm of annoying mosquitoes buzzes around its head like a harp. Fortunately, they attack him instead of us, I think opportunistically.

Impressively massive, he bumps by close to the hide.

A fox with a remarkably thick tail is walking in the distance. Come on, come closer! He waves his beautiful tail again. It is an image that I take with me in my memory, not in pixels.

Maybe my companions are more lucky? That would be nice for our joint photo album.

Now no head nods! I have to try and resist the intrusive sleep as good as possible.

So man up! Help, how do I do that? I’m a female!

Tucked into a warm sleeping bag up to my waist, I look like a ridiculously bad copy of the little mermaid.

According to our watches it is already night but the darkness has not yet fallen. I rub my eyes.

Something stirs there, something lurks in the twilight between the trees. What is secretly approaching?

This must be a dream. I can’t believe my eyes. Do I really see that? Yes! A wolf!

A wolf stops briefly and looks with a piercing gaze straight at our shelter, straight into the lens.

“Grandmother, why do you have such big eyes?” flashes through my head.

He walks away slowly and later returns in our direction. It produces a series of beautiful photos. None is as strong as the one with the spying large yellow-rimmed eyes.

He runs back into the forest and we hear him howling.

A shiver runs down my spine and sinks into my hair. It feels like screams of pleasure, a cry of joy but then in absolute silence.

Such an intensely magical nature experience! That’s what we do it for. “

Magic. That is the only word we can put on this testimony. Thank you, Leen!

Oog in oog met WOLF © Leen Brans

A dream of a bird

With this story about a fantastic bird sighting during the birding tour to West Papua, Alexander B. deserves a day workshop with Billy as a guide. Enjoy it, guys!

The group with our local guides in Papua, Alexander B. on the left. © Geert Beckers

“Our second stay at Papua is the Arfak region, where we hope to see much more of the weird birds-of-paradise, and other insane-looking birds, insects,…”

Yesterday we saw the incredible display dance of the magnificent bird of paradise. What a moment! A rather shy male was approached by no less than 4 females and gave the best of himself. 

“Today we’re waking up at 4 AM to catch a glimpse of the legendary Western parotia. At home I studied a bit of footage of the world-famous dance of this bird, but I do realize a chance for observing this in the wild is very rare.

The group didn’t really had the best luck yesterday night, when after one click of the camera shutter the parotia bolted and after a sighting of a handful of seconds the moment was gone… Now it’s our turn and after a big meal Mathieu, Geert and me are going to start the ascend. It’s about an hour’s climb, Geert says. We’re climbing through the wet forest which is slowly waking up.

Before we get to the hide, we’re making some rules: we’ll be sitting at the back of the hide, will darken our face, no noise and most of all no clicking camera shutters before we’ve had good views of the bird! The nerves speed through our bodies as we suddenly hear the parotia from the hide. 

Bandana on our heads, face behind a buff, even gloves at a good 30 degrees Celcius. Sweat slowly soaks our shoes. 


We hear him again, this time closer, could it be… is this such a moment we hoped for? 

Suddenly he’s there, looks around nervously, and starts to clean his dancing ring. Leaves fly around in a rather aggressive way. He shrieks, lands on the ground, we’re all too happy and suddenly… it happens: the dance! Hij opens his ‘skirt’, practices his dance, he is dancing, crazy, unbelievable! 

A female arrives to have a look, he follows her. Geert, Mathieu and I look at each other with big eyes. What was that dude! We realize how much luck we had experiencing this moment. Too good! 

We’re dying of laughter due to the nerves and with a big smile we start our descend, where even more nice Starling moments await us.