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Couple flying high after their amazing big twitch.

THERE are so-called twitchers. There are serious ornithologists.

And there are total bird-watching fanatics.

And then there is Alan Davies and Ruth Miller - the Welsh couple who have seen more of the world's bird species than anybody else on the planet today.

Alan Davies, 49, and his partner Ruth, 44, from Llandudno, hold the world record for the most birds seen across the globe in a single calendar year.

Their 12-month journey spanned six continents using transport which ranged from a fishing boat off South Africa, to a bright pink VW Beetle in Mexico.

And as they watched some of the world's most endangered species, they were acutely aware that they were privileged because, sadly, they fear that wonderful birds such as the Prince Ruspoli's turaco in Ethiopia might not be around much longer.

"It is one of the world's rarest birds," said Alan.

"It has these long orange eyelashes - and birds are not even supposed to have eyelashes.

"It is one of the most bizarre looking birds in the world.

"It has a green head, purple body and red wings. Sadly it might not be around much longer, which is a terrible shame. Many of the birds we saw on our trip were rare and need more protection."

Since 1989, the official world record stood at 3,662, set by American birder Jim Clements back in 1989.

But on October 31, 2008, the couple beat the record after logging 3,663 different species, and, by the end of the year, they had spotted a grand total of 4,341.

Birds had always played an important role in Alan's life, from his first job cast adrift as a warden alone on Llandwyn Island, off Anglesey, aged 16, to paddling about in a dinghy off the North Norfolk coast protecting a huge tern colony.

For the past five years, he has been site manager of the RSPB reserve at Conwy on the North Wales coast and has overseen its development into a popular visitor attraction, as well as a haven for wildlife.

Although this must be the dream job for a keen birder, he gave up his job with the RSPB to travel the world and fulfil a lifetime ambition of writing a book about the adventure, which has just been published with the name The Biggest Twitch.

"Birds are my passion, always have been," said Alan. "From a very early age, birds have been the focus of my life.

"The reason to suffer altitude sickness in the Andes to see an Ecuadorian hillstar, trek across the Karoo desert at 45C to glimpse a small grey eremomela, empty my stomach over the side of a small boat with engine failure just to see an isabelline wheatear - it has always been birds.

"To see birds in wonderful places is what I live for," he said. "We wanted a change in our lives, an adventure and we wanted to see wonderful birds.

"Our first plan was to take a year out and travel to some of the many places we had dreamed of visiting, such as the Brazilian Amazon, the Himalayas, the outback.

"We would sell our house and everything else we owned, give up our jobs and go for it.

Then we mentioned our plan to our friend, Iain Campbell of Tropical Birding.

"Iain loved the idea and suggested that if we added more countries we might just have a chance of breaking the world record for the number of bird species recorded in a single year.

"The world record stood at 3,662, set by American birder Jim Clements back in 1989. As this record had stood for 19 years, it was likely to be tough to break. However, we took on the challenge.

"Route-planning was going to be key to our success and we soon realised we would need to visit at least 25 countries to have any chance of breaking the record, a daunting prospect in just 12 months."

Part of their strategy was to enlist the help of as many of their birding contacts around the globe as possible; local knowledge would be the key to the fast and furious-paced birding that they would be undertaking in each country.

And they concentrated their birding in many of the countries they were familiar with, giving them a head-start on the massive amount of identification research required.

Their trip included spotting 70 species in North Wales, including the great northern diver and one of the UK's rarest birds, the chough.

"We looked at each country's bird list and predicted how many of these we could potentially see during a short, fast-paced visit," said Alan.

"We were not chasing the rarest birds; instead we were in pursuit of large numbers in the shortest possible time.

"The months before we embarked on The Biggest Twitch were rather strange; every spare minute was consumed with the adventure but it didn't seem real.

"It was if this great adventure was going to happen to someone else, it couldn't be us doing such a crazy thing? "All our friends were very supportive and we cannot remember anyone saying 'don''t do it'; then again everyone said they could not comprehend doing it themselves.

"After just 18 months of planning, during which we both still held down full-time jobs, it was suddenly time to take the plunge and head for the airport to embark on our fantastic, but madcap adventure.

"It was a very frightening moment; everything we had was invested in this. There was no safety net, and no going back - it was all or nothing.

"We'd both travelled widely on birding trips, but nothing had quite prepared us for the year of The Biggest Twitch, the highs of elation at seeing a particularly tough bird, and the all-time lows of utter exhaustion on missing a sought-after target.

"Such as that magical moment when we logged the first bird of the year, cactus wren, at dawn on January 1, 2008, standing at a sewage works in Tucson, Arizona.

"Or the frustration of not seeing a greater roadrunner, an iconic bird that everyone told us was easy in the deserts.

"After hours of trekking along the cloud-forest trails, the sheer bliss of slumping exhausted into a chair on the veranda of Tandayapa Bird Lodge, Ecuador, and soaking up the miracle of hundreds of hummingbirds at arm's length, filling the air with their throbbing wings, while we sipped a cooling beer.

"Or the appalling embarrassment of being subjected to Montezuma's Revenge on a roadside in Mexico, luckily after dark."

Fast forward to Brazil, and the couple recall the elation at tracking down their "mostwanted bird" - the Amazon rainforest's harpy eagle.

But their journey also led to the sheer and absolute terror of being trapped in a bush fire in South Africa, followed by the joy and uplifting moment when they turned to see an enormous wandering albatross carving its way towards them on their bird-thronged sea trip from Cape Town.

"But our favourite bird and the ultimate excitement came from logging the recordbreaker, a bluebonnet parrot, on a golf course at Griffin, Australia," said Alan.

"We were chuffed to beat the record and then pass it by some way."

Ruth met Alan through their mutual work at the RSPB, and her passion for birds has grown under his influence.

Having left her job as the RSPB's head of trading and moved to North Wales, Ruth now works as a freelance marketing consultant which allows her the freedom to escape the office if a good bird shows up. When not writing marketing plans, she can usually be seen in the beautiful Welsh countryside.

"I always want to see what's just around the corner.

"I walk along looking at wildlife rather than where I'm putting my feet, and if something's flying, crawling, growing or flowering, I want a close look at it, even if I don't know its name.

"When I'm old, I want to be able to look back on my big adventure.

"The chance to see exciting destinations and wildlife is irresistible, and if I can go birding round the world with Alan seeing the most bird species ever in a single year, so much the better."

Alan said: "We're often asked, 'would you do it again? The answer is always an emphatic 'yes!' "We would like nothing more than to set off on another adventure to try and break our own record."

Julian Hughes, current site manager at Conwy, said: "It seems so right for RSPB Conwy to host the Welsh launch, not least because Alan and Ruth's book celebrates the thousands of birds in the world and highlights the threats faced by many of their habitats, especially rainforests, which the RSPB is helping to protect in Africa and Indonesia."

The couple will be signing The Biggest Twitch, at RSPB Conwy, on Sunday between 10am and 4pm.

For more information, visit www.thebiggesttwitch.com The Biggest Twitch is on sale for pounds 12.99 THE BIRD-WATCHING TRAIL HIGHLIGHTS DATE: January DESTINATIONS: USA, Mexico, Ecuador and Wales BEST BIRDS: Cotinga, a turquoise, blue and purple bird that lives in the rainforests of the Andes; plate-billed mountain toucan that lives at the highest point of the Andes; great northern diver, the rare chough and the water rail, all local birds spotted in North Wales.

DATE: February DESTINATION: Africa BEST BIRDS: Prince Ruspoli's turaco, one of the world''s rarest and most bizarrelooking birds in Ethiopia; Pell's fishing owl in Ghana.

DATE: March DESTINATIONS: Cyprus, Spain BEST BIRDS: Cyprus warbler DATE: April DESTINATIONS: USA, Panama BEST BIRDS: Migrating warblers in Texas; the resplendent quetzal of Panama, possibly the most beautiful bird in the world, which is luminous green and scarlet red with a tail that is four times the length of its body.

DATE: May DESTINATIONS: USA, Canada BEST BIRDS: A tri-coloured blackbird that is only found in California; a surfbird that lives by the sea in Canada.

DATE: June DESTINATIONS: Turkey, Finland, Estonia, Norway BEST BIRDS: Gyr falcon, that lives above the Arctic Circle; Caspian snowcock, a pheasant-like bird that lives in the Turkish mountains near Syria.

DATE: July DESTINATIONS: Brazil, Peru BEST BIRDS: Harpy eagle, a strong and large bird of prey from Brazil; Inca tern, that lives in the mountains and appears to have a moustache like the character Hercule Poirot.

DATE: August DESTINATION: South Africa BEST BIRD: Cape rock jumper that lives in the mountains.

DATE: SEPTEMBER/ OCTOBER DESTINATION: Australia BEST BIRD: A blue bonnet, which gave the couple their world record on October 31.

DATE: November DESTINATION: Malaysia/India BEST BIRDS: Ibisbill in India, which is a bit like a curlew; the striking rhinoceros hornbill, of Malaysia, one of the largest hornbills.

DATE: December DESTINATION: Ecuador BEST BIRD: Tumbes tyrant, a bird that was never seen in Ecuador - until spotted by the couple

CAPTION(S):

lan Davies, RSPB Conwy site manager, sets off to see more birds with his partner Ruth Miller PICTURE: Robert Parry Jones
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Sep 2, 2010
Words:1830
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