School of Birding – First class dismissed!

We’re very happy to report that our inaugural School of Birding – supported by ZEISS, and hosted by the Grant Arms Hotel, deep in the beautiful Scottish highlands – was a great success, and our ten guest-students left us with the wind beneath their primaries and the thermals rising to meet them!

We – Simon (Pawsey) and I, with help from our good friend Sue (Williams) of the Birdwatching and Wildlife Club (BWWC) – began formulating our plan over a year ago, and over the twelve months leading up to our first School, we put a lot of work into (and had a lot of fun) developing our vision into what we hoped would be the perfect week of education, inspiration and entertainment for our guests.

“Simon & Mark are both not only excellent teachers, but all-round great blokes – friendly, helpful & entertaining! I thoroughly enjoyed the whole week, and to learn so much into the bargain was an unbeatable combination. I would have loved to just do the week over again!” Sheena Langford

Beavering away at our plans, honing our topics and themes, choosing the right locations, and making sure that – whatever happened – everybody would feel like they’d had a great trip full of great birds and memories, our hope was to create a unique schedule that would allow everyone to grow, engage, and truly prosper, whatever their level of expertise, and whatever their experience.  

“I can’t stop thinking about last week, how much I learnt, and most importantly where it’s going to take me next. I don’t think I realised at the time quite how revolutionary it was, but you’ve really fanned a spark that was just flickering!” Sarah Hutton

So what is the School of Birding? Well, it’s a week of applied communal learning, outdoors and indoors, with one main aim – to turn our class into better birders. Why? Critically, the answer is different for everyone – which is why we tailor our efforts to ensure everyone’s individual aspirations are addressed, while making sure everyone gains the skills, confidence, and awareness to leave us feeling truly like a better birder, and with the passion to continue developing their birding skills in various ways.

“A new and unique approach to developing field skills our wonderful hobby. The ID sessions were nothing sort of a masterclass. I would highly recommend the school to anybody with an interest in birds.”
Mike Lawson

So, as a guest/student/client/team member (take your pick!), what might you expect? As soon as our team arrive, they’re there to enjoy the course, with as few distractions as possible, for a full week. That means all guiding, lectures, transportation, planning, meals (full board at the Grant Arms, including their award-winning three course dinners) and everything else, bar a bedtime story (although even there we might make exceptions). The intention is to leave behind the complications of daily life, and focus on the joys of birding, with like-minded folk, in a fully supportive and positive environment.

“Spending a week with 11 people who love birding too was a real pleasure. Being educated, informed and entertained by two passionate birders who were so enthusiastic about sharing their knowledge with us, made it even better.” Jackie Scarf

As a very basic first requirement, we’re committed to providing what we hope is top quality guiding, all day, every day. Simon and I relish every opportunity to share our knowledge and passion, and it’s effectively impossible for us not to do so; whether it’s in the forests for Crossbills and Crested Tits, in the valleys for eagles and various other birds of prey, on the coast for seaducks, waders and geese, or various other locations and habitats, our guests get the best of our guiding skills – but the School of Birding is so much more than that.

“Far exceeded my expectations – I have already recommended the course to friends. Hope to be able to attend further courses in the future.” Jonathan Young

As a perfectionist, and someone who often works alone – and as someone who was anxious to set the bar particularly high – collaborating with Simon is an absolute dream. We’re similar in many ways, and to just the right degree – and yet bring a host of different aspects to the table; as well as being one of the best wildlife guides i’ve ever met, he’s also one of the best communicators I’ve ever come across, and has endless supplies of enthusiasm and passion. Essentially a perfect team, if I don’t say so myself!

“Highly recommended for all levels of birders – highly organised by knowledgeable and enthusiastic professionals, friendly, patient and helpful to all their guests. I could go on and on. I loved everything. It’s the best week I’ve ever had!” Elizabeth Lawson

Another strength of our School is its inherently immersive nature. There are a range of other courses out there, but the majority are spread out, often over weeks, meaning the retention and application of whatever skills are available become faded before they’ve had chance to take hold. We’ve deliberately created a situation that allows our team to practically, directly apply their skills within hours of learning them, and the satisfaction we felt watching our guests achieving their (and our) aims, in real time, was absolutely priceless.

“Your insight, patience, humour and thoughtfulness, plus your commitment to making sure we all benefited as much as possible from every aspect of your tuition is unmatched by anyone I’ve met so far in the birding and guiding world. I am truly grateful.” Sarah Hutton

A real boon for us has been the involvement of ZEISS, who have been wonderfully supportive from the very start. Our School members have free access to a fantastic variety of top quality birding gear and state-of-the-art equipment – we have a range of binoculars, telescopes and thermal imagers for them to use, and even have the option of very special School of Birding discounts should they wish to follow them up. We’re already looking to further develop our partnership with Zeiss – watch this space for more! 

“An awesome experience, loved every minute of it! Simon and Mark are such great guides. Looking forward to the next instalment!” Elaine Frew

We’ll happily divulge plenty of guidelines and lessons during our sessions, but very, very few rules – although two are paramount. Firstly, there’s no such thing as a stupid question; every query and every spark of curiosity is as valid as the next. Secondly, we don’t do embarrassment; not only does everyone make mistakes (including us, of course!), but mistakes are an essential and positive part of every aspect of learning. Bring ’em on.

“The openness of Simon and Mark, being able to ask questions at any time (and not feel stupid for asking it). Their knowledge was astounding.” Jonathan Young

Where do we go from here? Well, we’re very happy to have had all three of our initial Schools book up quickly – our first in November, and the next two, in February and April 2024. Beyond that, we’re now accepting bookings for three more Schools – 18th-24th November ’24, 3rd-9th February ’25, and 1st-7th April ’25. You can find out more by emailing Simon at simonpawsey@me.com – you heard it here first!

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