Birdquest Bastardry

March 2023 Birdquest Bastardry

After I had got the schedule for 2023 settled, Mark Beaman, owner of Birdquest, dropped a bomb on it. He was a participant on the Philippines tour, not as a leader but as “a guest”. On the tour he, in my opinion, behaved badly by demeaning the leader in front of the other guests and by putting his photographic interests ahead of the interest of the other participants potentially spoiling their opportunity to see birds found by the leader. At the end of the tour I spoke to Mark out of earshot of other participants and quietly and politely told him that his behaviour had deleteriously affected my enjoyment of the trip and explained why. I was dumfounded to receive an email from Mark a month after the trip to say that I was not permitted to participate on any further Birdquest trips including the two that I had booked for and paid a deposit! In respect of the Peruvian trip I had even been advised that the trip was confirmed prior to the vengeful email. For those interested the full email exchange follows.

1 From Mark Beaman to Peter Marsh 16 March 2023

Dear Peter

I am now home from Asia and attending to many things.

These days all Birdquest leaders are expected to take a lot of photographs during tours so they can illustrate tour reports and the website.

Our tours often attract keen photographer guests as well.

I was shocked at the end of Classic Philippines by your comments that my photography had ‘severely impacted your enjoyment of the tour’.

If I had not been there Craig would have had to be doing lots. I was simply able to spare him the extra responsibility.

I realise you come from an older generation and clearly you have a particular issue with photography. That is of course your prerogative. However, we must not only consider your likes and dislikes but the morale of our leaders and other guests who like to do plenty of photography. We simply cannot have unpleasantness on tours, in particular when we regard such a thing as unjustified. We now regard these differences as impossible to reconcile and so are not going to be able to take you on future tours and will be returning your deposits for Eastern Amazonia and Northern Peru. Please send us your bank details for the refund.

Kind regards

Mark Beaman

2 From Peter Marsh to Mark Beaman

Dear Mark

I was disappointed to receive your email. I have travelled on a significant number of Birdquest trips  over the years and have  enjoyed them all. I have met a lot of the BQ guides and have got on with them all, as I have with all of the Birdquest clients with whom I have birded. I have birded with dozens of ultra keen photographers on birding trips over the years and have never had the slightest problem with them or their photography. It is utterly untrue to say that I “have a particular issue with photography”.

 If I am not welcome on Birdquest trips I shall not book with you again. That is your choice, I will go on trips with the many other birding companies that offer their services. I am sorry that Birdquest will not be part of the panel from which I can choose.

 I have booked on two Birdquest trips as you are aware. I have paid my deposits and they have been accepted by you, establishing a contractual relationship between us. I expect that contract to be honoured by us both in a fair and gentlemanly way. I am aware that a term of the contract between us is that “Prior to departure, we reserve the right to remove from any tour any person who we deem, owing to their conduct, to be incompatible with the good operation or reputation of our company, its employees, its clients and its tours.”. I would submit that this does not give you free rein to exclude a person from a trip by unfairly making a determination that their behaviour warrants the exclusion. To fairly exercise that judgement you must give the person an opportunity to rebut the allegation. You must explain why the “punishment fits the crime”. To interpret the clause as giving you an unfettered right of exclusion would open the way to totally unfair behaviour such as excluding a booked person to allow a more favoured person, or a person paying a higher price, to assume the place of the excluded person. I suggest the there is no way that a  private conversation between a guest and the owner of a business designed to provide feedback can possibly be castigated as an “ unpleasantness on tour”. If it is, then how can one provide feedback to Birdquest without being excluded?

I suggest that rather than we get embroiled in a lengthy dispute, we agree as follows :-

I will agree to not seek to use your company’s services in the future and I will undertake to maintain the privacy of the conversations we have had and of this correspondence. 

You will, upon my paying the agreed fees, provide the trips for which I have booked (subject to the Eastern Amazonia trip going) and you will undertake to maintain the privacy of the conversations we have had and of this correspondence.

 I do not want to get into an endless argument as to the facts of what happened in the Philippines .Your email however presents such a completely false picture of what happened that I have no option but to state the facts. At the end of the tour I took advantage of your standing apart from other participants to say to you privately that I could not leave the tour without raising with you a concern. I said that I felt that your keenness to get photos had lead you into behaviour that was damaging to Craig and was detrimental to the birding of the group as a whole. I mentioned two instances where you were asked by Craig to do something to enhance the likelihood of the group seeing a bird and in each case you wilfully acted in complete disregard of the request Craig had made. You started shouting me down before I was able to fully articulate my concerns.  I was not commenting on your taking  photographs per se but rather that in each case it was clear that your non-compliance with Craig’s request was so you could get a photograph. In each case I felt, and from comments received from others at the time, many of the group felt, that by ignoring Craig’s requests you were belittling him and undermining his position as leader of the group. As a former Managing Partner of a substantial firm and CEO of a medical device company I am very conscious of the need to respect the role of employees and understand the benefit the organisation derives from having a high level of morale among it’s employees.  I raised the issue with you firstly to make you aware that your behaviour was detrimental to the birding interest of the group but also to make you aware that you were deleteriously undermining an employee of your own firm.

The first occasion of your unfortunate behaviour was after we had seen an owl. Craig had turned off the light illuminating the owl and said that we would now look for a frogmouth. You asked Craig to turn on the light again so you could take more photos. Craig said “No, I do not want to disturb the frogmouth “ at which you turned on your own light and started taking more photos of the owl. By doing this you were disregarding Craig’s professional opinion that continued illumination of the owl would reduce the likelihood of the group seeing the frogmouth. As Craig’s employer you put him in a position where he was powerless to castigate you in the way he could have rounded on a guest who had done the same thing (It is very noticeable that none of the guests throughout the whole trip challenged Craig’s authority in the way you did).

The second episode was on Palawan when Craig had heard a target bird. He very diligently cleared a space in the vegetation into which he hoped to lure the bird. He asked everybody to come down the hill a bit to reduce the risk of the bird taking flight before it had been seen by all of the guests. Everyone but you retreated down the hill. Craig again asked people to retreat (meaning you as every one else had already done so) and you said that you didn’t want to go down the hill as it would make it more difficult to raise your camera. Craig called the bird and it came fleetingly into his clearing and zipped off. Craig, in a very terse voice, said that the bird would have stayed if people (meaning you) had stood back. Again Craig’s professional opinion was ignored and the best interests of the group were ignored.  When I raised this incident with you in our post trip conversation you said “oh that was all cleared up, I thought Craig was worried I might be blocked where I was standing”. This ex post facto comment is at odds with your comment at the time that you didn’t want to move as it made it more difficult to raise your camera.

I look forward to your considered response.

3 From Mark Beaman to Peter Marsh 20 March 2023

Dear Peter

Thank you for your email.

We reserve the right to remove people from our tours where there are serious issue. The booking terms make that clear.

We do not want to get involved in argument over this. It is pointless. We would only go down a dead end, including me relating all the other negative things our staff have recently told me.

So, please need to send the bank details so we can wrap this up.

Yours sincerely

Mark Beaman

I am choosing to make this matter public as I think the birding community should be aware of two things. The first is that the terms one signs up to when booking a Birdquest tour allow Birdquest to terminate your participation if they consider your participation to be ” incompatible with the good operation or reputation of the Company”. Used appropriately this might not be an unreasonable condition. The second thing that must be understood, however, is that Birdquest will use this contractual term to punish any tour participant who is bold enough to provide feedback relating to Mr Beaman’s behaviour. I am not incompatible to the good operation of a Birdquest trip. I have been on a great many of them over twenty years and have never had any disagreement with anyone. I have enjoyed the trips, the guides have mostly been excellent, the trips well run. What I am being punished for is having the temerity of pricking the inflated ego of Mr Beaman. It is a shame that his paranoid behaviour is driving away good guides and loyal clients.