Birda Stories

The Fabled Bird Identifier


Cas Van De Giessen

Some passions start off slowly, others just arrive. Riding his bicycle through the Dutch countryside, Cas explores the birds around him. Birding books have, until recently, made up for the fact that he cannot venture too far from home. His local birding trips, and voracious reading, have allowed him to develop skills that have turned him into somewhat of a Bird ID legend within the Birda community, but his thirst for adventure and new birds has only become stronger…

Words by: Cas Van De Giessen

A mythical character, at least to the Birda community and team, Cas Van De Giessen, is seen as a person with incalculable knowledge of bird identification. Rumor has it that at the ripe age of three Cas was sent to a Tibetan monastery. Not to learn martial arts, nor meditation, but in fact to study birdwatching. Reportedly now quite elderly, Cas is said to live surrounded by birds he befriended on his travels. So, as I am sure you can imagine, when a bright-eyed teenager from Holland turned up to our meeting, my first thought was, ‘surely there must be some mistake’.

“I’m fascinated by all aspects of birding – everything really,” says Cas. “I love it because you might be able to identify a bird that just flew by, and then along comes another and you just don’t know what it is. I enjoy difficult IDs because I can really dive into them and get a bird book and see what features I should look for. Also, birds are amazing; I saw a Wheatear not long ago in late summer, and as I did, I knew that it was probably gonna be in Central Africa in just a week or so.

On my bike I can hear all the birds that I pass and I can really see - three hundred and sixty degree view.

“The first really simple birds I learned to recognize were in the park close to home. I’d go walking with my family and see Great tit, Blue tit and sometimes species like the Kingfisher – that was really exciting. But then when I really started going out for the birds, I’d ride my bicycle to a wetland reserve near me. It’s really close. And it’s great because you can see all kinds of species from Goshawk to Wood Sandpiper, and that kind of stuff.”

Even though riding his bike doesn’t allow Cas to get himself to places like the coast (40+ KM away) Cas seems positive about his main, and only, means of transport. Calm and focused, with an unflinching manner to him, he recounts some of the adventures that he’s had while riding his bike to go birdwatching – more on that later.

Birdwatcher looking out with binoculars over a marsh behind a wall
Cas out birdwatching

The truth is, Cas couldn’t get a driving license if he wanted to, after all he’s only 16 years old. He is quick to assure us that his birdwatching mode of transport won’t change once he is allowed to drive, “On my bike I can hear all the birds that I pass and I can really see – three hundred and sixty degree view.

“My parents don’t birdwatch, but they like nature. I started off really young. I think it all began because I got given a bird book for my eighth birthday. From that moment on I started reading bird books. I got a little interested. But only recently, have I really gone out to look at birds with binoculars and that kind of stuff.

“I have a lot of bird books. Of Europe and the Netherlands mostly. And I really like going through these books and seeing what birds occur where, how they look and how to separate other species that look like them.. For example, Marsh tit and Willow tit.

Asked if he has ever had any issues while cycling to birdwatching spots, Cas’ eyes light up.

“It’s funny that you ask, recently I’ve had bike chain problems happen quite a lot more than I would like. My bicycle chain has broken at least five times while I’ve been out birding. What normally happens is that I end up having to walk all the way back home. But there was one time that I was so far from anything that I had to use my phone to call my mother. Luckily she came to pick me up because It was just too long to walk with while pushing my bike.

Birdwatcher standing in a field with his bike and binoculars.
Cas on his 'trusty' bicycle looking out over a field

New birds and new adventures...

Despite his transport issues, Cas’ Life List has been growing.

“I went on a holiday to Spain, and a few months ago to South Africa, which really boosted my Life List as literally every bird there was new to me. My family and I went to South Africa with the goal of seeing mammals. We wanted to see the amazing nature over there, the different landscapes, Elephants and Giraffes and all that kind of stuff. The good thing was that my father has a camera with a long lens so as I pointed out birds he would get the pictures.

Birdwatcher sitting on a rock looking at geological structures and hills in South Africa
Cas broadening his bird horizons in South Africa

“I want to see as many species as I can throughout my lifetime, but there are a few special locations that I would like to visit like the Galapagos Islands and New Zealand, also, a little closer to home, I’d like to go birding on the Wadden islands – a place where you can see thousands of migratory birds.”

While Cas dreams of future birding trips to far off locations, his books, and (mostly) trusty bicycle, keep him traveling alongside the birds he so likes to see – giving us all on Birda some helpful identification support as he does.

If you have a birdwatching story you would like to share we’d love to hear from you. Share your tales with the Birda community and help inspire new adventures! Read more Birda Stories…

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