Sanibel resident gives birding cruises
Shortly after Ken Burgener took his very first cruise trip, the idea for what is now Carefree Birding, was born.
“When I got off the cruise ship, everyone turned to the right and I turned to the left, and I saw nine birds I’ve never seen before,” Burgener said.
He refers to birds he sees for the first time as “lifers.”
“I saw nine lifers in 10 minutes. I thought to myself, ‘Wow that was easy.’ It would be kind of fun to take people on a cruise trip to go birding for a little bit then quit and go back to the ship for a little bit and have a beer,” Burgener said.
He used to go out sailing with friends and according to Burgener, it was rare to see a cruise ship, and when he did, he would poke fun at some of the people who were coming off.
“When I was younger I saw an old guy getting off a cruise ship and I laughed at him, now I’m the old guy with gray hair getting off the cruise ship,” he joked.
Burgener came up with 15 different names before deciding on Carefree Birding. Their first group birding trip was Feb. 1, 2009, the ship set sail to Mexico. According to Burgener, it was not an easy feat at first.
“A month before we left, Carnival called up and said that our ship was broken, so we had to change the schedule. So, our first birding trip was to a place I have never been before. We hired a guy for $35 an hour [to do a birding tour], he didn’t speak English and didn’t have a bird book or binoculars,” he said.
After that predicament, Burgener takes the cruises before he brings his guests and verifies all his birding guides. All of his guides are locals. Some of his guides even go as far as buying trees to attract native birds for Burgener’s guests to enjoy.
A typical day for Burgener and company includes walking two to three miles to observe the local birds once the ship reaches its destination, return to ship to relax and discuss their sightings for that day, have dinner with the other birders, (if you wish). Then, do it all again the next day. The birders are usually always the first group off the boat.
On days where the guests will be at sea, he has games, lectures and photo contests planned, all relating to birding of course.
He and his wife Linda, who he refers to as the “brains” of the company, run about 4 to 5 trips per year. Since 2009, they have done 37 birding cruises.
While birding, Burgener prefers to keep things low-key. He would rather take his guests to some of the spots the locals enjoy.
“When we go bird watching, we go to local areas. We have this one road that we walk down, it’s just a dirt road. We’ve been down it 15 or 20 times. People come out and wave to us, invite us over, wish us ‘Merry Christmas.’ We’re a hit there, everyone knows we’re the bird people,” he said.
Burgener takes the money he receives from the port side expeditions, which cost extra, and gives them to charitable causes. Right now, Carefree Birding plans to raise between $1,000 to $2,000 for Tampa Audubon Society and Tropical Audubon Society.
Tropical Audubon Society is set to go on a cruise with them in January. They also plan to raise about $9,000 for an upcoming birding cruise for the American Birding Association. Kevin, his wife and guests are also known to take school supplies with them on their cruises to donate to needy children in third world countries.
For more information about the cruises go to carefreebirding.com or give Ken a call at (954) 766-2919.