About me and this website
Welcome to my website. My name is Jan Van Der Voort. I live in Schoten, near Antwerp in Belgium. Ever since my younger years (ages ago 😊), inspired and encouraged by my father, I had a broad interest in nature. I spent long hours exploring ponds and ditches in my village, looking for frogs and newts, and Sunday mornings were invariably dedicated to guided excursions all over the country. Photography has also always been my interest. I felt the need to bring home and collect something from my excursions, and photography was the answer to that. Nevertheless, the first results of my efforts (in bird photography) were rather disappointing. A teenager's budget was simply insufficient to buy expensive heavy telephoto lenses.
When I discovered Arnold, Burton and Ovenden's Field Guide to European Reptiles and Amphibians in a bookstore in the early 1980s, my final passion was born. I needed to photograph all the species in this book. And you know what? I could do it with a photo gear that matched my budget.
It took me many years and dozens of wonderful and memorable journeys, often in exquisite company, to achieve this goal. Herping buddy and friend Jeroen Speybroeck made lovely travel reports of some of these trips. I often got help from local herpetologists, the to-do list dwindled and several times I thought the goal had been reached. However, science is dynamic par excellence, and the original aim of Arnold's 126 species has risen to over 200 species since its release, partly through the discovery of new species (Alytes muletensis, Rana pyrenaica), partly through new (phylo)genetic insights. New species appeared on my list, other disappeared again (Discoglossus jeanneae, Vipera walser). Up to this moment, scientists keep me on the hunt.
When K.D. Dijkstra published his Field Guide to Dragonflies of Britain and Europe in 2006, I got a déjà vu. Again there was a nice, manageable group of animals, not too difficult to distinguish by external characteristics and begging to be photographed. A new quest had begun.
In the fall of 2007, traveling companions Gijs, Peter and Anniek and myself decided to bridge the European winter break with a trip to a warmer continent. The choice fell on the first sub-Saharan country that is easily accessible from the Benelux: The Gambia. It was a fun trip, but with far-reaching consequences, because I met my future wife Lea there. After a few more trips to Gambia in 2008 and 2009, she came to live permanently in Belgium at the end of 2009, and in 2011 our beautiful daughter Kato was born. In the following years we visited my second motherland several more times, but with the obligations of daddy and son-in-law in my luggage. Family visits and games at the pool were given priority over checklists. Fortunately, our home away from home, the Gunjur Project Lodge, is well located for short getaways in the area. You will find the result of these trips in a few photo galleries.
By the turn of the century it became clear that Arnold's field guide, while still valuable, was outdated in terms of nomenclature and systematics. My copy contained almost more personal notes than original text. When, sometime in 2010, Jeroen Speybroeck asked me to work on a new field guide with him, Wouter Beukema and Bobby Bok, I was immediately interested. It was also Jeroen who made the most important discovery in the realization of the book by finding that amazing illustrator Illian Velikov. His work gave the book its ultimate value. It was both an honor and pleasure to be part of a team with so much skill, knowledge and field experience, and with the format of Dijkstra's field guide in mind, we set to work. The result came five years later, the Dutch translation took Jeroen and me another year.
In the meantime, my field of interest also expanded geographically, and I occasionally sought out more exotic destinations. My focus, however, remains on Europe, or by extension, the Western Palearctic. Travel reports from trips outside Europe can be found under "Trip Reports".
P.S. To brighten up this page, I have stolen a few photos of travel companions. I found them in long forgotten folders on my computer, and often don't remember who took them. I hope they forgive me.