Read: Lost Among the Birds

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Competitive birding is a thing. You might love this fact or hate this fact but I’m semi-okay with it. I was fortunate to never get the competitive gene. When I raced bicycles as a kid I realized the largest ovation came from going for big air or running over the kid that nobody liked. Once I figured that out I forget all about winning and went for the applause. A “big year” is also a thing.

big year is a personal challenge or an informal competition among birders who attempt to identify as many species of birds as possible by sight or sound, within a single calendar year and within a specific geographic area.

For many, a big year is something that requires meticulous planning and a heads up well in advance. For Neil Hayward it was more about accidentally backing in, something he covers extensively and humorously in his “Lost Among the Birds: Accidentally Finding Myself in One Very Big Year.” Hayward starts late but goes big making eight or nine trips to Alaska alone, a location he initially thought he would forego entirely. Hayward is a Brit and with him comes that Brit humor that I absolutely love. Hayward also battles depression and fear of commitment in a new relationship that blossoms in tandem with his big year.

“After 250,000 miles, fifty-five rental cars, twenty-eight states, six provinces, fifty-six airports, and 195 days away from home (fifteen of which were spent on a boat, one in a kayak, and one up a tree), I’d seen 747 species.”

It was nice to see New Mexico ring in with several birds on his list, all of which seemed to require separate trips to the enchanted state. Alaska, Texas, Florida, California, and Arizona are the main players here with pelagic trips rounding out the edges of the land. There is also a core group of fellow birders, some also doing their very own big year, which adds to the community aspect of birding. In short, these people are possessed. And before you go hating, I know equally possessed people who fly fish, ride motos, ride bicycles and others who run who are singularly focused on these pursuits. Possession is okay.

I want to emphasize one last thing here. Knowledge. I could attempt a big year but I would waste most of the time attempting to identify ANY of these birds let alone all of them. The knowledge base of the “average” birder is astounding. In my short time attempting to navigate the birding world, I’ve found a range of incredible people who by sight or sound or both can nail identification that leaves me stumbling around with my field guide an eBird app melting in my hands. My normal response when I see something new? “No idea.” Get it, read it.

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