Eugene-based birder Noah Strycker just completed his “Big Year.” That’s what birders call an attempt to rack up the largest number of bird species sightings in one year within a certain geographical area. Strycker’s area? The world. He traveled to 41 countries in 2015 and saw or heard 6,042 species of birds. The previous world record was 4,341. Think Out Loud interviewed Strycker. Here are six things we learned:
1. Just planning the complicated logistics of this trip took more than four months. But it sounds like it paid off.
Noah Strycker: “At midnight, on the first of January 2015, I was on top of a Russian ship that was off the Antarctic peninsula. I was sitting in a hot tub on top of the ship with some friends, two bottles of champagne in my hand, and a pair of binoculars around my neck. And because … the sun never goes down in Antarctica, I was able to start birding at 12:01 on Jan. 1.”
2. The American Birding Association says in order for a bird sighting to count, the bird has to be “alive, wild, and unrestrained.”
Strycker: “I’m going to write a book about this adventure eventually and I thought, ‘Oh, that would be a great title: Alive, Wild, and Unrestrained.’ But then I started thinking people wouldn’t think that was about birding.”
3. This trip was as much about people as it was about birds.
Strycker: “That was another big part of my strategy: teaming up with local birders wherever I went. It meant I could sleep on their couches and sleep on their floors. This was kind of like the couch surfing adventure of birding.”
4. Birding is a lifestyle.
Strycker: “I just think that birds occupy every part of life. And for me that’s been true since I first got in to birds when I was about 11 years old. It’s gradually gotten to be more and more of an addiction … it’s a slippery slope. These days I can’t turn it off. If I’m in the car going to the grocery store, I’m birding.”
5. The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon is sacred ground for birders.
Strycker: “That place means a lot to me personally, it was were I first got inspired with birds … I’ve been back to Malheur probably 100 times at this point — all times of the year. I try to go several times each year … I just think it’s a magical place.”
6. One of the birds Strycker saw in Thailand, the spoon-billed sandpiper, may be extinct in 5–10 years.
Strycker: “At the same time as all of these birds are facing threats, and have never had more of an uncertain future in many cases … Birding, and people who are interested in birds has never been more popular. So even though there’s all these conservation issues that can be very depressing, I came away with an optimistic perspective.”