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December 31, 2013. Neil Hayward finishes his record-breaking Big Year with 749 birds sighted.
January 1, 2014. I begin my little year with 25 birds sighted. Off to a good start.
The object of a Big Year is to see in one year as many species of birds as possible within the continental US, Canada and their coastal waters. Birders spend the year traveling around the continent, chasing reports of rare and accidental birds. They are prepared to hop on a plane at a moments notice and travel to any and every corner of North America to see that one special bird.
On the back cover of Mark Obmascik’s book The Big Year, Outside Magazine sums up it up like this,
“Every January 1, a quirky crowd storms out across North America for a spectacularly competitive event called a Big Year - a grand, expensive, and occasionally vicious 365-day marathon of birdwatching”.
In March of 2012, while on vacation in the Everglades, I read the book, “The Big Year”. The book had recently been turned into a movie and it was getting a lot of play in the newspapers. Until the movie, I had never heard of a Big Year. However, it seemed the perfect book to read in the Everglades, a birders paradise. As one can imagine, it piqued my interest. My first thought was, Can I do a big year? How wonderful it would be to devote an entire year to birding around the country.
My second thought, which came almost simultaneously with the first thought, was that I had no real desire to do a Big Year, for a number of reasons. They are: 1. I can’t afford to take a year off from work. 2. I can’t afford to spend enormous amounts of money flying all over the continent. 3. While I enjoy birding, I don’t have the dedication it takes to do a Big Year, and 4. while I consider myself a fair birder, I am in no way good enough to try a Big Year. For instance, like most birders of my level, many sparrows are designated as LBJ’s (Little Brown Jobs) and most sandpipers all come under the heading of “peeps”. So a Big Year was out.
And yet, I knew that in hiking around the Everglades, I would see quite a few birds that I would not see at home, back in Massachusetts. It seemed a shame to waste those birds sightings. That’s when I decided to do a little year. I would set a goal for myself to see a certain number of birds within the year. I would try to choose a number that was possible to attain, yet would take a bit of effort and that would be a challenge to see, considering the time and funds available as well as my level of birding expertise. The number I chose was two hundred birds. I would try to see two hundred birds within the year. Then, when the year was up, I would start on a new little year, trying to reach my goal of 200 birds, as well as beating my record of the year before.
Like the Big Year, my little year would be a competition. But unlike the Big Year, it would be a competition against myself. The competition - to reach my goal - would drive me to get out birding as often as possible, but it wouldn’t rule my life. If I didn’t reach my goal, I would always have the next year to look forward to.
After having done two little years, this is what I have gained:
So, How have I been doing on my little years? My first year I saw 188 birds. Last year the total was 215 birds. As of the first of this year - January 1, 2014 - 25 birds. Only 191 to go to beat last year’s record.
Of course, the totals don’t really matter. Of much more importance is the pleasure I get from my little year, especially when I am joined in my birding expeditions by friends who have also started little years.
Is that a Fox Sparrow I see out my window? Gotta run.