A Colorado birder, John Vanderpoel, is now up to 2nd place all time for a North American “Big Year“. In a “Big Year”, a birder tries to see/hear as many bird species as possible in a given year. Vanderpoel is up to 736 species for the year. The record is 748, from Sandy Komito, one of the birders featured in the (great!) book The Big Year, and also the recent movie The Big Year with Steve Martin, Owen Wilson, and Jack Black.
I’m not a “lister”. I know what birds I’ve seen, I know what birds I’ve photographed, but I don’t really keep any active list. I know there are birders who have “big year” lists, “big day” lists, state lists, county lists, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I think doing something like what Vanderpoel is doing would be a blast. But there are two things I don’t get.
First is the behavior I’ve seen from some “listers”. There have been times where rare birds have been spotted around South Dakota, and I’ve gone to see them. For me, when I see any new bird, especially some rarity that I’m not likely to see again for a long time, if ever, I like to spend some time watching and enjoying it, such as when a very rare Ross’s Gull was found below Gavin’s Point Dam on the Nebraska/South Dakota border, or when a Scisscor-tailed Flycatcher was found near Brookings, South Dakota. But many times when I’ve been looking at a rare bird, there are listers who see a rare bird, mentally (and often physically) check it off their list, and then leave. To each his own, but it seems there is a cadre of birders out there where the list and even the competitiveness of it seems more important to them than enjoying birds and nature.
The 2nd thing I don’t get…HOW THE HELL can anyone afford to do a big year? Both from the standpoint of money, and time? There have been about 970 species that have EVER been seen “North America” (just the conterminous U.S., Alaska, and Canada for the supposedly official “North American” list.) Many of these species are extremely rare visitors, such as Mexican or Central American birds that occasionally stray across the border into the U.S., or Asian species that can sometimes be found in extreme western Alaskan islands. To even come close to getting 700 species, birders have to go to far-away such as the Pribilof Islands or Attu Island of the western coast of Alaska, hoping to find strays from Asia. You have to get on a plane at a moment’s notice to fly across the country to find one out-of-place bird that might have been spotted. You’ve got to have one hell of a lot of money, and time, to be able to travel that much, to very odd and far away locations.
May someday, when I retire and win the lottery.