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An open conversation about the birds in your back yard and beyond

The biggest Big Year ever -- the entire world

You have to admire birder Noah Strycker not only for what he did — he saw 6,042 species of birds in 365 days, a world-wide Big Year — but for simply being willing to give it a try.


He makes birding an endurance sport.


Strycker has written a book on this adventure — wouldn’t you? “Birding without Borders” will be in bookstores in October. Interestingly, this is a book as much or more about people as it is about birds.


Strycker thankfully does not mention in his text all 6,042 species seen. The detail he gives us is better: how he pulled this off, and all of the people who helped him. There were dozens, most of whom he had never met.


The author is a trim-looking young man whose life is devoted to birds, one way or another. He is an author, an editor, a guide. He is almost exactly as tall as the stack of field guides he scanned into his computer for use on his trip (see photo below).


Important to his accomplishment, he knows how to travel light. He carried a laptop, binoculars, a spotting scope, a camera, many one-way air tickets, and a backpack filled with life essentials, including iPhone, Imodium, and anti-leech socks.


He searched for birds in 41 countries on seven continents.


The end papers of this book are maps that trace his year-long route. The line wanders, nonsensical unless your destinations are the world’s most productive birding locations, which are not arranged in a straight line. He wanted and got the most birds for his buck.


Key to his adventure were the dozens of people who helped him find birds. He had a list of birding friends and acquaintances scattered around the world. They had birding friends and acquaintances. This became a chain of birders who knew where to find the most birds in the shortest amount of time with the least effort.


Strycker suffered for his sport. Leeches, mudslides, transportation breakdowns, floods, war zones  — nothing mattered but the birds. That attitude was essential. 


Every bird he saw did not make the list. There were duplicates. In Argentina, for example, in 12 days he saw 435 species total. Of those, at that point in his journey, 374 were new. Seeing some of same species elsewhere reduced his net Big Year gain in Argentina to 101. 


Australia and Peru contributed most to his list. In Australia, Strycker added 312 unique species, in Peru, 242. He found 196 unique species in the U.S., where he spent 21 days.


HIs best hunting was done in South America — Argentina, Chili, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, and Columbia — where he saw 3,414 species, 905 of which were unique.


He seldom had trouble passing through customs, learning early on that if a local address as destination was needed, any hotel would do. For occupation, he eventually scratched out “writer” and replaced it with the more appropriate “bird man.” No one, he wrote, ever asked a question.


And so it went.


His list of birds appears at the back of the book. It takes 50 pages of tiny type to list all 6,042.


The book is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 326 hardbound pages with lists (including what to bring in your backpack when you attempt this), and photos by the author. Price is $27. 


I’m certain a trip like this, for me, would not be enjoyable, but the book surely is.




Strycker with the bird identification books he took with him on his world-wide Big Year. He scanned them into his laptop computer.


Winter finch forecast from Canadian birder

Red Crossbills are moving south for the winter, in search of food. We knew that because Minnesota birders were reporting west-central Minnesota sightings in August. 


Ron Pittaway’s annual winter finch forecast agrees with those sightings. Pittaway publishes his forecast as a member of the Ontario Field Ornithologists in Toronto. Most of his observations pertain more to eastern North America than the center, but he does see some finch movement from the west.


It is failure of coniferous cone crops in mountains to our west that is bringing us birds. 

The Northeast region, particularly in Canada has the best cone crop in a decade or more. 


Pittaway predicts this will be a banner winter for boreal finches in central and northeastern Ontario, Quebec, Atlantic Canada, northern New York, and northern New England States. 


He notes that cone crops are generally low west of a line from Lake Superior to James Bay extending west across the Prairie Provinces, British Columbia and Alaska. 


His forecasts: 


Most Pine Grosbeaks should stay in the north because the mountain-ash berry crop is good to excellent across the boreal forest from Alaska to Newfoundland. 


Most Purple Finches east of Lake Superior should stay north this winter because of heavy seed crops on eastern conifers and mountain-ashes. He makes no mention of appearances central or west, but cone crops are likely an influence on this species, too.


He guarantees sightings of White-winged Crossbills — in the east. He makes no mention of our part of the continent.


He expects Common Redpolls to move south because White Birch and alder seed crops are below average in northern Ontario, BUT, not far enough south for us. He writes, as redpolls move south they likely will be slowed or stopped by abundant conifer seed crops and better birch crops. If they get into southern Ontario south of latitude 45, good seed crops on birches and European Black Alder, and an abundance of weedy fields this year will attract them. 


Pine Siskins could have the same coniferous cone problem as the crossbills. We might see some. 


Pittaway expects most Evening Grosbeaks to stay in the north this winter because of abundant conifer seed crops and increasing outbreaks of spruce budworm. This species  almost never makes as far south as central Minnesota, regardless.


Pittaway collects the information he uses in his predictions from dozens of birders, including many Ontario Ministry of Natural Resource staff members.




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