Wednesday, January 27, 2010

"Like The Salmon Of Capistrano"

Big years...they're pretty popular, for all manner of reasons. The idea is simple; try to see as many different species as possible within one year in a given area. This can be anything from your favorite local spot to anywhere in the world. The current U.S. record is something like 745 species, which is a crippling number....I haven't seen that many birds period, let alone in one year (yes, obviously I need to get to the tropics, but that's another matter).

There are downfalls to the big year of course. For one, you run the risk of becoming a full-blown lister, out to look at birds simply so you can check them off a list...this is the dark and incredibly stupid side of birdwatching, and one which many of us struggle to stay away from. It sucks a lot of the joy out of it, and those of us who can still manage to derive substantial pleasure from seeing a species we've seen thousands of times openly mock these people.

Then there are the real, tangible effects of the big year. For one, they're expensive as hell and extremely time consuming if you are really pursuing it. It costs $$$$$ to drive and fly all the is not the poor man's pastime. Then there is the fact that when you are traipsing across the land during every free minute you have, you are burning huge amounts of gas and probably consuming a lot of shit that you wouldn't otherwise. Big years, more often than not, have substantial negative impacts, and in my opinion if you attempt one on a very big scale you're pretty much an asshole. I mean, it's great to keep track of everything, and the pursuit of the big year can land you in some strange and wonderful places, but there are limits of reason. One well-known birder drove 50,000 miles in one year for a California big year a while back...come on!

Some birders are catching on however. For example, in a big year done by Malkholm Boothroyd (apperently that's his real name, and he is in high school) and his family from June 2007-June 2008, they rode over 13,000 miles by bicycle, found 548 species, and raised a fat $25,000 for bird conservation. Inspiring stuff, yeah?

It wouldnt really be reasonable to suggest that people should never drive or fly, but it is to suggest they do it a lot less. I mean, I've done a few big years myself, and they're obviously pretty fun, and it's not like I don't travel. But there is such a thing as moderation, you know what I'm saying?

In the interest of appreciating your local species, I dedicate this blog to the almighty Anna's Hummingbird, who has been with me ever since childhood, seeming perpetually cheerfully perched and singing raspily atop the antenna at my parent's house. I also would like to thank one Brendan Wolff for providing the title. Yes, he was being serious.

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