[Tweeters] Fwd: [obol] Eugene birdwatcher wants to set world record by counting 5, 000 species in a single year | OregonLive.com

George Neavoll gneavoll at comcast.net
Thu Nov 13 10:07:13 PST 2014




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> From: George Neavoll <gneavoll at comcast.net>

> Subject: [obol] Eugene birdwatcher wants to set world record by counting 5,000 species in a single year | OregonLive.com

> Date: November 13, 2014 9:50:32 AM PST

> To: OBOL <obol at freelists.org>

> Reply-To: gneavoll at comcast.net

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> Eugene birdwatcher wants to set world record by counting 5,000 species in a single year

>

> (Author photo by Bob Keefer)

> By Jeff Baker | jbaker at oregonian.com

> Email the author | Follow on Twitter

> on November 12, 2014 at 11:42 AM, updated November 12, 2014 at 11:53 AM

>

> Noah Strycker has a big birding dream. The 28-year-old ornithologist from Eugene wants to be the first person in the world to count 5,000 species in a single year. The current official record is 4,341 and Strycker wants to "crush it" in 2015, starting Jan. 1 on a ship outside Antarctica and moving across all seven continents. He's got a plan to do it and a book contract from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt that will help cover expenses.

>

> Strycker got into birding as a kid growing up in Eugene and continued through his studies at South Eugene High School and Oregon State University. He is the author of "Among Penguins: A Bird Man in Antarctica" and "The Thing with Feathers: The Surprising Lives of Birds and What They Reveal About Being Human." He has studied birds in Antarctica, the Galapagos Islands, Hawaii, Maine and across the Northwest, and thinks the turkey vulture is graceful and underrated.

>

> What's this about seeing 5,000 species in a single year?

>

> That is my next big project. It's gonna be crazy. Next year I'm going to be the first person to see 5,000 species of birds in one year by traveling all around the world and looking at birds every day for a whole calendar year, starting Jan. 1. It will be one continuous trip around the world; I'm not going to take a bunch of different trips back and forth.

>

> I'm starting on New Year's Day on a ship off Antarctica, so it'll be a seven-continent tour, South and North America, over to Europe, across Asia and end in Australia.

>

> The idea, besides seeing 5,000 birds, is to connect with local birdwatchers and stay with them and go birding with them. Birding, just in the past 10 or 20 years, has become a really international thing.

>

> Big Years are kind of a tradition among birders. Back in the 1950s Roger Tory Peterson did the first one when he went across the U.S. with a British friend of his and they saw 600 birds or something. Since then the stakes have gotten more and more intense (laughs) but nobody has ever tried it on an international, worldwide scale.

>

> Isn't there a book called "The Big Year" and a movie was made from it?

>

> Yeah, the book is about three guys who each independently decide to do a Big Year in North America in 1998. It was a totally true story that got turned into a Hollywood movie that was slightly fictionalized.

> This will be completely different than that. Big Years in one continent or country, the whole focus has to be on finding rare birds. Some Siberian bird shows up in Alaska and you have to fly up and see it. You spend your whole year bouncing around back and forth. If you do the whole planet you don't have to worry about seeing rare birds at all; you see the birds where they're supposed to be. I like that about it.

>

> It sounds like you have this pretty well mapped out. Are you going to go to places where you can see the most birds at the right time of year?

>

> That's the idea. The only planning I've done regarding seasons and migrations is to be in North America and Europe during the summer, when there's more birds and it's not so cold (laughs). I'll pick up the migratory birds in one place or another. My focus is going to be on the resident, endemic species in each place that you can't get anywhere else. That also means you don't have to go back and forth a lot; you can just do one efficient route and spend more time out in the field.

>

> You want to run up the number rather than find the rarest birds?

>

> Exactly. It's a numbers game. I want to see 5,000 species, which I think is possible although nobody's really tried it before. Five thousand is a nice round number. It averages out to about 14 new birds every single day, a new bird every daylight hour (laughs). If you spend your time going after one bird at a time it's not going to cut it. My strategy is to look at the bigger picture and at bird habitats and environments and go for maximum diversity, which means I'll spend most of my year in the tropics because that's where there are the most birds -- South America, the middle of Africa, Southeast Asia. Then I'll do a sweep across the more temperate areas and clean up the species there.

>

> How many species are there in the world?

>

> Five thousand species is about half. There are about 10,500 species of birds in the world, depending on who you ask. So 5,000 would be cool. I also think it would be cool to see half, which would be slightly more than 5,000 species. We'll see (laughs).

>

> Wasn't the focus of "The Big Year" about the obsessiveness of the people who were doing it?

>

> Definitely, and this will be obsessive as well (laughs).

>

> What about that movie? Did you see it?

>

> It had Owen Wilson and Steve Martin and Jack Black playing birdwatchers. It wasn't the best movie ever made. I think it cost $50 million or something to make and it only grossed like $10 million at the box office. It was kind of a flop. As a birdwatcher, I thought it was entertaining, but not as a movie watcher (laughs).

>

> You have a book deal for your quest.

>

> At the end of it I will sit down and write a book and reflect on the adventure and also where we're at as far as birding around the world. And while I doing the Big Year, I'll be keeping a daily blog for Audubon on their website.

>

> What possessed you to do this?

>

> I've been into birds since I was in fifth grade. I had a teacher who put a feather on my classroom window, and that's what initially sparked my interest. All the other kids thought it was the dumbest thing ever (laughs), but I thought it was cool. It was at Oak Hill Elementary School in Eugene. Birding, at least for some of us, is a very addictive game. It got more and more serious and now I'm a full-time bird nerd. I write about birds and guide expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic looking for penguins and other things, and I've worked on a lot of seasonal research projects with birds since I graduated from college.

>

> Are you doing any guiding right now?

>

> For the past two or three years I've been working as an on-board ornithologist on an expedition cruise ship. It goes to the Antarctic in the southern summer and the Arctic, high above Norway, in the northern summer. That's about four months out of the year.

>

> How do you verify that you've seen 5,000 birds?

>

> Birding is on the honor system, and as with many things, they say you can only lose your reputation once. It's pretty easy to tell if someone is making up their sightings if they start reporting birds that just shouldn't be in the places they've been. It comes down to you being honest about what you're seeing. There are no big prizes -- you don't get rewarded by fame and glory. I'm also going to be spending the whole year birding with other people. I'm not going to be out there by myself. I hope to be out with experts, local birders who know their birds well. They'll be able to verify what we're seeing as well.

>

> What's your favorite bird in Oregon?

>

> My favorite bird in Oregon by far is the turkey vulture. I like turkey vultures because they don't get much respect from people because they eat disgusting, decaying things but I think they're really neat birds. They're super-graceful when they're flying around. They're very common -- they're often mistaken for hawks when they're soaring around. They're one of the only birds in the world that is completely silent -- they have no vocalizations. They're quite secretive around their nests for how common they are. They're nests are extremely difficult to find. I've only ever seen one. They nest in hollow logs and caves; the one nest I've seen was in a cave up on Spencer Butte.

>

> If I'm driving from Portland to Eugene and seeing a lot of hawks on fenceposts, what are those?

>

> Those are mostly red-tailed hawks, especially if they're sitting on fenceposts. Sometimes you'll see smaller ones and those are American kestrels. Red-tails and kestrels are pretty common around here, especially in the winter.

>

> What kind of birds are around your house?

>

> I stay with my mom and dad when I'm in Oregon these days because I'm not around enough to justify having my own house. They've got 20 acres outside of Creswell, about five miles east of Creswell, and our yard list is great. We have forest and some fields and so far I've seen about 100 different species on our property.

>

> You give a lot of talks at schools. What are some of the questions you get asked?

>

> I've got to say the best questions come from kids (laughs). I gave a talk a couple of weeks ago and I was talking about how migration and how birds can detect the earth's magnetic field like they have a compass built into their brain. At the end of the talk this kid raised his hand and said "do all birds really have a compass sewed inside their skull?"

>

> People ask about how to get into birding, how to set up a backyard feeder, basic stuff like that. I just think that birds catch people's interest in a way that's very basic and easy to grasp.

>

> When you first got into this, were you looked at as the Boy Birder. Were you unusually young to be so proficient?

>

> Oh yeah. There are a few youn birders who get into it at an early age like me, but generally people get interested in birds around when they retire, if you want to make a big generalization. Most birders tend to be a bit older (laughs). I thought it was great when I was 11 and these older birders wanted to take me out on their field trips because I wasn't old enough to drive yet.

>

> Do you think birding is growing in popularity?

>

> I do. You have to be careful with statistics, and it's hard to define what a birder is. If you have a bird feeder in your yard, does that make you a birder? Some people say you have to travel away from your house to specifically look for birds to be a birder. But I think interest has been growing for a few years, and I think it's because we're getting more and more urban at the same time as we're getting more connected to each other, so it's easier than ever to get field guides and binoculars and find information and connect with other people who have the same interest.

>

> Events: Strycker will participate in the Wild Arts Festival, a celebration of art and nature sponsored by the Audubon Society of Portland Nov. 22-23 at Montgomery Park.

>

> -- Jeff Baker

>

>

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