My Mini Big Year: Confessions of A ReHatched Bird Nerd


I probably should never have watched the movie ‘The Big Year’. Until that time, I had never heard of competitive birding and it still doesn’t make a lot of sense. But, somehow, I got kind of hooked on the idea of building a list – two lists actually: a year list and a life list. My whole approach to birding changed. The how and why is what this tale is all about. Now that I’m half way through my Mini Big Year, it’s time to reflect.

I’ve been looking for and at birds since childhood. I still have the bird books my aunt Rene in England sent me when I was ten. Incidentally, I’m still l scan for Hoopoes when I travel in Europe. I’ve yet to see this bird, the image of which imprinted itself on my young brain, but I keep hoping.

Now, I’ve decided to renew my interest in birds, to go to the naturalist society meetings and to join bird walks. At the start, I learned a lot from young Geoffrey and his father, David, who led some of these walks. Then I learned about ebird from a presenter at a birder night and signed up. Ebird made a huge difference. More about ebird later. A shorebird festival  at Gray’s Harbor, Washington coincided with my yearly short excursion to the coast so I signed up for some tours. So far, I haven’t even thought about a ‘Big Year’. I knew I’d be in southern Ontario to visit my mother in early May. Warblers and other birds would be migrating en masse then. I hadn’t yet thought about going to Point Pelee either,  a five or six-hour drive away.

I hatched the Mini Big Year after the fact, somewhere between going to the Gray’s Harbor Shorebird Festival and Point Pelee. Once I decided to do a Mini Big Year, I had to consider what that meant. Since this was my project and since I was the only competitor, I could make up my own rules.  I didn’t get the idea until January had more or less gone, so my MBY would officially start on February 1. How many species would I shoot for? The winner of the official Big Year recorded, I think, 750 species. I would shoot for half that – 375 (if my math is right). Optimistically, I would record 400 species. I thought it might be fun. What I didn’t expect was that I would get a bit obsessive about counting species. The other thing I didn’t expect was that I would reconnect with my old love of nature and would become, once again, attentive to the timeless rhythms of the seasons in the manner of a hunter.

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