The birder talks about his quest to see half of the world’s bird species in one year.
What made you take on this quest?
As a kid, I was inspired by Kenn Kaufman’s Kingbird Highway, about birding across the US. Then I read of Ruth Miller and Alan Davies’ Big Year (a challenge to see as many bird species as possible in 12 months within a specific area) global record of 4,341 species in 2008. I imagined what it would be like to do one continuous global Big Year, birding every day, and picked a target of 5,000 as a nice round number.
Give us a few trip statistics...
I birded in 41 countries on all seven continents. My highest day-count was 186 species in one morning in Panama, while Ecuador provided the most species in the shortest time – 625 in 12 days. To reach my goal, I needed to see at least one new species every waking hour – so if a bird took longer than an hour to find, I would actually be going backwards.
What was the most memorable sighting of the trip?
In Brazil I waited hours for a harpy eagle to arrive at its nest and was eventually rewarded when the male swooped in with a coati in its talons. I found a spoonbilled sandpiper in Thailand on my third try – bittersweet, because the species is crushingly endangered.
How did you plan the trip?
It took six months to make all the travel arrangements. For me, the soul of the trip was meeting birders in every country I visited. I spent hundreds of hours online contacting complete strangers, and the response was overwhelming. Many of them invited me to stay in their homes.
What were the low points?
I came down with flu in South America and suffered Delhi belly in India. The scariest moment came in Tanzania, when I was in a Land Rover that had a highspeed blowout and ran off the road.
Where were you when you realised you had hit your target of 5,000?
In the Philippines, with a flame-crowned flowerpecker. I still had two months to go, and ended up with a total of 6,042 species. My final sighting was a silverbreasted broadbill, which I saw at sunset on December 31 in north-east India.
How did you feel when your record was broken by Arjan Dwarshuis?
Records are made to be broken! Arjan did a great job streamlining the itinerary. I will be curious to hear about how other birders will push the boundaries over the years ahead.
The harpy eagle – a “Sherman tank with fighter jet wings.”