Noah Strycker

The birder talks about his quest to see half of the world’s bird species in one year.

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Wild At Home - MEET THE AU­THOR

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.”

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