Noah Strycker is an enthusiastic birder, a great writer, and is presently on the adventure of a lifetime! For many years he penned a featured column in WildBird magazine and was affectionately referred to as „BirdBoy“. He has long since outgrown that nickname, and currently works as an Associate Editor of „Birding“ magazine (ABA). His prolific writing portfolio contains over 75 other articles for various birding & wildlife magazines and he has penned two books as well: „The Thing With Feathers“ and „Among Penguins„.
Since the stroke of Midnight on January 1st, 2015, Noah has been on an amazing journey which will carry him to every continent in search of as many birds as he can find. Noah’s back pack contains all he will need and we’re happy to say his binoculars, spotting scope, and camera all carry the same brand name – Leica! His entire journal is chronicled on the blog „Birding Without Borders“ hosted on the National Audubon Society website.
Noah began in familiar territory in Antarctica; „among penguins“ once again! Upon returning to the mainland he has been slowly winding northward through South America and was flirting with 1,000 bird species already as of the last species update on February 10, 2015.
We caught up with Noah and asked him a few questions about his journey:
Q: What made you decide that you wanted to embark on a worldwide big year?
A: I have dreamed of doing a worldwide big year ever since I read „Kingbird Highway“ nearly 15 years ago. Kenn Kaufman hitchhiked 30,000 miles around North America on a radically shoestring budget in 1973, and that’s the way I wanted to do it. Last year, after my book, „The Thing With Feathers,“ was published by Riverhead, I was looking for a new project, and my agent persuaded Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to go for my big year idea. Just like that, I was living the dream.
Q: What are you doing to make the travel as economical & eco-friendly as possible?
A: I am on a very tight budget. To make traveling most efficient, I am making this a once-round-the-world trip, rather than out-and-backs from home. But that’s still a lot of traveling. I expect to spend about 70 days this year in the air, and many more days on land and sea. I purchased 25 metric tons of carbon offset from The Nature Conservancy Carbon Offset Program, which amounts to about 25 round-trip flights from New York to London. It’s not a perfect system, but theoretically my carbon footprint at the end of the year should be zero.
Q: In the introduction to your blog you mention that you dislike the idea of listing within boundaries. What makes listing without boundaries so appealing to you?
A: Don’t get me wrong. I keep plenty of lists within boundaries–an ABA Area list, country lists, state lists, county lists, trip lists, year lists, yard lists … it’s just that boundaries are artificial. They don’t apply to birds, so why should they apply to birders? Birds symbolize total freedom, and I find that irresistible.
Q: What parts of the world are you most excited about visiting during your adventure and why? What about it makes it so appealing?
A: The beauty of a worldwide big year is that I don’t have to agonize over the places I visit–I’m going all over the place! I’m stoked about seeing the whole planet. This year, I’ll hit every continent and at least 33 countries. I’m especially excited about the places I’ve never been–like Africa, the only continent on which I have not yet set foot–and about exploring birding gems with insiders. A planned half-day in Reykjavik could be productive.
Q: Is it true you are mostly just birding with local birders, if so will we be meeting new friends along the way?
A: Yes, a big part of this project is to tap into the grassroots network of bird lovers around the globe, to find birds with local birders in their home patches–from the world’s most spectacular landscapes to municipal sewage ponds. This is a thrilling treasure hunt, but it is also a very down-to-earth, populist adventure.
Q: We see you are using eBird as a tool to locate and report your birds. Are you planning to maintain a field notebook along the way as well to document your day-to-day experiences along with your blog?
A: I am relying heavily on eBird to find and report birds, but I also use a small notebook to list bird sightings in the field and to jot down details about the people, places, and stories along the way. These notes help me write my blog post each day, and I will refer to them when I sit down to write the book.
Q: How did you begin planning out the logistics of your year? What resources did you use? How important was eBird in planning your trip?
A: Planning for this trip was an inspiring and mind-numbing experience. All day, every day, for three months, I worked on logistics. The biggest job was to figure out the route. Using eBird to locate the most productive habitats, I decided on a logical progression starting from the southern summer in Antarctica/South America, then moving to the northern summer in North America/Europe, and ending in the southern summer again in Africa/Asia/Australia, spending most of my time in the bird-rich tropics — to maximize the chances of seeing common birds. Using BirdingPal and other social media, I started contacting local birders around the globe, sometimes friends-of-friends and often complete strangers. And then I bought plane tickets, applied for visas, got an international credit card and an international phone plan, studied just about every field guide in existence, and gutted through an awful lot of vaccines.
Q: What do you think you will miss the most about the comforts of home? Are you bringing anything that you just can’t live without?
A: What do I miss from home? My mom’s chocolate chip cookies! Seriously. But I’ve spent so much of my life living in tents and out of suitcases that I feel pretty comfortable wherever I am. I depend on my Leica optics, and I need my phone and laptop, but there is nothing in my gear bag that I can’t live without. Even if I lose all my stuff, I will keep going. Things can be replaced.
Q: How have you prepared yourself culturally for the varied customs and laws of the dozens of countries you’ll be traveling in?
A: One of the fun things about this trip is the opportunity to learn and share customs with people in other countries. I’m counting on my firm belief that birdwatchers around the world have their own subculture, and that this common passion will help in forming friendships wherever I go. Birders like to show off their local expertise. Steering someone to a life bird is almost as good as seeing one yourself.
Q: What is the number one non-bird related thing you are excited to see/experience during the year?
A: Before this big year, someone told me that it would be exciting if I got a major disease, like dengue fever. I’m definitely not excited about that! I am most excited about having the greatest global adventure of all time–and the big year is already exceeding my expectations.
Q: What bird species are you most looking forward to seeing along your journey and why?
A: I am mostly looking for common species in their typical habitats. It’s a numbers game. I’d rather see lots of little brown jobbers than a few flashy rarities. That said, I have a most-wanted bird for each region I’m visiting–typically an endemic species that I won’t be able to see anywhere else. I was bummed about missing my chance for a Cobb’s Wren at Sea Lion Island in the Falklands, but elated to find a Rufous-throated Dipper in northwest Argentina. One of my most-wanted birds in South America was the Harpy Eagle, and I saw one at a nest before the end of January!
As of February 17th, Noah was in Peru and had already seen over 1,100 bird species and counting! Follow along with his awesome adventures as he continues north through the Americas. Watch for Noah’s dedicated guest posts on the Leica Birding Blog as well!
To read more about Noah’s amazing journey, visit the Birding Without Borders blog hosted on the National Audubon Society website.