I was thrilled to get another field update from Noah Strycker a full 5 months through his worldwide big year effort, Birding Without Borders. Read on to hear his take on the effort thus far.
Photos & Text by Noah Strycker
After four and a half intense months in Latin America, I’ve hit the U.S. This is a big transition: I’m now in my home country, having left the tropics behind (at least until Africa, in another month), and, as it happens, my year list has just crossed 2,500 species. Halfway there!
When I started this year, in January, the idea of seeing 5,000 species of birds by December was almost too overwhelming to contemplate. With an itinerary of 35 countries in 2015, I can only think about one bird at a time – it’s a cliche, but so true. There’s something about big numbers that human brains aren’t meant to deal with. In middle school, we used to say, “One, two, skip a few… ninety-nine, a hundred!” and I still, in some ways, take the same approach to counting: The numbers will take care of themselves as long as I do the same.
I’m fortunate to have stayed fit and healthy so far on this big year, and can only hope that the rest of the journey is as smooth. What a wild trip! Since New Year, I’ve gone birding every single day in more than a dozen countries from Antarctica to Mexico. Even better, I’ve spent time with more than a hundred local birders in South and Central America and am beginning to see firsthand just how powerful, and widespread, is this shared pursuit of ours.
People keep asking if I’ll get burned out on birding by December, and I suppose anything is possible, but so far the opposite has happened: I’m more addicted than ever. When I take a day off at home, I go birding, so this adventure is pretty much the ultimate long weekend. It is hard work, though; I’ve set my alarm past 6:15 just once so far this year, and have stayed up looking for nocturnal birds more evenings than not, averaging about six hours of sleep a night. All I do now is eat, sleep, and look for birds.
It’s impossible to pick favorites from so many birds in Latin America, but I’ve particularly enjoyed the Harpy Eagle, Diademed Sandpiper-Plover, Marvelous Spatuletail, Giant Antpitta, Long-whiskered Owlet, Eared Quetzal, Lanceolated Monklet, and the Sapayoa. My hummingbird year list alone is above 200 species, and counting! I also gazed at Iguazu Falls in Argentina, went from sea level to 16,000 feet in Peru in one day, and walked an ancient Zapotec ruin in Oaxaca (all for the birds, of course). I’ve eaten all the street food I can handle, and my stomach must be lined with enough bacteria to stop a bullet. I’ve taken a flight, on average, once every five days, though my longest flight has been just two hours and most are about an hour.
My gear has held up remarkably well given the abuse it’s handled. The Leica 10×42 HD-Plus binoculars are, I think, the best 10x binocs in the world right now, and they’re as sharp as ever. I have often found myself describing field marks to people whose optics can’t pick out the details! The Leica V-Lux camera is always around my shoulder, and it’s perfect for this project: Light enough to shoot with on the run, but powerful enough to get crisp bird photos. And my Leica 65mm spotting scope seems to inspire envy every time I take it out of my pack. There are a few birds I just wouldn’t have seen without it, and the views are incredible.
Year bird #2,500 was a Common Poorwill in the pine forest above Durango, Mexico, just after 10:00 p.m. on May 16. Looking ahead, I’m psyched for the US, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia. Here’s to the next 2,500… The big year rolls on!
„All the best of luck, Noah“ – Leica Birding Team
As of May 31, Noah’s 2016 list stands at 2,701 bird species seen since January 1. Follow the adventure yourself!