Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Book Review: The Big Year

If you have ever done a big year, you know first hand the triumphs, struggles, along with the utter frustration, of trying to see as many species of birds in one year over a particular area. Whether it be your local patch, a province/state or, as in "The Big Year", all across North America, a big year is a BIG DEAL!!

Big years started to become a reality to the everyday birder when Roger Tory Peterson and James Fisher travelled across North America during 1953, publishing their adventures in "Wild America" with Roger having a total of 572 species by the end of the year. This total set the bar for North American birders to reach, and quickly break!

The Big Year, by Mark Obmascik, is about three birders; Sandy Kimoto, Al Levantin and Greg Miller, who set out across North America in 1998 to achieve the new big year record. The three birders begin their year without knowledge the others is even in competition with them, but this soon changes and it becomes a cross-country mad dash to December 31st!

The birders hit many hotspots, along with areas that are key to clinch the victory. This includes the Ruby Mountains in Nevada for Himalayan Snowcock, on pelagics, and out to Attu island which is the furthest west you can go (until the year 2000) in the ABA area for those sweet Asian vagrants that can hold the key to victory for a big year!

To get more acquainted with our trio, there is a brief chapter near the beginning of the book looks into their personal live including their childhood, their obsessiveness in birding, and how the attempt at a big year affects their personal lives, their family life, their health, and of course, there financial life! As you may have guessed, doing a big year across the continent is not cheap!

As you may have guessed, the book features all the hilarity (and sometimes insanity) that makes it such a page-turner. From huge swarms of mosquitoes at the Snake Bite Trail in Florida to see Greater Flamingo, sea sickness on pelagics, Cougar confrontations in parks, to chasing Himalayan Snowcocks in a helicopter!.....Sounds like movie material doesn't it? That is exactly what 20th Century Fox thinks as well. The release date for The Big Year the movie is coming out on October 14th, starring Jack Black, Steve Martin, and Owen Wilson. So far there are only screen shots out:

So birding is going Hollywood. Not sure if this is a good thing or not, but if it gets more individuals into birding and breaks the common stereotype of "the birder" (mostly middle-aged with a tilly hat etc. etc.) then that is great!...not that there is anything wrong with being middle-aged and wearing a tilly hat...

So, back to the book. I highly recommend this book to birders and non birders alike. If you have read The Feather Quest by Pete Dunne, and Kingbird Highway by Ken Kaufman, you will probably like The Big Year. Unlike The Feather Quest and Kingbird Highway, The Big Year is not read in first person by the author. Instead, the author takes all the bits and pieces from the three birders, their family members, and any other birders that have witnessed their big year including Debi Shearwater (who is also in the movie played by Anjelica Huston), Ken Kaufman, and Michael Austin to name a few. I personally read the book in a couple of days and never wanted to put it down, or for it to end actually! I can't wait to see it in the theatre this fall!

1 comment:

  1. I read this book a few years ago. Interesting stuff! Didn't know there was going to be a movie about it...will have to go see it.