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Because It’s There

That’s supposed to be the reason why mountain climbers climb a mountain. But most of us don’t climb mountains, even though we know they are there. I am not a mountain climber (unless there’s a bird I wish to see that might be on the mountain), and I do not at all understand the allure of mountain climbing. It’s so hard to understand someone else’s obsession. We are all so different.

I expect that balanced, normal people, whose birding interests (if any) are healthily balanced by other interests and pursuits, do not understand those of us who have a birding obsession. The problem is – I really cannot expect others to understand my birding obsession when I do not even understand it myself. Why do I wake up each morning trying to figure out how I can fit in birding that day, or lie awake at night planning where my next birding adventure will be?

I can’t blame it on childhood traumas. My childhood was mostly uneventful and calm. I can’t even blame it on the fact that my parents moved to the country when I was 5. Lots of little kids have lived in the country in the midst of fields and trees, and have never even noticed the birds. I can’t blame it on an inherited tendency to go off the deep end over something – no one else in my family seems to be obsessed by anything. And none of my family members have ever been more than mildly interested in birds, except me.

What is it that turns some of us into monomaniacal pursuers of an activity that is thought by nearly everyone else to be quirky at best, and downright idiotic or self-destructive at worst? I expect that there have been tons of books written on the cause of obsessive behavior generally, but probably none on the cause of obsessive birding. Maybe it’s for the best. It’s often the case that when something becomes well-known or popularized, especially if it’s weird, more weird people are attracted to it.

I wonder if that’s going to happen as a result of The Big Year book or movie. Will we see otherwise normal people flocking to do big years? I sort of hope not – it’s sort of fun to be in the big-year-obsessed minority. But I will welcome it if more people become interested in birds, and become birders, as a result of The Big Year.  They don’t have to understand big year people to understand that birds are interesting and surprising and beautiful and very wonderful to watch.

By the way, just in case you think there’s no connection between the need to climb mountains and the need to do big years, please note that Mark Obmascik, author of The Big Year, has since then written Halfway to Heaven: My White-knuckled – and Knuckleheaded Quest for the Rocky Mountain High, where he tells about how he climbed all 54 Rocky Mountain peaks that are over 14,000 feet high in one summer. Now that’s an obsession!

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Lynn Barber

Lynn Barber

Lynn Barber started birding at the age of 7. In 2005, she broke the Texas big year record with 522 species, and in 2008, she tallied 723 bird species in the ABA Area. An account of her ABA Big Year, entitled Extreme Birder: One Woman’s Big Year, was published in the spring of 2011. Her second book, Birds in Trouble was published in 2016. While living in North Carolina, Lynn was active in Wake County Audubon and on the board of the Carolina Bird Club. Moving to Texas in 2000, she was active in the Fort Worth Audubon Society, serving as its president for 3 years. She is a life member of the Texas Ornithological Society, and became its president in April 2009. She now lives in Anchorage, Alaska.
Lynn Barber

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