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Open Mic: Big Year Memories

The Big Year beat this week is covered ably by Al Levantin.  Al was one of the three birders whose 1998 ABA Area Big Year was  memorialized in the Mark Obmascik novel, The Big Year.  He lives in Snowmass Village, Colorado.


1998 was a fabulous year for me with my achieving a Big Year and celebrating the birth of two grandchildren. When I broached the idea, to my wife, of doing a Big Year, she said “Go For It!” and so began my adventure.

To see at least 700 species in the year was my goal and I surpassed that number.   My 700th species was a Himalayan Snowcock, seen by helicopter in Nevada, which came the same week that my wife, Ethel, was trekking in Nepal.  While I couldn’t celebrate in person with her, I had six close friends over for a home cooked steak dinner to share in my excitement of reaching the 700 mark.

At the end of the year, when I was ready to hang up my binoculars, I learned that a Black-tailed Gull was seen off the Chesapeake Bay Tunnel Bridge.  In spite of having Christmas week houseguests, I was able to secure a last minute airline ticket from my home in Aspen and flew to Virginia to see the bird.

BTGU3 Eric GriesonI became aware that my son, Don, had hired a woodcarver to commemorate what he  thought to be the last bird of my Big Year, a Woodcock. (Coincidently, he lives on  Woodcock Lane in Westport, CT)  To Don’s dismay, he had to quickly tell the woodcarver to make a model of a Black-tailed Gull, my 711th of the year.

photo at left by Eric Greisen, CBBT, Jan 1999

Several years later, Mark Obmascik decided to write a book about Sandy Komito and  Greg Miller’s 1998 adventures.  When Greg informed Mark that there was a third Big Year birder, the rest is history.  Not only was there the success of the book “The Big Year” about the three of us, but also 20th Century later made a fictional movie based on the book.

Just when I thought that the excitement of 1998 finally settled down, Bob Ake and Chris Hitt thought it would be fun to arrange a get-together in the Rio Grande Valley for the eleven birders who achieved the 700 mark in one year.   Meeting, trading stories, birding, recounting experiences and going together to a friend’s ranch to see a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl made for an  enjoyable four days.

What more could one ask of a hobby of almost 68 years.

Before writing this short blog, I went to a Chinese restaurant and received the following quote in my fortune cookie, “Everything you do, you do to make your heart sing”.  That says it all.

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Nate Swick

Nate Swick

Editor, Social Media Manager at American Birding Association
Nate Swick is the editor of the American Birding Association Blog, social media manager for the ABA, and the host of the American Birding Podcast. He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Danielle, and two young children. He is the author of Birding for the Curious and The ABA Field Guide to Birds of the Carolinas.
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