Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Moderate Year

I'm a fan of The Big Year, by Mark Obmascik. If you're not familiar, it's the story of three birders who spent the same year unofficially competing to see as many different species of birds as they could within the continental U.S. and Canada. (It's a birder thing.) Obmascik did a really nice job not only of conveying the birding aspect of the story, but of the human side of it as well. Now Hollywood is actually coming out with a movie about it this fall, starring Owen Wilson, Jack Black, and Steve Martin. Not only did I like the book, but I've met the author, birded with the eventual winner, and bumped into a bit character in the story while looking for a rare bird in the state of Washington. So I'm into the whole thing.

At the same time, I had a whole bunch of domestic travel scheduled for this year. Nancy had a conference in San Diego in January, will be doing a writing retreat in New Mexico, and then will head down to New Orleans for another conference, and I'll have joined her for all of them. Additionally, I'd already scheduled a South Texas trip with a birder friend, and we went down there last month.

With all of this travel and with Big Year on the brain, I decided that it might be fun to do a Moderate Year, seeing how many species I could see this year without undue effort. (My so-called friend Liz likes to refer to it as a "Mediocre Year", a term which has already infected Nancy, who would like to support me by using my version, but keeps slipping.)

At the beginning of the year, half of the winning total of 700+ species seemed like a reasonable goal. (I won't say exactly how many in case you want to read the book or see the movie.) But after the Texas trip, it became obvious that I'd blow by that goal. And after a very successful month of May birding here in Massachusetts, it's clear that I'm going to get to 400 as well. As of this writing, I'm at 363 species. I don't know what to expect out of the New Mexico trip, but it seems plausible that I'll be closing in on 400 by the Fourth of July.

The question then becomes how far I should take it. I don't know precisely how much effort is undue effort, but if I can see my way clear to 500 species in the U.S. in one year, that would be hard to pass up. I have some frequent flyer miles to burn by November. Florida? Southeast Arizona? The Pacific Northwest? Somewhere out on the prairie? Dunno yet. I think "undue effort" means using up all of my vacation time, or spending more than I otherwise would, so if I can avoid doing that and still reach 500, I'd be pretty happy. I'd encourage you to stay tuned, but that doesn't seem fair to ask when I haven't blogged in more than a year and a half...