The Bottom Line
Every serious birder dreams of doing a big year, but what does it take to chase that dream as you chase more than 700 bird species across North America? In The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession, author Mark Obmascik brings readers into the heart of the most frenetic big year competition in birding history, the 1998 battle between Sandy Komito, Al Levantin and Greg Miller. From January 1 to December 31, from easy yard birds to rarities blown into Alaska, Obmascik creates a captivating read that is both inspiring and cautionary for every birder while simultaneously giving non-birders a glimpse into the obsession that drives every competitive birder.
- Briefly introduces previous big years to provide appropriate record-breaking context for the 1998 birding season.
- Provides natural history of key hotspots essential to a birding big year.
- Concise yet descriptive writing is active and vibrant with appropriate metaphors and similes that both birders and non-birders can appreciate.
- Includes a brief, insightful interview with the author, including background on this writing project and his thoughts about what he learned in the course of writing the book.
- Does not give final bird lists for the three 1998 big year record competitors, nor any comparison of who saw or missed what birds compared to their closest competition.
- Title: The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession
- Author: Mark Obmascik
- Publisher: Free Press
- Publication Date: January 2004 (movie tie-in edition published September 2011)
- Format: Softcover (ebook edition also available)
- Page Count: 288
- ISBN: 978-1-4516-4860-7
- Price: $15.00
Review - The Big Year
“If you had a year of your life to do anything you wanted, and you could do only that thing for a year, what would you do?” For many people, even birders, the answer to that question is not an easy one, but there was only one answer for the three birders profiled in The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession by Mark Obmascik. For Sandy Komito, Al Levantin and Greg Miller, the answer had to be, could only be and always was: go birding.
Obmascik combines superb journalistic research with descriptive storytelling and a fair dose of wit to tell the story of these three competitive birders, offering a realistic but no less inspiring view of big years in general and the phenomenal 1998 big year specifically. Through carefully chosen anecdotes, Obmascik follows all three men through their big year birding journey, starting long before 1998 to share each man's bird-related background. This gives readers an insight into different birding motivations and methodologies, and every reader will see a bit of themselves in at least one of the competitors. Komito, Levantin and Miller have vastly different approaches to their big years, but they share the same ultimate goal: to see as many birds as possible.
While exploring the year-long quest of these three birders, Obmascik weaves birding history into his narrative. Not only does he cover the history of competitive birding from the first Christmas Bird Count in 1900 and its evolution into big day and big year events, but he also notes other prominent big year records to let readers know how records have progressed in recent decades. As the competitors reach different birding hotspots, Obmascik skillfully includes natural history of those hotspots and why they are so critical for record-breaking birders.
The real story in this book is not the growth of each man's year list, but the evolution of their approach to each bird they see. At first, each man is competing only with himself and the dream he is chasing. Slowly, as word of mouth spreads and the men learn of each other – though all three cross paths together only once, on a pelagic trip along the Outer Banks of North Carolina in October – they begin competing man-against-man. As the year winds down and the new year looms, however, the true manner of the competition is revealed: man against bird.
“Birding is hunting without killing, preying without punishing, and collecting without clogging your home.” A big year is the ultimate hunt, the search for the ultimate prey and the accumulation of the ultimate collection. Whether a birder is considering their own big year adventure or just starting to build their life list, The Big Year can provide inspiration, caution and guidance, and Mark Obmascik's clear, descriptive writing is an enjoyable way for every birder and non-birder to be a part of the competition, whether they want to venture into the field on January 1 or prefer birding from an armchair in the comfort of their own home.