Big Year Memories: Stiles Thomas in Action
Monday Morning Mystery 010620

My Interview W/ Big Year Champ Noah Strycker

My wife Patty and her book club have been reading "Birders Without Borders," by Noah Stryker, who set the international Big Year record in 2015 with an astounding 6,042 species.

For my "Bird Watcher" column, I interviewed Noah by email at the end of 2015, his record year, and asked former Big Year champ Sandy Komito for a comment on Stryker's achievement.

Here goes....

By Jim Wright
Special to The Record

 As we look back at the achievements of 2015, let’s tip our binoculars to Noah Strycker, a self-described “28-year-old, full-time bird nerd” who established a new record for the number of bird species in the world seen in one calendar year:

  In a year-long road trip. the intrepid Strycker has seen and counted more than 5,800 kinds of sparrows, raptors, penguins, warblers et al., in 365 days.

  To give you an idea of what a big deal this is, the previous high count was achieved by  a British couple who saw 4,341 species in 2008 by going on more birding tours in one year than most folks could possibly endure.

  But let’s let Noah tell it:

     How long have you been birding? Growing up as an only child in rural Oregon, I spent a lot of time in the woods, watching birds and other wildlife. It all clicked for me when my fifth-grade teacher put a feeder outside the classroom window and had us identify all the birds we saw. I was hooked.

  What's the attraction?  Birds are all around us—beautiful, free, and somewhat mysterious. And they can fly!

    How did you get the idea for your big year? When I was little, I picked up a copy of the “Guinness Book of Records” and was fascinated by the idea of holding the world record for anything. As I got into serious birding, I realized there was a world record I could probably beat—the 4,341 bird species seen in a single year in 2008 by British birders Alan Davies and Ruth Miller.


  How long did it take to plan? I worked pretty seriously on planning it for most of 2014.

   Do you have a team helping you? Besides help from friends and family, my Leica sponsor, Audubon, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and my agent, I have an awesome “team” of hundreds of birders around the world, who have graciously and generously shown me their local patches during the big year. 

   How many miles have you traveled this year? I haven’t counted, but I’d guess in the low tens of thousands.

   Strangest mode of transportation? I floated across a river on a bamboo raft in Sulawesi.    
  Biggest surprise?  The many acts of kindness I have received — most of them from complete strangers. For instance, when our van had a dead battery on a remote mountain road in pouring rain in Peru, a man stopped his car, swapped his battery for ours, and cheerfully drove off.  

   "Best" bird? A Golden Masked-Owl in a palm-oil plantation on New Britain Island, Papua New Guinea, in early December. Before this year, these owls had not been seen since the mid-1980s. This particular owl had been recently discovered, observed by only a handful of people, and it was awesome to behold.

     What have you learned?  Just like birds, birders really do not have borders. We are far more similar than different, bound by a passion for birds and a love of the chase.

    Do you think anyone will beat your amazing record? A Dutch birder has announced he will try to break the world big year record in 2016. Records are made to be broken, and I wish him the best of luck.


   Former Fair lawn resident Sandy Komito set a Big Year record for most bird species seen in the continental United States with a total of 748 in 1998. Here are Sandy’s thoughts on Noah Strycker’s new global record:

    “In recording more than 5,800 bird species this year, Noah Strycker has done what it has taken me nearly 20 years to achieve -- and I thought I was running pretty fast.

     “Those of us on the sidelines can only dream of these efforts and marvel at these extraordinary achievements. We are inventing new and harder challenges all the time.  The sky is truly the limit.”

Photo: courtesy of Noah Strycker.  Noah Strycker chills with some King Penguins on South Georgia Island in the southern Atlantic Ocean.