One of the statements set forth in the movie, The Big Year, is that the best birder in the world is the winner of the contest called The Big Year. To me, this is as funny as the character, Brad Harris, having a limit of just one cookie–or as egregious an error as one of the many birds that are blatantly out of place in the movie.
Now I am speaking for myself. I cannot speak for other birders. First of all, best birder in the world should give you a big clue. The world? You mean the whole, entire planet? ahaha! Yeah, right. The Big Year characters are doing an ABA (American Birding Association) big year–which includes the Lower 48 States, all of Canada, and Alaska. So a person could easily win this big year without knowing a single African species, or Australian species, or…well…you get the picture.
Well, how about best birder in North America then? This is a better question. At least it addresses the geography better. So what is the “best birder”? What does that really mean? Does the size of one’s list make that birder a “better” birder? Nope. I know lots of birders who just don’t get a chance to travel much, but they know their own smaller geographical area very well and have outstanding birding skills. So does their smaller list make them a lesser birder? No. I don’t believe that.
Caution: personal opinion ahead. Me? Yes. I am still a computer consultant. *THAT* is my occupation. I still do birding as a hobby and occasionally lead birding tours and field trips. I read about birds and birding in my *spare time*. And since my ABA Area Big Year, I have not traveled or birded as hard or as fast or as completely as I did during that year. In fact, these days, I don’t get out as often as I’d like. How could I possibly call myself the best birder in the world? Or even the second, third, fourth, etc birder in the world? I still do this as a hobby! Almost all of my learning is purely pedantic–my learning is from books or online or magazines. I spend less time in the field than a bird tour leader or a birder doing field research.
So then, what kind of title goes to the winner of The Big Year? Just that. They have the biggest list at the end of the year. It’s a game (a fun one, mind you)–not a status symbol. Am I saying that big year birders aren’t good birders? No. An honest big year birder has to (at a minimum) at least be able to identify every single bird on his list. That is a requirement. But really, doing a large area big year also is a measure of availability of time and the means to travel extensively. You may be blessed with exceptional birding skills, but if you don’t have the money to travel, you will not win any big year competitions that cover a large geographical area.
I have heard a moderate amount of discussion about bird accuracy in the movie, The Big Year, but have heard little about this. I wish many things about the movie would be different. But then again, I am really pleased about the effort and *intention* that Hollywood displayed in the making of this film. I have a lot of respect for the cast and crew who worked hard to capture a snapshot of our hobby and the world of birds. In the end, we all have something we can show others without feeling ashamed. Of course, some of us don’t worry too much at all about being called names. We took up birding because that is what we loved. If we really wanted to be popular or accepted (or whatever you call it) we should have taken up some other hobby. But me? I love birds and birding. It will always be a part of me.
I get up in the morning and can’t wait to get outside. I might hear a Song Sparrow burst into a pleasant melody. That bird does not care about the European Debt Crisis, and fighting in the Middle East, or politics in China, or Hollywood scandals, or U.S. Presidential debates, or all the deadlines and stresses at work, or the higher cost of gas at the pump…you get the point now…that Song Sparrow is free. It’s song represents the joy of not being hassled by the stresses of everyday life. It sounds happy–and it brings a smile to my face. It makes me feel relaxed. It gives me hope. Everything is going to be alright. My day is always a better day with a little bit of Bird Song Therapy.