An Interview with Greg Miller about his 2016 Big Year

Following is an interview between Greg Miller Birding (GMB) and Greg Miller (GM). Recorded on 11/2/2015 in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area.

Greg Miller planning on doing a Big Year in 2016. photo by Greg Miller

Greg Miller planning on doing a Big Year in 2016. photo by Greg Miller

[GMB] In 1998 you did a Big Year in North America and racked up 715 species. It was a crazy year and your story was part of the book written by Mark Obmascik that came out in 2004 and was later made into a Hollywood movie starring Jack Black, Steve Martin, and Owen Wilson. And Jack Black played your character. The movie was released in fall of 2011. Rumor has it that you are doing another Big Year in 2016. Is this true?
[GM] Guilty. Yes, it is true. I am doing another Big Year in 2016. Continue reading

A Contemplative Christmas – 2014

white trumpet-shaped daylily with drops faded filter- Holmes Co OH - 2014-07-02

white trumpet-shaped daylily with drops – Holmes Co OH – 2014-07-02 Photo by Greg Miller

Earlier in my life I discovered just how amazingly easy it was to be lonely. Lonely is no respecter of persons. It doesn’t matter how rich or poor you are, or the color of your skin, or whether you are male or female, or where you work, etc. I found out that loneliness doesn’t have anything to do with how many people are around either. I was shocked at how lonely one can feel while married. Or in a crowd. Continue reading

Two Years After The Big Year Movie

Two years ago last month (October) the movie, The Big Year, was released. I personally have seen the movie 24 times since then. Of course I really liked the movie. I am biased though. I got to proofread the script and I got to be on the movie set as a Bird Consultant. What a surreal experience! It still seems like a dream. Like it never truly happened. A Hollywood movie with A-List stars (Jack Black, Steve Martin, and Owen Wilson) was the last thing I would have expected from my Big Year in 1998. So many things had to happen to make this a reality. I often wondered “Why me?” Most folks reserve that for bad experiences. But I soon realized it really wasn't about me. It was waaay bigger! What is it? There is a new wave of popularity in birding. And I am privileged to be riding along with this one! And I can't help believing that we are only beginning to scratch the surface of what is about to be! I am full of hope for our future!

Recently someone asked me how many times I've spoken. Great question. I was curious myself. My friend, Erica Rusk, compiled a list of all the places I've been in the last two years. She has been keeping my calendar for me these last two years. Thank you, Erica! Here is a map I put together with Erica's list and a website called Batchgeo.

Thank you everyone! It has been wonderful traveling all over America (and Canada, too) talking about a contest I didn't win and signing books I didn't write!


View After The Big Year Movie in a full screen map


2013 RMBO 25th Anniversary

Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory celebrated its 25th anniversary on October 5, 2013. A nice crowd showed up for the event. Above, folks gathered to hear some guy talk about being a bird consultant for a Hollywood movie, The Big Year, and his experiences meeting Jack Black, Steve Martin, and Owen Wilson.


We had a good turn out for a very chilly early morning bird walk. This is a phone-scoped picture of the morning sun beginning to light up a very distant Long's Peak. It was taken handheld with my iPhone through my Swarovski ATX 80 telescope at 25x.

An American Kestrel posed long enough for everyone to get a scope view and fortunately, long enough for me to capture a quick phone-scoped picture (same set up as above).

And as all my readers know by now, I love visiting local restaurants and trying out new dishes. This is a “regular” sized bowl of Pho (noodle soup) at a Vietnamese restaurant in Brighton, Colorado. It was gargantuan! I didn't even make a significant dent in this Goliath-sized bowl of soup. I think it must be half a gallon. Haha. Check out that quarter beside the glass of water for a size reference! The portion I ate was delicious, too.


Colorado October 2013

Wow! What is not to like about aspens in the fall? I am here in Colorado for Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory’s BBQ with the Birds tomorrow, October 5, 2013. Check out the RMBO website for more information. And of course, if you are in the area why not come and join me for the day’s festivities!

Continue reading

South Texas December 2012 Day 2

On December 5 more of our group arrived.  “Our group”?  Yes.  The very first informal meeting of the 700+ Club.  It’s that crazy group of birders who have done Big Years (trying to see as many species as possible in one calendar year) and have crossed the 700-species mark for North America in a single year.  To my knowledge, that is twelve people and ten of us are gathered here in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas.

And to answer the first question that must be running through your head, “Are the guys in the book, The Big Year, all here?”–the answer is “Yes, we are all here.”  Wouldn’t you just love to be a fly on the wall to listen to all the conversations and stories?  Haha.  I thought so. Continue reading

Happy New Year (belated)

Happy New Year! (this is just my way of acknowledging those of you on a linear time-space continuum thingie).  Haha!  Whaaaaat??!?  Yes.  Well.  It is also my excuse for being, oh, say, 12 days late coming into the New Year.  What can I say?

First off [getting down to business—kind of] think back through your life, year-by-year. (and yes, it’s OK to use the venerable linear timescale we call a calendar).  Can you pick a year and say, “Hey!  That was the best year of my life!”  What year was that?  Why was it so special?  What did you do (or what happened to you) that made it so grand?  How much control over that year did you have?  Were you responsible [at least in part] for the best year of your life?

Now let’s get to the second step. (See?  We are moving quickly now!  Haha!  Look out 12 days gone by!)  Now that you have picked out the best year of your life, think on this:  What would it take to make 2012 better than that year?  Uh-oh.  I can hear some of you thinking loudly here—and you are already ahead of me—you see where I am going with this!

Yesssssssssssssss!  Step 3.  Here’s what I want: For all of you to have 2012 be the new best year of your life!  It can happen.  Many of you have probably already made some New Year’s resolutions.  Have you broken any yet?  How does that make you feel?  Are you seeing new successes or does 2012 feel like any other mediocre year?  Any good plan has to have a way to measure your success along the way for you to get from point A to point B.  If you cannot measure it, you will never succeed.  Why?  How can you tell when you’ve achieved your goal if you can’t measure it along the way?  How do you know you got there?

Four paragraphs, Greg, and you haven’t even mentioned birding once yet!  Hang on to your hats friends.  You’ve gotten this far.  Besides, it’s only been since…wait…when was my last blog on birding?  Yeah.  Some time before Thanksgiving last year.  In this day and age, that might as well be the Jurassic Period.  I have not been out birding much at all since that time.  I came back from New Mexico and got sick.  Both ears clogged up so badly I had a hard time hearing human conversation.  It was bad enough that I missed a Christmas party or two just because it was so embarrassing to not hear well enough to hold a conversation without having the other person repetitively repeating the same thing over and over again. (now there’s a piece of grammar!)  Ahhaa.  Thankfully, over the last couple days I’ve seen some improvement in the hearing.

Back to our blog…how did I get so sidetracked?  What birding goals do you have for the year?  I hope they are fun ones!  Are you going to a conference you’ve never gone to but have always wondered what it was like?  Are you going birding in a new area that you are curious about?  Are you going to log your sightings (shameless plug for ebird!)?  How about something to promote birding?  Are you taking out someone new to birding?  Are you going to mentor a birder?  Are you going to introduce someone completely new to birding?  Are you going to join/support a birding or conservation club or organization this year?  How long are you going to put off doing things you’ve always wanted to do?  Maybe this is your year! (it sure should be!)

And finally, my blog-reading friends, the DVD for the movie, The Big Year, is due out on January 31, 2012.  Netflix & Redbox—you’ll have to wait for the streaming version until February 28, 2012.  You should read Laura Erickson’s fine review of the DVD, too, on the American Birding Association’s blog here.

Who’s The Best Birder In The World?

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. Continue reading

The Big Year Ramblings

When I first saw the cast of stars, I fully expected quite a bit of comedy.  I also had some trepidation and fear that birders would catch the brunt of the comedic force of Hollywood.  Thankfully, director David Frankel had told me the truth.  He really loved the book and wanted to represent it well.

When I read the script the first time, I was  a bit surprised.  Firstly, I did not realize it was going to be a fictional representation.  Secondly, it had far less comedy than I expected initially.  It painted birders as real people dealing with real passion in a real world.  I had to read it again and then I realized it was better than the first time around.  My own preconceived ideas had colored my ability to properly evaluate it with the first pass.

I read the script a couple more times before flying out to Vancouver to be on the set.  I watched the filming of the movie for 3 weeks.  I got to meet all 3 stars, Jack Black, Steve Martin, and Owen Wilson.  This team is gifted in comedy and I felt they had a good chemistry together.  I thought that although the script was fictional that it did a reasonable job of  capturing the essence of the book.  I was really quite optimistic that it would do well–or at least could do well.  Some of the actors I talked to really liked the script.  The general sentiment was one of anticipation. Continue reading

The Big Flop

Wow.  Thanks to everyone for an exciting opening weekend.  I had a great time seeing the movie 3 times this weekend with lots of birders, friends, and family.  Everyone helped make this a very special weekend for me.  I’m a little bleary-eyed after driving over 1,000 miles this weekend and going right back to work yesterday.  Ooofah.  But hey!  I did stuff like that during my big year in 1998.  Only now I don’t get around as easily.

You know what?  I’ve seen the movie 4 times now and…I still really enjoy it.  But, I am in the minority.  Yeah, and I’m totally biased, too.  Minority, you say?  Yes.  Most folks have totally ignored the movie.  How do I know?  Have you looked at the box office numbers yet?  Have you seen the news?  Terms like “flop”, “tank”, “fail” are being used with some regularity about The Big Year.  How bad can it be?  Well.  Very, very bad.  In fact, record-setting bad.

Why am I upset?  Am I not making a ton of money on royalties for Jack Black playing my character in a movie?  Nope.  No royalties.  Not a penny.  I don’t make any money on whether or not this movie soars or sucks.  So why am I complaining about low numbers?  Simply put, it’s bad for birding.  Not the end of birding.  It’s just that we are losing this vehicle of promotion for our hobby.  If another movie is made soon about birding, it will not be kind to our hobby.

The Big Year movie brought in just under $3.3 million during opening weekend.  Sure, it came in 9th place, but it was a really bad weekend for movie-going.  How bad is $3.3 million?  Well, it is bad enough to set an ALL TIME BOX OFFICE RECORD–and not the kind that is enviable.  The Big Year comes in 29th on the list of All Time Box Office Worst Wide Openings (opening at more than 2,000 theaters).  Wow.  I read a Canadian paper last year that set the production budget for The Big Year at $85 million.  I’m not sure what their sources were.  But with moving a crew of 175 people to location after location every day, I am sure that this movie was not cheap to make.

I heard a recent quote on TV (about The Big Year) that there are 46 million birders in the U.S.  I think I’ve heard a 20% number from the mid-2000’s from the USFWS about the number of birders.  But I’m just throwing numbers out now.  I don’t have the research to back it up.  So how many people saw the movie in theaters opening weekend?  Using 2010 average nationwide movie price of $7.89, you come up with a little more than 400,000 folks who went to theaters to see The Big Year.  That is incredibly low even for a bad movie.  So where are the other 45 million birders?  Ahh.  Well.  I don’t know.  They certainly were not seeing a movie about their hobby.

So here we have a movie that does NOT paint birders in a bad light.  It actually attempts to make them out to be real people who are passionate about their hobby (or “calling” haha).  If Hollywood really wanted to make a boat load of money, they could have (and probably should have) lampooned us with derisive humor and made merciless fun at how silly we all are.  Now *that* may have performed much better at the box office.  Maybe that is what everyone else was hoping for?  I don’t know.

One thing is for certain now.  It is going to be a VERY long time–if ever again–that Hollywood will attempt to do a movie like this again.  Why?  Because only 400,000 people care (less than 1% of the total population of the U.S.).  So if you want to see this movie on the big screen, you’d better hurry–no RUSH to the nearest theater and see it now because I don’t look for a money-losing movie to stay in theaters for long.