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The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession Hardcover – January 27, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
In one of the wackiest competitions around, every year hundreds of obsessed bird watchers participate in a contest known as the North American Big Year. Hoping to be the one to spot the most species during the course of the year, each birder spends 365 days racing around the continental U.S. and Canada compiling lists of birds, all for the glory of being recognized by the American Birding Association as the Big Year birding champion of North America. In this entertaining book, Obmascik, a journalist with the Denver Post, tells the stories of the three top contenders in the 1998 American Big Year: a wisecracking industrial roofing contractor from New Jersey who aims to break his previous record and win for a second time; a suave corporate chief executive from Colorado; and a 225-pound nuclear power plant software engineer from Maryland. Obmascik bases his story on post-competition interviews but writes so well that it sounds as if he had been there every step of the way. In a freewheeling style that moves around as fast as his subjects, the author follows each of the three birding fanatics as they travel thousands of miles in search of such hard-to-find species as the crested myna, the pink-footed goose and the fork-tailed flycatcher, spending thousands of dollars and braving rain, sleet, snowstorms, swamps, deserts, mosquitoes and garbage dumps in their attempts to outdo each other. By not revealing the outcome until the end of the book, Obmascik keeps the reader guessing in this fun account of a whirlwind pursuit of birding fame.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
There is a well-known competition among birders called the Big Year, in which one abandons one's regular life for one whole year in order to see more species of birds in a geographic area than one's competitors. Environmental journalist Obmascik follows the 1998 Big Year's three main competitors--a New Jersey roofing contractor, a corporate executive, and a software engineer--as they crisscross the country in search of birds. Whether looking for flamingos in the Everglades, great grey owls in the frozen bogs near Duluth, or Asian rarities on the Aleutian island of Attu, these obsessed birders not only faced seasickness, insects, altitude sickness, and going into debt, they also faced each other. Their drive to win propelled all three past the rarified count of 700 species seen, and the winner saw an extraordinary 745 species--a number that will probably never be equaled. With a blend of humor and awe, Obmascik takes the reader into the heart of competitive birding, and in the process turns everyone into birders. Nancy Bent
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Mr. Obmascik began his book by introducing the readers to the three personalities who are the main birders. All three are completely different; the hardest driving and most dedicated is Sandy Komito. This man is determined to win the Big Year of 1998. Second birder is Al Leventin, a very wealthy man who lives in a mansion in the Colorado Mountains. He has wanted to bird for many years. Finally he makes his plans to do so. He becomes very seasick, can't go out on the water without becoming nauseated, needs to throw up and misses seeing birds he needs for his Big Year. Third is Greg Miller, a divorcee, who has been introduced into birding by his father. Greg works full time, is anything but rich and impoverishes himself rushing around the country after birds. The other two can well afford to pay for their trips. Greg has maxed out his credit cards.
Mr Obmascik's third chapter tells how the hobby of birding began. Audubon painted birds, named some species after his supporters. Unfortunately he shot too many of them in order to paint them. The Christmas count began in 1900. Before this date hunters went shooting as many birds as they could on this day. Then Christmas Count is put into practice. Birds are to be counted, not killed. Birding took off, books are written, pictured books are for observance to compare different colors, tail feathers plus other differences. Now there is much interest in birds, birding has become a popular hobby.
This book follows these three birders all over the states plus Canada. I know of a lady who is a birder but was just counting Texas birds. She rushed all over Texas. When she heard of a bird she needed to see she rushed off no matter where she was. She had worn out several cars rushing all over Texas. These men are much the same but have more territory to cover. There is nowhere they won't go to see a bird they need on their list. This book is a fun read with all the rushing around; plus there are so many people chasing these birds, needing them for their Big Year.
One good birdwatching place is Attu, a wind swept island off Alaska. There are many people parking out on this island running around with expensive binoculars, cameras and scopes. 1998 is an excellent year due to El Nino, the year before which has blown birds far from their homes across to strange unknown places makeing all this a birders paradise. And birders are taking advantage of it all.
Sandy Komito does all kind of things to find birds. He rushes all over the United States as are so many others. The birding areas are crowded with dedicated birders. One of the chapters is named whirlewind and there are many whirlwinds. Birders are rushing all over the United States to see a particular bird. Birders are hopping on boats on both sides of the country, around Texas, Florida, hanging out in alligator country to see a particular bird. Comparing birds. looking for details, arguing over what particular species of bird birders are seeing. Greg Miller is not rich, but determined to play this game. All three of these men have been involved in birds since childhood. Greg Miller is excellent in his knowledge of bird calls.
One problem the three have is eating properly. Greg Miller is short on money so must exist on fast foods. The other two are so busy rushing around looking for birds that they will not take time to eat properly. Rush! Hurry! Find a particular bird! Whew! Another problem is missing family and enjoying fun times with them.
But the three, plus many other dedicated birders, soldier on. These three go to out of the way places, strange places, unknown places, wild places with terrible weather to find their birds. Plus they are envious of others successes finding a bird he needs on his list. Two of these men charter a helicopter to fly away up in the mountains to see a bird the third man has seen. Competition! Competition! Competition! This book is filled with interesting facts about birds, birders, birding.
This book is not long, but contains much knowledge. All three of these men are still much involved in birding. This is a fun read, this reader is worn out with vicariously rushing all over the country. Great book. Mr. Obmasick has written an exciting book about a popular hobby. I have learned much about birding; these birders are dedicated and single minded about their hobby.
End of 1998, End of Big Year.
Not the most extreme; that prize probably belongs to Kenn Kauffman, as chronicled in Kingbird Highway: The Biggest Year in the Life of an Extreme Birder. Not the most compulsive. That prize indisputably belongs to the late Phoebe Snetsinger, as described in her posthumous autobiography, Birding On Borrowed Time, and her biography, Life List: A Woman's Quest for the World's Most Amazing Birds. But certainly the best-written. Obmascik does a terrific job of writing to birders and non-birders alike. He provides background on the whole issue of "Big Years" and a history of those who had previously attempted new records. He picked three interesting, wildly different birders and his subjects. And he picked the right year. The result is an amazingly entertaining page-turner.
Great fun. My very highest recommendation.
But be warned: There is a danger that the addiction to birding will afflict you. It's clearly contagious. But almost harmless in all but the most virulent cases.
Well, that's all apart from the book itself. It is extremely well written, in the sense of engaging the reader and leading the reader on to want to read more. The interesting aspects include geographical facts and anecdotal stories, as well as the personalities of the main characters and "supporting" characters.
Don't know how non-birders might view the book, but I would urge them to forget the "birding fanatics" aspects of the book and to just look at the human character studies, the geography, and the cultural analysis of the book.
For birders, 5 stars out of 5; for non-birders with open minds 4 stars; for those who don't get birds and birding, or character studies, well, add your own reviews.