Naples resident Yve Morrell (right) recently became the first woman to win the North American Big Year with a total of 817 bird species identified in 2017. She is pictured here with Lynn Barber, the first woman to break the 700 mark, but not win the event, in 2008.
By Allyson Webb
The Big Year is an informal competition among birders to identify as many species of bird by sight and sound as they can within a calendar year. In 2016, she participated in the Florida Big Year before moving on in 2017 to the North American Big Year, which encompasses the United States and Canada. The competition is on an honor system under the umbrella of the American Birding Association.
Initially, the planning is overwhelming as one needs to be in specific areas to see particular targets. Forethought and planning are critical to being successful. While Morrell’s initial goal was to become a member of the 700 club (700+ birds), she ended her Big Year with a total of 817 bird species and is the first woman to win.
From Florida to Hawaii to Massachusetts, Aleutian Islands to the Dry Tortugas, she covered more than 127,000 miles by air and another 30,000 by car, not to mention how many she hiked. To top it off, she also spent an additional 20 days out at sea to capture pelagic species.
Yve’s enthusiasm and love of birds shines through in her interviews and blog (TheDancingBirder.com). Her story highlights the amazing community of birders, who receive help from old friends and strangers who become new friends. Birds weren’t all she appreciated or saw, and her blog shares with the reader the beauty and majesty of the variety of places and other wildlife she encountered.
Yve’s journey was one that challenged her physically, mentally and emotionally. From frigid temperatures in northern Alaska to the heat of Arizona, she continued her search, driven by her passion for birds. Battling seasickness, she got onto boats in rough waters; her fear of heights didn’t keep her from climbing tall towers in search of raptors in California. In the midst of her adventure, she was dealt some terrible personal losses, but she forged on.
Birding, for Yve and many others, is a way to cope with adversity; for her it is a grounding activity that is cathartic. She hopes that her Big Year motivates young people to be outside because it can be life changing.
The sanctuary is open every day from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. For more information visit corkscrew. audubon.org