Day 31 — The Relevance of ABA Big Year Birding

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I want to address a topic that is garnering a lot of attention in birding circles — the relevance of ABA Big Year birding.  The American Birding Association (ABA) is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization that provides leadership to birders by increasing their knowledge, skills, and enjoyment of birding. It is the only organization in North America that specifically caters to recreational birders. The ABA also contributes to bird and bird habitat conservation through its varied programs. The American Birding Association represents the North American birding community and supports birders through publications, conferences, workshops, tours, partnerships, and networks. The ABA’s education programs promote birding skills, ornithological knowledge, and the development of a conservation ethic. The ABA encourages birders to apply their skills to help conserve birds and their habitats, and it represents the interests of birders in planning and legislative arenas. The ABA welcomes all birders as members.

There is currently a lot of criticism directed at the travel required for ABA Big Years and not being “green”, the money it takes and by implication, “buying” an ABA Big Year and the impact technology has had on the ease of finding rare birds (i.e. GPS, eBird alerts, more birders canvassing hotspots, etc.).

I’m offering my perspective as a current ABA Big Year participant.  First, I don’t understand why so many birders feel that Big Years have to be about activism.  As a birder, I don’t feel an obligation to justify my attempt at an ABA Big Year by having a nobler cause. I want to travel and see wildlife.  If this raises awareness for conservation as a by-product, BONUS!! If I convert one more person into loving nature, I’ll be thrilled.

An ABA Big Year is simply a human endeavor like climbing Mt. Everest.  There is no prize.   It is personal and there’s as many reasons for doing it as there are birds.  For me, it is not just about competition.  Don’t get me wrong–I’m as competitive as they come! I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t want to go for it.  I won’t be disappointed if I “only” see 700 species though. 

Yes, it requires a lot of money to travel to so many different places in one year.  I am very lucky to have this opportunity–it wasn’t always the case. However, I never resented other birders because they could afford to travel for their sightings and I couldn’t!!  It is sheer naïveté to believe that you can compete in anything at the highest levels without a lot of cash.

There is no question that technology is a game-changer.  Technology has changed the playing field in ALL endeavors.  I’ve been a competitive tennis player most of my life.  For 40 years I’ve been hearing how technology changed the game, that you couldn’t compare current players with the old greats.  I don’t think that Roger Federer’s achievements are diminished in any way because he has better equipment than Rod Laver did.

You can have the best technology in the world and it doesn’t stop birds from flying off, hiding, dying or being eaten.  Luck still plays a big role.   In the end, there will always be naysayers and asterisks affixed to your name.   

I welcome others to chime in on this debate.

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4 Comments

  1. Carl Bendorf says:

    Thanks for this post, Yve. Yes, it seems that many are commenting that somehow the value, impact, purpose, etc. of a Big Year has changed. But I think those are mainly differences of degree. Certainly, technology has had a huge impact but there is simply more sophisticated technology available now. It’s not as if Sandy Komito didn’t have access to a roadside telephone booth or a printed bird-finding guide or jet planes and now suddenly today there is “technology.” Roger Tory Peterson and James Fisher probably used a fair amount of gas during their 1953 30,000 mile Wild America Big Year. I wonder what kind of gas mileage their vehicle achieved?

    I don’t think the motives for attempting a Big Year are now different in nature. The need to conservation awareness is not new. The desire to challenge oneself in a physical and/or intellectual endeavor is not new.

    Personally, I think what has changed about Big Years as much as anything is the amount of publicity and attention among both the birding community and the general public. News articles, blog posts, Facebook updates, published books, speaking engagements at multiple birding festivals–these serve to magnify both the real and perceived issues surrounding Big Years! But really, not much has fundamentally changed.

    1. Toby Hardwick says:

      Yve if I know you, you aren’t concerned with critics and pundits. The heart of the matter is that you are doing what you enjoy. It brings happiness and it will live in your memories forever. So have fun and enjoy life. Opinions are like belly buttons. Everyone has one.

      1. TheDancingBirder says:

        You DO know me and you know how I feel. Loving every minute of it!!

    2. TheDancingBirder says:

      Thanks Carl. A very eloquent response. “2017 Big Year—different not diminished.” Social media does tend to magnify everything!

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