Birding Big Year 2016

December 20, 2015

A Big Year Primer

Filed under: Birding — Tags: , — wfkeck @ 3:22 pm
122015 photograph1

Planning the 2016 Big Year

Fingers rest at the keyboard on a quiet Sunday, December 20, 2015.  The sun is piercing through the late morning fog just out my cabin window, revealing intermittent views of Cache Peak.  Subtle hues of white and gray compete for attention, attempting to define what the day will be – mostly cloudy?  Partly sunny?  No matter; there will be birds at my feeder, flittering joyfully at the presence of new black-oil sunflower seeds.  And there will be anticipation by this avid birder of the moment, less than twelve days from now, when those birds count toward the 2016 Big Year.

A Big Year?  Many non-birding muggles have come to learn what that is, thanks to the 2011 film The Big Year, starring Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson.  These acclaimed comedians each portrayed real life characters who spent 1998 chasing birds and the coveted title of Best Birder in North America. A Big Year is a dedicated effort to see as many bird species as possible within a year.  The effort can be motivated by the spirit of competition or personal achievement. Of course the Big Year concept predates both the movie and the year on which the book was based.  Whether explicitly labeled or not, mankind has been chasing birds long before the painter John James Audubon or explorers Lewis and Clark.  I chase birds; and there will be birders chasing birds long after I join the cherubim of paradise.

I am sitting at my oversized self-important oak desk.  A 4×6-foot National Geographic map of the United States dominates the left wall.  Bookshelves behind me contain 36 personal journals, chronicling 35 years of the most recent 52 years of life.  The journal 2016 is poised and ready for ink.  Atlas and road maps lay cluttered beneath a wooden lamp that was turned on a lathe by my father – a Christmas gift given to his son back in childhood days that were defined more by chess and fishing than birding and chess.  The 2000 edition Sibley Guide to Birds rests easily within reach. I am planning my own Big Year.

In the movie Moonstruck, the actress Olympia Dukakis asked the question, “Why do men chase women?” and the answer came back, “Because men fear death.” This humorous if not partly accurate answer, causes me to wonder:  “Why do men chase birds?”  Is it because of the prehistoric practice that men hunt and women nest?  I think it unlikely, as there are most certainly as many women who chase birds as men. Is it because chasing birds is so manly? [A bow to sarcasm].  Is it because we fear death?  Will breaking the 300 species threshold in 2016 help to define the meaning of my life?  When my bird life list finally breaks 500 (something I should have achieved years ago) will it finally give me a sense of accomplishment?

As I sit and wait for the epiphany, a Pinyon Jay band of sixty descends upon my deck feeders like Frank Baum’s Winged Monkeys in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  My Black oil sunflower seeds are tossed and dispersed erratically to attentive Dark-eyed Juncos below.  And then it comes to me.  I chase birds, because I fear God – not as defined from the Hebraic word mora (terror and dread), but yare (awe and reverence). I revere what the Creator has made for me.  “And out of the ground, the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every foul of the air, and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.”

These days, the names (both common and scientific) are all given, and the Lord God does not parade the birds before me; but He bids me to go find them. And find them I must. “For what can be known about God is plain to them.  For his invisible attributes, name, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.”

I never quite understood how rugged men of the mountain west could speak of fly-fishing as a religion until I watched the movie A River Runs through It.  Now hopefully it is socially acceptable to admit that birding is a religious experience.  I sit at my desk, plotting and planning, scheming and dreaming of trips to the holy lands in pursuit of birds – places like the San Pedro National Riparian Area, the Edwards Plateau, Ruby Mountains, Big Thicket, Cheyenne Bottoms, Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Ozarks, and dozens more.  These lands are holy, because the Lord God has tucked His birds away there in ancient and pristine habitats; thus, there I will go.  In finding them, I will draw closer to Him.

A sacred pilgrimage can only be understood by those who set forth in humility, sacrifice, and determinationSuch is my Birding Big Year: humility, because I bare my soul, my success (or lack thereof) transparent to the reader; sacrifice, because instead of writing this blog, I could be birding; and determination, because the 2016 Big Year is an enormous commitment of time and resources over 366 days, and yet who can tell what a single day may bring.  I am determined to go, and I am willing to take you with me.


  1. And I thank you for the sacrifice, willing to take me with you. I will love it, and find it, as you also do, a sacred pilgrimage. I resonate with you chasing birds because you ‘fear God’ and revere the gifts He has made for me. Thank you Wallace for articulating why I also stand behind, point, and shoot a camera at the created, in awe of the Creator!


    Comment by Linda Swanson Ziulkowski — December 28, 2015 @ 1:48 am

  2. […] near a number of mountains and rivers that made birding fun and exciting for Keck, who frequently blogs about his birding adventures. Keck recently blogged about “The Big Year” in which he […]


    Pingback by Hagerman Birding Festival a perfect time to get into bird-watching | Talk about Southern Idaho — December 30, 2015 @ 2:20 pm

  3. […] near a number of mountains and rivers that made birding fun and exciting for Keck, who frequently blogs about his birding adventures. Keck recently blogged about “The Big Year” in which he […]


    Pingback by Hagerman Birding Festival - Hagerman Valley Chamber — July 28, 2016 @ 7:35 pm

  4. […] near a number of mountains and rivers that made birding fun and exciting for Keck, who frequently blogs about his birding adventures. Keck recently blogged about “The Big Year” in which he hopes to […]


    Pingback by Hagerman Birding Festival – Hagerman Chamber — July 14, 2019 @ 7:47 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: