What made you take on this quest?
As a kid, I was inspired by Kenn Kaufman’s Kingbird Highway, about birding across the US. Then I read of Ruth Miller and Alan Davies’ Big Year (a challenge to see as many bird species as possible in 12 months within a specific area) global record of 4,341 species in 2008. I imagined what it would be like to do one continuous global Big Year, birding every day, and picked a target of 5,000 as a nice round number.
Give us a few trip statistics…
I birded in 41 countries on all seven continents. My highest day-count was 186 species in one morning in Panama, while Ecuador provided the most species in the shortest time – 625 in 12 days. To reach my goal, I needed to see at least one new species every waking hour – so if a bird took longer than an hour to find, I would actually be going backwards.
What was the most memorable sighting of the trip?
In Brazil I waited hours for a harpy eagle (below) to arrive at its nest and was eventually rewarded when the male swooped in with a coati in its talons. I found a spoon-billed sandpiper in Thailand on my third try – bittersweet, because the species is crushingly endangered.
A juvenile harpy eagle. © Danita Delimont/Getty
How did you plan the trip?
It took six months to make all the travel arrangements. For me, the soul of the trip was meeting birders in every country I visited. I spent hundreds of hours online contacting complete strangers, and the response was overwhelming. Many of them invited me to stay in their homes.
What were the low points?
I came down with flu in South America and suffered Delhi belly in India. The scariest moment came in Tanzania, when I was in a Land Rover that had a high-speed blowout and ran off the road.
Where were you when you realised you had hit your target of 5,000?
In the Philippines, with a flame-crowned flowerpecker. I still had two months to go, and ended up with a total of 6,042 species. My final sighting was a silver-breasted broadbill (below), which I saw at sunset on December 31 in north-east India.
Silver-breasted broadbill. © Klong Khonbaakklong/Getty
How did you feel when your record was broken by Arjan Dwarshuis?
Records are made to be broken! Arjan did a great job streamlining the itinerary. I will be curious to hear about how other birders will push the boundaries over the years ahead.
Birding without Borders: An Obsession, A Quest and the Biggest Year in the World by Noah Strycker is published by Souvenir Press, £18