By Mark Obmascik
Free Press; (February 4, 2004)
About the Author
Mark Obmascik was the winner of the 2003 National Press Club Award for environmental journalism. He has a story tellers ability to, not only describe the setting, but to draw the reader into the adventure.
2.4 million people keep what is called a "life list" of birds they have seen. In the USA, some 50 million people lay claim to being bird-watchers or 'birders,' spending billions of dollars on birding-related travel and membership fees every year. A few compete in one of the world's quirkiest contests — the race to spot the most species in North America in a single year. And 1998 wasn't just a big year. It was to become the greatest birding year of all time.
"Every year on January 1, a quirky crowd of adventurers storms out across North America for a spectacularly competitive event called a Big Year — a grand, grueling, expensive, and occasionally vicious, "extreme" 365-day marathon of birdwatching.
For three men in particular, 1998 would be a whirlwind, a winner-takes-nothing battle for a new North American birding record. In frenetic pilgrimages for once-in-a-lifetime rarities that can make or break their lead, the birders race each other from Del Rio, Texas, in search of the rufous-capped warbler, to Gibsons, British Columbia, on a quest for Xantus's hummingbird, to Cape May, New Jersey, seeking the offshore great skua. Bouncing from coast to coast on their potholed road to glory, they brave broiling deserts, roiling oceans, bug-infested swamps, a charge by a disgruntled mountain lion, and some of the lumpiest motel mattresses known to man. "