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Birder Noah Strycker Reflects On His Record-breaking “Big Year”

Rachael McDonald

After an entire year travelling around the world, Noah Strycker is home from his “big year” of birding. The 29-year-old from Creswell was able to identify 6 thousand 42 species of birds, breaking the world record.

I meet Noah Strycker early on a rainy morning at Fern Ridge Reservoir in West Eugene. He says this is the best birding spot in Western Oregon.
Strycker: “In the winter, 10s of thousands of Canada Geese and hundreds of tundra swans roost out here at night and in the morning, they fly out to all the farm fields so they can spend the day eating out there. What I’m hoping is a few will fly over our heads while we’re standing out here.”
We can see geese and swans out on the water. Strycker looks at them through his birding scope.
Srycker says he’s been in love with birding since his first visit to the Malheur Wildlife Refuge as a kid. It’s in the news these days because of the armed occupation that’s now nearly 2 weeks old. He had planned to visit Malheur later this month. He says he hopes the militants are made to leave.
Strycker: “Oh, I’m angry about it, as are most birders, if not all birders, and most other people, I think. These guys have no right to be there. They’re just trying to use it for their own interests.”
Strycker’s big year started in Antarctica. He visited all 7 continents, ending the year in India. Strycker connected with local birders in each place he visited.

Credit Rachael McDonald

Strycker: “That was my whole strategy was to never go birding alone.”
Strycker has already authored two books about birds. He funded the trip with proceeds from a book deal.
Strycker: “And I would sleep on people’s couches and sleep on floors and just sack out in the forest and wherever and eat whatever and just do whatever it took on a pretty low budget to see the birds.”
Strycker found a global community of birders on his travels. He says at the start of his journey he wondered if he would get sick of birding.
Strycker: “On reflection, I think I didn’t need to worry about that at all. If you think about bird-watching as an addiction, I’m totally addicted to birds. Then if you feed an addiction, it’s not going to make it go away; it’s just going to make it worse and worse. And I think that’s what happened. By the end of the year, instead of thinking, oh, I’m happy to be done, I was thinking, well, I could just do this forever.”
Strycker says he learned from the local birders about the continuing threats of habitat destruction. The other big concern: climate change.

Credit Rachael McDonald

Strycker: “They would say things like, oh the rains were really predictable until about 5 or 6 years ago and now it’s been horrendous droughts the past several years. Or, all kinds of different things. They would inevitably blame it on climate change. And so it seemed to me by the end of the year that climate change is something that we’re not just arguing about in newspapers. It really is something real that’s affecting real people in real places.”  
Strycker believes we’re in a golden age of birding and that in a decade or so, there won’t be as many. He broke the world record for a big year of birding by quite a bit. The previous number was 4,342. He saw 6,042. A Dutch man is currently on the hunt to surpass that number.
Strycker says he’s still getting used to being home after a year on the road.
Strycker: “It is strange. I wake up in the morning still and I think, where am I? [laughs] What birds are there? It’s weird to not wake up with a target list and a plane ticket to the next spot.”
Noah Strycker is now on to the next phase of his project, writing a book about his big year.
As we stand on the edge of the mudflat that is Fern Ridge Reservoir in winter, the geese fly overhead.



Rachael McDonald is KLCC’s host for All Things Considered on weekday afternoons. She also is the editor of the KLCC Extra, the daily digital newspaper. Rachael has a BA in English from the University of Oregon. She started out in public radio as a newsroom volunteer at KLCC in 2000.
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