Just watched The Big Year, starring Jack Black, Steve Martin & Owen Wilson, again, for maybe the 80th time.
Five years ago this month I watched it for the first time. And it changed my life. Sounds funny to say that about a movie. But it did.
It made me a birder.
Yes, I know that it is a strange, nerdy thing to be. But I was reflecting on what I’ve seen over the past five years:
I’ve seen albatrosses 40 miles off the coast of Northern California
Flycatchers at sewage treatment plants in Austin, Texas
Snowy Owls in Wisconsin and at Jones Beach
A Bald Eagle and I spent 20 minutes together, alone, in a frozen Minnesota field—he high up on a tree, me down below mesmerized
I watched American Oystercatchers burying their bright red beaks in a sand bar off the coast of Cape May
I’ve stood in a field outside Utica, NY, wholly alone at dawn, watching Barn Swallows dance in the early morning sunlight
I’ve hiked around a spider-infested path on High Island, Texas, watching tropical Cormorants in bright green scum covered water, dodging spiders larger than my hand, on the lookout for snakes and alligators
I’ve been on ferries, spying seabirds
I’ve clung to the granite sides of an overpass, sliding my feet across an ice-covered 8-inch wide ledge, 100 feet over a reservoir in Minnesota, so I could see an owl
I’ve spent a day on a wildlife refuge in Kansas, and I’ve spent a morning next to a fog-covered lake in Arkansas
I’ve watched hundreds of thousands of Sandhill Cranes take flight at sunrise along the Platte River in Nebraska
I’ve birded across the country, in over 30 states.
And, I’ve spent time enjoy House Finches and House Sparrows play in my backyard, and Northern Cardinals in the snow on my patio.
I’ve met a bunch of quirky, kind, friendly people who share this obsession. I can’t imagine I would have ever hiked a mountain in Nevada as the snow fell, an hour after I played with a Greater Roadrunner in the desert, or wandered down a quiet road next to a farm outside of Buffalo, if it weren’t for birding.
I’ve seen more of America in the last 5 years than I did in a lifetime before that.
And I couldn’t have done it without 2 things: the patience and support of my wife, who never fails encourage me.
And the movie, The Big Year.
For those of you who haven’t seen it, if follows the true story of 3 guys trying to see the greatest number of different bird species in North America in a year. The story is funny, and touching. The photography is outstanding. It inspired me to get off the couch and go for a little hike in the Rockville Centre woods, where I saw my first woodpecker. I was hooked.
So as I mark my five-year anniversary as a birder, I say thank you to those who fight to preserve habitat for birds, thank you to the people who organized the festivals I’ve attended, thank you to the kind, patient experienced birders who have helped me along. Thank you to my wife.
And thank you Jack Black, Steve Martin, Owen Wilson and all who made “The Big Year”. I hope you made some money. I hope you had fun making the movie. And I hope you know that your little comedy has changed at least one life for the better.