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The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsessionby Mark Obmascik
Synopses & Reviews
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.
The unprecedented year of beat-the-clock adventures ultimately leads one man to a new record — one so gigantic that it is unlikely ever to be bested...finding and identifying an extraordinary 745 different species by official year-end count.
Prize-winning journalist Mark Obmascik creates a rollicking, dazzling narrative of the 275,000-mile odyssey of these three obsessives as they fight to the finish to claim the title in the greatest — or maybe the worst — birding contest of all time. With an engaging, unflappably wry humor, Obmascik memorializes their wild and crazy exploits and, along the way, interweaves an entertaining smattering of science about birds and their own strange behavior with a brief history of other bird-men and -women; turns out even Audubon pushed himself beyond the brink when he was chasing and painting the birds of America.
A captivating tour of human and avian nature, passion and paranoia, honor and deceit, fear and loathing, The Big Year shows the lengths to which people will go to pursue their dreams, to conquer and categorize — no matter how low the stakes. This is a lark of a read for anyone with birds on the brain — or not.
"With a blend of humor and awe, Obmascik takes the reader into the heart of competitive birding, and in the process turns everyone into birders." Booklist
"By not revealing the outcome until the end of the book, Obmascik keeps the reader guessing in this fun account of a whirlwind pursuit of birding fame." Publishers Weekly
"Charming, engrossing, and educational even for people who can't tell a mudhen from a magpie." T.R. Reid, The Washington Post
"You'll gladly add this one to your own list — of surprisingly good books." Kirkus Reviews
"Mark Obmascik understands birders, and in this book he has ventured bravely into the fringes of the hobby to report on a sort of extreme birding: the big year. It's the best and the worst of birding in one grueling yearlong contest, and you have to admire the rare passion and dedication that a big year attempt requires. The rest of us must be content with daydreaming about it, and this book will undoubtedly be the source of many daydreams." David Allen Sibley, author of The Sibley Guide to Birds
"Red-breasted nuthatches! Himalayan snowcocks! Spotted woodpeckers! Nutting's flycatchers! The Big Year is the Gumball Rally of birding — a rollicking, nonstop, trans-continental adventure. Mark Obmascik brings the doggedness of an investigative reporter, the grace of an accomplished storyteller, and the compassion of a fellow-traveling obsessive to this alluring quest for avian supremacy." Stefan Fatsis, author of Word Freak
A rollicking, witty chronicle of the human need to conquer and categorize — in this case, every bird on the planet — no matter how low the stakes.
Every January 1, a quirky crowd storms out across North America for a spectacularly competitive event called a Big Year — a grand, expensive, and occasionally vicious 365-day marathon of birdwatching. For three men in particular, 1998 would become a grueling battle for a new North American birding record. Bouncing from coast to coast on frenetic pilgrimages for once-in-a-lifetime rarities, they brave broiling deserts, bug-infested swamps, and some of the lumpiest motel mattresses known to man. This unprecedented year of beat-the-clock adventures ultimately leads one man to a record so gigantic that it is unlikely ever to be bested. Here, prize-winning journalist Mark Obmascik creates a dazzling, fun narrative of the 275,000-mile odyssey of these three obsessives as they fight to win the greatest — or maybe worst — birding contest of all time.
About the Author
Mark Obmascik has been a journalist for two decades, most recently at the Denver Post, where he was lead writer for the newspaper's Pulitzer Prize in 2000 and winner of the 2003 National Press Club Award for environmental journalism. His freelance stories have been published in Outside and other magazines, and he has aired numerous political stories on public affairs and television news programs. An obsessed birder himself, he lives in Denver with his wife and sons.
Table of Contents
1. January 1, 1998
2. A Birder Is Hatched
3. The Early Birds
5. Bodega Bluff
7. El Niño
8. The Wise Owl
9. Yucatán Express
10. The Big Yak
11. The Cradle of Storms
12. The B.O.D.
16. Cape Hatteras Clincher
17. Two in the Bush
20. December 31, 1998
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