Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Big Year

"In 1998 I zigzagged across the continent to try to see as many species of birds in one calendar year as possible. It was an incredible experience passing the 700-species mark—an achievement many birders aspire to in an entire lifetime."

Thirteen years ago, Greg Miller (pictured above) decided to undertake a "Big Year" -- an exciting, arduous and often expensive venture designed to see more species of birds on U.S. soil during one year than ever before. In the midst of personal upheaval, Greg faces competition from two much wealthier birders also doing Big Years. From boreal forests to steamy southern swamps, from sun-baked deserts to a rat-infested bunker on an Aleutian island, he travels to as many "hotspots" as he can reach and breaks the 700-species mark.

What obstacles does Greg overcome during his Big Year? Does he out-bird his better-funded competition? Moreover, why put yourself through such an ordeal just to chase birds across the continent?

This March, Greg will be in the Grand Island area to tell his story though events sponsored by Central Community College - Grand Island, the Nebraska Bird Partnership, the Crane Trust Nature and Visitor Center and the Wild Bird Habitat Store in Lincoln. You'll not only hear about the adventure in '98, he'll also relate his experiences as a consultant for the recent motion picture "The Big Year", starring Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson. (Greg was the inspiration for Jack Black's character.)

With the opening of a new year, why not take your own Big Year adventure? Don't worry; we're not suggesting camping in a cottonmouth-infested swamp or shivering on a brutally cold January day in Duluth. Rather, try these:

1. Read Mark Obmascik's book "The Big Year", the basis for the motion picture. It's a quick read and provides an excellent backdrop to Greg's talks.

2. Check out the motion picture itself. CCC will offer a screening when Greg is in town.

3. Go out looking for birds! Report your sightings to our Big Year Facebook page. We especially invite birding beginners to participate. You might also keep a "life list" of what you see; a great way to do this is to input your sightings into This site will keep track of what you've seen when. Moreover, you'll be contributing valuable data to a huge database of tremendous value to scientists.

4. Participate in area birding events. The Crane Trust Nature & Visitor Center has events throughout the year to help add to your species list. Central Community College in Grand Island will offer birding classes tailored to beginning birders. Here's a partial list of events planned:

Feb 18: Birds and Bagels, Crane Trust Nature & Visitor Center

Feb 20: Backyard Bird Feeding, NBP staff-led course offered through CCC

Mar 14: The Big Year book discussion, Grand Island Public Library. Free and open to the public.

Mar 21: Beyond the Screen movie presentation of “The Big Year” and discussion with special guest Greg Miller

Mar 22: Q & A with The Big Year's Greg Miller, Grand Island Public Library. Attendees will have the opportunity to ask Greg questions about The Big Year book, his feelings about being a subject in the book, and any other questions that come to mind in a relaxed intimate session.

Mar 24: “The Big Morning” Birding Trip w/Greg Miller

Mar 24: Greg Miller afternoon presentation, “Swamps, Mountain Tops, and Cheap Motels: My Big Year Travelogue” - Crane Trust Nature & Visitor Center

Mar 24: Greg Miller evening presentation, “The Big Year: The Triumph of Nature and the Human Spirit” - Crane Trust Nature & Visitor Center

Apr 13-15: "Chicken and Stars" - Crane Trust Nature and Visitor Center staff-led Sandhills birding and stargazing trip. The highlight is viewing Greater Prairie-Chicken and Sharp-tailed Grouse courtship displays.

May 10-12: Beginning Birding Course, NBP staff-led course offered through CCC in partnership with the Prairie Plains Resource Institute

So grab your binoculars, and we'll see you in the field!


  1. Really a it should be big year .. great post and nice thinking

    Aluminum Gantry Crane

    1. Really a it should be big year .. great post and nice thinking

      Aluminum Gantry Crane