World Record in Hand

The Date – September 16th, 2015, the place – the Thattekad Bird Sanctuary in Kerala, India.

 This pair of Sri Lanka Frogmouths surpassed the big year world record. Photo Noah Strycker

This pair of Sri Lanka Frogmouths surpassed the big year world record. Photo Noah Strycker

You can see the rain drops clinging to the branches and leaves in the image above. Definitely not Noah’s most technically perfect image he’s shared, but likely the one that was shared the most! On a soggy, drizzly day, Noah lifted his trusty Leica 10×42 Ultravid HD-Plus binoculars as he has tens of thousands of times this year and saw these Sri Lanka Frogmouths. In a private email Noah shared the images above & below and wrote:

“This afternoon, with a crowd of local birders in attendance, I saw a pair of Sri Lanka Frogmouths in southwest India – which happened to be my 4,342nd bird of year 2015. This surpasses the all-time big year mark set by Ruth Miller and Alan Davies in 2008 of 4,341 species in one calendar year. In other words, the trail of footsteps has suddenly stopped, and we’re in untouched territory now!

What does a world record mean? After all, it’s just a number. People will go to great lengths for a place in the record books, as a quick glance through the Guinness Book of World Records might attest (they haven’t judged my application yet), but why? Sooner or later, someone else will come along and hit a higher mark.

The significance is in the journey, of course, and this one’s been quite a trip. So far, I’ve traveled through 27 countries in 2015, from Antarctica to India, and met hundreds of local birders along the way. I’ve learned that birding is much more universal than most of us realize, and that watching these feathered creatures helps connect people in unexpected ways. Today I had tea with a bishop in India who enjoys birds – he told me this project has inspired him! Who could have guessed?

A bishop in India takes a post-world-record selfie with Noah

A bishop in India takes a post-world-record selfie with Noah

There’s no way you can measure these kinds of connections, so I keep track of progress by counting bird species. It might be an imperfect metric of inspiration, but I think it’s pretty close. I have been amazed at how people (even non-birders!) can identify with the quest. When you set a goal, any goal at all, things tend to focus more clearly. The real question is: Why not?

Speaking of which, my goal is still 5,000 birds this year, which means I’m hundreds away from reaching it. Work to do! Good thing three and a half months remain before New Year – I’ll admit 5K is looking likely, with most of Asia and all of Australia left, but anything might happen. How many birds are possible by December? The only way to find out is to give it a shot… and don’t slow down until the finish line.”

Record aside, there was no time for rest & as Noah acknowledges, his personal goal is 5,000 species – number 4,339 was a White-rumped Munia, 4,340 was a White-breasted Waterhen, 4,341 was a Common Lora & 4,343 was a Gray-fronted Green-Pigeon… all tallied on that same fateful day. It seems from his words, that Noah is certainly enjoying this once in a lifetime, incredible journey and as someone who suffers from wanderlust I am absolutely envious of the opportunities to see so many habitats, cultures, birds & wildlife. I think the record itself IS more important to those of us following along at home. Jennie Duberstein stated Noah’s Twitter feed “Blew Up” that day, and Noah acknowledged he received an overwhelming number of emails, and Facebook messages from countless parties. To someone who has never attempted any type of big year and without any real experience with foreign countries’ bird distribution, it is of course an impossibility to appreciate fully what it means to say flippantly, “I’m going to attempt to see 5,000 birds…” But breaking a world record carries an immediate understanding. It’s a very tangible example, that something very special has happened and that this paricular effort has bested all prior attempts.

Noah Strycker appears on the front page of Times of India newspaper 9/17/15

Noah Strycker appears on the front page of Times of India newspaper 9/17/15

The following morning Noah’s story appeared in the “Times of India“, (the world’s largest daily English newspaper) along with an image of a man looking surprisingly clean and fresh for a guy who’s been chasing birds all day, every day for 8.5 months! 😉 Noah, didn’t slow his roll though or rest on his laurels and went immediately back to the field to enjoy more of this great adventure seeing amazing sights, including the beauty below.

Mottled Wood Owl in it's daily roost 9/17/15 - photo Noah Strycker

Mottled Wood Owl in it’s daily roost 9/17/15 – photo Noah Strycker

Through the newspaper articles and the social media firestorm that followed Noah’s record-breaking sighting, many curious observers showed up the following morning. His daily blog from “Birding Without Borders” from September 18th read, “….About a dozen of us spent several hours working slowly along a one-lane road, stopping each time we found a flock of birds.

Today’s group included a real estate businessman, an HR specialist, two senior research scientists, an expert in small carnivores, a professional wildlife photographer, two doctors, an ornithologist, and a graduate student. They’d all heard about my big year and coordinated with Harsha to join us today, just for the fun of it! Not all of these birders had met each other before, even though they live in the same state in southwest India, so this outing was something of a social occasion, too. All of them are rabid eBird users like me, and it was great to spend the day with a group of like-minded bird lovers….”

In my mind, I could only imagine the scenes from Forrest Gump where he, “…began running, for no particular reason…” and crowds flocked to run with him. Those birders “running” with Noah that day, were treated to one of the world’s most enigmatic birds too, Noah’s first views of the Great Hornbill (stunningly captured below).

Great Hornbills seen in Valparai, India - photo Noah Strycker

Great Hornbills seen in Valparai, India – photo Noah Strycker

As expected, India has been a productive birding locale for Noah. In his “Times of India” article he was quoted as saying, “…more than 1000 species can be found in India. I haven’t seen 80 percent of them…” So with so many new species possibilities in this incredibly birdy country, it’s no surprise he added so many new species here. September 30th, not only represented the end of the 9th month of the year but also the end of Noah’s 18 day run in India where he tallied 437 bird species (321 new). This represents an average of near 18 new bird species added daily (well ahead of the yearly average of 16.7 new species per day). One of the most productive days was September 27th when he tallied a whopping 48 new species and passed his next notable milestone of 4,500 species seen! You can read all about the day’s events in his daily blog post entitled “Day 270 – The Himalaya

A pair of Brown Fish-Owls roosts in Jim Corbett National Park. Photo: Noah Strycker

A pair of Brown Fish-Owls roosts in Jim Corbett National Park. Photo: Noah Strycker

Noah, wraps up his adventuring in India with the shared photo above from his blog for day 273. Nine months officially done the count stands at 4,565 species with 92 days remaining in the calendar year (remember the 16.7 new species a day average?!?….)

Up next?!?….

A week in Myanmar, to China, to Taiwan, to the Philippines, to Thailand, to Malaysia, to Borneo, to Sulawesi, to Papua New Guinea, to Australia, through Australia, and New Zealand and then back to Africa for the last days of the year.

Why back to Africa you ask?!?…. Read the final paragraph of the Times of India article linked above for the answer to that good question. At any rate, for readers in the countries listed above get out in the field at local birding hotspots and maybe you’ll spot a rarity along the trails, a blonde-haired birder with a permanent smile. He’s coming your way for certain and this remarkable young man is worth meeting. An inspirational birder with a fantastically, positive attitude that is palpable in his writings but undeniable in person. We will all just have to keep watching from home and enjoying the tales of the countries, birds, habitats, creatures, and people that share the journey along the way (offering just a taste of this wondrous adventure). Something to tide us over until the book comes out!