A “big year” birding adventure with a personal twist.
The attempt to identify as many species as possible in one calendar year has been the subject of numerous books since Roger Tory Peterson’s Wild America. What makes this big-year book different is the father-son bonding element. Collard (Catching Air, 2017, etc.), a marine biologist by training who has written more than 75 books for young readers, and his teenage son, Braden, a budding birding enthusiast, share a strong common interest, which makes their relationship one that many parents of teenagers will envy. The author may have omitted or softened some of the inevitable tensions or disagreements, but the picture of a teenager that emerges has the ring of truth. A proficient storyteller, Collard writes with style about their travels together in 2016 around Montana, where the author lives (Missoula), and to Arizona, Texas, and California. There are the usual disappointments of bad weather, closed refuges, broken equipment, and missed sightings as well as encounters with enthusiastic fellow birders and time spent with knowledgeable nature lovers. The author also describes an unforgettable brush with a swarm of mad bees. Overall, though, the focus is on the excitement of spotting and identifying new species. The point of a big year is to keep a list, and the longer the list, the happier the birder. Aware that big-year birders can become hung up—even unhealthily obsessed—with competing and with compiling statistics, Collard tried hard to broaden his adventure into a learning experience; for the most part, he succeeded. He and his son’s goals were modest—they weren’t competing with the pros—and the author shows the two of them willingly revising an identification when further examination reveals that their first one was wrong. For readers who are counting, end-of-chapter lists report their sightings, and an alphabetical big-year list appears at the end of the book.
An easy-to-read, pleasurable account that will find its greatest appeal with fellow birders.