Rubber Duck again trying to figure out the Family tree. My sisters over lunch at the Museum of Fine Arts were raving about this book. One is a birder, the other not but both enjoyed it. So I got it for myself as a stocking stuffer.
First the Facts: They made a movie from this book starring Jack Black, Steve Martin, and Owen Wilson that had sucky reviews. I’m reviewing the book, not the movie.
The book is about three guys who decide that in 1998 they are going to do a “Big Year”. In birding, this means that they are going to see how many different birds they can see in one calendar year in North America. It starts out slow with them running about on the first of the year and around 60,000 frequent flyer miles apiece ends 365 days later. At the start they did not know that the two others were going to do this but since some rare birds are always in the same place they bumped into each other and the race to the top becomes an obsession. I won’t spoil the drama at the end but all three finish north of 700 birds! There are only 625 native birds currently residing in North America so how do they do this? By staying for a week in a godforsaken island Attu off the Bering Sea to count birds that have accidentally been blown in from Asia. Or taking boat rides off the coast of New England and Monterrey California to nail birds that never see dry land. Or they are in Texas one day and driving up from Logan to Plum Island the next because a rare duck was spotted.
I thought it was pretty good. An hour after I finish it I get an email from a friend who is coming to Gloucester so her son-in-law can add a King Eider to his life list. (This is kind of weird since I have never gotten an email about birding ever and so I take this as a sign.) Driving from Penn State to see a bird here? I guess this lunacy is common. My sister went to Panama a month ago just to see birds. So Jim Barber emails me back that there is a King Eider off the Elks Lodge and I go down there. Do you know how many different really weird looking diving duck like birds are down there? Looked like a thousand. And I had one birder show me a few but it seemed insane. The males and females look completely different. I knew that. But depending on whether they were adults, teenagers, just toilet trained, or ready to retire they all looked completely different even though it was the same exact species.
So my birding interest waned again. But then I went and sat at the same rock I sit on to watch the waves near my house and I now notice that there were 23 common eiders, 12 harlequin ducks and two surf scoters paddling about. There were four other strange groups of feathered objects out there but in two days of “birding” I could figure out a few.
So I am going to do a big year too starting on Monday. Different rules though. This one involves no traveling. In fact, I won’t even get up. I will identify and count every waterfowl that I can see from my one specific favorite rock I sit on to watch the sunrise and the surf. If it seems to be of interest I will post the results as a GMG Sunday 2PM post. Maybe I last a month, who knows? Sort of a way to force me to learn a thing or two about our fowl friends. Since we do live in this paradise that includes birds that visit us from the north pole and they sure look like penguin like fowl it might be fun. If I can do it for a year and learn the names of more than a dozen birds, cool. I sure hope they don’t change their plumage often or new flocks arrive. OK, maybe I could handle two dozen but first I have to figure out what the names of these four other weird birds are. ( I’m pretty sure one is a single female mallard WTF!)
Fun Fact: The Bookstore of Gloucester did not have this book when I stopped by at 4PM the week before Christmas. But in two minutes they figured out the name of “that book about birds and three guys” and had it on their delivery for the next day and when I stopped by at noon the next day I had the book. No plastic wrap, blister pack, foam peanuts or box to throw away. I hear that Toad Hall in Rockport can do this same amazing trick. Buy Local! Cape Ann is a blessed place with a bunch of great bookstores. Imagine Cape Ann without them. How awful would that be? Buy your books here on Cape Ann and save the hassle of boxes.