The Big Year
"It all started at dinner,” Gerry Wright says with a laugh. "They were going on and on about how many bird species were native to Idaho and I was getting bored of the whole thing,so I said "'I bet you can’t see all of them in a year.’” Not one to turn down a challenge, Mike Scott accepted the bet, and thus began 'The Big Year’ for Mike and Sharon Scott.
The goal: see 250 species in 365 days. The feat took them all over the state, multiple times. As Mike tells it, their initial method of counting species observed per gallon of gas, eventually turned into gallons per species; and their quest for elusive species brought them down some harrowing paths. "I’m not sure how some of those Forest Service roads actually qualify as roads,” Sharon laughs. "Some were only inches wider than our car, and the slopes on some of them…” she trails off, shaking her head.
Mike and Sharon started birding 48 years ago when they were first married, as a way to spend time together. All these years later, what started as a friendly wager with a long-time friend turned into a mild obsession for the couple. (Although, Mike points out that on the scale of "bird-obsession,” he thinks they’re pretty reasonable.) Over the course of the year, they saw 252 species. They said the keys to their success were going out with Audubon groups; planning out the timing of visits carefully (they missed major shorebird populations at Pocatello by one week); making sure to stop at sewage treatment ponds which were always chock full of birds; and using Kas Dumroese’s The Idaho Bird Guide which they considered their bible on this adventure (although they pointed out, again, that Kas needs to seriously consider what constitutes a "road”).
Some notable mentions from their Big Year: they found that the American robin was the most widely distributed (even finding them at 8,000 feet, in the snow); they saw gray vireos 300-400 miles out of range; and when pressed, they said their favorite sighting was the plumbeous vireo. Mike says they’re still on the look-out for the American redstart.
Mike and Sharon’s success in finding 252 species in a year meant that, in addition to their hard-earned bragging rights, Gerry handed over a donation to the Land Trust, which will be used to conserve land for birds and other wildlife. Gerry was happy to do so, although he joked that Mike and Sharon should be paying him for keeping them busy all year.