For the past 20 years I have been photographing birds, and for most of that time I have pushed back at the notion that I'm a birder. I've always said I'm just a photographer interested in the natural world, and birds just happen to be the most varied and abundant subjects here in Connecticut. But the truth is, that's not entirely true.
A little background - I have been a photographer for 25 years. I spent most of my career working at newspapers, and now I am self-employed, and still working out the direction the rest of my work life will take. I'll turn 50 this year, married and have two teenage kids. As a young child, I mostly liked sports, but also liked animals and played in the woods, ponds and streams catching turtles and frogs. It seemed normal back then. I grew up less than a mile from Roger Tory Peterson's home and studio, but other than seeing his name on a book in our house, I knew almost nothing about him until about 20 years ago.
It was then, while desperately hunting for an "enterprise" picture (a random feature picture used to fill space in a newspaper) in the fading light of a winter afternoon that a fortunate encounter with a Short-eared Owl changed everything. The owl (I had no idea what kind it was at the time) flew up to a No Parking sign right in front of me. I rolled up and clicked a few shots from my car window, before the owl flew off. I got my picture, and bought a Peterson Field Guide to find out what the bird I photographed was, and I was hooked.
My birding experiences have always been complicated by photography. I was a photographer first, and it has always been my priority. I'd rather spend two hours photographing a Robin at close range in my yard than drive two hours to get distant scope views of a Tufted Duck or Northern Lapwing. Patience is a key to getting good photographs, and spending hours to get a really good shot of one bird is not conducive to racking up big numbers for a list. I never had the urge to drive across the state to a smelly landfill to see a rare gull, among thousands of common ones. Not a pretty picture. Still, I'd like to see more birds.
No one else in my family shares my interest in birds or nature, but for Christmas this year they got me the DVD of "The Big Year" (my wife insists I left hints). We all watched it together on Christmas day. Movies have always been a way of bonding for our family, from the time my daughter was a toddler, and we watched "The Lion King" together, several million times and could recite every word of it by heart. Despite the subject matter, everyone really enjoyed "The Big Year" and it felt like we all came a little closer watching the movie. I mostly I liked that the the guys in the movie seemed to figure things out in the end.
My kids, not really understanding what I do, said "Dad, you should do a big year". So, I decided to do my own Big Year in 2013, inspired by the film, but customized to my own goals. I'm only doing it in Connecticut, and maybe a few neighboring states, because my budget is zero (daughter starting college in the fall - just like the guy in the movie). I hope to push myself to see more birds than ever before, my target is 300 species although that might be a bit ambitious. I'm also not really trying to compete with anyone, I'm pretty certain I won't see the most birds and don't really care. I decided to blog about it as a motivational exercise, and maybe if my kids read it they might take more interest in the natural world around them, or at least get a better sense of why I do. Mostly, I'd like to take lots of good pictures, and hopefully figure out some things along the way.