Q. and A.: Big Birder: Noah Strycker on Where to Spot Rare Species

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Noah Strycker. Credit via Noah Strycker

In September 2015, Noah Strycker entered the Guinness Book of World Records by besting a British couple, Ruth Miller and Alan Davies, who in 2008 tracked 4,341 species of birds in a year. Mr. Strycker tracked 6,042 species and told his story on the Audubon Society blog, Birding Without Borders.

Mr. Strycker, 31, has climbed trees around the globe in pursuit of birds like the red-billed starling or black-breasted thrush. His 40-liter backpack is filled with items fit for the die-hard outdoorsman, like Leica 10×42 Ultravid HD-Plus binoculars, malaria pills and water-purifying tablets.

Following are edited excerpts from an interview with him:

What’s the most adventurous thing you’ve done to spot a bird?

I’ve driven a Zodiac boat in Antarctica, crashed through leech-infested forests in India and stayed awake for nearly four straight days during the Norwegian summer solstice. In central Peru, I got up at 2 one morning and drove up a desolate mountain. The road was so bad it ripped the rear bumper off our van and left us mired in mud with two flat tires and a dead battery in the middle of nowhere. But we saw a spectacular golden-backed mountain tanager, so the trip was worthwhile.

What equipment do you always take?

All you really need to bird the world is a pair of pants, a passport and binoculars. I travel with a small backpack, so I never have to check any luggage. On the ground, I always have a pen, a plastic spoon, an SD card reader, some toilet paper and a compact LED flashlight.


Snow geese migrating to the Arctic took off after stopping at the Middle Creek Reservoir in eastern Pennsylvania last March. Credit Jim Lo Scalzo/European Pressphoto Agency

What are the best places to spot bird migrations in the United States?

The Gulf Coast of Texas in late April is a haven for songbirds, as are Magee Marsh in Ohio and Point Pelee in Ontario in May. For migratory birds, New Jersey’s Cape May offers ample opportunities in both spring and fall. Sandhill cranes flock toward the Platte River in Nebraska during their migrations. Point Reyes in California is a mecca for rare birds during spring and fall. But the beauty of birds is that they are everywhere, so you can see migratory birds wherever you live.

What are some of the best places to spot several species at once?

Try Ecuador or Uganda. Both are packed with an enormous diversity of landscapes and wildlife. Keep in mind, though, that birding is about more than just running up a list. I’ve enjoyed places like Chile, Iceland and Turkey, even though they have a bit less diversity than the tropics.

What is your opinion on visiting the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, after it was occupied by antigovernment protesters last year?

Malheur is my favorite birding spot in the world, and it is back in action. The headquarters just reopened this month after being closed for more than a year. To visit today, you’d never even know the occupation had happened. I have been visiting Malheur since I was 12, so it is a special place to me.

What is the rarest bird you’ve spotted? And where?

In June 2016 in Ithaca, N.Y., I watched a brown pelican circle over the Cornell University campus. It was the first of its species ever spotted there, and local birders were going crazy with up-to-the-second text message reports; one guy saw it from the Ithaca farmers’ market, and an undergrad managed to run out of class in time to watch the pelican glide overhead. Sometimes the rarest birds show up in the most familiar of places.

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