The (Big) Year That Flew By is the memoir of Arjan Dwarshuis’s birding big year. A Native of Netherlands, Dwarshuis was already a world traveler and birder when he decided to try and break Noah Strycker’s world record of the most birds seen in a single calendar year.
By choosing a leap year, 2016, Arjan traveled to six continents and some 40 countries, spending around $65,000 on flights, guides, lodging, food, etc. He had several sponsors, including his highly supportive parents. Of course, Dwarshuis is extremely lucky to have such an opportunity. The pool of people that could even attempt such a feat is tiny.
The memoir flips back and forth from Arjan’s 2016 big year record and previous trips he had taken all over the globe. It makes sense that a well-traveled birder would pursue a global record, but it comes across pretty nonchalant when referring to the last time I was in…fill in the blank. We are not taking about a retired, well-known birder like Kenn Kaufman here. Arjan is only 29!
Dwarshuis does blend some natural history and environmental thoughts with his travel accounts. However, the book reads more like blog posts bound together. Often times I felt like sections were lacking, especially areas in South America where he sees dozens of new species. A day of exciting birding would end and abruptly, usually after finding the ultra-rare, unlikely-to-be-found bird. Then off to the next location.
Over time, the blog post style gets a bit redundant.There are so many times where a section starts by explaining how extremely rare and unlikely it is they will find a certain bird. Then, a few paragraphs later, check!, the bird is spotted.
This type of birding, often referred disparagingly as “twitching”, has never appealed to me. And Arjan even admits occasionally that the whirlwind experience does not allow for fully enjoying the places he is traveling in. What stood out to me were the excellent, native guides that took Dwarshuis to remote locales. These guides offer up true reasons for usually poor countries to protect their ecosystems. I would have loved to have heard even more backstories of these fascinating and diverse people.
The amount of dedication and energy required to travel, hike and bird this intensely for an entire year is remarkable. Of that tiny amount of people with the means and time to undertake such an adventure, most would not have the determination to see it through. Dwarshuis breaks the world record and then some! (Not a spoiler as the subtitle and back cover make this declaration.)
The stated goal of raising awareness of endangered birds and habitat conservation may be lost as this book largely appeals to elite, world birders. Unfortunately, the rarity of many of these species is what draws so many to want to check them off their list before it is too late.
Arjan, largely because of The (Big) Year That Flew By, has made a name of himself in the world of promoting bird conservation. He is the ambassador of the prestigious IUCN NL Land Acquisition Fund. His record as of printing is 6,852 bird species (seen and heard) in a single calendar year. The number could possibly grow (or shrink) as taxonomic changes occur and split or lump species.
Birdfreak.com received a copy of the book from the publisher, Chelsea Green, to review on our website.