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Noah Strycker completes world quest to spot the most feathered friends in one year, and now reflects on it

{img:177512}Just before sunset on Dec. 31, 2015, Noah Strycker spotted a group of silver-breasted broadbills in a forest in

India.

He took a few photos and, with that, made history.

The now-31-year-old Oregon-born birder officially completed his around-the-world quest to spot the most species of birds in one calendar year.

He aimed to beat the record of 4,341 bird species seen in 2008, but far surpassed his goal — spotting a total of 6,042 species during his whirlwind trip to 41 countries on all seven continents.

"My mission, besides raw adventure, was to bear witness to the diversity — human and avian — that inhabits our planet," Strycker wrote on one of his daily Audubon Society blogs soon after the trip.

"I would tap into the worldwide network of birders, hear their stories, and see their species. Such an undertaking has become possible thanks to the Internet, which has transformed how people interact with nature and one another."

With the urban wilderness of Forest Park and our unofficial city slogan, "Put a bird on it," Portland is known for its active birding community who see their passion as more than just a biological survey.

"What was once seen as a pursuit for first-world retirees has become popular across all kinds of borders — birding has exploded in countries like Brazil, Malaysia, and China," Strycker says.

"As I moved from place to place in constant pursuit of summer, with only a full backpack, a pair of binoculars, a daily blog ... and a healthy dose of enthusiasm, I began to see what birding means in this new millennium. I never hired an international guide, but I also never went birding alone."

Perhaps most amazing is the logistical feat of carrying everything he needed — including his binoculars, downloaded guidebooks and compact Leica spotting scope — in one small carry-on backpack.

He writes about the adventure in his latest book, "Birding Without Borders: An Obsession, a Quest and the Biggest Year in the World."

We caught up with Strycker via email as he hopped between bird festivals across the U.S.

Here's what he had to say about his epic journey:

{img:177511}Tribune: You've hiked the entire Pacific Crest Trail, run five marathons, completed your year-long world record-setting bird adventure and written three books. What is next for you?

Strycker: More adventures! I have upcoming trips planned to Antarctica, Ecuador, and Tristan da Cunha (a remote Atlantic island). Meanwhile, I am working on a new book project — a photo/essay book with National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore, called "Birds of the Photo Ark," which should come out next spring.

Tribune: How many of your 6,042 birds spotted would you consider rare or on the threatened/endangered species list?

Strycker: Too many, unfortunately. I don't have an exact count of endangered species on my list, but according to BirdLife International, one in eight bird species is globally threatened. It was depressing to witness the scale of habitat destruction in many places. That said, birds can sometimes recover from the very brink of extinction. In Papua New Guinea, I observed a bird called a golden masked owl that had not been seen alive in approximately 30 years.

Tribune: What on earth do you do while waiting three hours for a bird to return to its nest?

Strycker: I spent an entire morning staking out a harpy eagle nest in central Brazil, waiting for the bird to appear — perhaps my most-wanted species in the world. Patience is often required around raptor nests, as the birds might only visit once or twice a day. But, it wasn't boring! Lots of other birds were in the area, including wrens, woodpeckers, and aracaris (a type of small toucan). By the time the male harpy eagle flew in clutching half a coati in its talons — definitely one of the most adrenaline-fueled moments I've ever experienced while birding — I'd seen dozens of other birds in the surrounding forest.

{img:177513}Tribune: Who was part of your team at each site and what were their roles?

Strycker: I had two rules: One, every bird had to be seen with at least one other person; and, two, my companions had to be locals — no international tour guides, and no importing friends from back home to keep me company. Most of the time, I traveled with just one other person or a small group of local birders, to stay fast and flexible. Africa was the only place I consistently rolled with bigger posses, as I was required in some places to employ a park guide, driver and safari truck to access the best habitats.

Tribune: You mention the impact of habitat loss and climate change on birds. What are the biggest ways we can help with bird conservation ?

Strycker: Plant a tree, recycle, buy a duck stamp, get involved with your local Audubon group, volunteer, practice sustainable tourism, talk to your political representatives, donate to a cause — environmental conservation is nothing new, and it's no mystery. Get excited! Go birding! Enjoy nature! The worst you can do is sit around and complain.

{img:177514}Tribune: What universal truths did you learn from humans on this trip?

Strycker: Cultures may differ, but people are basically the same everywhere. This planet is a much friendlier place than it seems in the news. Most people are generous, welcoming, and good-hearted, and a smile can take you around the world.

Tribune: My son wants to know — did you do anything special on your birthday (aka bird-day) or Christmas or other special days?

Strycker: I spent Christmas in the Australian Outback, in 95-degree heat — definitely the least Christmassy Christmas I've ever celebrated! And my birthday came in Brazil, far from home. But both were memorable in their own way. I will never forget seeing my first giant snipe at a remote Brazilian swamp, just after sunset on my 29th birthday.

For more: www.audubon.org/features/birding-without-borders

For the Tribune's November 2014 story on Strycker, pre-journey: bit.ly/1B327DQ

Check it out:

What: "Birding Without Borders" book talk and signing with Noah Strycker

When: 7-8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 14 (doors open at 6 p.m.)

Where: Montgomery Park, 2701 N.W. Vaughn St.

For more: audubonportland.org/about/events/nature-night-birding-without-borders-with-noah-strycker

@jenmomanderson

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