For Birder's having a 'Big Year' is a feat achieved only by those with both time and money to spare. Neil Hayward of Cambridge England clearly has both as he set a new record in 2013 for bird watching. He spent 195 nights away from Cambridge, drove 51,758 miles, was at sea for 147 hours over 15 days, and flew 193,758 miles on 177 flights through 56 airports. Leading up to a final total and grand finale of 749 bird species spotted.
For all those Birder's out there, if you want to plan a 'Big Year' here's five of the most popular spots to check out. With luck on your side and precise planning from your Travel Agent you may just be able to beat Mr. Hayward's record!
Antarctica Including South Georgia and the Falkland Islands
The best way to get here is with a flight to Argentina and then an Expedition Cruise taking you on a round-trip cruise through the islands and back to the mainland. These cruises book 18 months in advance so preparation well in advance is most definitely required. What to expect from your humble ship accommodations on this 'scientific' themed adventure? Over 45 species of birds, among which are seven species of Penguin, five species of Albatross and over 15 species of Petrel just to mention a few!
The Alakaʻi Wilderness Preserve, Hawaii USA
Also known as the Alaka'i Swamp located on the island of Kauai, these 3.5 miles of walking trails hail as the 'wettest' spot on earth. With a variety of bird watching tours available the avid birder can plan a trip or go at it alone to try and catch a glimpse of the over 80 species native to this area. Among these are Apapane, I’iwi, Kauai Amakihi, Anianiau, Elepaio and the Endangered Species–Akikiki, Akeke’e, and Puaiohi.
Point Pelee National Park, Ontario Canada
This national treasure extends into Lake Erie and consists of a peninsula of land, mainly of marsh and woodland habitats, was the first national park in Canada to be established for conservation, and has proved to be the perfect locale for a variety of bird species to nest. More than 370 species of birds have been recorded in Point Pelee and the surrounding area, making this one of the premiere bird watching locations in North America. Because of its location it is found to be at the crossroads of two major migration flyways. The park is also perfect for the horticulturalist as it contains more than 750 native plant species, eight species of which are considered to be rare, endangered or threatened.
Stewart Island, New Zealand
Stewart Island is the third-largest island of New Zealand. It lies 19 miles south of the South Island across Foveaux Strait and has a meager population of just over 400 people. Due to its size and the available travel options there, a trip should be planned 16-18 months in advance, keeping in mind the main source of income for the island is Eco-tourism. With 80% of the island being declared a National Park, there is plenty of unmanned areas to explore. Species of birds found to inhabit the island (and its surrounding smaller islands) include colonies of Sooty Shearwater and other seabirds, as well as the following: Weka, Kaka, Albatross, the flightless Stewart Island Kiwi, Silveryeys, Fantails, Kereru and also the endangered Yellow Eyed Penguin as well as the endangered Kakapo flightless parrot.
Zapata Swamp, Cuba
Located less than 95 miles south of Havana, the Zapata Swamp is over 6,000 km² of biosphere and happens to be the largest protected area, not only in Cuba, but also the Caribbean. Not just for the birder, as this well preserved habitat is home to over 900 plant species, 175 species of birds, 31 species of reptiles and over 1000 species of invertebrates. An additional 65 species of birds visit the swamp during their migration pattern from North America through the Caribbean and onward to South America. The landscape, similar to Florida’s Everglades, is also home to the endangered Cuban Crocodile; an animal near extinction.
Of course this is just a one handed sampling of the literally thousands of amazing places in the world to view the free and flight-full bird. Have a coffee with your favourite Travel Agent today and start planning your "Big Year".