Wings Big Year: A bird is a tick

Few keen birders avoid the pleasure of ticking off the birds they see against some kind of master list. I know “twitching,” the obsessive pursuit of ticks, can arouse scorn, but shouldn’t a systematic pleasure be stronger than an unfocused pleasure?

A core inspiration for my own birding was Sean Dooley’s 2005 masterpiece about a ticking obsession, “The Big Twitch: One Man, One Continent, A Race Against Time – A True Story About Birdwatching.” The book narrates how in 2002 he ticked 708 Australian bird species, a big advance on the previous record of 633 set by Mike Entwhistle in 1989. Dooley’s book is a captivating, funny yet earnest paean to a fine obsession. Triumphant at the end, he wrote:

There are a million ways to occupy your time on this planet. They’re all pretty much absurd if you analyse them too closely. I chose twitching, one of the more outwardly absurd of them all I suppose but really no more ridiculous than anything else, yet that year of absurdity has had a profound effect on my life since.

Ever since 2005, I’ve wanted to reread “The Big Twitch” but time is too short right now, so today I confine myself to two bits of factual research. The first is: how many Aussie birds were there in 2002? Unfortunately, on this topic Dooley is not as precise as I wish him to be, simply saying there are “over 830” on the 1994 RAOU Australian Bird Checklist. He also says that after eliminating “extreme vagrants” (only once-off sightings), this comes down to “around 710,” which means he saw nearly ALL the birds in this country.

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