While birding in Florida recently, I encountered a tour-group armed with high-dollar optics and two expert leaders. They were birding the same beach as me, and I had the opportunity to visit with a few of the participants. After hearing that I was interviewing birders, they all pointed me toward their leader: Greg Miller.
Greg is known in the birding community for being one of three birders who did a 1998 Big Year. He traveled 130,000 miles while maintaining a full-time job at a nuclear power plant, passing 700 species of birds among stiff competition with two other birders. The adventure is documented in Mark Obmascik's book, which was turned into the 2011 film The Big Year. Greg is portrayed by Jack Black, among a cast of Owen Wilson and Steve Martin. It's a very entertaining film, regardless of your birding background!
I did have a chance to interview Greg, who selflessly took a few minutes from his tour to speak with me on the beach. Our interview was interrupted only by the birds- some scaup, plovers, and an American Oystercatcher.
If you could meet any deceased birder who would you meet and why?
"Roger Tory Peterson I only briefly met. I would love to chat with him about his idea with the field guides, and putting them in the hands of birders. I'd love to talk with him about something that changed the face of birding"
How do you think technology has changed birding?
It's absolutely a positive change. It's gotten more people involved, there's less exploration and more going and experiencing birds. There's more people out, and more coverage. Things like eBird are contributing to citizen science and we get a massive amount of data that we never had before. There's also some downsides... ...there's birds that are particularly rare, and sometimes there's extra pressure [on rare birds] that wasn't there before.
If you could save any threatened bird from extinction, what would you choose?
The Kirtland's warbler. I wish it was more adaptable, but that's part of nature. It has a very specific diet and a very specific nesting habitat. We've just accellerated what was already occurring. If i could help something that's the [bird] I'd want to help.
What advice would you give people new to birding?
Have fun doing it. Different people like different things. If sitting in your back yard watching birds is your deal, then do it and enjoy it. If listening is your thing, enjoy it. Don't worry about what other people say, you're here for you. Enjoy it. If your passion is contagious, maybe that passion gets other people involved.
I started out pretty selfish. I tell people the most irresponsible and selfish year of my life is often the most celebrated. Something that was very insignificant was something that helped me put my life back together is now helping a lot of people get into birding.
Thanks for your insights, Greg, I appreciate your time!