How did you come to write 'The Big Year'?
I was a newspaper columnist and reporter for almost 20 years; I made a living writing about people at their worst. Murders, rapists, politicians, I'd just come out of a really awful story, interviewing mothers of murdered children. We won a Pulitzer prize for our coverage of Columbine. I was trying to build up some fun stories just to keep me sane. I called up the American Birding Association one day and asked, "What have you got?" They told me about this thing called a Big Year.
I couldn't believe that there was a competition about birdwatching. It seemed pretty quirky. I got in touch with 3 of the main guys who had done big years in 1998. It was one of the rare times in journalism I got to write about people I liked.
I started out birding with the best. I really didn't know anything about birds to start with. I went in the field with Sandy Komito, Al Levantin, and Greg Miller. They're really patient, especially for a new birder.
Birds have spectacular stories, hidden in plain sight. For people who don't know the story of birds, who don't pay that much attention to the natural world, they still love the stories. You can look out your kitchen window and see a creature that is the size of your pinky, that is so light you can mail 10 of them for the price of a postage stamp. It's in your back yard, and a few weeks ago it was in the Yucatan. That hummingbird had to cross the Gulf of Mexico in one night. If its wings touched the water once, it'd be dead. To think that a creature that most people don't pay a lot of attention to has a miracle journey into your backyard. It's magic.