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An epic 'Big Year': Festival of Birds' keynote speaker set a new world record during his global birding quest

Writer, photographer and avid birder Noah Strycker will be one of two keynote speakers at the 21st Annual Festival of Birds, set to take place May 16-19 in Detroit Lakes. Strycker's presentation will close the festival on Saturday, May 19. (Submitted photo)1 / 3
Hundreds of people flock to Detroit Lakes each year for the Festival of Birds, which will take place for the 21st straight year on May 16-19. The festival includes multiple birding field trips to destinations around the region. (Submitted photo)2 / 3
Festival of Birds favorite Carrol Henderson will be returning to Detroit Lakes for the 21st annual event, set to take place May 16-19. Henderson will speak on Friday, May 18; his presentation will focus on his 45-year career with the Minnesota DNR's Nongame Wildlife Program. (Submitted photo)3 / 3

After a solid year spent doing nothing but traveling from one country to another in search of the world's rarest and most unusual birds, a person might be forgiven for wanting to do something else with their life — but for writer, photographer and of course, avid birder Noah Strycker, the opposite proved true.

Strycker, a native Oregonian and author of "Birding Without Borders: An Epic World Big Year," will be the keynote speaker at Detroit Lakes' 21st annual Festival of Birds, set for May 16-19. His presentation will take place following a 5 p.m. dinner on Saturday, May 19 at the Detroit Lakes campus of Minnesota State Community & Technical College.

As the title of his book suggests, Strycker spent the entirety of 2015, Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, traversing the globe to complete a world record-breaking "Big Year."

"A 'big year' in birding is when you try to find as many species of birds as possible in one calendar year," Strycker explained in a Thursday telephone interview. "I set a new world record."

In fact, Strycker visited 41 different countries, on all seven continents, and observed a total of 6,042 different species of birds — which is more than half of the recorded bird species on Planet Earth.

"Nobody had done it (a big year quest) worldwide before," Strycker said. "It had been a dream of mine for many years, very hypothetical — and then I was able to put together a proposal to write a book about it. That's what made the trip possible."

Though he was excited by the prospect of his quest, Strycker did have a few qualms as well.

"It was one of my biggest fears that I would get burned out on it, after 365 days of doing nothing but looking at birds," he admitted. "But in the end, I found it was quite the opposite. It was hard to stop."

Strycker says the passion that has fueled what he refers to as "my obsession since I was a teenager" — i.e., birds and birding — burns brighter than ever.

His Detroit Lakes visit in a few weeks' time will be his first trip to Minnesota — and he plans to spend much of it taking part in the many field trips planned for this year's Festival of Birds.

"I just want to see as many birds as possible," he said.

Strycker's book, "Birding Without Borders," was published just last year, and he will be signing copies of it in the M State Student Life Center just prior to his presentation on Saturday, at 3:30 p.m. He will be joined for the book signing by fellow festival presenter and author Carroll Henderson, who will be the featured speaker on Friday, May 18.

In his 45-year career with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' nongame wildlife program, Henderson has amassed many memories and stories about the state's wildlife, from trumpeter swans to common loons to white pelicans, and has also authored multiple books on the subject, as well as his many birding expeditions to Costa Rica over the years.

His Friday presentation, which will take place at The Barn at Five Lakes Resort near Frazee, is titled "Eagles, Swans and Falcons, Oh My!," and will feature reflections on his DNR career — some thoughtful, some humorous, and some quite uplifting. The presentation will follow a 5 p.m. dinner at the resort.

This year's festival actually kicks off a little earlier than usual, with a 7 p.m. show on Wednesday, May 16 at the Historic Holmes Theatre in Detroit Lakes. Titled "For the Birds," it features Minnesota humorist, writer and storyteller Kevin Kling along with the St. Paul-based contemporary classical music group known as Zeitgeist, who will be performing original music by composer Victor Zupanc of the Children's Theater Company. (Visit www.dlccc.org/holmes.html for more information about this show, which is open to the public as well as birders).

Activities on Thursday, May 17 will feature a "Festival Social and Birding by Pontoon," with the social taking place at Hub 41 on West Lake Drive starting at 4:30 p.m. The social will be followed by small-group pontoon trips to investigate birding opportunities along the shores of Big and Little Detroit Lake.

A variety of field trips are planned on both Friday and Saturday, including destinations such as Itasca State Park, Hamden Slough and Tamarac National Wildlife Refuges, Felton Prairie and more.

Register for the festival before this Tuesday, May 1 to be included in a drawing for a set of 8.5x32 Raptor binoculars from Vortex. Registration for the festival closes at Noon (central time) on May 11. Cancellations must be made by 4 p.m. on May 11; the registration event fee of $15 (one day) or $20 (multiple days) is non-refundable.

To register, please go to the Detroit Lakes Regional Chamber of Commerce website at www.visitdetroitlakes.com and click on the "Events" tab, then scroll down to the Festival of Birds link. You can also call the Chamber at 218-847-9202 for more information.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454
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