Since beginning his birding career at the age of 10, Noah Strycker has always kept his eyes skyward.
“Birds are a great way for people around the world to connect with nature. Birds are accessible, interesting and somewhat mysterious,” said the 29-year-old from the US, who set a world record on Sept. 16 for notching up the most birds spotted in a calendar year — which is known in the birding world as the “Big Year” challenge.
For Strycker, the magic bird — No. 4,342 since Jan. 1, helping him break a record — was a Sri Lankan frogmouth, a greyish bird he spotted in the Thattekad Bird Sanctuary in India.
However, Strycker — who is recording his journey in a blog called “Birding Without Borders” for the US-based National Audubon Society, a nonprofit environmental organization dedicated to bird conservation — is not satisfied with his tally.
Aiming to observe at least 5,000 bird species in his Big Year challenge, the globetrotting birder is to visit Taiwan this week in a bid to add 100 new species to his count in four days.
The task might sound daunting, but luckily Strycker is to be assisted by the Chinese Wild Bird Federation, Taiwan’s most established birding society, and two of the nation’s foremost birders.
With the help of Wayne Hsu (許哲瑋), the federation’s director of conservation and international affairs, and Hung Kuan-chieh (洪貫捷), a former director of the federation, Strycker said he is expecting to see a lot of birds.
“Taiwan is an important stop on my 2015 world Big Year effort to become the first human to see half of the world’s bird species — about 5,000 — in a single year,” Strycker said.
However, to meet that goal a precise, but flexible plan is needed, Hsu said.
“The focus will have to be the Dasyueshan National Forest Recreation Area,” Hsu said, referring to Taiwan’s birding paradise, where 26 of Taiwan’s 27 endemic bird species can be observed.
Although the objective is clear, the plan cannot be fixed and has to take numerous variables into consideration, including weather, traffic and, most of all, luck.
For now, Strycker’s whirlwind tour is to start with camping on Dasyueshan (大雪山) in Taichung County from tomorrow to Friday. That is to be followed on Saturday with a visit to the nearby Huisun National Forest Recreation Area in Nantou County for birds like the Taiwan blue magpie and the varied tit.
Finally, after a trip on Sunday to southern parts of the nation to see Taiwan bulbuls and black-faced spoonbills, Strycker is to conclude his journey at about midnight and take an overnight flight to the Philippines for the next stop of his odyssey.
The main focus of the trip is to observe as many bird species as possible, Strycker said, adding that it would still be nice to simply marvel at beautiful creatures that can only be found in Taiwan.
“I hope to get a glimpse of the rare and magnificent Mikado and Swinhoe’s pheasants in their natural environment at Dasyueshan,” Strycker said.
“And I don’t think any trip to Taiwan would be complete without a look at a Taiwan blue magpie — Taiwan’s national bird, beautiful and awesome,” he said.
Strycker’s visit could stir up interest in birding and raise conservation awareness in Taiwan, Hsu said.
“Taiwan has one of the highest densities of bird species in the world, and is seeing a growth in the number of people interested in birding,” Hsu said.