By Wendy Schultz, WSO BIGBY Birding Coordinator
The Wisconsin Society of Ornithology is heading into its EIGHTH year of managing the Wisconsin Green Birding Challenge—better known as BIGBY birding. For those of you who need a refresher course on what BIGBY stands for, it means BIG GREEN BIRDING YEAR.
This more-than-exciting and HEART-HEALTHY form of competitive birding is carbon neutral and relies on human-powered transportation, such as walking, biking or running—whatever mode one prefers, as long as each trip starts from the SAME home base. BIGBY birders do much of their birding by bicycle and while some are satisfied keeping their trips close to home or within their favorite “patch”, others venture further—in some cases, MUCH further.
Since January of 2016, WSO has overseen the BIGBY spreadsheet where competitors keep track of who is seeing what birds, and when they see them. This year we have 40 people on the spreadsheet! There is also a BIGBY webpage conveniently found on the WSO website (wsobirds.org) and dedicated to this very moving (literally) form of birding—please check it out under the “WHAT WE DO” tab. And finally, a Green Birding Facebook page was created to give BIGBY participants an opportunity to share their photos and stories, not to mention encouragement and kudos. If you like adventure you will enjoy reading about the gale force winds, those lucky warbler fallouts, the flat tires and mosquitoes, the unexpected rarity and oh-so-much-more.
Yes of COURSE, so much depends on where you live in the state, the distance to bodies of water, forest or specialty habitat, your willingness to get up EARLY and bike or hike in the dark just to see a single bird or whether you have the good fortune of strength to tackle miles of hills because you live near drumlins and this is how you MUST travel to see the NEXT TARGET SPECIES! WHEW. Take a breath.
Even if you’ve never tried it before, there is no time like now, and walking or biking short distances is a great way to start. It can be so darn good for your mood, your body and your birding observation skills. Some studies have shown just 45 minutes of exercise can settle the anxious mind. Being outside and tuned into nature has a tremendous and beneficial calming effect. TRY IT!
If you are a tiny bit competitive or need some motivation, you might be interested in getting your name on the “SPREADSHEET” where you can keep your tally of birds and take a look at how you compare to others in the state. Some people just like to compete with their own record—there is no pressure. At the end of the year, we acknowledge the top listers.
Want a little more information? Go to the WSO website and there you will find all you need to know about the sport. Scroll down near the bottom of the page and check out the statistics and links to past BIGBY spreadsheets.
While the competitive part is fun, nothing beats the pleasure of seeing the countryside, touring the many pastoral back roads and experiencing the interesting topography of our lovely state. YES, it is exhilarating and quite addicting—but cooler than cool is the great feeling of getting to know your local birds and their habitats without burning fossil fuels ALL while keeping your MOOD a little lighter and heart a little healthier.
Hope to see more of you on the list. Contact me at email@example.com to sign up.
AND NOW, LET'S CELEBRATE OUR 2023 BIGBY BIRDING CHAMPS!!
WSO would like to congratulate ALL the BIGBY birders of the state, for the many MILES they put on their bikes and their feet, and for the birds they found, photographed and e-Birded in 2023. They can be proud of their accomplishments as they continue to inspire the rest of us to get outside and take a hike or a bike ride. For the record, we now have 40 people on the “spreadsheet”, the place where BIGBY birders keep track of each other’s bird sightings in this low-key and very friendly competition.
Ross Mueller, after biking 630 miles and hiking another 30, is still standing!
CONGRATULATIONS goes to BIGBY phenom Ross Mueller of Appleton (Outagamie County) who came in FIRST PLACE with 205 species while putting on and put on 630 biking and 30 hiking miles.
His summary of the year:
“The highlight of the year was finding Prothonotary, Cerulean and Connecticut Warblers within a half hour on a trail along the Wolf River near Stevensville. The lowlight: no Tree Sparrow. No Black-billed Cuckoo. Also, I struggled with winter ducks (including Snow Goose), winter gulls and field birds.”
Steve Thiessen braves the cold!
SECOND PLACE winner is another amazing no-stranger-to BIGBY veteran— Steve Thiessen of Stoughton (Dane County) who saw 195 species, putting on 546 biking and 29 hiking miles to see them. He had this to say about his year:
“Although I got out very often in the spring and fall, I see so many holes in the list. Stoughton was lucky to have a pond, which had at least 5 Nelson’s Sparrows, along the edges. A LeConte’s Sparrow was about another mile away.”
Mary Murell and puppy!
THIRD PLACE winner is new-comer Mary Murrell of Madison (Dane County) who did supremely well in her first year of BIGBY, racking up 194 birds!! She is also this year’s WINNER of the highly coveted DRINKING GLASS! She had a great time:
“This year was my first BIGBY and one of the many things I learned was that getting a puppy in the spring of a BIGBY is probably not a good idea. That kept me home more than I had planned, but it also led me to find more yard birds than any previous year. I ended up finding 148 of my 194 BIGBY birds at home. It also helps to have a hotspot like Nine Springs Natural Area (south Madison) within easy reach by bike. The year's top highlight was the Clark's Nutcracker that spent a few days there in October. I had some big whiffs -- Broad-winged Hawk, American Woodcock, and Virginia Rail -- and fell short of my goal of 200 birds. But this year I hope to make that goal by daring to brave the cold in early spring and late fall and by spending even more time in my back yard staring up at the sky.”
Just to clarify the DRINKING GLASS prize, you can only win it ONE TIME which means it continues to go down the list to the person with the highest number of birds who HAS NEVER WON IT BEFORE.
In other words, the person next-in-line. We are hoping this adds a little extra incentive to for those who live farther away from hotspots, or for those who are still working or have small children at home (or whatever it is) to CONTINUE GREEN BIRDING because eventually it might be YOUR turn to win the glass! So hang in there, take a hike and be proud of your efforts!
PAST BIGBY CHAMPIONS
2023: Ross Mueller (Outagamie) 205
2022: Steve Theissen (Dane) 227
2021: Steve Theissen (Dane) 235
2020: Steve Theissen (Dane) 223
2019: Steve Theissen (Dane) 210
2018: Emily Weiser (LaCrosse) 238
2017: Ross Mueller (Outagamie) 219
2016: Ross Mueller (Outagamie) 243
2015: Tom Schultz (Green Lake) 231
2014: Ross Mueller (Outagamie) 230
2013: Alex Stark (La Crosse) 220
2012: Jesse Ellis (Dane) 215
2011: Dan Schneider (Dane) 240
2010: Scott Baughman (Sheboygan) 234