Chasing Birds Across Texas: A Birding Big Year

by Mark T. Adams

Reviewed by Grant McCreary on November 2nd, 2007.

cover of Chasing Birds Across Texas: A Birding Big Year

Publisher: Texas A&M University Press
Date: October, 2003
Illustrations: a few line drawings
Binding: softcover
Pages: 268
Size: 6 1/8″ x 9 1/8″
MSRP: $18.95

I would absolutely love to do a “big year” – to see how many birds I could see in one calendar year in either my state or the continent. But I lack the money and especially the time required to do so. So I have to bird vicariously through others who have undertaken such endeavors. It’s no wonder then that I am drawn to books about them. I very much enjoyed reading about three birders’ North American attempt in The Big Year, about an Australian birder attempting to break his country’s record in The Big Twitch (review), and of course the classic Kingbird Highway by Kenn Kaufman. So naturally I’ve been looking forward to diving into Mark Adam’s account of his Texas big year in Chasing Birds Across Texas.

Adams had moved to the Davis Mountains in west Texas in the early ’90s and became a full-fledged birder a couple of years later. In 1999 some fellow birders (including those who had the top big year in Texas) introduced Mark to the idea of doing a state big year. Up until that time most of his birding had been confined to west Texas, so the idea caught on. He thought it would be a good motivation to see the rest of the state, meet new people, and of course, to see more birds! The state record was a seemingly out of reach 489 species. Adams was not shooting for the record, but set himself a goal of 400. However, after a great start to his year in 2000 he bumped up his goal to 450. Finally, by the time the New Year rang in Adams had surpassed his wildest expectations by tying the record (I’m not spoiling much, as he reveals this early on in the preface).

Luckily, Adams’ job was flexible and he was owed a lot of time off. He certainly took full advantage of it. The amount of effort, time, and travel that he put into that single year was amazing. But that should be expected in order to complete an accomplishment such as this. What was more surprising was the endurance needed, not just the will to keep going to the end of the year, but the resolve needed to see single birds. He had been out of the country during prime American Golden-Plover migration in spring, and thus missed his best chance at seeing it. The plovers are uncommon in Texas in the fall, but he had no choice but to keep looking for them unless he wanted them as an embarrassing miss for the year. He was on the coast in early November which was late for the plovers, but he kept looking anyway. At the end of an unsuccessful day with just a little daylight left he was huddled in his car seeking shelter from a storm that had just blown in. It would have been so tempting to give up at that point. But he persevered, waited for the rain to pass, and went back out again. It paid off for him when he spotted a couple of golden-plovers amongst their much more numerous black-bellied cousins. All birders, not just those attempting a Big Year/Day/etc, can learn from this. I know that I will think of this in the future when I’m tempted to surrender on a bird.

Thankfully, the author does more than just report on where he went and what he saw. He tries to give a little background on the places he goes, people he meets, and especially the birds he sees. When chasing or finding a rare bird he tells us why it’s a big deal by informing the reader of the species’ usual range and how often it has been observed in Texas. Thus, unless you’re already an expert on Texas and its birds you will learn a good bit.

The writing and style range from adequate to quite good. Mr. Adams may be an astronomer by trade and birder by avocation, but he’s also not a bad writer. He presents his story well. The book won’t wow you with verbal artistry, but neither will it leave you bored.

To me this was a worthwhile read, but it does suffer in comparison to the books I mentioned earlier. It doesn’t have the humor of The Big Twitch, the drama is not as engrossing as in The Big Year, and it’s not as engaging as Kingbird Highway. However, if you know that you enjoy this category of bird books then this entry is recommended. Likewise, it is also a good suggestion to those who would like to get an insight into birding in the Lone Star State. For everyone else, try one of those others first – especially Kingbird Highway.

If you would like to check out this book you can use the “Look Inside” feature on Amazon.com to check out some sample pages. You can also find a sample chapter on the publisher’s website.

Category: Miscellaneous

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