Thursday, April 16, 2009

Bio-Man and the Saffron Bustards

From an airport someplace, Kenn writes: Okay, I’ll give you a million dollars if you can figure out what this post is about, just from the title.

Ha. I didn’t think so.

To explain it, I have to give some background. First, you have to know that there’s a phenomenon known as a "Big Day" among birders, an attempt to identify as many different bird species as possible in one calendar day. It’s purely a game, with no scientific value or other redeeming quality whatsoever, producing a score which is of interest to no one except the participants. It’s also a heck of a lot of fun. I tell people that Big Days are my one vice: I don’t smoke or gamble and I almost never drink, but I do enjoy the rush of that 24-hour race against the clock to find as many birds as possible.

Second, you have to know something about Oklahoma. It’s a great state for birds, since it straddles the center of the continent and it gets birds typical of both the east and the west within its borders. But in terms of Big Day totals, Oklahoma has lagged behind its neighbors to the south (Texas) and north (Kansas). Texas is, well, Texas, and Big Days of 200-plus species are commonplace there. Kansas has the benefit of a great east-west highway, Interstate 70, connecting the woodlands on the eastern edge of the state with some fabulous shorebird refuges in the center of the state, and many Big Days of 200-plus have been done in Kansas as well. But so far no one has come close to 200 in a day in Oklahoma yet.

Third, I have to tell you that some of my earliest Big Days were done when I was a kid in Kansas, birding with my pal Jeff Cox. Jeff and I were in some of the same classes in school, he had become a rabid birder as well, and we often joined forces to comb the good habitats in the southwestern part of Wichita. We thought it was pretty good that we could run up one-day lists of over 100, traveling entirely by bicycle in our limited sphere. And maybe it was.

These days, my pal Jeff is now J. A. Cox, Ph.D., and living in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but he’s still a highly skilled birder. In 1996 I joined him and another sharp birder, Jim Arterburn, and we did an Oklahoma Big Day that tallied 177 species -- a new record for the state. Somebody came along a couple of years later and tied that record, so we went at it again in 2001, and pushed our total up to 180. But in the years since, other teams have had totals of 182 and 186 species. So we’re going to give it another shot. On April 26, 27, or 28 (depending on last-minute judgments on the weather), Jeff Cox, Jim Arterburn, and I are going to try to break the Big Day record for Oklahoma once again. We need a solid 187 species, although, of course, we’d be glad to see more.

So that’s the story. All I ask is that you send positive thoughts in our direction.

What? Oh, you’re still wondering about the title!

Okay, well, bustards are large birds of open country in the Old World (southern Europe and Asia, Africa, Australia). They’re sort of shaped like turkeys but they’re much stronger fliers. A Saffron Bustard, if there were such a thing, presumably would be named either for its flavor or for its color. "Bio-Man" is the nickname given to Jeff by his co-workers, presumably because of his Ph.D. in biology. Jeff has a tendency to come up with inventive names for things. In 2001, he referred to our Big Day attempt as "2001: A Bird Oddity." That wouldn’t work for 2009, so he suggested we call our team "Bio-Man and the Saffron Bustards."

I am not making this up.

By the time you finish reading this, I suspect you will have thought of the close alternate name that has already occurred to Jim and me. We WILL be sufferin’ during the event, no doubt, from the clash of our senses of humor. But with luck we’ll survive long enough to find 187 species. Wish us good fortune, please, won't you?


  1. Sooooo, is he calling you and your friend Jim "big yellow turkeys"? :)

    Word verification: Chiptunt-a stunt or trick performed by a chipmunk.

  2. Someone's gotta say it: Luck you!

    Word verification: bumen - egg white, but not "the" egg white, which would be al-bumen.

  3. Good luck Kenn! You've done it before and you'll do it again!
    Perhaps you should come up and try to break the WI state record. lol :D It's 230 species here.

  4. Good luck, you lucky bustards!

  5. I thought that was yours and Kim's band name...

    Best of luck in The World Series of Oklahoma.