While there are a lot of valid reasons to go to the Biggest Week in American Birding, there are some that I find most convincing. I have been to the Biggest Week two years in a row and plan on making it back this spring as well. Here is my top 5 list.
5. See old friends, make new ones.
The Biggest Week is a great time to meet people you may have communicated with in bird forums, or heard about. Book authors, tour guides, and other birders flock to birding festivals to meet up with old friends and to share about their latest projects. You can bird and rub shoulders with people you’ve only dreamed of meeting, and make lifelong friends. In short, the festival is not only about the birds, but also the people that love birds as much as you do! Make sure to catch up with people at the evening socials.
There are always some great people on hand to give programs, and if you are lucky, you might also get to bird with them on the boardwalk. David Sibley is talking about his new guide, Neil Hayward is talking about his Big Year, Dr. Drew Lanham is talking about diversity and conservation, the authors of The Warbler Guide will be presenting, as will Kenn Kaufman, Norm Smith (a Project SNOWstorm collaborator), and lots more. In short, there are a ton of great talks to go to and events to participate in.
3. Optics Alley.
The Optics Alley is so much fun to visit, with all of the major optics companies participating and bringing their gear for everyone to test. Leica, Zeiss, Kowa, Eagle Optics, Swarovski, Opticron and more will be participating. This is a great time to check out the whole product line, or test several to find your favorite binocular or scope. Take the time to talk with the reps and figure out what they think are the strengths of their optics compared to the competition. Check out the Leica booth, they are cool guys and have lots of neat gear to show off, you might even see me there!
2. Be surrounded by skilled and friendly birders.
You can learn the most when you are birding with people more skilled than you. At a big birding festival, there are a lot of very skilled birders, and there are likely to be a fair number of birders better than you, no matter how high you hold yourself. Take this is an opportunity, because many of the birders there are eager to share. On the flip side, if you pride yourself as an excellent birder, take the opportunity to pass along some of your knowledge if the opportunity presents itself. There are a lot of newer birders (and even non-birders) at the Biggest Week festival and you might be able to spark someones interest in birds in a new way.
All of the warblers. Well, almost all of them. With a couple good days, you could rack a warbler list of more than twenty species, thirty if you are lucky. Even the incredibly endangered Kirtland’s Warbler makes an appearance or two at this festival.