Taking the Long View: An inside look at the goings-on at the longest running avian ecology field station west of the Mississippi.

Where Are They Now? Featuring 2009 Palomarin Intern Noah Strycker

Where do Palomarin interns go after they complete their internship with us? Our growing numbers of Palomarin alumni often continue on in the fields of conservation science and bird ecology, many becoming influential in their chosen field of study. Still others whose lives have gone in different directions have pursued paths of equal remark and fascination. To celebrate the diversity and successes of our former interns, volunteers, and staff, in the “Where Are They Now?” series we share stories of individual alumni, then and now.


Last month, former Palomarin intern Noah Strycker – a fall bander in 2009, and currently a writer, photographer, and avid birder – completed the biggest Big Year of them all.

He set out in January 2015 to see 5,000 bird species and, in the process, to break the record for the most bird species encountered, worldwide, in a single year. And that he did. Noah rang in the end of the year in Tinsukia, India with his final new species of 2015: Silver-breasted Broadbill (incidentally one of my personal all-time favorites!). It was, astonishingly, species No. 6,042 (out of a current estimate of about 10,400 total species). He passed the previously-held global year record of 4,341 on September 16th, with a Sri Lanka Frogmouth, also in – as you probably did not surmise – India.

Noah (left), Nicky Icarangal (right), Emiliano "Blacky" Lumiston (center), and Ramil Lumiston (back) celebrate reaching 5K. Photo: Noah Strycker

Noah broke the record only with help from local birders in all 42 countries he visited during the year. To keep costs low, he often slept while traveling in airplanes and cars instead of renting a room, on floors, or even on the ground. He lived the entire year out of one backpack small enough to take as carry-on luggage.

His adventure was an inspiration and an education, both to Noah and the many who followed his accounts. On top of the many conservation challenges he witnessed, he also saw conservation projects large and small everywhere he went, from South American farmers and loggers converting their land for birdwatching to round the clock government protection of a single vagrant Siberian Crane that showed up in a farmer’s field in Taiwan a year ago, and stayed. You can read all about Noah’s adventures, and the incredible people, birds, and landscapes he encountered along the way, on his blog that chronicled the entire year:

A Giant Laughingthrush perches in fresh snow near Lianghexiang, China, in October. Photo by Noah Strycker

Noah came to Palomarin by way of Antarctica: the previous winter (or rather austral summer of 2008-09), he had interned with Point Blue’s Adélie Penguin project, which has been ongoing almost as long as our avian monitoring studies at Palomarin. He joined us here the following fall to learn mist-netting and banding skills with species that require rather different handling techniques than penguins do: songbirds. As with many of our interns, Noah had only recently graduated from college, but unlike many of us he had been birding since he was 10 years old. With autumn well-renowned in the Point Reyes Peninsula as the time of year with both the best birding and the best weather, Noah spent much of his spare time here birding throughout the region from the Point Reyes Headlands to the Marin Headlands.

Reflecting on his time here and his internship, Noah recalls, “it was an intense and awesome experience to learn bird-monitoring and in-hand identification techniques from some of the best teachers in the world. I was able to earn a North American Banding Council certification there, and developed long-term friendships with other interns. One of the best things about mist-netting birds was to be able to touch them and see them up so close, however briefly.”

Noah Strycker measuring an Empidonax flycatcher during his fall-banding internship at Palomarin in 2009. Photo by Bob Keefer.

Since leaving Palomarin, Noah has gone on to pursue a myriad of travel adventures, including hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, and has proved himself to be a prolific and talented writer. He has published two books (Among Penguins: A Bird Man in Antarctica, relating to his time spent in the Antarctic as an intern with Point Blue; and The Thing with Feathers: The Surprising Lives of Birds and What They Reveal About Being Human). He is under contract with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to write a book about his 2015 Big Year adventure; it is scheduled to come out in 2017.

Noah had been thinking for years about doing a worldwide Big Year, inspired by Kenn Kaufman’s 1997 book about his North American Big Year, Kingbird Highway. Noah realized that the previous record of 4,341 species, set by a British couple in 2008, was probably possible to break, in part because the Internet now makes it easier to find local birders in every corner of the globe.

Looking back on this year, Noah says, “It was an amazing adventure, one I’ll never forget, and I’m still processing everything that happened. Fortunately, I get to relive the whole experience by writing a book about it!”

Congratulations, Noah, on this remarkable feat, and in doing so bringing these rich biological regions of the world – including the birds themselves, the conservation challenges they face, and the individuals out there working with them – to the attention of so many of us!

–Diana Humple, Palomarin Field Station program leader

A Blue-banded Toucanet and Andean Guan share a branch near Oxampampa, Peru, in February of the Big Year. Photo by Noah Strycker