Day 174: A New Big Year Uniform

On his last full day in Spain, Noah's been there and got the T-shirt.

June 23, 2015, San Sebastian, Spain — When I arrived in Spain, Gorka had a surprise for me: He made a big year T-shirt! The front of the shirt has a bunch of bird silhouettes from around the world that Gorka drew by hand (he said it took him two days) and says “MY BIG YEAR”and if you look closely, there’s a little joke underneath. The back of the shirt says “NOAH 5000” in big block letters like a jersey. He made a matching one for himself, too. What an awesome gift!

Besides being a wonderful birder, Gorka is an artist who draws cartoons and things from the natural world. His new website should go live in a couple of weeks, but, meanwhile, if you ever go birding in Spain, look him up (he can be reached at or through his Facebook page. As a guide, Gorka is the salt of the Earth.

We wore our T-shirts today like a sports team as we tracked down a few remaining Spanish birds. First up was White-backed Woodpecker, a species that Gorka knows well, as he has done surveys of them. White-backed Woodpeckers are an ice-age relic in Spain, restricted to a single patch of beech forest and cut off from the main population in east-central Europe, and they’re not particularly common here. We spent nearly three hours walking carefully through the forest, pausing often to listen for pecking sounds, before stumbling across one.

At lunch Gorka checked the rare bird alerts and suddenly grinned: A Smewa type of northern duckhad just been reported nearby! We took a detour, saw the Smew loafing on a pond, and continued north to the French border at the Bay of Biscay, where, at a place called Cabo Higer, we lucked out with a flyover Eurasian Honey-Buzzard. As the sun set near 10 p.m., Gorka made one final stop in a last-ditch effort for Grasshopper Warbler, which sang cooperatively from a dense seaside thicket.

We are staying tonight at Gorka’s mom’s summer flat, which overlooks the ocean in San Sebastian (a city of which Lonely Planet proclaims, “It’s impossible to lay eyes on and not fall madly in love”). I can see solstice bonfires burning on the beach and thousands of people walking the waterfront strip. This is supposedly one of the world’s best cities to live in, saturated with Michelin-starred restaurants. Weird to think that I’ll be in Ghana at this time tomorrow.

New birds today: 4

Year list: 3061

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