October 26, 2015, Mindanao, Philippines — At 7:30 this morning, Nicky and I were hiking up a narrow trail through the Cinchona Forest Reserve, in the lush mountains of Mindanao, with two locals named Emiliano and Ramil Lumiston. The mood was happy and expectant. Since the beginning of January, I had seen exactly 4,999 species of birds, and the big 5K could appear at any second.
“What if it’s some drab flycatcher?” said Nicky, suddenly. “Or a bush-warbler? Oh man, what if it’s a bush-warbler?” That such a milestone might forever be represented by an unexciting bird seemed to stress him out.
But, of course, that’s the joy of birding: You never know what’s around the next corner.
When I set off on this adventure almost 10 months ago, I had no idea what to expect. I dreamed of seeing 5,000 birds in a year, but I knew this would mean surpassing the existing world record by almost 700 species. When I first announced the plan, some experts got together and tried to guess what the result might be. Several predicted I’d fall short; others guessed wildly higher. Nobody knew what was possible. Five thousand just seemed like a nice, round number to shoot for.
Since then, I’ve traveled through more than 30 countries, met hundreds of people in the field, and taken no days off. It’s been a wild ride! For a long time, the 5K goal seemed like an impossibly abstract idea, or at least an overwhelming one, and I didn’t think about it too much. As it became clear in the past couple of months that I should surpass the mark with time to spare, though, I’ve increasingly looked forward to the big moment—and today was the day!
It came with a little ball of color: “Flame-crowned Flowerpecker!” shouted Nicky. The bird flitted above our heads for a minute, just long enough to snap a photo. We were very pleased—this flowerpecker is actually one of the rarest birds I’ve seen in the Philippines, a scarce endemic which many people miss.
We slapped high-fives, snapped a selfie, and… kept birding. Unlike many goals, this one is not a finish line—that’s still more than two months off, on December 31, and who knows how many more birds I might see before then?
After the morning rush, the rest of the day was hard work. The four of us spent five straight hours at an overlook where the rare Philippine Eagle might make an appearance, and, well, it didn’t. We’ll try again for the eagle tomorrow. Meanwhile, I’ll enjoy typing a “5” at the end of this post, and sleep with a big smile tonight.
New birds today: 22
Year list: 5012