By Lee Hsin-Yin CNA staff reporter
Beginning his birding career at the age of 10, Noah Strycker is always looking toward the sky.
"Birds are a great way for people around the world to connect with nature. Birds are accessible, interesting and somewhat mysterious," said the 29-year-old American, who set a world record Sept. 16 for notching up the maximum number of birds spotted in a calendar year in what is known in the birding world as the "Big Year" challenge.
For Strycker, the magic bird, or the record-breaking bird No. 4,342 since Jan. 1, was a Sri Lankan frogmouth, a greyish bird spotted in the Thattekad bird sanctuary in India.
But Strycker, who is recording his journey in a blog called "Birding Without Borders" for the National Audubon Society, a non-profit environmental organization dedicated to bird conservation, is not satisfied with his current status.
With an ambition to bag at least 5,000 species of birds in his "Big Year" challenge, the globetrotting birder will visit Taiwan later this month in a bid to spot 100 new species in four days.
The task might sound overwhelming, but luckily, Strycker will be assisted by the Chinese Wild Bird Federation, Taiwan's most established birding society, along with two of the country's foremost birders.
Thanks to the help of Wayne Hsu (許緯進), the federation's director of conservation and international affairs, and Hung Kuan-chieh (洪貫捷), a former director of the federation, Strycker said he is expecting to see a lot of birds.
"Taiwan is an important stop on my 2015 world Big Year effort to become the first human to see half of the world's bird species -- about 5,000 -- in a single year," Strycker said.
To meet that goal, however, a precise but flexible plan is needed, said Hsu.
"The focus will have to be the Dasyueshan National Forest Recreation Area (大雪山森林遊樂區)," Hsu said, referring to the birding paradise in Taiwan, where 26 of Taiwan's 27 endemic bird species can be seen.
Although the target is clear, the plan cannot be fixed and has to take numerous variables into consideration -- including weather, traffic, and mostly, luck.
For now, Strycker's whirlwind tour looks like this: Camping in Dasyueshan in central Taiwan's Taichung Oct. 15-16, moving to nearby Huisun National Forest Recreation Area (惠蓀林場) in Nantou County for birds like the Taiwan blue magpie and the varied tit on the 17th, into the southernmost parts of the country on Oct. 18 for Taiwan bulbuls and black-faced spoonbills, and concluding the trip around midnight to take a red-eye flight to the Philippines for the next stop of his odyssey.
The main focus of the trip is to record as many bird species as possible, Strycker said, but he added that it will still be nice to simply marvel at the beautiful creatures that can only be found in Taiwan.
"I hope to get a glimpse of the rare and magnificent Mikado and Swinhoe pheasants in their natural environment at Dasyueshan," Strycker said.
"And I don't think any trip to Taiwan would be complete without a look at a Taiwan blue magpie -- Taiwan's national bird, beautiful and awesome," he said.
For the federation in Taiwan, Strycker's visit could stir up interest in birding and raise the conservation awareness, Hsu said.
"Taiwan has one of the highest densities of bird species in the world, and is seeing a growing birding population," he said.
"Hopefully through Noah's journey, Taiwan can raise its global profile and share its experience in conservation," he added.
Those who are interested in Strycker's trip to Taiwan and elsewhere in the world can go to the eBird online database (ebird.org) or his Audubon blog (audubon.org/features/birding-without-borders).