My Big Year

It’s official. This past July marked my one-year anniversary at the Wildlife Center of Virginia! Compared to some of my coworkers, that’s a pretty short amount of time -- a really short amount of time in some cases -- but it’s an important milestone to me, and it’s given me a chance to step back and reflect on the past 12 months.

Anyone with an interest in bird watching has likely heard of the “Big Year”, an unofficial competition between birders to see who can identify the most species in-person during a single calendar year. The most dedicated challengers will travel countless miles, have impossibly early days and late nights, and often find themselves in less-than-favorable outdoor conditions (think rain, mosquitos, extreme heat and cold … you get the picture). Why do they do it? I imagine there’s more to it than simply checking another bird off the list.

As a very casual bird watcher, I’ve never considered a Big Year. As an Outreach Coordinator, on the other hand, my “WCV Big Year” has been a personal record-breaker.

During the past 12 months, I’ve been able to check a lot of things off my list. Some things have felt pretty big, like leading an educational program for 400 students on my own for the first time. Other things are a bit smaller but are still important, like having my own desk at work.


It’s impossible to make everything I’ve experienced so far fit onto a list, or even know exactly how many times I’ve done a certain task -- but it’s still fun to try! Reviewing some of the data the outreach department keeps, I’ve made some rough estimations:

Alex’s WCV Big Year

-Write 50+ Eagle Tracking updates
-Attend the Annual Gala & Benefit Auction
-Drive 1,000+ miles to present off-site educational programs
-Photograph a Red-tailed Hawk’s release back into the wild
-Lead a tour at the Wildlife Center 35+ times
-Represent the WCV at the Virginia State Fair
-Hand-feed and train a bird of prey 160+ times
-Publish 1,200+ posts on the WCV’s Twitter profile
-Help plan and host an internationally-recognized wildlife rehabilitation conference
-Eat 1,000,000+ cookies baked by WCV volunteers

… and the list goes on. While it’s not exactly the same as a bird watcher’s Big Year, I’ve definitely shared some similar experiences with them. Spending hours on the road, early mornings and late nights, and dodging mosquitos during guided nature hikes go hand-in-hand with many of the items on my list. Why do I do it? Just like bird watching, there’s more to it than simply checking off another box on a list. Each milestone I’ve reached during the past year has been special, every one of them has helped me to grow in some way, and all of them have inspired me to continue learning.

Some bird watchers are so passionate they dedicate an entire year of their lives to testing their knowledge and pushing their chosen craft to the limit. I had a great first WCV Big Year, no doubt – but just like those bird watchers, I’m already planning ahead to make my next year even bigger.

Outreach Coordinator