Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Benton Basham Sighting

Lorna, Ben and Gunnar. We traded photographs with Ben.





Some of you may have read the book or seen the movie, The Big Year, where Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson are involved in a contest to see who can see the most North American birds in one year. This is based on a true story that happened in 1998 between Al Levantin, Greg Miller, and Sandy Komito - Komito eventually ending with 748 species. Over the years there have been a number of runs at the year record; Basham was the first one over 700, with 710 in 1998. This is a remarkable record number considering that it was done before there was the internet with hourly rare bird sightings posted that later chasers had the advantage of.

Life lists? People with over 800 species north of Mexico are very rare. Ben has 881 birds sighted in North America, north of the Mexican border. The number itself becomes vague. The year bird species are more definite. Life lists, at that level, are more fluid, because now DNA intervenes; every year similar bird species are being lumped together, or species split into two or more. What is a "good bird" one year can become a sub-species the next. Whatever that number is, Ben's mark will stand high. The bird numbers are falling; the island of Attu, which he has visited 11 times, is now off limits. And it costs money and time - a lot of time and money.

After Benton could no longer get around well enough to do serious birding, he became an expert on butterflies. Now that even that is no longer possible, he collects photos of the people he meets and automobile licence plates. He does not use a computer. As he puts it, he is interested in accumulating knowledge, he just has chosen to do it in another way. Eccentric? Compulsive? Driven? He confesses to them all, but the whole package does make him a very fascinating person.



4 comments:

George A said...

Sounds like an interesting man. Good that you're paths crossed.

Hurben said...

Ben, Mate, good on you!
From Downunder.

len thomas said...

Ben is alive and well and still birding though not as active he spends hours at his window taking pictures and cataloging birds. Had the pleasure of meeting him and visiting his home in Viola Tennessee.

Gunnar Berg said...

Thank you for the update.