One of the aspects of our Big Year that sets it apart from some recent attempts is that we are trying to do it on a relatively modest travel budget of about $10,000.
How did we choose that number? There were several considerations. First, since we are retired and still have three kids in college, we simply don’t have a huge stack of cash lying around to allow a Big Year full of plane flights and guided tours to chase rarities across the continent. $10,000 is a doable number while still paying the bills. Second, it was a nice round number that might actually be possible for the “average birder” to set aside during a few years of saving and preparing for their own birding adventure. We want our Big Year to show that you don’t have to have deep pockets to get deep satisfaction from birding the continent. Finally, we wanted a number that we could relate to the pioneer budget-birding adventure of Kenn Kaufman, who famously did his big year in 1973 on a budget of just $1,000.
So how does Kenn’s solo budget of $1,000 compare to our budget of $10,000 for two people? Very well, in fact. If we compare $1,000 in 1973 to the inflation-adjusted amount today, we get a number of about $5,800. Since we will be driving our Prius instead of hitchhiking our way across the country, we have added about $3200 for gas to cover the 45000 miles we expect to drive. (Kenn hitchhiked over 69,000 miles!) Then, since there are two of us, we have added about 10% to cover the increased entry fees into parks and refuges and the increased cost of lodgings for two instead of one. That all adds up to $9,900, which we rounded up to $10,000 to get that nice-looking number! So, our $10,000 today is roughly equivalent to Kenn Kaufman’s $1,000 in 1973. (And we won’t even have to eat cat food on our trip! – as Kenn sometimes did in his early travels. In fact, we are not including food costs in our budget. We have to eat anyway and we don’t expect our travel meals to cost much more than the meals we eat at home.)
So, do we expect to see the same total number of birds as Kenn (666)? Unfortunately not, and there are several reasons for that, too. First, we are not elite birders like Kenn Kaufman. In fact, very few people are. We will miss many birds simply because a second-year Thayer’s Gull, for example, will go undetected in the flock of gulls at the Brownsville dump. (Not that we won’t pick up Thayer’s somewhere, but you get the idea.) Second, as already mentioned in an earlier post, despite the relative parity of our budgets, we don’t see any way to fit a trip to Alaska, or more than one or two pelagic trips, into our budget. Those might be possible for one person, but for two they just cost too much. As much as possible, we want to both see everything, together. Finally, we will likely see far fewer birds because, for us, the journey is more important than the number. Now, I’m not saying that, Kenn and other elite birders only cared about ticking off species. Their aesthetic and conservation bona fides are well established. I’m just saying that we expect to have a much slower pace than a typical big year. If we miss some rarity because we would rather spend a day photographing common birds, then so be it.
So, there you have it; a Big Year without the big buck$!