At the mic: Matt Smith is a writer, geographer, and web developer who has been chasing birds (real and imaginary) for most of his life. He has published two children’s books and runs a blog, The Pigeon, about the natural history of eastern North America. Matt lives in Virginia with his wife and three kids. You can contact him at [email protected].
If you’re anything like me when I was young, you spend at least as much time daydreaming about birding as you do actually going out looking for birds. I remember many hours spent poring through exotic field guides and reading accounts of Big Year exploits, wondering what it would be like to have the freedom and resources to tackle such a thing myself. I even wrote some fan-mail to one of those Big Year birders, James Vardaman (Mr. 699), on learning he lived in my home state of Mississippi. Never mind that his Big Year took place before I was born — I was sure that if he’d only brought me along for the ride, he would have cracked 700! (He sent me a very polite and encouraging response.)
Now that I’m old enough to have kids of my own, I’ve learned a lot about the joys of birding very close to home. But I never stopped daydreaming. It has continued to nag at me how exclusive our favorite sport can be at its highest level. So while I still can’t take off for Attu or Ramsey Canyon at the drop of a hat, I’ve done what felt like the next best thing: I created a game to simulate that experience.
If you’re familiar with fantasy football or baseball, Fantasy Birding will be easy to understand. You make strategic choices in advance, then get points based on real-world results. In Fantasy Birding those results come from real checklists submitted to eBird. In this Big Year game, you choose each day’s birding location on the map a day in advance. Then, all birds reported to eBird on that day get added to your list.
To help you plan your trips, you can see where rarities have been reported recently, search for target birds, and peek at where your competitors are currently birding.
Optionally, you can watch real-time results come in and test yourself by identifying each bird from a photo and audio recording.
Fantasy Birding is still new and very much a work in progress, which is a big reason why I’m eager to get some of you on board. I’m well aware that young birders are some of the sharpest, most tech-savvy birders around, and so I know many of you will not only take to the game but will have great feedback on how to keep making it better. I already have a global version of Fantasy Birding in the works as well as a Big Day mini-game, and I’m working on ideas for getting it into the classroom and into the service of science education.
So if you’re looking for a new way to have some fun and satisfy your wanderlust, come give Fantasy Birding a try at the link below! And drop me a line at the email address above or catch me on Twitter (@BirdingFantasy) to let me know what you think.