Polar Bird-Watching with Record-Setting Ornithologist Noah Strycker

August 31, 2016

Polar travel presents a variety of spectacular sights and sounds, but if bird-watching is your passion, Quark Expeditions has a variety of adventure travel options to provide unprecedented opportunities to view rare species in their natural habitat.

Starting the year in Antarctica yielded one of Noah's favorite birds, the Adelie Penguin, on January 1st.

Starting the year in Antarctica yielded one of Noah's favorite birds, the Adelie Penguin, on January 1st. Picture credit: Noah Strycker

Beyond observing the many species of Antarctic and arctic birds, passengers interact with and learn from our on-board experts, such as ornithologist Noah Strycker, who set a world record in 2015 for the number of bird species seen in a single year.

Early Passion for Bird-Watching

Noah’s interest in birds started early. At age 11, he became hooked after his fifth-grade teacher placed a bird feeder in the classroom window.

Named the American Birding Association’s Young Birder of the Year in 2004, Noah went on to graduate from Oregon State University with a degree in fish and wildlife in 2008.

Recently, the 30-year-old told Quark he has the best job in the world: “Birding is an adventure – sometimes literally traveling to far-flung destinations to see rare species, and sometimes figuratively, the pursuit of knowledge is a treasure hunt. Bird-watching takes you places you’d never go otherwise.”

Living with 300,000 Penguins

Immediately after graduation, at age 22, Noah set off on an educational adventure travel opportunity that few will ever experience, spending 3 months in a tent at Cape Crozier on Ross Island, Antarctica, studying a colony of 300,000 Adélie penguins.

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“A helicopter dropped me off with two other researchers and a pile of frozen food and supplies, and we lived in tents in subfreezing conditions. The project involved tracking penguins with GPS transmitters and monitoring their nesting success,” explains Noah.

Adélie penguins are susceptible to climate change, and the study determined that the birds are more adaptable than what was initially thought. Noah says penguins are good indicators of the health of the environment – studying them can reveal the effects of climate change on the entire ecosystem.

The experience led to the publication of his first birding book, Among Penguins.

A Big Year of Birding

In 2015, Noah set his sights on the grail of the birding world: to see as many species as possible in 365 days. Considering the previous record was more than 4,341 species in a single year, Noah had his work cut out for him.

Over the next 12 months, he visited 41 countries on 7 continents, and met hundreds of birders in remote destinations, took no days off and had a great time.

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Center: Noah searches for Javan Plovers in Bali. | Top right to bottom: The Whitehead's Trogon, endemic to Borneo, was one of Noah's most-wanted birds in southeast Asia | Birding by bicycle in Northern India | Noah rides "La Brujita," a motorcycle-powered train car, with local birders in the foothills of Colombia. | This Crowned Woodnymph, in northwest Ecuador, was one of 6,042 birds Noah recorded during the year. 

“By year’s end, I’d seen 6,042 species (about 58 per cent of all the birds on Earth), which far surpassed the previous ‘big-year’ world record of 4,341,” he says. “But it was the cultures, landscapes and people I will most remember. I discovered that birding is a truly international pursuit, and found some incredible examples of conservation in action.”


Birding in the Polar Regions

During the past three years, Noah has served as one of Quark's Scientists in Residence on 25 polar expeditions. He loves to share his knowledge and experience with other birders and says each expedition is better than the last.

“Diversity is low in the Polar Regions, but the spectacle is high! Most of the species at high latitudes are found nowhere else. For me, it’s the feeling of being immersed in a pristine landscape and seeing how birds like penguins and puffins can handle such extreme conditions. Life is magnified at the ends of the Earth,” says Noah.

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Picture credit Quark Passenger: Qiao Manjun

In northern Polar Regions, you can experience concentrations of birds on the spectacular bird cliffs of the Arctic: black-legged kittiwakes, thick-billed murres, black guillemots and glaucous gulls can number in the hundreds of thousands on these spectacular and noisy cliffs. For most birders, this is a must-see once in a lifetime experience.

In southern Polar Regions, penguins abound, especially on South Georgia, an island home to millions of penguins, including king and macaroni penguins.

Bird-watching in the Polar Regions is an experience unlike any other, according to Noah, who says it’s about more than checking species off a list.

“It’s the fascination of observing our feathered friends and their behaviors,” he says. “Birds have a lot in common with humans, and I think they have a lot to teach us. All we have to do is watch.”

To learn more about the best birding opportunities at the ends of the Earth, contact an experienced Polar Travel Adviser.

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