Each day of the festival is capped off with a speaker from the birding world. Most are usually well-known naturalists and biologists who work at different conservancies around the country, but there are also photographers and other ornithologists featured. These lectures are presented in an intimate auditorium on campus that allows easy Q&A and audience participation. I’ve been to many and they are always very entertaining.
The first night’s keynote featured Greg Miller. Back in 1998, Greg did what the birding world calls a “big year.” This is when a birder crisscrosses the country to see as many bird species as possible in a calendar year. Quite the achievement if you can pull it off. Especially since Greg was holding down a full time job at the time. Greg was one of three birders to each get over 700 birds that year! Phew, that’s a lot of birds! It turned out to be a heated competition between the three birders. It made a very interesting story. So interesting in fact, Pulitzer Prize winning author Mark Obmascik wrote a book about it called The Big Year. The book caught the eye of the people at Twentieth Century Fox. They made it into a movie, also called The Big Year. The movie stars Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson as the three birders doing a big year. The Jack Black character was based on Greg Miller and his escapades during his big year. Greg told the festival attendees his amazing and humorous story about doing his big year, having a book written about it, and being involved in the movie. Greg was asked to be a bird consultant for the movie. He was not sure if his consulting duties would entail meeting any of the stars or not. As it turns out, Jack Black had never portrayed an actual person before. So Jack wanted to get to know Greg and they actually did some birding together. Wow, can you imagine birding with Jack Black! Greg tells a very funny story about getting to know Jack. He eventually got to meet Steve Martin and Owen Wilson as well. Greg is a fantastic story teller. He had the audience in stitches as he told them of his big year, well years, as it turned out. I have been attending keynotes at the festival for years and Greg’s story has to be one of the best! If you have not seen the movie The Big Year, I suggest that you run right out now and rent it! It’s a great story and an entertaining movie.