I’m working on a naturist birding project, and looking for places in East Texas to bird as God intended, nude. Seen the movie the Big Year? I’m doing it naked. My website for this project is http://www.nudebirder.com. This adventure has reached 364 birds and eight states, Canada, St Martin, St Barths. The project is becoming a book, “Boobies, Peckers, and Tits: A year in setting the nude birding record.” I’ve published many novels as well as magazine articles usually with naturist themes. I look forward to getting any east Texas leads for this spring. I need places to go and birds to see if I’m going to get a truly HUGE number. Birding and hiking naked is the way to go! You can read the introduction to my book:
There is a sign located in a small cemetery in eastern South Dakota that states “death and taxes, the only certainties in one’s life…fix one before this one gets you.” Taxes are an unfortunate part of our lives and it seems to me that only almost dying can really change a man, and even then not always. I had always been a pigheaded, opinionated, and self-absorbed child but 1981 was the year that made me who I was. Although I was still a stubborn and self-absorbed teenager, I grew up that wicked summer to whom I am today.
I took ill in Natchez, Mississippi in June. By the time I got back to Wisconsin, the fever broke and I had a bit of a lucent phase before the real illness took a hold of me and tried to destroy my nervous system. It was sometime near the beginning of July, as I recollect when I realized that I had lost the use of my facial muscles and it was a few days after that when I had lost my sense of taste. A general malaise took a hold of my body and it seemed that even eating became a chore, a chore eventually that I gave up on. Why bother eating? I thought since food had no taste anyway.
It was somewhere in the neighborhood of nearly fifty lost pounds of me later, in a neurology clinic in Robbinsdale Minnesota, when I stared into the void. In the midst of a test for Myasthenia Gravis, a test that I went into pulmonary arrest for over a minute during…but never passed out, I decided I had had enough. I calmly told the doctor that everyone has a time to die and I guess this is my time. I vowed to fight him to my dying strength if he tried to do anything more to me. I pulled out my IV, told my mother to drive me home. She pleaded with me but I had decided I was going home to die. Pigheaded as ever, I walked out found the car and waited, nobody or nothing was going to change my mind.
Unknown at the time, I had the sentinel case of Lyme disease in Wisconsin, this was not known till years later when in college, I figured this out mostly on my own. I guess my premedical education was good for something. But back in 1981, all I knew was that death was imminent and ill as I was, I began to think of my next life. I became closer to God, I prayed, and thought about all the things I’d like to do but hadn’t had the opportunity in my fifteen years of life to accomplish, things that I would now never be able to do, since I was certain death was forthcoming. My weight dropped another eight pounds to my low point of 132 pounds on a six foot two inch frame.
Then one day, while I was forcibly drinking a glass of lemonade, something odd occurred. It almost seemed that I could taste it or at least I thought I could taste it. I had had phantom taste sensations during this period so I drank another sip, carefully this time to make sure. I screamed almost orgasmic at the sensation. Two days later, drinking lemonade almost constantly since nothing else tasted like anything to me, I noticed, I could move my lips.
It took a few months but by October, although weakened and sometimes needing a nap in school, I was almost back to normal. Mysteriously, then I developed the worst case of acne any child could ever wish on himself. While at Dr. Hanson’s office in St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin, he looked me over puzzled at the remission in whatever I had had. He looked at my face. “Dear boy, God only knows what you had but at least I know how to cure those pimples of yours.” He gave me the biggest bottle of tetracycline, to this day with a medical degree, I have ever seen. I took them four times a day for three months religiously like for some reason my life depended on it. It turned out, it did. Eventually, my acne went away and though one of those lucky quirks of fate, Dr. Hanson gave me the cure to the disease he didn’t even know I had. This without a doubt spared me from tertiary Lyme disease and the really nasty heart and brain effects that this disease can do on an untreated individual like me. To Dr. Hanson, I’m forever grateful.
When I was feeling better, always fearful that my disease might come back (and it might have reappeared when I was in college but again, I ended up taking another dose of this time doxycycline for something else), I made a list. I had never heard of the term a ‘bucket list’ until I saw the movie, but I had a list just the same. Like the characters in that movie, it was a list of things I wanted to do before I died.
Part of me back then was feeling left out. When I was too weak to do anything all I had was my stories of my life’s experiences, and unfortunately, mine were substandard. I remembered telling my stepdad and grandparents the story of me catching a ten pound northern pike but next to stories my step-father and my grandfather had about catching twenty pound pike on consecutive years back in the early sixties, something I could only imagine, my story of a little ten pound pike caught on New Year’s Day, 1980 seeming sort of pathetic, almost laughable in comparison. Was that the best I had? My first fifteen years on this earth were as though, I had almost never even existed. The thought of this moved me to action.
The first item on my list was I wanted a to catch a twenty pound pike, and as I made my initial list, it included a lot of fishing feats: Large five pound smallmouth bass, one pound bluegills, catching an arctic grayling, catching a legal musky, lake trout, salmon, besides the aforementioned northern. Fish compromised seven of the items on my initial list and over the years, I added three more fishing feats.
My family members are big deer hunters and of course they had lots of stories about big deer, dangerous deer, deer that got away, and other hunting stories including one involving wrestling a supposedly wounded deer in some sort of deadly grudge match. The deer lost. Thinking the silly fawn I had shot, the only deer story I had, was severely lacking in both quantity and quality of a tale, I vowed to shoot a big buck and added that also too my list. In my juvenile opinion I had made a lifetime of adventures and goals.
But as it turned out, all of these initial items I had mostly experienced by the time I was in my twenties and when I married my beautiful wife and we went backpacking together on our honeymoon and in our first three years of life together, I had knocked off all the remaining hunting and fishing items off my list including other items that covered backpacking with a beautiful woman and getting married. I was twenty five years old and was working through my ‘bucket list’ like a kid eats through a box of cookies.
As I matured, I added things to my list like having children, holding grandchildren, and seeing my children successful; things I could never imagine way back then and things I don’t necessarily have control over although my wife didn’t have any fertility issues and since I was always eager to do my part, in her opinion, maybe too eager, having children became an easy item to cross off the list. Sex was also an early item on my list, but we had crossed that one off long before she got pregnant.
Luckily I have had the opportunity and the good fortune to survive long enough to do all of these wonderful things. Events many people only dream of experiencing. I have been truly blessed and if I become incapacitated tomorrow, I feel as though I have developed enough stories to captivate my children and friends for hours, if not weeks. But one original item on my list I have never had the opportunity to cross of, was “to set a world record.”
…A world record? That seems a little childish even to me, the perpetual child. I always wanted to do something better than everyone else, something I could claim I was truly exceptional in. I have envied the people with world class collections, or people that could do one activity exceptionally well. I am not fast enough or strong enough to do anything like achieving Olympic glory, or anything athletic. After years of golf, I have even given up on the idea of achieving a hole in one. Back in my youth, I was a good golfer and I threatened to break par on a real golf course but fate intervened and on the 17th hole during the best round in my life at the Michigan Tech Golf Course, I got attacked by black flies and never even finished the nearly flawless round. It was not meant to be.
After failure on all fronts and as I thought about it over the years, I finally came up with an idea. I had been looking at this list item all wrong and needed a fresh approach. I needed to capitalize on my pig-headed stick to it mentality and harness it. My initial idea took a while to take full shape. I needed something to crystalize it. I ended up getting two things to get it going.
In August of 2010, I had a terrible attack of vertigo, I thought I was dying or at least I was thinking I had suffered a stroke. I had nothing to do in the hospital but think, since I was afraid to open my eyes. I began to think I was not getting any younger, and time was of the essence. I also began fearing I could have a recurrence of my Lyme or still have a complication of it. Feeling a bit old, and lying there with the nausea, I decided there was no better time than the present to get this project started. So what am I going to do?
If you are thinking that this book is about “boobies, peckers, and tits,” well you are correct on at least two levels. It is a book about boobies, the brown, red-footed, and masked booby. It is a book about peckers, all sorts of woodpeckers, and a book about tits; small songbirds also called titmice, great tits, coal tits, and others in the tit family, like chickadees, bushtits, and wrentits. Notice, I didn’t mention cocks, but…I guess I could have. I don’t want you to feel mislead, because it is also a book about nakedness, bare breasts, bare buns, and in general, rampant nudity…but before I get ahead of myself, let me start at the beginning of my idea.
My favorite movie of late is called “The Big Year.” The movie stars Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson. In the movie, the characters are based on a true story, only the facts were changed or so the screen says in the beginning. It is based on a book about a competitive Big Year in 1998 where the characters race around seeing North American birds and one ends up setting the record. In the end, the character portrayed by Owen Wilson sacrifices all to achieve this mark, 755 birds, which much like Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak in baseball, the birding world record that was set for real may end up being a record that may well never be broken. When I saw it, I felt as though someone had stolen my thunder, my idea.
The movie is a somewhat Hollywood fantasy of the book and what really happened but it has exposed “big years” and birding to the lay public, assuming the public actually watched the movie of which I really have some doubt. There have been other “big year” books, like Kingbird Highway about a man who held the early record doing his big year hitchhiking with little money. There is a book The Big Twitch, about the guy who set the Australian standard for a year of seeing and counting birds down under. Some of these big year books are expensive adventures, published by big publishing houses, and were often very ambitious and expensive affairs. Others are about more modest personal adventures in birding that are self-published and their year while interesting seemed to lack something of a real grand scale. One of these latter books is by a woman in Rapid City, South Dakota and which name alludes me, and is about her total of 475 birds. I consider four hundred and seventy five birds as a worthy year of birding but nothing so grand as it to be novelesque, if to coin a word. Even my publisher did a ‘big year’ in 2012, seeing three hundred forty one species and it seems every birder has done something like this once or twice in their life, but not me…not yet.
Six hundred birds hitchhiking nearly forty thousand miles…yes that would be quite a year, but mine? No, I wouldn’t be doing it hitchhiking. I am also not the first South Dakotan to do this. I am not doing it in Africa, Australia, or some other war-torn place. So why would I bother boring you with another story of a personal adventure to see a big but not epic ‘Big Year?’ I had different things in mind, much different things in mind. I had plans to go and do what no one, at least, I think, no one, has ever dared to go and do this way before.
So where to start? It might be better to start at some definitions. I’m afraid many of you never read any of these books or saw my current favorite movie. So first, I better explain what actually is a Big Year? A big year is defined as seeing or hearing as many species as one can in any 365 day period, one sets (I guess 366 if February 29th happens to be in the period so chosen). Many people do this as a calendar year, but as far as I’m concerned that is not necessarily needed. There are few rules and in general like golf, it is generally on the honor system. Truly rare birds, like holes-in-one, need to be witnessed but seeing a common bird is like shooting a par. The guy in Australia didn’t count ‘hearing’ birds and needed to see them which included spotlighting at night for owls. I’m not such a purist and the North American standard have always included hearing birds, if you can recognize their sounds.
The men (and it seems it is almost always men, as women don’t think in a way that would make them want to do something like this) who set the standard in America use location guidelines that include Lower forty eight states, plus Alaska, Canada, Baja California, and the French islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, although Baja is not absolute anymore either. These lands are continued out to the continental shelf for pelagic birds. Again, this is the region used for the record discussed in the movie but there is no absolute standard and at one time even Greenland was included in some of the initial ‘big years.’
So at this point, you may just be wondering what really is different about this adventure I’m about to begin since I am not going to hitchhike and I’m sure to you this already appears this is the classic, been their done that, “me too” project. Didn’t I mention rampant nakedness? Ah, you have undoubtedly forgotten already. Well, I might as well get it out right here on the first few pages. I intend to do my big year naked, nude, in the buff, or au naturel. Yes, I’m really am talking about peckers, boobies, and tits…well I don’t like the vernacular, but I guess it works. The American Association of Nude Recreation (AANR) has coined a naked vacation, a nakation. I’m doing a ‘nudetwitch,’or ‘nakbirding’ or something like that for my made up words. The next question I’m sure any sane person should ask is…why?
First, there are no records I can find about nude birding and breaking a non-existent record seems like something even I could do. You also may assume that I am some militant nudist, which I am not. I am, however, a member of the American Association of Nude Recreation and even the Canadian Federation of Naturists (I earned a five year honorary membership for marketing work I did a few years ago). I write travel pieces occasionally for nudist or naturist magazines. I have used nudism frequently in my novels but I am not in the leadership of AANR or any other nudist group. I am frequently sans clothing and I am a member of a nude club, but that it is where it ends. So the whole theory of being naked outside is something I’m accustomed to.
I am also not a what I would classify as a master birder, although, I have birded for most of my life and seen more species than most people living in North America. I have a life list of species seen, since I have travelled so much, that would make many birders salivate at the thought. I am not a member of any birding organization and in general, the few times I have tried to make contact with fellow birding enthusiasts have been met with only modest success.
So exactly why nude birding? I have never purposely birdied in the nude previously. Sometimes I’ve been naked and seen birds but that was just coincidental. The reason or ‘why nude birding’ to be quite frank is that I needed an adventure and I wanted to do a big year. This seemed like the best way to keep it fresh, it was then, lying in bed, that I came up with the idea that I could set a record and write a book about the adventure. I could go on a year-long adventure visiting as many naturist clubs and resorts as possible along the way and I could see how many birds I could see. I would then write about it hoping that it would interest you, the reader. Would I actually see any birds? I didn’t know but like everything I do, simple and humble beginnings sometimes lead to big things and larger projects.
So having no existing record to pursue, I decided to set up my own rules. “Being tough but fair,” is how I want to describe my rules to the public. I have borrowed what has been used and made things up where needed:
1. You have to be nude to count the bird. Hats and footwear are fine but nothing else between your neck and your knees.
2. You have to had left naked to go birding (or for another nude activity) to count the bird. Seeing a turkey vulture while playing nude volleyball is acceptable, while driving along in a car, seeing a bird, and then slipping off your clothing, does not count unless it meets the criteria, that you must be at least a step from any car and the doors need to be shut for it to count. So if you think you see a bird in the car. You have to stop the car, undress, get out, close the door, take a step and lift up your binoculars and then identify the bird.
3. You cannot be inside any enclosed vehicle, boat, car/ truck, or tank for it to count. Being naked on an ATV, or open boat, if you left naked on an ATV or the boat, or even on a snowmobile (burr!) is acceptable. If you see a bird and you are walking or driving or riding on an ATV, a boat, canoe, or something like it and you are forced to cover up afterwards for obvious reasons like to avoid arrest, the birds you saw before that count but no birds after that point even if you could take your clothing off again. You need to go back to where you started and restart (started being a house, your car at the parking lot etc.). In some cases you can leave your car clothed for legal reason, drop down to the beach or around a corner, and then undress. That is reasonable and prudent and fine.
I’ve met naked women driving naked in a convertible. They were stopped in front of me in a construction site. I was driving a scooter on a main highway. I drove up alongside of them as the shoulder was wider and noticed their lack of dress. They didn’t even look as though they cared. They told me they needed a little sun and were driving back from the west coast in the small Mazda which had New York plates. The one-lane road turned from red to green and they drove on, so I got no more of their story. But thinking you could get an edge in a car and maintain some privacy where you should not have one didn’t seem fair so I have banned all cars, backs of pickup trucks, enclosed or not. I guess I’d allow a tractor that didn’t have a cab but I never had that opportunity. A pelagic boat trip is ok but you have to be naked on the deck from the moment it leaves the harbor or when it is legal to be naked (in St Barths it is a mile from the harbor), otherwise, no boats.
4. Birds count if they are seen in all states except Hawaii, plus Canada, and all Caribbean islands north of fifteen degrees latitude and the French Islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence as long as they are considered free breeding and with established populations and not domestic. For honesty sake barrier islands such as Roatan and Ambergris Key, only count for a kilometer from shore on the mainland side of the islands, or until you can see the mainland, whichever is shorter. I am leaving off Baja and Bermuda, but the Bahamas are fine, but I don’t know if they are considered “Caribbean Islands” or not. Since I as an American citizen at the time of writing this cannot legally visit Cuba, Cuba is also excluded.
A wild Rock Pigeon is fine, even if it is feral. Chickens are not a wild species. Visiting Barnacle Geese from Greenland are fine as are Skylarks on Vancouver Island, which are established. I do not think we have any peacock communities that would qualify. Birds in zoos are not free in the sense so they don’t count either. I defer to the birding associations for these determinations. I am using a three birder panel to approve any exotics. If two of the three of them agree, it counts, if not, it doesn’t.
You may ask why I altered the territory from the movie? Initially, I wasn’t sure how this would work and since it will be hard to bird naked up north for six months, I needed to expand the southern boundaries and since nudity on the French islands is generally more tolerated than in the USA, I needed to go far enough south to include St. Barths, and St Martin. In reality, I only added about one hundred to one hundred and fifty species to the mix since even the barrier islands of Central America don’t have all of the species that the mainland has and fifteen degrees cuts just below Honduras and doesn’t include Trinidad or Costa Rica, birding meccas.
5. Species now lumped together with another species will require a loss of a species. Flickers and Juncos have been split then lumped back together. The rules are set by the various birding associations and scientists to over the years, my total may fluctuate. Things happen and that is just the way it goes. A species today, is not necessarily one tomorrow.
I’m not a big fan of rules but for something like this, you need a little guidance to you going. This is, like all bird counts, on the honor system. Since there is no record for this that I can find, I get to make the rules. I do not know if naturists are any more honest than anyone else but like it is said in golf: everyone knows who cheats on their scorecard. I do not count a bird unless I really know it is that species. I’m sure I could have counted more species, but I chose not too because I was not quite sure, so I omitted them from my list. During this adventure I probably saw a Hutton’s Vireo in Arizona but my friend and I didn’t concur so it wasn’t counted. I luckily saw it later in California. Cameras are forbidden at many of the venues I visited so getting a picture might get me in trouble.
It is one thing to go out and see a bird, a specific bird, it would be a whole lot different in going out naked to see the bird. I would have to be cagy, and think in a whole different direction. There are many, many nudist clubs around the country. Some of these are easy to find and are advertised and others are pretty secretive. These would need to be utilized and if I found some of these needed special permission, I would just have to get myself invited. I vowed that I would go to any naturist club no matter where as long as I would get the invitation or a lead on a bird. Many of these clubs have interesting history and quirky people so that they themselves may be interesting in their own right. This book could be about the history of nudism in North America and all the guff many of these clubs have experienced over the years, but I will try to keep it light on history and long on the adventure.
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