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Kingbird Highway: The Biggest Year in the Life of an Extreme Birder [Paperback]

Kenn Kaufman
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 11 2006
Now revered as one of North America's top birders, Kenn Kaufman hit the road at age sixteen and spent a year crisscrossing the country to see as many birds as he could, in a birding competition known as a "big year." In what has become a classic among birders, this memoir chronicles the subculture of birding in the 1970s and a teenager's search for his place in the world. In a new afterword, Kaufman looks at the evolution of bird-listing since his own big year.

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Kingbird Highway: The Biggest Year in the Life of an Extreme Birder + Kaufman Field Guide to Advanced Birding
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  • Kaufman Field Guide to Advanced Birding CDN$ 17.56

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From Amazon

As ornithologist Kenn Kaufman recounts in his lively memoir Kingbird Highway, he's managed to do what other birders only dream of doing: take a year and chase winged creatures from one end of the country to another. The year in question was 1973, when Kaufman was 19 years old, and a few dollars and an outstretched thumb could go a long way. Armed with binoculars, notebook, and the blessing of birder patron saint Roger Tory Peterson, Kaufman set out to capture the record for most species spotted in a single year. He came close, closing with 666 species sighted from Alaska to Florida and back again. More important, he racked up a lifetime's worth of adventures on the road. These stories form the heart of his book, a narrative in which spotted redshanks, white-eared hummingbirds, marbled murrelets, and black-capped gnatcatchers are among the chief supporting players. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Kaufman set out on his first solo birding trip when he was 16 years old, on a Greyhound bus, starting in Wichita, Kansas, and ending up in a California jail, for it was illegal for minors to be in that state without adult supervision. So began his quest to set a record: spotting the most North American bird species in a one-year period. Kaufman did just that in 1973, sighting what was then a record 229 species on a grueling hitchhiking trip that took him from Puget Sound to the Florida Keys and the Dry Tortugas in the Gulf of Mexico. Other birding trips followed, from North Dakota to Alaska, from Alaska to Maine, from Maine to Mazatlan in Mexico, and from Arizona to New Jersey. On those arduous trips, too, the author hitchhiked, stopping to work at odd jobs to earn a few dollars. His book is a fascinating memoir of an obsession with birds. George Cohen --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A road book with a passion Oct. 18 2003
Format:Paperback
I read this book a couple of years ago ,haven't been writing reviews for long;but thought I would go back to this fine effort.I've read a lot of " road" books by some of the best; such as Heat-Moon,Kerouac,Mc Murtry,Peterson/Fisher,Steinbeck,Teale,Caldwell ;but as good as these were, none were written with the passion and self involvement that Kaufman brings to this book.He didn't set out to roam the country to escape,find himself,to discover the people or country.He set with the purpose of finding as many bird species as he could in one year ; wrote a book about it,and even though the goal was not just to write a book; he produced one that is as good as the "best".As a Birder ,we have all experienced many of the things he did ;but without the endurance,passion and commitment that he did.I thought I experienced cold along the Niagara River looking for Gulls in the Winter;but this was mild compared to sleeping in a car on the East coast when it was "cold as an Eskimo's tomb",eating from a can of cold soup at the ABA onvention,or having "his" scope blown away during a storm while doing the Christmas Bird count.If you like road books;but even more so if you enjoy nature/birding you just gotta read this gem !In my opinion he is right up there with the best of them.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A perfect book! June 23 2003
Format:Paperback
If you're stuck in a boring 9-5 job after having paid your dues with years of higher education, you'll be jealous of Kenn Kaufman's freedom at a young age to do what he wanted, learn what he wanted and lay the groundwork for one of the most successful careers in birding in the U.S.
If you're a birder, or at least trying to be a birder, you'll be jealous of the amount of ground Kenn Kaufman covered in the span of a few short years to see and marvel at 100's of birds.
If you're a writer, whether published or not, you'll be jealous of Kenn Kaufman's ability to write a such vividly-rendered account of his souped-up travails engaging in one of the most sympathetic pastimes to develop among modern humans, that of birding, contextualized with his growing awareness of the impact of human encroachment on the wilderness as an increasingly serious environmental problem. Whether the story surveys Kaufman's encounters with the awfully unlucky Myrtle Warblers stuck on North Carolina's Outer Banks in the winter of '73, the transplanted Skylarks of the San Juan Islands in the Pacific Northwest, or the migrating warblers stopping for a respite at Fort Jefferson in the Tortugas; or whether Kaufman is birding with his group of friends self-dubbed the "Tucson Five," or enduring the numbing experience of "thumbing" on the road for months on end; he makes you see what he's seeing and feel what he's feeling.
Finally, if you're someone who treasures the comforts of a soft pillow at night and a warm, dry roof over your head, you have to admire Kaufman's tenacity in dealing with -- and his almost joyful tolerance of-- bad weather, having to hike for miles before finding that much-needed ride or the 669th bird for his Big Year List, and, especially, the hunger born of a budget that probably didn't quite reach shoe-string level.
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4.0 out of 5 stars In Search of Birds Jan. 14 2002
Format:Paperback
Some decisions just can't be justified by logic or reason. They come from a place inside us that won't be denied - that has an agenda all its own.
And so it was for Kenn Kaufman, a bright young high school student who quit the academic life (bored stiff) to explore the one thing that had grabbed and held his attention from an early age - BIRDS.
Kauffman's approach to birding is simple. Work just enough to accumulate funds for travel, then hit the road with your thumb extended and a backpack full of field guides, the cheapest food you can find, and the rudiments of self-hygiene. When I tell you that Kauffman once ate dry cat food to save money, you will understand why the subtitle of this book is "a natural obsession that got a little out of hand." Kauffman is definitely eccentric, though delightfully so, and it quickly becomes apparent that he is in search of more than birds on his journey.
Kauffman's travels take him back and forth across the North American continent, up to Alaska, down into Mexico and occasionally out to sea, where in addition to finding birds he connects and makes friends with a large network of equally obsessed birders. Meet Ted Parker, the wonder kid of the birding world described as a "super being." Then there are Peli and Rose Ann who give him the nickname Kingbird, and the Tuscon Five, Kauffman's band of birding buddies who are willing to drop their college studies at a moment's notice to follow him into the field. Other memorable characters include a falconer turned conservationist, Diana who drives Kauffman to the local dump in search of Mexican crows, and Charlie who "...had not held a regular job in 30 years."
In addition to unusual characters, you will be introduced to the world of "Lists," "Big Days," "Christmas Bird Counts," and "Big Years.
Read more ›
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4.0 out of 5 stars Kerouac with a purpose. Nov. 1 2000
Format:Paperback
Kenn Kaufman answers the question of what happened to all those scruffy kids who were hitching rides across America in the early 1970s. They grew up. In his case, this story of an epic quest to see more birds in a single year than anyone ever had before, lay in a box 25 years after it was written. Fortunately he decided to dust it off, clean it up and share it with us. I met Kenn once when I was on my own quest to see 400 birds in North America in a single year, about 15 years after he found 666 species, or 671, depending on whose rules you are using. He showed me my first Varied Bunting at the Patagonia Refuge. I got started on this road of bird listing after finding Jim Vardaman's book and reading it about a dozen times. Vardaman beat Kaufman's record with dollars, finding 699 in a single year. Probably Kaufman's book will inspire many more to take up the quest, for the simple reason that he's a far better storyteller. This is an adventure that goes far beyond bird watching. It is a lyrical book of the road, like Kerouac with a purpose. The music of trips remembered by a single song played to death by the AM stations comes ringing back over the years. I remember hitching from Missouri to New York State and hearing "One is the loneliest number that you'll ever do," each time I got into a car. Kaufman tops that with the thunder of Jim Morrison's voice warning drivers who just picked him up, "There's a killer on the road." He transforms it into, "There's a birder on the road," but you can feel the discomfort of getting into cars in Southern states to that refrain. A high school dropout, lured by the bird quest at age 16, Kaufman's education about relationships came from statements of disillusion -- confessions to a stranger on an all night drive. Read more ›
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