The Backstory

Matt and Andre embarked on their inaugural “Big Year” challenge in 2019. Their goal was to learn more about the birds of North Queensland, have fun and of course WIN!! The aim of the competition is to sight as many birds within Queensland as possible, during one calendar year. Each sighting is recorded by the competitors using the website and software Ebird. Evidence of each sighting is not required… this challenge uses the good old honesty system.

Ebird is run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the website itself is a wonderful tool for viewing previous species counts or findings in any specific area of the world. Such a great way to have fun in nature and contribute to data collection at the same time.

To make the challenge more interesting Matt and Andre decided to ‘go dark’ in December and not share their findings with each other. They did not know whether they were ahead or behind of the game. Matt had a significant lead on Andre before heading to Africa at the end of the 2019. As you can imagine Andre went bird CRAZY and caught up to take the lead with a staggering 241 bird sightings. In the remaining days of 2019 Matt returned from Africa and chased down every bird he could get his eyes on and finished the year with a total of 242 birds, making him the Alpha Birder of the 2019 bird challenge. The final bird spotted was a Pink-eared Duck at Hasties Swamp on the Atherton Tablelands.

What’s at stake? Integrity of course! But know this…. The competition loser must HAND CARVE the competition winner a bird of their choice

Andre, suffering his 2019 loss by 1 bird is currently carving Matt a Buff-Breasted Paradise Kingfisher

2019 Bird Challenge Results

Matt Cornish total 242 birds

Andre Schokman total 241 birds


Buff-breasted Paradise Kingfisher – Julatten, Queensland
James Boettcher December 2019

What is a big year!?

A big year is a personal challenge or an informal competition among birders who attempt to identify as many species as possible within a single calendar year. An observation can be recorded by sight or sometimes sound depending on the individual competition rules. A big year is usually conducted within within a specific geographic area such as Queensland or Australia. First popularized in North America in the 1900’s, the not so ideal holiday tradition of the time was the Christmas Side Hunt, where mobs of hunters would pick teams before venturing outside to shoot every wild animal they set eyes on. The team who brought in the largest pile of quarry won.

Thankfully, scientists were beginning to become concerned about declining bird populations. And so, on Christmas day 1900, Dr Frank M. Chapman, founder of Bird-Lore – which evolved into Audubon magazine – proposed a new holiday tradition. His idea was to go out and count the birds, instead of hunting them

Sounds fun? Checkout the 2011 movie starring Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson

The Big Year

New challenge in 2020

In 2019 Matt and Andre Invited me to join the following year to increase the fun and challenge of the competition and what a ride it has been so far. We are halfway through the year and I love how much time we have spent out in nature enjoying the birdlife of Queensland. The competition drives you to learn more about your subjects, where they live, what they eat, when and why. A sensational and entertaining journey sharing nature and adventure with friends.

Andre, Matt and James – Let the journey begin
January 2020

We are halfway through the calendar year and here are some of the results as of 23rd June 2020

Andre Schokman – 145 birds

See list here

Andre Schokman Update

Matt Cornish – 252 birds

See list here

Matt Cornish Update

James Boettcher – 209 birds

See list here

James Boettcher Update

Stay updated with the challenge

Follow our social media platforms and the Hashtag #FNQBIGYEAR to stay updated with the results of the challenge and some of the photography highlights.

News off the street suggests Kelvin Marshall will be joining the competition for 2021! That will make it an FNQ Nature Tours ‘in house’ twitching challenge for next year! How exciting, here’s what Kelvin had to say:

Kelvin Marshall coming on board for 2021!!

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