• A Birding Quest and Tribute Unlike Any Other: Fred Pratt’s Big Year

     

    Fred Pratt watching a Northern Shoveler—species #150 for Bennington County—during his epic quest to become the first birder to observe 150 species in all of Vermont’s 14 counties, each within a single calendar year. This bird on Lake Paran in North Bennington in late November of 2019 was the “clincher”, Fred’s final tally to reach his remarkable birding milestone. © Alison Wagner

    August 29, 2013 began for me as a typical birding day during early fall migration in Vermont’s Upper Valley: full of hope for memorable fallout, but realistically low on expectations. As I pulled up to the Ompompanoosuc River Flats in Norwich at 7:15 am, my spirits lifted upon seeing veteran birders Fred and Chris Pratt peering through their scope. Sighting those two alone would have made my day, as the Pratts constituted a bona fide rarity (for me, at least) in Windsor Co. My good fortune immediately improved when I realized Fred and Chris had a Glossy Ibis on the exposed flats.

    An adult Glossy Ibis found by Fred and Chris Pratt at Ompompanoosuc River Flats in Norwich on 29 August 2013 surprised and delighted many Upper Valley birders. © Cynthia Crawford http://www.creaturekinships.com/

    Word quickly spread, and a half dozen other birders soon assembled to admire this rare avian find and the migrant shorebirds with it (see the Pratts’ eBird checklist). For me, the birds took a backseat to my opportunity to visit with Fred and Chris, who were deep in the early stages of their ambitious quest to find 150 species in all of Vermont’s 14 counties, each within a single calendar year. I was awed both by their gumption, and by the refreshing lightness with which they tackled this audacious challenge. Chatting as we birded over the next hour, little did I know as we bid farewell that our serendipitous encounter would be my last in-person connection with Chris, who sadly succumbed to cancer less than 4 years later.

    Eleanor (Chris) and Fred (Pat) Pratt, the dynamic duo of Team Pipit. Undated photo courtesy of John Pratt.

    As most Vermont birders now know, Fred completed his remarkable birding odyssey in November of 2019—with help from a legion of fellow enthusiasts—dedicating the extraordinary feat to his beloved Chris. His capstone species was a Northern Shoveler on Lake Paran in North Bennington, cementing his place in Vermont birding lore.

    Fast forward nearly a decade, and Fred has just published a deeply personal but delightfully readable book, “My Big Year—A Search for Birds and Peace of Mind”. Fred’s recounting of the final year of his impassioned quest beautifully weaves together his many memorable (and often humorous) encounters with birds, his attempt to find closure and solace in the wake of losing Chris, and his abiding love for his Team Pipit life (and birding) partner.

    The front cover of Fred Pratt’s hot-off-the-presses book, published by in May 2022 by Little Pressroom in Middlebury, VT.

    Fred’s book is available directly from him for the very reasonable price of $20. He can be reached via email at . This engaging and moving tale will be enjoyed by anyone, regardless of their degree of obsession with birding!

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