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'It's a total rush!': Birder breaks state record by spotting 376 different species in a single year

Will Brooks drove 400 miles roundtrip to see a blackburnian warbler. #k5evening

TACOMA, Wash. — "I love Titlow Park because there's such a nice diversity of habitat in such a small area," says Will Brooks, who is setting up his camera to overlook the beach and the Narrows Bridge. 

Immediately he spots some mew gulls sharing a floating log, three different species of cormorants drying their wings, and, in the distance, some pigeon guillemots

"I think a lot of people think of birding as a meditation or a way to let your mind wander," Brooks says. "But I am often really completely zeroed in on birds so it can be intense."

Among Tacoma birders, this recent University of Puget Sound grad is considered something of a savant.

"To be able to see birds and distinguish different species you gotta have really sharp eyes and really good ears," says UPS Biology professor Peter Wimberger, "And Will has both of those."

"When we first started dating Will would try to point out birds to me," says Justine Jones. "And I just could not figure out how he saw them from so far away or where they were." 

When a job fell through in 2021, Brooks decided to pursue what birders call a big year.

"It's sort of like collecting," Brooks says. " You're trying to see as many species as you can."

His big year was very big indeed. Brooks broke the record for most bird species spotted in Washington State in a single year by 6.

"It was 376," says Brooks. "And those were distributed all over."

He spotted a pileated woodpecker in Tacoma, a broad-winged hawk in Walla Walla, a least sandpiper in Skagit County, and, in Orting, Brooks was the first birder to ever identify a winter wren in the state of Washington.

Credit: Will Brooks
A winter wren Will Brooks spotted in Orting. It's the first ever seen in the state.

"Oh, it's a total rush!" Brooks says.

"If you decide that you're going to go for a record like that it ends up becoming a job," Wimberger says. "And it takes some serious commitment to do that."

Brooks had no lack of commitment. On the day he broke the record he spotted a thick-billed murre in Tacoma and then drove 400 miles roundtrip to see a blackburnian warbler.

Credit: Will Brooks
The blackburnian warbler Brooks spotted in Skamania County the day he broke the state record.

"The big year involved some pretty intense, quick decisions to drive three, four, or five hours," he says. "So it's unusual."

His girlfriend once agreed that Brooks was unusual but says she's impressed.

"It's a skill I didn't know existed," Jones says. "But I appreciate that it's in my life now."

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