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PhD-turned-birder attempting his 'Big Year' via bicycle

March 18, 2014
By ROBBIE SPENCER ( , Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

Dorian Anderson grew weary of his life in science, so he decided to jump on his bicycle.

He's still riding.

Anderson departed from Boston on Jan. 1 to start his "Big Year," in which a birdwatcher attempts to see or hear as many bird species as they can in North America in one calendar year. According to his blog,, the endeavor begins on Jan. 1 and, over the subsequent 364 days, requires the birder to visit all corners of the continent in an effort to record 700-750 species of birds while logging hundreds of thousands of miles via plane, car and boat travel. Anderson believes by the end of the year, he'll have traveled around 12,000 miles on his bike and hopes to see 600 bird species.

Article Photos

Anderson picking up some followers outside the Wildlife Refuge.

"Nobody has tried to do anything of this magnitude," said Anderson, who's already seen over 240 bird species this year. "'Biking for Birds' is my completely crazy and hopefully fantastic twist on the traditional North American Big Year."

Anderson is roughly 3,000 miles into his trip, in which he's traveled the entire east coast from Boston all the way down to Miami. He arrived in Sanibel on Sunday, March 9 after he rode 111 miles across Alligator Alley up to Marco Island the day before, and another 63 miles on Sunday up to the "Ding" Darling Wildlife Refuge, where he stayed for three nights in their student housing courtesy of the Refuge, according to Wildlife Society Executive Director Birgie Miller. Anderson was impressed with the island's conservation efforts, especially at the Refuge.

"There's an effort being made here, you don't see that much. The paved Wildlife Drive was really nice."

Fact Box

Dorian Anderson's daily blog, where his route map, birding photos, and daily progress are updated, can be found at

Anderson hopes to utilize this year's adventure and his outgoing personality and internal drive to help make a difference, whether it be in conservation efforts across the country or helping future organizations create more sustainable infrastructure, encouraging bike riding or other sustainable, eco-friendly forms of transportation.

"Life's a big poker game, you're not betting with money, you're betting with time. I pushed a lot of time into the center of the table with my education," he said.

Anderson, 35, had let his education take him across the country and dictate his life's work, from prep school in the northeast, to Stanford for biochemistry, to Harvard for molecular embryology, and eventually for his PhD in developmental genetics and molecular cell biology.

"My whole life has been dictated by my education. The problem with what I was doing, it was so formulaicso linear, any diversionnobody takes time off. It's so singular-focused."

He wasn't happy with his lifestyle. He needed a change, something to differentiate himself from the norm.

"I think science attracts a certain type of personality," he said. "I don't really fit that stereotype. I have a lot of other talents, my opportunity costs were a lot higher than others by staying in science."

Anderson's confident demeanor and easygoing personality have helped him acquire many friends during his travels, including Best Western hotels, which gave him money to stay at their establishments.

"I've met so many cool people. People recognize that I'm putting my life on the line every day, people have bent over backwards to assist me."

He also reflected as to what put him over the edge to give up his career in science to begin his "Big Year."

"I've always thought of this [Big Year] thing, and using my personality to make things happen. Someone once told me 'jump, and the net will appear. You only get one crack at this.'"

Anderson's blog recently reached 100,000 page hits since he began on the first of the year. He hopes to utilize the blog, which he's written in every night of the year thus far, to help raise $100,000 for bird conservation. According to Anderson, he's already raised over $7,000.

When asked what his message would be to others with lofty goals, it was simple.

"Just do the things that you want to do and do them really well. If you do that, everything else will fall in line."

Islanders can track Dorian Anderson's progress, follow his blog, and make donations for bird conservation at



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