Alum Breaks Record in “Big Year” Competition

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Photo courtesy of Christian Hagenlocher

In 2016, Christian Hagenlocher (US’07, C’11) grabbed his binoculars and traveled across North America from Alaska to Newfoundland and to every state in the Lower 48, becoming the youngest person to see over 700 species of birds in a calendar year for the American Birding Association’s Big Year competition. Recording an official count of 752 birds, Hagenlocher was one of four birders in 2016 to break the all-time record of 749 birds set in 2013.

Hagenlocher’s passion for ornithology began at the Upper School and grew when he majored in biology at the College. His Upper School trips to Belize and the Grand Teton National Park helped him grow as a field biologist and writer. Later, while teaching biology at the Upper School, Hagenlocher integrated his passion for falconry into the classroom learning experience.

While on his Big Year birding trip, Hagenlocher launched a website and blog, The Birding Project. It features interviews with experienced birders and advice for younger ones. “On the road I became my own travel agent, chef, navigator, social media director, personal trainer, and fundraiser,” Hagenlocher says. “And blogger, photographer, writer, ambassador, trip leader, speaker, and birding guide. Hours on the road gave me the opportunity to be still and listen to what God was telling me to do. As a result, I had many opportunities to serve others, through volunteering, sharing food, and teaching others about birds.”

Networking was an important part of Hagenlocher’s successful year. He made friends along the way and knew he could always contact Principians if he needed help. For example, while in southern Texas, Hilary Frandsen (C’14) met Hagenlocher in Brownsville and helped him locate a Variegated Flycatcher. “This tropical songbird has only been seen a handful of times in North America and had been spotted thousands of miles outside the normal range of this species,” Hagenlocher explains. “The day after we saw it, it was gone and likely flew across the border into Mexico.”

Hagenlocher also saw numerous national parks and monuments, watched polar bears in the arctic, and swam in several oceans. “I hope people can glimpse the amazing biodiversity we have right here in our own country,” he reflected.

Now a science teacher at the Link School in Colorado, while earning a master’s in education and innovation with an emphasis on sustainability at Webster University, Hagenlocher is currently featuring his Big Year experience in a book and in his master’s thesis. Visit Hagenlocher’s website to learn more.