Spotting birds. Picture: Zanele Zulu.

There is only big smiles on Josh Crickmay's face when we meet at Springside Nature Reserve in Hillcrest.

Dressed in his ranger uniform, a khaki pants and an olive green shirt, Crickmay's face lights up as he starts to talk about his new book, Josh's Big Year, where he spent a year in search of over 1000 bird species, from South Africa to Ecuador.

Behind his smile is a story of triumph. Josh quit school at the age of 15 after facing severe depression and Aspergers, a form of autism. Despite the painful journey, his parents, Andrew and Kathy, decided to plan a year long trip to fuel his love for birding and photography, and to give hope to their son.

Josh Crickmay talks about his new book, Josh's Big Year.

"While spending 6 months at home after I quit school, I became depressed and had a nervous breakdown. During this time, I felt like I had no purpose and needed help to find my passion. My parents planned the trip in 2013," he said. 

The Crickmay's started their camping journey in South Africa, through Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe. They flew to Ecuador, where they spent two months with bird photographer, Murray Cooper.

While on the adventure, Crickmay started to hone his talents, from learning to appreciate nature, birds and photography. His coffee table book is proof that with hard work you can reach for your dreams. 

Inside its glossy pages, readers will learn more about his adventures, from visiting the Erongo Mountains, just two hour north of Windhoek, capturing shots of the Crimson-breasted shrike, to spending hours in the Amazon to discover hidden birds.

Josh Crickmay with his mom, Kathy. Picture: Zanele Zulu.

"The big year helped me discover the real me, from my talent in writing, photography and my love for wildlife and nature. I believe this is the start of a great adventure. I am blessed to have travelled far and wide to discover some of the most stunning places and people," he says.

He is currently part of the Field Guide Association of South Africa and trains at Bhejane Nature Training programme in Zululand. In between his busy schedule, he shoots videos about his birding and nature activities for his website. Amid posing for photographs, Crickmay shifts his attention back to his book.

"There are many great travel stories in this book, but there is one that stands out for me. In Amazon, we went in search of an elusive bird known as the ochre breasted antpitta. After spending hours walking the jungle, the bird appeared after our guide called out 'Pedro, Pedro, Pedro". It was an incredible experience," says Crickmay.

The 20-year-old is hoping that the book will shed some light on Aspergers, fuel the love of nature and photography of readers and become a collectable for birders. Josh spots at least 20 birds during our forest walk, including a crested barbet, lazy cisticola and swallows.

Spotting birds. Picture: Zanele Zulu.

As we walk back to the car from the lush green forest, Crickmay says that his 5 most important travel items are camping and camera equipment, padkos, medical kit and his Landrover.  He is looking to visit Madagascar next year for its conservation efforts, coastlines, and birds. This time he will venture on his own to create more unbelievable images and videos.

"Perhaps there will be a sequel to Josh's Big Year..." he teases, as his mom starts the Fortuner, the same vehicle that took them across Africa.

For more information about Crickmay's book, visit