Malkolm is cycling on! He is now cycling from Alaska to Washington DC, and then continuing on to the UN Climate Change conference in Cancun in December.
It all started with Bird Year, Malkolm and his parents' year-long, fossil-fuel-free journey in search of birds. Cycling a total of 13,133 miles (21,144 km), they identified 548 different bird species and raised more than $25,000 for bird conservation. Bird Year turned them into confirmed cyclists and taught them that climate change was more serious than they had thought.
In 2009, Malkolm biked from Whitehorse to Ottawa as a part of Pedal for the Planet: the project called for the Canadian Government to become a leader in the struggle to come to grips with climate change. The Harper Government did not even meet with the young cyclists.
Malkolm is now 18 and just finished high school. On August 24, he dipped his foot in the Pacific Ocean in Skagway, Alaska. Then headed up and over the White Pass to the Alaska Highway on his journey to Washington and on to Cancun.



Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas in Texas (Ken)


Jim Stevenson kindly left his house to us while he went to Florida to visit his mother. Jim’s place is a wooded oasis in a desert of new subdivisions spreading like cancer the length of Galveston Island. Before he drove off he casually said, “By the way, watch where you put your feet. I just saw a big cottonmouth in the yard.” From the wooden observation deck above the house we watched Roseate Spoonbills and egrets out in a marsh, White-tailed Kites hovering over the fields, and cormorants and ducks swimming in a pond. We’ve had four days to rest here. We think we deserve it.

Christmas day in Galveston dawned clear and cool – at least cool for Texas. Not as cool as we are used to however. The typical December 25th in Whitehorse is about 0 F (-18 C). In Texas it was about 60 F (16 C). Instead of skiing out past Hidden Lakes, we went down to the beach. A couple of men were sitting shirtless on lawn chairs. They toasted us with Bud Lights and said that it doesn’t get any better than this.

During Bird Year, we never get a holiday from birding. We scanned every gull, hoping that one of them was a Lesser Black-backed. Unfortunately Santa Claus only left us Ring-billed and Laughing Gulls, although we did see a Mottled Duck, the first one of the trip.

The best part of the day was using the stove in Jim’s kitchen. We are cooking a real holiday meal, instead of our typical one-pot-glop using the camp stove. It is almost ready as I type this: nut loaf, mashed potatoes with mushroom gravy, broccoli, cauliflower and yams. It is time to go set the table. . .

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Police Escort (Wendy)


Dec 21: Winter solstice and the half way point of Bird Year. We have travelled 6924 miles and Malkolm has identified 417 bird species. We have had about 40 flat tires, and exactly 13 broken spokes. We have consumed 1,800,000 calories and burned up slightly more. We have slept 147 nights in our tents and eaten rice, beans and tortillas sixty times for supper, thirty times for lunch and once for breakfast. We were in Galveston when we took our official half-way portrait. It was 66 and pleasant T-shirt weather.

Before we started Bird Year, I worried most about angry drivers, the kind who might want to rid the world of cyclists. We have encountered very few of those.....and NONE HAVE SUCCEEDED! Two drivers in a Texas border town came pretty close, within half an hour. But this blog is about the happy encounters we have had on the road.

Several times, in a construction zone, we have coasted alongside a line of parked cars and been stopped by the flagger. The flagger has waved us through, giving us the whole lane. Other times, a pilot car has followed us, keeping the other vehicles back. That’s fun.

Out on the open road, train engineers toot their whistles at us. The first time it happened, I didn’t think the train was whistling at us. I figured it out when the whistling stopped after I waved back. Truckers honk their horns in a friendly way. It’s like there’s a fellowship of the less-travelled road. Motorcyclists wave when we are out in the country, but not in town.

On the Texas Gulf Coast, causeway bridges cross many of the bays. We knew there was a bridge several miles long outside Port Lavaca, so we went into extra-safety mode. We put on our bright yellow jackets. We rode in a tight little line: me, Malkolm, Ken. The shoulder was narrow and dirty. I concentrated on riding straight, just outside the white line. When I dared to glance in my rear view mirror, I saw black pickup close behind Ken. Ken shouted that it had veered over from the outer lane. It followed Ken, forcing the other traffic to go around us. Dang! It was protecting us. With considerate drivers like that, who needs extra-safety mode? Before the end of the bridge, the black truck took off. Instead flashing blue and red lights brought up the end of our procession. This must be how it feels if you’re a visiting head-of -state! Without even asking, Team Bird Year had a Police escort.


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Bird Year Breaks Barrier (Malkolm)


(image courtesy of Bird Year Instant Replays Inc.)

Team Bird Year shattered a milestone Saturday, becoming the first fossil-fuel free team to break the 400 species barrier. “It was huge,” commented Wendy Boothroyd in the post game press conference. “Now that we’ve broken 400 we can start focusing on the long, tough process of reaching 500.” When asked what was more important to her, breaking 500 or having fun, she answered “Obviously 500!”

At 177days: 11hrs: 21min: 35sec into the game, Bird Year made the milestone when Malkolm Boothroyd spotted two Fulvous Whistling-Ducks circling above an Aransas NWR wetland. “We were hoping that the endangered Whooping Crane would be our 400th and we were planning our birding so that we’d be at 399 when we headed to the crane stakeout,” he said. But there was a misunderstanding between the team and the scorekeeper, so they reached their milestone earlier than planned.

“It was a disappointing not to have the (Whooping) Crane as the species that broke it, but it was a pleasant surprise to find that we one higher than we thought!” said Ken Madsen. The Whooping Cranes were so distant that they had to “go upstairs” to check the bird. The instant replay told the truth, showing the tall, white crane clearly. The judges let the bird stand.

A team Bird Year statement released by coach, Christianne Hinks said that Bird Year plans to “dig deep and to give 110%”

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Hazards of the road. (Ken)


A few days ago I started to read Kayaking the Vermillion Sea, by Jonathan Waterman, which someone had left in the bunkhouse at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. This is what he wrote about the hazards of paddling in the Sea of Cortez (not counting stormy seas) … “We have also been warned about rattlesnakes dozing under sleeping bags, neuro-toxic sea snakes curling under kayaks, scorpions crawling into shoes, seventeen-foot-wide manta rays jumping out of the water and capsizing kayaks, whirlpools forming out of the tides, elefante winds blowing small boats out to sea, and tarantulas nesting as copiously as ground squirrels. We are also wary of stepping on poisonous sea urchin spines, getting between a killer whale calf and a protective mother, encountering thirty-eight different species of shark …”

I won’t go on. You get the idea.

We too have been warned about hazards… about getting thrown in jail for camping behind a WalMart in Texas, about the bears in the north, about being caught between a motorhome and a guardrail, about being flattened by a transport truck, about Los Angeles drivers suffering from road rage, about the desert heat, about toxic fumes from the Salton Sea, about winter storms in the mountains of New Mexico, about cycling through Texas in general, about being assaulted by “illegals” near the Mexican border, about being harassed by the Border Patrol, about the insane traffic in Florida, about rattlesnakes and scorpions and killer bees…

I won’t go on. You get the idea.

When I told Malkolm that I was writing this blog he was silent for a minute. Then he said, “You forgot to mention the biggest danger of all… getting between Wendy and her morning cup of coffee.”

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Owls, Oil, Close Call (Wendy)



Before leaving New Mexico we had a “rest” day. We took a side trip which involved cycling 77 miles. We rode to some hills with red soil. We walked through arroyos lush with mesquite, agave, and bushy grasses. They reminded me of miniature Grand Canyons. Mesquite trees grow on the arroyo rims, their roots growing over the edge. We were looking for long eared owls, and we found them, sitting on those roots. They were so well camouflaged that I thought the owls and mesquite must have evolved together. The owls’ plumage matched the texture and colour of the roots. They sat still, but followed us with their big yellow eyes.

Cycling south east from Carlsbad into Texas, we entered oil country. Oil pumps – known as “Grasshoppers” but we are calling them “Mosquitoes” – dot the countryside. “Dot” may be the wrong verb. In half an hour, I counted 61 “Mosquitoes”, while Malkolm counted 10 birds. The road was lined by barbed wire fences. Every side road was guarded by a closed gate. It was uninviting to cyclists looking for a place to spend the night. Signs warned “Poison gas may be present”. I learned what sour gas smells like.

Close to dusk we found a dried mud hollow in which to set up our tents. Before going to bed, I shone a flashlight around our kitchen. I saw movement and shone my light on a rat, a large Norway rat. The rat stared back at me, insolently. There were no trees in which to suspend our food, so we took it in to our tents. (Yeah, yeah , I’m a northerner, I know it is wrong to bring food into your tent. But bears are not a concern here).During the night, something chewed right through the netting of our tent to get our bananas. I never have liked rats.

We really notice the short hours of daylight. We get up before dawn in order to cover lots of distance. Approaching the Rio Grande, the land south of us was desert scrub, grayish green. Blue misty mountains in the distance were in Mexico. The land undulated. Those undulations were canyons. For a whole day, we rode down a canyon and up the other side. The road was chip sealed , a little rough. We cycled 83 miles. My legs got really tired. I knew I was really beat when the last 4 miles were downhill and I thought they were difficult.

Yesterday, in Del Rio, I had my first close call with a car which almost side swiped me. I was pulling into the left hand turning lane on a deserted city street. The car pulled out of some hidden driveway. I don’t think she saw any of us. I was shaken up. Most of the drivers in Texas have been really polite. I meet a few impatient ones and it freaks me out. I will be glad to get back on a highway today.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Stuff on the road. (Ken)



Wendy’s sister Sa is a great and eclectic artist. If you think I’m biased, check out her website: www.saboothroyd.com. Sa lives in Gibson’s, BC with our friend Jody and their two daughters Lucy and Pippa. Sa spends many hours on her bicycle. I don’t know everything that goes on in her head as she stares at the road ahead, but part of her brain is analyzing the treasures on the shoulder. She frequently stops to collect stuff – and if you buy her a good cup of coffee and a delicious scone I’m sure she’d be happy to tell you about it.

Don’t tell Sa, but the other day all three of us peddled past a quarter lying on the pavement. It was on an uphill and none of us wanted to lose momentum – especially now that a US quarter is worth less than a Canadian one. However, just south of Roswell, NM I saw a treasure trove beneath my tires. I immediately thought about Sa and wheeled back to check it out. It was a heap of coins: 7 quarters, a dime and four pennies. I couldn’t figure out how it got there in a neat, discreet pile. I almost checked behind the nearest cactus to see if someone from “Candid Camera” was hiding with a video camera. I picked up the cash anyway and bought scones with it at the next grocery store.

If you are in the mood for light-hearted reading, STOP now.

The other things we found along the shoulder of the highway were not treasures at all – but birds that had been hit by speeding vehicles. I guessed that more birds than usual had been concentrated along the road after the recent snowfall. The first was a stunned Cactus Wren. Malkolm picked it up and gently placed it behind a creosote bush away from the road, hoping it would revive. The rest of the birds were dead. Half-a-dozen Horned Larks, three Mourning Doves, a couple of Lark Buntings, a Harrier, a Short-eared Owl and a pair of Meadowlarks. There were many other unidentified piles of feathers.

The speed limit along that stretch of Highway 285 is 75 mph. As I cycled south, I wondered whether anyone has studied the relationship between high speed limits and road-killed birds. We know that slower speeds result in better gas mileage and less production of greenhouse gases. I wondered if people who cared about birds would slow down if they thought that might save a Horned Lark’s life. I hope so.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Polar winds. (Wendy)


We heard the weather forecast for the weekend: “polar winds will produce a potent storm.” We knew a potent storm would slow us down. Nevertheless, we lingered an extra day in Bosque del Apache. The volunteers had invited us to their Thanksgiving feast – too good an offer to miss. We cycled eastward the next day trying to ignore the oncoming cars plastered with snow.
Despite the ominous signs, we delayed some more. Local birding expert Jerry Oldenettel guided us to a cattle-watering tank in the desert. It was a great place to see hard-to-find longspurs. When we left in the mid-afternoon we really needed to get some miles behind us. Then we stopped at a sign commemorating the first ever atomic bomb blast, which occurred a few miles south of our route. Then we stopped for a mountain bluebird that crossed our path. We had been watching for this bird since we left Whitehorse. We had to drag Malkolm and his camera away from incredibly blue bird. Finally we set up camp on a flattish, silty spot in the lee of a small hill. I hoped we would not get pinned down there.
Yukoners will not sympathize with us, having to endure one day of winter.
Next day the storm hit us. I washed our breakfast dishes, and the water turned to ice. When I put them on the ground, the silt turned to mud and froze to the bottoms. I rewashed them. Then I had to warm up my hands in my armpits. We pushed our bikes out from the lee of our little hill, and got blasted. The wind gusted to 30 mph and the temperature was 19 . The wind chill was well below zero (that’s zero Fahrenheit). We wore windproof layers for warmth. Malkolm wrapped long underwear pants around his face. It was 33 miles to Carrizozo, normally an easy day’s ride.
Malkolm said, “I’d like to get past Capitan today, so we can camp in the hills and listen for pygmy owls.”
“Is he serious?” I wondered. “It’s going to take all my energy just to get to Carrizozo.” I’d heard there was a motel there. I was flabbergasted at the suggestion we go 24 miles further than we needed to. We’d never hear an owl anyway; our tent is really noisy inside when the fly flaps in the wind. That polar wind! Sometimes it stopped me, sometimes it almost pushed me off the road. We walked up hills because it was too difficult to ride. I was miserable. My shoulders were hunched up and tight. I thought about hot tubs.
Malkolm said “I can’t feel my toes”. We stopped to give him the better footwear.
“Phewf,” I thought, “at least now he’ll want to stop in Carrizozo”.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Raven about birds. (Ken)


Today Wendy and I decided to get off our butts and go for a walk, especially since our butts were sore. A few ne’er-do-well snowflakes drifted past lazily, and a bazillion Snow Geese flew overhead in industrious Vs. We decided to see if there really was a difference between Common and Chihuahuan Ravens. We are friends with the northern Raven who stars in many legends (and is smarter than our politicians – and MUCH smarter than yours), but we haven’t gotten to know the Raven of the desert.

First we consulted our Sibley Guide to Birds. The first word he uses to describe the Common Raven is “uncommon.” The first word he uses to describe the Chihuahuan Raven is “common” (I'm taking some liberties here - Sibley's descriptions are accurate if you read more than the first word). Clutching that helpful information, we trained the scope on a Raven perched on a dead limb. It appeared to be reading a People Magazine, which led us to believe it was one of the Chihuahuan Ravens that is so common. However it wasn’t a People Magazine after all, but a bunch of dried leaves. Then the bird started preening, which ruffled its black feathers, which turned out to be white under the black, if you know what I mean. Its massive beak was much less massive than the huge beak of the less common, Common Raven so we concluded that it was a Chihuahuan for sure.

During the time that Wendy and I were reaching this startling conclusion, Malkolm added a bazillion birds to his “day-list” and found a new bird for his Bird Year list. It was an Aplomado Falcon which was glaring at him from the top of an AREA CLOSED sign. Unfortunately, Aplomado Falcons are not “countable” (don’t ask me, ask the American Birding Association). I don’t think that countable is even a word, but Malkolm decided that it didn’t count. I put it on his list anyway, especially since it was performing a valuable service for the National Wildlife Refuge system.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Cranes and Cameras (Malkolm)


“Two Sandhill Cranes flying in low to the left” called a voice, hidden behind an enormous lens. “Ratatatatatatatatatatatatatat” - twenty cameras rattled off continuous shots as the birds approached. The cranes fanned their enormous wings, slowing themselves down and landed amongst the swelling flock.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge was at its prime. Hundreds and hundreds of cranes were returning for the night, ready to rest after feeding on fields throughout the Rio Grande valley. Another crane swooped down, the birds below raised their heads and honked in welcome. More cameras rattled. “I’m really eating up my CF card,” commented somebody dryly, “I’m going to have to spend all day tomorrow deleting bad pics.”

“We’ve got some blackbirds coming in from the right” called Ken, as a few small birds fluttered over the cranes. There was an icy silence, some of the serious photographers glared at Ken.

“Four cranes flying strait at us.” Cameras clicked. Cranes honked. The sun slipped behind a cloud. The golden light faded to a dull gray. Several photographers left in disgust. I couldn’t understand, even though the light wasn’t as pretty, there was still an amazing spectacle going on.

Ken leaned toward me and whispered, “I don’t know which is more entertaining- the cranes or the photographers.”

Monday, November 19, 2007

Two Mile High Birding (Wendy)


Sandia Peak is a long mountain ridge to the east side of Albuquerque. In the evening it glows red, like a watermelon. Four “high altitude specialties” can be seen on Sandia Crest. Three of them are Rosy-Finches. These are reliably seen at the Crest House Restaurant bird feeder. This may sound like easy birding.... except that Sandia Crest is a vertical mile above the city. The fourth speciality is Clark’s Nutcracker. This was our last chance to find a Clark’s Nutcracker. We were about to leave its range. Cole Wolf, local teenage bird expert, told us, “If you’re lucky, one or two may fly high above. You almost never get good looks at them”.

Cycling up Sandia Peak was my first experience of exercising at altitude. I gulped for air. My thighs screamed “We need more oxygen!” The sign at Crest House said “Elevation 10,678 ft. “I felt like a hero.

Malkolm ran onto the deck of the restaurant. Within minutes he had identified all 3 species of Rosy Finch: Brown-capped, Gray-crowned, and Black. We walked along a path to the Stone House, built in 1936 by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Perched on the edge of a precipice, overlooking Albuquerque, it has a wide open door and unglazed windows. It is built of native limestone, the floor and benches worn smooth and shiny. A flat topped buttress on the lee side of the building made a convenient place to cook.

We set up our tent on the edge of the cliff – until the wind picked up. We decided to take down the tent and sleep under the stars. Ken set up our sleeping bags and weighed them down with our loaded panniers.

We ate our supper, the lights of Albuquerque twinkling on the plain below. The wind gusted. Our sleeping bags flew up into the air, and our heavy panniers rolled down the hill –away from the cliff, luckily.

We decided to move into the Stone House to sleep. The wind increased. I didn’t sleep. I listened to the wind. The wind gusted, then died down. Over and over, all night long. During a lull, I’d lie in suspense wondering when it would start again. Then, it built up slowly and roared in through the windows. It swirled around the Stone House like a giant toilet. It snuck into the space between my neck and my bag. Then it flushed out the door, carrying any of our possessions we hadn’t secured adequately. By morning, I was a wreck. How did Ken and Malkolm sleep through that?

In the morning, Cole came up. He politely declined Malt-O-Meal for breakfast. He told us where we could go to look for Clark’s Nutcrackers. As he spoke, he scanned with his binoculars. Suddenly his voice sped up, ”There’s one right there, on top of that tree!.” The bird that never poses posed for us, in the morning sun.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Monday pedal, Tuesday pedal . . . (Ken)


We had to hurry to make it from Albuquerque from Silver City. On Saturday morning we set out about 7:30, cycled over 8,000 foot Emory Pass and arrived at our home for the night just before the sun set. Wendy, the keeper of the cycling log, calculated that we’d pedaled 73 miles. On Sunday we mounted our bikes at 7:20 am, cycled under the interstate and turned north towards Bosque del Apache. We set up our camp near the small town of San Antonio at dusk. Wendy added up the mileage: 83 miles. The next morning we were away at 7:15. We rode up the shoulder of I-25 until lunch. We then detoured to smaller roads which made Wendy’s arithmetic at the end of the day in Albuquerque more difficult. “We did 98 miles,” Malkolm told her.

While we were relaxing with our friends Christianne and Chuck, I remembered the email we had received from our friend Eric in Haines, Alaska:

Also, do you know the old Yiddish chant: Monday pedal, Tuesday pedal, Wednesday and Thursday, pe -e - e -dal. Friday for a change a little more pedaling, Saturday, Sunday pedal. . .It's in a minor key to give it a nice dirgelike sense of monotony and gloom.

I’m not sure if Eric (who is a great musician) made up the chant or if it is a take-off on a real Yiddish dirge. Surprisingly, it usually doesn’t feel dirge-like while we are cycling. Going for an eight-hour exercise cycle back home would be excruciatingly boring, but when you are traveling it is different. New territory, new birds, new people, new aches and pains – it all makes it surprisingly entertaining. Small things make it all worthwhile: a flock of Pinyon Jays, mayonnaise on a bagel, a home-made sign erected by Larry Brooks (father of Matt Brooks from Tucson Audubon) who knew we’d be rolling through his small town. I know that we will have attained a Zen-like state if I feel the same way after pedaling through west Texas . . .

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Orange-headed Warbler (Malkolm)


I dismounted from my bike. Nearly a vertical mile below lay the Sonoran Desert, and our campsite in the foothills of the Chiricahuas. We had cycled up an arduous twelve mile dirt road, high into the mountains, in search of Olive Warblers. The going was incredibly slow – it took us three hours of bumpy slogging to reach the top.

I scanned the pines for any sign of movement. “There’s something,” said Ken, pointing. Something small flitted high in the tallest tree, but it always had a bunch of needles screening it from view. I craned my neck. My neck screamed in protest. “It must be a warbler, because I’m getting warbler neck.” Moments later it flew onto an open branch, flashing its orange head.

“YES!” all three of us shouted together. The Olive Warbler paused for another few moments, long enough for us to admire its contrasting black cheek and its subtle gray plumage. It was our 353rd species, well beyond my dream goal of 350 before leaving Arizona.

It fluttered to a lower branch, its orange head glowing in the sunlight. I let go of my binoculars and raised the camera. It even cooperated enough to open its mouth for the camera. “It is orange, not olive,” commented Wendy. “The ornithologist who discovered it must have worn dirty glasses.”

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Distinguishing Difficult Flycatchers (Wendy)


We cycled into New Mexico yesterday. We’ve now travelled 5000 miles and Malkolm has identified 357 birds.
For the last couple of weeks we enjoyed Arizona’s “sky islands”(mountains that rise high above the desert plain). I knew these would be refuges for pines, firs and ferns. What I didn’t expect were maples. The creeks are lined with glowing orange and red trees. If you couldn’t see the crags rising behind, you’d think you were in New England.
We hiked up Miller Canyon with Tony Battiste, Joe Woodley and Rick Romea, all local hot birders. Tony took up birding later in life, but he certainly knows his way around a pair of binoculars. When we showed him our slide show, he named each bird immediately. I was impressed. In Miller Canyon, Malkolm wanted to find some flycatchers. There is a group of 11 flycatcher species – Empidomax flycatchers – that I think look identical. Malkolm wanted to find two of them. I was happy to be a fly on the wall in this identification process.
Tony: “Another empid.”
Malkolm: “It could be a Western type.” (He meant Cordilleran or Pacific-slope Flycatcher – they are impossible to differentiate if they aren’t singing.)
Joe: “It could be a Dusky.”
Rick: “I thought I saw the teardrop shaped eye ring. But the bill is too narrow for a Western. And the bill wasn’t yellow on the bottom.” Rick opened the bird guide and showed me drawings that differentiate the appearance of flycatchers’ bills when viewed from below.
The bird flew away. Joe pulled out his bird I-Pod and connected it to a compact speaker. He played the song of Cordilleran flycatcher. The bird ignored it. Then he broadcast the Dusky Flycatcher’s song. Suddenly, the flycatcher flew in and landed above us.
Tony: “It’s in the sun! Get a picture!”
Malkolm snapped a couple of photos. Digital photography has important strengths when you are using it for bird identification. Malkolm zoomed in on specific bird parts.
Rick: “Yeah. Look at the short primary projections. And I saw the eye ring really well. It’s not pinched at the back. I agree it’s a Dusky. This is the best part of birding, putting individual clues together to come up with an ID. ”
Joe: “The most convincing thing was the way it reacted when I played the Dusky tape.”
It was like listening to fluent French speakers. I could understand what they were saying, but I could never say it myself.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Meeting with the Military (Ken)


We traveled 4500 miles before someone threw something at us. We had just cycled up to the main gate of the Fort Huachuca to see if we could explore Garden Canyon. We had heard that some of the best wildlife habitat left in the lower 48 states is behind the barbed wire on military bases. Our Tucson Audubon bird finding guide said that we should not stray away from the road or trails since there may be live ammunition lurking in the grass.

We stopped at the checkpoint, clutching our photo ID, which included Wendy and Malkolm’s Canadian Passports. Foreign nationals, it turns out, are not allowed to look for birds on the military base. It wasn’t good enough that I am a dual citizen and was willing to guarantee their good behaviour. They are a dangerous-looking duo, with their front and back panniers and binoculars around their necks.

We rolled back down into Sierra Vista, a town that sprawls down from the mountains and across the San Pedro Valley. There was no place to camp in Sierra Vista. Wendy had already asked at the Sherriff’s office if it would be okay to set up our tents in the park in town. No luck. Fortunately, Tony Battiste had generously offered us a night in his Bed and Breakfast down the road in Hereford.

We cycled southward. Something that looked like the Goodyear Blimp floated ominously above our heads. I looked nervously at it, wondering whether the eye in the sky was monitoring our conversation. We passed pawn shops, tattoo parlors, six “Dollar Stores” and one 98 Cent Store for those on a budget. A small truck zoomed by on the highway and someone flung a two-quart plastic soda bottle right at us. It floated over our heads and bounced around in the ditch. I imagined the people in the truck yelling, “And don’t come back!”

We felt better after a welcoming night at Battiste’s “Bed, Breakfast and Birds.” In the morning Magnificent and Anna’s Hummingbirds zoomed around the feeders and Yellow-rumped Warblers fluttered in the trees. We cycled up to Tony’s friend Mary Jo Ballator’s place. She also runs a birdy B & B. Woodpeckers circled her trees, wild turkeys visited and Malkolm identified the first Scott’s Oriole of the trip.

Before we left, I asked her about the blimp in the sky. “It’s called an Aerostat,” she said. “I think it is used mainly for drug-running surveillance. Fort Huachuca is the center for US Army Intelligence . . . if you don’t mind the contradiction in terms.”

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Dogs and Owls (Malkolm)


(The photo of a Burrowing Owl has nothing to do with the story, other than it’s another cute owl)

“Malkolm, wake up! There’s an owl,” shouted Wendy. I opened my eyes groggily. “Whoo-whoo whoo whooo,” boomed a Great Horned Owl.

“You aren’t supposed to wake me up for Great Horns” I snapped.

“No, there was a different kind of owl,” she persisted. ‘Woof woof,’ barked a distant dog. “Oh, sorry. I woke you up for a dog,” she apologised. I rolled over and fell back asleep. But soon Wendy yelled again, “Owl! No, it was an owl this time but it’s gone. I heard a dog flying overhead, then I realized that dogs don’t fly. But the owl had gone, so I woke you up.” I shook my head as I lay down again.

We spent the next night camping in the San Pedro Riparian Conservation Area. Again the owl drama continued. I awoke to the sound of a different owl. “Hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo whoohooh-h-hoo.” It started as a regular monotonous hooting, but then accelerated. It sounded like a Western Screech Owl, a bird that I was worrying about missing on our year. “There’s an owl,” I said.

“I heard it,” Wendy said. “But I didn’t wake you up, in case it was a dog. I didn’t want to get ridiculed again.”

Friday, October 26, 2007

In Patagonia/Wildfires/Plans (Wendy)


Oct 24, Patagonia, AZ. We are surrounded by yellowed grasslands, dotted with mesquite and desert broom. If we were in southern California, the very country we travelled through 3 weeks ago, we would be surrounded by wild fires burning out of control. More than half a million people have been evacuated from their homes. I am worried about the people we met who live there, and the people we didn’t meet, and the wild animals. I’m worried about the spotted owls we heard near Julian. Gusty winds are blowing here, and probably there as well. Rain is an impossible dream. It is frightening.
One thing about Bird Year plans is they change. We have just decided on a major change. Instead of going to Florida in May and June, when it will be hot, humid and buggy, we will go in Feb and March when it will just be hot. Our route will now take us to Florida and back to Texas. If someone had sponsored us for a dollar a mile, they would now have to donate $12000 instead of $10000. But, nobody has.
Malkolm is pushing to go to Big Bend National Park at the end of our trip. We hear Big Bend in May/June is “hot as blazes”. Like, 100-115 degrees in the lowlands, and 90-100 up high. Plus, we have to get there, along a highway with few towns. As Bird Year Safety Officer, I will be checking for availability of shade and water along the route. Air conditioning would be even better. (Yeah, yeah, I know the electricity for the air conditioning has to be produced without fossil fuels.)
Would you cycle through Texas in June? Would you take the opportunity to learn first hand about the various afflictions caused by heat? As our friend Chuck observed, “You won’t see any birds from a hospital bed”.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Bird Names (Ken)

Today I walked over to the bathroom in the late afternoon after hiking the birding trail in Catalina State Park. A man was sitting on a lawn chair, wiping down his shiny car with a sponge. An hour later, when I went back for a shower, he was polishing the door with a chamois. I don’t know what he was thinking about, but I’m sure it wasn’t about Northern Beardless-Tyrannulets.

I wonder who thinks up bird names? Take Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet. Northern? It is only found in extreme southern Arizona and Texas and points south. Beardless? Apparently it lacks the sprouting feathers around its beak of other flycatchers which makes it beardless – although you need powerful optics to tell the difference. Tyrannulet? No comment.

I don’t approve of the habit of naming birds after people. Who was Wilson anyway? Did a warbler, storm-petrel, phalarope, plover and snipe all have to be named after Wilson? Instead of Wilson’s Warbler, we could call in Black-crowned Warbler. Although maybe that wouldn’t work since its black crown is clearly visible. Has anyone seen the orange crown on an Orange-crowned Warbler?

I like the name Thrasher. I walk carefully in the desert when there could be thrashers around. I don’t like tangling with a cactus, and I certainly wouldn’t take on a thrasher. For my spiritual needs, I always turn to Godwits. A higher being with a sense of humor.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Thrashers and Date Shakes (Wendy)


I really like the desert, for 16 hours each day. People around here laugh and say “You think this is hot? You shoulda seen it last week!” But we’re northerners, and the nineties are pretty unbearable.
We passed a billboard proclaiming WORLD FAMOUS DATE MILKSHAKES! And in smaller letters “Shaded Pet Facilities”. Fortunately, our blog readers had advised us to try date milkshakes. We did. Wowsers Bowsers Triple Trousers! They have an unusual flavour, but date shakes are very good. Not too sweet. Perfect for hot desert dessert. Thank you blog commenters.
We had a rest day in Anza Borrego Desert State Park which we devoted to searching for an elusive bird of open arid land, Le Conte’s Thrasher (LCT). We set off soon after sunrise and checked the mesquite groves where the park ranger had told us to go. No luck. We decided to phone an expert for advice. He didn’t seem to mind being asked a bird question at work. He told us another place to look. “You’ll see them out in the open, running between bushes, with their long black tails sticking up. Sometimes they hop.” By the time we arrived at his spot it was getting hot. I stood quietly in the partial shade of a mesquite and scanned an arc of sand and low creosote bushes, back and forth. Nothing moved. If I was a LCT, I’d be hiding in the shade. I looked some more. Suddenly, I saw something running between bushes, and hopping, and it had a black tail that stuck up! But it wasn’t a bird. It was a jack rabbit.
By noon we were fading, and we cycled the 8 miles back to camp, stopping on the way for ice cream and cold drinks. A few hours later we were out again, thrashing though the desert in search of our bird.
We were sad to leave Anza Borrego stumped. Soon we would be out of LCT range.
A few days later, we cycled down a sandy track in the saltbrush desert, near Tacna, AZ. We had a tip from another local expert. We found a good place to camp. I had had it with walking through desert looking for LCT, but Malkolm and Ken must have felt that 46 miles of cycling was not enough exercise for the day.
“It’ll come to our camp”, I told them as they set off.
I puttered around, cleaned up the mess from a shampoo bottle exploding in our food bag, cooked pasta salad with only a bit of sand for seasoning, and after awhile Malkolm and Ken reappeared. They had seen very few birds. Little wonder, it was about a million degrees.
The sun set as we ate. A few minutes later, Malkolm jumped up. “Where are the nearest binoculars?” He had seen something running over the sand. We all looked. We saw two birds with dark tails sticking up, dashing to and fro. They’d stop to peck at the ground with their long down curved bills. Le Conte’s Thrashers!
We were all so excited and relieved that I forgot to say those four precious little words:“I told you so”.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Salton Sea (Malkolm)


“Don’t touch the water, you might dissolve,” warned Wendy as I strode towards the edge of Salton Sea. Dagger like shells coated the shore, piercing my feet. Hundreds of dead fish were littered about, presumably poisoned by the waters of Salton Sea. Agricultural run-off, packed with pesticides has concentrated toxins in this land-locked sea. Yet birds love the place. Rarities such as Blue-footed Boobies from Mexico and a Ross’s Gull from the Arctic have been seen here. And Salton Sea is the only place north of the border where Yellow-footed Gulls can be seen. And so I talked Wendy and Ken into cycling through the mud and the heat to bird here.
I raised my binoculars and scanned the area for any sign of the Yellow-footed Gull. There were Ring-billed and California Gulls everywhere, yet I couldn’t spot our target bird. “There’s one!” called Ken, pointing at a boulder. Two Yellow-footed Gulls rested there, huge, with very dark backs and bright yellow legs. I wandered towards them, snapping photos every few seconds.
“Let’s get out of here and find some shade,” Wendy said. We returned to our bikes, and cycled down a bumpy road towards the Sonny Bono National Wildlife Refuge headquarters. We found a picnic table under a palm frond roof and relaxed. Gambel’s Quails and Abert’s Towhees scratched for food underneath bushes, two new species for our list. Ken unearthed a deck of cards, and we put up our feet, happy about the day’s birds, and thinking that the excitement was over. Suddenly there was a violent rustle from above, followed by series of agonized squeaks. Ken leaped back from the table, shocked. A snake had caught a rat in the roof of the shelter. Surprises never stop coming!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Chasing a good, "staked-out" bird (Ken)


In case you are not a fanatic birder, here are a couple of definitions so you can better understand this blog.
A “good bird”: a good bird is a bird that is rare, or far away from its normal range. A Blue Jay in San Francisco is a good bird. A Blue Jay in Pittsburgh is not a good bird, although I don’t think a Blue Jay is bad under any circumstances.
A “staked out” bird: when a birder discovers a rare bird (or one out of its range) and reports its location, it is staked out. It isn’t literally tied to a stake.
“Chasing rarities” aka “twitching”: when a birder goes to great lengths (usually literally) to look for a bird. The bird need not be a rare bird (although those are most highly prized); it could also be a bird far away from its normal range. A Blue Jay is ho-hum in the east, but if it wanders to San Francisco, watch out for stampeding birders.
When we were in Orange County, we heard via the birders grape-vine that a Bar-tailed Godwit was staked out in San Diego. Bar-tailed Godwits breed in northern Alaska and set off on an incredible migration to the South Pacific. Every year a few Bar-tailed presumably get lost and land on the west coast, but rarely as far south as San Diego. Several birders we met had already made the trip south to see it. “That’s a great bird for San Diego,” we heard. Malkolm decided then and there that he wanted to chase the godwit.
Chasing a rarity by bike isn’t as easy as by car. Our friends from Orange County had hopped in a car, motored south to see the godwit, and presumably been back for lunch. We cycled south from Orange County, accompanied by Scott Thomas and his son Ryan. At the end of the day we had made it as far as San Clemente. Scott and his wife Cheryl had looked after us for days, but now Scott had to return to his real life. We waved goodbye, stopped at the local library and checked the internet birding hot-line. The Bar-tailed Godwit was still staked out, and now there were two bonus birds: a Yellow-green Vireo and a Tropical Kingbird (both birds usually seen south of the Mexican border). Both good birds.
We cycled hard the next day into a strong headwind. After a few nagging bike problems including my back wheel almost falling off, we reached our campground at dusk. We were still about 20 miles north of the staked out godwit. The Tropical Kingbird was conveniently close to the godwit, but the vireo was 10 miles further south.
We set off at first light, with the description of a bike route taken off the internet scribbled on the back of a scrap of paper. We cycled up a long hill and found our way to a visitor information kiosk. Malkolm called the birder’s hot-line and listened to the recorded message. “The godwit and the kingbird were still there yesterday,” he told us, “but the no one saw the vireo.” I didn’t say so to Malkolm, but I was secretly relieved that we didn’t have to cycle 10 miles south of the godwit stake-out.
On our final leg south, I caught a glimpse of a dark heron standing next to a Snowy Egret. I yelled to Malkolm and Wendy that I thought I might have seen a Reddish Egret. We wheeled around to take a look. “It’s a Little Blue Heron,” said Malkolm. “According to the bird book it is rare here, although not as rare as a Reddish Egret. “A good bird,” I thought.
Our instructions were that we could see the godwit from a 7-11 store overlooking the Famosa Slough. We knew we were in the right place because several people stood by a fence, staring through a spotting scope. We rolled up to them and asked whether the godwit was still in residence. They said that it had just flown over to the other side of the slough. “We just saw a Little Blue Heron,” I told them enthusiastically. They stared at me as if I had just told them about a starling. They packed up their scope and walked quickly to their car.
Malkolm quickly found the Bar-tailed Godwit which was conveniently feeding near a larger Marbled Godwit for comparison. It was a juvenile, and the differences were subtle. I never would have picked it out. Then I noticed another Little Blue Heron behind the godwits. I guess maybe it wasn’t such a good bird after all.
Two days later we had cycled over a pass and camped in the woods near Julian,California. As we crawled into our sleeping bags we heard the distinctive, raucous calls of a pair of Spotted Owls. We’d been hoping to hear them for months. We hadn’t chased these endangered birds. I’m sure they were good.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Livin’ it Up in Orange County (Wendy)


We opened our five-star hotel room door and noticed that someone had visited. The clutter on our work table had been pushed back. “To the Boothroyd Family” read an envelope propped on a wooden plate of fruit and flowers. Behind this sat two glass bottles of “artesian water from Norway”. Beside it sat a plate with five chocolate covered strawberries resting on a brown sugar beach. A curving band of blue gel–candy was the sea, and on the beach, made of different colours of chocolate : a palm tree, a turtle, a seashell and two surfboards.

“This is not ordinary brown sugar” mumbled Ken, his mouth full. “This is maple sugar!”

Our bed covers were drawn back, and our pillows (6 per bed) had been stacked on edge like the battlements of an ancient castle.

We took about 100 photographs. Normal photos, like the one of Malkolm’s tent pitched in the bathroom. (You would have done that, wouldn’t you? Just because there was more than enough free floor space to do it). Most of the photos did not turn out, or this blog would have been adorned with a picture of me, reclining on the 6 pillows of my puffy white king sized bed, while Ken fed me grapes.

We are such hicks.

The Sea and Sage Audubon Society in Orange County was looking after us for two days. They are hospitality wizards. They took us seriously when we told them we had big appetites on this trip, and they fed us at every opportunity. They arranged for a complimentary dinner at Dukes, an renowned seafood restaurant, and they got Hyatt Regency to donate a “deluxe room” (I’m calling it the royal suite). They fretted about our route south of Orange County to Salton Sea, and gathered all sorts of road information. They worried more about our safety than I do, and I’m the safety officer.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Los Angeles (Malkolm)


“I think I need to pump my tire again” said Ken. He leaned his bike against a lamp post and fumbled with the pump. Ken’s back tire had started the day with a very slow leak, having to be pumped once an hour. But the leak had got faster and faster during the day now Ken had to re-inflate his tire every five minutes. I glanced at the sun, trying to estimate how much time we had before dark. Not long. We were somewhere in Los Angeles, trying to reach our hotel room, before darkness would make the scary ride worse.
“The pump’s stopped working,” groaned Ken. He dug around in the trailer for the less efficient spare. The sun dropped behind a building, casting shadows about us. Ken finished pumping. I swung my leg over the bike, pushed off and followed Wendy and Ken down the street. I tried not to worry about the current situation. Instead, I thought of the morning’s excitement.
I had photographed a Gray Catbird near our campsite, a species WAY out of range. After Jennifer Klausner and Kevin Kohler from the LA bike coalition had escorted through us to Santa Monica, we met some birders from the LA Audubon. Many of our Californian events wouldn’t have been possible without their help. As soon as I had mentioned the Catbird, one of them whipped out his blackberry and posted the report online.
Finally, we saw the hotel. It didn’t matter that hours had been wasted taking photos of us cycling along the crowded LA beaches, or that Ken’s tire hadn’t been fixed back in Sana Monica. The sun had just set, but we had reached our destination. I breathed a sigh of relief. I had tomorrow to rest, write my blog and to enjoy the LA smog!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Wrens before breakfast (Ken)


We were hungry when we cycled into Gorda. We’re used to eating plenty of food because of our bicyclists appetites, but we’d chosen to go light after we left Monterey. We knew that we had to cover some miles. All we’d had to eat that morning (after a less-than-adequate supper the night before) was two-thirds of a muffin each.

Believe it or not, this was the first time we’ve gone out for breakfast since we left the Yukon. We sat down and ordered eggs, home-style potatoes and toast ($9.95 + tax). The server wore a T-shirt with what looked like a sea-lion on it. Below it said The Great Seal of the Gorda Springs Resort. A sign post outside the window had arrows pointing to Los Angeles, Monterey, the bathrooms (Bouys and Gulls) – and straight out to sea – to whales. A painted wooden sign behind Malkolm said,

”the Gods do not deduct from Man’s allotted time – the hours spent in whale watching.”

“What about the hours spent in watching birds?” I thought.

Four people walked in, speaking German. They sat down next to us. The two men were dressed casually, but neatly. The women were straight out Vogue. The strawberry blond was dressed all in white. Her nails were the color of the smoked salmon on her bagel. The brunette wore tight jeans with a black blouse and jacket. Her nails matched the Heinz catsup on the table. It had taken us 45 minutes that morning to take down our tents, swill a cup of coffee, eat our meagre breakfast and load our bikes. I wondered how long it had taken them to get ready that morning.

Wendy leaned towards me and whispered, “They’re starved to perfection.” Then she said, “your shirt is on inside out.”

Our meals arrived. The “home-style potatoes” were straight out of a freezer – but maybe that is home-style these days. Our overpriced meals were every bit as good as a $2.99 Grand Slam at Denny’s. An Anna’s hummingbird buzzed past the window and hovered beside a profusion of honeysuckles and geraniums. Several crows squabbled over something. An orange tortoise-shell cat stood watchfully, hungrily. A bird fluttered against the transparent plexiglass lining the courtyard outside the restaurant.

“It’s a Bewick’s Wren,” said Malkolm.

The bird battered against the plexiglass and fell back under a table. Malkolm left his breakfast without a word and darted outside. He gently threw his light cycling jacket over the wren, reached inside and grasped it in a bird-bander’s grip. He walked quickly across the highway and found a cat-free resting place in a patch of Monterey Pines. He set the bird down and watched until it recovered enough to fly away.

For Malkolm, birds come even before breakfast.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

CA Condors & Lead Shot (Wendy)


We cycled down the Big Sur coast, scanning the skies for California Condors. These endangered birds are ginormous black vultures with white under their wings. From a distance, a condor may be mistaken for a small airplane.
Disclaimer: I have not checked these facts! Condors almost went extinct - many were shot by humans, others got poisoned by lead shot. Condors are scavengers, and they were eating animals that had been killed with lead bullets. There was a captive breeding program for years, and recently condors have been released in the wild. They are still being fed, and closely monitored.
We toiled up a hill, watching for a pullout we had been told was a popular condor hangout. I rounded a curve and knew we were in the right place. It was marked by that never-fail sign, people with a spotting scope. Sure enough, one red headed condor (#71) sat in the top of a pine tree. A gray headed one (#36) sat on the top of the framed roof of a house under construction. Four more soared in slow circles above the ridge – a “kettle of condors”. “Hey look!” called Malkolm, “there goes an airplane for comparison”.
I brought out our bagels, and we sat down for the show. The condors did not let us down. They all glided down and circled low over our heads before settling on the cliffs right below us. The thick, fluffed out feathers on the neck of one juvenile made it look like it was wearing a feather boa. One of the biologists who is studying the condors arrived, guiding a group from the Monterey Bay Birding Festival. “These condors still get lead toxicity”, she explained, “and some of them even need chelation therapy. A bill before the California State Government will be voted on Oct 14. The bill would ban lead ammunition for people hunting within the range of the condors”.
We’d heard that the bill seemed sure to pass, until recently. The National Rifle Association (NRA) is opposed and has a powerful lobby. It seems they don’t want hunters to have to pay more for safe bullets within the limited area of the Condor’s range. It’s Big Guns against Big Birds, and the birds don’t stand a chance unless people speak up. So please contact Governor Schwarzenegger and ask him to support bill AB821 and Get the Lead Out!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Sailing and seabirds (Malkolm)


“Look!” exclaimed Tim Amaral, our seabird expert (Redtail Adventures). “White belly and underwing, ‘M’ pattern on back...”
I raised my binoculars. Six light shearwaters stood out from amongst the hundreds of brown and silver Sooty Shearwaters that flew alongside our boat. One of the light shearwaters tilted its wings, flashing its boldly patterned gray and brown back. “Buller’s Shearwater!”
We were on a small sailboat, somewhere off Monterey. We’d chartered the craft for a day of pelagic birding. Our captain, Eric, tightened some ropes, let another loose and with a flick of the tiller laid us on a new tack. The boat leaned over at an alarming angle, I grabbed the railing to stop from sliding down the deck. The boat pitched frighteningly as it lurched into the trough of a wave. I fought to keep sickness at bay. “Pelagic sailing isn’t for the faint of heart,” said Tim.
Eric steered us into the heart of a flock of Sooty Shearwaters resting on the water. The birds directly in our patch fluttered away, but most remained seated, giving us spectacular views. “This is a definite advantage over a power boat,” commented Tim. “Whenever we motor into a resting flock, all the shearwaters scatter.”
Ken reached into a garbage bag full of burnt popcorn and tossed a handful overboard. A couple passing Heermann’s Gull wheeled around and swooped at the food. We soon had a trail of gulls following the boat. By having a flock of gulls behind us we hoped to attract albatrosses or skuas that wanted to check out what the frenzy was all about. But we were distracted by lunch and chumming was forgotten. We lost the trail of gulls. We reached the edge of an underwater canyon, where rising currents brought nutrients to the surface. Ken threw some popcorn at a passing gull. It turned excitedly, then flew on, as if it had caught a whiff of the burnt food. “Snob,” muttered Ken, “Why wouldn’t a gull gorged on sardines and crustations want to eat gross popcorn?”
New species continued to trickle in, hundreds of Pink-footed Shearwaters, a South Polar Skua that barrelled past, and then, our day’s highlight... “Over there!” called Ken. I looked away from a small flock of phalaropes and saw a tiny, dark bird. “Ashy Storm-Petrel!” called Tim. The bird flew in a direct line, with shallow, rapid wingbeats. It circled and followed the boat for a minute before disappearing. While I desired a better view, I did see enough of the flight pattern to determine that it was an Ashy Storm-Petrel. “That’s the find of the day,” exclaimed Tim. “That’s our ‘needle in the haystack’ bird!”

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Magic (Ken)


Last Friday we had the privilege of birding with Todd Newberry near Elkhorn Slough (north of Monterey, California). Todd is the author of "The Ardent Birder". Todd shared most of a day of his life with us – a generous gift. Along the way he helped Malkolm identify 7 new species for his Bird Year list, including a Nuttall’s Woodpecker that appeared as if by magic when Todd played a brief recording of its call.
We know about magic since we just finished reading the last Harry Potter book out loud. Reading books out loud is a family tradition every morning and evening. And since all is well with Harry Potter, we started reading "The Ardent Birder". We’re not only learning birding tips that Todd learned over a lifetime of enjoying birds and their habitat – we’re also absorbing his quiet humor and wisdom. ("The Ardent Birder" is published by Ten Speed Press. If it is not at your local independent bookseller’s, you can order it from Amazon).
We’ve just entered the beginning pages of Todd’s book. He describes four levels of birders: beginners, intermediates, varsity and the Major Leagues. I think Todd modestly puts himself into the varsity (I’m proud to be a solid intermediate). Yesterday morning, we happened upon a major leaguer. Coincidentally, we were about to call Brian Sullivan who C.J. Ralph had introduced to us via cyberspace. Instead, as Malkolm and I cycled along the coast near Monterey, he (magically?) appeared, wearing rubber boots and carrying a scope.
Brian is able to talk with you while his senses are also tuned to bird clues. In the middle of a sentence he paused, pointed upward into an apparently empty sky and said “Townsend’s Warbler.” I hadn’t heard a thing over the pounding of the surf and the chattering of blackbirds. He wasn’t showing off – his awareness of another world that most of us miss is an ingrained part of him – at least that’s my impression after knowing him for half an hour.
You seldom meet a “major league” athlete or a “star”. You can find major league birders however, down at your local wetland, beach or forest. They’ll even talk to you.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Fossil Fuel Free Birding & Mushroom Ice Cream (Wendy)


Have you ever tried mushroom ice cream? We did. They make it at Cowlicks in Fort Bragg. I recommend it.
Since coming into California, people have given us a warm welcome. They have treated us as though we are doing something special. It's flattering. There is not space in the blog to thank everyone, so we do that on our web site acknowledgments page.
Time for statistics. Today is the 87th day of our trip. We have slept in a tent for 77 nights. We have travelled 3182 miles. We have had 11 flat tires. Malkolm has 248 birds on his list - that works out to 13 miles per species. The ABA Big Year record holder, Sandy Komito, travelled approximately 360 miles for each of his species.
Fossil fuel free birding is not new. We have met some champions. CJ and Carol Ralph, in Arcata, have a “yard list” that is one bird less than the total Yukon bird list. Keith Hansen, in Bolinas, counts birds from his one room art gallery (plus the top steps). He is at 207 species. Mind you, Bolinas is a birdy place.
Keith is a wildlife artist who does wonderful, intricate bird paintings. He is a self taught “birdologist”. He is one of those people who can’t keep still. He bounces as he talks. I think he has new ideas popping into his brain all the time. One of his joys is the “Big Foot Hour”, in which he walks,runs, and counts. His record is 83 species. We hope we can use some of Keith’s cool ideas to promote our “Bird Day Challenge”.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

S.O.S. (Ken)


We just passed the 3000 mile mark on our Bird Year journey. Some days my legs feel as if we’ve traveled a long way. It’s our own fault, but we’re carrying too much stuff (including a heavy camera with a telephoto lens, a scope, a tripod and a laptop computer to update our Bird Year website). Yesterday we cycled 60+ miles. We went up and down a series of short, steep hills and winding corners. We needed a place to rest at the end of the day.
A few days ago in Fort Bragg we joined some members of the Mendocino Coast Audubon Society on their S.O.S. (Save Our Shorebirds) project. They’re keeping track of the shorebirds that stop to feed and rest at “stop-over” sites along the coast. They are also communicating with people about how to care for these important places along the bird’s migratory path. Among the birds we saw were Red-necked Phalaropes, Whimbrels, Semi-palmated Sandpipers, Short-billed Dowitchers and a Buff-breasted Sandpiper.
The shorebirds are traveling a lot further than Malkolm, Wendy and I. And our “migration” is by choice. The shorebirds don’t have a choice – they have to rest and fuel for the next stage of their long migration. Our best wishes go out to the great people who give up their time for projects like SOS.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Arcata Marsh (Malkolm)


The roar of heavy machinery disturbed the peace of the marsh. I glanced over at the construction zone, wondering how much wetland was being destroyed.

“This is a rare example of where development is helping birds,” said Dave Fix, an expert who was showing us around Arcata Marsh. “That used to be moo-cow habitat, but the City of Arcata bought it and is turning it into a wetland. They’re doing a good job too. See those big piles of dirt- they’ll be islands, which the shorebirds will love.”

Of course, “re-wilding” isn’t as good as leaving a place alone to start with, but it’s a start. It’s great that a City Council would do something progressive like making developed land wild again, instead of filling in the entire wetland, to build a something like a giant strip mall.

We wandered through the wetland, marvelling at the flocks of Marbled Godwits, Willets and American Avocets, and glad that this place wasn’t covered in pavement.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Oregon State Park Biker Camps – YEAH! (Wendy)


We have been in California for 3 days now, and I want to talk about Oregon before it is too late.
The photo has nothing to do with my story, but it does show that Oregon is cool. Have you ever seen a bike rest area before? I havn’t.

This happened awhile ago.We’d passed by two other state parks early that Saturday afternoon, and struck out for the Nehalen BayState Park, twenty miles further on. It was as far as we wanted to go that day. Our route took us up,up, up and up, over the second highest hill on the Oregon coast. Drizzly rain fell. My legs were tired. It was time to stop. Finally, I spotted the small brown sign I’d been waiting for: “ State Park Turn Left ¼ Mile”. Below it, “Campground Full”.

“We’ve got to got check it out”, I said,”There are no hotels or RV parks here”.

At the kiosk, another sign in block capitals: ALL CAMPSITES ARE FULL. THE ONES THAT LOOK EMPTY ARE RESERVED.

Dispirited, we waited while the ranger checked in a man who had reservations to camp with his horses.

“Do you have any space for bikers?” We tried not to sound like we were begging.

“Always!” the ranger replied cheerfully.

It feels so good to be the privileged ones.

The hiker/biker sites are cheap ($4 each includes hot showers)and are in the best location in most parks –quiet clearings in the trees, removed from the congested loops of RV’s. And, your neighbours are quiet, because they are dog tired, just like you.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Bird Year Sporting News (Ken)


“When we were approaching the 19th hole, we wondered whether we’d break par, but birders in Oregon gave us 110%,” said Malkolm Boothoyd yesterday. “Tim Rodenkirk pulled off a string of birdies at the Coos Bay course (including Pacific Golden Plovers, Buff-breasted Sandpipers, a Baird’s Sandpiper and hundreds of Red-necked Phalaropes).”
With time running out in the fourth quarter, Diane Pettey in Florence pulled out all the stops. “Diane wanted it more than we did,” said Wendy. “We finished a strong second place with the Anna’s Hummingbird – but I admit to be Bitternly disappointed that no American Bittern showed its beak.”
Up in Seaside, Mike Patterson skated hard and really put the birds in the net. Well, he actually took them out of the net (gently) in an ongoing banding effort to learn more about songbird migration in northern Oregon. “I couldn’t believe how much Mike knows about birds,” said Ken. “No matter how many times we thought we had him down with a hard question, he always bounced back with the answer." As Tim later told us, “he’s a walking encyclopedia.” Mike was also enthusiastic enough to ride with us and show us Western Grebes, Clark’s Grebes and Black-headed Grosbeaks.
Thanks to all the Oregon Birders the ones we met and the ones we didn’t meet this time (and the birds)!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Lotsa Blackberries, no Hermits. (Wendy)


Serious birders talk in a certain way. Malkolm"needs to get Hermit Warbler”, and soon. The trouble is, Hermit Warblers are no longer singing. A local expert gave us some tips. He showed us the type of forest Hermit Warblers like. They hang out in mixed feeding flocks with chickadees. We would need to hear some chickadees, and then call them in by “pishing” or hooting like a screech owl. Hermit Warblers would follow the chickadees to us.
At Cape Perpetua, we found the right kind of forest. For two hours we climbed through that forest, hooting and pishing. Plenty of chickadees came to see us, but no Hermits.
Cape Perpetua is also the home of the most profuse, luscious, easy-to-pick blackberries on Planet Earth. Our Hermit Warbler search suffered as a result.
Next morning, we ate a gourmet breakfast: commercial whole wheat (just add water) “crepes” heaped with fresh blackberries and whipped cream.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Refreshing weather (Ken)


“It has rained 14 of the 16 days we’ve been gone so far,” said one of the cyclists we met at the state park campground near Manzanita, Oregon. “We’re staying put until the sun comes out.”
Those cyclists have been on approximately the same route as us – so I guess we’ve had the same number of wet days. On the other hand, there has been some sun on all of those days. Plus, as Malkolm learned in A.C.E.S, his Outdoor Ed course, there is no such thing as bad weather, only different types of good weather! Apparently rain is “refreshing.”
During one of those wet days, we had a great day of observing bird banding with Mike Patterson in Seaside, Oregon. Mike is the kind of expert who can tell you not only what species of bird you are seeing, but what sex and age. He kindly took us out into the rain after the banding was done to look for Hermit Warblers, Clark’s Grebes and anything else we could find. Thanks Mike!
Since we met the two cyclists, we’ve had a several more “refreshing” days of peddling southward. I suppose they’re still back in Manzanita.

Oops (Malkolm)

After Mike Patterson read my blog about finding the house wren, he noticed a mistake. “This is a very common mistake that I've seen some pretty high-end birders make,” he emailed to me. “What you photographed is a hatch-year MARSH WREN. Note the yellow gape which gets you to hatch-year. If one looks at the photo and thinks Marsh Wren there's the faint striping of mantle, the hint of broad, rather than fine barring on the primaries.”
Thanks for the correction Mike! Luckily we managed to reach 200 before we left Washington, we found and correctly identified (I hope!) a Snow Goose.

Friday, August 17, 2007

"Mile"stones (Malkolm)


We’ve reached two big milestones in the past few days, the first one a “mile”stone.
We passed our 2,000th mile in Ocean Shores, Washington after a day of birding in the dunes and beaches at the end of the peninsula. We had strolled along a beach, finding species #197, a Red-necked Phalarope amongst a flock of Least Sandpipers. After admiring the shorebirds we turned our attention to the ocean, where we found two more new species, a Red-breasted Merganser and a Black Scoter.
We looked hard for Pacific Golden-Plovers and Snowy Plovers, but the 200th species remained hidden. The next day we cycled to Grays Harbour NWR and walked along a boardwalk through a marsh. There were lots of Marsh Wrens, surprisingly easy to see, for a species seldom seen in the open. However, they were too far away for a good look. Finally one fluttered towards me. It was an overall reddish brown, with little contrast in its plumage. I suddenly realized that they weren’t Marsh Wrens but House Wrens... our 200th species.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Optics & Eating (Wendy)


It started out as “Bird Year”. Soon I came to think of it as “Exercize Year”. Those names still apply, but now I am calling this “Eating Year”. Being on our bikes all day is making us ravenous. (Hey, raven-ous, a bird word). I have always been an enthusiastic eater, and now I can eat as much as I want and not worry about my weight. I love it!
The raven in the photo was chowing down on grasshoppers, high on Hurricane Ridge.
Christianne brought new “optics” with her when she visited last week. What a difference good equipment makes! We are very grateful to American Birding Association Sales for donating a pair of Vortex Diamondback binoculars to Bird Year.
The high point for me has been the visit from the Tufted Puffin, that Ken wrote about in his last blog. We work so hard to try find certain birds, and that puffin gave us a great reward.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Puffin Search (Ken)


We’ve been away from internet access since Sequim and there are too many blog choices for me to write about. I could write about the steep bike ride up to Hurricane Ridge in search of the elusive Sooty Grouse. I could write about hearing the haunting hoots of what might have been a Spotted Owl in the old growth forest near the “Heart O’ the Hills” campground. I could write about the clear-cuts girdling Olympic National Park – part of the network of clear-cut forests that stretch through what was at one time healthy habitat for Spotted Owls from California to British Columbia.
But I think I’ll write about our search for a puffin. We were hoping to see a Tufted Puffin near La Push on the Washington coast. In the early summer, puffins nest on the rocky islands just offshore from the mouth of the Quilayute River. We set up our new scope and searched the grassy summits where their burrows should be. No puffins. We scanned the ocean below the rocks. There were Common Murres, Surf and White-winged Scoters, Pigeon Guillemots, cormorants and Marbled Murrelets – but no Puffins. We asked if we could rent a sea-kayak, but there were none to be had.
We hiked along First and Second Beaches where there were hundreds of gulls but no puffins. Then Malkolm and I decided to walk back to the marina in what I thought was a one in a thousand chance to find someone with a row-boat or a sea-kayak that we could borrow or rent. Maybe it had only been a one in a hundred chance. When we got there we found a sea-kayaking company just finishing a float down the river. We convinced them to rent us a single and a double.
I still didn’t expect to see a puffin. After a couple of hours of paddling though, a Tufted Puffin appeared, right beside our kayaks. We floated about ten yards away and watched as it preened its feathers. Its triangular orange bill glowed in the late afternoon sunlight. It stretched its wings and flapped, ducked its head under the surface and flapped again. About 15 minutes later it finally dove and disappeared.
Wendy said she thought the puffin had made a special visit to us. I don’t know about that, but it was a special time for the three of us, no matter what the puffin’s intentions.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Oars, sails and tides (Malkolm)


I leaned over the gunwale of the “Bear”; a replica of an 18th century longboat, like the ones Captain Vancouver used in 1792 when he explored these waters. The boat is part of the fleet used by the Port Townsend Sea Scouts, a group of adventuresome young sailors. The water of Puget Sound lapped peacefully against the side of the boat as we sailed forward.
“But how far forward?” I wondered. I glanced at a nearby peninsula to check our progress. We were no farther along the peninsula than the last time I looked. “Strange.”
“We’re not making much headway,” yelled a sea scout. “I think we’re going backwards!”
We were stuck in a strong current, created by the tide flowing out of the inlet that we were heading for.
“Take in sail! Out oars!” called the skipper, Norm. “We’ll head to shore.” I grabbed my oar, my blistered hands screaming in protest. We inched forward, all the effort that we put into each stroke seemed to be stolen by the current. But gradually we got closer, until finally the hull scraped against the bottom. We jumped ashore and examined the situation. Finally we decided to skirt the shore where the current would be less and then cross the inlet to Port Townsend.
Thankfully the plan worked and an hour and a half later the longboat and her exhausted crew slid into port. We had sore arms and blistered hands, but a great story to tell.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Boots Boothroyd, Seawall & Cellphones (Wendy)


Malkolm has a firm bicycling heritage. My dad, now 86, has always loved the freedom of cycling, the wind in his hair. He hates bike helmets. (He believes they increase your chance of a serious neck injury, plus they interfere with the wind in your hair.) Boots rides a 10 speed with a very high seat and skinny tires. We all rode down to the White Spot for dinner. With his bum in the air and head crouched low, he disappeared down the hill like a bat out of hell. I cautiously followed, praying he wouldn't hit gravel. I don't want to see blood spurting out from his head of fine windblown white hair.
We spent 5 days in Vancouver. We rode on the seawall in Stanley Park on a sunny Saturday. The path was full of holidayers and healthy Vancouverites out exercizing. We actually were able to overtake a few of the cyclists, which made me feel like a real athlete.
As we headed out of town, a well dressed cyclist rode slowly ahead of us, up the sidewalk of Lion's Gate Bridge. She was talking on her cellphone. She was not paying attention to the road. As Malkolm passed her she swerved, and knocked him into the guardrail.
There ought to be a law about cycling and cellphones.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A real rest day (ken)


Our hardest cycling day so far was the trip over the pass between Lillooet and Pemberton. We sweated up 13% grades only to lose the elevation we’d gained on a steep downhill. Getting to the summit was like a game of Snakes and Ladders, laboriously fighting upward only to slide quickly back down. When we finally reached the top, we were met by a three-day rainstorm. Fortunately we were heading for a port in the storm – Rachel Shephard’s house in Brackendale (near Squamish).
We’ve known Rachel for decades and we’ve done lots of fun trips together from sea-kayaking in Baja California to climbing in Yosemite to paddling the Nahanni River. We dried out and re-energized at Rachel’s. We went for a walk with some of Rachel’s birding friends: Chris & Bev Dale and Jim Meyer. We found Red-crossbills and Chris also gave us lots of helpful advice about birding destinations on our way to Washington.
We`ve had several unrestful “rest” days so far. Cycling up a creek and hiking for hours up a steep dirt road in search of ptarmigan. Cycling up a dusty logging road in a heat wave looking unsuccessfully for a Black-backed Woodpecker. Today we`re having a real rest day at Wendy`s parent`s place in West Vancouver. Our only exercise was a meagre 26 kilometers to Stanley Park where we saw a Mute Swan and a Wood Duck.