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.

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.