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, 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.