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.

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.

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