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, 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.”