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.



Thursday, November 13, 2008

Ski-cycling (Ken)


After returning home from Bird Year, we’ve decided to continue our car-less, though not necessarily careless existence. We aren’t sticklers for traveling solely by non-fossil-fuel power, but usually we hop in a vehicle with someone only if they are heading the same way we are anyway.

A couple of days ago I decided to cycle through Whitehorse and up to the cross-country ski trails. With 13,000 miles of cycling behind me, I thought that the trip would be easy. I shoved my boots in the bottom of a backpack and wedged my skis and poles in beside them. I wobbled out of the driveway with the ski tips wobbling above my head like willows bending in a stiff breeze. A flock of Bohemian Waxwings in the spruce trees across the street ignored me as did a solitary Raven out on business of its own.

The side streets were clogged with snow – no problem for the trucks and snow-machines that whizzed by me. I tried the sidewalks which were mainly clear of snow. That worked well, until my skis listed to the side and smashed into a road sign. I slithered to a stop. I never had to cope with this problem last June in Texas.

After that I paid more attention to my unwieldy load, weaving carefully around signs and overhanging branches. I only made as far as downtown on the bike. I locked it outside the grocery store and hike the last few kilometers to the trails.

The next day our friend Lewis cycled to our place with his skies safely and cleverly bungee-corded along the frame of his bike. I’ll try that next time.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Haines Report (Wendy)


YA-HOO! We just returned from a week in Haines, Alaska. We picked blueberries with the determination of blueberry lovers who didn’t get to pick last year. Now we have 18 “blueberry pie equivalents” neatly stacked in the freezer. Also, sour cherries and pesto made from beach lovage. We have jars of dried mushrooms –cauliflower, chanterelles and boletes.

Ken usually catches enough pink salmon to fill a cooler. Last week a young brown bear with blond ears interfered. This bear swam out to the island where Ken was fishing, chewed on his box of lures, and then returned to shore and lay down at the place where he would walk back. Ken realized if he caught anything he couldn’t bring it home. Our friends made up for our shortage of pinks. They gave us sockeye salmon, halibut and crabs. We are lucky ducks.

The front page story in the Chilkat Valley News was about the outdoor ping pong table that our friend Eric built out of concrete. We helped rig up a canvas tarp over it – the tarp weighed about as much as the concrete table. We had a table tennis tournament while a winter wren chirped from the wood pile.

When we landed in Haines, curtains of rain glistened in front of the dark green forest. This has been the coldest summer there since 1974, with only 16 days reaching 60 degrees Fahrenheit. I put on all my long underwear. I thanked Malkolm for reminding me to bring rain pants. I got chilled, riding the ten miles out to our friends’ place outside town.

Cruise ship passengers also cycled in Haines that day. One guide led a bike tour along the Chilkoot River.”I apologized about the rain,” he said. “But they did not mind it at all. They were happy to experience rain. They were from southern California.”

Thursday, July 31, 2008

All Media is Good Media (Malkolm)


Admittedly, there are few would ever undertake a year-long journey in search of different species of mice.”

That was printed in the Yukon News, just after we arrived home in Whitehorse, Yukon. We were joined by friends and family for the final 70 mile ride back home, after we cycled over the White Pass from Skagway. Then we were greeted by a flurry of interviews. But that whacky statement in the Yukon News was not the first of its kind.

Supposedly any press attention, whether it is positive or negative, accurate or riddled with errors, helps your project. We’ve been blessed with plenty of media attention during our travels, but nearly every time there have been mistakes, such as:

A TV program from our home in Whitehorse superimposed a silent clip of us all chuckling, when our voices were discussing the decline of Spotted Owls.

A news station in Florida showed footage of a Turkey Vulture while I said, “There’s a Bald Eagle!”

A newspaper in Florida wrote that the big year world record holder traveled 100,000 miles, (he traveled 270,000 air miles) and mentioned that he raised 60,000 dollars (as far as I know he raised no money, though probably spent way more than that amount on travel expenses).

An article that was syndicated to big city papers throughout Texas diminished Ken’s 57 year old age to 16.

But not all articles about us are flawed. Jane Braxton Little, the author that wrote the Audubon Magazine article (March/April 2008) meticulously went over every quote with us, and Audubon’s fact checker made sure the article was completely accurate.

If you find any inconsistencies in this blog, shhhh!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Memory Lane Blues (Ken)


Yesterday we cycled north down Memory Lane. Memory Lane, aka Chuckanut Drive, just south of Bellingham, Washington. The Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Swainson’s Thrushes and Winter Wrens were singing, just like a year ago when we were heading south.

“Today I feel sad,” Wendy told us. “When we were here before we had a year of feedom before us, and now it’s almost over.”

Malkolm looked into his bowl of cereal, bananas and orange juice. We had forgotten to buy milk yesterday. “I don’t know if I can finish this,” he said, gazing into the brownish-orange glop in his bowl.

I didn’t ask him if he was missing the freedom of the road.

Later today we are boarding a ferry north to Skagway. We’ll taste freedom again for a couple of days when we ride over the White Pass back to Whitehorse. Then, I hope, we’ll start thinking of the next adventure.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

CBC, Kiwis & a Coincidence (Wendy)



A security guard buzzed Malkolm and I through the bullet proof doors at Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Vancouver building. He directed us down a long corridor to Studio 5. We passed a lot of other studios on the way, but what I noticed was the large room for storing bikes. At studio 5 we met Rick Cluff, who has a huge smiling face. He interviewed us for “Sounds Like Canada”. It airs right across the country.

Think globally, act locally. Neil and Hazel MacMillan are sheep ranchers near the Bay of Islands in New Zealand. Hazel volunteers in the annual kiwi census, sitting up at night and listening for the whistles of these rare birds. They wrote to our website. “We have fenced one area of native bush this year (from our stock getting in there ) and are about to do a second one where we often hear the kiwi” Habitat protection at home....Way to go, Neil and Hazel!

Flashback - We rode the Greyhound bus from Ft Stockton TX to El Paso. Lugging my bulky, heavy carry-on bags, I sqeeezed into the last empty seat, near the back of the bus. The bus was full of young families. A baby squawked. Beside me sat a friendly young man heading home from auto mechanic’s college. “Where is Albuquerque?” he asked. Anticipating the long ride to Vancouver, I had decided this was the right time to tackle my book club’s chosen book. I pulled out War and Peace. Pencil in hand I started to read, scribbling notes in margins and cross referencing names. The man behind me tapped my shoulder. “Want to see something funny?” he asked. He showed me his book: War and Peace. Two War and Peaces in one Greyhound bus. What are the chances of that?

Monday, July 7, 2008

Boring Blog (Makolm)

Its a cold and nippy 70 degrees here in Vancouver. Brrr! But its a nice change from 110 degree heat that we were slogging through a few weeks ago. I know that my blogs are getting repetitive so I promise that I will I never mention the"heat", "degrees" or "110"again!
In Vancouver we've seen things that we haven't seen in ages, a Yukon liscence plate and thousands of cyclists (are there that many cyclists in all of Texas?)
Then we'll take the ferry down the coast to Skagway, Alaska and cycle over the pass back home. Then we'll embark on the task of figuring out who gets the Bird Day Challenge prizes. That will be fun. Sorry about this boring blog.

Friday, June 27, 2008

You know it ain't easy . . . (Ken)



We thought that the challenging part of Bird Year was behind us. We’d survived January’s bitter cold and headwinds. We’d dodged drug-runners and illegal immigrants crossing the Rio Grande. We’d coped with the searing Texas heat. We should have known that we faced one more hurdle: getting home from Big Bend.

We didn’t have time to cycle since Malkolm has to be back for Grade 11 at the end of August. We knew that jetting north would be the least fossil-fuel-friendly. Eventually we decided to take a Greyhound bus to Albuquerque, a train to Vancouver and a ferry to Skagway, Alaska. Then we could ride 110 miles over the White Pass back home to Whitehorse.

We quickly learned that ground transportation isn’t as easy as it sounds. When we tried to switch busses in Fort Stockton, the driver calmly informed us that the bus was full. It didn’t seem to matter that we had reservations. In El Paso, our bikes and duffle bags were almost left behind. Today we learned that our train is 6 hours late. We don’t know what that means for our connections, and no one is answering the phone at Amtrak.

I wish we were still cycling.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Building Character (Wendy)


Big Bend National Park was every bit as hot as we were afraid it would be. Three good things about the heat: (1) We learned that we could survive in that harsh environment - it built our characters. (2) I never had to use a towel for the last 6 weeks of the trip. (3) Dousing yourself in cold water is fun.

We stayed one day longer than we had planned at Rio Grande Village, the hottest place. Beside the Rio Grande I felt like I was inside a salon hair dryer, set on “high”.

We ended Bird Year at Carolyn Ohl-Johnson’s oasis in the Christmas Mountains. The day after Bird Year ended, we rode into Alpine: 71 miles into a head wind and up 2000 feet. That built character too.

We have become strong riders, but not strong bike mechanics. Ken, Malkolm and I attempted to remove pedals, seat posts and handlebars that were firmly fused to our bikes after a year of hard use. After 2 hours of struggling we had removed 2 seat posts. Humbled, we carried our bikes around the house to where Carolyn’s husband, Hugh, was working in his shop. “Hand me that cheater”, he said. Within minutes, he had our bikes apart. Dismantling bikes is about as stressful as a moderate headwind.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Flames in the forest (Malkolm & Christianne)


Carrying our sleeping bags in our hands and our food and water in a small day pack, we hiked high to camp in the Chisos Mountain back-country. We decided to leave our tent behind and hoped there would be no thunder or lightning. The forest here is very dry and the fire danger extreme. Just as we were falling asleep we heard a chilling scream, most likely a mountain lion. All night we wondered if something was creeping around just beyond the reach of our flashlights. As a comfort, we heard tons of Whipoorwills and Flammulated Owls - both new birds for me.

When we woke up I caught a glimpse of what looked like a Flame-colored Tanager. It's a bird that's supposed to live in Mexico and has only been seen a 1/2 dozen times in Texas. However, the bird flew away before I could get a great look. After an hour of tramping around in the forest, we managed to hear a different Flame-colored Tanager singing - a female. I was able to get some good photos of this ultra-rarity.

Fortunately, the only fires in the forest were Flame-colored Tanagers and Flammulated Owls!

My total is now 545 species, 200 short of the Big Year record.
...............................
The picture was taken in the mountains SE of Albuquerque this spring using a motion sensor/camera.

Next week Malkolm, Ken & Wendy will bicycle down from the relatively cooler Chisos Basin to Rio Grande Village, where temperatures are 105 degrees F. They will be looking for the Black Hawk and Zone-tailed Hawk. 

My thanks to the BBNP personnel who have been so helpful in getting phone messages to the Bird Year! 

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Bear Facts (Malkolm & Christianne)


You will undoubtedly notice that this blog is written in the third person. As Mission Control, it has become one of my duties to appear from behind the curtain and write from Malkolm's dictation taken during our scratchy phone calls from the borderlands.
........................................
Since their last post, Ken, Wendy and Malkolm rode from Sanderson, TX to Chisos Basin in Big Bend National Park. It was a brutal ride! At one point Ken was carrying an extra 44 lbs. (20 kg) of water in the bike trailer in addition to his regular load. 

Sunday morning they hiked towards a scenic viewpoint hoping to find Black-capped Vireos. The only black thing they saw were four bear cubs sitting in a tree above the trail! They were very cute - they yawned, they stretched, and they looked adorable. Ken and Malkolm saw no reason not to continue on, but Wendy the Safety Officer said "No Way!"

Scenic viewpoint being unavailable, they went to the sewage lagoon. There, Malkolm found a Black-capped Vireo.

Monday they hiked 12 miles in search of the rare Colima Warbler (these birds are found only in the Chisos Mountains and there are probably fewer than 100 of them in the United States). Miraculously one of these birds landed right at Malkolm's feet - actually too close to take a photograph!

Malkolm has added 7 new species to his list (his current total is 541) since arriving at Big Bend National Park.
........................................
As Team Bird Year was riding through the toughest and most intense part of their trip I was fortunate to be paddling Southwestern rivers running high with spring snowmelt. It was a hard three weeks to be out of touch with them. Phone conversations about heatstroke symptoms with a family practice physician (who should know better than to ride towards the Texas desert in June) were frequent and worrisome. But, as always, Ken, Wendy and Malkolm survive with a huge grin and eye-popping stories. I'm including a picture of some bear-paw petroglyphs from the Dolores River in Colorado, carved by another enduring Safety Officer a thousand years ago.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Out of the fire, and into the ... ? (Malkolm)


I don't want to write another blog about heat and I'll try not to. But in this stifling Texas heat wave, it's everything. It fills every pore in your skin, it fills your stomach and it fills your mind. We do everything to avoid it; we're on the road before the sun is up, and we seek shade an air conditioning in mid day. But when I step out of this library from which I write, I'll be greeted by the familiar wall of heat.
We've re-traced our steps through Texas, following the same roads that we took through here in December. But soon we'll head into new country as we leave our old path to cycle down into Big Bend National Park. So the final few hundred miles of our trek are veiled in heat mirages, and around ever bend and over every hill there will be a new surprise. But I know that on the far end are the Chisos Mountains. They'll be like islands in a sea of desert and a refuge from the heat. A bit. Hopefully it will cool down at night and I hope my sleeping bag will no longer be dead weight.
We'll relax at altitude for a week, then brace ourselves for the journey back down to the desert and to the Rio Grande River, where we'll seek out the last few birds for our year.
We won't have internet access again, so this will be my last post, but we'll try to phone in updates to Christianne, our mission controller. Then she can update you on our progress.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Statistics, etc (Ken)


Since we are about to cycle into the West Texas internet desert, I thought I’d mention a few pertinent Bird Year statistics:

Days on the road: 348

Number of days that we have had to drink Budweiser rather than a beer with some flavour: 2 (the last 2 days in West Texas – tonight there will be NO beer!)

Number of bird species identified: 534

Distance cycled: 12,674 miles (20,405 kilometers)

Hottest day: 104 F (40 C) – heat index about 120 F (48 C)

Coldest day: 20 F (-7 C) – don’t know the wind chill, but it was wind chilly

Number of days that we have melted into blobs of fat on a desert highway: 0

Number of days in a tent: 298

Number of flat tires: about 70

Number of meals of rice & beans: too many (and we love rice and beans)

The next few days could be among the toughest of the trip. We’ve cycled up many hills. We’ve cycled on many hot days. We haven’t had to cycle up many hills on a hot day. That’s what lies between us and Big Bend National Park. Wish us luck!

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Border Birding (Wendy)


In today’s top blog story, Birding at the Border has extra excitements.

But first: I am guilty of telling people that cycling across the country is not hard. I TAKE IT BACK!!!! Cycling may gentle on your body, but it is hard work. We rode one of our difficult stretches yesterday – the 76 miles between Laredo and Carrizo Springs. We started before sun up. Seven hours later, at 1:15, we were off the road. At that time the heat index was 99 degrees. We were sweating like a glass of cold beer put out in the sun.

Speaking of cold beer . . . in Laredo, instead of relaxing around the pool sipping cold beer, we did a huge grocery shop. We shipped 50 pounds of food to ourselves in Big Bend National Park. We cannot carry in all the food we’ll need there.

Now to the headline. A couple of days ago we were still in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, home of “specialty birds” such as Red-billed Pigeon, Hook-billed Kite and Muscovy Duck. We asked for local advice. “Take your breakfast and take your lunch”, we were told, “you have to be patient.” At daybreak we cycled down the hill to the tiny village of Salineno. A dirt track led to a boat ramp on the river. The Rio Grande is about 40 meters wide here. Another dirt track led to the river on the Mexican side. It seemed peaceful, even though over the past months many people had warned us about the dangers posed by illegal immigration and especially drug smuggling.

We found the pigeons right away but the others were harder. We sat on a flat rock in the shade and scanned with binoculars and spotting scope. We noticed a lot of boat traffic. We watched a flat bottomed boat chug up from the Mexican side and nudge onto shore. A young couple jumped out. The boat sped away. The man put his arm over the woman’s shoulders as they hurried up the road. They carried nothing with them.

After lunch, we cooled down with a dip. An old dented boat approached. Three men jumped out and snuck along the shore and into the woods behind. They carried walkie-talkies. It occurred to us that maybe it was not so smart to hang out all day. “I have to get changed,” I said. “We need to get out of here”, returned Ken. The dented boat hovered just offshore, the men in it standing up. As I wheeled my bike back onto the road, a car sped down the hill, bouncing over the ruts and sending gravel flying. I turned my head away and fumbled with my ball cap. A few seconds later, the car roared back up the hill and the other men tumbled back into the boat.

“The package is delivered”, said Ken,”you can change out of your wet bathing suit now.”

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Bird Year Lunches (Malkolm)


Bread lore hasn’t reached Texas. Most bread and bagels we eat are shipped from places like Illinois. But clearly, the Illinoisians don’t want to send their good bread south. On the west coast, even teeny tiny towns have an artisan bakery or a funky cafe. Not in Texas.

Fortunately, we only have 22 lunches to go. The vast majority of those lunches will resemble the lunches that we’ve been having for the past few months. Stale bagels (baked in Illinois). But when I read the package more closely I saw that it was merely distributed in Illinois. I saw to my horror, “Product of Canada.” Oh no! What’s happened in Canada?

They taste like they were made back when we still had 42 lunches to go. Occasionally you can find an artisan loaf at WalMart, which means that it’s only 8 days old, and that a bread artist stuck a bit of garlic on top.

Inside the sandwiches is spread the contents of mayonnaise packets that we borrowed from a Burger King. According to another long distant cyclist, it takes 317 borrowed mayo packets to equal one mayo jar. Then we bring out the cheese sauce – the soft, oily product that is the outcome of keeping cheese unrefrigerated in the 100 + degree heat.

But don’t get me wrong.

I’m not complaining.

If Wendy heard me complaining, she’d use it as excuse to eat some of my artisan sandwich.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Problems with tents (Ken)


I like tents. In our basement in Whitehorse half-a-dozen tents dangle from the ceiling, waiting their turn. Malkolm’s blue tent, a Roadrunner 2, has been to many places. It has travelled to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, down the Grand Canyon (twice), to Yosemite, Joshua Tree and the Nahanni River. It is brittle and old and after this trip it will be put out to pasture. Wendy and I chose an inexperienced orange tent called a Mutha Hubba.

I like tents so much that I feel cheated if I don’t spend at least three months in a tent every year. During Bird Year, that will not be a problem. During our 336 days on the road, we have slept 296 days in our tents.

When it is cold, there is nothing better than diving into a tent to warm up. When the mosquitoes swarm, there is nothing better than being inside, laughing at the bugs. Ditto rain. Unfortunately, in southern Texas in May, our tents are not a place of refuge.

It is so hot here that the birds loll around with their beaks open, panting like tiny feathered dogs. When the bugs swarm it is a test of will to unzip the tent and crawl inside. The worst is when it thundershowers and we have to put on the fly. Our tents become saunas and we sweat inside, dripping like the walls of a hot spring.

We are looking forward to ending our trip in the high elevations of the Chisos Mountains where (hopefully) our tents will once again welcome us with a cozy embrace.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Like a Duck on a Wire (Wendy)


We are in the southern Rio Grande Valley, where the Texas summer is as we had feared. Hot. However, Texas has cool birds.

Take Black-bellied and Fulvous . They are called Whistling-Ducks now. They used to be called Tree-Ducks. Ken is a Fulvous fan. “They are so fulvous!” he says. “You know what? My old Peterson guide said Fulvous Tree-Ducks are seldom seen in trees.”

They are noisy ducks. With my head down, pushing into a headwind, I can still hear a flock of Black-bellies flying overhead. They don’t whistle, really. They squeak.

Black-belly’s plumage is elegant: rich brown and black. White flashes show when they fly. But wait! Their bill and feet are bright coral pink. I think it’s what inspired cosmetic designers to make that lipstick that was so popular in the early seventies.

I glance up from the road and see a duck perched improbably on a telephone wire. It is swaying dangerously in the wind. Duck on a wire? I pull out my binoculars. Hey - it is a Black Bellied Whistling-Duck.

We stop to watch a heavy bird hovering three feet above the prairie, sort of like a kite. It has a bright pink bill. It drops down and disappears in the long grass. Black Bellied Whistling Ducks apparently don’t know how ducks are expected to behave.

The American Birding Association’s North American checklist puts Black-bellied Whistling-Duck in the number one spot. I agree.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Tradition (Malkolm)


It's traditional. Nearly every birder who has embarked on a Big Year has done it. Has braved the dust and the heat and the stench. To seek out the Tamaulipas Crow. At the Brownsville Dump.
These crows belong in Mexico, but a flock strayed northward to enjoy feasting on America's plentiful waste.
So we followed in the footsteps of all the other big year birders to the gates of the dump. We waited while a few dump trucks checked in with the man in the booth. We followed. Wendy received a birding map of the area. We followed the directions to the "Birdwatching Area" atop a huge mound. We set up our scope and scanned the swarms of gulls circling the dump. A few ravens appeared in the blizzard of Laughing Gulls, but there was no sign of the crows.
Actually, the flock of crows had diminished to a couple pairs, after some change at the dump made feeding tougher. I don't know if the Brownsville Chamber of Commerce realizes it, but should the crows leave, then Brownsville the stream of crow crazed economy contributors will stop appearing.
Even though we missed crows, we got the rest of the Brownsville Dump birding package (90 degree heat, dust from the machines...)
Oh yeah, apparently this is our 100th post!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Just another day. . . (Ken)


You see lots of things while you are cycling. Some are wonderful, some are annoying, some are bizarre. One day in May we see several from each category as we pedal south along the central Texas coast. . .

Wonderful: Five scissor-tailed flycatchers fly from a barbed wire fence and swoop upwards in formation, five rosy breasts arched towards the sun, five impossibly long tails fluttering earthward. The tails flutter like the cloth tails I taped to the kites I flew as a kid.

Annoying: There is no-one else on the road when a blood-red pickup truck, about as wide as the southbound lane, thunders past us without bothering to swerve to the left (as every other truck has done all day). I can feel the hot rush of wind. Maybe he is hung-over. Maybe he is talking on a cell-phone and the conversation was more riveting than three bicyclists – even if we are a rare sight on Texas highways. Maybe he owns the road.

Bizarre: “Alligator,” yells Malkolm as we cross the first bridge over a series of bayous. I look, but all I see is a giant swirl in the dark water. In the next bayou, “Chocolate Bayou” an empty, wide-bottomed boat drifts lazily. Just before I whiz off the bridge I look back and see feeble splashes. A head encased in a red collar rotates slowly about fifteen feet from the boat. I yell to Wendy and Malkolm, check the rear-view mirror and turn around.

“Hey,” I shout. “Are you okay?” I can see now that the red collar is a ‘keyhole’ life jacket that appears to be the only thing preventing the man’s head from being at one with the muddy bottom of the bayou. “Okay,” he answers weakly. He looks to be about 60, out of shape and a non-swimmer. I can see his arms moving beneath the surface. He spins, like a phalarope trying to whirlpool insects the surface, but he gets no closer to the boat.

“I want to make sure you understand,” I yell. “Do you need any help?”

“I’m okay,” he gurgles, as if he always uses his submerged body as alligator-bait after church on Sunday. Wendy joins me and we watch as he wriggles and squirms. He is no threat to make the US swim team for Beijing. I swear it takes him five minutes to gyrate to the boat and grab it. We wait until he has a firm grip before wheeling around and joining Malkolm.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Wilting (Wendy)


The flashing sign outside Texas Bank says it is 103 . The Weather Channel says it is 97 but the “heat index” is 109 . Is heat index like the opposite of wind chill?

We are sheltering inside Budget Hotel. The fan is turned on high.

We are making plans to try and get safely through southern Texas. If any of you live along the southern Rio Grande, or along the Del Rio to Marathon highway, please let us know if we could get water, or cold showers, at your place!

Special message to our friends who have joined us on our travels: Sa, Kirsten, Polly, Sam, Rachel and Christianne. Ken’s cutting edge technology - thick shirt wrap – kept our bottle of beer COLD today!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Dowitchers


For those of you who haven’t heard of dowitchers, well, maybe we should leave it that way.

Identifying dowitchers is the migraine headache of birding. (Or does Empidonax Flycatcher ID gets that honour?)

Short-billed (SBD) and Long-billed (LBD) Dowitchers are large shorebirds that look very similar. Their names aren’t helpful. Both have long bills. You must resort to plenty of studying to figure out how it ID them. Luckily, there is plenty of reference material. If you care.

If you get bored of identifying them by field marks, you can read up on how to ID them by, (deep breath)... the angle formed by drawing a line between the tip of their bill and the back of their head, and another between the beginning of the bill, though their eye and to the top of their head. The degree of the angle averages higher on SBD.

Rehearsing the rules in my head I ventured out to find a dowitcher to ID. One probed the mud across a slough. I zoomed the spotting scope onto it. I studied its characteristics. It was a Long-billed Dowitcher. It flew off, chattering the flight call of a Short-billed Dowitcher.

I can identify dowitchers with confidence and sometimes accuracy!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Red Eyes (Ken)


A couple of days ago we dropped in on Jim Stevenson in Galveston, Texas. Jim’s place is a refuge from the gluttonous development that is devouring much of Galveston Island. A refuge for Jim, the birds he loves as well as human visitors.

We hadn’t seen Jim since December, when he kindly lent us his place while he was away visiting family in Florida. This time, Jim looked tired, worn a little ragged by the rush of keeping up with spring migration. If I looked closely, I might have seen red rims around his eyes. It’s a common theme amongst birders. Bob Duncan from Florida had summed it up when we’d stayed with him and his wife Lucy in early April. Bob had recently been invited to a wedding and said, “I can’t go to a wedding during spring migration!”

Jim knows a lot about birds. He knows a lot about bird migration. Malkolm peppered him with questions about where to find birds, and Jim answered patiently. When Malkolm asked about Gull-billed Terns, he led him up to his “sky deck” and pointed one out. When they got back downstairs, Jim plopped down on a couch while Malkolm pointed his camera lens outside.

“There’s a Yellow Warbler,” said Malkolm, “and a Red-eyed Vireo.”

“Malkolm, you seem to know quite a lot about birds,” said Jim. “Can you tell whether that vireo is exhausted from crossing the Gulf?”

Malkolm thought for a minute. “No.”

“At least I’ll be able to teach you something,” said Jim. “Sure it is. It just took the red-eye on the Yucatan Express!”

Monday, April 28, 2008

And the Winner Is....(Wendy)


We are on a biking/birding trip, but this blog is about bathrooms.

I feel qualified - now that we have spent 10 months crisscrossing the continent, and stayed in hundreds of campgrounds - to elect North America’s best campground bathroom.

We have encountered a variety of restrooms. Some are unclean and uncared-for, and you are scared to touch the surfaces. One bathroom in southern Florida would have delighted a zoologist. It had mosquitoes crawling the walls, cockroaches scuttling over the floor, spiders hanging from the showerhead and a cute little green tree frog on the toilet. Many campground managers maintain sparkling clean facilities: if I dropped a cookie on the floor of one of these I could safely pick it up and eat it. Most bathrooms are unsupplied. Half the time there is no hand soap.

Everyone knows that long distance travellers crave a home cooked meal. I think there is comfort too in a homey bathroom, and that is why I am choosing High Island RV Park’s as the winner.

This bathroom is decorated with a personal touch. I admired the leopard spotted shower curtains. (“Dollar store”, whispered Marie.) The floor is covered with botanical design mats. Marie changes the mats every day.

The shelf above the sink is lined with tiny bottles of lotion, shampoo, conditioner, also shower cap, shoe shining cloth. They are the kind you bring home from a hotel – and these ones are quality. There is a bouquet on the toilet, and a bird ornament over the sink.

A notice on the paper towel dispenser says “You are welcome to use the soap and shampoo. “

There is a drawback, of course. Everyone wants to use the classy bathroom, even if they have one of their own in their RV. There can be a line-up.

Come to think of it, this blog may worsen that problem......

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Golden Plovers (Ken)


I pulled my wool hat low over my ears and zipped up my windbreaker. The icy north wind shredded the fog and we could finally make out the bird’s dim silhouette on the ridge. It bobbed up and down like a marionette-bird and called, “too-lip, too-lip.” As the mist lifted, I saw a dozen caribou including several butter-colored calves feeding in a draw behind the American Golden Plover . . .

Okay. I know you’ve already figured out that this scene didn’t happen as we cycled across Louisiana. If I put on a wool hat in the steamy April warmth of the Gulf Coast I’d melt like a blob of butter. We did see three American Golden Plovers though, in a muddy field sandwiched between emerald-green rice fields brimming with yellowlegs, dowitchers and other assorted shorebirds. We saw these birds on a day when we had to cycle 83 miles, mostly against a headwind. A tough day, but nothing compared to what plovers do on a regular basis.

I can’t help but associate American Golden Plovers with the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Up north is where they are born. It is where they set out from on the first leg of their incredible migration when they are just a couple of months old. They fly eastward to the Atlantic coast, then launch into the void for a non-stop flight across the ocean to South America.

Our own “migration” across the continent in search of birds has given us a little insight into the difficulties faced by migrants. The biggest problem has to be shrinking habitat in wintering grounds, nesting habitat . . . and everywhere along migratory pathways. That is now compounded by climate change. It is no wonder that so many people have lamented that they aren’t seeing as many birds as they used to.

Since it was just Earth Day, I raise my coffee cup in a toast to all of the people we’ve met (and those we haven’t) who are doing great things to heal the earth so that wild creatures can survive into the future.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Migration (Malkolm)


I can sympathise with migrating songbirds on a new level now.

8 PM, April 17th I stepped into my nice, cozy tent. Around this time millions of birds took flight from the Yucatan Peninsula.

6 AM, April 18th I woke up, contemplating a long day of cycling. Those birds had flown all night, now they were contemplating a long day of flying.

7:05 AM, We cycled off, 82 miles of road ahead of us. That’s a long ways. Those birds still had hundreds of miles to go.

Mid Moring, It started to rain. We had a headwind. Luckily for those birds, the rain hugged the coast- so that last difficulty wasn’t a factor- yet.

3:30 PM, The road parelled the sea. We were getting tired. Suddenly I spotted a tiny songbird fluttering across the road. But as we cycled on I noticed more and more. Indigo Buntings, Orchard Orioles, unidentified flashes of yellow...

4:30 PM, We arrived, exhausted at Peveto Woods Sanctuary. We were hungry. Ken and Wendy had a beer. But I was more hungry for birding than for food. I snuck through the woods. Exhausted birds were everywhere, a Blackburnian Warbler, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Scarlet Tanagers... they feasted on bugs, and I soaked in the incredible scene.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Good Bird Jokes (Wendy)




Today we are pedalling south of Baton Rouge. Our bellies are full of grilled redfish and fried catfish, thanks to Grill Master Craig Houston and his talented family. This blog is about something that happened a month ago, but the jokes are timeless.

March 21 was a big time for us. We were three-quarters of the way through Bird Year, and had just passed the ten thousand mile mark. We visited the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Gainesville. At our presentation there, we enjoyed the most entertaining introduction ever.

A hundred people sit on stackable chairs in the high-ceilinged Sanctuary. A woman with a long blonde braid walks to the front. She wears a blue peasant skirt, white blouse, blue print over-blouse, and a name tag: LoraKim Joyner. She is a co-minister. She picks up the microphone.

“I understand”, LoraKim starts, with a mischievous look, “that Malkolm, Ken and Wendy have not been alone in understanding the need for habitat protection and reducing the use of fossil fuels. They’ve found some special birds along the way in your Bird Year.”

First-time visitors to UUF look puzzled. Church members smile. They know that LoraKim Joyner loves birds – and bird puns. They know what is coming.

“Like the birds who were so sad about climate change and losing their habitat,” she continues. She peers out into the crowd.

A church member calls out, “Mourning Dove?”

“Sure”, says LoraKim, “and Blue Bird. Then in Texas you worked with a clergy bird who spoke out against pollution. Who was that?”

No one knows.

“The Cardinal!” LoraKim cries. “Alas, there have been some detractors – those birds that want to build and expand human structures for economic gain - the Crane, the Shoveler.

And what about those birds that want to develop the Arctic Refuge for oil?”

”Bushtits” says a woman in the second row.

“No comment!” laughs LoraKim. “What about Petrels?”

“A marijuana smuggler’s boat got shipwrecked in a storm,” she continues. “It crashed on a bird rookery in the Florida Keys. All those drugs went ashore. The Drug Enforcement Agency was concerned about the effects on the nesting terns, and called the Audubon society. Their fears were confirmed.....no tern was left unstoned.”

“Now I will turn the microphone over...”

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Guest Blog #5 (Sam Skinner)


By the time this is posted, I’ll have been discharged (with honour?) from Team Bird Year, and will likely be somewhere near the Cafe du Monde in New Orleans eating. Speaking of eating, at Malkolm’s urging, I’ll write about “Feeling Alive!” Originally, I used this expression to refer to when one has eaten something with a flavour so intense that all else escapes your mind at that moment. One such moment on our two weeks with Team Bird Year was biting into a Florida-grown kumquat. The sweet-sour zestiness put me right into the moment. However, after riding for 2+ weeks, I’ve come to realize that “Feeling Alive!” can happen independently of food, and could be better described as when your entire consciousness is focused on the razor-sharp edge of the present, with no thought of the future or the past.

The razor analogy fits frighteningly well with a situation where I sometimes found myself “Feeling Alive!” with Team Bird Year: riding along the very thin white line at the edge of the road with heavy traffic on one side, and on the other either an abrupt drop onto what’s left of a washed out shoulder (rural/suburban), or a series of hurricane-ready, skate-park inspired, bike-swallowing storm sewer drains (urban). “Feeling Alive!” also came in less abrasive forms. For a moment while riding up and over bridge (with a wide shoulder), nothing occupied my mind other than that one Brown Pelican gliding low over the wave-tops, pulling up a bit, flapping, and dropping into another glide. On many nights, I really did feel alive when going to look for alligators or Screech Owls, or even just walking to the bath-house, because the chorus of frogs and the warm humid night air were so alien to me yet so comfortable. I suppose even the pun-laden jokes that were past back and forth over dinner or while riding on a quiet stretch served to put me in the moment (so much so that I can’t remember any good examples – or maybe there never were any?).

Everyday riding with Team Bird Year was punctuated with dozens of moments of “Feeling Alive”, and, while I’m jealous of their whole year of wonderful (and lively) experiences, I feel lucky and honoured to have spent two utterly alive weeks on their journey.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Guest Blog #4 (Polly Madsen)


Phew – it’s hot here in this trailer park at 8:00 p.m. It’s also loud with the sound of frogs. We are in Gulfport, Mississippi and it’s our last night with Team Birdyear. After more than 2 weeks of travelling with Malkolm, Ken and Wendy, we (Sam, Kirst and I) have fallen into a good rhythm of biking, birding, biscuit eating and beer drinking.

There are, however, some differences between us and Team Birdyear. Firstly, while we do occasionally sing, we refrain (and actually cringe a little) when Team Birdyear fuses bird names into rock and roll classics, such as the frequently heard verse of the Beach Boys ‘Barbara Ann’ with “bah, bah, bah, bah, bobolink” inserted into the chorus.

Secondly, while we are carrying what some may refer to as “extraneous items”, such as shaving razors and mascara, Team Birdyear carries such items as their favourite ‘pooh sticks’ (see Winnie the Pooh) as well as mason jars, which will be carried for miles, until some unsuspecting RV’er will be pressured (by Wendy) into becoming a food canner so that the mason jars won’t be thrown away.

Finally, while Team Birdyear is frequently armed (with binoculars) and ‘on a bird’ (meaning looking at a rare and interesting bird), we have one pair of sad binoculars between us and if we are ‘on a bird’ it is most likely to be of the fried chicken variety.

Differences aside, we will be sad to leave. Come next week we will be participating in the great adventure of birdyear from the sterile environments of our various computer desks and the only evening sounds we’ll hear will be the cold wind outside our house (or perhaps our cat Alice asking to be fed).

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Yucatan Express (Ken)


The future was misty and unclear when we first started talking about doing a Bird Year several years ago. Malkolm, however, knew one thing. He wanted to be along the upper Gulf Coast during the spring migration. Now I know why.

Before we headed to Dauphin Island, a famous “migrant trap,” we stopped at the bird banding station at Fort Morgan. We were lucky to meet Scott Weidensaul (Pulitzer Prize nominated author of Living on the Wind), and Bob and Martha Sargent, the founders of the banding station. It was a slow day for birds at Fort Morgan.

“The songbirds are all being blown to the interior,” Bob said, pointing up at the trees swaying in the brisk south wind. “A front is coming through tomorrow though – things will be different this weekend.”

He was right. On Saturday the canopy at the Shell Mounds was dripping with warblers, orioles and tanagers. It was hard to know where to point your binoculars. Bird rumors rippled through the birders along the trails. “There is a Painted Bunting down at the bowl. Have you seen the Scarlet Tanager? I heard someone saw a Swainson’s Warbler near the Bee Tree!”

Most of the other birders had heard about Malkolm’s Bird Year and were chasing him down whenever they saw an interesting migrant. By the time the sun set on Saturday, Malkolm found 10 new species of birds – a tough thing to do when you’ve already identified 474 species. Sunday was the same and we were all frazzled at the end of the day.

We were almost relieved when the weather cleared and the south winds resumed on Monday. We could imagine the invisible migrants riding the northward Yucatan Express over our heads. Almost relieved.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Guest Blog #3 (Kirsten Madsen)



Ken was scissor-jumping in the air as our Greyhound bus pulled into the station in Panama City, Florida, and two other brightly-colored cyclists were waving loonily (in the non-bird sense).
"I guess that's your people," someone on the bus said.

How did they know? Is it that obvious?

Ken, Wendy and Malkolm have become super bike mechanics and assembled our bikes in no time flat and we were off.

It is taking me a while to get used to how friendly everyone is. People ask lots of questions, like "Where y'all headed?" and KWM get to talk about how they've been biking for 9 months all the way from what we refer to as 'up near Alaska'. Then the people look at Polly, Sam and I with our white legs and clean bright shirts and we admit we've been biking at least a couple of days.

Biking yesterday we got at least one middle finger and a number of Springbreaker yawps. We stopped in Seaside (where The Truman Show was filmed, if that gives you any indication) and there certainly were a lot of white picket fences. On the lawn in the centre of town genetically modified children giggled cutely. I passed two women tsk-ing on a wooden boardwalk. "Look at that stain," one said, shaking her head sadly over a frothy pink splotch on the wood. "I know," the other woman said sadly. "It's been there three days now."

Through a birding connection, we ended up going from camping to lounging in a luxury condo development the next night. All I can say is I don't know how I lived without a private beach before; the public beach is just so tacky.

Those with a particular interest in my ass will be pleased to hear it is holding up okay. As long as I don't actually sit on my bike seat it hardly hurts at all. Yesterday we rode 63 miles. That's like ONE HUNDRED kilometres.

Oh yeah - birds. I think I have seen about 8 species so far. (It would be more like 11 but Malkolm tells me Hooters don't count.)

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Hummingbirds and hummers (Malkolm)


Spring time. Migration. Warblers, vireos, thrushes and hummers arriving back. No I meant Hummingbirds not hummers. We’ve seen 10 species of Hummingbirds so far this trip, meanwhile keeping track of the models and colours of hummers passing us would be tedious. I’ve put together a few comparison points regarding the 2 Hs.

1) Hummingbirds make a high pitched hum. Hummers don’t hum, they rumble.

2) Hummer trucks are huge. Hummingbirds aren’t. A Hummer weighs as much as 9 million and eighty thousand Rufous Hummingbirds.

3) Hummers get lousy gas mileage. About ten miles per gallon. Hummingbirds get good fat mileage. The equivalent weight of a gallon of fuel in body fat could fuel a Rufous Hummingbird nine hundred and eighty five thousand, four hundred miles. That is more than the equivalent of going to the moon and back twice.

Anyway back to bird year. We’re looking forward to seeing (not Rufous) but Ruby-throated Hummingbirds re-fuelling on nectar after their migration over the Gulf of Mexico. Soon the number of migrating warblers, vireos, thrushes and hummingbirds will outnumber the hummers. I’m looking forward to that.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Another election scandal (Ken).


Until a couple of days ago, I thought that state or provincial birds were cute, folksy things that appealed mainly to primary school students and people who worked in tourism offices. I thought that – until I heard about the Florida State Bird election controversy. Maybe you are tired of hearing about yet another Florida election scandal, but this one is important, too.

I don’t have all of the details: dates, numbers, etc, but here’s what I’ve heard. The two front-runners in a Florida State Bird election a few years ago were Northern Mockingbird and Florida Scrub Jay. It was looking as though the jay might pull off an upset . . . until some developers suddenly threw their support – and campaign dollars – behind the mockingbird. I don’t know if the campaigning was as dirty as during political elections, but in the final polls the Northern Mockingbird was declared the winner.

I am going to go out on a limb (although not as far out as a jay or mocker would go) and say that Northern Mockingbirds don’t give a squawk about whether or not they are the Florida State Bird or not. The Mockingbird is already the state bird of Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Texas, and Florida.

Here are some reasons why I believe that Florida Scrub Jays would make an excellent State Bird:

1) The Florida Scrub Jay lives only in Florida and is the state’s only endemic bird (Northern Mockingbirds are widespread across North America and Mexico and have been seen in every state except Hawaii and every province and territory in Canada except Nunavut).

2) The Florida Scrub Jay is beautiful: a misty, cerulean blue with a pale gray back.

3) I am the first to admit that a Northern Mockingbird is a splendid singer, but have you ever heard the Florida Scrub-Jay’s raucous, rising kreeeesh?

4) Most importantly, Floridians would make sure that Florida Scrub Jays survive into the future. They have been on Audubon’s 10 Most Endangered Birds list, and their numbers are still declining. They can’t afford to lose any more habitat, and what is remaining needs to be managed properly.

This may seem like a tongue-in-cheek blog, but I’m serious. I’ve heard that there is already a small (but hopefully determined) group of people who hope to rally support for another vote for Florida State Bird. I hope that anyone who reads this blog can find a way to help such as writing a letter to an appropriate politician or contacting your local Audubon or other conservation-minded organization. Good luck!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

A Bittern-Sweet Moment (Wendy)


“We don’t believe they exist” I said to Dave Fix last September. We were scanning Arcata Marsh in northern California with binoculars, searching for American Bitterns. We had been hoping to see them for eight years, ever since we first visited the Everglades. They are as long as snow geese, but streaky-brown and secretive. “Keep poundin’ the reeds” advised Dave.

“We suspect there is no such bird as American Bittern,” I told Todd Newberry, as we looked over Elkhorn Slough near Monterey. Todd nodded thoughtfully. “Ask local birders as you travel,” he said, “it will be a good way to break the ice.” One helpful birder from southern Florida, Ken Burgener, made a video of our stay with him. He taunted us by peppering it with subliminal glimpses of bitterns.

All fall and winter we asked local birders for advice and pounded the local reeds. Most people told us that they had seen one just last week, standing right out in the open. We visited great bittern habitat: Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Mad Island, Corkscrew Swamp. Our luck did not change. “I think this bittern thing is a gigantic hoax,” I told Malkolm and Ken.

Late in February we returned to the Everglades. One morning, Malkolm left camp at first light. Ken and I finished our coffee and then followed. Malkolm waved his arms in semaphore fashion as soon he saw us. His eyes told the story. He had seen his American Bittern, but it was a bittern-sweet moment for Ken and me. We were happy that Malkolm had seen the bittern, but American Coffee had come between us and our bird.

Viera Wetland is an engineered marsh, used for the last stage of wastewater treatment. It is a pretty place, and not smelly. Jim Meyer and Eileen Riccio saw 2 bitterns here, two weeks before we arrived. They kindly joined us. I looked out over an expanse of reeds, and thought that there was no need for a bittern ever to show itself. Just then, a large streaky brown bird erupted from the vegetation, and flew quickly to its destination. Just as it landed, I saw its profile, so familiar from the bird books. Immediately, it melted back into the greenery.

“Did you see that?” we all asked each other. I am not sure whose grin was widest.

Now that we knew where it was, we caught glimpses of that bittern from time to time. It moved excruciatingly slowly. The photo at top gives you an idea why these birds are so darned difficult to locate (hint: it is in top right quadrant).

American Bitterns exist! Triumph at last!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Guest Blog #2 (Sa Boothroyd)


This is Wendy’s sister Sa writing. I have a few things to say about team bird year that may not yet have been said. I have been riding, or vacationing, with these guys for nearly 2 weeks. I would like to enlighten those of you reading as to what Bird Year really seems to be about. Maybe I should start with their rules:

#1. No passing a bagel store unless you already have fresh bagels

#2. No passing an ice cream store on a hot day

#3. No passing a funky coffee shop unless you can blindfold Wendy

There are two topics of discussion on this trip, Malkolm talks about birds and the others discuss food. We talk about what we are about to eat, where we will eat it, where we should stop and buy food and how the meal was last night. This is a Food and Birding trip. Wendy and Ken make comments to Malkolm during the rides about birds they see but really these are distractions from the thrust of their thoughts.

Maybe I have just lucked into a lazy section of their trip but here is a typical day in southern Florida:

Get up and eat.

Pack up. I am always the last to be ready. Some members of Bird Year give me the hairy eyeball.

Ride 10-15 miles and talk about a nice coffee shop we might stop at.

Never find that coffee shop so we stop at the next Publix and buy lunch groceries.

Debate bagel over flat bread or both.

Ride 1 mile and stop to eat.

Talk about dinner.

Ride 5 miles and talk about swimming in the Atlantic. Check out the beach and decide it is too windy and cold.

Ride 5 miles to a Publix and get dinner provisions. I get ice for my mini-cooler and we put the beer in it to keep cold for the final 2 mile grind to the campground.

Pull in at 4pm. Have a shower. Open some beer.

Talk about dinner.

Malkolm takes off to see birds somewhere.

We drink some more beer.

Make dinner.

Wash dishes in cold water without soap.

Talk about the bird Malkolm saw that day and how far we rode.

Brush teeth, go to bed.

Think about tomorrow’s food.

That is all.

It is a good way to live. Slow and smooth. They put up with me and that isn’t always easy. I get tea brought to me in bed most mornings so I shouldn’t complain. But here, in this blog, I just wanted you to know the truth.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Contradictions (Ken)

It was still dark in the morning in the RV campground when I was rudely awakened by a “thump” outside our tent. I couldn’t see anything out the door, so I tried unsuccessfully to drift back to sleep. I gave up and got up when the first light blushed the eastern horizon. I stumbled over the source of the thump on the way to the bathroom – a newspaper that had been hurled from a golf cart. First time we’ve ever had a paper delivered to our tent.

I fired up the stove for morning coffee and leafed through the paper. The morning headline read “State Board Approves Teaching of Evolution.” I suppose that is progress. On page 5 there was a long, scary article about global warming. Its headline was, “Mass Extinctions Forecast if Eco-crisis isn’t Tackled.” As I read that 40% of all plant and animal species could be extinct by the end of the century because of global warming, I heard a deep rumble. A huge, silver RV (towing a golden-colored Hummer) rolled past. I could feel the heat belching out of the chrome-plated exhaust.

We’ve seen thousands of RVs & big trucks towing trailers during our journey, but a motor home towing a Hummer was over the top for me. I hope that all of us can make the changes we need so that innocent plants and animal species aren’t banished from Planet Earth forever by our relentless consumption.

A few other contradictions I’ve noticed lately:

A car parked in the Anhinga Trail parking lot with a bumper sticker that said “Piping Plovers Taste Like Chicken.” Presumably the car’s inhabitants were enjoying the birds of the Everglades, while at the same time advertising that an endangered species was expendable.

The house we are staying in today has the air-conditioning on. It also has a presto-log burning in the fire-place.

Okay, I’ve finished ranting. Time to get back on the bicycle.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Year I Met Ken Burgener (Malkolm)


A photo of Ken Burgener's sleeping bag.

“If you guys write a book, what are you going name it?”

“I dunno. Bird Year?”

“No... call it The Year I Met Ken Burgener. Here, make sure you remember how to spell my last name- B- U-R-G-E-N-E-R. Got it?”

Ken Burgener, his wife Linda Warschauer, Ken M, Wendy and I had strolled along a boardwalk through Mahogany Hammock, a lush forest in the heart of the Everglades. Ken B brimmed with humor and off-the-wall ideas. I chuckled at another of his jokes. All the laughing erupting from our party must have scared every Flycatcher and Parula from far away.

“Hey Linda,” said Ken B. “You’re a beginning birder- have you seen an American Bittern?”

“Lots” she said.

“Now Malkolm, have you seen an American Bittern?”

“Nope. But I’ve been looking in the wrong direction twice when a supposed American Bittern has flown past.”

I marvelled at the wonders of social networking. Our friend Rachel Shephard had introduced us to Jim Meyers, who had arranged our presention on Cape Canaveral. Jim had gotten us in touch with Ken and Linda. Along with humour and fresh fruit, they had put us in touch with more of their friends: Ann Wiley and Holly and Jason Andreotta. Ann Wiley in Fort Lauderdale took us birding by bicycle while Holly and Jason had cooked up the best meal we’d had in ages. And Ann, Jason and Holly had been brainstorming about more friends to stay with further up the Florida coastline. Anyway, my goal in this blog was to write about something other than cycling, birding, camping, eating or the problems facing the planet. Something happy. Speaking of happiness- back to Ken Burgener.

“So I took a personality test. The psychologist said I was unbalalanced. He said people have happiness and sadness quotients- balancing each other out. But I’m unbalanced, I have too high of a happiness quotient.

Ken and Linda kept re-appearing along our way. After we stayed with them in south-western Florida they visited us on Sanibel Island, in the Everglades, then again at Ann Wiley’s house. And as usual Ken Burgener brought a batch of new jokes.

“So me and a bunch of nerd birders are sitting in a garbage dump, with our spotting scopes and our binoculars. And we’re looking at the masses of gulls feeding all over the piles of smelly junk. Twenty of us squinting through scopes, trying to find the rare Iceland Gull that showed up at this dump. Then some guy drives by and yells at us, “Get a life!” He was probably right.”

Later that evening Ken pulled out a DVD of footage he’d filmed of us in the Everglades. The film starred Ken and Linda and in very small print “also three nerdy birders/bikers” It was six minutes of hilarity, videos of us doing wierd stuff and half second flashes of an American Bittern. In the very last scene the film showed a nice clear view of the bittern.

“Have you seen one of those?” asked Ken Burgener

“Actually yes. On our last day in the Everglades.”

“Well have you seen one of these?” asked Ken, pulling out a photo of a long-tailed black bird with an enormously round bill. It was the 20th time that evening that he’d pulled out the photo of the Smooth-billed Ani.

“Going to have to work on that one!”