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.

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!”

Monday, March 3, 2008

Vulture Love (Wendy)

“Don’t you think Black Vultures have soulful eyes?” Ken asked. We were leaning over a railing at Anhinga Pond in the Everglades, looking down at a bulky black bird. It was so close I could see his chestnut brown eyes, set in the deeply wrinkled charcoal gray skin of his head and neck. When he blinked, a bluish membrane came up from below. He did have nice eyes.

I apologize that the description that follows is unashamedly anthropomorphic.

A larger vulture swooped down and landed right beside the first, so close their sides were touching. At this, the first raised his wings out to his sides. He puffed his chest, stretched and curved his neck and looked coyly towards the ground. In this position, he slowly walked in a small semicircle.

“This must be a courtship display”, I said.

I wondered if I should get my little point and shoot camera. We were so close I could have filled the full frame. I didn’t, though. It seemed impolite.

Back facing the other bird, he jumped on her back. Their tail feathers ruffled and nestled together. The male gently pecked at the female’s neck. After ten seconds or so, he moved to stand on her shoulders, and stepped around a bit. Maybe he was giving her a back rub. He held his shoulders and head high. He seemed pleased with himself.

“Maybe those were not soulful eyes, “I said. “Maybe they were bedroom eyes.”