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, 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


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!”