Thursday, August 21, 2014

Aug 20 (Day 232) - North Cascades Highway traverse, Great bird find!

First, Sonia got a big promotion today! She is now a Senior Travel Manager at Cognizant. We are both very happy for her. She is very deserving of this recognition.

I knew today was going to be one of the toughest days of the year.  I managed to cross the very long, very challenging 78-mile stretch from Mazama, WA on the eastern side of the North Cascades to Marblemount on the Western side. However, this is only half of the story. I also took a 6-hour, 8-mile hike that climbed ~2,300' into the mountains. This made for 6 hours of biking and 6 hours of hiking today. I am exhausted. I am going to give myself a day off tomorrow and do some local birding around Marblemount; This will let my legs and ass heal after a grueling day today.



Simply put, this ride is absolutely incredible. The well-maintained Highway 20 runs through some of the most unspoiled wilderness in the Lower 48 States. It was just sprawling forest surrounding the amazingly rugged peaks that rise high above treelike. This area is too rugged for a ski industry to have developed (yay!), so its still very pristine unlike much of Utah and Colorado. I am just gonna start throwing out photos since I took a lot of them today.

Local birders Victor and Libby Glick 
recognized me on the road just as
I started the big climb!


View up the last 4 miles of the killer 18-mile, 3,700' 
climb to start the day. I passed just below that 
huge formation right of center

View looking back down/west during 
the last mile of that same climb

Starting the descent after crossing Washington Pass

Now this is where things got really interesting. The Maple Pass hike that I did today just after crossing Washington Pass was potentially the single best day hike I have ever done. The road is great, but you simply must get a bit higher to really appreciate what's going on in the North Cascades!









I had a nice chat about birds and science with Scott Price
at the top of the pass


Besides the incredible scenery, there was a bird-motivated reason behind this hike. In speaking with a long-time birding friend, Barry Lyon, he suggested that I look for Gray-crowned rosy-finch on the hike to Maple Pass. His rationale was that I was already going to be at 5,000' when I biked by the trailhead, so what effort was it to climb to  ~7,000' (easier said than done)? If I could find the bird here, it would mean I might be able to skip Mount Rainier. Rainier NP is a very reliable place for this species since it is heavily glaciated; Rosy-finches like it high and cold. However, Rainier would be a bit of a detour back to the east from my potentially more coastal route. It would also require biking back up to 5,000 feet of elevation (from sea level) and hiking to around 8,000 feet to have a good shot at the birds. This would be a lot of effort. With all of this in mind, I arrived at the trailhead, stashed my bike in the woods and began the amazing hike pictured above. 

Birding was slow on the ascent. I did find one very nice mixed flock with Red-breasted nuthatch, both Kinglets, Brown creeper, and Chestnut-backed chickadee for year bird #521. This was one of those free birds I figured I would get this week. I thought I might also get Pacific wren or Varied thrush, but I dipped on these. I am sure both will be added in short order, so it's nothing to worry about. Reaching the top of Maple Pass, I was concerned that I was not high enough to find rosy-finches. There were some small patches of snow near where I stopped for lunch, but the most rugged areas with the best snow cover were a bit higher and inaccessible from where I was eating. Several people lunching at the same spot recognized me from the road - they had passed me on my bike while they were driving. I explained Biking for Birds and how I was looking for a small finch that I was not optimistic about finding. Not two minutes later I heard a very distinctive buzzing sound coming from the cliffs to my right. What the hell? Could it actually be the finches? I leapt up and stared down the slope. It took me a few moments to locate the source of the sound, and when I did I saw a few birds flying up towards me at the pass. I didn't even need to see them to know what they were. The calls had already given them away. I got a short and quite unsatisfactory view of one of the birds as it crested at the ridge and disappeared up into the rocky formations above my head. 5 trailing birds with the same stocky, compact, finch shape followed for a total of 6 Gray-crowned rosy-finches. The look was a real let down compared to how well I saw Black rosy-finch and Brown-capped rosy-finch earlier in the trip. Needless to say no photo was obtained. I waited around for another 1.5 hours hoping they would return. They did not, and I will be forced to live with the brief, crappy view I got today. It was really the call that enabled the ID. 

The Rosy-finches were on this rock slide below me
and/or the rock face above me


I had to stick to my pre-determined 2:30pm descent time since I still had 52 miles to cover to reach Marblemount. Yes, most of it was downhill but it took 3.5 hours with a stiff 20 MPH headwind blowing west up through the valley. I arrived at my home for the night at 7:45pm, 13 hours after I rolled out the door in Mazama. It was a long day, but it was a visual beautiful and bird-productive one as well. Yes, I got really lucky with the rosy-finches today. However, I put myself in a position to be lucky by killing myself physically to reach Maple Pass. I can say without question that no one in the history of the world has burned more calories in a single day searching for this species. Big props to Barry for this idea!

With GCRF ticked, I have a lot more flexibility. The last "high" elevation bird that I need to find is Sooty grouse. This species isn't even a high elevation specialist; It's more low to mid elevation, but I'll still likely need to do some climbing to get it. I am now at 340' above sea level. This is the lowest I have been since I left High Island, TX on April 27/28! I will actually keep my eyes open for Sooty grouse as I bird above Marblemount tomorrow. The issue is that the best place to find this bird is Rainier, so I might end up going there anyway. The difference is that I only need to get one bird since I dealt with the rosy-finch today. I am hoping I can get lucky and find it between here and Rainier. This bird can also be found in Western Oregon and Northern California, both areas I will visit. However, I do not want to bypass Rainier since it is such a good spot for Sooty grouse. Unless I get some intel on other really consistent spots for this bird, I can't yet rule out a Rainier run. Washington and Oregon folks please chime in if you have ideas on this bird (bikingforbirds@gmail.com).

Lastly, I had a beautiful male Ruffed grouse in the road when I turned into my hosts's driveway at the end of my long ride. It was a really nice way to finish out an incredible day.

Midnight - bedtime!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Aug 19 (Day 231) - Methow Valley biking, getting ready for the Cascades crossing.

With White-headed woodpecker ticked, today began the move towards more coastal areas where I hope to track down a large number of Pacific specialties. It is going to take a few days to get through and over the Cascades. Today was the first of these moving days as I biked the 57 miles from Okanagon to Mazama, WA. The first third of the ride was a very challenging climb that left my legs tired for the rest of the day. The descent from this climb was through recently burned terrain. This area was part of the Carlton Complex fire which, although now 97% contained, has burned over 256,000 acres in the eastern part of the North Cascades in the last few weeks. Thankfully there was no smoke to complicate the ride/breathing. The winds really got going in the afternoon; This made the last 25 miles feel much longer as 20 MPH headwinds battered me for several hours. Thankfully the fires are mainly contained or this wind would have caused major havoc on that front. I did not stop to do ay birding as I simply wanted off the bike as fast as possible. Leg cramps killed me today and made the uphill and upwind segments torturous at times. It was not fun, at all. The scenery in the Methow Valley is incredible, but I was too tired and cramped to stop to take any photos of it today - sorry. I will try to get the video camera out tomorrow to show you what I'm seeing along the road.


97 tough miles today to reach Mazama, WA

I started in Okanagon and rode west through Twisp.
I descended through the northwest arm of the big burned area.

Burned trees. Notice the entire slope in the back
is burned too - :(

Scorched earth

Methow river near Winthrop

Old skool town of Winthrop

I am staying at a very interesting place tonight in Mazama, WA. North Cascades Basecamp caters to everything outdoors: hiking, biking, skiing, rock climbing, and even outdoor education. Their location makes accessing areas for all of these activities a snap. Right now there is a group of 21 12-16 year-old rock climbers from Seattle staying here. I am going to help lead an owl walk a bit later, so I will have the chance to interact with them a bit. You can book into this place as either small or large groups, and the owners Kim and Steve seem fairly amenable to working with you to make sure you get the experience you want. I am actually staying with them in their house on the premises. Their outdoor interests include birding, so when they head about Biking for Birds, they gladly offered to put me up for a night (or two!). We head several Barred owls in the woods behind the house as well!

Tomorrow is going to be so challenging that I am not even going to write much about it now. I'm going to need all the sleep and recovery I can get! Basically I have a 75-mile ride with lots of climbing as I cross the last bit of the Cascades. I should also start to get some free birds as soon as I drop onto the western slopes of the Cascades. 530 really isn't that far away. I could even get there this weekend!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Aug 18 (Day 230) - Woodpecker-palooza, Thoughts on decision making in our lives

In deciding to sprint to the boreal birding grounds, one bird that I bypassed was White-headed woodpecker. This bird is fairly easy to find in the Yakima/Ellensburg area, but I decided to pass on it knowing I could certainly find it elsewhere. However, how much effort it would take in this still hypothetical elsewhere was uncertain. For example, in Washington and Oregon, the woodpecker is found only the eastern side of the north-south, coastal mountain ranges. What this means is that as soon as I cross over the mountains west towards Seattle, I won't have a decent shot at this bird until Northern California. Should I miss it there, I would have to wait until Southern California where the bird can be reliably found in the mountains east of Los Angeles. Every unfound species needs to be juggled, and with each bird that is removed, more focus can be placed on the remaining species. Getting this bird out of the equation today was my goal as I ventured into the Ponderosa woodlands east of Okanagon, WA. I hoped to pin this bird down in a few hours and then head over a very high pass to reach Mazama in the Methow Valley, a distance of ~60 miles of additional riding in the opposite direction of the woodpecker.

Heat map of White-headed woodpecker sightings
in Washington/Oregon. Note dark colors east of Yakima.

I climbed a very steep hill out of Okanagon to reach the Ponderosa area where White-headed woodpecker has recently been sighted. Once I reached the plateau top, I repeatedly and methodically traversed suitable habitat. I located a single Downy woodpecker, 2 Red-naped sapsuckers, several Northern flickers, and between 25-30(!) Lewis's woodpeckers. Outside of the family Picidae, I found several other notable birds including Townsend's Solitaire, Hammond's flycatcher, and Golden eagle. In the many roadside ponds, I was able to locate Solitary sandpiper (1), Baird's sandpiper (8), and both Yellowlegs. However, the highlight of the morning was surely the Black bear I scared out of one of the ponds. He had somehow managed to get his jaws on a duck! He scurried up the hillside away from me as soon as I rolled by. I nearly fell off the bike as I reached for the camera. I got one shot showing him with the duck. I had no idea bears ate ducks!


Despite all of the above excitement, I was unable to find the woodpecker this morning. I traversed the best 2 miles of habitat 4 times (out-and-back, 2 times) without a whiff. I decided to make a few phone calls during the noon hour hoping that the birds would shuffle themselves around a bit. My fifth pass of the area also yielded nothing. I was moving at a walking pace so each pass took a good deal of time. I made frequent stops to listen for any woodpecker-like tapping noises. Those that I did hear came from other species. I was starting to think about alternative strategies for this bird. I really wanted to knock it out today but it looked rather grim as we entered the heat of the afternoon. I was running low on water and patience. I had not brought any food since I thought I would have this done in 2-3 hours. I was now 5.5 into the search and I was really hungry. I decided that pass number 6 would be my last before I folded my hand and returned to town to eat, hydrate, and regroup. I had already pushed too much valuable time into a bird that wasn't going to materialize today. At the end of pass 6, I found a single Hairy woodpecker for woodpecker species number 5. He was in a tree to my left. I then heard a faint tapping on a tree to my right. I figured it was another Hairy, but as it flew across the road, I saw it was a White-headed! OH SNAP! DOLLA DOLLA BILLZ Y'ALL! And right as I was about to pack it in! I was literally 100 feet from dropping off the plateau edge to return home! The good luck streak continues. Well, I guess part of it was luck. The other part was persistence. I pushed 6 hours into that bad boy today!

White-headed woodpecker for #520!

Ponderosa habitat


Since I pushed so much time into this bird, there was no way I was going to make it Mazama today. My hostess from last night, Heather Findlay, had said I could spend a another night at her place if I needed it. Well, I decided I needed it. The ride to Mazama will include a very steep 3000' climb, and I did not want to tackle that in the heat of the day today. I had added a bird to the list, so I could play it a bit safe and return to Heather's. That she seems to have and endless supply of great food in her garden and house certainly aided this decision!

Heather and me this morning

While I consider myself lucky to have found the woodpecker today, I think the search for this bird represents something worth a bit of discussion. Namely, how long do you play any given hand in birding or in life before either going all in with it or folding it? I am constantly fascinated by the decisions that people make, or, as I will explain, don't make. I will use myself as an example. 

I went to Stanford knowing I wanted to study Biology/Chemistry, and I did just this. When my time there concluded in 2001, I figured a Ph.D. would be my next goal. I decided, however, to first work as research assistant at Harvard for 3 years to obtain some additional lab experience before venturing into graduate school. This was a very wise decision, and after I matriculated in 2004 at NYU in the Ph.D. program in Developmental Genetics and Molecular Cell Biology, I had a very good 6-year graduate career. I then set my sights on a tenure-track academic position, hopefully at a well-respected and well-funded institution. To reach this goal, the next step would be a postdoctoral fellowship. I returned to Boston where I began a postdoc in Developmental/Molecular Neurobiology at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. This position started at the beginning of 2011 and ended at the conclusion of 2014. The point of this chronicle is to show exactly how much time - 16 years - that  I pushed into this career track by the time I decided to leave it all behind in favor of Biking for Birds. 

The first year of my postdoc, although interesting and exciting, was as uneventful as most. As I progressed further into my second year though, something started to change. My interests started shifting away from the reductionist deconstruction of molecular and cellular events and towards societal problems such as the environment, politics, and education. With my shifting interests, the lab work did not captivate me the way it previously did. I began to think about what lay beyond the familiar confines of the laboratory. The idea for the bicycle big year first entered my head in August of 2012. At that time, though, I was not year ready to give up on my still somewhat promising research career. However, by the time April 2013 rolled around, I was ready to pull the plug on those 16 years to do my most interesting and important experiment ever: Biking for Birds. With Sonia's encouragement, in mid-April I gave my lab 8-months notice that I would be leaving at the end of December. 

It took me a a solid, often agonizing, 7-months to decide to fold my research hand in favor of the bike trip. For the first time in my life, I really had no idea where I was headed professionally. It was surprisingly liberating to feel that there wasn't any prescribed path to my future. Unlike the formulaic recipes for success in most established arenas, there rules to the game I was about to play weren't written yet. This is from where the challenge of this year really stems: I must define success for myself using criteria that doesn't exist. Maybe success is simply surviving the year physically and mentally. Maybe it's actually finding a specific number of species. Maybe it's meeting hundreds of new and interesting people. Or maybe, none of it matters when compared with the fact that I made the decision to take the risk to get on the bike in the first place.

Making dramatic changes in our lives is never easy: The fear of what lies beyond that change is enough to discourage most people from making life-altering choices of significant magnitudes. It is so much easier to default our way through our lives; We're willing to place bets on mediocre hands not realizing that folding one hand does not preclude being dealt back in with another. This is why I said that it's the decisions we don't make that all too often end up defining our lives. I have made some really good decisions in my life, but I don't think a single one will have the lasting impact on me that the decision to trade the certainty of lab life for the uncertainty of bicycle and a pair of binoculars will. I have no idea what my future holds when 2014 concludes. I know I have some great thinking skills that science helped to shape and sharpen. More importantly though, I know I'll have Sonia in my corner, and I know I'll have the experience of a lifetime from which we can cultivate the next phase of our life together, whatever it may be.

Anyway, just some thoughts on a day when I only rode 27 miles.

The flat line in the elevation profile is my back-and-forth
on the top of plateau

Monday, August 18, 2014

Aug 16 and 17 (Days 228 and 229) - The big boreal bird hunt!!!

First, Sonia's entry yesterday was great. I think it helps readers to appreciate her love for travel and her talent in organizing it. It was Sonia who put me in touch with the Best Western folks, so kudos for her efforts on that front! Now on with birding!

After much debate, I decided that ticking a few hard to find boreal species would really help my end of year species total. It would also give the chance to bird some habitat that I do not get to visit often. With this in mind, I yesterday migrated north to Conconully, WA for two days of high elevation birding on the eastern edge of the North Cascades. The ride to reach Conconully was fairly straightforward and relaxing while the ride from Conconully to the boreal zone was incredibly challenging. I had been given some fantastic information by two birders who know the Conconully area very well. I have been asked not to publicize the exact locations where I birded, so I will just refer to areas outside Conconcully. 


51 miles to Conconcully + 17 unmapped for 68 total

Here's the elevation profile for the entire ride - I am sore today!

Columbia River basin near Bridgeport, WA

Michael Schroeder, with whom I stayed two nights ago, is Mr. Grouse - literally. He is a grouse researcher at Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. How much does Michael like grouse? Well, in every room in his house are pictures and carvings of grouse. His WiFi network is called "Grouse". His dog is named "Lek". I am not joking. I am willing to bet that he met his wife by doing some highly stereotyped dance at a bar back in the day! Anyway, Michael is probably the best source of information on grouse in the state, so when he offered up some information, I listened!


Michael* and me
(*wardrobe by grouse)

I was also put into touch with Khahn Tran, a very well-known Boreal bird guide. Although based in Portland, OR, Khahn spends much of his free time in Northern Washington chasing down boreal birds with his friends and clients. If you are thinking about hiring a guide in Washington/Oregon then Khahn is your man! Everyone I talked to said he knows how to get these tough birds, so when he offered to help, I was certainly appreciative. You can check out his site at http://ktbirding.com. Armed with the information from Michael and Khahn, I thought I had a very good chance to tick either or both of my target birds for the weekend, Boreal Chickadee and Spruce grouse. Khanh and his friend Wendy Duncan were fortuitously going to be in the area this weekend, so we actually birded with them both yesterday and today!


Wendy, Khahn, Matt Yawney

When I mentioned to Matt Yawney how I was hoping to camp in the Boreal zone outside Conconcully, he said he would be stoked to do just this. He had never seen a Spruce grouse so this would be a good chance for him to tick this bird for himself. We met in Conconully and headed out for some afternoon birding. I observed many Vaux's swifts flying over the town for year bird #516! There was actually a local craft fair going on in town when I arrived. There was an ice cream sale to benefit the local fire department, so I did my civic duty and had a double scoop. The Vaux's swifts were observed ice cream cone in hand. Matt had actually arrived well before me and had located Boreal Chickadee earlier in the day (most likely while I was stuffing my face with ice cream). He brought a bike with him, so the two of us set of on bikes to climb back to the area where he had seen these birds. After a very steep climb, we located several Boreal chickadees (year bird #517) among the mixed flocks of Mountain chickadees, kinglets, warblers, and nuthatches. The lighting was terrible, and the birds stayed high in the trees; I was not able to obtain a photo. 

Conconcully street/craft fair

Matt in Boreal chickadee habitat

Very heavy rain moved in the early evening when we were to meet Khanh for grouse hunting. We took a short but very wet hike through what looked like perfect habitat without finding the bird. Khahn and Wendy headed back to town for the night while Matt and I made dinner and hit the hay early. We wanted to get a very early start to look for grouse right at dawn. Luckily, this morning was clear and things started to dry out a bit.

I have seen Spruce grouse only once before. This was during Camp Cascades in 1992 with Victor Emanuel Nature Tours. That particular bird sat in the road 10 feet from us for 45 minutes. Spruce grouse are notoriously tame, so if you can find them, you normally get a great look at them. Finding them that is the tough part. They like very dense boreal forest. They make little noise and they do not flush easily. Their defense is moving incredibly slowly and blending in with the forest floor. It was going to take a lot of luck to stumble into one on this day. 

Wendy and Khahn met us short after sunrise to resume the grouse search. While looking for the grouse, we stumbled into several Three-toed woodpeckers. This was a lifer for Matt! If we could fid the grouse, he'd have a two lifer day! Early grouse searching was fruitless. There are basically two ways to find Spruce grouse at this time of year. Females are wandering around with their broods and are often encountered along road and trail edges as they forage for berries, leaves, etc. In contrast, males stay in the confines of their territories.  Michael says that a male spruce grouse territory is around 100 meters by 200 meters or ~2 hectares. This is not that big, and the males generally spend their entire lives in the territories once they have it established. They even spend the winters up in the boreal zone where they survive by eating spruce needles! The point is that finding a territory is tough, and finding a male in the incredibly dense tangle of that territory when he is not displaying is really tough.

Khahn suggested that Matt and I do some heavy duty bushwhacking while he and Wendy paralleled us on the trail. We had done quite a bit of unsuccessful bushwhacking already, but just after Matt and I entered the forest this time we heard Wendy and Kahn shouting from the two-track that Wendy had just found had male 10 feet off the trail! We crashed through the woods to meet them and grab a look at a beautiful male Spruce grouse for year bird #518! He was very cooperative, and we followed him around for the the next 30 minutes before he tired of us and flew up into a tree to await our departure. My 400 f/5.6 lens was useless since the bird was so close. Also, without IS (image stabilization), this lens was ineffective in such dense forest. Wendy came to the rescue and lent me her 70-200 f/2.8 IS II lens. Now I could shoot the whole bird AND get a sharp shot. Throw in a little fill flash from the pop up flash and BOOYAH!!!

Spruce grouse for year bird #518!


This bird is actually banded. I need to ask Michael what he knows about this. He said that he thought there was a territory in this very area, so there is a chance he is familiar with this exact bird. As I said, once they carve out a territory, males never leave it. After much celebrating, Wendy, Matt and Khahn took off for a bit of bonus birding elsewhere. With the newly created time, I decided to revisit the area where Matt and I had seen Boreal chickadee the previous evening. I really wanted to get a record photo for my blog readers. I again climbed the incredibly steep track up the into the mountains. I was able to find several chickadees, and despite the TERRIBLE light, grab at least a record shot for you. I was also able to add Cassin's vireo on my descent for year bird #519. A four year-bird weekend - WOO HOO!

Boreal chickadee - IS, f/2.8 needed here!

View of grouse habitat from above

Photography is fun, and in this age of digital photography, I do think its worth trying to get record shots of the tough to find birds. The more of tough birds a big year birder can photograph, the less doubt can be cast on him/her afterwards by "haters".  For those unfamiliar with haters, I have lifted the following definition from "Urban Dictionary". I suspect though that anyone who doesn't know about haters is also unfamiliar with Urban Dictionary. Most birders probably fall into this category.......


OK, that's it for now. I am going to try to head to Mazama tomorrow. From there I may try to get up high for another day of high elevation birding to look for Sooty grouse and Gray-crowned rosy-finch. If I don't find these in the Cascades, then I'll look for them at Mount Rainier in about a week!

Today's ride (8/17) out of Conconully to Omak/Okanagon.
30 + ~18 unmapped = 48 total today

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Aug 16 (Day 228) - Grouse hunt continues; Talks about the travel industry.

Hey everyone. As Dorian mentioned in his blog last night, he is camping tonight so he won't have access to the internet. He's in Conconully, WA with a friend, hoping to find yet another grouse to check off his list. I've only spoken with him for a couple minutes today before he completely lost cell service, so I really have no idea if today was successful or not. Think happy thoughts (can you tell I just got done watching "Hook" with my nieces?).

As for me, I have moved on from the South and I am now back in Los Angeles (my hometown) with my family. I'm not sure how long I'll stay here, but I'll admit that it is really nice to be home and stationary, even if only temporarily. I am so grateful that my family and family friends have been so wonderful in opening up their homes to me. It has been 10 years since I've spent any significant amount of time back at home, so it will be nice to be here and focus on the people in my life who make up my core. Allow me to introduce you to the zany and lovable people I call family:


My siblings and extended siblings doing a family photoshoot
....Zoolander poses, of course

My mama and me

...she has a very interesting way to bird watch!

Little me with my dad

I also have 3 wonderful nieces and 2 fantastic nephews, so my heart is definitely full at the moment. My family has always been so supportive of my wandering and traveling ways, so much so that my oldest niece literally thought I lived on a plane when she was younger (she would wave to any planes she saw in the sky and say "HI SONY!"). To be fair, I was a flight attendant for several years so she was very accustomed to picking me up at the airport in an airline uniform. 

Since I've touched on the subject, perhaps this is a good time to talk about what it is I do for a living. For about 10 years I have worked in travel; first as a flight attendant and now in corporate travel. Today, I work as part of the team that manages a Global Travel Program for a very large IT consulting corporation and my job specifically focuses on the travel we do in the Americas. What does that mean, exactly? Well, I'm the person who negotiates rates with our travel vendors (hotel, car and air) and I help manage travel policies and procedures for our American offices (US, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Costa Rica, etc). I sort of stumbled into this industry and in many ways I feel as though I've won the job lottery. While every day isn't kittens and rainbows, I can honestly say that on most days I love waking up to do what I do. 


Picture from my flight attendant days with one 
of my dearest friends.

Undoubtably some of you are probably thinking that what I do for a living is completely counter productive to what Dorian's year is all about. I suppose it is, in a lot of ways. While he's aiming for zero carbon footprint in regards to how he travels, I'm helping people (and myself) get to as many places around the world as safely and cheaply as possible using all means of travel. If my company stops traveling, my job essentially becomes extinct. So yes, all forms of travel are important to what I do. That said, what I think people underestimate is the amount of environmental progress that can be made in an industry like this... Hear me out. As they saying goes, money talks. In the US alone, business travel spend is expected to top $290 billion in 2014. That's a lot of dough. And if you're being realistic, this number is going to only increase as more and more corporations become more globalized. As you can imagine, with this kind of spend comes a lot of buying power. Right now the growing trend in corporate travel is environmental responsibility and sustainaiblity  As someone who feels very strongly about environmental issues, this is a trend I am very happy to see and one that I'm eager to support.  People on my side of the business carry a lot of leverage when it comes to how travel suppliers run their businesses. Meaning, as corporations with a lot of travel spend push for more carbon friendly travel, suppliers have to find a way to respond to this demand, lest they be left out of that $290 billion pie. I don't want to give you the impression that people in my position are travel gods who can manipulate every aspect of travel, but we can have a pretty significant influence. Honestly, I've made business decisions on which vendors to support based on their environmental practices. For example, I've made decisions on which hotels to add to the program based on recycling programs. I've placed meetings in properties that minimize waste. I've personally chosen to drive eco-friendly vehicles whenever I rent and I support those brands that are expanding this type of fleet. Ok, yes, I'll admit that air travel is still one of the biggest carbon sinners out there, but even in this industry there has been significant pressure to consider and improve sustainability. Curious to know how? You can read this article: How Some Airlines Are Striving toward Sustainability

Look, I know some of you might still be scratching your heads and wondering how I could possibly think that what I do for a living is anything but harmful to the environment. While I wish we could all commute by bike and foot alone, it's just not realistic in todays world. So, I have chosen to work in an industry that makes me personally happy and find ways within that world to push for what I value. Truthfully, I really think that we all can make a similar commitment within our own little employment worlds which will have larger impacts on our overall corporate culture. Think about the practices within your own corporation. Could you start a recycling program? Could you initiate a carpooling group? Could you push to internally support those vendors that hold to your environmental values? Paying attention to how you do business and finding ways to push for more sustainable habits can and will have an impact.

My two cents, of course. :)

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Aug 15 (Day 227) - More sage sparrows w/ photos, Getting in position for Spruce grouse search!

Light rain delayed my departure this morning but functioned to keep things pleasant and cool well into the noon hour. Although I tallied Sagebrush sparrow yesterday, I only got an identifying look at it. As I was going to be biking through very good habitat this morning, I made a few roadside stops to see of I could locate another Sagebrush en route from Ephrata, WA to Bridgeport, WA. The first few stops yielded only Vesper and Brewer's sparrows, but with enough persistence I eventually found a family group of Sagebrush sparrows that allowed relatively close approach. 


64 miles + 3 chasing sparrows on side roads for 67 total

Sagebrush sparrow habitat

 I've got sparrows, in different area codes......
Sagebrush in the 509!
(It's OK if the above makes no sense, it's
for fans of Dirty South hip hop)

During the middle of the today's ride, I passed through some really amazing rock formations. I had no idea to expect this type of scenery in Central Washington. This were in the Moses-Coulee region though I am not exactly sure what precisely that means. I did not pass a single gas station or anything else today. This should give you an idea of remote an area this is. I guess there is a lot more wide open land in Central Washington than I has realized. There were a fair number of farm fields along my route, but since there were hardly any dwellings anywhere I biked, I am a bit confused as to whom the fields belong, for what they are used, and who actually works them. Maybe ghosts, who knows?

I rode along the bottom of the valley/canyon......

.....an eventually climbed up the sides to the plateau on top.

I made a video of part of this stretch as well.

This is what the flat-topped plateau looked like. 
There were endless miles of fields just like this.

I had a some additional, heavier rain later in the afternoon, but I managed to reach my destination without major incident. The ride was deceptively difficult as I had a number of long, slow hills to climb at various points along the route. I will be doing lots of climbing tomorrow (> 4000') as I head north to Conconully, WA. I will be camping tomorrow night with my host from last night, Matt Yawney. We will be using this weekend to search for Spruce grouse and Boreal chickadee. If I can tick either of these birds I will consider the weekend a win. If I can get them both then I'll be super stoked. I most certainly will not have internet access tomorrow night, so you will have to wait until Sunday to hear how it all goes down. Once the results of this weekend are in, I will be in position to figure out what to do next. As per usual, everything is much easier when I find the birds for which I am searching!