*Click for bigger images*
I am not sure why I am so obsessed with these little guys. They aren't furry and cute, they don't do anything particularly outstanding, and, from what I can discern, they appear to be a as dumb as posts. I was biking along a fairly quiet side road when I saw something move several hundred yards ahead of me. I soon figured to what it was and ripped out the camera to try to get a few shots of it. As I was getting the camera ready a car flew by behind the armored beast, and it didn't even flinch! It just ambled off the road and continued snuffling about in the dead leaves for whatever it eats. I knew that an armadillo was a mammal, but I had to google it to find out that it is closely related to anteaters and sloths (who knew?!?!). I have previously seen these in Texas, but I did not know that they were found in South Carolina. I hope to find more early tomorrow morning, so stay tuned. I may have just enough room in my panniers for one.
Today I road from Sullivan's Island outside Charleston, SC to Bear Island WMA (68 miles). This is a spot that had been recommended to me by a number of local birders, and now I can see why. I spent the afternoon kicking around the impoundments where I found a nice variety of waterfowl and shorebirds. Most notable were several wood ducks, lots of shovelers, and maybe 150 Tundra swans. Several bald eagles were circling the impoundments, and this kept both the ducks and the shorebirds from getting too comfortable. There were also large numbers of waders of assorted species. I did tack on 5 new birds today: Caspian tern (#180), Glossy ibis (#181), American avocet (#182), Tree swallow (#183), and Wood stork (#184). I did manage to squeeze out a photo of the roadside stork in the midday sun. The main targets, though, will be sought tomorrow morning as Bear Island is supposed to hold good numbers of King rails and Sedge wrens. I'll be out at first light, so hopefully I can find both of these birds before they hunker down in the marsh for the later parts of the day.
I have had many difficult days this year. However, this was not one of them as conditions were near perfect on all fronts. What did start to set in today is exactly how challenging this year is going to be both physically and mentally. I spent 6 hours on the bike to reach Bear Island, and when I arrived I was completely spent. Upon arriving, I lethargically broke out my scope before literally collapsing on the ground before I had the chance to look through it. I remained seated, eyes closed, with my head resting on my knees for nearly 20 minutes. I was fighting off sleep so as to not disrupt what has become a remarkably predictable 6.5-hour nightly quota.
During this time I spent crumpled and exhausted on the ground, I thought about how much time I have spent alone on the bike in the first 6 weeks and how much more I will spend alone on it in the next 46. The time alone is really where the mental challenge arises. Part of this I have done to myself as I have refused to listen to music, books, or NPR as I ride. This is not only for safety reasons, but also to push myself to confront myself without the distractions these entities provide. I have always prided myself on my ability to entertain myself, but none of my past experience has prepared me for the hours I spend, many in great discomfort as I stare down endless stretches of road, on the bike this year. Alone time is not restricted to the bike though as I am more often than not, birding by myself as well. The point is that today, for the first time, I started to question if I am going to be able to make it through the entire year without going crazy. I think I today caught a very sobering glimpse of the challenges that lie ahead, and this created the first suggestion of self-doubt that I have experienced on the trip to date. It's certainly terrifying, but on the other hand I realize that I am forcing my brain to work in ways in has not been forced before to work. Under such extraordinary circumstances, mental fatigue is completely normal. Fatigue won't define my year, but how I deal with it will.