Friday, March 28, 2014

Mar 28 (Day 87) - A forced hand, 2 new warblers!

I spent last night in Seagrove Beach, FL with a friend that I met online about a year ago. Earlier in the year I wrote about how the internet has made the world a very small and interconnected place. I met Greg in a Photography chatroom/forum that we both frequent. In addition to photography, we have talked a bit of science since we share that interest as well. Greg and his family had planned a vacation for this week in Seagrove Beach, and several months ago Greg said I could drop in on them should I be in the area. This worked out perfectly for me. I was actually going to spend 2 nights (Thurs, Fri) with Greg, but, as usual, plans had to change due to weather. This was the weather map for the Florida Panhandle at around 10:30am today. Greg's rental was located exactly between Fort Walton Beach and Panama City.

Bad weather!

A person would have to be crazy to try to ride in this. However, I was forced to do just this. Here's how I made the decision to ride right into this storm. First, when I looked at the weather forecast for tomorrow, it was equally bad as today. However, the wind today was going to be at 10-15 MPH form the southeast (a tailwind), and the wind tomorrow was going to be at 10-15 MPH from the west (a headwind). So, given that it was going to be raining heavily both days, I'd much rather have the tailwind today. Second, it might have made sense for me to stay both tonight (Fri) and an extra night tomorrow (Sat) with Greg and let all this weather clear out. However, tomorrow is turnover day for rentals which means 2 things. First, Greg and his family would not be staying at the house tomorrow so I had to move somewhere. Second, since it was turnover day, there would be many more cars on the road tomorrow than today. Everyone was hunkered down today; Tomorrow they, like me, would be forced to move. Given the headwinds and the increased traffic, I decided to take my chances with the storm today. I planned to ride Gulf Breeze just outside Pensacola, but I knew I had a Best Western bailout at the halfway point of 36 miles in Fort Walton Beach should conditions be so miserable as to force me off the roads.

A bad band of thunderstorms went over the house at around 11:30am. I assumed this was the yellow band on the map above. I set off at noon only to discover there was MUCH more to come. Only 15 minutes into the ride, I was hit with the worst rain I have experienced on the trip. It was a complete wall of water accompanied by 30 MPH winds from the northwest. I had to get off the road as fast as possible, so I took shelter under the cover of a drive-through ATM. I waited about 20 minutes until the worst rain passed, and then I set out into conditions that were still atrocious. The bike path was completed flooded and there was an inch of water covering the road as well (there was 3-4 inches in some place after the initial deluge). Riding was completely miserable for the next hour. 

I was livid about the apparently wrong wind forecast. Had I known that the wind was going to be in my face, I might not have set out at all. I just did not understand how the southeast wind had changed instantly to the northwest. I wanted to get off my bike just slam it down in the road. I wanted to smash my iPhone into a road sign. I was yelling and cursing out loud. I wanted some control in an uncontrollable situation. What I soon realized is that the only control I had was to keep riding. It was the only thing I could do. I could not curl up into a ball on the side of the road for the next 2 days, and I was NOT going to ask for a ride. Sonia happen to call me right at the lowest point. I explained, in a very frustrated tone, what was happening. She understood that I needed to vent, and after I did this I did feel a bit better. Her call was a big help.

I did keep pushing, and, slowly, over the corse of my second hour on the road, the conditions improved. The rain let up quite a bit, and the wind swung around to the north. During the third hour the southeast wind into which I had originally stepped at noon was restored. The rain picked back up later in the day, but as long as I had the tailwind, I couldn't care less. I covered the 71 miles in 5:30. This includes a half hour stop at Subway a mile from my destination. That meatball sub tasted really good!

71 rainy miles

Weather is really interesting. The flag outside the house said the wind was southeast when I left. The storm band (yellow on map) pushed through northwest to southeast and completely reversed the wind direction almost instantly. The southeast wind was thankfully restored over the next two hours. I'm just glad I was able to make it to my destination. 

I am actually staying in a migrant trap for the next two days. A migrant trap is a place, normally along the coast, where birds that have just made long overnight flights over large bodies of water congregate to rest and refuel. At this time of year, migrating songbirds make a 20-hour, non-stop from the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico to the Gulf Coast States. After such a long, exhausting flight, the birds land in the first patches of woods they find when they hit land. My hosts are right on the water and have a nicely wooded yard, so it is an ideal place for migrants roland after their long flights. Upon my arrival to their house,  I promptly added Prothonotary warbler (#261) and Louisiana waterthrush (#262) to the year's list. There were probably a dozen hooded warblers in the yard as well, and my hosts had seen a Worm-eating warbler just before I arrived. They actually have a yard list of over 260 species! I will bird the yard and surrounding neighborhood tomorrow morning after the rain stops. The real kicker in the whole weather story from today is that tomorrow's forecast has  improved quite a bit since I made the decision to ride today. If it does clear up later in the day, I will bird another nearby migrant trap in the afternoon.


  1. I bet you are staying at the Duncan's home. Great birders. Are you able to get to Ft Pickens while in the area?

    1. Yep, they are out at Ft. Pickens now. I will head there this afternoon if they report back to me that there are lots of birds out there.

  2. HI Dorian, I'm not sure if it matters, but I think you twice refer to "southwest" winds when you mean "southeast."

  3. Sounds like this stop was a bit of a migrant trap for you too: a place to rest and refuel (by birding) after a tough trip.

    1. Yeah some down time is REALLY appreciated at the moment.