Monday, March 10, 2014

Mar 9 (Day 68) - Sanibel Island and JN "Ding" Darling NWR, fear of being alone

Even though I rode 111 miles yesterday (and walked 3!), I slept my usual 6.5 hours last night. I thought I was going to be in a fair amount of pain this morning, but 30 minutes in the hot tub at my place of refuge apparently erased any lingering effects of the previous day's activities. I felt ready to tackle the 65-mile ride to Sanibel Island and JN "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge where I had been granted permission to stay both tonight, Sunday, and tomorrow. I hugged the coast on my ride north in hopes of finding Magnificent frigatebird over the ocean. At the risk of sounding like a broken record recently, I missed this bird again today. However, I will have tomorrow more chances for it, the elusive Short-tailed hawk, and the potentially fictional Mangrove cuckoo. I am starting to think Mangrove cuckoo is some form of hoax that the entire bird community is perpetrating against me. 

I covered the 65 miles to the refuge at a leisurely pace. I made a few roadside stops to look for birds, none of which turned out to be terribly exciting. Upon my arrival at the refuge I was met by wildlife biologist Libby Errickson. After introductions, she and I headed out on bikes to do a loop of the world famous Wildlife Drive. On the right tide and at the right time of year hundreds, if not thousands, of herons and shorebirds can be found just feet from this 4-mile auto tour that runs through the refuge. While photography opportunities often abound, the high tide coupled with the way the birds were positioned limited my chances to shoot this afternoon. I was able to add Spotted sandpiper for year bird #242. 

Libby provided an interesting and educational commentary as we wheeled around the drive. I now know how to discern the red mangrove from the white and the black. Libby claims to have a seen a Mangrove cuckoo this morning, but I am not sure how one sees a bird that I now know does not exist. Other birders with whom I spoke also claim to have seen it. This only lends credence to my assertion that the whole birding community is in on the hoax. 

A particular highlight this afternoon was meeting Don and Lillian Stokes, birders extrordinaire and producers of fine field guides. Together, they have produced umpteen different field guides to birds and other wildlife. They are certainly very knowledgable about all aspects of the natural world. It was really nice to hear that they are enjoying my blog! You can check out their website here.

While Libby and I were walking to dinner, we started talking about alone time. Many people with whom I have spoken about my trip simply cannot believe that I am doing this entire year on my own (Libby is not one of them). They simply do not understand why I would want to spend seemingly endless hours by myself as I move about the country. My answer is that I am doing this alone because I can.  I have been afforded the rare and very valuable chance in my adult life to spend not just hours but days alone. I have managed to escape the normal adult responsibilities that inhibit all but few from doing exactly this. Not only is adult life hectic, but we live a society that actively discourages people from spending extended time away from their peer groups or families. We often label people who enjoy being alone as odd-balls or losers. On the contrary, I believe that is is really difficult to meaningfully interpret what I experience in the world without first understanding myself. Having time alone gives me the chance to do the introspection that life does its best to inhibit. I firmly believe that I will return from this journey more comfortable with my own strengths and more aware of my own weaknesses. I believe this better understanding of myself will translate into more valuable interactions with other people moving forward. I am excited to reintegrate at year's end. Until then I'll enjoy the alone time I have now.


  1. Enjoy "Ding" Darling and the rest of Sanibel Island. I was there for a long weekend in early February and had the time of my life. I recorded 60 different species and I'm just a beginning birder. In fact, a visit to Sanibel two years earlier contributed greatly to my current love of and enthusiasm for all things avian. As for being alone, embrace it and enjoy it!

  2. It was great to meet you! We wish you all the best on your journey. You are not entirely alone, you have all those fabulous birds you are seeing and the supportive birding community who are aiding you in finding them!

  3. Solitude, at the pace of a bicycle's wheels, day after day. You've discovered one of the great joys of solo cycle touring.

    I'm enjoying following your birding adventures.

  4. "I believe that it is really difficult to meaningfully interpret what I experience in the world without first understanding myself." -- That line is gold, Dorian, I can't get enough of it. That being alone is not the same as being lonely is one of my favorite things to think about. -Libby

  5. well said man, i am glad to read your blog from time to time and to see that you are doing well. you are missed greatly in the lab! wish you a wonderful journey onwards and inwards.

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