Tuesday, May 20, 2014

May 20 (Day 140) - Discussion of past Green Big Years, Ideas for future Green Big Years

This morning I sadly left the Chiricahuas as I started the ride southwest to the Huachucas. The  birding in the Chiricuhuas did not disappoint, and I will continue to champion this mountain range as one of the single best birding spots on the continent. It's a place that all birders should have a chance to visit at some point in their birding careers.

Nothing terribly exciting happened today as I moved the 58 miles from Portal, AZ southwest to the border town of Douglas, AZ (the border checkpoint is visible from my Best Western). The winds were really picking up as I arrived in Douglas. The last 10 miles were downhill but they were actually the hardest of the ride since the wind was really starting to hammer by that time. I rode only a half day since conditions this afternoon were forecast to be terrible - 92F with 25 MPH SW sustained winds. Tomorrow I will head 47 miles west to Hereford to meet and stay with Ron Beck and Janet Cunningham. Their house will be the base from which we will thoroughly bird the Huachucas over the next 4 days.

57 miles + 1 unmapped = 58

There was no welcome sign on Portal road
so I grabbed this shot on Route 80 today

Goodbye Chiricahuas

Terrain from today

Helmet hair!

I have had lots of questions about previous Green Big Years (GBY) and GBY species records. Although I will mention several notable Green Big Year, I am sure there are others. Please forgive me if I have not included your effort, I did not do it deliberately.

I think the biggest GBY done to date was Malkolm Boothroyd and his parents in 2007/8. I have lifted the following directly from Wikipedia.

"Starting in the summer of 2007, teenager Malkolm Boothroyd and his parents, Ken Madsen and Wendy Boothroyd, attempted a big year without the use of fossil fuels by planning to bicycle over 10,000 miles to get over 400 species for the year. They started in their home province of Yukon Territory, rode down the Pacific Coast, looping around Arkansas to catch the Texas spring migration, then eastward to Florida. They dubbed this attempt a "bird year" rather than a big year. In the end, they covered more than 13,000 miles by bicycle and tallied 548 species, raising more than $25,000 for bird conservation in the process"

Clearly, this GBY was both very ambitious and incredibly successful. I was able to locate a very nice article from Audubon Magazine that provides lots of interesting information on the family's year. Their year was particularly interesting since it was split between 2007 and 2008. Traditionally, Big Years have fallen entirely in one calendar year. This split enabled them to reach some areas that it would be impossible to reach if one needed to account for winter in those areas (i.e. Canada). The family appears to have been very stringent on their "no fossil fuels" claim as they even took a sailboat out into Monterey Bay, CA to look for seabirds (I might do this as well). I will probably reach out to Malkolm at some point, so if anyone knows him, please put us in touch! Malkolm kept a nice blog of his adventure. He appears to have kept this blog active until 2010.

There are several other notable and more recent GBYs that have occurred at the state or county level. It is totally possible to thoroughly bird a single county over an entire year while still having what I would call a normal life (job, family, etc). Generally, these folks do all of their birding activities by bike and then use cars for other aspects of their lives like work commutes and offspring hauling. Josiah Clark and Andy Kleinhesselink both completed San Francisco Bay Area GBYs in 2008 where they each recorded 295 species.  Jim Royer undertook a San Luis Opispo County GBY in 2012 where he found 302 species. This 302 is the highest species total for a GBY in any single county in the Unites States. He added 16 species from surrounding counties for a total of 318. 2013 saw two notable GBYs. Ron Beck (with whom I am staying the next few days) tallied 301species in Cochise County, AZ that year.  Mark Kudrav saw 256 species in San Mateo County and added an additional 70 species from surrounding counties for a total of 326 species in 2013. Right now, I think Mark's year is recognized as the GBY record since Malkolm's amazing total was split between 2 calendar years. I am sure I am missing other efforts, so I apologize to anyone who I have forgotten or missed. Below are a set of links with more information on some of the projects I listed above.

Mark Kudrav's blog from his 2013 GBY adventure. Here is another article that talks about his efforts.

An interview with Ron Beck after his 2013 GBY as it appeared on the ABA blog.

2008 blog from Andy Kleinhesselink about his Bay Area GBY (lots of info on Josiah too).

An article about green birding from the ABA blog. This contains loads of info on Green Big Day records as well.

Green birding is really catching on all over the country. Clearly, we, led by the ABA, are going to have to formulate some form of code of conduct for green birding. For my year, I have generally hybridized the rules for Green Big Days with traditional Petroleum-based Big Years. For instance, cars and power boats (including ferries) are prohibited on Green Big Days. I have avoided both cars and ferries for all of 2014, and I have so far not loaded my bike or myself into any car/truck at any point this year. Additionally, I have decided to attempt the incredibly difficult challenge of zero car use for my birding AND non-birding activities this year. I won't even get into a car to go out to dinner with people. When I need a bike tune-up, I bike to the bike store and hang out while it is completed.

The big issue that will come up is what happens in the case of an emergency or other situation. For example, what happens if I wreck my bike and I need to hitch a ride to a bike store for repairs? I have said that if this happens I will return to the site of the wreck and continue riding from there so that no forward progress is made as a result of the incident. Malkolm and his family were forced by Canadian Police to take a ride for a few miles since the highway on which they were riding was technically closed. This certainly does not invalidate their amazing effort, and I fully expect something like this will happen to me at some point in 2014. I figure that if I am forced into a car for X miles for some reason, I will do X miles of unproductive riding without birding to make up for them. Who knows what issues will arise, but I will deal with each of them in the greenest way that I can.

Thinking about it further, there are several possible permutations of continent-wide GBY. It will be fun to see how we decided to handle each of them. For example, here a few possibilities.

Open Loop Green Big Year - This is what I am planning to do. I will use no fuel from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, but then I am planning to fly home from wherever I finish during the first week of 2015. Hence, there will be a net use of fossil fuel, but none of it in 2014. 

Open Loop Green Big Year with extension - Similar to above in that the year starts and ends in different places. However, the birder would then bike back to the starting point during the first few weeks/months of the following year. No birds would be added during the extension phase. This would mean that there is no net change in position before fossil fuel consumption is reinitiated.

Closed Loop Green Big Year - This would be a 365-day GBY that ends in the same place on Dec. 31 at which it started on Jan. 1. 

I have been watching a show on SyFy channel called "Heroes of CosPlay" as I have been writing. It's a show about people who make costumes of animated characters and then go to huge conventions where these consumes are displayed and judged. I am thinking that these people are completely nerdy and crazy. Then I reread this post to proofread it, and I realized I am just as bad........


  1. I continue to be inspired by your adventures and passion for what you are doing, but now it is about to take me further. My friends and I just completed 24-hours of birding/fundraising in Massachusetts as part of Mass Audubon bird-a-thon, but it did involve lots of driving from central MA to the coast and back. In honor of your efforts and more importantly your message, we plan to do a green bird-a-thon next year with all birding during the 24-hours done without the use of anything except bicycles or our feet. We obviously won't get to the coast :) but should still have a great time AND can help spread the message of energy conservation. You are making a difference in people's lives, and for the planet. Thank you.

  2. Hi Dorian! I don't think you've covered this before in your blog, but it would be really cool if you posted about how you manage your water and food challenges on your daily rides. What and how much do you carry with you on a typical day?



  3. Hi Dorian,
    Here's malkolm: https://www.facebook.com/malkolm.boothroyd

    Loving your big year.

  4. Just to add to the nerdiness: Would there need to be rules for carbon-using assistance to the BGBY? For example, if someone carried all of the gear in an assistant car? What about when you were in Louisiana and had the bike problem? Would there be a difference between you getting a lift to get supplies or supplies being driven to you? Both are using carbon equally. Someone driving a mountain bike to you so you can get on more difficult terrain? I can see having a carbon-using assistant would help someone greatly to break the record, but would that break the spirit of the BGBY? Thoughts?

  5. Thanks Dorian for clarifying that there is no clear record for a true Green Year Record (for the North American continent). My guess is that you are in the process of setting the bar for a true Continental Green Big Year. For that and for sharing your adventure so that all of us stuck at home can vicariously participate, I say you deserve a donation.

    What reference material do you have access to when you find a problem bird?

  6. Bryn is getting to the philosophical meat here. I also wonder what about other carbon externalities of this kind of biking trip. One example would be significant other visits. For the same amount of jet required to transport someone from the east coast to El Paso via a connection in Phoenix, you could have flown from Austin to the east coast, then back to Tucson and saved a lot of time and energy and the carbon footprint associated with hotel lodging in remote areas, etc.

    At a broader level, when all is said and done, a year of living at home and biking to work every day in Boston would use up less carbon than biking across the country on a big year.

    This all sounds too poo-pooey, because I really admire this effort and think it sets a great example for what a big year can be. I suppose you need to just draw the lines somewhere and stick to the rules, which you've been doing very well. In terms of the sheer number of miles covered, and especially compared to normal big year style travel, this certainly is a very "green" trip.