Thursday, May 22, 2014

May 21 (Day 141) - Lucifer hummingbird!!! More Green Big Year discussion.....

THIS IS GOING TO BE VERY LONG!!! I'll start with the birding from today, and then get back into the discussion of Green Big Years (GBYs) that I started yesterday. 

Today I moved the 48 miles from my awesome Douglas, AZ Best Western to the foothills of the Huachucas where I will spend the next 3-5 days. I have not posted many shots of the insides of Best Westerns, but as the Douglas property was by far the coolest I've stayed in so far this year, I decided to include a few shots from inside the hotel. I got a nice early start to beat some ferocious 30+ MPH winds that appeared in the afternoon. My early start also left me the afternoon to bird once I reached my destination.

53 miles (48 + 5 unmapped while birding)

Sleek Interior of Douglas Best Western

Another angle of the lobby and dining area

Huachucas arrival

Birding today was centered at the Ash Canyon Bed and Breakfast in the Huachucas. This small establishment is run by the incredibly gracious and equally entertaining Mary Jo Ballator. At this location, she maintains a very nice array of feeders designed to attract both hummingbirds and more traditional seed-eaters. The main attraction of this location year after year is the few pairs of Lucifer hummingbirds that nest in the area and visit Mary Jo's feeders. There was a forest fire just behind her house in 2011 that changed both the woodland and hummingbird landscape. Since then there have been fewer hummers at her feeders, but there has been at least a one or two Lucifers visiting her feeders for the past few weeks. Ron Beck and I headed up there this afternoon, and positioned ourselves to wait for the arrival of the Lucifer. While waiting, I was able to tack on 3 additional year birds: Anna's hummingbird (#432) Gila woodpecker (#433), and Gray hawk (#434). There were very few hummingbirds present, so we were able to individually examine each bird as they slowly trickled in. 

Hummingbird feeder array

Ron and Mary Jo

After about on hour, just as Ron and I were entrenched in a discussion of our health care system, Ron spotted the male Lucifer on feeder #1. I got onto it immediately. It flew over to feeder #2 for 2-3 seconds, and then back to feeder #1 for another 2-3 seconds. I reached for the camera, and.....POOF, GONE! I was not able to get any sort of photo, and the bird did not return in the following 3.5 hours of my feeder watching vigil. It was a brief but good look at a very beautiful and high quality year bird (#435)! Altogether, it was a very relaxing afternoon. To be honest, I was shocked that the bird made any appearance given the incredibly strong winds battering the Huachucas today (25-30 MPH). All rationale thought would have said "Don't bother" today, so I am glad we did the irrational thing and went to look for the bird!

OK, I now want to return to the discussion of GBYs started yesterday. I was thinking that there would be a number of GBY permutations, and I delineated these 3:

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 did a lot of thinking about this, and I realized that there is no use in delineating between these for one single reason. Requiring a return to the starting point puts people who live in more northern latitudes at an incredible disadvantage. Suppose someone in Montreal wants to do a closed loop GBY. This means this person must bike through the incredibly cold and very bird thin regions of Southern Canada in winter not once but twice! Species density is also highest in the southern and western portions of the country, and we should not penalize those that live further from these areas. Therefore, I propose that we need not consider the starting or ending points of a GBY. People's starting or ending point should not restricted by where they live. The only criteria that should matter is that no fuel is used during the GBY. Ride a bike through northern Maine in January (and again in December!) before you try to fight me on this one!

I have also received a few emails with specific questions about keeping Green Big Years as green as possible. Here are a few thoughts I have on some aspects of my GBY.

1) When I completely ruined my tires in Louisiana, I had to obtain new ones in order to continue. I was 70 miles from the nearest bike store at that time. There would surely be some net use of fuel to get the new tires. I had 3 options. First, I could have the tires airmailed to me. This would be very expensive as it would require 2-3 additional days in the motel, and it would surely not have been the greenest option. Second, I could try to find a ride to the bike store, buy the tires, and then return to the motel. Finding a ride in a tiny town of 500 people was not a good option. This plan could take days. My last option was to have someone deliver me the supplies. This is exactly what happened. Crytstal from Baton Rouge read my blog, saw my predicament, and offered to bring me the supplies I needed the next morning. I called the bike store in Baton Rough, paid for the stuff over the phone, and she brought it to me. This also allowed me to meet Crystal face to face and spend a few hours talking with her about both her professional and personal life.

2) As far as having a support vehicle, this is a definite no-no as far as I am concerned. GBYers must carry all of their gear on their bike  or bike trailer (but see #5 below). Even when Sonia surprised me for those 4 days in Texas, I still rode with my fully loaded bike even though I could have had her carry 90% of my weight in her rental car.

3) Clearly, camping would be the greenest option for lodging. However, carrying birding gear and camping gear is going to make the bike VERY heavy. If you have multiple people in your group you can split up the camping supplies, but for a single person I think this is going to be too much stuff. Unbikers have no idea how much food bikers have to carry to fuel themselves. Had I left my laptop and DSLR, I could have picked up at least some camping gear. I chose to forgo this option for 3 big reasons. First, I wanted blog readers to ride virtually with me, and this would not be possible without a laptop. Second, in the age of digital photography it is very important to get shots of the rare birds on the trip. I have successfully photographed everything rare I have seen except the flyover Barnacle goose in Connecticut (that bird had been staked out for 2 weeks anyway). I did not photograph Ruff, but I've got > 100 witnesses on that bird. Third, I don't want to spend my year in a tent, I want to spend it with other birders, in their homes, hearing about their birding adventures and their everyday lives. So much of this trip is about the people that staying in homes whenever I can makes the most sense. Hotels/motels fill the gaps when their are no people to host me.

4) I received a great deal of help from Ron Beck and Janet Cunningham in the Chiricahuas. They drove to the mountains for 3 days of birding, and they brought me a tent that I used for a night. They clearly used gas to reach the mountains, but as they are retired this is how they spend their time anyway. Throwing an extra tent and some extra food into the mix wasn't a big deal as far as I am concerned. 

5) I, unlike anyone of whom I am currently aware, am the only person who has braved sub-freezing temperatures (for weeks on end I will add) as part a GBY. There is a reason that Malcolm and family split their year to avoid winter, and there is a reason why all the other GBYs have happened in warm areas (CA, AZ etc). Clearly, I had no need for my huge North Face down parka, extra fleece, 2 sets of top and bottom thermal underwear, scarf, face mask, and expedition weight mountaineering gloves after I got out of the northeast. It only made sense for me to mail these home once I got out of the deep freeze. I do not feel that mailing items that are not needed home is a big deal. Similarly, camping for the first 6 weeks of my trip in the frigid northeast was not possible. To give you an idea of how cold it was in the northeast this year, I biked in these and only these for the for the first month. 

The point is that even though this is a GBY, I am certainly going to indirectly use a nominal amount of fossil fuels, natural gas, and electricity. I did not call this year "carbon free". I called it self-powered for this reason. Hopefully all this makes sense and sits OK with everyone. 

Tomorrow will be very birding heavy, so hopefully I'll have some good news for you tomorrow evening!


  1. Agree with your assessment about looping, etc. A calendar year vs. a 12 month period is about the only argument I see worth having. And my personal preference is to stick with Calendar years. I see that some Green Big Day/Month/Year/City/County/State/Park/Creek bed/Drive-in Theatre/etc. participants actually scout birds by car occasionally and then cycle back to that location to view them carbon free. I find this peculiar and somehow contrary to the spirit of Big Green Counts. Don't get me wrong, I applaud ALL birding. But if it doesn't quack Green, then it probably ain't Green.
    The Feral Birder

  2. I really like the name Green Big Year and not for example "Greenest Big Year Ever"...there's an infinite way to split hairs about how "green" a ride should be. Can you imagine trying to limit yourself to the greenest of calories? I can only assume some of the remote places you ride through don't have the most sustainable food choices available.

  3. Thank you for thinking of us in Montréal! ;)