Sunday, March 30, 2014

Mar 30 (Day 89) - Goodbye Florida, Hello Alabama!

It has been long, productive, 5-week run in Florida. I arrived in Florida on February, 22 with 195 birds on my year list, and I left today with 265 after I added Chimney swift in Pensacola this afternoon. Minus Mangrove cuckoo, I saw basically everything that I had hoped to see in this state. I found many Florida endemics, several interesting and countable introduced exotics (headlined by Budgerigar), and one very high quality rarity in the form of La Sagra's flycatcher. I took lots of photos, added 8 birds to my lower 48 list (now ~665), survived getting hit by a car, and made a lot of new friends. The bottom line is that my time in Florida could not have been better. Well, maybe I could have done without getting hit by the car. When the results of this leg are coupled with the great start that I had in the Northeast in January, I am really happy with how the first 3 months of this year have unfolded. 

64 miles west to Alabama today

I am now moving into Alabama and the heart of the Gulf Coast. My afternoon arrival in Alabama represents state number 15 that I have visited on this adventure. 'Bama is also a life state for me, so that adds to the excitement. My main destination here is Dauphin Island, a potentially fantastic migrant trap on a barrier island at the eastern end of Pelican Bay. Here are a few shots of my Alabama arrival!

WOW - just as handsome in the Alabama sun!

 The bike gets its Alabama baptism

As I have said several times in this blog, I have not spent any time in the deep south. These next few days will be a good introduction. I did find one thing particularly amusing as I rode along today. There is apparently a set of elections coming up around here, and one of the positions for which people are campaigning is Sheriff. I know this since there were a number of posters along the side of the road championing one person or another for the slot. Just in case there was any doubt that I had officially arrived in the deep south, the "Hoss Mack for Sheriff" signs along the side of the road confirmed this fact. No way y'all are going to find anyone named 'Hoss' up nawth! 

There have been any number of funny signs outside of businesses and especially churches along the road during my trip. I really wish I had taken photos of more of these since they are good for a cheap laugh, but it is tough to break a good rhythm once I find myself in one. Here is another silly sign I found today. Since I was almost at my destination, I stopped for 30 seconds to grab this shot. I am hoping that these cheap laughs substitute for bird photos for the moment (more on this below).

Thank you, thank you, I'll be here all week....

If you glance back up the map at the top of the post, you can see that I made a detour south off of Route 98 once I arrived in Alabama. I had been informed about a set of sod fields along this detour, and I was hoping that I would be able to find one or more "grasspiper" in this area. Grasspiper is an informal birding term applied to a group of several shorebirds that are often found in  farm fields or in the grasses around airport runways. This group normally refers to American golden plover, Buff-breasted sandpiper, and Upland sandpiper. None of these birds are particularly common, so finding any of them is always exciting. Technically, we could probably throw Killdeer and maybe Wilson's snipe into this category, but most people do not do this since these 2 species are more widespread and easier to find than the other three.  After much scanning with the binoculars, I was able to find 5-6 distant birds which struck me as Upland-ish. Scope views confirmed them as Upland sandpipers and elevated the year's list to 266.  Alabama produces right away - Woo Hoo!

Grasspiper Habitat

Lastly, my camera was confirmed dead this morning. HOWEVER, there have been some very exciting developments in the last 24 hours behind the scenes, and it looks as though I will have a new rig in my hands tomorrow. I will fill everyone in on the exact details once the deal is done, but for those that have lost sleep for lack of bird pictures, fear not; I should be able to start cranking out photos again in the very near future. 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Mar 29 (Day 88) - More migrants, death of my camera, thoughts on development

First, thank you to folks who made donations a a result of Sonia's post yesterday or my post after my Kanapaha Prairie visit. We are steadily approaching $10,000 with everyone's help!

Today was a very welcomed rest day. After 70 miles in the rain yesterday and an average of about 65 miles a day for the last 11-12 days, it was time for a break. We had more rain overnight, but most of it cleared out by early morning. A west wind strengthened throughout the day, but for the most part it did not affect birding at all. The place where I stayed last night is very birdy during spring migration. This means I did not have to go very far to tick Worm-eating warbler (#263) and Yellow-throated vireo (#264). Although these were the only two species that I added to the list today, I had a morning filled with Parula, Hooded, Prothonotary, Orange-crowned and Black-and-white warblers. Brown thrashers, Gray catbirds, and White-eyed vireos were everywhere, and the resident Carolina wrens, titmice, and chickadees made their presence known with their constant chatter. It was a very relaxing morning, until the unthinkable went wrong.

My camera body appears to be completely dead. In speaking with members of my favorite online forum,, it appears as though there is 90% chance that my 7D will need major repairs before it functions again. What I think happened is that some water must have worked its way into the camera yesterday when I took it out to try to photograph the Protonotary warbler. It also could have happened this morning as water was dripping off the trees as the wind shook them. There is still a chance I can salvage the camera, but I will not know this until tomorrow morning. Should this be a major problem, I am not sure what I will do. I had a $275 repair done on this camera 1.5 years ago, and this potential repair will cost at least that much. It might make more sense to buy something else rather than sinking more money into repairs. This is going to take some serious thought. I am sorry to report that there will not be any bird pictures for at least the next few days and possibly longer. I am very upset about this as I think the photos are one of the strongest points of this blog. I hope everyone has many other reasons to keep checking in!

As I wrote above, my hosts have a fantastic birding yard. This is actually due to the fact that most of the surrounding area has been developed into houses with manicured lawns. This has left very little habitat intact for migrating birds, and much of what is left can be found on my hosts' property. They have deliberately chosen to leave the natural foliage intact as a shelter for migrating birds. They actually own other lots in the area, and they have also left these incredibly valuable patches of land undeveloped. It is clear that the habitat (and the birds it attracts) is more valuable than whatever financial windfall might result from its development.

I spent part of the afternoon birding the yard and surrounding neighborhood with one of my hosts. He has lived in Gulf Breeze, FL since 1955, and his family has owned this land since 1880. As we walked around his neighborhood, he pointed to specific spots that corresponded to distinct birding memories. He showed me the spot where he found the first Florida record of Inca dove. He showed me the dock where where he found the third Florida record of King eider. He talked about how two different subspecies of Black-whiskered vireo can wander to this area. It was incredibly touching to hear the incredible series of birding stories that have contributed to his own personal life history, and there was a palpable sense of nostalgia in both his tone and word choice as he spoke. I asked him how he feels about the development that he has witnessed over his six decades in the area. He replied that he is thankful that he has been able to enjoy it while he could. While I appreciate his ability to be thankful for the time he has enjoyed here, I cannot help but wonder if there is a more guarded, pained feeling that he might be less willing to articulate. He clearly has a connection to this land and its birds that no future area resident ever will. For now, at least, he is able to retreat into his own personal refuge where the company of the birds and his wife are enough. We should all be so lucky.

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.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Mar 27 (Day 86) - Tailwinds

The tailwind that I expected yesterday never materialized. Today was a different story. The weather folks were spot on when they forecasted strong east winds that would eventually swing around to blow from the south. These 15-20 MPH winds moved me along at my fastest clip of the year. I was able to cover 59 miles to Panama City in about 3:15 (with no stops!), or an average of just over 18 MPH. I reached my planned destination so quickly that I immediately began searching for someone further down the road with whom I could stay tonight. Winds like this are very rare, and I wanted to squeeze every mile from them that I was able. I ended up finishing in Sea Grove Beach, 90 miles from where I started in Apalachicola. I easily could have pumped out another 40-50 miles, but I would have outridden the lodging I have arranged for the next few days. I am just about certain these will be the 90 easiest miles I will ride this year. There is a strong possibility that I will be staying here tomorrow as well as the weather forecast for tomorrow is dreadful: thunder and lightning all day. There will also be more thunderstorms Saturday morning, so I am going to lose at least 1.5 days to this nonsense.

90 more miles today!

I wrote a few days ago that I was hoping to keep my miles down during this stretch. So far this has not happened; I have been averaging 65 miles a day for the last 10 days. Part of this is that potential lodging places are far apart in these sparsely populated areas, and part of it is that I am getting stronger and riding faster. I just completed consecutive 90-mile days and I feel great. If there is a really good birding spot (St. Mark's, e.g.), then I can fill up the day birding and photographing. However, if there isn't anything particularly exciting to see, I may as well keep moving since I do not know when I am going to be forced into days off. 

I am hoping to hit a few decent migration fallouts before I get to Texas. Every migrating species I can find now is one that I won't have to search for while I am in Texas. There might be some decent movement after all these storms, so I want to try to position myself to find some new birds once the weather clears. 

As a side note, I was informed by my hosts for the night that I crossed into the central time zone today. I seem to have completely lost track of where I am on the east-west axis of the country. I am much further west than I realized. I guess this is good news since I'm headed west anyway!

Mar 26 (Day 85) - More St. Mark's NWR, photography stuff, and NERD TIME!

OK, I told you yesterday that I REALLY enjoyed my time at St. Marks NWR. In fact, I liked it so much that I went back for several hours this morning. This might not have been the wisest decision since it meant I did a lot of riding today, but it was hard to leave such a beautiful place behind. This refuge is very large and contains many different habitats. However, the best thing about the refuge is the balance between the auto tour and the hiking/biking trails. Many refuges have a main auto tour and just a few short, token trails. St. Mark's has a series of dikes that run through the refuge, and visitors are allowed to walk or bike basically all of these! This really opens up a whole host of birding possibilities. This is very unique as dikes at many refuges are off limits to the general public. It is really easy to get off the road and find your own little slice of the refuge since so much of it is public access. I have visited many refuges, and I would venture to say that this is one of, if not the most, impressive facility that I have visited. It is definitely worth a visit if you are in the area.

On the bird front, today I was able to add 3 more species to the 5 I added yesterday. I heard a Chuck-will's-widow (#258) this morning when I walked out of my lodging from last night. This was a nice surprise and it got the day going right away. I was also able to find a single Cliff swallow (#259) among lots of Barn and Tree swallows, and I picked out a lone Semipalmated sandpiper (#260) in with the several Western sandpipers I saw today. There were loads of shorebirds both yesterday and today. I probably had a dozen different species, many of which were new for the year. I also saw several Bald eagles and a nice assortment of land birds.

Bike at the refuge

Blue goose given to me at Sanibel NWR finds
a friend at St. Mark's NWR! He normally rides on 
the front of my bike.

St. Mark's lighthouse

I am currently working on doing more shooting in manual mode on my camera. I have done most of my shooting in AV (aperture priority) mode up until now. I just feel that I am at a point where I want maximum control over what the camera is doing. I know I will miss some shots as I continue to practice exposure theory, but I think my photography will benefit greatly in the long term. Here are some of the results from yesterday and today! 

***again, click for bigger images***

American coot - check out his feet!

Tricolored heron

 Boat-tailed grackle

Sora  - LOTS more on this photo below

 Quick record Stilt sandpiper shot


In addition to my 400mm bird lens, I have been carrying a landscape lens with me. This lens has seen minimal action so far,  but I expect it to get more use as I move west. The location snaps taken with my iPhone are serviceable, but I am really looking forward to doing more real landscape shooting as I move west. Here are 2 shots from St. Marks and one from the road today. Bascially, anything with my "dorianandersonphotography2014" watermark is a real photo taken with my SLR (compared to what I call iPhone 'snaps'). I am realizing I am going to have to start using a tripod for serious landscape work. I generally like to photograph when the sun is really low (early and late). This means that with the sun at my back, my body casts a long shadow that can work its way into the shot and ruin it. I will start using a remote trigger with the camera on a tripod to prevent shadows in my shots. I was able to avoid the shadow issue in the shots below!

**click for bigger images**

St. Mark's NWR

St. Mark's NWR

"Tin Shanty" along the road

The 25-mile "backtrack" to the refuge 
made today very long - 90 miles. I stayed next to
the Chevron station.

Tomorrow I will head to Panama City for the night. I will have some time to bird along the way so we'll see what I can turn up.

OK, time for a bit of nerdy stuff. Look at the following two images.

Do you see how you can see under the water in the first shot but not in the second? This is because I took the first shot at a high angle (I had to do this since I was shooting over grass) and the second shot at a low angle. Why does this matter? It all has to do with refractive index. Refractive index is a experimentally determined number that describes how fast light travels in a particular substance. This straw example should look familiar to some people, and it is caused by the different refractive indexes of water (1.33) and air (~1). In order tho avoid the math, I'll give you the basic idea. As light moves between different mediums, such as air and water, it gets bent according to the relative refractive indexes of those mediums.

 A light ray is bent as it enters and leaves a plastic block

As I said, light rays that originate under water are bent as they leave the water and enter the air. This is why the straw looks broken above and the light ray "kinks" in the plastic. However, not every light ray that originates under water escapes into the air. As you can see below, only light waves that are steep enough make it out of the water and into the air. These are the light rays represented by the yellow lines below. Shallow rays, depicted in red, are reflected back into the water and never make it to the air.

So what does this have to do with the two photos above? Since I took the first photo standing up, the steep light rays from under the water (like the yellow lines) escape to the air and register on the camera's sensor. Since I crouched down to take the second shot, the light rays from things under the water are now at a shallower angle (like the red lines) and do not escape the water. There is just as much junk under the water in shot 2, but you don't see it because the light from it never leaves the water to reach the camera. You will also notice how the bird's reflection is stronger in the second shot. Generally, the lower you get to take the photo, the better the reflection will be since it is not "diluted" by light coming from under the water. In this shot, I am lying on my stomach in the pond to get as low as possible!

Interestingly, birds that eat fish for a living have a built in refractive index correction factor. I assume this is learned over time as the bird learns to fish. The bird must learn to aim a bit below where its eyes tell it the fish is. This might also explain why Osprey like to hover above where they dive so as to minimize the correction that must be made.

Lastly, diamonds have one of the highest know refractive indexes. Light enters into a diamond and becomes trapped as it bounces around inside the carbon lattice. The light is bounced around so many times before it escapes back into the air that the individual colors of different wavelengths separate. This is why a diamond sparkles. 

I know it is a bit more than people might have expected, but I hope folks have learned a bit about refractive index and how it can affect their photography. On that note, I am going to unplug to get some sleep. I do have to ride 60 miles tomorrow!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Mar 25 (Day 84) - VERY fast post after a great day at St. Marks NWR (5 year birds!)

I have about ten minutes to write this so I am going to keep it very brief. I cannot add photos at the moment, so these will be inserted into tomorrow's super blog when I get around to it.

~43 more miles today!

Today I rode from Tallahassee, FL to St. Marks NWR. This place is FANTASTIC! I could  easily spend several days here. It is probably the prettiest place I have visited on this trip, and there were loads of birds on top of amazing scenery. I was able to add 5 birds to the years list!

253 - Barn swallow
254 - Black-necked stilt
255 - White-faced ibis
256 - Stilt sandpiper
257 - Long-billed dowitcher

I also had several eagles, sora, lots of shorebirds, warblers, terns, herons, and a partridge in a pear tree. It was really a fantastic day despite the consistent 20 MPH winds that battered me all afternoon. I am actually staying on the refuge, so this meant I was able to bird to near sundown today. I will add a number of photos from my day tomorrow.

Also, several people have asked about the donation counter. I update it every FRIDAY when I receive a  statement of account activity from The Conservation Fund. If you gave, $5,000 on Monday and the counter does not immediately move, do not worry! Your donation, along with the other that week, will be reflected when I manually update the counter on FRIDAY!

Tomorrow I am going to have a long ride to Apalachicola (~70 miles), but I should have a good tailwind to help me. I may return to St. Marks for a few hours since it was so good today. That would add about 20 miles, and it would bring the day's hypothetical total to around 90.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Mar 24 (Day 83) - More distance west, itemized list of what I'm carrying

I had a very nice, 64-mile ride west to Tallahassee today. If you ever bike through this area, I highly suggest that you take highway 90. I have been on it for the last 2 days. It has a great surface, a relatively low amount of traffic, and a nice wide bike lane. The terrain alternated between pancake flat and rolling hills, and it changed frequently enough that boredom never really set it. It also passes through a number of interesting, small towns. Most notable today was Monticello where I was able to snap a photo at the center of the town.

64 miles today - more hills than I expected
around Tallahassee made the end a bit tough!

Monticello town center

I did knock into another LDB (long distance biker) on the road this morning. Steve lives in Colorado and has been biking across the southern United States for the past 6 weeks. He started in San Diego and plans to end in St. Augustine in a few days. I will be doing much of his route in the reverse direction, so we exchanged a bit of information about roads, routes etc. Steve also offered me a place to stay in Colorado once I reach the mountains! Note the Surly bike, the same one I am riding.

Tomorrow I am going to to head due south to St. Mark's NWR where I will spend all day and tomorrow night. This place is supposed to be very "birdy", so hopefully it will be a productive day. I should also mention that I did add Eastern kingbird (#252) along the road right as I entered Tallahassee today. 

As I arrived to my destination on the early side today, I took a walk over the a local shopping mall to try to find some ice cream (I was successful). This was my first real reintroduction to consumer America since I unplugged almost 3 months ago. Every time I enter a mall I cannot help but think how 99% of what is sold there is useless junk that people could certainly do without. After all, how many clothes/shoes/hats/bags/toys does one person need? Anyway, I started thinking about how nice it has been to live such a materially-streamlined life this year. I have always been a minimalist, but this year has been even more extreme. Minus Sonia, I have only REALLY missed one thing: my big camera (Canon 500 f/4 + 1.4III + 1DIV). Outside of it, I can basically survive without most of what I currently own. Unfortunately, in this country most people have succumbed to hideously false message that material things equal happiness and success. I am so glad that I have missed this memo. No one can buy my bike trip; That's why it's valuable. 

NOTE: I have received several emails pointing out the disconnect between the minimalistic tendencies articulated above and the list of material goods that I provide below. I totally understand these sentiments, and I realize I sound like a hypocrite. I will try to explain myself a bit better. Basically, I tend to do A LOT of research on the few, but very high quality items that I purchase. These items will get daily or weekly use in perpetuity in all instances. I am trying to contrast this buying pattern to that of the impulse shopper who buys lots of poorly made stuff that will just collect dust once it goes out of style or falls apart. No one goes into the mall thinking "I really need a 'Hello Kitty' toilet seat or a 'Hello Kitty' AK-47", but people will walk out with these precise items nonetheless. If you have recently purchased either of these items, nothing I can say is going to make any sense, so I'll just conceed defeat. 

AH-HA! Now would be the perfect time to provide a list of what I am carrying this year. Several people have asked about my gear, so I will try my best to include everything.

Surly Disc Trucker bike
Surly front rack 
Bontrager/Trek rear rack
2 water bottles with holders
One pair Ortlieb Front Roller Panniers (Panniers #1, 2 below)
One pair Ortlieb Rear Roller Panniers (Panniers #3, 4 below)

Pannier 1 - Front Right - "Optic stuff"
Camera body
400mm lens
17-40mm lens (not getting much use right now, maybe more out west)
Flash memory cards
GoPro camera
Lens cloths, brushes etc

Pannier 2 - Front Left - "Bike stuff"
Fold up spare tire (kinda bulky)
3 spare tubes
Tire levers
Bike light (doubles as flash light)
Reflective yellow vest
Hand pump for tires
Plastic zip ties, duct tape
Multi-use bike wrench/tool thingy
Snacks - Granola bars and Peanuts
Hand warmers

Pannier 3 - Back Right
Field guide
Hiking boots (relatively lightweight)
2 T-shirts - could probably get by with one
4 pair underwear - too many, I cycle in bike shorts so I probably only need 2
Pain killers - Big bottles of both ibuprofen and naproxen sodium
2 pair socks

Pannier 4 - Back Left
Rain coat - will ditch this at some point. I won't see much rain in the nest 3 months. Warm rain OK.
Extra pair biking shorts
Extra long-sleeve, fancy-fabric biking shirt (long sleeve to keep sun off my arms)
Power cords/chargers (Phone, Laptop, Camera batteries, Light, GoPro etc), card reader 
2 pair long pants (can certainly get away with one)
1 light pair fleece gloves and fleece hat

On my person I normally have a pair of socks, my Shimano biking shoes, a pair of biking undershorts, a pair of regular shorts, a long-sleeve, fancy-fabric biking shirt, my helmet, a pair of cheap sunglasses, and a pair of fingerless gloves.

My scope and MeFoto Tripod are bungee-corded to the back rack. They are in a waterproof bag and wrapped in a lightweight coat. The coat hides the items so that people just think its more junk strapped to the bike. The scope+tripod is about 8-9 Lbs. I will almost certainly ship the scope/tripod and a few other extra items from Texas to Arizona to save weight on that very challenging leg. I might just ship the scope all the way to California since it would be a lot of weight in the mountains as well. This will be a huge decision. 

When I was in the Northeast, I also had a heavy fleece coat, North Face Down Puffer Jacket, long underwear, fleece pants, 2 additional pairs of gloves, a fleece/neoprene facemask, another wool hat, and 2 heavy duty pair of wool socks. I sent all this stuff home when I reached North Carolina. That was a VERY, VERY good day.

I also have a handlebar mount for my iPhone on the bike.

OK, I think this about covers it. I am sure I have missed some smaller items, but the main stuff is all listed.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Mar 23 (Day 82) - Turning west, lots of press, Canon camera special from Hunt's

Today represents a big turn in my year. I have been moving almost exclusively along a North-South axis for the first 11 weeks of the trip. Today, I turned to the west for a run that will end in Tucson, Arizona approximately 3 months from now. At that point I will turn North and head into the Central Rockies of Colorado. This is going to be a very challenging run, particularly the stretch from Austin, Texas to Tucson.

Knowing this, I have entered into a 5-week phase that is centered on energy conservation and muscle maintenance. I am current in Madison, FL and I would like to be in Sabine Pass, TX on April 14th. This means I will need to cover these ~850 miles in 21 days or so. This is an average of ~40 miles per day which should be completely manageable.  I will spend April 14-30 birding Sabine Woods, High Island, Anahuac NWR, and the Bolivar Peninsula. These birding areas are very close together and should not require much riding as I collect what will surely be a ton of new species for 2014. This plan will give me 5 weeks of light and moderate riding before I start the daunting run across Texas and New Mexico to reach Southeastern Arizona by June 10th or so.

***Click for mud bigger image***
If you live near this line and could house me for a
night, please email me at

I rode a quick 53 miles today to reach the Best Western outside of Madison, FL. I left at 9:30 and arrived at 1:30pm, so this was basically a half day of riding. I plan to swim in the hotel pool, rest, watch basketball, and send out lots of logistical emails this afternoon. I would not be doing my due diligence as a college basketball fan if I did not mention that my alma mater and 10-seed in the NCAA tournament, the Stanford Cardinal, knocked off the 2-seed Kansas Jayhawks this afternoon. I arrived in time to watch the entire second half of what was a very exciting game!

53 quick miles

There have been a number of nice Biking for Birds articles of late. I have been lagging on posting these, but since today was slow bird wise, this will be the perfect time to highlight these pieces. Here is a great write-up from the Santiva Chronicle, and here is brief mention I got in an article on ESPN about Red Sox spring training!

Lastly, many people into whom I have bumped on my trip have asked about camera gear. Most of them are looking for a good, inexpensive camera that will enable them to document their sightings and share pictures of the birds they see with friends and family. Few people want to lug a DSLR with a 400mm lens on it, so most of them are looking for something smaller and more portable. While I am a dedicated SLR shooter, I have talked with many people about the Canon SX50 HS Super Zoom Camera. This seems to be the go-to camera for bird photographers with budget and weight constraints. I have knocked into many people who now use this camera in place of binocular because of its zooming and documentation advantages. As I am constantly trying to put good gear into the hands of other birders, I asked the folks at Hunt's Photo to work up a special 10% discount on this item for readers of this blog. This special can be found here. The promo code is 40SX50 should you need to physically input this. If you have been on the fence about making a camera purchase now is the time and Hunt's is the place! This would be great paired with the MeFoto tripods I mentioned in a  previous post. My MeFoto Globetrotter has been fantastic so far!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Mar 22 (Day 81) - Kanapaha Prairie visit and a fundraising plea

Today I visited the Kanapaha Prairie, one of the areas that I am raising money to protect. Rather than rehash everything in my own words, let me direct you to The Conservation Fund page that describes in detail the area and its conservation. As today was cloudy, I was not able to obtain any decent photos of Kanapaha. I have therefore deferred to the amazing work of local photographers Larry Korhnak and Mac Stone for imagery. 


Photo by Larry Korhnak

Photo by Larry Korhnak

Photo by Larry Korhnak

Photo by Larry Korhnak

Photo by Mac Stone

Photo by Mac Stone

From my perspective, this is a really unique ecosystem. I have never seen a wet prairie before. Simply put, the area is kind of a cross between a prairie and a marsh, and a a result there is a great mix of birdlife. I met Lauren Day of The Conservation Fund at 7:30am this morning to begin a tour of Kanapaha. Lauren is the Project manager for Kanapaha, and she helps to coordinate the efforts of several conservation groups that help to manage Kanapaha. We were also met by photographer Larry Korhnak (more of Larry's photos here), and a very knowledgeable local birder Rex. The 4 of us spent 3 hours walking around the area, and in that time we ran up a very nice bird list. Photographer Mac Stone ( joined us a bit later, so it was nice to connect with him as well. Bird highlights of our morning included:

Glossy Ibis (Upwards of 100 - one huge flock of 70+)
Great Egret (Upwards of 40)
American bittern (2-3)
Least Bittern 
Tricolored heron 
Blue-winged teal 
Mottled duck 
Sandhill crane (5-6)
Northern harrier
American kestrel
Red-shouldered hawk
Bald eagle (1)
Solitary sandpiper
Least sandpiper
Greater, Lesser yellowlegs (lots)
Wilson's snipe (many)
Savannah sparrow
Eastern meadowlark (lots - nice to see so many in one place)

This property is part of a large network of conservation lands in Alachua (a-LATCH-ua, not ala-CHEW-a as I mispronounced it)  County. From speaking with Lauren, I discovered that Alachua county is very active in conservation. With The University of Florida at Gainesville at its center, this progressive jurisdiction has taken great measures to protect areas of wet prairie like those at Kanapaha I visited today and those at Payne's Prairie I visited yesterday. These areas are particularly important for Sandhill crane and the critically endangered Whooping crane. Both of these magnificent species utilize the prairies as stop over feeding grounds during migration. You can see photos of both of these species in the photo gallery on The Conservation Fund webpage linked above.

As many of you know I am doing this entire year as a conservation fundraiser. I decided it was very important for me to physically visit at least one of the sites that I am raising money to conserve. Kanapaha Prairie was a bit out of my way, but it was well worth the detour. I am hoping that my visit and this post will inspire many of YOU to make donations to conserve beautiful and biologically important places such as Kanapaha Prairie. Maybe you want to donate $1 for each Glossy Ibis I saw today. Maybe you want to donate $100 for the Bald eagle we found. Maybe you instead want to give $33.72, a penny for each mile I rode to get to this amazing place. I am generating blog content in hopes that people such as YOU, people who care about the environment, will take an active role in preserving it. My adventure has been fantastic, but it has taken A LOT of me personally and mentally. You can't help me ride the bike and/or make my daily pain abate, but you can support the conservation projects that will make all this sweat and pain worthwhile. Nothing comes for free, including this blog. Please give whatever you can. It does not take long - I promise.


After Kanapaha I rode North to Lake City for the night. On my way  out of Gainesville, I was accosted on the side of the road by two lovely young ladies who had driven from Flagler Beach on the Atlantic Coast to meet me. They had missed me earlier in the morning but caught up with me a bit later. Their excitement over the project was phenomenal. This is exactly the kind of infectious energy I hope this project is generating throughout the bird, conservation, and cycling communities. I will try to keep you abreast of where I will be so that you too can join me for part of a day if you so desire. The more people I meet the better this year will ultimately be!

Fans of the month Cassy and Laura!

61 miles today

I have not settled on a route west yet, but I will keep you posted!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Mar 21 (Day 80) - Barn, Barred owl both ticked at Payne's Prairie!

Sonia, my girlfriend, is a fairly respectable birder. She struggles a bit with sparrows and shorebirds, but for the most part she is very competent with ducks, hawks, herons, and other large birds. There are some times, however, when she gets her nomenclature wires crossed and some very interesting new species result. My personal favorite is the "godwitcher" resulting from hybridizing of godwit and dowitcher.  Another notable example is the "barned owl" which results from confusing Barn and Barred owls. I was reminded of this today when I was able to tick both Barn and Barred owls during some midday birding at Payne's Prairie just South of Gainesville FL.

Today started out in Ocala at the Best Western where I stayed last night. The peace and quiet of the hotel was just what I needed after my accident yesterday. One of the best things about staying at Best Western is the free breakfast. I wolfed down 3 of these bad boys before I hit the road today! The ride today was very pleasant and thankfully uneventful. There were even a few hills in the middle of the day to add some variety into the usually pancake-flat Florida terrain.

Sideways waffle!

The route to Gainesville. ~50 miles today.

The main goal today was to make some distance north. I wanted to set myself up for my visit to the Kanapaha Prairie which will occur at 7:30 tomorrow morning. As I was going to be in Gainesville for the night, several people suggested that I check out the La Chua trail at Payne's Prairie State Park in the afternoon. Both Kanapaha and Payne's Prairies are "wet" prairies. They are very large, very flat pans that are almost completely covered by shallow water. This terrain concentrate waders, rails, cranes, and, at least today, owls! I was riding into the trailhead along the edge of a field when a Barn owl (#250) flew out and went right over my head. It did not perch so I had to settle for a quick flyby view. A few minutes later I heard 2 Barred owls calling back and forth (#251) from one of the hammocks around the Prairie perimeter. I did not expect to find any new birds today, so I was pleasantly surprised to find two year owls in the middle of the day!

Payne's Prairie was just a fantastic place. There is a very nice boardwalk that snakes through the wet areas, and there is even a skinny grass trail that gets you right down onto the ground. The are alligators everywhere. They crawl right up onto the path, and you must use great caution to avoid them. I did not have any problems, but I can tell you it was weird to be 10 feet from them with nothing in between us! 

Payne's Prairie boardwalk over a marshy bit

The more typical flat lands with shallow puddles everywhere

Taken with iPhone, not my real lens!

I was really tired after wandering around Payne's Prairie today. I can tell that the year is really starting to take its toll on my body. I rest at night, but that's it. I am stuck out in the heat all day long unless I go into a place to eat lunch. It is hot here now and will only get hotter as I move west. The days are getting longer as well which compounds this problem. There is no air conditioned car in which I can shelter and recharge. I knew this year was going to be a long road, but for the first time I am starting to really feel it as I approach just the 1/4 mark of 2014. I am just going to try to keep plugging away while riding a reasonable number of miles each day. Tomorrow I've got about 60, so we'll see how that goes.