The van is packed for bicycling and birding fun in southern Texas. Do you know how large Texas is? I am not going to bore you with the details, but let’s just say it will take me days to drive 1200 miles to South Padre Island on the Gulf of Mexico, also not many miles to the Mexican border. (Before I arrive there, I will spend time visiting and bicycling in San Antonio.)
The birding festival in Texas at this time of year is in Harlingen Texas so I will be there the next week. Thankfully I have a good routine packing my van, so for this trip more time has been preparing for the birding opportunities. I like having an idea of what some birds look like before I actually see the bird. It is impossible to do if there are a hundred new birds for me in an area; however, I like to zero in on a few birds.
Texas is east of the Rocky Mountains, therefore bird species are listed in the eastern bird field guide of North America. It’s sort of funny because I rarely think of Texas as eastern. Maybe the cowboy films, oil wells, beef lots, and whatever else make me think western … oh well, Eastern North America it is!
You may recall I drew a poorly-sketched, black oystercatcher that helped me locate the bird in California. Well, my sketching is back with an attempt at a few other birds. I would love to see a Great Kiskadee:
When I first researched what birds may be in the area, I thought it great to see a green jay. But then I thought it would be cool to see the grooves on the beak of the ani. I also wondered how plain the plain chachalaca could be. After seeing it in the field guide and drawing one, it is as plain as plain can be!
Whatever birds I observe in Texas will be of interest to me. Other festival attendees will be helpful in sighting some of these birds too. Many eyes on an area, especially those trained to know silhouettes of birds will be most helpful to me. I am off to Texas! Wish me luck!
Last night was my first of three nights camping in Spokane Valley, WA. It was a hot 94 degrees during the day with every piece of technology reporting “heat advisory”. I left the air vents in the front windows of the van, plus the side door open with screening, and even the back doors open with screening till it started to rain. After 11pm the air temperature was finally about 73 degrees. It dropped to 60 degrees by the time I was up in the morning.
Knowing my history with heat, I decide to cycle about 15 miles and turn around before the heat in my first full day here got to hot. I love cycling right out of my campground and onto a trail. I cycled the Centennial Trail east, thus Washington into Idaho. I recognized some of the trail as I did bicycle it years ago.
Water is an issue in this area. Signs on the trail are informative about water issues and the area’s history.
I was glad I followed my bicycling plan. I turned around about 15 miles and stopped for lunch at the 23 mile mark. The trail does have some toilets, benches, picnic tables and bike tools along it, and you pack out whatever you pack in. When I finished my lunch and readied to cycle the last 7 miles or so, a couple of heat advisories were flashing on my Garmin. Good idea to be done with this ride real soon! Finally, 31.6 miles … yeah and done!
Fortunately yesterday afternoon and this day, I am watching Serena and Venus playing at the US Open. Isn’t technology amazing! I love tennis and have missed my playing time during the pandemic and these months. I also love watching quality tennis and there are many fantastic matches being played at the US Open.
Day 2: No Bicycling today….
I expected to be bicycling both full days while visiting Spokane Valley. How is it the daytime air temperature is high here as in Arizona? No wonder the animals are moving north? I was reading about wildlife photographers now traveling to northern Canada for larger herds to observe and photograph, especially as the elk begin their rut.
I decide to go birding … surprise! I saw on eBird a mention of a bird I may not already have, so I head to the Saltese Flats Wetland Area in Spokane Valley. Three miles, two hours later, no new birds. Here are a few birds:
The US Open Tennis is now playing as I write this. Serena is in a third round match. I decide to watch this match in air-conditioned, available wifi, environment and not in my van using my phone’s hot spot. The challenge was the library parking, per a city ordinance, is only 2 hours. Fortunately the library staff told me where I can park for no fee. At the table next to me is a homeless woman sleeping. I do not know what services are available for the homeless in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. An affluent community and like many places in the USA people are struggling financially and emotionally. I think this woman is familiar to the library staff as they have allowed her to sleep here and charge her phones for more than 3 hours now and the library closes in a half hour. I wonder where this woman spends her night? She has her bags with her. I wish her safety and some amount of success with hopes there is support for homeless in this community.
I have a 5.5 hour drive, if non-stop, to Three Forks, Montana tomorrow.
When I travel, bicycle riding an area new to me is simple joy. This is the main reason I built an area in my van for my bicycle and gear. Plus, cycling gets me from one place to another faster than walking. The downside to cycling, especially when birds are in the area, is to observe them while pedaling, especially those flying overhead. I often take time to slow down and observe them. So far, no bicycle accidents while birding!
(This reminds me of a t-shirt I saw a guy wearing the other day, “Sorry I am late, I saw a dog”. A shirt appropriate for me, “Sorry I am late, I saw a bird”. I wonder if anyone makes that shirt?)
Recently I was bicycling around Mission Bay in San Diego, California. The eleven mile bike path winds through parks and passes nearby housing and resorts so an 8 mph bike speed is recommended. Many people were at the beaches, the playgrounds, on the water in all kinds of watercraft, and also pedaling various wheeled vehicles on the bike path.
Most of the bike path is not near the bay water’s edge; however, a short section parallels the San Diego River estuary. I saw 3 birds standing on a construction roll where bridge work was happening. The birds were the same type of bird but I could only say they were herons. I photographed them, identified them later in the day, and they were little blue herons! Another new bird for my life list!
Most funny moment on this bicycle ride: seeing a jogger with his dog wearing large, sport, mirrored sunglasses! Important to protect eyes! What a fun bicycle ride with a new bird observed and photographed!
Cooler air temperature draws me to the San Diego area a few times per year and sometimes the birding is excellent. This day I wandered by bicycle along San Diego Bay’s shoreline past areas I had not spent time before.
Leaving my Chula Vista campground, I bicycled parallel with the San Diego River, through an industrial area and naval entities. (San Diego is a naval city.) I’m riding a bike path at the start, then bike lanes past marinas and the Seaport Village which is touristy. I continued cycling along the shoreline. In the industrial area I saw hundreds of Dole containers arriving … with no doubt …. all forms of pineapples, and in the tourist area, many statues and some historical ships. I stood below these huge ships: “Star of India” and the “USS Midway”, both with history of their own. I read tributes at many statues recognizing military service from all armed forces. The “Cancer Survivor’s Park” provided excellent info which I’ll share in my next blog post.
Yes, I saw some birds: terns, pelicans, pigeons, sparrows… but today was my slow day and seeing people enjoy the outdoors in ways not particularly my interest. The huge cruise ships, solo paddle boarders and every watercraft in between reminded me of personal previous sea-sickness! They were not pleasant memories, but to see the sunlight bouncing off the water on this day, I was good! I continued cycling to a lunch stop at a shady picnic table. This will be my turn-around point even though I contemplate riding further to Point Loma, but that is not to happen today.
People here are wearing masks and socially distancing in the touristy areas, thanks to it being a requirement! All of us outdoors can enjoy the sea breeze with hopes the Covid viral numbers go down.
The airport is across the road from where I am eating my lunch of cheese, crackers and hot green tea. (The tea is my usual mid-morning snack break so I brought it along today.) As I watch these planes land and take-off, I hope my air travel returns by 2022. I still have so much of the world to see! In the meantime California here I come!
The sun came out and the wind did blow, but it was a good day for a bicycle ride. I headed south from Chula Vista, CA on Sweetwater Bikeway and eventually hooked up with the Bayshore Bikeway. As you ride the path, you will notice huge piles of salt. With some research, I learned this area has been salt works since the 1860’s. It is the second-longest running business in San Diego. Water evaporated from the salt ponds comes from the Pacific Ocean and there used to be 80,000 pounds of salt per harvest. In time though this salt works may be converted to an interpretative center for the US Fish & Wildlife Service. The salt ponds are within the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge. Brine flies and brine shrimp breed in those salty waters and are a source of food for birds, especially in the winter for migratory birds.
I continued my ride through Coronado. Ferry walkers and bicyclists can ride to 2 different locations about 5 or 10 minutes across the bay. Instead of taking the ferry, I enjoyed my lunch at a sandy beach and returned the way I had come to complete a 41 mile ride today!
I did see numerous birds, but I did not stop to take photos; I wanted to observe the birds and cycle. Many people were out on their bicycle today also. Certain beach areas were closed or only allowed passive activities, walking, jogging and no laying around on the beach.
People often ask, what is a typical travel day for me. My best answer is as follows:
I am usually awake about 7:00AM but I like to read the headlines, and maybe an article from the digital NY Times, play Words With Friends, complete the mini crossword and Spelling Bee games in the NY Times, check on emails and text messages since the phone will probably be turned off for the remainder of the day. I roll out of my sleeping bag and tent soon there after, have breakfast and coffee, and prepare for the day. I am always looking for birding hotspots, places to bicycle ride, and/or places of interest to check out. In these days of Covid-19, I also am watchful of crowds.
At night, I enjoy having a shower and dinner before sundown so I aim to arrive by 3 – 4PM. During or after dinner, my goal is to list birds seen during the day in my bird journal, take a quick look at photos especially if I want to include any for eBird, report my sightings to eBird, and finally read emails and write some notes for future blog posts. With dinner and dishwashing done, it is a perfect time to take a walk around the campground before my 8 – 10 PM “office hours” in my car. There I am with my laptop to finish whatever I did not get to earlier. Campgrounds are typically not full during weekdays and therefore quiet, so I may be one of the few people still awake at 10PM. After a full day of outdoor activity in the sun and wind, I sleep well! Tonight for sure, after cycling 41 miles with the wind not always at my back!
Cycling, camping, birdwatching, outdoor activities and many other activities have become more popular during the pandemic because we are able to give each other space. My day began with a cool Californian morning which means cold to a southern Arizonian. With overcast sky and slight wind in the air, I ate my breakfast and decided to have my coffee at Starbucks and finally have WiFi access since it is not available at the state park. It also provided me an opportunity to look at my photos from the previous days!
As the day warmed, I drove to Aliso and Woods Canyons Wilderness Park. While talking with a man coming off the trails on his bicycle, I asked for an easy mountain bike trail for a gravel bike, like his and mine. I knew there is a paved bike path, but why not first try some mountain biking on my gravel bike? Off I went with basics on my bicycle … bike tools, lunch, snacks, water and one camera…. I bicycled about 8 miles before I realized my bike lacked some needed front and rear suspension, so I decided to return and ride pavement while I still had a back and butt. The ride was beautiful and fun and I also talked with others on the trail who mentioned coming to Arizona for college searches.
Back at my car, I went to the paved bike path along the Aliso Creek which I originally planned to do. Ah yes, smooth and easy on the body! Trail signs seemed to indicate there would be some closures, but all went well for me. I saw a white-faced ibis, mallards and swallows. The amount of white on a white-faced ibis is so small this name for the bird cracks me up. Anyway, here is a white-faced ibis:
Back at the campground, my tent was not blown away and the shower water was hot! Fifty-cents-worth, 2 tokens provided 3 minutes of shower water and I was thrilled! Another day outdoors and only speaking with 3 people so felt safe. At the Starbucks I sat indoors, alone thanks to their sign stating indoors was not open, yet when I asked if indoor seating was available, they said yes. Perfect!
I am not sure birding while bicycling is the safest combination of activities. My eyes are on the road, then the sky, then the road, then a tree and wherever else next! Thank goodness I am riding low trafficked roads or the Tucson bicycle loop to keep me safe while also birding. The other day I wanted to linger longer to check out a few ponds I do not ordinarily see at Sweetwater Wetlands, especially when wondering what is that beautiful bird! So the following day I went back, on foot, to walk about a half mile down the bicycle loop to check on the birds at a pond.
Many, many birds were hanging out and so too was the beautiful bird: a northern pintail.
As I was looking around at all the birds, a hawk-like bird flew onto a tree between the 2 ponds. Of course, the bird’s back was to me so it was difficult to identify it. As it wrestled around on the tree branches one of my photos caught a quick look at its face and now we know it is a northern harrier. If you look closely, see the owl-like facial disc that helps in identifying this bird. When it first flew in I only noticed the white band across its rump.
Plenty of ring-necked ducks and mallards were flying in and out of the area. All the birds seem to really appreciate the wetlands. I am glad the ponds are here for them too, as the treated effluent (water waste) is returned to the aquifer for future use. Reusing water in Arizona is a huge need.
While I enjoy bicycling and also looking for birds at the same time, I think it is safer for me to keep the two activities separate. Plus, I usually do not carry my camera with me while bicycling. I love photographing birds so that would be best within dedicated birding time. That’s not to say my eyes will not be on the sky or at a tree looking for birds while bicycling in 2021! I’ll also be looking for a vaccine, and 2 shots worth, so I can bird in other places in the USA and world! Stay safe everyone!
It’s an interesting piece of equipment on the bicycle loop in Tucson. It records the number of cyclists and pedestrians, which would include roller-bladers, joggers, runners, along with walkers all passing the counter each day and provides totals for the year. This is definitely one of the busier spots where people are on the loop. Kudos to all using this multi-use path! (You may even see some wildlife while out there. I bet the roadrunner wished to be counted!)
I decided I was not getting any younger, and I was reading about people in their 60’s bicycling across the USA! Could I do the same? I did not know, but I decide to attempt some distance.
Yes, in June 2018, I did bicycle 600 miles from Prescott, Wisconsin to Rensselaer, Indiana by way of many small towns following most of Adventure Cycling’s Northern Tier route. After a heat spell, I continued on on New York State’s Erie Canal trail for 100 miles before meeting friends in central NY.
People asked why I chose that area of the USA to bicycle ride. Since I typically fly over it, I thought it a good idea to actually see it. I saw many windmills, fields of corn, artwork and rolling hills.
There were sights to see. An Eagle Center, National Farm Toy Museum and the famous Field of Dreams to mention a few. I also stopped at activities roadside, such as this dog competition where they collect the bird that was shot. When I heard about saloon bars similar to an AZ bar, I checked it out as I did often stop in churches for a reflective moment.
Most nights I stayed at bed and breakfast, or motels, and did camp. My goal was to survive so I wanted comfort at the end of the day, especially since you never knew if the next 40-60 miles per day was going to be in the heat or a drenching rain. There is nothing worse than bicycling in the rain; stopping to check the weather radar to discover how many hours you may be sitting and waiting out the weather. Some places were entirely for myself and I would wander into the town to find dinner, and other places I spent hours talking and eating with the owner of the place. I always love connecting with people when I travel. All of my accommodations were wonderful from Motel 6 to some really nice bed and breakfast places!
One of my most fun places was at an old jailhouse. The woman helped me hoist my loaded bicycle up the five steps into the place, invited friends over to have a beer with us, and cooked delicious dinner and breakfast for me. She offered me an additional night, yet I decided to keep on my plan since the weather was good.
Enthusiasm for bicycling is beginning to take off in the USA as we develop the US Bicycling Route System to be added to many Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Routes and Adventure Cycling’s Routes. I did see a bicycle campground and I rode a bicycle path where each rider pays a fee. Men drove on the bike path to collect the fee from me and were pleasantly surprised when I could show them I had my receipt of payment.
I ate plenty of snacks, which I carried in my bag, and always a lunch. I loved Casey’s General Store located in many small towns. I was hooked on white cheddar cheese popcorn, until I broke a front tooth – later repaired in Buffalo, NY. I also bought Arizona green tea and Gatorade to supplement my water bottles. I love chocolate and that meant a Snicker’s bar too.
I discovered I was close to Route 66 so I decided to ride a portion of it, especially since I did not know if I would ever ride its entire distance from CA to IL. Lots of history along that route! The road was so busy at one point there was a passageway for people to walk under the road! Of course, there are still some old gas stations in the area, and portions of the road are grown over with grass in its cracks.
I met many other bicyclists on the road and all going from east to the west coast (I was going west to east). There was only one other solo female bicyclist, yet every single person always stopped at the bottom of a hill to say hello, check-in on how I was doing, and offer ideas of what was coming up in the next town or two. I really appreciated the camaraderie! One guy told me he was sleeping in ditches at night after cycling about 100 miles a day. Another guy told me of a free place to set a tent. A mother and daughter team had stayed at the lodging I was heading to on my 70 mile day. Other people at stores, bars, and their homes were very generous. One family offered their swimming pool to me as I laid on their front lawn, under the only shade tree I think in the county! Another guy brought out bottles of cold water for me as I sat by a church he was renovating for his family home. Another guy stopped in his pick-up truck and asked me if I was okay, and if I knew how hot it was that day. Yes, wherever I could find some shade, I spent time there. I could tell you more, but I think you got the picture!
The heat did me in! To hot to go on, dehydrated and with concerns of heat stroke, I decided to take the heat wave in the US seriously. Unfortunately I have been in hospitals needing fluids pumped into me other times when on hiking and bicycling trips. I knew I did not want that happening here. With the help of great people in Indiana, I rented a car a few days after getting my fluids back to where they needed to be and headed to Buffalo, NY. Along the way and there, I had wonderful friends allow me time to recuperate before jumping back on my bicycle to cycle the Erie Canal trail to central NY where I met other friends. Yes, I shipped my bicycle home and relaxed before planning my next trip. What an adventure this was … and cannot wait to do some bicycle travel again!
We are fortunate to have at least 131 miles of dedicated bike path available to us Tucson,AZ bicyclists. Why are we fortunate? It is so much safer to maneuver around other bicyclists, runners, walkers, roller bladers, and anyone else out on this dedicated path than to be on a roadway.
We have a beautiful, smooth bike path with appropriate signage and I feel safe cycling on it. (The farther I can be away from automobiles the better.) Yes, I hear people complain about speeding cyclists and working around walkers, but in the overall scheme of things this is all pretty great.
YET… my annoyance is when someone comes along and writes political messages in chalk on the pathway. I do not care what the message is, it should not be done! First off, I call that graffiti on a public space … I do not like it and would say a person should be found and fined. Secondly, we are all outdoors for exercise and a space to relax, not needing any prompts to piss us off!
Please keep your messages/gripes/political views to yourself and off our bike paths. Yup I was annoyed, so all I could do was squirt some of my water from my water bottle on those messages. Which annoyed me all the more since it was hot here and I did not want to be wasting my drinking water on graffiti. Geez don’t you know, water is precious here in the desert!