In recent years, a small number of birders have traveled great distances without using fossil fuels to find birds and to raise awareness and funds for conservation.
A teenager and his parents biked and birded more than 13,000 miles from the Yukon to Florida six years ago; two young birders pedaled across Canada in 2011; and in spring 2013, ornithologist Bill Mueller walked across Wisconsin, a feat he describes in our April 2014 issue.
This year, molecular neuroscientist Dorian Anderson, 35, is riding his bike across the United States to find birds. He does not have a support vehicle and vows to travel only by bike, foot, and kayak.
Anderson, an avid birder and photographer, says he had “zero real riding experience before I started this project. However, I have always been in great shape from running and going to the gym. I had no problem running 10 miles per day, so I figured I could bike 40.”
He began the journey January 1 in Cape Ann, Massachusetts, and so far he has biked more than 3,200 miles, walked 46, and visited 14 states. By late January, he had pedaled south to Richmond, Virginia, and in February, he covered southern Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia. He has been in Florida since February 22, riding south down the Atlantic coast before turning back north up the Gulf coast. Today, March 20, he plans to make it to Ocala in central Florida. His next state, Alabama, is more than 360 miles away.
Anderson’s planned 12,000-mile route will take him to Texas by April and eastern Arizona by June. From there, he’ll go northeast to western Nebraska, west to Oregon, and south through California. Then he’ll head southeast through Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. In December, he plans to ride north through central Texas and end the year in southeastern Kansas.
Since his ride began, he has seen or heard 248 bird species, including Snowy, Short-eared, and Burrowing Owls, King Rail, Snail and Swallow-tailed Kites, Magnificent Frigatebird, and, just yesterday, the free-flying countable Budgerigar pictured above. By year’s end, he hopes to see 550-600 species.
Anderson describes each day’s experiences on his entertaining and thorough blog, where he also shows photos of birds he has seen and people he has birded with. He figures he has birded with about 100 people since he started his trek; he meets up with many of them in hopes of locating hard-to-find birds.
Best Western is sponsoring Anderson’s trip and providing complimentary hotel rooms whenever he needs them, but so far, most of his nights have been spent at the homes of at least 50 friends and others willing to host him.
After having spent years in labs in his work as a scientist, getting out on the bike has produced more than just memorable bird sightings, he says.
“I think the thing that has struck me most is the number of different ways that people can build happy productive lives for themselves,” he says. “Most of this conclusion has come from staying with many different types of folks during my travels. In my former scientific life, there was a set equation for success. It is really refreshing to know that there are other paths to happiness than simply producing copious amounts of scientific data.
“In this same vein, I am shocked at how helpful people can be when they believe in a project or person. At times, I feel as though those helping me find birds take it harder than I do when we don’t find a desired bird. They are actually internalizing the adventure as their own. I hoped this would happen but did not fully appreciate how invested people are in my success.”
Anderson’s ultimate goal is to raise $100,000 for the American Birding Association and the Conservation Fund. To date, according to his website, donations have totaled just over $7,300. If you haven’t donated yet, you can do so here. — Matt Mendenhall, Managing Editor
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A version of this article appears in the April 2014 issue of BirdWatching. Subscribe.