Saturday, March 31, 2012

Where's the Wildlife?

This photo pretty well sums up the present Gulf of Mexico with its thousands (yes, thousands!) of oil rigs and refineries. Check out this YouTube video which graphically shows wells from 1942 to 2005. I can only imagine how the number has grown in the last 7 years. "Free the Mississippi" an article from Onearth Magazine sent by Karen Glum in April after the expedition is sad but also an eye opener.

Can you spot three denizens of the natural world in this photo? Stumped? Scroll down.

Yes, there are three White Ibis in this photo, pretty well camouflaged among the pipes and stacks.

Below are a couple of wildlife photos that Ann Tompkins took (gecko and alligator) and sent to me in early April, and a couple that I took and am just now posting.
A Gecko warming itself on my windshied wipers. Maybe it was gleaning insects from those on the car.
I see one on the blade above its head.
A blue crab crossing the road. I took my bike along to keep up my training and these guys whipped out and quickly scuttled sideways across the road, which was at the foot of the levee.
Tricolored heron. On our last day we split into two teams and went birding. The tide was up so the water was over the road in spots and the birds were right beside the road. We saw trees full of yellow and black crowned night herons and roseate spoonbills; white and glossy ibis, snowy egrets, little blue herons, anhingas and double-crested cormorants, many osprey. My team even  found a nesting great horned owl. The most surprising to me were the little blue herons. They were bright blue and their bills were even brighter blue. I had never seen little blue herons that looked anything but slate blue before.
Andrew East binocs around neck, Sibley field guide in hand posing as a true birder before his bird-doo bedecked car, on the afternoon that we split into two teams and went birding. Lisa Glum behind Andrew and Jody Rosengarten on the bayou side of the car.
Now you can see why I thought the alligatgor dead, though looking at this photo,
it does seem to have the light of life in its eye.

Earthwatch Team

My Earthwatch Expedition is over and I am on my way home. I'm in a LaQuinta in Mount Pleasant, TX. Tomorrow I will continue up 271 to Paris, TX, and then west on 82 to I-35N and Stillwater, OK.

This Earthwatch team made me feel very ordinary and unaccomplished. Here is the lineup:
Wit Ostrenko, president of MOSI (Museum of Science & Industry) Tampa, FL. His blog contains some pix and an account of our Expedition (
Jody Rosengarten, dog trainer & behavior therapist, published author, world traveler, and owner of a house full of rescued dogs and rescued parrots (
Karen Glum, Science Department Chair, Seven Hills School, an independent college prep school for pre-K-12 in Cincinnati. Her school sends her on extraordinary trips. Her favorite was Alaska, but she may change her mind after her trip to China this summer.
Betsy Snow, me, Darwin Long IV, Karen Glum, Wit Ostrenko before our first loon catching night
Diane Brookshire, a Cyber Science Teacher who conducts her classes live online to students who for some reason or other cannot attend regular school. She conducted a live classroom session with Ann and Andrew.
Ann Tompkins, a neonatal nurse who will turn 79 next month. Ann is not "entirely retired." She still puts in one 12-hour night shift at the hospital each week. Ann is the grand dame of Earthwatch Expeditions, having been on 21 of them, more than any other volunteer! Her two favorites were working with women and children in Africa and orangutans in Borneo.
Jody, Andrew and Ann cutting up before our Tuesday evening meal of shrimp, crayfish, and dirty rice.
Peter & Betsy Snow and Ann signed up for the two-week expedition and thus were "old hands" having been on task for a week by the time we arrived. Peter and Betsy have a place in Marathon, FL, but they are there infrequently. Several years ago they quit their well-paying jobs. They have been traveling the world, visiting places of interest, and working with Earthwatch ever since. Both of them worked on the Cloud Forest Birds of Ecuador Earthwatch Expediton that was my introductory expedition--they at a different date than I, though. Peter & Betsy deserve a special thank-you for a very generous donation they made to the Judith Karman Hospice. Thank you Peter & Betsy!
Andrew East, coordinator and team leader of the project, as well as an excellent cook. Andrew is starting his master's degree at the University of Southern Maine where his thesis is . . . you guessed it . . . the winter ecology of the common loon in the Gulf of Mexico.
Dr. Jim Paruk, Director of the Center for Loon Conservation at Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI). Jim is the PI, or head Earthwatch Scientist for this project and is Andrew's advisor. Jim was at the LA field  station only for the first evening. He had to fly to Maine on Monday to teach a class. It was our loss because he took us newbies on a bird walk and proved to be a very knowledgable and interesting guy.
Mark Pokras, senior veterinarian at the Wildlife Clinic at Tufts. Mark has conducted over 500 loon necropsies. We watched him perform a necropsy on an adult Maine loon that had ingested a large fish hook and a lead sinker. Though it had lead poisoning, neither the hook nor sinker caused its death. It died of blunt trauma injury, possibly from being struck by a boat.
Darwin Long IV, Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI). Darwin, an avian biologist, has worked since 2003 with loons, first in Morro Bay, CA, and now with the study of the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on Gulf Coast wintering loon populations. Darwin is also an aviculturist with the Audubon Nature Institute of New Orleans, specializing in penguin biology. Darwin netted and worked up the three loons that my group captured--one adult, that I got to hold (see photo below) while it was being worked up, and two juveniles.
This is an adult loon just getting its breeding plumage. We were taught to tuck the loon's head under our arm. Here I have released the head for the photo but am wary of the long, sharp bill. This bird was large and strong. It actually let out some tremulous yodels while I was holding it, almost as if to say, "Oh, oh, oh. Oh no. What's happening?" Below are internet pix of a juvenile with a grey bill and brown eye and an adult with black bill and red eye in breeding plumage. The adults in their winter plumage look quite similar to the juvenile loons.
Below are a juvenile and an adult in breeding plumage from the Internet. Actually the loon on the left may be an adult in winter plumage. Adults in non-breeding plumage and juvenile loons look very similar except that the adults have a red eye and a more pronounced triangle of white on their necks. The juveniles have brown eyes and gray bills:

Below, we are in the Gulf  Delta waiting for the sun to set so that we can spotlight and capture loons for banding and workup. When the loon is caught in the spotlight, it freezes and then the boat slowly closes in on it until it can be netted. This was no easy task. Our first night, we were on the water from 7:30 p.m. until 3 a.m. Our group found maybe four loons and captured only two, an adult (the one I'm holding above) and a juvenile. The other group was unsuccessful in finding and capturing even a single loon that night. Loons are fairly solitary by day, some forming small, loose rafts at night (see below).
A raft of six loons on the Mississippi Delta among poles marking oyster beds.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

BIG, BIG News!

Yes, that's right, I have momentous news to  report. Are you ready? Jurgen Janzen's Stillwater's Janzen Toyota Dealership has become a Platinum Sponsor, donating $2500 to the Judith Karman Hospice through my ride! And . . . the good news does not end there. Toyota, USA matched Janzen's donation with $2500. This means that I have not only met but have exceeded my goal! THANK YOU so much Jurgen Janzen and Toyota, USA!

But, guess what? I think I set my sights too low. I am at this moment revising my goal upwards. NOW we are reaching for $15,000!

I'm still in the Gulf of Mexico and my hours are long and tiring, so I will follow up on this the first week of April when I get home. In the meantime, thank you Jurgen for your kind, wonderful, fabulous Toyota dealership donation and for taking the time to apply to Toyota for a matching grant. The staff at Judith Karman Hospice and I literally shed a few tears on hearing of your generosity and that of Toyota, U.S.A. Thank you also to financier Foster, salesmen Grant and Jerry, mechanic Jesse, and the rest of the excellent staff at Janzen Toyota who have been financing, selling, and fixing my cars for the past 20 years.

Platinum donor Jurgen Janzen, owner of Janzen Toyota; bicyclist Susan S. Walker; and Judith Karman Hospice Director, Lisa Smith pose for a photo session at the Toyota dealership 

Jurgen hands Lisa a check for $5000--actually a blank check for show as the "real deal"
had already changed hands

Two of my favorite salesmen at Janzen Toyota, Grant Rampel and Jerry Gustafson. I also had a photo taken with my favorite mechanic Jesse Wood, but it did not turn out.

More to come when I am through being loonstruck. Ha, ha. I spent a l-o-n-g day today on Lake Borgne and the Biloxi Wildflife Management Area taking a wintering loon census. We counted 55 adults and juveniles within an area with a diameter of approximately 15-miles. On the way to our site we came upon a 6- or 7-foot alligator in the road. We got out to take pix. The gator looked dead--even had a tire track seemingly running through it--but we kept our distance. Good thing. When a pickup got too close, the alligator leapt to its feet, spun around and ran off the road. No shuffling. No hesitation. Fast!

Susan before the "dead" alligator wearing her Blagojevich hairdo.

Will try to add a few pix of my work here tomorrow if I can find a free moment. Got to sleep at 3:30 a.m. again last night and then spent 12 hours on the road or on the boat today. To bed, to bed . . . zzzzzz.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Halfway Hooray!

Another fantastic day in Margaritaville!

On Friday, March 23rd, we hit the HALFWAY MARK IN DONATIONS! I know we are going to  reach my goal! Actually we're well over the halfway mark in donated funds, thanks to the generous support of Stillwater Chiropractic Group, and The Railroad Yard, Inc. two new Bronze sponsors; and three additional donors Dr. Mark Paden, my husband's and my orthopedic physician; Helen Jordan, long time Payne County Audubon member, supporter, and superb BIRDATHON fundraiser, and the bighearted contribution of Clara Sterrett. THANK YOU Clara, Mark, Helen and Stillwater Chiropractic Group, and The Railroad Yard, Inc.!

Also on Friday at the invitation of Lisa Smith, Judith Karman Hospice Director, I spoke to the Stillwater Rotary about the ride. While I spoke, slides of some of my previous long-distance rides were looping in the background. This was an interested group, with a couple of cyclists in the mix, so my talk quickly became a Q & A:  How many miles per day will you average? (50). What about the weather? (I've O2 rain jacket and pants and will take shelter from storms where I can find it.) Are you going  to have SAG support? (No, this one I ride unsupported and solo.) How many days will it take you? (42 with 4 rest days in the mix) Are you going to camp? (No. I will overnight with Warm Showers hosts, a cycle touring group that provides a bed and shower to other touring cyclists; in complimentary motel rooms; with hosts from civic groups such as the Rotary; at hospices; and with friends and relatives.) What if you have a mechanical problem on the road? (I can fix many simple mechanical problems, and I have bought from the Better World Club roadside assistance for bicyclists similar to Triple-A.) How will you make yourself visible on the road? (I will be pulling a B.O.B. trailer that has a spot for a tall flag. Last week I took some hunter's orange fabric to a screen printing shop and they created a flag for the top of the standard that shows the JKH logo and has "Heartland to Harbor for Hospice" printed on it. Some time back I ordered small flags of each of the 11 states I will ride through. These will fly below the orange Heartland to Harbor for Hospice flag.)

In addition, to speaking to the Stillwater Rotary on Friday, I met my BFF, Sue Jones, for a farewell get together, and she gave me a sweet note and $50 "on the road" spending money. Thank you Sue!

Speaking of "on the road" I am on it. In my car. Actually I am in a fusty little Budget Inn at the mo in Colfax, Louisiana (I think) . . . somewhere off Hwy 71S north of Alexandria, LA, at any rate. I drove 600+ miles today, mainly because there ain't nuttin here. Just cypress swamps, small churches set back in the pines, the occasional small business, and farms. This was the only motel for miles and miles.

Tomorrow I should reach Port Sulphur on the Gulf Coast south of New Orleans in good time to unpack at the Earthwatch Research Station and bicycle the levee system for a bit before rolling up the sleeves for a week of helping Earthwatch scientists determine the affects of the Gulf Oil Spill on wintering loons.

I'll keep the blog updated and will report and even include some pix of loons and the research we are doing. You all please hold up your end by continuing to promote and donate to the Heartland to Harbor for Hospice bicycle ride, all proceeds to benefit Stillwater Judith Karman Hospice nurse education.

I will get back on April 1st and then have only two weeks before ride start. Yikes!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Pet Peace of Mind

Hello again. Never thought I'd be writing so soon again, but the donations are now coming in at a good clip.

First things first: HAPPY BIRTHDAY to brother Phil of Tiverton, RI, whose 74the birthday this is. Phil's house in my destination. He plans to ride the last 10 miles with me from East Providence to Bristol, RI. 

I would  like to extend a special thank-you to the Cat Clinic of Stillwater (Annette, Sarah, Crystal, Stephanie, Jessica, Morgan, Mark, Caitlin, and Lazarus the Cat) from me, of course, but also from my two cats, Teddy and Paddy. Here is the note the Cat Clinic included with their donation:
Dear Susan-- We are excited and awed by your upcoming ride from Heartland to Harbor for Hospice. After much thought and discussion we decided that from a cat point of view the best days to sponsor would be the rest days. We have enclosed a check to support the rest days and to remember the kitties that sit in laps and bring restful spirit to their human companions."
Thank you all at the Cat Clinic! I am touched.

Do you know that the Judith Karman Hospice is the only hospice in the area to provide care to patients' pets through the national Pet Peace of Mind program? Pet services are necessary to keep the patient and pet well-cared-for and together throughout the end-of-life journey. Funding for Pet Peace of Mind comes from a grant from the Banfield Charitable Trust.

This week I would also like to thank physicians Renee & Randall Willis for their generous donation. Renee and Randall are part of what I call my "medical team." Seems as one ages one needs a team -- sometimes even the size of a baseball or football team -- to treat the various body parts that are "going bad on you," as comedian Bill Cosby once said. Just kidding . . . kind of. Thank you very much Randall & Renee for your donation!

Other donors in the past week or so include John Mills & Sue Bonner; John & Cindy Boon; Marita Johnson; Sondra Blakley; Carla Knight; Jill Holmes; Carol Ann Deetch; Greta Friesen; past Audubon president, Pat Jaynes; Poteet Funeral Home; Red Dirt Pedaler and friend, Kathy Legako; and Ginger Lacy. Ginger, an acquaintance of my older brother Phil, and a member of Tiverton, Rhode Island's Open Space Commission, donated in memory of her father, John Lacy. Ginger reports: "My dad stayed at a hospice house for only two days before he passed, but it was the most dignified and gracious way to end years of illness. The kindness was welcomed and learned from."  Thank you all for your donations!

I would like to point out here that the Judith Karman Hospice, like many other hospices, does not house its patients. Those who experience JKH care do so in the comfort of their own or their relatives' homes. Also, hospice neither hastens or postpones death. Instead it affirms that people should live life with as much dignity and comfort as possible.The Judith Karman hospice was founded on the belief that death with comfort and dignity should be available to everyone, regardless of their economic status; thus, all care, services, and equipment are provided at no charge to the patient or family.

This is why my Heartland to Harbor for Hospice bicycle ride and your donations are so very important. Thank you all.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Perry Noon Lions are Kings

Just back from Perry, OK and a "Heartland to Harbor for Hospice" presentation to the Perry Noon Lions.

The family-style meal prepared by the Catholic Altar Society was delicious, and the audience, inquisitive and appreciative; a truly great group of community movers and groovers, including municipal judge Sherry Wallace DeBordRena Wheatley, the Noble County Treasurer and Lions program chair responsible for my visit; Ed Malzahn, owner of Ditch Witch (Charlie's Machine Works), one of Perry's prime employers; and other prominent businessmen and businesswomen, as well as pastors, doctors, lawyers, and maybe even the proverbial Indian chief. The latter would not surprise me in this area of the country, but if so I missed the introduction.

Also present was Charles J. Hanger, the officer famous for arresting Timothy McVeigh. For those of you followers who are not from Oklahoma, Timothy McVeigh was the person who detonated a truck bomb in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Bldg. in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. The attack, which killed 168 people and injured over 800, was the deadliest act of terrorism within the U.S. prior to the September 11, 2001 attacks. McVeigh was executed by lethal injection in June of 2001.

I don't want to leave you on that sad and ugly note, so shall remark on our remarkable weather. I'm glad I picked a bouquet of daffodils and narcissus yesterday because today it is raining steadily but without the usual woodwinds and cymbals that OK storms generally bring. Temps have dropped from the 70s to the low 30s. This much-needed rain was wonderfully welcome.

I thank Noon Lions President, Ed Cook; Secretary, Sam Ebersole; Treasurer, Lori Pierce; and each of you Perry Noon Lions for contributing so very generously to the Judith Karman Hospice at the end of my talk. You are a fun bunch of Lions . . . and I'm not lyin'.

Susan S. Walker

Monday, March 5, 2012

Update on Donations and Training

A huge thank you to this week's donors: Mr. & Mrs. Paul Porter; Spirit Bank; Fred & Barbara Shultz; Richard Giles; Becky Irby; Cory & Shannon Williams; Ann & Eddie Watkins; Joy Sanders; Karen McBee; Iris McPherson, a longtime Payne County Audubon member and friend; and Kevin Mussett of A &M Storage, a fellow cyclist, cycling advocate, and longtime friend. I will ride in memory of Kevin's mother, Bonnie Mussett, on the first day of my ride.

A sincere thank you to all who donated! Your donations have helped me surpass the one-third mark of my $10,000 fundraising goal and I still have nearly a month-and-a-half before I pedal. I know I can reach this goal, particularly if some clinics, companies, and businesses I've asked get behind this cause with a sponsorship. Won't your company or business please sponsor this very worthwhile fundraising effort? Remember:  Because the Judith Karman hospice is a non-profit, all sponsorships and donations are tax deductible.

Valerie & Dean Bloodgood made several spring/Easter donations this week. They donated in memory of Valerie's uncle Raymond Zayat who died May 24th. They also made birthday donations honoring Betty Bloodgood Secker, Dean's sister, whose birthday is April 18th; Alice Barber, Valerie's aunt, whose birthday is coming up May 14th, and even as a birthday surprise to me, Susan S. Walker, whose birthday is May 21st. Thank you Valerie and Dean Bloodgood!

Valerie is my coordinator at the Judith Karman Hospice and is helping me train also. She pedals a recumbent, a bicycle that some call a two-wheeled lawn chair because of the rider's laid back position. But, while these low bikes are comfortable and go like the wind downhill, the laid back position can make climbing a bit of a chore. I live 8 miles east of Stillwater, and Valerie thinks of all sorts of creative reasons for me to pedal to and around town with her (I'd like you to meet so and so, I have two tickets to. . ., can you come for an interview, you've got to try this new restaurant, let's go to the Farmers' Market, etc.) I'm not complaining. I love having a reason to ride and Valerie's company; dislike just putting in training miles.

Valerie and I rode to Tulsa this past Sunday, about 60-some miles. Temps were in the 70s and I got sunburned on my right side that was inadequately protected with sunscreen. Arrived in Tulsa pretty much beat, so must train hard my remaining days before departure. I'm still training with my B.O.B. bike trailer, and he's still carrying 30 lbs of bird seed and causing me to call him bad names on the up-side of hills. But on Sunday he decided to talk back and squeaked and squealed the whole way. Today I am silencing him forever (I hope) with rubber washers and shims.

Will update when I learn more. . .

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Donations to the Engine

Today I received in my home mail a $200 check from Mary Anne Trevey. This money was donated to me for "your expenses on the road." Mary Anne is my sister Sarah Schuyler's boss and the owner of the Mariposa Market, a wonderful natural foods store in Willits, California. I met Mary Anne for the first time 12 years ago. She had generously loaned Sarah her pickup so that Sarah could cross the coastal mountains to Fort Bragg to pick up my daughter, Jessica, and me and our bicycles. We had been cycling the coast from Vancouver to Point Reyes Station, CA, but Jess took a tumble on Leggett Hill and our ride ended in the Fort Bragg ER. I've met Mary Anne again briefly several times since then, but this donation and thoughtfulness was totally unexpected. Thank you Mary Anne. You are a generous and thoughtful woman!

In the same vein, today I received an e-mail from Ann MacMillan, another of my sister's acquaintances who lives in Willits, California. I have never met Ann, but have heard many good things about this 88-year old woman. Ann wanted to "donate an expensive room to Sarah's sister," so the email confirmed a reservation at the Inn at the Stone Mill in Little Falls, NY. The reservation is for a suite with a jacuzzi bath, refrigerator, microwave, and view of the Mohawk River. It sounds fantastic, even from this distance, and I know it will be heavenly after a day of cycling. Thank you very much Ann. Yours is a wonderfully thoughtful gesture.

And thank you to the Inn at the Stone Mill who gave Ann a 20% discount when they heard about my charity ride, and to David, who made the reservation and said:  "Send me some promo stuff a little before her arrival and I’ll make sure something gets in the newspaper."

See what I mean about random acts of kindness (R.A.K.s). They are happening before I even set foot to pedal on my charity ride.