Anderson is a Boston Red Sox fan and in baseball terms he batted .500
at the 'Ding' Darling NWR.
is the biking birdwatcher who is attempting to complete a birding Big
Year on his bicycle. Starting on Jan. 1, he pedaled his way from
Boston to Sanibel and on Monday, March 10, with the refuge as his
host, he went one-for-two by adding the Magnificent Frigatebird to
his list but missing is Sanibel's secret agent, the Mangrove Cuckoo.
missed the bird today, but I wouldn't have missed this day. The
birding has been fantastic and the people here at the refuge have
really been great,” Anderson said of the 'Ding' Darling refuge,
one of America's birding icons. “I was looking really forward to
has a Ph.D. in developmental genetics and his academic checklist
includes Stanford and Harvard. He got the idea to embark on a Big
Year, where a birder tries to tally as many species as possible in a
calendar year, only a few short months before he started. Even more
surprising is that training for such a massive exploit started even
have done a lot of running, but I had zero biking experience,” he
said. “I borrowed a bike and rode around Boston for a couple
months. I realized that I could do this, and so far my assumption has
Hammering to Florida
pedaled 965 miles in January and 1,400 in February with a
double-pronged goal. One, of course, was to log the birds. The other
was to escape what turned out to be a bad winter.
was hammering to get to Florida,” he said. “But I don't ride that
many miles in a day because I don't want to ride by the birds. I rode
111 miles on Sunday (March 9) to get here and that's the first day
I've done a century (100 miles in a day).”
Western is his sponsor and he can stay at a Best Western any night he
can get to one. Other than that he's on his own with his bicycle, on
which he's had numerous flat tires and a couple of wrecks on ice.
have to put in a plug for my bike. It's a Surly and it's a durable
bike, not some fancy racing machine. I'm traveling as light as I can
– I just sent some of my winter clothes back north – but we still
have some gear.”
Birding Wildlife Drive
Darling intern Libby Errickson is a birdwatcher who knew of
Anderson's quest. But she didn't know if he would make it to 'Ding'
Darling until about 24 hours before he arrived. The refuge gave her
the privilege of hosting Anderson.
had a family friend who hosted him along the way,” Errickson said.
“I started reading his blog and e-mailed him and asked him if he
was coming here. He called Friday afternoon. Everyone here thinks his
story is really cool.”
two went birding on the refuge's world-renowned Wildlife Dive
was wonderful. He's doing a really daunting thing,” Errickson said.
“He's combining two major undertakings, to go for a Big Year while
riding cross-country on a bicycle.
am a young birder, so meeting him was very beneficial to me,” she
continued. “I was thrilled to bike the drive with him. He's putting
his entire life on hold to perform an epic feat. He's putting a
different spin on the Big Year. He is a real inspiration.”
The James Bond of birds
for the James Bond of Southwest Florida birds, the Mangrove Cuckoo,
Anderson just missed. On his second day at the refuge he made an
early-morning attempt at Bunche Beach on the Fort Myers side of the
water. A cuckoo had been reported there and when he arrived he found
researchers who had just captured one in a net for tracking purposes.
Had he been around a few minutes earlier, even as the bird flew into
the net, he could have counted it.
is Anderson's account of that birding moment from his excellent blog:
I saw a Mangrove cuckoo in the same spot, Bunche Beach, where I
looked unsuccessfully for the bird yesterday. Two minutes prior to my
arrival it had flown into a banding net set by the Cuckoo Research
Team from "Ding" Darling NWR. I could tell something was
happening as I rode down the mangrove-lined entrance road to the
beach. As I pulled up, Rachel, one of the researchers, was untangling
the netted cuckoo. They were going to take some measurements on the
bird and fit it with a radio transmitter. This was going to take
upwards of 30 minutes, so I figured I would give them some space to
process the bird. I headed further down the road to see if I could
scrape up my own cuckoo.
several additional hours of searching, I was unable to either see or
hear another cuckoo anywhere at this location. I am not going to
count the netted bird since I was not part of the banding
expedition/group. Instead, I decided to focus on finding my own bird,
and as a result I did not even watch the release of the captured
bird. I did not want to have the 'Should I count it?' debate with
myself had I watched the release.
will return to Florida at some future time (hopefully with Sonia!),
and we'll find one the old fashioned way. Barring a complete fluke
sometime in the next few days, this bird will not be on my 2014
knew from the beginning that the cuckoo was going to be hardest
Florida bird,” Errickson said. “It would have been a bit of a
triumph had he got it, but he knew it was a possibility that he
wouldn't. He came very close.”
did get the Magnificent Frigatebird on Wildlife Drive.
stopped to look at something else. Then we saw it very high up. It
was a good find,” Errickson said.
A break and then back on the road
is Anderson's girlfriend. Although separated by the Big Year, she is
a big logistical help from back home. After leaving 'Ding' Darling,
Anderson pedaled to Tampa and Sonia flew in from the Northeast for
some needed rest and relaxation. He and Sonia found their way
to a Philadelphia Phillies spring training game. Anderson shaved for
the first time in 2014 for the occasion.
will be in the mirror soon. Anderson has a couple more species for
the Sunshine State to produce, but soon the attention will shift to
the upcoming spring migration. That means pedaling across the Gulf
Coast to Texas and several known hot spots like High Island, Sabine
Woods and Anahuac NWR. That will take care of the migration of the
Eastern woodland birds. Then it's off on the perilous ride across the
trip will take him into California and then back through Arizona
before ending in Texas in December. So far, Anderson has managed to
get most of the birds on his list, the cuckoo being a notable
exception. If he continues to, as he says, “see what I should see”
he will end the year with between 550 and 600 different species, an
impressive checklist made even more impressive by the bicycle.
keeps a daily blog that is complete with the excellent photos he
somehow manages to shoot while biking and birding. His Website is