Scooter-birding at Big Talbot Island
A couple of weeks ago, I took my Xooter scooter to the bicycle trail at Big Talbot Island (Jacksonville, FL). I parked at the trail’s mid-point lot and traveled south, a distance of roughly 2 miles (4 miles round-trip). I was eager to test my skills on this curving, meandering lane.
Riding the curved trail proved easy. I only faced one problem. There were several pockets of birds, and I was without binoculars.
The temperature was pleasant when I started, but grew warmer as I rode. Soon I was eager to discard the knee pads and wrist wraps, which trapped heat against my body.
I returned the next week, with binoculars slung across one shoulder and fanny pack strapped to the opposite hip. My only protective gear was a bike helmet.
I was afraid the binoculars would bounce, so I carried them in their case. I soon found that the case was unnecessary.
The fanny pack pulled my body slightly to one side and, later that evening, my lower back was quite painful and threatened to freeze up. It was painful for several days afterward.
When I heard or spotted a pocket of birds, I hopped off, straddled the scooter, and aimed my bins. It was easy and fun. However, I became so excited at seeing a new-to-me bird, I nearly tripped over my own leg during a running dismount. Next time, focus on the task at hand.
Sometimes, I wanted to ease myself towards a group of birds, but walking the scooter made this impossible. It rattled on the asphalt pavement. However, if I rested one foot on the platform, this was enough pressure to maintain silence. So I rode the scooter in a walking fashion when approaching active areas.
During my ride I recorded 34 birds from 19 species.
Scooter-birding on the Jacksonville-Baldwin Rail Trail
Yesterday, I went on my sixth Xooter outing.
I returned to Camp Milton, which is the halfway point for the Jacksonville-Baldwin Rail-Trail. I had my bins over my shoulder – this time no protective case. I left the knee pads and wrist wraps at home. I tightened and turned my fanny pack so that it rode above my fanny, and didn’t pull my waist one direction or the other. I planned to do a couple of miles.
The ride seemed much easier, and I practiced switching my pushing-foot without dismounting. Here and there, I stopped to watch birds and record my findings.
I passed small ponds and ranchettes.
Ahead of me, I saw two large dogs wandering unattended. I used my binoculars to get a better look. A pit-bull mix and a giant retriever mix. I reached for my pepper spray, so that it would be ready just-in-case. Couldn’t believe I’d forgotten it.
The pit-bull was hard-to-read, much like those encountered during my brief stint as a veterinary assistant. These dogs stayed calm while being treated. It was almost as though they didn’t feel pain. And they rarely displayed emotion. Were they afraid, happy, angry? Who knew? There was no indication of what was or wasn’t coming — simultaneously reassuring and unnerving.
The pit-bull was marching toward me. As I walked, I moved the scooter so that it would be between us. The dog then switched directions, forcing me to move the scooter again. It walked past and left the trail, entering a micro-farm.
The second dog had a long loping stride and flopping jowls. It bobbed its head from side to side, which I recognized as a, “Hi, how are ya.” I invited him over for a pat on the head. He grinned and accepted, then headed off to join his friend.
I continued riding and logging birds.
Suddenly I saw buildings ahead. They appeared to be on the trail. There was a car on the trail, too. And another. A parking lot. And a sign with a map. And a train! Was this the head of the rail-trail? Had I come that far?
I took a few minutes to rest and celebrate. As I stood next to a small tree, a mockingbird landed at my shoulder and kept me company, as if to congratulate me.
I looked at my watch. It had only taken an hour to go 5.7 miles – roughly 10 minutes per mile. And much of that time I’d spent birding.
However, going back took much longer. It also took more effort. A strong headwind developed, and it was often impossible to glide. I was often forced to walk.
And my legs were getting tired. Riding the scooter is similar to doing repeated back-kicks and lunges at the gym – except one is less conscious of performing repetitions.
And I stopped to talk to a nice couple about my scooter.
And, of course, I couldn’t resist some additional birding. I saw a total of 48 birds from 19 species.
The ride back to the car took two-and-a-half hours, or 26 minutes per mile. But I’m not discouraged. In fact, I can’t wait to try the western part of the trail. It’s a little longer, but now I know that I’m up for the challenge.