Saturday, December 29, 2007

Being a bicyclist in Tucson’s car culture

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I have two rollerboard suitcases with lifetime warranties and both needed some repair. The problem is that the only store authorized to repair them is 8 1/2 miles across town at Speedway and Wilmot, and the bags are too large and heavy to carry on my bike. So I took the bus, putting my bike on the rack on the front of the bus, intending to ride back home.

The trip there took an hour and half since the buses run so unbelievably infrequently in Tucson. But part of the problem was that I got on a bus that didn't come any closer than 1/2 mile to my destination, and I was kind of ticked that I had to walk the rest.

After dropping off the suitcases at the store, I then biked 3 miles farther to an Ace Hardware at 22nd and Kolb that has a special house wares section, where I wanted to get a V-rack for roasting a turkey. Hoping to avoid the noisy and dangerous main roads of Tucson, I attempted to travel though the middle of the mile-square blocks that are residential areas, but I was thwarted by curving roads and cul-de-sacs. There are no designated bike routes here. Now I'm getting mad. Ha — Tucson calls itself a bike-friendly city!

I get to the Ace Hardware already pissed off and there is no bike rack anywhere in the shopping plaza. I find this unbelievably maddening and inexcusable. It should be punishable by hefty fines.

So I lean my bike on the store window and lock it to itself. As I go past the cashier, she calls out that I need to leave my backpack at the front. I have a hard time not blowing up, but I calmly told her no and explained that I'm on my bike and that I carry stuff in my backpack. She insisted rudely that it's store policy. I told her if she can't trust me with my backpack, there's no way I'm going to trust her with it, and walked on. She hollered, "I'm calling the manager!" but I walked on and ignored her. I'm still royally pissed. For all she knows, I have $500 worth of merchandise in my backpack, and it's simply not reasonable to expect me to leave that unattended while I shop. I mean, wouldn't it be enough of a deterrent to a would-be shoplifter for her to acknowledge that she sees the backpack? Don't they want my money? Why is so much of Tucson's infrastructure and mentality simply against bicycling as a means of transportation?

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Costa Rica in November WINGS tour

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This blog is going to be little more than just a few photo highlightts from my most recent tour to Costa Rica (my 15th tour to the country, from November 4-17).

I always fly a day early, meaning I have a whole day to kill at our lovely hotel in Santo Domingo just outside of San José. I usually have plenty of writing to do on my laptop, and I also surf the internet. But one thing I always do if it's sunny enough is walk the gardens and look for butterflies. Despite being in the highly developed Central Valley, there's quite a bit of diversity. This first one is a Bumblebee Metlamark, Baeotis zonata.
This second one is Sky-blue Greatstreak, Pseudolycaena damo (the upperside is an amazing iridescent blue).Apparently feeding on the non-native bamboos in the garden are these satyrs, the Manis Satyr, Pedaliodes manis and Star Satyr, Dioriste tauropolis.Finally, the most interesting skipper I found in the gardens was this Cynea cynea, which has no common name.Our first day on the tour was at Tapantí National Park at about 4000 feet elevation on the Caribbean slope not far from Cartago. It's very wet cloud forest, with a lot of tree ferns, giant Gunneras and trees laden with epiphytes. The only thing I photographed there was this Blue-flushed Daggerwing, Marpesia marcella.Our next area was the Savegre River valley, immediately below Cerro de La Muerte (the high point of the Pan American Highway). We stay at Savegre Lodge in the community of San Gerardo de Dota in the steep valley.This orchid, Sobralia amabilis, was on one of the trails at the lodge.After a long day's drive we end up at our third hotel in the tropical lowlands on the central Pacific coast by Carara National Park. The hotel grounds have a good diversity of wildlife, including this Northern Cat-eyed Snake, Leptodeira septentrionalis,this Dry-forest Toad, Bufo coccifer,and this White-dotted Crescent, Castilia ofella.We take a boat ride through the Mangroves, where this year we saw an American Pygmy Kingfisher, Boat-billed Heron and the endemic Mangrove Hummingbird.During a walk on a trail in the national park we spotted this Turquoise-browed Motmot.For several years a Black-and-white Owl pair has been resident in the central plaza of the town of Orotina nearby.After leaving the Carara area we drive to Monteverde, an area of wet cloud forest at a low spot in the Continental Divide. Our hotel, the Fonda Vela, has birdy grounds and an amazing view of the northwestern lowlands with perfect sunsets.In the Monteverde Cloudforest Reserve we walk the trails and look for the specialties, such as Streak-breasted Treehunter, Prong-billed Barbet and Spangle-cheeked Tanager.We also stop by the Hummingbird Gallery where nine species of hummingbirds swarm the feeders,as well as this Olingo, an arboreal (and usually nocturnal) raccoon relative, which has been coming to the feeders several times a day for over a decade.After leaving Monteverde we drive to the Mount Arenal area. The lower elevation forests on the Caribbean-slope foothills have many great birds. We saw several Crested Guans,this rare Keel-billed Motmot, a lifer for me,and this Blakea scarlatina, a gorgeous flowering tree in the melastome family.On the longish drive across the lowlands to the next hotel, we stop at a small restaurant for a break and to see the numerous and huge Green Iguanas in the trees by the bridge.Our last hotel in the Sarapiquí Lowlands of the Caribbean side, Sueño Azul, serves as a base to bird the La Selva Biological Station as well as Braulio Carrillo National Park in the foothills. At Braulio we saw this Ornate Hawk-Eagle in the tree directly above us,this litter frog, which may be Eleutherodactylus nobeli or some similar species,this blooming vine, Schlegelia fastigata.this Central American Whiptail, Ameiva festiva,this Red-bellied Litter Snake, Rhadinaea decorata,and this golden orb weaver.We also see quite a bit on the hotel grounds, which includes a river, ponds, fields, and some rain forest, such as this scorpion Centruroides limbatus,Common Tink Frog, Eleutherodactylus diastema,Proboscis Bat,this large silk moth,Common Pauraque (on a night walk where we had fantastic views of a singing Great Potoo),Pale-vented Pigeon outside the porch behind our rooms,and this Red Coffee Snake, Ninia sebae.On our last day we drive back over the mountains into the Central Valley. This year it rained ALL DAY until we got there, which slowed our birding considerably.
But one of the rarest birds on the entire tour was on this last day, this Bicolored Hawk, quite unexpectedly perched in the open, right next to the main highway near the small town of La Virgen. It's a rare species everywhere in its range, and it's usually confined to rainforest understory.