September 1, 2013

Author Q & A: Driving to where the wild, endangered things are

From condors to Maine piping plovers, threatened animals lead a teacher and his family on a transcontinental quest to see them.

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Cameron MacDonald says he traveled across North America to see endangered species and also “to see their habitat and think about them a bit more deeply.”

Courtesy photo

We would only drive for four hours a day. The kids primarily changed how long we could drive in a day. If it was adults, you could drive for 16 hours and get to the next species. For us, that was like a four-day trip, because we would only drive four hours a day. So we basically would drive for two hours, take a break, then drive for another two hours and then look for a campsite.

That, for me, was one of the great things about the trip. The kids forced us to go slow across the continent rather than go across in a week and come back in a week. 

Q: Of all the species that you were able to see, which was the most thrilling for you personally?

A: The California condor was pretty cool. We'd had bad weather, so we hadn't really seen it. It was really socked in, and they weren't soaring. And then suddenly we had a nice day, and we saw a few and they were circling below us on the cliff -- we were looking over the Big Sur area, so you're looking down. And then one came up just over the cliff and almost hit Briana. It was probably 10 feet over, but they're such big birds. You could really get a sense of how big it was when it was that close to Briana and sailing right over her head.

That was one of the coolest things for me, and California condors are certainly one of the federally listed species that are in real trouble. There's only a few hundred of them -- a couple hundred in the wild and a couple hundred in captivity -- so they're a species that are in real trouble.

And I knew that if I didn't see them now, then maybe in 20 years they won't be there to see. 

Q: Any others that were particularly exciting?

A: The spotted owl was pretty exciting, because I had looked for a spotted owl on my own in British Columbia. They're one of the species that are pretty much gone from Canada now. There's only a few pairs left nesting in British Columbia. There probably used to be 500, but the logging has forced them out.

And so I'd looked for them in British Columbia a few times, pretty hard, and finally in Oregon, I was able to pair up with a biologist there and she took me out and we saw a pair. Even with her, it took us much of the day to find a nesting pair, even though she knew the sites. A few of them were abandoned. 

Q: Were there any points on the trip that were scary?

A: Probably for me, one of the scariest things was hiking in grizzly country with my kids. I found that scary. I'd worked in Alaska in grizzly country, and I'd spent a fair bit of time in reasonably close contact with grizzlies, and it didn't really make me nervous.

But when I had my little kids there, it made me nervous. A little kid sounds like an injured animal. They're running around screaming, and oh, that's the wrong noise to make when you're in bear country. I'd go out myself and it didn't even cross my mind -- I was hoping to see a bear from a distance across the valley -- but with the kids, I really almost didn't want to see one, even from a distance, because I knew it could go bad pretty quickly. 

Q: I know you saw the piping plover in Maine. Isn't that a gorgeous beach (at Reid State Park)?

A: It's a great beach. One of the best beaches of our whole trip, really. It was quiet. That was nice, because that was after we'd done the whole Eastern Seaboard. We went to Walden Pond and we couldn't actually get out of the car, it was so busy. 

Q: Would you do another trip like this sometime?

A: I think we're definitely going to do another trip. I'd like to recreate that road trip in maybe 25 years, maybe try and do almost the exact same route and see how things have changed over that time frame.

We definitely hope to do another trip, and maybe another book, in some other place, some other location.

I'd like to do something different, but maybe along the same themes -- biology- and travel-related. But I still don't know what that idea is (laughing).

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

mgoad@pressherald.com

 

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