Friday, October 03, 2008

Segway Birding

In my almost four decades of seeking birds, I've been birding in many different ways, using many different modes of transport. From bicycles to cross-country skis, scenic railroad cars, sternwheel riverboats, pontoon boats, huge inflatable river rafts, canoes and kayaks, small airplanes, ski-lifts, wagons pulled by both horses and tractors, and all manner of motorized vehicles, I've pretty much seen them all. Then, last week, I added a new mode of birding transport to my "life-experience list": The Segway.

Bill of the Birds on a Segway X2 on level ground.

Lee Underschultz of Little Hocking, Ohio, is a longtime birder and horse person who discovered the Segway on a trip to Canada. She thought they'd be great to use for birding trips on the 95-acre farm she and her husband own in southeastern Ohio. She tried one out and liked it so much she bought two of the specialized "off-road" Segway X2s.

Lee contacted Bird Watcher's Digest to see if we'd be interested in trying out the Segways on a morning birding outing at Firefly Hollow, the Underschultz's farm. Oh yeah! So last week my brother Andy and I drove down to Firefly Hollow for our very first Segway experience.

I'd seen these cool, quiet, battery-powered personal transporters in cities. I even tried to book spots on a Segway tour of Chicago while visiting the Windy City several years ago. No dice. They were booked up for months in advance. Needless to say, I was really eager to experience a Segway.
The Segway X2

Here's a link that tells you more about how a Segway works. It's an amazing machine and super easy to learn to ride, becoming intuitive within minutes.

After a quick lesson on how to operate a Segway, Lee, Andy, and I took off along the many trails through the fields and woods of Firefly Hollow.

Andy gets a lesson from Lee Underschultz.

Here's a short video about the experience.

Riding a Segway has the following advantages for birding: It's very quiet. It gives you a somewhat different perspective on the habitat than you'd get while walking or driving a car. It's a very green way to get from one place to another. Plus it's cool!

Riding a Segway was a lot of fun.

Of course it has its limitations, too. If you see a bird, you have to stop the Segway, which involves leaning backwards slightly. The Segway senses this shift in weight and slows to a stop. If you are on level ground, the Segway will stay perfectly balanced and you can release your hands from the handlebars and grab your binocs. If you're on a hill or slight incline, you need to step off the Segway and either power it down and lower the handlebars to the ground, or lean them against something (a tree, fencepost, your back). The gyroscopes inside the Segway are designed to prevent it from falling over.

For stop-and-go birding, a Segway might seem like a lot to handle. But to get to a spot where you're going to be birding for a while, it's perhaps the neatest way to get there.

Andy and Lee dismounted for some birding.

We had black-throated green warblers among the fall migrants during our birding outing. But the best bird of the morning was the first-fall red-headed woodpecker we saw in a snag near the big horse barn at Firefly Hollow. Red-headeds are my favorite North American bird.

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