Monday, December 30, 2013

SF and Marin trip recap

  Well, the pre-Christmas trip north turned up some good birds.  Sure, I missed the WINTER WREN in Inverness (it has been seen since I left), but that didn't get me down.
   I left before first light on 12/15.  First stop, Half Moon Bay, where a GLAUCOUS GULL was hanging out.  Saw the bird, pedaled on.  I was trying to make it up to San Francisco with time to bird.
  Fortunately, I did have plenty of time to bird there.  The ride up took 5 hours, so I got to the Golden Gate Park a bit before noon.  In the Botanical Garden, it took less than 15 minutes for the GRAY CATBIRD to show up.  Two very satisfying looks.  It took me back to Virginia, where in college these were yard birds.  So nice.
   The next morning I headed over the Golden Gate Bridge (again) and made for Point Reyes Station.   Gorgeous December weather.  Sunny and 60s!!!
  My friend Fiona Firefly put me up again, which once again proved to be an incredible staging area for bird finding by bike.  Riding from PR Station, you get some nice views of Tomales Bay and all many of it's marshes.  Then, up and over one big hill and down to Abbott's Lagoon.
  I got to Abbott's at 8:30 in the morning on 12/17.  It didn't take long to figure out which of the Ag. fields to walk through in order to find the right flock of birds.  Sure enough, the PACIFIC GOLDEN PLOVERS (4) were the first new birds I spotted in the flock of over 100 KILLDEER.  With them was a MOUNTAIN PLOVER, which allowed great views as well.   Finding the LAPLAND LONGSPURS was actually the hardest bird in the group for me.  I had only ever seen one, in Alabama.  To make things difficult, but also very interesting and fun, a flock of AMERICAN PIPITS flew in and at times was all around me.  Finally, I heard the LAPLAND LONGSPURS first.  Turns out, there were about two dozen mixed in the flock.  Wow, three new birds in one flock-in December no less!!!  Lucky me.
   And even though I had already seen them this year,  several FERRUGINOUS and one ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK were in the area as well.  It was an incredible day.
  Eventually, I made it home.  No need for gory, though glorious details about riding home along Highway 1 and the Pacific Ocean.  Great riding, great birds, great weather.  I love it when that happens.
Willets below during a Cliff House Seawatch in San Francisco

Black Turnstones and Surfbirds at the Cliff House

River Otter tracks and Beat Up Sibley's at Abbott's Lagoon

One of Several Ferruginous Hawks near Abbott's Lagoon in Point Reyes

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Going On Another Trip- Point Reyes

  Today is the first day of my winter vacation from work.  I don't have to start work again until after the new year.  I spent this morning sleeping in, though I took a slow walk through the yard at noon.  3 White-throated Sparrows and an Orange-Crowned Warbler seem to be winter residents this year.  The warbler sipped from a Red-breasted Sapsucker well.  A Cooper's Hawk flew high over head.  A high pressure system is moving in and temperatures are rising.  Beautiful weather again.  Just in time for another bike trip.
  So the plan is to leave early tomorrow morning- once again, before first light.  I'll stop in to see if the GLAUCOUS GULL that Alvaro Jaramillo found the other day  is still in Half Moon Bay.  Then on to the city.  I hope to get there early enough to try for the GRAY CATBIRD that has been in Golden Gate Park for the past couple of weeks.  One night in the city and then up to Point Reyes.
  I'm looking forward to getting up to Point Reyes again.  There have been a few good birds (that I still need) seen all clustered together near Abbott's Lagoon.  I missed the PACIFIC GOLDEN PLOVERS the last trip up there, but they have been reported there recently.  The fact that there are LAPLAND LONGSPURS and now a MOUNTAIN PLOVER very nearby, gives this trip some great potential.  A WINTER WREN was seen a couple of weeks ago in Inverness, but hasn't been seen lately.  Hopefully I can find a little time to poke around for it.
  Point Reyes is so beautiful that it doesn't really matter anyway.  There will be tons of great birds regardless of whether I've seen them or not.

On a different note, I just found my camera.  Here are a couple of semi-recent random pictures from various place.

The Local Harlequin-  This bird has took up residence at Pescadero State Beach a couple of years ago.  This was taken through my scope.  That's a female surf scoter diving behind him.

Modus at the Golden Gate on the last Point Reyes trip

Burrowing Owl- Okay, it's blurry, but it was fun finding this one.   

Elk at Sunrise in Point Reyes

Modus and the Sage Thrasher I found on the SF Bay.  I know you can't really see the bird well, but I thought it was cool to get them in the same shot. 

Sage Thrasher through the scope.  This was the first one I'd ever seen in San Mateo County.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Magical Moment with a Redstart-320 species and counting (or not)

  I knew it was going to happen this week sometime, I just wasn't sure when. 
  I left my house before dawn on Saturday.  I wanted to get some riding in while it was still dark so that it would still be early-ish when I reached the bay.  I was headed to Sunol to stay with a friend after birding a few SF Bay locations.  The difficult thing was that I was hoping to get down to the Bay's southern tip-Alviso. A Bar-tailed Godwit had been reported from there a few days before.  I felt like I had a shot at this bird, plus, I'd never seen one before.  Maybe I'd see another new bird if I rode the shores down there anyway.  Tundra Swans had been seen near Sunnyvale and a random Snow Goose could pop up anywhere.  I got down to the bay around 11 am and headed south.  Unfortunately, when I ran into another birder and asked, I missed the spot from where the Swans could be scoped.  I decided to not turn around for them due to the fact that some Mute Swans had also been seen in the area and I hadn't, at the time, heard whether the Tundras were still there.  I biked on.  I still had a long day ahead.
  I finally got to Alviso at 1pm after getting a little turned around on the maze of levees out on the Bay.  A quick call home to my roommate Claire, who was serving as map and bird location support, and I was off to the spot where the Bar-tailed had last been seen.  It was a several mile ride over soft muddy levees, but I found a couple large collections of shorebirds in the right spot.  Being near 2pm, most of the birds had their heads tucked down for an afternoon of rest.  The lighting was less than ideal.  The task of finding a shorebird that had a Marbled Godwit shaped bill with a more Willet coloring in a flock of 1000s of mostly Godwits and Willets proved to be too large.  I spent maybe an hour and a half birding there.  With more time, who knows (though as it turns out, a number of birders did not find it that day). 20 miles to ride to Sunol.  I tried not to think about how much shorter the ride would have been if I had taken the Dumbarton Bridge instead of trying for the Godwit.  It had been a chance worth taking, but a miss none the less.   I made it to Sunol just as it was getting dark.
  After staying with my friend Aspen in Sunol (thanks Aspen!!!), I left the next morning for Berkeley.  The 30 miles felt like a lot more after such a long day.  I was feeling rough!
  Along the way I stopped at a Farmers Market somewhere in the east bay hills.  I strolled the market looking for something to get my blood-sugar to a reasonable level.  Both body and mind were feeling a bit taxed.  Suddenly, a friendly voice called out and asking if I was on a bike tour.  Holding a chocolate chip cookie in front of me was Kate, who worked for a bakery at the market.  She saved the day.  Long trail hikers call this kind of thing "Trail Magic".  The gesture was incredibly rejuvenating, and the cookie...perfect.  Thanks Kate!
  I was going to be staying with my friend Bay that night. As it happened, she lived just five blocks from where the Painted Redstart had been found 11 days before.  Being a naturalist herself, she met me at the spot and was looking at the bird when I arrived!
  It was a magical experience.  11 years ago, I took the name "REDSTART" as my nature name working with kids at San Mateo Outdoor Education.  Everyday since then, I have been called Redstart, whether at work or not.  Nearly the only people who call me Mark besides my parents are ironically, birders.
  So there I was, staring at a PAINTED REDSTART, which just happened to be the bird that tied the North American Green Birding Record at 318.
  At that point, I mostly felt relief.  The past few months have been very intensive in the biking and birding department.  It has been a great challenge in so many ways.  I took a deep breath and realized the pace could now lessen.
  Bay and I relaxed at her house while I chugged water and took a break.  We left for Lake Merritt in Oakland a couple of hours later.  Breaktime was over.  Time to find a Tufted Duck.
  Bay and I began scanning the massive scaup flock.  Greater and Lesser Scaup look very similar to a Tufted Duck.  Tufteds have a darker back and what looks like a rat tail. 
  Arriving on the shores, we started scanning for the bird.  Bay called out, "BARROW'S GOLDENEYE". Yup, three in fact.  I had forgotten to keep an eye out for those.  Great spot Bay!  On to the Tufted, which I found within 25 feet of the shore.  A nice dinner and a couple of couple of beers to celebrate before the 70 mile ride home the next day.
  I made it home.  320 birds and counting, though I'm not sure I'll find anymore.  The big trips are likely all done as this week was my last major break in work to go out looking.  Birding trips will have to fit in a weekend from here on out.  I'm relieved about that.  Coasting.
  Life is good.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Tracking down the last few

This morning I headed out to the coast before work. With the rain and wind that just came through this week, I thought clearing conditions might produce some bird movement out over the ocean.
  I wasn't disappointed.  Two female LONG-TAILED DUCKS led the way for a line of cormorants who were making their way towards a large feeding frenzy north of Pescadero Creek.  My first two Long-taileds that I have ever found myself.
  Tomorrow I am taking off on a try to the South Bay, then Sunol, and then the East Bay.  I may even make it out to the Central Valley.  I'm going to try to leave at about 5am.  That ought to give me a good headstart before first light.  I'm trying to get down to the South Bay fairly early to look for a Bar-tailed Godwit that has been seen down there lately.
  Some other birds I have a chance at include:

 Snow Goose- on the bay somewhere or in the Central Valley
 Tundra Swan- one was report recently somewhere in the South Bay
 Tufted Duck- A bird has shown up on Lake Merritt in Oakland for about 5 winters in a row.  Someon           reported in the other day.
  Barrow's Goldeneye-various SF Bay locations
  Painted Redstart-  Unbelievably one has been in Berkeley  for about a week now.  I sure hope it will stick around a few more days!

 I'll report more when I get back.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Point Reyes trip success, but still a few birds away

  This whole year, I've felt endlessly pessimistic.  I didn't think I'd break 300 birds, didn't think I'd get close to 318, didn't think I'd see this or that bird, and on and on.  It's partly my nature and partly that this whole year has been really crazy and at times, very difficult.  So, when I left my house a couple of weeks ago to bike to Point Reyes National Seashore, I had a few target birds in mind, but didn't know what I would actually see.  I took the week off of work, but I was so nervous that I wouldn't see any new birds.     Pessimistic.
  I mentioned this to my boss before I left. He has been incredibly supportive of my Big Year and this trip.  He told me to visualize positive results.  Now, when most people tell me this kind of thing, I just blow them off, because, well, I think that kind of thing is stupid. However, coming from my boss, I actually tried to take it to heart.  Funny how something that is said by the right person can leave such an impression.  
  As I rolled into Half Moon Bay a few hours after I left my house, I had with me some very vague directions to a Black-and-White Warbler that had been seen by Ron Thorn the day before.  Fortunately, I had a couple of friends (Malia DeFelice and Chris Hayward) meeting me at the Half Moon Bay Wastewater Treatment Plant (birding is so glamorous).  All we had to do was walk, fortunately, upstream from the plant for what appeared on maps to be a couple of miles and we might run into the bird.  Seemed like a long shot, but I hadn't seen a B+W Warbler yet this year.  I had to at least try.  I thought about my boss. 
   We walked through the water.  Malia and Chris had their "wellies" on and I was in some oversized flip-flops I desperately bought in a Mammoth Lakes thrift store on this summer's bike trip when my Tevas died. There was a little bird activity including both a Barn Owl and a Great Horned Owl that we spooked.  We were encouraged, but still kept asking each other where the heck Ron was when he found the bird.  Finally, Malia, who was birding more slowly, which is to say being more thorough, found the bird.  As, it turn out, this bird was not the same bird that Ron had seen.  
  That BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER was one of the more relieving birds of the year.  My eight day birding trip was not an absolute failure.  At least I had found one and it was the first day.  Leaving Half Moon Bay, I felt grateful to Malia, Chris, and my boss Mark.
  Friends put me up in San Francisco that night (thanks Samanellen!).   And thanks to Dominic Mosur for letting me in on a little BURROWING OWL secret that I found the next morning.  Unbelievable, but I was sworn to secrecy about the birds location.  Two new birds in two days.  
  I birded Marin County a little that day.  I tried the Hawk Watch in the Marin Headlands, but it was foggy and cold.  No Broad-winged Hawk for me this year.  A couple MERLINS were fun to watch, and it was great to practice IDing accipiters.  I spent the night with friends in the Marin Headlands.  Bioluminesence on the beach that night.  
  The next day I climbed the massive Mount Tam, and dropped down to Bolinas Lagoon and Stinson Beach.  Fell asleep on a friends porch to the sound of waves crashing.  
  I met up with Keith Hansen at his studio in Bolinas.  For those who are familiar with his work, check him out at:    He was very welcoming, offered great bird finding info, some recent sightings, and great encouragement in my Big Year.   Now I had some new target birds.
  I missed Black Rail.  Like most who try, especially out of breeding season when the birds are more vocal, but did find the SWAMP SPARROW Keith had clued me in on. 
  My friend Fiona Firefly, who lives in Point Reyes Station, put me up for the next two nights.  I couldn't be more appreciative for the royal treatment I got there.  The next two days continued to be pretty grueling, so dinner and a couch felt absolutely divine.  Sure, I missed the Pacific Golden Plover, Lapland Longspurs, AND Red-Throated Pipit that Keith had mentioned, but did see a RED-NECKED GREBE and three FERRUGINOUS HAWKS.  Marin was a great success.
  I hauled down to SF the next day and back into San Mateo County the following day.  No new birds, but got to see the Marin BLUE-FOOTED BOOBY (my sixth BOOBY of the year) and a pair of ROUGH-LEGGED HAWKS.  Waking in San Mateo, I decided to take my chances at Coyote Point.  Who knows, maybe I could spot a rare Long-tailed Duck out on the bay.  I wouldn't say it was a complete bust by any means.  And while it wasn't a new bird for the year, I found a SAGE THRASHER out on a jetty near the harbor.  This was a rare bird for sure- one that I had never seen in San Mateo County.  I made some calls and several birders came immediately.  I was so happy to see Jennifer Rycenga, Peggy Macres, Ginny Marshall, Leslie Flint, and Ron Thorn all able to get there in time to see the bird.  What felt even better was that Malia and Chris arrived. They had helped me see the Black-and-White Warbler less than a week earlier, so it was nice to pay them back with a rare bird.  
   The next day was epic.  60+ miles.  I rode San Mateo City to Palo Alto to find a lingering NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH and a COMMON GALINULE then home to Pescadero.   And despite the fact that I probably averaged about 40 miles/day on the eight day trip and that most of the big climbs were at the end of the day, the ride home was very, very sweet.
  It was an end to the pessimism that plagued this Big Year.  Thanks to everyone for all the support and encouragement.
  Pictures to come.


Thursday, November 7, 2013

Making a Run on the Record

   My goal, as I mentioned in my last post, was 300 birds for the year.  It felt like a nice challenge considering my attempt in 2011 turned up 276 species.   I have to admit though, in the back of my mind, I wondered but didn't actually believe I would get this far. Sometime about a month ago now, I decided to fully commit to trying for the GREEN BIG YEAR RECORD.
  Jim Royer holds the record right now.  He saw an amazing 318 species in 2010!  He set up what became an amazing blog about it too. Check it out at:    It's the blog I wish I had created this year.  He highlights not only birds that he's seen, but also talks about butterflies, plants, and other aspects of natural history.  I consider myself a naturalist first, then a birder, so I love it.
  Jim sent me an email a little over a month ago and mentioned that I was beating his pace.  I was touched by his kind words and encouragement, but I didn't really think I had a shot at the record at that point.  My summer of bird finding was great, but starting work again in September meant a lot less birding time.  However, I have to admit now that my life since work started back up has been crazy.  Eat, sleep, work, bird.  That's it.  At least it sure feels that way.
  October was a fantastic month.  Are there any birder's out there that don't like October?  So many birds on the move and it's also the month where lots of rare birds start showing up.  I ended up seeing 12 new birds in October, despite the fact, that at least central coastal California has had a dismal warbler migration show this year.  Where did they all go?  This year I missed several migrant warblers, that last year were showing up literally right outside my front door.  Missing warblers in October probably means that I'll have missed them for the year.  Drat.
  Despite this, I had some good luck out over the ocean.  BULLER'S SHEARWATERS and POMARINE JAEGERS can be birds that are easily missed in a year, but I saw both in early October.  A first for me was a pod of RISSO'S DOLPHINS that I got to see from Pescadero State Beach.  So cool.  Have I mentioned how much I love living in Pescadero before?
  In mid-October, I took a weekend bike-camping trip up to Half Moon Bay to track down a couple of birds that had been seen there and to hopefully find a few of my own (as chasing birds really isn't nearly as fun as finding your own).  I lucked out and ended up finding a CLAY-COLORED SPARROW that had been seen a few days before and found a couple of CACKLING GEESE flying above the airport at the north end of town.  Yahoo, the trip was worth it!  I also birded Fitzgerald Marine Reserve for the first time on that trip.  It's one of those places that birders talk about being so great for rare birds, especially back in the day.  Well, that day there happened to be an ORCHARD ORIOLE present.  Not a new bird for the year, but a sweet bird for sure!
  Our local Sequoia Audubon Society put on a Big Sit event on October 13.  If you are not familiar with the concept, it is a fundraiser and  "competition" with other Audubon Chapters where birders spend all day in one 17 foot diameter circle and count how many species that they can see from that spot.  We racked up 99 species that day thanks to a lot of great volunteers coming out and helping.  During the event, I was able to add a SORA, PALM WARBLER, and GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE.  Alas, I missed another BALTIMORE ORIOLE that showed up while I was taking a lunch break.   Nemesis bird!
  Well, that doesn't quite catch yall all the way up, but it'll have to do for now.  More soon!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Booby Bonanza

Alright folks, sorry for the big wait.  I have been trying to update my species total the past few days and it hasn't worked.  I'll figure out that kink soon I hope.  I'm up to 304 species and only 3900 miles on the bike!!!
  My goal for the year was 300, so all these other birds are just a bonus now.   I'm back at work after a great summer off, so the pace is cooling off a bit.  Plus, each new bird is getting incredibly hard to find (11 new birds in the past 700 miles on my bike).  At least it's fall migration and birding has been fun.  It's hard to complain about this migration season (though I'm sure I can find a way) considering what has been going on in California.  BOOBIES!!!
  Yup, BLUE-FOOTED BOOBIES have been all over California, including a few inland sightings.  Mono Lake had the first sighting back in late August.  A cool record, that didn't get too much attention due to the fact that the folks who found it and took a picture, walked off with it and disappeared.  Fortunately, a birder from out there got a look at the picture and reported it.  No else ever saw the bird.
  Then, a few weeks later, others appeared on the coast.  September 16, the first two San Mateo County record birds were seen.    There had been several other coastal birds seen by that point in SoCal, but I figured I better give it a shot.  I went out the next day and found the third San Mateo County bird the next day off of the Pescadero Creek mouth. I got a great view as the bird flew very close to shore.  Since then, I have seen 3 other birds, including two on September 28 while helping to lead the Gay Birders of North America around my stomp here on the south coast of the county.
  August and September were fantastic.  I've done about as good as I think I'll do for shorebirds this year.  Some highlights were my first county CLAPPER RAIL, BAIRD'S, SEMIPALMATED, and PECTORAL SANDPIPERS, and a RED KNOT.
  I did another weekend trip right before starting the new school year.  A weekend in San Francisco.  It was a blast.  I got to visit some friends, watched my childhood baseball team (the Pirates) beat the Giants, and got involved in a high speed chase with the SF Cops (yeah, it's a really crazy story-ask me about it sometime).  Certainly the bird highlight was getting to track down an ORCHARD ORIOLE.
  A few other birds I added recently were TENNESSEE WARBLER, TROPICAL KINGBIRD, and then today added POMARINE JAEGER and BULLER'S SHEARWATER (we're having an amazing anchovy year here on the central coast of California).

  Well, more soon... I promise not to let so much time pass before the next post.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

At Long Last-Pictures of the Tour

Great Birds up Mines Road included Phainopepla, Rufous-Crowned Sparrows, Yellow-Billed Magpie, Golden Eagle, White-Breasted Nuthatch and Bullock's Orioles

Added Lawrence's Goldfinch, Ash-Throated Flycatcher, Lark Sparrow, Black-Chinned Hummingbird, and Greater Roadrunner
No time to climb them and look for Gray-Crowned Rosy Finches this year.  Regardless, they are beautiful from afar.

Arriving at the Field Campus was great.  Just above 5000 feet in elevation, lots of great birds could be found in the Lakes Basin/ Yuba Pass area.  I was lucky to get to be there for about 10 days.  Five of those days I helped out with Jim Steele's Birding By Ear course.  What was better, finding Spotted Owl, Northern Goshawk, Black-backed Woodpecker, Evening Grosbeak and Williamson's Sapsucker OR not having to cook for myself over a campstove with just one pot?
Thanks Field Campus Staff!!!

Yuba Pass birding is fantastic.  Most Bay Area and beyond Audubon groups make a pilgrimage to the Pass in early summer.  Who can blame them?  Mountain Quail, Evening Grobeaks, Pine Grosbeak, Northern Goshawk, Hammond's and Dusky Flycatcher, and a chance at the elusive Black-Backed Woodpecker.  
Yellow-Headed Blackbird
White-Faced Ibis are abundant down there.  I wish I would have gotten a good shot of the American Bitterns that are often readily viewable off of Marble Hot Springs Road.

A gorgeous day riding.

(Surrogate) Momma Merganser with her hands full.  Certainly not all of these are genetically hers.

  Monitor gave me so much trouble in 2011 riding up it from the east side.  I got my sweet revenge this summer riding from the Markleeville side this year.  That day started with a marauding group of PINYON JAYS in the town of Markleeville.



Yeah, okay, I missed finding a Cordilleran Flycatcher, but it's hard to feel like it wasn't worth the ride and hike up.

This shot is near Bishop.  My camera was acting up on the east side, so this is one of my few pictures from that area. 


Riding my bicycle through Joshua Trees in July was maybe a little bit stupid. It was 108 degrees the day I arrived.  I feel better about it now that I'm home.
The birds were nearly silent, even at dawn.  Fortunately, a couple of Cactus Wrens were around.

Some birds were surprises along the way.  Certainly, this Western Screech Owl was a big surprise.  The surrounding was a monocrop of Creosote Bush, not to mention this was 9:30 in the morning and about 90 degrees.
Riding through the Big Sur was amazing.  I didn't mind the climbing since the headwind died down a little after Cambria.  California Condors!!!
Certainly would have rather seen a living animal, but I'm glad to know they are around.

Sorry for the poor quality picture.  I need a new camera.  There were ten Martins in the area.  Twenty minutes later a Black Swift fly overhead.  Certainly one of the most exciting twenty minutes of the whole trip! 

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Final Leg--Pine Mountain Club to HOME!

I last left off when I was in Pine Mountain Club at the top of the Grapevine in southern California.  LA County.  It was an absolute treat to be able to spend a couple of days with my friends Scot and Kristin.  I birded just a little bit in those couple of days.  One morning I hiked through San Emigdio Canyon and encountered a couple of Black Bears.  The first one I just scared off of the trail in order to keep hiking, but later I came across a bear cub and decided it was time to turn around.  The birds were fairly quiet in the canyon, though I found my first RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD of the year there.
  Leaving the Transverse Range was interesting.  The best birding in that area seems to be through Quatal Canyon, though that road is dirt.  My other options were to head south to Ojai and then the coast which would have added about 100 miles to the trip, or ride through Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge then through the Cuyama Valley.  The only problem is that there are no services (no water) beyond New Cuyama until you are almost to the coast.  So camping wouldn't be an option.  Despite that, I decided to go that way.  It meant getting an early start and riding almost 100 miles to Santa Maria.
  Most of that ride was downhill, so it turned out that it wasn't even the hardest day of the trip despite being the longest by about 20 miles.  Plus, I found a couple of BLACK-CHINNED SPARROWS while riding down the mountain.  The other great thing about that ride was feeling the first cool breeze coming inland off of the coast.  I was so happy to be getting back to the ocean.
  A night in Santa Maria meant that in the morning I could ride out to the coast and look for LEAST TERNS, which I got to see at Oso Flaco Lake.  Another real treat turned out to be thousands of SOOTY SHEARWATERS just passed the surf at the Oso Flaco Beach.  I looked for an early Royal Tern, but found none among the Caspian and Elegants.
  Up to Morro Bay, I camped out at the State Park.  In the morning, I rode over to Turri Road to look for CASSIN'S KINGBIRDS.  As the morning got later and later, I was about to count them as a miss. Finally, I heard a flock of Kingbirds working the open fields together.  Five Westerns and two Cassin's!  Yahoo, I made for the coast again.
  The ride north was pleasant enough until about Cambria.  At that point, with the late start that I got, the wind was fierce.  Yup, another headwind.  Seems my loop through California was planned backwards in terms of the wind, though I'm happy with the planning in terms of the birds I got to see.
  Anyway, back in the wind, I also had a spring break in my rear brakes.  Because of the headwind, I have no idea how long I rode with one breakpad touching the wheel!  When I figured it out, I simply disengaged my rear brakes and kept going.  Big Sur or bust!
  Riding into the Big Sur was great. The wind actually died down in the mountains.  Then there was the nice family who waited for me most of the way up one of the mountains to offer me a basket of strawberries.  Those strawberries, that I ate on that cliff were the most delicious strawberries I have ever tasted. 70 miles that day.
  One night in Plaskett Creek.  Finally, I was on a route that had other bike touring folks.  It was fun to find a culture of tourers and to be a part of that for a couple nights.
  The next day was wild.  Gorgeous views, so I took it slow.  CALIFORNIA CONDORS were soaring about near the waterfall that drops down to the beach at Julia Pfeiffer.
  I was really shocked to find a roadkill RINGTAIL on Hwy 1.  I took pictures as it seemed important to document that it had once lived there.
  Camped in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.  I was excited to get north towards Monterey, I thought I'd just stop briefly along the way to bird here and there.  Turns out the biggest surprise of the trip occurred just north of the town of Big Sur.  I heard a chatter that wasn't familiar that was coming from a meadow by the side of the road.  10 PURPLE MARTINS were flying about chasing bugs and each other and perching in a tree.
  Now I did try to do my homework before starting the trip, but Purple Martin was just not on the radar.  Apparently, they breed in Big Sur. Now I know
  For the next 20 minutes, I was thinking how wonderful it was to see Purple Martins and scratching my head that I didn't know that I could see them there, when suddenly, a lone BLACK SWIFT flew overhead.  Wow, two big shocks in 20 minutes.  This was some good birding.  I had never seen a Black Swift before, so I was absolutely elated by my luck.
   I camped in a hotel room in Seaside that night.  Luxurious.
  The next night was Santa Cruz where I stayed with my friends Emily and Eric.  Another night with a bed.  Thanks yall.
  The ride home the next day was bitter sweet of course.  Well, mostly it was just sweet.  It's good to be home.
  And, now that I'm home, all the pictures will be going up soon.  Right after one more nap on the couch...

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Eastern Sierra and Western Mojave

  Only a few people know what I'm talking about when I describe where I am right now.  Some people know Frazier Park, less know Pine Mountain Club, where I actually am.  The best way to explain it is that I am in the east/west running mountain range that seperates the Coast Range and Central Valley from Los Angeles.  My good friends Scot and Kristin have put me up for a few days rest after crossing the Mojave kind of worked me.  What a relief this overcast day in the mid-eighties is!
  So a lot has happened since I last wrote from Bridgeport.  Put simply 500 miles and 12 new species.  But that leaves out a lot of what really happened.
  Leaving Bridgeport, I made my way down to Lee Vining.  I birded the County Park area on the north end of Mono Lake.  The nesting Osprey were a treat as the parents took turns flying off to other lakes and coming back with fish.  Wilson's Phalaropes spun in the water.
  After a day at Mono I hustled back north to Lundy Canyon where the birding was decent, though I didn't pick up any new species.  A BALD EAGLE up in the canyon was a very cool sight, as was a nice show of wildflowers.
   Back to Lee Vining, I watched a band play at the famous Mobil Station while I ate a nice meal from the gas station.  Those who have been there, know that the food is actually decent.  The band played a couple of Townes Van Zandt songs which was a great way to end the evening and head down into the sagebrush for a night's sleep.
  Out in the sage, COMMON NIGHTHAWKS were everywhere, and upon waking, there were multiple GRAY FLYCATCHERS calling around my tent.  Southbound to Mammoth Lakes.
  Due to a heatwave, I had to hangout in the Mammoth area for several days.  Bishop (where I was headed next) was 110 degrees, and Ridgecrest was 117!  Yikes.  Mammoth was alright with me.
  One night, while waiting for the heat to break, I headed out to the ESE side of Glass Mountain to a little aspen grove called Wildrose Canyon.  It was an awesome morning birding.  A RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER was a great bird to find for the year!  I missed a Virginia's Warbler that people had seen a couple of weeks earlier.  Damn!  I've still never seen one.  Looks like I'll have to get back there sometime.
  Fortunately, a friend of mine, Sierra, was staying with her family in Mammoth.  They were so sweet to put me up for a few days while I waited out the heatwave.  Two night sleep in a bed did wonders for the body!  Thanks Sierra!!!
  So with the heatwave beginning to subside, I rode down towards Bishop.  I think the high that day was only 104!  I was shocked when I stopped on the way into town in Birchim Canyon to find quite a bit of bird activity at around 11 am.  The creek running through was substantial, and I had to dunk my hair to cool off.  In all the heat, I managed to hear one and see another YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT.  Very cool to watch them sing.  The BLACK-THROATED SPARROWS there, were my first of the trip.
  Views from the eastside were incredible.  Unfortunately, my camera is a bit temperamental.  I didn't get any good shots of Mt. Whitney for example.
  Lone Pine was another stop for the night, camping out in the random sage again.  I got up at 5 am (what had become my normal schedule to beat the heat) and headed for Carl's Jr.  Don't worry, I had already eaten breakfast.  Folks had told me that the land behind this fastfood joint was good birding.  It sure was!  A BLUE GROSBEAK was a new bird for the year.  Again however, I missed another good bird that was supposed to have been around...Summer Tanager.  Maybe one will turn up again this year in Pescadero.  Slim chance, but I've got to hope.
  South to Ridgecrest.  GREAT-TAILED GRACKLE on the way down at Diaz Lake, well actually five of them.
  Ridgecrest was hot.  108 or so.  I got a hotel and tried to fix my flat.
  Up in the morning at 5 am.  Flat again.  Pulled lots of metal out of the tire, put in a new tube and started headed towards Red Rock Canyon State Park.  I got nine miles out of town and...FLAT TIRE AGAIN!!!  I didn't get it.  It was already 9:30 and nearing 95 degrees.  I was trying to get out fast, but had to hitch a ride back into town.  It didn't take more than 25 minutes to get a ride with a guy who was retired military.  He said he felt bad for me standing out in the heat.  He even took me to a bikeshop, where I learned I had pinched the tube when I replaced it and that's what caused the flat.  At least all the metal was out!
  Back out riding that same nine miles out of town.  11am.  Sure was later than when I had wanted to start.  Sure was hotter (100+).
   Now the heat is one thing.  I can handle a little heat, but when you add a headwind.  Now that's just cruel.  Fortunately, despite the Mojave being hot and desolate, I kept running into service stations at the right times.  I made it to Red Rock just in time to run into a couple of other birders from Sacramento.  The encounter went like this:
"Is that your bike over there?"
"Do you want a cold beer?"
"Wow... yes."

  Those sweet folks gave me one for then and one for after dinner too.  Wish I could remember their names.  (If you are reading, drop me a line and THANKS AGAIN.)  Nice moments in bike touring happen when you least expect them.
   Then we found out we were all birders...
  Too bad the birds were so quiet, it would have been fun to have all walked around together.  I birded the evening and the morning there and found a whopping 9 species.  At least there were a couple of CACTUS WRENS about.  
  Next day, I rode to Lancaster.  Near the town of Mojave, at 9:30 am, there was a WESTERN SCREECH OWL on an exit sign.  Pictures to come...  It was, in fact, my first screech of the year.  I never thought my first one would be in the Mojave Dessert.
  Okay... I've got to run.  I'll have to catch yall up the rest of the way soon.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Tahoe to Bridgeport

Well friends, I got my revenge.  In 2011, I did another bike tour in which I came up from Bridgeport and rode up Monitor Pass in a day that was hellish, brutal, but absolutely beautiful.  I had such a difficult time with that climb that I had a hard time appreciating how beautiful Alpine County really is.  Fortunately, just a few days ago, I camped near Markleeville (near the base of Monitor), and made it up without too much trouble.  It was beautiful up there too.  I got my sweet revenge on the other side of the pass, where I let myself have a bit of fun going down. 43mph of fun!  Kind of stupid, but I had to do it.  Don't worry Mom I make it a habit of going much slower down mountains usually.  This was a special situation.

  The past couple of days, I've hung out around the Bridgeport area, mostly just recovering from some hard riding. Once I made it down Monitor, I had a pretty strong headwind.  It got me down for about an hour, but I eventually snapped out of it.  Ah, the journey!
  Birding has been really nice here lately.  I camped out in the Pinyon Pine/Juniper last night.  This morning I started the day with a PRAIRIE FALCON flying right by camp at about 6:30 this morning.  Actually, I really started the day with a PLUMBEOUS VIREO singing outside of my tent (Thanks Peter!).  I took some time this morning to look and listen to the difference between them and Cassin's Vireos.  Plumbeous song seems to be a bit more slurred.  At least that was just my impression this morning.
  At last I found a JUNIPER TITMOUSE.  I tried to find one in 2011, but missed them.  This morning I finally found a small group of them.  I had been searching for them up the hill above my campsite until I realized that I was getting into more Pinyon and less Juniper.  I decided to go lower, and found more Junipers, and that's where those buggers were.
  One more cool find this morning was a BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER nest.  Very nice morning.
  Well, I'm off to Lundy Canyon this afternoon, then Mono Lake for a couple of days after that.

More when I can...

Friday, June 21, 2013

Sierra Valley to Lake Tahoe

Well readers, it was hard to say goodbye to the Field Campus, but at least the birding has continued to be good.
   I stopped in Carmen Valley which is situated just off of Sierra Valley.  The birding was a bit slow there, but I did find a beautiful MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD.  The first of many as it turns out.  I saw a bunch more as I rode up Smithneck Road the next day.
  I decided to camp in one of my favorite locations in the area that night.  There is a nice stand of aspen trees near the top of Antelope Valley Rd. where I camped a few times last year.  The birds are often active where a small seep flows into the trees.  I've also found bear tracks each and everytime I've gone there and this time was no different.
  Camping there was very nice once again.  I was anxiously waiting for dusk to come because I love watching COMMON NIGHTHAWKS in flight.  Finally, they came out, along with some COMMON POORWILL.  I slept well that night.
  Then next morning I took the back roads to Truckee.  This meant riding dirt roads towards Stampede Reservoir.  So along Smithneck Road leading out of Loyalton, I was able to find a few LEWIS'S WOODPECKERS (yes, of Lewis and Clark).  I also got looks at a couple of BLACK-BILLLED MAGPIES.
  Higher up Smithneck Road, there are some nice  meadows where the Nighthawks like to come out and fly around.  I watched for a while and tried to get photos.  They're a pretty difficult bird to capture with a small point and shoot camera.  They dart around quick and sometimes almost moth-like.  Several CLARK'S NUTCRACKERS (yes, of Lewis and Clark) were around the Stampede area as well.
   While riding way out in the middle of nowhere, a man on horseback passed the other way.  He looked like a real cowboy with his hat, boots and waxed mustache.  He had two other pack horses with him and what looked to be some oldtime camping gear.  He said, "Howdy" as we passed.  Turns out, I just read about him in the paper today in Tahoe City.  He's riding the original Pony Express Trail.  Wish I would have known at the time.  He would have be fun to chat with (hey Scot, think cowboy version of Catfish Keith).
  So I've made it to Lake Tahoe.  I rode into town on a bike trail along the Truckee River.  It was gorgeous and I was having a blast.  When I reached the Lake there was a farmers market going on on a beach on the lake.  Talk about idyllic.  I was so happy to be in Tahoe and able to buy fresh tomatos and basil.  I'm loving this trip.
   Tonight I'll be on the lake again at D.L. Bliss State Park, then on to Markleeville at the base of Monitor Pass.  I can't wait to get over to the east side of the Sierra. 
   I haven't done much birding in the past couple of days.  Mostly just getting around and spending some time in civilization.  I did see a FORESTER'S TERN on a buoy this morning. 

Talk to you when I'm on the East Side...

Monday, June 17, 2013

Sierra Nevada at Last

  I can't tell you how great it's been to be in the Sierra!  As soon as I hit the Yuba River, just beyond Nevada City, I was overjoyed.  Goodbye valley, foothills, and heat, I was ready for the mountains.
  Unfortunately, the heatwave lasted a few more days and my first couple days of climbing the Sierra were still in the mid 90s.  My attitude however, was much better as I climbed up out of the grasslands and into the Black Oak and Conifers.  As I rode up, CASSIN'S VIREOS and HERMIT WARBLERS were numerous.  Yellow-rumped Warblers also became prevalent.  By the time I got to Union Flat Campground on Highway 49, I was seeing and hearing almost the full compliment of mountain breeding warblers.  Two of these were MACGILLIVRAY'S WARBLERS and NASHVILLE WARBLRS singing about the campground.  A pair of AMERICAN DIPPERS were feeding a fledgling on the rocks in the Yuba River.  Always a fun find.
  Camping in Union Flat left only a short, uphill ride to San Francisco State's Sierra Nevada Field Campus.  I worked in the kitchen at the field campus last summer and was excited to be heading back there to assist Jim Steele with the Birding By Ear course.  The field campus is located right on the Yuba River at about 5400 feet.  It's an incredible place were folks come to learn about natural history out in the field.  Check out the website:

  The classes are fantastic, the food is great, and the community is inspiring.  This place draws some great naturalists and life long learners.  It's the type of place where you can run into people excited to collect fungi, stop and look at strange bugs, or sketch a flower they've never seen before.  Last year, I came home to the field campus one evening and found fifteen people surrounding a bright light and a sheet that was hung up behind it.  They were taking turns shouting out latin names of moths and other nocturnal insects coming to the light.  I thought, "Ah... I've found my people."  It was good to be back this year.

  With several days before the Birding By Ear course began, I set out to tune my ear to mountain bird voices.  The Lakes Basin near Sierra Buttes is an incredible place for birds, butterflies, and wildflowers (A dry winter/spring meant that the wildflowers and insects were pretty far along in their life cycles compared to last year).  I was surrounded by new song that I just don't hear down in the Bay Area.   FOX SPARROWS and GREEN-TAILED TOWHEES sang from the chaparral with the Buttes as a backdrop. CASSIN'S FINCHES and EVENING GROSBEAKS are common at the Field Campus' feeders.  This year, like last, there is a MOUNTAIN CHICKADEE nest in the wall of the dining hall.
   Yuba Pass, just five miles above the Field Campus, is known as a great birding hotspot.  I love spending time up there.  This year, there have been a good number of LAZULI BUNTINGS.  One can also turn up singing CHIPPING SPARROWS and LINCOLN SPARROWS.  This year, someone discovered a WHITE-HEADED WOODPECKER nest at the pass.  As of yesterday 6/16, it is still very active.  A single PINE GROSBEAK was a really fun bird to hear singing at the pass on June 6.  This was another bird I wasn't sure I was going to turn up for the year.
  There were several birds up here that I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to find.  Fortunately, word of mouth and bird listserves help considerably.  Bob Power found a WILLIAMSON'S SAPSUCKER at Packer Lake in early June.  I went up and looked around for an hour and was just leaving as the bird flew in to the east end of the lake.  A BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER was a bit out of place singing from a Lodgepole Pine just below Packer Lake.
  Another bird that can be challenging to see is the BLACK-BACKED WOODPECKER.  Last summer I had a handful of sightings over the course of three months.  Fortunately, after a few searches in the Bassett's Fire Burn area across the street from the Field Campus, I found one.
  The mix of mature Red Fir forests and more open chaparral habitat make this area a great place to work on separating HAMMOND'S and DUSKY FLYCATCHERS.  I find these species easiest to discern by ear though habitat and a number of visual cues help too.

   The Birding By Ear course went very well.  I believe we heard right around 90 species.  We saw but did not hear more than 30 species in addition to that.
  Birding By Ear, the course, meant a break from "birding by bike".  When we drove to Salmon Creek Campground for the class and saw a NORTHERN GOSHAWK fly by, I got nervous that I wouldn't see another one to count towards the big year.  Fortunately, yesterday 6/16, I saw one heading south at Yuba Pass.
  Another bird I just recently found was a SPOTTED OWL.  That bird was near Yuba Pass off of Haskell Creek Road.  I saw it fly across the sky as the sun was setting and the COMMON POORWILL were just starting to sing.  Riding back down Highway 49 at 10:30 pm was cold, but absolutely worth it.  Afterall, what can be more satisfying than a full day of bird finding and cycling?

  Well, I leave the Field Campus tomorrow.  I really feel that I only "missed (or "dipped on", as birders say) the Sooty Grouse.  I'll be going through some other mountainous areas, so I still have a small chance at seeing one.  It's pretty easy to let that one go considering I've seen so much up here.
  I'll miss the campus.  Many thanks to J.R. Blair and the Sierra Nevada Field Campus Staff for having me, Jim Steele for allowing me to help with the Birding By Ear class, and to all the eBirders out their who help contribute to the conservation database and make their sightings available to bird finders like me.

I'm off to Truckee, Lake Tahoe, Markleeville, and then the east side of the Sierra.

More from somewhere down the road...

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Through the Central Valley

Riding through Del Puerto Canyon was amazing.  Not only were all the birds great, but I got to ride downhill for miles.  When I reached the Central Valley, things got a bit more challenging.  Not only did I drop out of the mountains and into a heat wave, but there was also a headwind.  The first day through the valley, the temperature was around 98 F with a 15-20mph headwind.  The next day 98F and 10-15mph.  Finally, it cooled off the third day at 95F.  Yikes.  By the time I got to Grass Valley in the foothills, I was happy I was going to be gaining elevation and travelling east instead of north into the wind.
  The birding was minimal in through the Valley.  I did see two SWAINSON'S HAWKS somewhere along the San Joaquin River south of Manteca.  The only other bird I added to the list were some HORNED LARK through some of the agricultural fields in Lathrop.
  As I mentioned already, I've been in the mountains for more than a week.  There have been lots of great birds.  Details to come...

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The First Leg--Over the Bay and beyond

Howdy readers.  Sorry for the delay.  Biking and birding all day in the middle of nowwhere doesn't leave me with a lot of time, energy, or means for updating a blog.  I'll try to catch up a little bit now...

   I've made it to the mountains!  I'm writing from Sierra Nevada Field Campus near Yuba Pass on Highway 49 where I worked last summer.  I've been here for several days, but it's taken me a while to catch up on all of my eBirding (which allows me to keep track of my year list).
  So now that I'm caught up, I figured I'd better catch up on what my trip has been like so far.
  I left Pescadero on May 29.  It was a fairly short ride over to my friend Heidi's house who lives in Palo Alto.  I chose to ride up Alpine Road in order to go through Heritage Grove.  I like going through the old growth on my way out of town.  It's a nice farewell to the Redwoods.  
  After a fantastic stay with Heidi, I rode to Sunol to visit my friend Tanya.  Another amazing time with a great friend.  Both friends ended up feeding me really well to ensure the first leg would be well fueled.  Thanks Heidi and Tanya!!!
  After leaving Sunol, the birding really began.  I rode out to Mines Rd. that runs south of Livermore. That area of the coast range is spectacular, but also contains some very interesting species of birds.  PHAINOPEPLA were abundant on all of the elderberries.  I've only seen this species in the desert, so it was amazing to see them this far north.  I should have known that I would see YELLOW-BILLED MAGPIES in that area, but I'd never been to Mines Rd. before.  It was a great surprise to see this California endemic.  My first carbon-free GOLDEN EAGLE soared overhead a few miles up the climb along Mines. 
  I spent a good amount of time with all the RUFOUS-CROWNED SPARROWS.  I'd never heard this species before, so I wanted to make sure to learn the song.  Turns out, there seems to be a good amount of habitat on both Mines and Del Puerto Canyon for them.  My first WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH was also out Mines Road.
   It sure was a beautiful ride through the mountains.  I'll try to post some pictures soon.  I paid for it though, as I heard from one local that the road peaks out at near 3000 feet in elevation before dropping down to Del Puerto Canyon.  I rested at the top of the Mines before it drops down to The Junction (restaurant) at the corner with Del Puerto.  While laying in the shade at the summit, I heard both CASSIN'S VIREO and LAWRENCE'S GOLDFINCHES.
   I headed down Del Puerto Canyon after dinner at the diner and camped at Frank Raines OHV park.  Fortunately, there were no OHVs while I was there.  What I did find along the way were both ROCK and CANYON WRENS.
  The bird life was really nice there at the campground.  Being a semi-arid location, the plant life was quite different than the coast, which makes for interesting bird life as well.  All around the campground were LAWRENCE'S GOLDFINCHES and WESTERN KINGBIRDS.  I had been led to believe that it was possible to miss Lawrence's Goldfinches on this trip, but they sure were numerous in and around the campground.
  Waking in the morning, I continued the decent down Del Puerto Canyon.  It sure was nice to not have to pedal so much getting through that part of the mountains.  Downhill for many miles sure does make for some enjoyable bicycle birding.  There were a few interesting birds riding down along the creek in Del Puerto.  I got a nice early start in the morning and found several GREEN HERONS and ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHERS in various locations.  Probably the most surprising bird was a TOWNSEND'S WARBLER just a mile or so down from the campground.  It seemed a bit late as I would have thought the birds should have been much farther north by June 1.  There it was however, singing away in Del Puerto Canyon.
  Much farther down the road, where the grade evens out a bit I got a nice view of a GREATER ROADRUNNER.  I certainly hoped for this species, but as the morning got later, and I got closer and closer to the Central Valley below, I wasn't sure I would find one.  It was certainly a relief to add this fun bird to the years list, but even more fun just to get a chance to watch it for a while.  
  Graffiti Rock is a well-known landmark on Del Puerto Canyon for birders and apparently, local high schoolers.  I was told to make sure I check the Tree Tobacco plants for hummingbirds.  I missed Costa's Hummingbird, but did find a BLACK-CHINNED HUMMINGBIRD. 
  So Costa's was a miss, as was Yellow-Breasted Chat and Blue Grosbeak.  I'm not giving up on these three for the year.  I think I may have a chance for them somewhere on the east side of the Sierra.  I'll have to do my research once I get closer. 
  For now, I need to head out for a walk.  I'm not going to find a Northern Goshawk just sitting on this couch...

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

READY...SET...OH NO!!! and Adios Pescadero

The past few days have been quite exciting planning and packing for a two month long bike trip.  I think I have everything I need now.  I'll be leaving in just an hour or two.
  Yesterday, however, when I was just about finished packing, I thought I'd go out on a test ride with all my gear piled on.  As I grabbed my bike, I didn't realize I had placed my binoculars on top of the ride.  These beautiful ZEN-RAY ED3 8x43 binos fell straight to the ground.  BROKEN!!!  Out of alignment and broken glass.  Yikes.  A terrible catastrophe the day before leaving.
  So now I'm left with my old trusty, but crusty Pentax pair.  They get out of alignment all the time,  but one only needs to scroll the focus back and forth to get them to work again.  Hopefully, they will survive the next couple of months and perform how I need them too.  Otherwise, I'll be stalking bird with the naked eye and probably not seeing anything new.
  Well, I'm sure they will do fine.
   So I change the route slightly.  Tonight, I'll head to Palo Alto and stay with my friend Heidi.  Sunol the next day to stay with another friend, Tanya, who just started a farm out there.  From there, the birding really begins with a ride up Mines Road and Del Puerto Canyon.  It's a hotspot for sure.  I'm hoping for a lot of great birds like Roadrunners, Rufous-Crowned Sparrow, Lawrence's Goldfinch, Blue Grosbeak, Yellow-breasted Chat, and who knows what else.  A few hummingbirds would be nice too.
  After that, I'll charge up through the Central Valley.  Not really too many birding plans there, but who know.  I'm sure a Swainson's Hawk will turn up somewhere over there.

  Well, I've got butterflies now.  Did I pack everything???  Probably forgot something, but it sure will feel good to get out on the road.
  More soon I hope... Adios Pescadero!!!

May review.

While May can be a great time for finding birds, I focused a lot this month on finishing up the school year, planting a summer garden, selling my old volvo, and planning my big summer bike tour.  I got some nice birding in certainly, but didn't find too many of my own new birds.  I chased a few good ones though...
  BANK SWALLOWS at Ano Nuevo show up every year.  It's just a matter of getting down there.  Finding them isn't too hard since they nest in the bluffs above the beach.
  A ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK was found by Ron Thorn just off Stage Rd. on Pomponio Creek Rd.  It was easy to refind the bird fortunately.  These birds were certainly not a given for the year.
  An INDIGO BUNTING on Cloverdale Rd. was a great bird.  Some visitors from Ohio found it and fortunately they ran into George Chrisman a few minutes later who posted about the bird.  I got a few photos.  Maybe I can get them up soon.
  That same day 5/26, I went to Pigeon Point and saw both SOOTY and PINK-FOOTED SHEARWATERS.  Finally!!!  My first of the year for Pink-footed.
  The nemesis bird continues...  David Suddjian emailed me after he found a Baltimore Oriole less than a half mile from the house.  When I got the email a few hours later and rushed out.  The bird was gone.  Thanks for the heads up David, but this bird once again alludes me.


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Cool Big Year in Spain!

I thought I'd highlight that comment that came in from my last post in case folks missed it.  This guy's doing an EcoBig Year in Spain.  And while I haven't yet translated it into English, I'm sure somebody who's interested will figure out how to have google do it.  He's blogging in Catalan, but the pictures are really cool and I can't wait to get to read what he's up to.  Makes me want to go to Spain.  Especially considering he's up to 248 species and 2100 miles!  Holy shit!  Nice work Ponc!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Route planning for the summer

In less than a month, I'll be headed out on an estimated two month long bike trip.  I'll be making a giant loop around the state, biking, camping and bird finding.  My general route will be to ride from here to Highway 49.  I'll be headed to the Sierra Nevada Field Campus just below Yuba Pass.  I worked in the kitchen at the field campus last summer and so I birded the area with some great naturalists and birders last summer.  This summer I'm stoked to be helping out Jim Steele with the Field Campus' Birding By Ear course.  It's going to be a five day course that's designed to focus on the nice variety of birds that area has to offer.  Between that course, and a few days on either side of the course, I'm hoping I'll add some great birds in what is now somewhat familiar territory. It's going to be really nice to get back there.  Willow Flycatcher??? We'll see.
  After the Field Campus, it's down to Sierra Valley for some great birding, then up to Truckee and Lake Tahoe.  Somehow work my way over to Monitor pass and down to Bridgeport Reservoir.  I'd love to find a Juniper Titmouse spot, but it sounds like maybe that bird is a longshot or will just be too far out to the way.  Down to Mono Lake, Mammoth, then south into new territory.  In 2011, I rode through Yosemite and birded the east side to the Sierra.  I made it as far south as Mono Lake and then up to Bridgeport.  This summer, I'm excited to explore the east side south of Mammoth, then Bishop, then south along Highway 395 all the way around the Sierra.  I suppose that means I'll be bike through some seriously HOT parts of the state in July, but I'm really hoping to turn up birds like LeConte's Thrasher and Scott's Oriole.  
  From 395, I'll head south and somehow make my way into the Transverse Range.  My friends Scot and Kristin live in the mountains around Frasier Park.  I figure by that time, I'll be needing a break from biking and the heat.  I'll probably be needing a little company as well after all that time in wide open spaces with just me, the birds, and my bike. 
  From Scot and Kristin's, I'll head over to San Luis Obispo.  I'm still looking into whether or not it is feasible to ride through Carrizo Plain in the summer.  I just haven't looked up if there is water available or not.  
  Morro Bay and then the Big Sur.  I'm not sure if I'll add many birds on that last leg home.  By mid to late July, things might be getting quiet.  Hopefully there will be some surprises that make riding into the wind on the coast for 200 miles worth it.  Watsonville, Santa Cruz, then HOME.  I'm guessing 2 months on the rode and hopefully tons of great birds. We'll see.

  Well, in between now and then, I better get down to Ano Nuevo and look for a Bank Swallow.  Hopefully, I'll turn up some Swifts soon too.  I saw a Vaux's Swift today at Worley Flat during a May Day festival with all the local naturalists, but I drove to get there.  That's a bird I see sometimes only once a season around here.  I'm not worried about finding a Yellow Warbler or Western Wood Pewee.  I know they'll turn up soon.
  As a quick update, I saw an OSPREY lately at Gazos Creek Beach.  SWAINSON'S THRUSHES are abundant here at the house now.  Lately, I've heard OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHERS demanding beer (song:  "Quick Three Beers") and LAZULI BUNTINGS.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Spring and all

Spring has been beautiful for biking to say the least.  No all.  Fortunately, here on the coastside, things are still pretty green, but inland in California, the green is already giving way to brown.  The golden hills of California are on their way.  Seems like this summer, my ride east is going to be hot and dry.
  Birding has been good, though not outstanding lately.  Mostly it's been a lot of expected species adding to the total.  A couple of GRASSHOPPER SPARROWS have been nice birds to find on Bean Hollow Road. Savannah Sparrow sounds a bit like Grasshoppers, but tonight I was fortunate enough to hear both species singing in the same general area.   I got a decent look at the Grasshopper, but I have yet to get a really fully satisfying look at one after several years of detecting them.
  Lower Gazos Creek has been nice birding lately.  MACGILLIVRAY'S WARBLERS have stretched out along the riparian.  The hybrid ROSE-BREASTED/BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK is back in the same spot along Gazos it has been for the past three years.  Al Eisner and I found that bird several years back, but without getting a great look, called it a Rose-Breasted.  Another lesson in being more careful in IDing.  Seems I'll never learn (i.e. that Baltimore Oriole still stings)
  I'm still waiting for a few spring birds to come into the Pescadero area.  It sure would be nice to get something unexpected too, but that's just going to take time I suppose.
  More soon I hope.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Still at it--sort of

Well, almost a month ago, I sprained my ankle.   Bad.  I wish I had taken a picture of the aftermath.  My friends told me that my ankle "looked dead" at one point.  I've been living slow and pounding Ibuprofen.  I was saying, "Boo, Urns!"
  So that has slowed down the biking, which has done a number on my inspiration and dedication to a Big Year.  As my friend Bob Cliche told me, "No one said this was going to be easy."   Well, Bob was right.  Big Years are hard.    I'm just now getting back at it in a semi-serious way.  No big trips planned really.  I wanted to go back "over the hill"  (as we coastsiders say about going over the mountain to the San Francisco Bay) in order to see that Baltimore Oriole that I mistakenly called a Bullock's Oriole.  Alas, the first big miss of the year.  I'm not getting another shot at that bird this year.  Well...unless one decided to show up in Sierra County while I'm there like last year.
  Birds are just trickling in now.  In over a month since my last post, I have only seen 9 new species.  That's just they way it's going to go from here on out though.  Most of the easy birds have been found.  Fortunately, migration is heating up!!!  Wilson's Warblers just arrived in the past couple of days and Pacific-Slope Flycatchers got in yesterday.
  In other birding news, I'm excited to be co-leading a birding walk for kids with Francis Toldi.  We're taking a group of young birders out from the Peninsula School in Menlo Park.  Coyote Point should hold some great easily viewable birds for the young'uns.
  Hopefully, I'll update more tomorrow, as there have been some ridiculous whale sightings lately.  I've got a pretty good story!

Monday, February 11, 2013

My first trip over to the Bay

  All of last week, I was scratching my head trying to think where I could stay over on the San Francisco Bay side of the county.  There is zero camping anywhere over there, and most people I know live down farther in San Jose.  So, I signed up for and sent a message to a couple that live in the city of San Mateo.  WarmShowers is a website for bike touring folks to get a place to stay and a shower as they travel on bike trips.  I was stoked to find it, but didn't really expect to hear anything back.  So a couple of days later, on Friday, I was convinced that I wasn't going to ride to the bay.  So, at 9 pm Friday night, when I got the email from Brad and Joy in San Mateo, I was stoked. But, it made for some last minute frantic packing and a rush off to bed so I could get up early.
  I stepped outside on Saturday morning at 6:30 am to a NORTHERN PYGMY OWL calling in the foreground, with two GREAT HORNED OWLS calling more distantly.  A great start to the day, as I wasn't sure when I would get to hear a pygmy.
  I was pedaling a little before seven, and made decent time to get to Skyline Blvd. which is more or less the ridge or spine of San Mateo Co.  I'm not sure the elevation there, but it's probably around 1600 feet.  That mountain is kind of a funny boundary for a few species.  We, down here on the coastside of the county, don't get too many Nuttall's Woodpeckers or Oak Titmice for example, so I was excited to see and hear them both.  A HERMIT WARBLER was a nice find on the way down Old La Honda Rd. toward the bay.  
  When I finally reached the bay, I was very near the border with San Mateo Co., but in Santa Clara.  That is where the CAPE MAY WARBLER was.  YAHOO!  a life bird!  Those are getting few and farther between now.  I was so excited.  I was also stoked to find a female BULLOCK'S ORIOLE, out of season, but also in the same tree.  I found out later that another birder, John Sterling, found a female Baltimore Oriole at that location a few weeks ago.  That's too bad.  These two female orioles are VERY similar and since I have limited experience with female Baltimore's, I think I'm going to take my Bullock's off of my list.  At least for now, as I'll probably see another later, but what really bugs me is that I am not likely to see another Baltimore this year.  This one is going down as a ORIOLE SPP. I guess.
   Not realizing this fact yet, I was riding high and so happy to have seen a few good birds.  I added AMERICAN PIPIT and a ton of other great birds along the bay; especially shorebirds.   The next real stop was Radio Rd. to look at more shorebirds and ducks.  That spot is so packed with birds sometimes, but since I was there near low tide, most of the shorebirds were out scattered along the bay elsewhere.  High tide is a bit better.  And though I missed any Lesser Yellowlegs (kind of a hard bird anyway) and Barrow's Goldeneye, not all was lost.  A drake EURASIAN WIGEON was hanging with a few American Wigeon.  
  Well, that about did it for the day.  I was tired and ready for dinner, which went down quick. 
  After dinner, I found my new friends Brad and Joy, who, without knowing me, opened their door and gave me not only a bed, but great conversation and a nice way to wind down the evening.  Thanks again!!!
  Waking up in San Mateo made a huge difference in my ability to get up to San Bruno the next morning.  I set out for the Golden Gate National Cemetery, which is not ordinarily the type place I'd like to visit, but when there is a rare bird there, it turns into a great destination.  The target this time was a ROSS'S GOOSE.  I arrived at the cemetery feeling really good about the weekend and all the great birds I had seen, without any real disappointing misses.  
  So there I was, biking up and down through this national military cemetery.  For about an hour I was up and down, looking down the rows for the goose.  However, it wasn't as easy as I had hoped.  All the headstones were white marble, yup...the very Crayola color...Ross's Goose White.  I gave up.  I decided to head for the gate and start the 60 mile ride home.  Well, maybe one last look down some random cemetery row...
"It's like finding a Ross's Goose in a cemetery."
-Mark Kudrav

  The ride home was sweet.  Nice birding along Crystal Spring and San Andreas Reservoirs, and good punishing climbs over mountains.  Dinner, when I finally made it home after 4pm, was a banana milkshake.  

Just like old times

Last weekend (2/2-3/13), my friends Scot and Kristin came up for an Imbolc (half way point between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox) celebration and stayed with Claire and I in Pescadero.  These are old friends from back in the day when they worked at the outdoor school where I still work.   Scot and I were old birding buddies from back when we were just learning some of the basics.  I still remember very clearly learning how to tell Hutton's Vireos from Ruby Crowned Kinglets in Worley Flat together.  Since then we've had some fantastic adventures including a week-long camping/birding binge in all those great canyons south of Tucson.  It was awesome to have him back in the spot where he and I started birding together.  Plus, he's one of the only people that I know that can hang with a long birding/biking day.  Actually, he outlasted me this time.
  On Saturday (2/2), we headed out a bit before 7:30 and made for the coast.  It was fun to show him how my route had changed after all these years.  We caught up on good birds we had seen and a bit about his job working for the Tejon Ranch Conservancy.  We ended up getting to Pigeon Point Lighthouse for our first focused birding session.  We pulled up just as Garth Harwood was leaving.  It was slow in terms of numbers of birds, which is why Garth was leaving, but Scot hadn't been to Pigeon Point for a while, so we stuck it out.  Good thing we did.  We ended up finding a few Rhinoceros Auklets and two Northern Fulmars that joined a small feeding frenzy about halfway to the horizon.  One of the last times Scot and I birded there together, we wondered how anyone could identify things like Rhino Auklets so far away, so we left feeling good about the session.  We had to scoot quick too, as Garth came back to the lighthouse to let us know he had found a Glaucos Gull on Gazos Creek Beach a couple miles south.
  We didn't waste too much time pedalling down, but the bird didn't stay too long.  We missed it.  Drat!
  Onward to Cascade Ranch, otherwise known as Brussel's Sprouts National Monument.  This weedy ag. field is home to a Brussel's sprout composting heap that has been attracting good birds for about 10 years now.  Last year, a Harris's Sparrow turned up.  Years ago, a Hooded Warbler, not to mention, tons of other great birds.  Not a ton of birds were about for us that day however.  There was a beautiful White-throated Sparrow which was so bright it looked like it must have just recently molted.
 Returning home we took Cloverdale Rd. and Butano Cut-off Rd where Scot got a picture of this Accipiter.  It was a rock solid day and I was stoked to get to spend the day birding with Scot.