Thursday, January 24, 2013

Big Birding

Chasing birds has never been my thing (for those who don't know, "chasing" means tracking down birds other folks have already found).  Local birder and friend Peter Metropolis once said, "why would I want to go look for someone else's used up bird?"  I certainly agree that it takes a lot of the fun out of birding when you chase, but as far as doing a Big Year goes, especially a Green Big Year, I'll be chasing birds quite a bit.  I better get used to it.
  Last weekend, I rode up to Half Moon Bay.  I had two birds I was really looking for.  One was a Rock Wren that Barbara Kossy found on the riprap just above the beach.  The other were the Short-eared Owls that are seen at Wavecrest every winter.  I've looked for them before, but missed them every time.
  The ride up was fantastic.  I left after work, which means in the winter, I was riding partly at night.  It was so pleasant; nice and warm, minimal wind, Great-horned and Barn Owls along the way.  Kind of stupid is the 1 night limit that HMB State Beach has for hiker-biker spots, which I didn't know when I made my plan to stay up there for three nights.  I guess they are just trying to keep the transient type folks from setting up shop there.  It's really their loss. 
  Anyway, the reasonable camp host allowed me two nights stay.  That meant I could spend all day looking for HMB birds on Friday.  Friday morning started with the ROCK WREN at Miramar, right where Barbara found it.  I arrived at the same time that Al "Ears" Eisner (as I like to call him based on his birding-by-ear skill--last name pronounced "Eyes-ner") and helped him get on the bird.  He helped me find a Black-headed/Rose-breasted Grosbeak hybrid once, so it was nice to return the favor.  It was pretty cool to see a bird that usually hangs out in arid to semi-arid desert or alpine zone hanging out at the beach.
  On to Pillar Point, where the big wave surf competition would be happening in about 48 hours.  No swell at all while I was there.  Flat as a pancake really.  Highlights were a Spotted Sandpiper, Wandering Tattler, and a Sea Lemon (nudibranch) that I help a group of 1st-2nd graders identify on their tidepooling fieldtrip.  I wish I would have gotten to do that as a youngster.  Alas, I grew up in the mountains of Virginia.
  By days end, I made it to Wavecrest in HMB and saw a Short-eared Owl.  Finally!  After a few trips up looking for this species, I finally saw one shortly before the sun when down.
  I should mention, a big hearty thanks to J.R. and Annie for the resupply and wonderful dinner that night at HMB Brewery.  It was great to reconnect with friends and talk about our futures, science, educating kids and all kinds of other stuff.  Great company and good beer goes a long way in helping with a big year.
  The next day I made for home, skipping out on the Harris' Sparrow a mere 22 miles (one way) away.


Sunday, January 13, 2013

Quality Birding

Well, at this point, I'm averaging over a bird per mile (117species/110 miles).  If only I could keep this up and end with 3000 species for the year!  My guess is that I'll be right around 1 bird/10 miles in the end if all goes well.  We'll see.
  It's been a great weekend here.  I've been out Friday, Saturday and Sunday looking for birds.  A highlight, however, has to be getting a chance to bird with my friend Dan Irelan who's down from Alaska right now.  Last time we birded together was about 8 years ago, so it was great to spend time finding birds, talk green birding, and just catch up.  We birded Pescadero Marsh on Saturday with Jessica Pollock. It was wild to see a Peregrine trying to fly with a female Common Goldeneye that it got somewhere out over the ocean.  When we first saw it, I couldn't quite rap my head around what was going on.  I just saw a large raptor with webbed feet that could barely fly.  It was struggling to stay in the air, until it finally had to drop the duck.  According to David Sibley, a Common Goldeneye weighs 1.9 lbs while a Peregrine weighs 1.6 lbs.  No wonder.
  That didn't end the show however, as the Peregrine made it to land, a second Peregrine (an immature)came screaming over and attacked it.  The aerial maneuvers were incredible.  Seemed that the young bird won as the other bird u-turned out of there fairly quickly.  The Goldeneye, though still hanging out on the ocean, seemed to be doing just fine.

  I've been dreaming up a trip to Monterey for this three day weekend.  I'm not sure if it's feasible or not.  180 miles round trip.  The Arctic Loon found by the marina sure seems enticing, plus there are a few others that would be fun to see.  If not, maybe I'll head over to the SF Bay and look for a few birds that are much easier over there.

  All in all, it's been nice to cross over the first 100 species and first 100 miles.  I'm adding species quickly, which is expected at the beginning of the year, but that will change soon.  Strangely though, there is pretty minimal duck diversity around Pescadero these days.  I'm sure the blue-winged teal will show up soon.

 Oh yeah... my buddy Tod and I led an animal tracking inservice for my San Mateo Outdoor Education naturalist coworkers down at the beach.  It was sweet to see a Peregrine standing on the beach.  Tod got pictures of the tracks.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Full day of bike birding

  It's kind of a tradition for some birders, to go out on New Year's Day to see as many birds as they can.  Some go at it casually, others plan out routes carefully, making sure to spend only the allotted amount of time at each habitat or birding hotspot.   Big Days are what they are called.  Similar in concept to the Big Year of course.  I didn't exactly do a big day, but I wanted to make sure I didn't miss some birds that were unexpectedly around this part of California.  I didn't race around nearly as much as if I were doing a big day.  Not that the bike and these hills would allow me to race too much compared to the birders who were using their cars.
  But I can say that by all accounts, yesterday was a great day of birding for me.  Mostly I chased down local rarities found in 2012 on the Ano Nuevo Christmas Bird Count or from before.  Definitely nice to get some time looking at the ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK that Ron Thorn found out on Stage Road.  I lost the bird as it went over a ridge near San Gregorio, when suddently the bird flew right over me coming from behind.  I was left wishing my camera wasn't in the bottom of my panniers somewhere.  By the time I got it out, the bird was sitting on the distant ridge again.  And, wouldn't you know it, took off just as I was taking a picture through my scope.  Not sure how it turned out in the end.  I'll try to get the photo of it up as soon as I figure out how to do such things.
  Another great bird, actually the first I tried for was the BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLER that my friend Garth Harwood found up by his place about two weeks ago.  I rode my bike up to see the bird a few times at the end of December, but there is nothing like a little nervousness about having this (the first morning of a Big Year) be the morning that the bird doesn't show up.  It's a nice little nervousness and it keeps it fun.  As does watching bird behavior.  I've notice this bird following a Red-Breasted Sapsucker up a Sweetgum (Californians call it a Liquidambar I've noticed).  It was feeding on the dripping wells of sap that the Sapsucker had drilled.  A Ruby-Crowned Kinglet was doing the same (I've seen Chestnut-Backed Chickadees and Anna's Hummingbirds feeding that way in my garden too).
  Anyway, its cool to see another Black-Throated Blue Warbler.  The last one I saw was when I was a National Park Ranger in Isle Royale NP in Lake Superior. These guys bred there and became my favorite warbler.
  Those two birds,  the RLHA and the BTBW, I didn't get to see in 2011, so it felt good to see them this year.  Gives me hope that the 276 mark from my last effort will be surmountable.  I have a lofty goal of seeing 300+ this year, but who knows.  It helped that the YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER we found at my house on the Christmas Bird Count was still around.  Also the EASTERN PHEOBE was an easy bird to miss in a year of birding in San Mateo County.  Tons of other great birds too and lots that I missed.  None of the misses were critical in the sense that I won't see them again this year  (I'm knocking on wood right now so that the Harlequin Duck continues to stick around).
The Black-Throated Blue Warbler at Dearborn Park.  Photo taken by Chris Johnson.
  In total, after one day:  7 Hours birding/biking, 89 species, and 38 miles.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

1/1/13--Just after midnight

  Happy New Year!  I certainly meant to be in bed by now, but couldn't pull myself away from good company and a campfire too early tonight.  Looks like I'll get a little less sleep, but the BIG GREEN BIG YEAR is under way.  I stepped out of my house at 12:01 a.m. to hear a GREAT HORNED OWL (#1).  A great way to get the big year going.  My place is actually pretty good for owls.  Eventually, I hope to hear at least 3 other species of owls from the front step.  I love where I live.
  For now it's late so... Happy New Year.