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.