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.