Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Post #133 - Bay Area Bike Birding update and related thoughts on the '5-Mile Radius' project

First - Please check out the Ecuador piece that I wrote for the Nature Travel Network. It distills my 5 Ecuador posts down to a much quicker read! 

Since I spent a good chunk of this past Saturday successfully chasing a continuing Broad-billed Hummingbird in San Francisco (a county first), I figured it would be a good time for an update on my most recent Bay Area bike-birding exploits. After that I'd like to spend a bit of time discussing the recently-popularized 5-Mile Radius and how it could provide the perfect gateway into bike-birding. Here's a map of my route to the hummingbird. It was 22.6 miles each way plus ~5 miles around Golden Gate Park afterwards for ~50 miles total. I didn't bother with the camera since it adds much weight for what would have been crappy record shots anyway.

My one-way route to SF. I rode in it 1:31 (15 
MPH ave), much faster than the 2:10 Google 
suggests. Return trip 15 mins slower with traffic.

Broad-billed Hummingbird was species #236 that I've found from my bike since moving to the Bay Area last May. The vast majority of these have been observed in my home San Mateo County, but I've tacked on a few additional birds by venturing into neighboring San Francisco and Santa Clara Counties. The most notable species that I've added so far, beyond the hummer, are Red-footed Booby, Dusky Warbler, Tufted Duck, and LeConte's Sparrow, the last of those being a county first and technically rarer in my home San Mateo than any of those others with at least 2 county records each. It's also fun that I've found pelagics like Ancient Murrelet and Buller's Sheartwater alongside the more terrestrial likes of Burrowing Owl, Lewis's Woodpecker, Lucy's Warbler, and Red Crossbill. So yeah, bike-bring around here is really good. I'm really hoping to fluff up my list this spring or summer with ~10-day loop to the Sierras and back, and I'm hoping to get my total towards 300 by year's end. That will only take a couple thousand miles of cumulative riding, so stay tuned.

California state view

County view

I am also hoping to join Bay Area bike-birders Josiah Clark and Rob Furrow on their annual spring bike Big Day in late-April. A recently-materialized trip to Honduras in the middle of that month might make that impossible, but I am going to do everything that I can to make it happen!

OK, with all that as backdrop, I want to discuss the recently materialized 5-Mile Radius (5MR). The idea of the 5MR is to outline a circle with a radius of 5 miles from your place of residence (or other point of your choosing should you live in an awful area for birding) with the hope that a small, well-defined, and high-localized geography will motivate at least some birding within it. For example, this is what mine would look like. If I wanted, I could shift this circle several miles southwest so as to include less bay and more mountains while still keeping my residence within it, for example.

I know at least some of you are asking, "Why would I want to restrict my biding to such a small area?" Well, I see at least two very important reasons one might want to give 5MR birding a chance. The first of these is that carbon emissions will be reduced versus always driving to farther flung places. While birding emissions aren't likely to be significant in the face of ever-increasing world petroleum consumption, we birders should at least think about modifying our collective driving behavior to minimize our environmental impact. Second, data collected in the 5MR are particular valuable as they are highly localized and specific and as such will greatly aid in local conservation efforts. One of the problems with birding data is that a lot of them come from just a few areas, or 'Hot Spots'. If everyone spent at least some time each week in his/her 5MR, we'd get a more even distribution of data than if everyone races to the same places to chase the same reported birds. Who knows? Maybe you'll find the next great migrant trap right in your own 5MR!

Pied-billed Grebe - Podilymbus podiceps
Canon 500mm f/4 IS + 1.4x III on EOS 5D Mark IV
1/1600 at f/7.1, ISO 800

I know that the 5MR flies in the face of the driving and associated no-holds-barred listing that motivates much of our birding behavior, but I think it is a really interesting idea, particularly when cross-promoted with the various forms of green birding (walking, running, biking etc). As no point in the 5MR is more than 5 linear miles from home, it would be very easy to bird most or all of it by bike or foot. I personally have an ~25MR that I bird almost exclusively by bike (it runs from SF to Pigeon Point or so). What time I spend outside that radius is usually photography-motivated, but I sneak in a bit of petroleum-powered birding on those occasions. So, and as per usual, I'm not advocating that everyone immediately give up his or her car, but I do think the 5MR offers the perfect opportunity to reevaluate at least some percentage of our birding behaviors. I must admit that I fly to several international birding destinations each year, so what I save on the bike I probably more than give back on the plane. Such is the cost of being human. Just something for me and everyone else to think about in this installment. 

Willet - Tringa semipalmata
Canon 500mm f/4 IS + 1.4x III on EOS 5D Mark IV
1/3200 at f/5.6, ISO 1600


  1. I am 100% on the 5MR bandwagon with all of the publicity it's been getting. I just hope I don't obsess over it too much at the expense of my greater green list!

  2. I'm also stoked on the 5MR. Since moving to Seattle in August I've been birding mine mostly by foot and bike. Up to 130-something species, including Swallow-tailed Gull (that one was a car twitch due to dwindling daylight). Glad to hear you're still pounding the pedals. Let me know if you come on up northwest.