Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Post #172 - 2019 Santa Clara Evening Grosbeak and 2019 bike-birding summary

I'm off for 16 days in Thailand tomorrow, but here's a quick and final post to close out 2019. I didn't do much bike-birding in the first third of the year, but a renewed commitment through the remainder yielded lots of birds and adventures, most of which I've chronicled in previous entries. I'd hoped to run my cumulative Bay Area Bike List to 300 species this year, but I fell just one short, the long-staying Evening Grosbeaks at Stanford checking-in at #299 on, December 12th. This winter is a mini-invasion for Evening Grosbeak, the usually more-alpine/coniferous finch making sporadic appearances around the Bay Area through November and December after after a several-year absence.

Evening Grosbeak Range (L) and Bay Area sightings 2015-2019 (R)
More info on Evening Grosbeak here.

Stanford Evening Grosbeak

Evening Grosbeak pursuit

With all the twists and turns, I churned out 2,086 miles of bike-birding in 2019, a total exceeding the 2,002 I logged last year. I spent comparatively less time in my home San Mateo County and correspondingly more exploring neighboring counties. Most notable were my first three trips over the Golden Gate to Marin (one in successful pursuit of Yellow-crowned Night-Heron and two failed in pursuit of Tricolored Heron) and a long, roundabout foray into Alameda to tick Bar-tailed Godwit. Incidentally, I chased only one bird by car in 2019 - Yellow-browed Warbler in the Sierras - and missed. At least I reconnected with loads of old friends in the bird's absence..... 

Bird added to my Bay Area Bike List in 2019

As I am now fully entrenched in the county listing game, here's a glance of where I stand to begin 2020. The 25-mile radius doesn't mean much - because riding distances aren't linear - but does give some sense of scale. Going north, it's 16 riding miles from home to the southern end of San Francisco and 28 to reach Marin via the Golden Gate. Going South/east, it's 16 riding miles to reach Santa Clara at the Palo Alto Baylands (and 30 to Alviso) and ~22 to across the Dumbarton Bridge to reach Alameda at Coyote Hills. 

Looking forward to 2020, I have several more ambitious overnight rides I'd like to execute.

1) A 3-day, 2-night loop going north into Marin (Feb 6), over the newly-opened bike lane on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge into Contra Costa County (Feb 7), and continuing to Arrowhead Marsh (Feb 8) for Nelson's Sparrow on the 11am high tide. That will leave me the afternoon of the 8th to continue south over the Dumbarton and back up the western shore of SF Bay to San Mateo. With ticks accumulated across Marin, Contra Costa (where everything will be new), and Alameda Counties, I should approach 1,000 county total.

2) A 4-day, 3-night out-and-back featuring Mines Road (Santa Clara) and Del Puerto Canyon Road (Stanislaus) for inland species including Swainson's Hawk, Greater Roadrunner, Costa's Hummingbird, Canyon Wren, Bell's Sparrow, Phainopepla, Lawrence's Goldfinch, Blue Grosbeak, and perhaps Common Poorwill. I'd go ~50 miles to Livermore on Day 1 and ~60 to Patterson on Day 2. That would let me do Mines Road in the AM and Del Puerto in the PM. I'd retrace those track on Day 3 and 4 to clean up whatever species I missed. I'd probably do this in early-May once all the birds are on territory. 

3) A two-day run down the San Mateo Coast to Año Nuevo to get Black Swift. I could also nibble on the northwestern edge of Santa Cruz County before returning to the Pigeon Point Hostel for the night. 

4) I'd also love to do a bigger loop around the North Bay to get into Sonoma, Napa, Solano, Sacramento, and San Joaquin Counties, but I can only dedicate so many days to this nonsense, right?

OK, enough. I will have a full photo recap coming, but that will have to wait until I return from Thailand. I thank readers for slogging through another year of what is mostly an on-line diary; I hope it provides at least a short refuge from the daily noise we are forced to endure at this least-inspired moment in American history. 

Monday, December 9, 2019

Post #171 - Bay Area bike birding - Tricolored Heron and Plumbeous Vireo

With my Bay Area bike list sitting 3 species shy of 300, I was stoked to learn about William Legge's discovery of a Tricolored Heron at Rodeo Lagoon in Marin County on November 10. There are only 3-4 eBird records from Northern California, the most recent from Point Reyes in 1996, so the regionally-rare bird would be a fantastic addition to my self-powered collection. There was, however, a major barrier to any pursuit.

(L) Tricolored Heron range adapted from this Cornell website
(R) California sightings adapted from eBird 

Knowing I'd be at the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival from November 5-10 and visiting my family in Philadelphia from November 14-19, I'd surrendered my painfully-neglected bicycle for major repairs before I left for Texas (on the 4th) on the understanding the overhaul would be complete by the time I returned from Philly (on the 19th). Though conceding the three usable days between the trips (11th, 12th, 13th) seemed a pittance against the guarantee of losing the bike for two solid weeks at a later time, the vagrant heron gave me the big fat middle finger by staying at Rodeo through those days. Adding insult to injury was the continued presence of Kevin Gin's coincidently-discovered Plumbeous Vireo in Santa Clara County. Like the Tricolored, the would-be-new-Bay-Area-bike-Plumbeous would need to stay until the 20th for me to have a crack at it. Needless to say, I was not optimistic about my chances to add either bird as I boarded my flight to Philly on the 14th.

(L) Tricolored Heron range adapted from this Cornell website
(R) California sightings adapted from eBird 

I monitored online reports of both vagrants from Philadelphia. Sightings of the Plumbeous ceased after the 17th, but those of the Tricolored continued through my travel day on the 19th, circumstances suggesting I prioritize that bird at my first chase opportunity on the 20th. Because I am a total dork, I also kept tabs on the San Francisco Red-footed Booby (November 8th, Peter Winch). That bird was also present through the 19th, so I swung through the city to tick it before continuing over the Golden Gate and into Marin for the heron. Red-footed Booby was not a Bay Area bike bird because I saw the Half Moon Bay individual in November 2017, but it was an SF County bike bird (#188).

Great day for a ride

Digiscoped Red-Footed Booby on Coast Guard Pier, SF

Once at over the bridge, I descended to Rodeo Lagoon where the heron materialized right on schedule!

Sadly, we all know people who've tried to pass photos of one individual bird as another, but I'm not gonna play you like that. This photo was taken on November 9th in Texas, my time at Rodeo on the 20th yielding no whiff of the Tricolored despite its presence for the previous ten days. It was a painful miss, but I was due for disappointment after a very lucky fall. At least I found a use for this otherwise random photo. The low angle in the above shot should be a dead giveaway its not from the Bay Area; its virtually impossible to get into the water/habitat around here to take good pictures of waders. 

BUT WAIT! THERE'S MORE! Though the Tricolored wasn't reported on the 20th, 21st, or 22nd, two independent reports on the 23rd prompted a second attempt on the 24th. And you know what? I missed it on that day too. I'd like to say I wouldn't bother chasing this bird again if it resurfaced, but I know I'd have a hard time ignoring it. I don't rarely chronicle misses - fortunately there haven't been that many - but I thought this instance absurd enough to mention. All this bike-birding nonsense keeps me in shape if nothing else. 

(L) Route on November 20th
(R) Route on November 24th

OK, but what about the Plumbeous? Well, that bird kinda fell of my radar in the wake of the time and energy I'd invested into the missed Tricolored, but a renewed spate of sightings between November 28 and December 4th prompted a much-delayed attempt at the long-staying bird on December 5th. I intersected the singing bird after an hour search, it offering great views foraged at eye-level in the parking lot adjacent to the area it had frequented for the previous 3 weeks.

Plumbeous Vireo - Bay Area bike bird #298

And because I'm now full-blown county lister - albeit with very limited self-powered reach - I detoured into the foothills and Pearson-Arastradero on my return to add a few more Santa Clara species, Ring-necked Duck, Hooded Merganser, and Purple Finch among them. Santa Clara bike list now at 184.

That's it for now. I'm hoping to crank out one more post before I leave for Thailand on the 18th, so please stay tuned for that. Enjoy the start of CBC season in the meantime!

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Post #170 - Photos of the San Francisco Rock Sandpiper. What is 'Image Design?'

I've always held shorebirds in high photographic regard (my collection here), but Rock Sandpiper, a North Pacific example, eluded my lens until this past week. A long-staying representative at Heron's Head in San Francisco glued to the terminus of the park's rocky peninsula for the past three weeks - the same individual I observed by bike on November 3rd and wrote about in my last entry - I decided a second, photographically-motivated visit in order. The bird was very tolerant of birding hoards earlier in the month, so I was optimistic I'd be able to capture some nice shots of the lingering rarity.

I had the end of the peninsula to myself when I arrived at 3pm on November 23rd, a brief search revealing the bird five feet from where I observed it during my first visit. I busted out my 600mm lens and began a leisurely game of cat-and-mouse with the subject sandpiper. It was as approachable as I'd hoped, and my lens quickly proved too much for a bird willing to wander with five feet of me. I swapped in my 100-400mm, that closer-focusing and more-maneuverable option proving a much better choice.

***click images for larger, more detailed views***

Rock Sandpiper - Calidris ptilocnemis
Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 IS II on EOS 5D Mark IV
1/1000 at f/7.1, ISO 1000

Obtaining a clean composition between rocks and shadows was challenging, but my patient, hour-long interaction yielded a couple choice opportunities. I avoided shooting the bird on the intermingled chunks of concrete because I don't want man-made objects contaminating my frames, and I thought the above example afforded and an accurate and attractive picture of the bird in its natural habitat. Importantly, I can see the bird's legs and feet amidst the seaweed, a critical consideration for my shorebird frames. I chose to use f/7.1 (versus wide-open and fastest f/5.6) to achieve a bit more depth-of-field across the seaweed. I didn't want to close down more - to f/8 or f/9 - because that would have compromised my ability to generate a smooth background, the water only a few feet behind the subject.

Rock Sandpiper - Calidris ptilocnemis
Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 IS II on EOS 5D Mark IV
1/1600 at f/7.1, ISO 1000

For this headshot, I crouched lower to shoot against more distant water; hence the more blurred background. I selected f/7.1 for this shot as well, but for different reasons than the first. In the full-body example, I wanted more depth-of-focus across the seaweed while in this I wanted more depth-of-focus across the bird, the focal plane compressing at this comparatively closer range. It would have been difficult/impossible to achieve critical feather detail on both the face and flank had I used a wider/faster aperture with less DoF.

With the two frames taken just moments apart and under identical lighting conditions, why did I use different shutter speeds at the same f/-stop and ISO? The exposure on the bird should be the same, right? Yes, but I selected the slower shutter (1/1000 versus 1/1600) in the first to get more detail on the comparatively darker seaweed. I could have raised the shadow/darks in the first in post-production had I used 1/1600, but that would have added noise to the lower half of the frame. Adding the extra light to get more detail on the seaweed meant I had to turn down the highlights on the comparatively lighter bird instead, but that is very easy to do in Lightroom and generally comes with little penalty in image quality (assuming the lights aren't completely saturated to start).

OK, enough. The point of all this is to take you through my thought process and highlight the importance of 'image design'. Good photographs don't just happen; they almost always result from creative conception, proper planning, and excellent execution. Having decent gear helps, but no camera is going yield a beautiful, high-contrast, color-saturated images in overhead sunlight, right? For this shoot, rubber boots and crappy pants were probably my most important gear! Proper photography, like hardcore birding, is a commitment!

OK, that's it for now. Hopefully it wasn't technical overload. Happy Thanksgiving either way.....

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Post #169 - An incredible 24 hours of bike-birding!

The weekend of November 2nd and 3rd was epic bike-birding, my wheels put into eventual motion by the discovery of a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (YCNH) on the Sausalito waterfront in Marin County on Monday, October 28. As the species hadn't been reported in the Bay Area during my two-and-a-half-year San Mateo tenure, I immediately consulted eBird for context, my investigation revealing only four records from the extended Bay Area and none since 2005. To put that into paucity into perspective, there are multiple Bay Area records of White Wagtail and Dusky Warbler since the last YCNH sighting.

(L) YCNH range map adapted from this Cornell Lab page
(R) Bay Area YCNH sightings extracted from eBird

I didn't have time for the 65-mile round-trip YCNH chase during the week, but I watched eBird reports roll-in through the next few days, one noting, "residents say the bird has been here for years." That remark floating my hopes until Saturday, I set off at 1pm after leading a morning bird walk at Coyote Point. Lodging secured in Mill Valley, I'd have Saturday afternoon and most of Sunday to find the bird. The ride would be my first bike trip across the Golden Gate, so I'd enjoy initiating the Marin arm of my Bay Area bike list with or without inclusion of the sought YCNH. I'm going to place quick pause on YCNH for a second........

While my YCNH plans were crystalizing through the week, Richard Bradus found a Black-and-white Warbler (BAWW) in Alta Plaza in downtown San Francisco on Thursday, October 31. A follow-up  report on Friday suggested I swing through the park en route to Marin and the YCNH on Saturday, a decision rewarded when the high-contrast passerine revealed itself without ten minutes of delay. Like Chestnut-sided Warbler from the last post, BAWW is a common stray from the Eastern US, one I hadn't chased previously but knew I'd intersect eventually.

(L) BAWW range map adapted from this Cornell Lab page
(R) Bay Area BAWW sightings extracted from eBird

Digi-binoc'd Black-and-white Warbler - Bay Area bike Bird #295

The bonus BAWW ticked, I rolled through the Presidio and across the Golden Gate Bridge. This was only my second time biking across the famous span, the first occurring on the San Francisco leg of my 2014 bicycle Big Year. Like that first crossing, my second was graced with blue skies and killer views!

Touching down in Marin, I descended through Fort Baker, dodged tourists through Sausalito, and rolled into the waterfront community the YCNH had frequented since its discovery - and possibly longer if the quoted resident is correct. I hadn't dismounted my bike before spotting the heron standing on porch railing, the bird basking in the afternoon sun for the next half hour. I was joined by some other folks, and we enjoyed point blank views after the bird flew over the shoreline we occupied. After watching a ~10 year old girl walk with six feet of the bird, I totally buy the claim the bird has been around for a while. It literally couldn't care less about people. It's crazy to think this amazing bird lurked unreported (though not entirely undetected) for so long. It will be interesting to see how long it sticks around. Departing the heron, I spent the remaining 1.5 daylight hours exploring the Sausalito Shoreline, Bothin Marsh, and Bayfront Park before retiring to Mill Valley for the evening.

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron - Bay Area bike bird #296
Very obliging for digi-scoping....

My plan for Sunday was to explore Tennessee Valley, Rodeo Lagoon, and the Marin Headlands before re-crossing the Golden Gate in the early afternoon, but a late-Saturday report of Rock Sandpiper (ROSA, found by Teresa Ely and Ben Dudek, 1st SF record) from Heron's Head Park in San Francisco demanded attention. A mostly-Alaskan species, ROSA reaches down the coasts of British Colombia, Washington, Oregon, and California in winter. The Bay Area represents the extreme southern end of that non-breeding range, and the species had not been recorded in the area since I moved here in May of 2017 (there was one Farallon bird in that time - and another last week).

(L) ROSA range map adapted from this Cornell Lab page
(R) Bay Area sightings (all) extracted from eBird

I decided I'd bird in Marin Sunday morning while I awaited news of the ROSA - I didn't want to quit Marin without knowing the sandpiper was present - but an early 6:30am confirmation sent me scampering towards the Golden Gate right at sunrise. Reaching the bridge at 7:10, I was informed both Golden Gate foot/bike paths would be closed until 10am because of a running race. As I was unwilling to utilize the courtesy bike shuttle to cross the bridge - gotta keep it 100% self-powered - I suddenly found myself with three hours to kill on the Marin side. Dropping to Rodeo Lagoon, I enjoyed beautiful and productive coastal birding while I awaited the 10am opening, all the while hoping the ROSA stayed put.

Rodeo Lagoon

Rodeo Beach

With my time at Rodeo, I was able to run my virgin Marin County bike list to 81 species. (I saw ~140 on a Marin County bike Big Day with Josiah Clark and others in April, but I had to drive from San Mateo for that event, a circumstance rendering those birds excluded from my fully-green Bay Area biking project.)

The bridge finally opened, I fought through traffic lights and fended-off weekend drivers to reach Heron's Head at 11am. There wasn't much drama, the ROSA sleeping at peninsula's terminus as half-a-dozen birders gazed onto it. This was only my second encounter with the species, my first on the Humboldt Jetty in January 2011, and it was fun to observe this individual at such close range. The bird spend most of its time resting, but I had a few quick full body views as waves occasionally forced the bird to reposition itself. The close views were a great cap on an awesome weekend on the bicycle.

The end of Heron's Head Park. Bird was on
shoreline directly over my handlebars.

Rock Sandpiper - Bay Area bike bird #297

So, a ride conceived around (a potentially very long-staying) Yellow-crowned Night Heron additionally yielded Black-and-white Warbler and Rock Sandpiper. A pretty solid hat trick.....

~80 miles with doubling back and screwing around

Those birds leave me three species shy of 300. Upcoming travel will probably delay reaching that plateau into the New Year, but it will be a great feeling when it does finally happen. I'm amazed I've been able to find (and by find I mean 'chase') enough new birds to generate blog content through the summer and fall. I'll have to get more creative as new birds become fewer and farther between. Cheers!

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Post #168 - Hybrid post: Half Bike-birding, Half Photography (Godwitpalooza!)

I don't know about the rest of California, but a number of long-time San Mateo County birders have lamented a historically-slow fall migration in our parts. I struggled to find Yellow and Orange-crowned Warblers on many days, and the county felt generally devoid of vagrants with the exceptions of southwestern strays Lucy's Warbler and Vermilion Flycatcher, both at Coyote Point. San Francisco seems to have experienced a decent fall push from what my inexperienced can discern from message boards, but I'd be interested to hear about migration in other parts of the Bay Area or Golden State.

That question posed, I did add Chestnut-sided Warbler (CSWA) to my Bay Area bike list (#293) in Golden Gate Park since my last post. Initially reported on October 9th, the bird continued through the 11th at North Lake where I caught up with it. The eastern CSWA regularly stays to California in fall, and I'd passed on several opportunities to pursue the species knowing others would present at more opportune times if I didn't find my own example in the meantime. The below eBird graphic reveals lots of Bay Area sightings, the orange pins representing those between September 11 and October 11 of this year, so it was inevitable I'd intersect the species at some point.

Bay Area eBird CSWA records and the GG Park bird I observed

The 43-mile round-trip took ~3.25 hours 
with traffic lights and other nonsense.

Less likely in the Bay Area was Hudsonian Godwit (HUGO, #294), a tundra nester which migrates through the center and eastern parts of the continent, and the bird hadn't been recorded in San Mateo County prior to October 14th, the day when Dan and Dave Sidle found one on Tunitas Creek Beach. I was having lunch with Alvaro Jaramillo in Half Moon Bay when the belated report came through midday on the 15th, but I passed on driving for the would-be state bird that afternoon despite dining just 8 miles from it. Instead, I biked the 22 miles from my apartment the following morning, the 16th. I reached Tunitas at 8:45am and immediately intersected die-hard California county birder Jim Lomax as he exited the beach. When the crafty veteran informed me the HUGO had been joined by a Bar-tailed Godwit* (BTGO, initially noted by Dave Webber), I raced down the bluff to observe both vagrants associating with ~40 Marbled Godwits (MAGOs). It was a pretty incredible morning. 

*Some might recall my successful pursuit of BTGO in Alameda County in July. With details about that Alaskan/Eurasian vagrant at the link, I won't rehash them here.

 L to R: Jackass, Lomax, HUGO, BTGO, MAGO

Hudsonian Godwit migration and California eBird records.
Left image modified from this website. It has much HUGO info.

44 miles round trip, two climbs over Route 92.

As you can see from the above phone-scoped shots, I did not have a DLSR with me on the bicycle. (I carry binoculars and scope+tripod or 7D2+100-400, depending on where I'm going.) The vagrants and attending MAGOs seemed very comfortable with birders and photographers during my bike-based visit, so I returned in the car with my big rig the following morning. Zero beachgoers and a relatively flat-pitched beach made for fantastic shooting, and I was able to walk out with nice shots of Hudsonian and Bar-tailed. Here are four of the better frames, the last being my favorite. Fog and cloud made for constantly shifting light and backgrounds, so each shot has a slightly different feel to it. Marbled included mostly for reference.

***click images to see larger***

Marbled Godwit - Limosa fedoa
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS 1DX2
1/3200 at f/5.6, ISO 400, manual mode

Hudsonian Godwit - Limosa haemastica
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS 1DX2
1/3200 at f/5.6, ISO 640, manual mode

Bar-tailed Godwit - Limosa lapponica
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS 1DX2
1/3200 at f/5.6, ISO 640, manual mode

Bar-tailed Godwit - Limosa lapponica
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS 1DX2
1/2500 at f/5.6, ISO 800, manual mode

Monday, October 14, 2019

Post #167 - Early-fall bike-birding update

Well, without my childhood Philadelphia Phillies or my adopted Boston Red Sox in playoff contention this fall, it's been a steady diet of migration through September and into October. We've had a some nice surprises on the peninsula, and this quick post will highlight three I've intersected on my bicycle. 

I've poached a lot of previously found/reported birds in the last few months, so it was nice to find my own Lucy's Warbler at Coyote Point on September 9th. eBird reveals 1 to 2 Bay Area sightings a year for the last ten, almost all between September and February, so the species is rare but regular around here. The last San Mateo County record was from February of 2017 (I was still living in LA), and I intersected my Bay Area bike-first at a Lake Merced stakeout in San Francisco in December of that year. So, the Coyote Point bird wasn't new for my cumulative Bay Area bike list but was new for the San Mateo County subset of that project (#261). Can't argue with convenience.....

Lucy's Warbler range (left) and Bay Area sightings (right)

Heavily cropped Lucy's Warbler record shots

Coyote convenience........

Coyote Point delivered again on September 22 when Ron Thorn found a Vermilion Flycatcher 50 feet from where I found the Lucy's. Another generally desert/southwestern species as far as the US is concerned, the bird appears in the Bay Area slightly less frequently than Lucy's Warbler. A cooperative adult male spent 8 weeks at Joseph Grant County Park east of San Jose between July and September, but I couldn't afford the overnight chase that individual would have required. I learned about the more convenient Coyote Point bird fifteen minutes after its discovery, and my understanding wife granted me a stay on chores while I tried for it. ('Understanding' is probably the understatement of the century given that she let me ride away for a year in 2014.) I relocated the bird near its discovery point moments after arriving, clicked a quick record shot, and raced home 10 minutes later. It was a shameless tick-and-run, but that's what circumstances dictated.

Northern part of Vermilion Flycatcher Range (left)
All Bay Area eBird records (right)

A distant and heavily cropped Vermilion Flycatcher record shot.
Bay Area bike bird #291

I'll move from San Mateo to San Francisco for the final bird of this installment. Yellow-green Vireo is a Mexican and Central America species which is rare but regular along the California Coast; between 0 and 3 individuals have been eBirded from the Bay Area each of the last ten falls. A Golden Gate Park representative was discovered on Friday, September 27th and remained until Monday the 30th when I was able to catch up with it near Stow Lake. The vireo is one of only a handful of ABA coded birds I've observed from my bike in the Bay Area - Tufted Duck (3), Red-footed Booby (4, discounting Hawaii), Ruff (3) Dusky Warbler (4) - so it was really nice to add it after the 3-day delay. Interestingly, the only other time I've observed this species was in San Diego during my 2014 bicycle Big Year. So, yeah, there's that useless bit of trivia. 

Yellow-green Vireo range (left) and California eBird records (right)

Yellow-green Vireo - Bay Area bike bird #292

My Yellow-Green Vireo chase

And since I've offered only crappy records shots, here's a proper frame to end. Cheers.....

Marbled Godwit - Limosa fedoa
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/5000 at f/4.5, ISO 400, handheld
Click image for large/better view

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Post #166 - Late-summer Bay Are bike-birding update

I'd like to apologize for withholding the bike-birding goodness I dispensed through spring and early-summer. Production took a bit of hit after my Bar-tailed Godwit triumph because I was traveling and moving, but I've been able to crank out a fresh batch by cobbling together some late-summer highlights. Please use sparingly; otherwise you might find yourself pedaling great distances in search of birds!

Roody the Beagle tries bike-birding!

Anyway, let's start with Semipalmated Sandpiper (SESA), a mostly central and eastern shorebird which puts in regular fall cameos along the Pacific Coast. The bird is annual at the bottom of San Francisco Bay between late-July and mid-September, but rides in that direction are tough from San Mateo; it's ~60 miles round-trip and the return 30 are usually plagued by northwestern headwinds which gather through the day (recall my Bell's Vireo ass-kicking in June). Fortunately, Dominic Mosur found a SESA at Yosemite Slough in SF, a location just 17 miles north of my apartment (return ride with tailwind). The report came in late on July 23, and I wasn't able to try for it on either the 24th or 25th. However, a second sighting from late on the 25th suggested I make an attempt on the morning of the 26th. That proved a wise decision, and I found the bird foraging on the same shoreline from which the previous reports came. Fortunately, I had a better view of the bird before I took the fairly awful shot below.

Phone-scoped Semipalmated Sandpiper - Bay Area bike bird #288

My 34-mile ride to Yosemite Slough for Semipalmated Sandpiper

SESA claimed, I shifted my attention to Wilson's Phalarope (WIPH), another shorebird which visits San Francisco Bay between late-July and mid-September. Reports of dozens or hundreds of individuals from from Sunnyvale and Alviso are fairly common, and all it takes to find this bird is to make a concerted effort in those areas during the indicated season. I figured I'd search for WIPH while pursuing something more pressing, like SESA, but unusually light winds made July 28 ripe for a dedicated effort. I had no difficulty finding a group of 23 birds in Sunnyvale, and I took an extended detour on the way home to add Pygmy Nuthatch to my Santa Clara County bike list. I've fallen into the county bike-birding trap, but only for San Francisco, San Mateo (homebase), Santa Clara, and Alameda, at least for now.

Phone-scoped Wilson's Phalarope - Bay Area bike bird #289

My 58-mile ride to Sunnyvale for Wilson's Phalarope

I'll round out this set with the Common Tern (COTE), an uncommon species here in the Bay Area. They're mostly likely to be encountered offshore on fall pelagics, but they occasionally grace the front beaches and SF bayshore. Ron Thorn noted a COTE at Coyote Point County Park on August 21, and I encountered what I assume was the same individual in the course of some general birding at the same site the following afternoon. Coyote Point is just 3/4 mile from my apartment, so it was really nice to add a 'free bird' after organizing and expending effort to ride for the previous two!

Phonescoped Common Tern - Bay Area bike bird #290

That's it for this installment. Fall is sure to deliver at least a few surprises, so I'll cook-up another update as birds materialize. Only 10 species more to reach 300 self-powered Bay Area birds!

Oh yeah, my favorite shorebird subjects have returned to SF Bay for the winter after their breeding absence. Here are two from the first September tide cycle at my local spot. The tides are only right 4 out of every 14 days, so it's a burst of shooting followed by a bunch of waiting. Second cycle hits Sept 28-31, so stay tuned for more. 

Willet (L) and Marbled Godwit (R)