Sunday, May 26, 2019

Post #158 - In hot pursuit of unusual Bay Area birds - on a bike!

Between crappy weather and non-birding responsibilities (book writing, see last post for update), bike-birding has been relegated to an occasional distraction in 2019. However, I've recently dusted-off my legs and worked my way back into the game with a few a notable chases. Read all about 'em!

Bay Area bike bird #278 - White-Faced Ibis at Candlestick SRA, May 11, 2019

This bird was discovered on Friday, May 10th and spent the whole afternoon obliging SF County birders before reportedly flying off in the evening. It was the first White-faced Ibis reported near my San Mateo home base in the two years I've lived here, so I decided to look for the bird the following morning despite the discouraging end-of-day news. There isn't much habitat along that heavily developed stretch of bayshore, so I thought there was a decent chance the bird would return to the small pond from which it flushed.

My White-faced Ibis pursuit
16.5 miles each way for 33 total - easy!

The ride to Candlestick State Recreation Area was a flat 16.5 miles and took just over an hour each way (I ride much faster than Google's predictions). I wasn't very familiar with the area, but I found the referenced water feature without much trouble. The returned/reappeared ibis immediately sauntered out of the reeds, and I captured a few phone-scoped shots as a reward for my efforts. I spent another two hours birding the park and biked home. It couldn't have worked out better given the bird's disappearing act the previous evening!

Pond/puddle hosting the ibis

White-faced Ibis (phone-scoped)

Bay Area bike bird #279 - Yellow-breasted Chat at Pescadero, May 17th, 2019
This bird was also found on Friday, May 10th, but I prioritized the White-faced Ibis because of proximity. The ride for the YBCH would be much longer, and I didn't want to undertake it without follow-up reports. Those established a pattern in the next few days, so I decided on Thursday the 16th I'd give the bird a try on Friday the 17th. Partly sunny skies and temps in the high 50s would make perfect riding, and the forecasted west winds wouldn't impede either the southbound or northbound leg, an important consideration given the hilly terrain I'd need to overcome. You can see the elevation profile on the map below - 3,855 feet of climbing, ouch!

My Yellow-breasted Chat pursuit
32 miles each way for 64 total

Can't beat biking the San Mateo Coast

I left my apartment at 6:50am, climbed over the mountains on Highway 92, and continued down the coast to Pescadero. It took 2 hours and 20 mins of uninterrupted riding to cover those 32 miles. The bird was very vocal when I arrived, and I was able to get eyes and camera onto it without much effort.

Yellow-breasted Chat

I birded the area until 10:45 before beginning my return ride. Even with a 45-minute lunch break in Half Moon Bay, the second crossing of Highway 92 was excruciating and required a rare 15-minute recovery at the top (not in my best shape at the moment!). By the time I reached my apartment, it was 2:45pm, ~8 hours after I departed. Subtracting the hour-and-a-half of birding and the combined hour of recovery on the return ride, the 64-mile trip (and 3,900 vertical feet of climbing) required 5 hours 30 mins (2:20 out, 3:10 return) of active riding. Now you understand why I have to be very careful to pick my moment on these longer chases. Besides being exhausting, they eat up the whole day!

The day's only negative was this car-killed Rose-breasted Grosbeak I found on Highway 1. This species is generally restricted to the Eastern United States, so it's unusual in California. Woulda been a new bird for my Bay Area bike list - ugh.

Road kill Rose-Breasted Grosbeak and range map

Bay Area bike bird #280 - Gray Flycatcher, McLaren Park (SF), May 20, 2019
This bird was posted to the list-serve around 11am, and I shot out the door when I saw the post at 3pm. The ride was basically identical to my White-faced Ibis chase, so it was a no brainer to undertake it. There was a fair bit of north wind impeding the outgoing leg, but 70 minutes of riding and 5 minutes of birding yielded the bird from the exact spot it was reported. I stuck around a few minutes, jumped back on the bike, and made it home in 57 minutes. These short chases are great since they get me out of the apartment but leave lots of time to get work done!

My Gray Flycatcher pursuit 
15.5 miles each way for 31 total

Gray Flycatcher

So that's what listing on a bike looks like. I might be able to squeeze in a few more chases before I head to Colombia for three weeks in late June, but I'll have to see what turns up and how much time I have. Stay tuned!

The best part of bike-birding? No guilt!

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Post #157 - An update on my book and a bunch of photos!

First, I want to apologize for the lack of recent content. I've been directing all my efforts into my book, and terrible weather since January has reinforced writing as a more productive use of my time than biking, birding, or photographing. I have, however, received several recent inquires about book progress, so I'll use this post to offer a quick update. These questions have commonly taken three forms, so let's start with those, cool? 

1) What is the book about?
2) Why is it taking so long?
3) Do I have a publisher?
4) What is the title?

Since all words and no pictures is no fun, I've interspersed a bunch of pictures I took on Dauphin Island, Alabama where I gave a lecture for the Alabama Ornithological Society in mid-April. It's a great place to photograph shorebirds (and view neotropical migrants!). All of the shown birds are molting from basic into breeding plumage.

***click on all images for larger, higher resolution views***

Short-billed Dowitcher - Limnodromus griseus
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/4000 at f/7.1 ISO 640

1) What is the book about? 
Most generally, this book is about my 2014 bicycle Big Year. However, it is less a bird-by-bird account of my uniquely self-powered effort and more a story of adventure and personal discovery. I use the bicycle as a vehicle to explore physical space (i.e. bird my way around the country), and I augment that primary narrative with a more personal history of my alcoholism and the insecurities which fueled it. My task is very ambitious, especially for a first time writer, but I feel I have finally struck an appropriate balance of biking, birding, character development, observational meditation, humor, and personal introspection. I think my story will have appeal well beyond the traditional birding market, so it's important I take my time and get it right if I hope to align my work with other successful memoirs.

Short-billed Dowitcher - Limnodromus griseus
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/4000 at f/7.1 ISO 640

2) Why it is taking so long?
I worked (and commuted) 60 hours per week in LA during 2015 and 2016, so I made minimal progress in the two years following my adventure. I produced a very poor first draft during that time, largely based on bad guidance, and I scrapped 95% of it when I left LA, moved to SF for my wife's job, and started writing full time in May of 2017. My second version, written from May 2017 to May 2018, was much better, but I did zero work on the book from June to October because of my Colombian consulting gig with Audubon Society. That four-month hiatus was surprisingly helpful, and things really clicked when I began a heavily-revised and structurally-streamlined third draft in October of last year. I've been on a roll since then, and I have 20 of 28 chapters in a form I feel worthy of agent/publisher attention. Writing about my alcoholism - and all the problems it caused - in an open an honest way is also really draining, so I can only stand so much each day.

Semipalmated Sandpiper - Calidris pusilla
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS 5D Mark IV
1/3200 at f/5.6 ISO 640

3) Do you have a publisher yet?
I am just beginning to think about publishers. I knew writing would be a very protracted process, and I wanted to allow time to find my voice and develop a narrative structure to articulate it. Fortunately, my wife has a great job and has been very supportive, so I haven't needed to rush a substandard product to agents/publishers (which they'd reject anyway). I am currently working with someone who deals with New York publishing houses and knows this literary space very well, so I am hopeful something will pan out. I am confident someone will publish this book; I just have to be patient and connect with the right person if I haven't already found her.

Short-billed Dowitcher - Limnodromus griseus
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/3200 at f/8, ISO 1000

4) What is the title?
I do, but it's top secret! I will tell you it doesn't reference birds or birding. I have a couple of backups but will ultimately defer to whatever a publisher thinks best.

So, that's my life right now: lots of writing, a bit of birding, and not much shooting since all the shorebirds and ducks have migrated away! I hope to crank out at least more entry this month, so please stay tuned for that!