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!


  1. Very nice shots.

  2. Congrats! Sometimes takes me longer to drive to chase a bird because of traffic and crossing rivers via bridges where I live than you took to get the Ibis.