Sunday, June 16, 2019

Post #160 - Eastern strays everywhere!

The following is quick recount of some of my recent adventures in bike-birding. I've been a bit of a message board vulture lately, so I need to find some good birds to redeem all the stuff I've been poaching! Anyway, on with the show.....

On June 6, there were two would-be new birds for my Bay Area bike list in the South Bay, a five-day-staying Indigo Bunting at the Stanford Dish and a day-before-discovered Eastern Bell's Vireo at Don Edwards in Alviso. My plan was ride south to Stanford, look for the bunting, and monitor the list-server to see if the vireo had overnighted. If it had - and I'd managed to find the bunting - I'd continue south to Alviso to look for it. That trajectory (map) was 64 miles and would require about 4.5 hours of riding. However, northwestern gales would build through the morning, so the longer it took me to find the bunting, the harder the return leg from Alviso would become.

The most direct path to the bunting and the vireo - 64 miles.

I left San Mateo at 6:30am, arrived at Stanford at 7:30, and found the bunting 8:30. With no reports of the vireo, I birded the dish to kill time and wait for news. Receiving none by 9:30, I rolled over to Shoreline and slowly birded my way north along the under the assumption the vireo was gone. Just before rejoined streets in East Palo Alto at 11:30, I checked the message board one last time. Wouldn't ya know? The vireo had just been reported! Worse, it had been present all morning! Had I immediately departed Stanford for Alviso I could have collected the bird and been nearly home by the time I received word of it. The problem is that it's really difficult for me to commit to a chase without knowledge - or at least suggestion - the sought bird is present because riding is so demanding and time consuming. I can't casually investigate as can folks in cars because getting anywhere is such a big production.

Indigo Bunting - Bay Area bike bird #284

Given the new information, I faced a difficult decision: return home without the vireo (mentally painfully) or turn around, retrace my tracks to Shoreline, continue to Alviso, tick the vireo, and then battle vicious headwinds all the way home (physically painful). I knew folding such a great Bay Area bird would bother me forever, so I activated Beast Mode and headed south.

Bell's Vireo sightings in the Bay Area and beyond - 
there aren't many, at least in eBird.

"I'm just chasing the vireo so I don't get fined"

With a decent WNW breeze behind me, into only took me an hour to reach Alviso from my East Palo Alto turn-around point. I heard the vireo calling as soon as I arrived, and I had eyes on it within 5 minutes. In traditional Bell's fashion, it preferred tangled foliage, so it took another 20 minutes to obtain an identifiable photo. As soon as I did, I remounted and began the long ride home.

(Eastern) Bell's Vireo - Bay Area bike bird #286

The slog was as rough as I imagined, particularly the southern/eastern half on the bayshore where I was exposed to the full force of the wind. I ducked into the neighborhoods at Shoreline, a strategy partially mitigating the breeze but subjecting me to traffic and lights in exchange. My return ultimately required 3 hours of riding, 50% longer than usual. I managed but was mostly incapacitated the following day. It was totally worth it for such a good Bay Area bird!

The path that actually transpired. The wind was 
blowing at a steady 15 MPH the whole return - ouch.

And since I've been presenting birds in groups of three for my last few posts, I'll throw in this American Redstart I poached in McLaren Park. Reported mid-morning on June 11th and just over an ride hour from my house, this bird was a no-brainer, even in the sweltering temperatures! 75 mins out, 45 mins to find the bird, and 60 mins home - easy!

American Redstart pursuit

American Redstart - Bay Area bike bird #286

OK, that's it. I'm off to Colombia for 3 weeks on Friday, so this will be the last post for a while. Cheers!

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Post #159 - More spring bike birding - the hits keep coming!

Two quick notes before I get into things:

1) My 2019 Colombia installment for Alvaro's Adventure's is sold out, but we've already slated our 2020 iteration for June 20 - 30. It will operate like a traditional birding tour and offer some really sweet photo ops for those that want to take advantage of them. You can do damage with a 100-400mm lens in the tropics (see below), so mark your calendars now!

2) I am leading a Cuba trip for Alvaro's Adventures in December. Access to this incredible birding destination is in constant limbo - as evidenced by new restrictions implemented by the Trump administration - so seize the opportunity and join us this winter!

OK, back to the bike!

The weather has continued to improve since my last bike-birding update two weeks ago, so I've undertaken a few longer rides to offset my newly-developed donut addiction. The first took me to areas south of San Jose to look for American Dipper and Black-chinned Hummingbird, two species I haven't seen in the Bay Area. Prior to this excursion, I'd only bike-birded the foothills as far south as Stanford, so everything beyond my alma mater was novel cycling. Foothill Expressway offered nice riding, and the residential streets of Cupertino and Saratoga were easy to navigate. The 35-mile outbound ride netted me 370 feet of vertical gain from 860 feet of climbing, but the hills were rolling and presented no significant impediment.

I arrived in Los Gatos roughly two hours after departing San Mateo and commenced my dipper search in the concrete flume south of town, an area recent eBird reports indicated the birds frequented. Those reports were spot on, and I found an adult feeding a fledgeling after just 20 minutes. I would have loved to see and photograph them in a more natural setting, but it was still really cool to watch the adult make repeated foraging dives into the brisk current.

American Dippers - adult (L) and iuvenile (R)
Bay Area bike bird #281

The dipper ticked, I jumped back on my bike and followed the very nice Los Gatos Creek Trail north into the San Jose sprawl. eBird showed scattered Black-chinned Hummingbird sightings from the Willow Glen area, so I kept on the pedals towards that vicinity. South of Campbell Park, I spotted a hummer with a very white breast and slightly curved bill collecting spider webs from a stone wall. It disappeared into some adjacent foliage before I could unequivocally label it a female Black-chinned, but I walked around the corner and found her building a nest right next to the bike path. Additional looks confirmed my identification, and I captured some record shots as she came and went from her nest over the next 20 minutes. The male was sticking to the tops of some nearby tall trees and didn't offer much in the way of looks or photos (all backlit). 

Female Black-chinned Hummingbird on nest
Bay Area bike bird #282

My second long ride targeted the Black-tailed Gull Chris Hayward and Malia Defelice found at Gazos Creek on Thursday, May 30. This bird presented three specific challenges. First, I received word of the bird to late to chase it on the day of its discovery. Second, it flew off soon after its discovery, so there was a good chance I'd be chasing a ghost whenever I tried for it. Third, the round-trip ride to Gazos is best split into two days because of the > 4000 feet of climbing its 80-mile length requires. It can be done in a day, but it's a lot of riding and doesn't leave much time for birding.

My solution to these hurdles was to secure a room at the Pigeon Point hostel for the Friday, May 31. That lodging would let me split the ride into two days and give me plenty of time to search for the gull. Irrespective of that long-shot bird, the ride would be welcome time on the southern San Mateo Coast, a inconvenient but beautiful geography I don't get to explore as often as I would like.

The gull had not been reported by the time I reached Half Moon Bay Friday midday, but there was substitute good news of Red Phalarope, a would-be new bird for my Bay Area bike list. My gull gamble instantly morphed into a phalarope pursuit, and I continued down the coast to tick a stunning Red for Bay Area bike bird #283. I spent the late-afternoon birding Gazos Creek Road, rechecked the beach before sunset (no gull), and retired to the hostel for the night. I made a final check of Gazos at sunrise the next morning (no gull) and retraced my steps to San Mateo by 11am. The weather held up both days, and the phalarope was a great consolation for my 94 miles of riding. So, it was a really nice ride despite the gull's absence.

Phone-scoped Red Phalarope at Gazos Creek Beach
Bay Area bike bird #283

Incidentally, I've seen the Black-tailed Gull once before (adult, Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, December 1998). Had it been an ABA bird, I most certainly would have driven for it. ABA birds are few and far between, so I don't think twice about driving for them (though I kinda regret not chasing that bluetail).  

OK, that's it for now. I actually added Bay Area bike birds #284 and #285 today, but those will be in the next update. Photography is hella slow now - I haven't taken real photo in 6 weeks - but I'm hoping to get a few keepers before I leave for Colombia in 2 weeks. So, fingers crossed.....