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.....

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