Friday, July 26, 2019

Post #162 - Epic bike-birding battle with Parakeet Auklet

There have been some epic rivalries in my lifetime: Red Sox versus Yankees, PC versus Mac, the Empire versus the Rebel Alliance. None, however, can hold a candle to Dorian versus Parakeet Auklet, an unrelenting 3-year battle that finally resolved this past week. To fully understand the struggle, I offer the following background and history.

Parakeet Auklets in Alaska. I haven't birded AK, so
Marc Kramer (birdingbybus) hooked me up with this shot.

Parakeet Auklet is a small member of Alcidae, a Northern Hemisphere bird family including murres, guillemots, auklets, murrelets, and puffins. Collectively and commonly referred to as Alcids, they share a general black-and-white color scheme, strong underwater swimming abilities, and an endearing terrestrial clumsiness. If you don't think Parakeets Auklets are super cute, then you have no soul.

This one from Tom Ford-Hutchinson, also from Alaska

Parakeet Auklets breed colonially on cliffs around the Bering Sea and adjacent bodies but disperse to sea during the non-breeding season. We don't know much about their pelagic wintering grounds, but at least a few reach waters off Washington, Oregon, and California each year. Though there are a few coastal records, but pelagic trips from Westport, Washington offer the best chances of observing this species in the lower 48 states. 

Parakeet Auklet eBird records for summer (L) and winter (R)

Given that background, it was hella unexpected when a representative appeared at Land's End in San Francisco on July 13th, 2016. There is only one eBird record for that bird - likely because it vanished before others could pursue/relocate it - but the unlikely story renews when the presumed same bird reappeared at Land's End a year later, on July 16th, 2017. I'd moved to San Mateo in May, so I jumped into the car and sped to San Francisco with hopes of adding the unlikely auklet to my ABA list. My Bay Area Bike List hadn't become the obsession it is now, and I didn't want to risk the bird disappearing given its brief stay the previous year. I missed the bird on that first try, July 16th, but secured it on my second two days later. Yay.

The area the auklet had favored each July

It was really sweet to see such a cool bird outside its usual range, but the euphoria waned in subsequent days, mostly because I knew I could have biked the 46 round-trip miles instead of driving them. Regret eventually overcame me, and I biked back to Land's End to redeem the auklet on July 21st. I was unsuccessful on that day, and I missed a second time on July 23rd before leaving for Philadelphia a few days later. By the time I returned from the East Coast, the auklet had departed. Boo.

I thought 2017 was the end of the story, but the bird reappeared for a third July in 2018. It stayed for the better part of a month, but I was in Colombia during his entire visit. We couldn't properly renew our rivalry with me away, but I could almost hear the bird mocking me from a distance. Ugh.

Fast forward to 2019. The damn thing comes back for a fourth consecutive July, but I'm in Colombia again. (And yeah, I know it's totally neurotic to monitor the CA list while traveling.) Fortunately, the bird stuck around, and I returned to the Bay Area to make another self-powered attempt on the 12th. Result? Miss. Undeterred, I made an additional attempt on the 16th. Result? Another dip. My addictive personality in full effect, I made yet another attempt on the 20th. Result? Booyah!

Phonescoped record shot of SF Parakeet Auklet

A group of ten of us had nice views of the bird as it fed and preened in the surf below its favored Hermit Rock. It was really great to share the bird with others, most of whom had missed it previously. The auklet was a tremendous bike-birding triumph, one requiring 5 trips and 230 miles of cumulative riding (46 miles per attempt). I'm sure there will be more chases - bike and car - in my future, but I doubt I'll ever chase another individual rarity 7 times (twice by car in 2017, twice by bike in 2017, and thrice by bike in 2019)!

More adventure coming, so please stay tuned. Also, here's a recap of my recent Colombia Photobirding trip for Alvaro's Adventures. It was really sweet!


  1. Would you ever consider a Bay Area Walk List?

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. No, walking is too limiting. I'd only be able to bird within 2-3 miles of my apartment, so it would never be more than a neighborhood list. The beauty of the bike is that it lets me reach all around the the Bay.