Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Post #172 - 2019 Santa Clara Evening Grosbeak and 2019 bike-birding summary

I'm off for 16 days in Thailand tomorrow, but here's a quick and final post to close out 2019. I didn't do much bike-birding in the first third of the year, but a renewed commitment through the remainder yielded lots of birds and adventures, most of which I've chronicled in previous entries. I'd hoped to run my cumulative Bay Area Bike List to 300 species this year, but I fell just one short, the long-staying Evening Grosbeaks at Stanford checking-in at #299 on, December 12th. This winter is a mini-invasion for Evening Grosbeak, the usually more-alpine/coniferous finch making sporadic appearances around the Bay Area through November and December after after a several-year absence.

Evening Grosbeak Range (L) and Bay Area sightings 2015-2019 (R)
More info on Evening Grosbeak here.

Stanford Evening Grosbeak

Evening Grosbeak pursuit

With all the twists and turns, I churned out 2,086 miles of bike-birding in 2019, a total exceeding the 2,002 I logged last year. I spent comparatively less time in my home San Mateo County and correspondingly more exploring neighboring counties. Most notable were my first three trips over the Golden Gate to Marin (one in successful pursuit of Yellow-crowned Night-Heron and two failed in pursuit of Tricolored Heron) and a long, roundabout foray into Alameda to tick Bar-tailed Godwit. Incidentally, I chased only one bird by car in 2019 - Yellow-browed Warbler in the Sierras - and missed. At least I reconnected with loads of old friends in the bird's absence..... 

Bird added to my Bay Area Bike List in 2019

As I am now fully entrenched in the county listing game, here's a glance of where I stand to begin 2020. The 25-mile radius doesn't mean much - because riding distances aren't linear - but does give some sense of scale. Going north, it's 16 riding miles from home to the southern end of San Francisco and 28 to reach Marin via the Golden Gate. Going South/east, it's 16 riding miles to reach Santa Clara at the Palo Alto Baylands (and 30 to Alviso) and ~22 to across the Dumbarton Bridge to reach Alameda at Coyote Hills. 

Looking forward to 2020, I have several more ambitious overnight rides I'd like to execute.

1) A 3-day, 2-night loop going north into Marin (Feb 6), over the newly-opened bike lane on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge into Contra Costa County (Feb 7), and continuing to Arrowhead Marsh (Feb 8) for Nelson's Sparrow on the 11am high tide. That will leave me the afternoon of the 8th to continue south over the Dumbarton and back up the western shore of SF Bay to San Mateo. With ticks accumulated across Marin, Contra Costa (where everything will be new), and Alameda Counties, I should approach 1,000 county total.

2) A 4-day, 3-night out-and-back featuring Mines Road (Santa Clara) and Del Puerto Canyon Road (Stanislaus) for inland species including Swainson's Hawk, Greater Roadrunner, Costa's Hummingbird, Canyon Wren, Bell's Sparrow, Phainopepla, Lawrence's Goldfinch, Blue Grosbeak, and perhaps Common Poorwill. I'd go ~50 miles to Livermore on Day 1 and ~60 to Patterson on Day 2. That would let me do Mines Road in the AM and Del Puerto in the PM. I'd retrace those track on Day 3 and 4 to clean up whatever species I missed. I'd probably do this in early-May once all the birds are on territory. 

3) A two-day run down the San Mateo Coast to Año Nuevo to get Black Swift. I could also nibble on the northwestern edge of Santa Cruz County before returning to the Pigeon Point Hostel for the night. 

4) I'd also love to do a bigger loop around the North Bay to get into Sonoma, Napa, Solano, Sacramento, and San Joaquin Counties, but I can only dedicate so many days to this nonsense, right?

OK, enough. I will have a full photo recap coming, but that will have to wait until I return from Thailand. I thank readers for slogging through another year of what is mostly an on-line diary; I hope it provides at least a short refuge from the daily noise we are forced to endure at this least-inspired moment in American history. 

Monday, December 9, 2019

Post #171 - Bay Area bike birding - Tricolored Heron and Plumbeous Vireo

With my Bay Area bike list sitting 3 species shy of 300, I was stoked to learn about William Legge's discovery of a Tricolored Heron at Rodeo Lagoon in Marin County on November 10. There are only 3-4 eBird records from Northern California, the most recent from Point Reyes in 1996, so the regionally-rare bird would be a fantastic addition to my self-powered collection. There was, however, a major barrier to any pursuit.

(L) Tricolored Heron range adapted from this Cornell website
(R) California sightings adapted from eBird 

Knowing I'd be at the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival from November 5-10 and visiting my family in Philadelphia from November 14-19, I'd surrendered my painfully-neglected bicycle for major repairs before I left for Texas (on the 4th) on the understanding the overhaul would be complete by the time I returned from Philly (on the 19th). Though conceding the three usable days between the trips (11th, 12th, 13th) seemed a pittance against the guarantee of losing the bike for two solid weeks at a later time, the vagrant heron gave me the big fat middle finger by staying at Rodeo through those days. Adding insult to injury was the continued presence of Kevin Gin's coincidently-discovered Plumbeous Vireo in Santa Clara County. Like the Tricolored, the would-be-new-Bay-Area-bike-Plumbeous would need to stay until the 20th for me to have a crack at it. Needless to say, I was not optimistic about my chances to add either bird as I boarded my flight to Philly on the 14th.

(L) Tricolored Heron range adapted from this Cornell website
(R) California sightings adapted from eBird 

I monitored online reports of both vagrants from Philadelphia. Sightings of the Plumbeous ceased after the 17th, but those of the Tricolored continued through my travel day on the 19th, circumstances suggesting I prioritize that bird at my first chase opportunity on the 20th. Because I am a total dork, I also kept tabs on the San Francisco Red-footed Booby (November 8th, Peter Winch). That bird was also present through the 19th, so I swung through the city to tick it before continuing over the Golden Gate and into Marin for the heron. Red-footed Booby was not a Bay Area bike bird because I saw the Half Moon Bay individual in November 2017, but it was an SF County bike bird (#188).

Great day for a ride

Digiscoped Red-Footed Booby on Coast Guard Pier, SF

Once at over the bridge, I descended to Rodeo Lagoon where the heron materialized right on schedule!

Sadly, we all know people who've tried to pass photos of one individual bird as another, but I'm not gonna play you like that. This photo was taken on November 9th in Texas, my time at Rodeo on the 20th yielding no whiff of the Tricolored despite its presence for the previous ten days. It was a painful miss, but I was due for disappointment after a very lucky fall. At least I found a use for this otherwise random photo. The low angle in the above shot should be a dead giveaway its not from the Bay Area; its virtually impossible to get into the water/habitat around here to take good pictures of waders. 

BUT WAIT! THERE'S MORE! Though the Tricolored wasn't reported on the 20th, 21st, or 22nd, two independent reports on the 23rd prompted a second attempt on the 24th. And you know what? I missed it on that day too. I'd like to say I wouldn't bother chasing this bird again if it resurfaced, but I know I'd have a hard time ignoring it. I don't rarely chronicle misses - fortunately there haven't been that many - but I thought this instance absurd enough to mention. All this bike-birding nonsense keeps me in shape if nothing else. 

(L) Route on November 20th
(R) Route on November 24th

OK, but what about the Plumbeous? Well, that bird kinda fell of my radar in the wake of the time and energy I'd invested into the missed Tricolored, but a renewed spate of sightings between November 28 and December 4th prompted a much-delayed attempt at the long-staying bird on December 5th. I intersected the singing bird after an hour search, it offering great views foraged at eye-level in the parking lot adjacent to the area it had frequented for the previous 3 weeks.

Plumbeous Vireo - Bay Area bike bird #298

And because I'm now full-blown county lister - albeit with very limited self-powered reach - I detoured into the foothills and Pearson-Arastradero on my return to add a few more Santa Clara species, Ring-necked Duck, Hooded Merganser, and Purple Finch among them. Santa Clara bike list now at 184.

That's it for now. I'm hoping to crank out one more post before I leave for Thailand on the 18th, so please stay tuned for that. Enjoy the start of CBC season in the meantime!