Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Post #174 - An epic day of bike-birding in my home San Mateo County!

When Alvaro 'Gull Whisperer' Jaramillo found an adult Slaty-backed Gull - an Asian species which wanders to the lower 48 states in small number each year - in Half Moon Bay on January 14th, he immediately texted me in case I wanted to put my bike into motion to pursue it. I received his alert at 1:15pm, promptly stood from my desk chair, did a bit of stretching and a few unweighed squats, and realized I didn't have the juice to ride for the bird that afternoon. It was a tough concession, but I slated a better-rested chase the following morning.

Slaty-backed Gull range

I left my San Mateo apartment at 7:15am, covered the 15 miles and 1,000 vertical feet over Highway 92, and rolled onto the Venice bluffs at 8:25am where several birders were already assembled. Initial scans of several hundred gulls revealed no Slaty suggestions, but Chris Hayward and Malia DeFelice arrived on bikes and redirected efforts to a lower beach vantage from which they'd observed the bird the previous afternoon. Sifting through a greater number of gulls we couldn't see from the bluff, Chris picked the sought Slaty-backed from the flock. Marginally darker than nearby Western Gulls (none in photo), the streaked head, comparatively smaller beak, and pot-bellied profile helped make the ID.

Slaty-backed Gull - Bay Area bike bird #301 (Digiscope)

The gull handled, I mulled the possibility of continuing south to Pescadero to look for would-be-Bay-Area-bike-birds Red-naped Sapsucker and Prairie Warbler, an ambitious extension which would swell my morning jaunt (30 miles) into a full-day undertaking (68 miles). My legs felt good during my outgoing ascent of Highway 92, and I knew I'd have to survive a return/second climb whether I went directly home or extended south. The decision therefore hung on wind, a quick check of the weather revealing a weak southern flow building through the afternoon. That would be perfect as I'd get an unusual afternoon push as I returned north later in the day. All the variables aligning, I was off to Pescadero.

Perfect riding conditions

Chris and Malia joined me in Pescadero after swapping bikes for a car, and the three of us absorbed Aaron Maizlish as we scoured the roadside thicket the Prairie Warbler had frequented since its discovery ten days earlier. Unable to find that bird and suffering a depressing lack of activity, Chris and I ditched the other two while we explored the creek for the Red-breasted Sapsucker. That bird showed with the minimal effort Chris promised, our Picidae quarry revealing itself after an easy fifteen-minute search.

Red-naped Sapsucker - Bay Area bike bird #302 (Digi-binoc'd)
The red back is a phone artifact.

Activity had increased while Chris and I were dealing the with Sapsucker, and our reunited foursome persevered to achieve distant but diagnostic views of the sought Prairie Warbler (Bay Area bike bird #303). When a closer encounter wasn't afforded after an additional 20 minutes, we ducked into town to try for a continuing Orchard Oriole. Unlike the wary warbler, the obliging oriole materialized for great views just after we arrived.

Orchard Oriole (Digi-binoc'd)

When a final try for better views and photos of the warbler failed, I began the two-and-a-half-hour ride home. The wind didn't aid me as much as I'd hoped, but high clouds kept the sun off me and held temperatures in the mid-50s. My afternoon ascent of Highway 92 was rough, but the day's efforts didn't seem outrageous against some really nice birds!

Map with elevation profile at top right

To summarize

Slaty-backed Gull: Bay Area bike bird #301, San Mateo bike bird #265

Red-naped Sapsucker: Bay Area bike bird #302, San Mateo bike bird #266

Prairie Warbler: Bay Area bike bird #303, San Mateo bike bird #267

Orchard Oriole: San Mateo bike bird #268 (I'd seen one in SF previously)

The kicker? The gull and warbler were new for my CA list, sorry as it is. So yeah, January 14th will go down as an amazing day of bike birding! 

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