Thursday, March 12, 2020

Post #176 - A weekend of birding with unicycle Big Year madman John Patten Moss!

When John Patten Moss (aka JP) called me last fall to discuss his idea for a unicycle Big Year, I thought he was smoking crack. I pleaded with him to abandon the naive dream, repeatedly emphasizing his twenties should be reserved for child rearing and corporate ascendance, but I was unable to dent his cycling aspiration or birding resolve. I explained transcontinental exploration and personal challenge worthless against safer prospects at Initech or similarly reputable employer, and I warned his self-powered aspirations would render him a sad and incidental footnote in the Big Year landscape. Fortunately, he didn't listen to anything I advised, and we shared an extended bout of cycle-birding as he passed through the Bay Area this weekend.

JP's unicycle wheel makes by bike tires look like toys

JP departed Olympia, Washington on January 1st, followed the Pacific Coast south, and claimed 174 species by his Golden Gate crossing on Friday, March 6th (follow his progress on his blog). We rendezvoused at Heron's Head Park that afternoon and swapped stories as we searched for the long-staying Rock Sandpiper, the cooperative bird appearing at our feet after a ten-minute search. The 'must-have' ticked, we rolled south toward my San Mateo apartment for the night.

JP's Digi-binoc'd Rock Sandpiper at Heron's Head

I was surprised how well JP handled the few short hills between Heron's Head and my place, his unicycle's lack of gears the biggest variable when we discussed his plans last fall. Until I rode with him, I didn't appreciate how well his huge, 36-inch wheel rolled or how he could leverage his single-point of road contact to lean into hills in ways my bicycle prevented. He conceded he need to walk up steep sections, but I understood how he survived the ups and downs of the Oregon and California Coast after riding with him. While his unicycle managed uphills better than I imagined, he didn't reap nearly the downhill momentum as my bicycle did. However, the most difficult aspect of the production is mounting the huge wheel, and I see why JP hates stopping at red lights on his unicycle even more than I do on my bicycle. Check out the following video!

JP Moss mounts his 36-inch unicycle

The morning of Saturday, March 7th was rainy, so we used those AM hours to bird Coyote Point Park behind my apartment. Among birds we added to his list - Sora, Nuttall's Woodpecker, Lesser Goldfinch, others - Iceland (Thayer's) Gull was notable; JP had no experience with the species/subspecies, so it was nice we could ID that sometimes-tricky bird together.

We used the afternoon to bird the bayshore and look for the Tufted Duck at Nob Hill Pond in Redwood Shores. I'd seen the now-annual bird on low tides in years past, but it was nowhere to be found on the Saturday afternoon ebb (-1 foot). Cross-referencing positive eBird reports from the last month with tide tables that evening, I discovered the bird preferred higher tides (+4 to +5 feet). Armed with that trend, we returned to the pond for the flow on Sunday morning. The bird absent again, we birded the bayshore while the tide continued to rise, a surprise Short-eared Owl a great bonus for our efforts. We returned to the pond an hour later, scanned through many recently-arrived scaup, and found the sought Tufted slightly removed from that accompaniment. 

JP's Digi-scoped (my scope, he's not carrying one) Short-eared Owl

JP's Digi-scoped Tufted Duck (Canvasback at front right)

The sandpiper and duck handled, we used Sunday afternoon to find several vocal Ridgway's Rails at the Palo Alto Baylands. JP could have pursued that species at the Salton Sea or outside Yuma, but it was easy to handle while he was in the Bay Area. We went our separate ways at 3pm, but we've stayed in close contact through the last few days. I imagine that trend will continue through the year as I know a few things about navigating the country under my own power.

Me and JP on SF Bay

Riding and interacting with JP was a blast, and I hope other birders lend encouragement, bird-finding advice, and lodging as he extends is one-wheeled adventure. JP has a wonderful appreciation of the natural world, a knowledge extending well-beyond birds, and an engaging personality. He's going to have a really sweet story at the end of this year, so hopefully some of you will find a way to be a part of it!

Below is his rough route for the next few weeks. He's in Hollister now and will be going to Pinnacles before following the 101 corridor south to Paso Robles and onto San Luis Obispo. From there he'll follow the coast all the way into Pasadena. If you live anywhere near the indicated blue trace -- San Lucas, San Ardo, Bradley, Templeton, Atascadero, SLO, Pismo Beach, Santa Maria, Lompoc, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Camarillo, Simi Valley, and Pasadena, etc -- and would be willing to house and feed JP, please email him at Lodging on the CA coast is HELLA expensive, and it would be a huge financial help if the community would step up to keep costs down! 

JP's rough route for the next two weeks or so.
His goal is to be in Pasadena on April 1st (no joke).

That's it for now, cheers!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Dorian - Great that you met up with J.P. & provided advice and local expertise. I was lucky enough to go birding with him at Nisqually Refuge on New Year's Eve, and followed his progress on-line until this D@%!#%$D Coronavirus put paid to his Big Year. Hope all's well with you, and stay healthy!