Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Post #181 - Bay Area bike-birding in the age of COVID - 1,000 county ticks achieved!

Though we've been in the firm grip of COVID for nearly 4 months, I've been doing a ton of bike-birding across that span. How much is a ton? Well, in 2019, I biked 2,086 miles. To the midpoint of this year, I've already covered 1,661 miles, an increase which is counterintuitively attributable to COVID for two reasons.

First, COVID has forced parking areas closures at many reserves to prevent overcrowding. While I don't usually drive to bird in the Bay Area, I always drive to photograph because I'm not going to lug my 600mm f/4 lens and multiple camera bodies on my bike. I also like to arrive hella early for photography, so I'm not going to start biking at 3am to be at Hayward Regional Shoreline for a 6am sunrise. With access restricted, I've been doing less photography and more biking. 

1,661 miles is equal to driving Tucson > SD > Seattle

Second, I've cancelled several out-of-state trips and tours which has freed up time for bike-birding, most notably a 5-day loop which took me east through Alameda to explore Stanislaus, San Joaquin, and Contra Costa Counties for the first time (at least by bike). By the time I added some unmapped miles to the rough route below, I cranked out 290 miles across those days and added 5 birds to my Bay Area bike list: Ring-necked Pheasant, Phainopepla, Lawrence's Goldfinch, Bell's Sparrow, and Swainson's Hawk. With the additions of Hooded Warbler (SF), Yellow-throated Warbler (SF), Purple Martin (SM), and Black-chinned Sparrow (SM) closer to home, I've run that list to 316 species.

My 5-day, 290-mile inland loop

Mines Road in Alameda County

(L) Lawrence's Goldfinch on Mines Road in Santa Clara County
(R) Hooded Warbler at San Pedro Valley Park in San Mateo

When I moved to the Bay Area in May of 2017, I set three bike-birding goals for myself. The first was to ride 50 miles per week, an aim I've achieved when my out-of-area time is forgiven. Second, I wanted to find 300 species under my own power, a plateau I reached with the addition of Rose-breasted Grosbeak in San Francisco on January 11th. Lastly, I wanted to amass 1,000 total ticks because it would motivate me to explore different areas/habitats within each county. I stood at 996 ticks before my 5-day loop, but low-hanging fruit in previously-unexplored counties helped me shatter the 1K ceiling; my total is now 1,212 with a few additions since that trip. I'd be stoked to do an extended loop around the North Bay to visit Sonoma, Napa, and Solano Counties for the first time, but I suspect COVID is going to put the kibosh on that plan, at least for the foreseeable future.

And check this out - county birding beast Jim Lomax has started birding by bike! Well, sort of. He drove his two-wheeled transport across the bay to aid his San Mateo Black-chinned Sparrow pursuit and was about to fold the search when I ran into him. Fortunately, I heard the bird singing high on the hillside above us and was able to get him onto it. We'll need to upgrade him to racks and panniers before his next adventure. Gears would help too....

That's what I've been up to on the bike-birding front these last few months. With so many activities restricted under the the current circumstances, it's been nice to have a passion which hasn't been impacted. Bike-birding is even more isolating than car-based birding (no gas station stops!), and I'm hoping conditions will allow me to continue the torrid pace I've established through the first half of this year. I'll post updates as my adventures unfold, so stay tuned for those. Cheers....

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