Friday, January 1, 2021

Post #190 - End of Year bike-birding adventures land me in the emergency room!

How's this for an end-of-year teaser? I biked 2,940 miles this year before ending the year in the emergency room! Please know I'm fine; it was a VERY painful but ultimately minor injury. So, with the hook baited, let's get into my recent wanderings. As the four rides I chronicle in this post were particularly ambitious, I hope they'll keep you entertained ahead of my injury reveal. 

Ride #1, December 4th
This story starts on December 1st when a Dusky Flycatcher (DUFL) was reported from the East Palo Alto bayshore. Common in the Sierras, the species makes only rare visits to the coast, the referenced bird only one of handful of San Mateo County records in the past decade. I wasn't able to pursue the continuing bird through the 3rd, but an equally exciting report of four Tundra Swans (TUSW) from Pescadero that afternoon forced a move on the 4th. Unable to chose between the two birds - both would be new for my Bay Area bike list - I decided to try for them both in one, very long day. 

My combined pursuits of TUSW and DUFL

Succeed, fail, or anything in-between, I figured this ride would make good blog fodder, so I kept careful notes on timing as I pedaled from home to Pescadero to East Palo Alto and to home again. Leg 1 unfolded as expected, but leg 2 with the higher climb over the coastal mountains really beat the hell out of me. Fortunately, I scored both birds with minimal searching, so adrenaline powered me through Leg 3 to close the 77-mile loop. This was my most ambitious one-day pursuit since I moved the the Bay Area in May of 2017, and it couldn't have unfolded any better. I even captured some hella bad digi-binoc images of both species!

Left: TUSW - Bay Area Bike Bird #325 (San Mateo County bike bird #285)
Right: DUFL - Bay Area Bird Bird #326 (San Mateo County bike bird #286)

Ride #2, December 9th

My next outing took me to Alameda County on December 9th, mostly to search for the long-staying Harris's Sparrow (HASP) at Pacific Commons Linear Park but also to fill in some more general Alameda County holes. I was able to find the sparrow for Alameda County Bike Bird #184, and I ran my total to 190 with subsequent additions of Redhead (REDH), Ring-necked Duck (RNDU), Bald Eagle (BAEA), Ferruginous Hawk (FEHA), Burrowing Owl (BUOW), and Loggerhead Shrike (LOSH). 

An overexposed Harris's Sparrow between White-crowned Sparrows

Being that I'd already made significant miles south, I continued around the bottom of the bay and turned northwest to reach Shoreline Lake in Mountain View where I found the continuing Brant.

Brant for Santa Clara Bike Bird #215

Another long day, but 8 county bike ticks was pretty sweet!

Ride #3, December 28th
Other projects and a bit of travel shut biking down for two weeks over Christmas but the longish-staying Least Flycatcher (LEFL) in San Francisco's Presidio put me into motion when I returned on December 28th. Wet conditions and low temperatures kept activity low through the early part of the morning, but the bird showed when the sun came out at around 10:30. The bird was hella trusting, and I wished I had brought the camera instead of the scope. I had to settle for the usual digi-binoc record shots. Would crushed it even with the 100-400. 

Least Flycatcher - Bay Area Bike Bird #327 (SF County Bike Bird #232)

With time to spare, I made a stop at Heron's Head Park en route to Yosemite Slough, that quick pause yielding a unexpected trifecta of Gadwall (GADW) for San Francisco Bike Bird #233. For those who don't know, Gadwall is a very tricky bird in SF even though it's common in adjacent Marin and San Mateo Counties. That self-found bonus secured, I pedaled to Yosemite Slough where I spent the next two hours not finding the Loggerhead Shrike (LOSH). The bird had been very reliable for the previous week, so it was a tough miss. Two other birders missed it earlier in the day, so it clearly wasn't around (despite reappearing for the SF Xmas count the following day, December 29th). A Northern Pintail (NOPI) did soften the LOSH miss for San Franciscio Bike Bird #234. I'd seen NOPI on SF pelagics, but it was good to redeem that dirty bird on the bike.

A trifecta of Gadwall at Heron's Head

Ride #4, December 30th
This ride started out just fine. I covered the 17 miles from my apartment to Geng Road in Palo Alto in 67 minutes and without incident. My target was Summer Tanager (SUTA), and I was shocked that ten others joined my search for the continuing bird; it present for the previous 2 weeks, I assumed everyone who wanted to see it had done so already. It took our search party nearly two hours, but I eventually spotted the bright pink bird and put the others onto it (Santa Clara Bike Bird #216). No time for photos, I hopped back on the bike and crossed the bay to look for the Lapland Longspurs (LALO) which had frequented Coyote Hills Park for the previous week. That ground-dweller surfaced quickly - Alamdea County Bike Bird #192 after the long overdue addition of Herring Gull for #191 - and I initiated a more directed search for the Glaucous Gull which is spending its third winter in the park. 

Lapland Longspur

It was at that point when everything went to hell. Powering towards another corner of the park, I stopped to scan a group of gulls. No Glaucous detected, I unearthed my lunch from the depths of my panniers and removed my leg-length tights amidst growing midday heat. Turning to repack my gear after eating, I hastily thrust my hand into my pannier. I immediately felt a bolt of lightning shoot up my arm, and I withdrew my hand with my thumbnail pried off the nail bed. It was pouring blood, but I squeezed the nail back onto the bed (ouch!) before calling my wife to come and rescue me since I'd be unable to ride home. I still don't know exactly what happened. I might have struck something in the bag, but it's also possible I missed the bag entirely and struck something on the bike frame. Whatever I hit, it went straight under the nail and popped it open, kinda like a car hood. It took my wife 30 mins to reach Coyote Hills, and we raced to the ER in Redwood City with my bike in the trunk and my thumb oozing blood.

The doctors said there wasn't much they could do but wedge the nail down and see what happens. It may fall off; it may not. Regardless, I am in a small splint for the next week and advised to stay off the bike for that stretch. It's therefore a good time to get caught up on blogging (fortunately, the splinted digit isn't required for my modified brand of hunt-and-peck typing), and I can do some car-based birding while the wound heals. The primary short term issue is that I can't manipulate the camera, but that should resolve fairly quickly. Fingers crossed, so to speak.

I counted the SUTA and LALO as bike birds even though I didn't make it home under my own power. As the pain of the finger exceeded anything the return ride could have inflicted save for getting run over, I figured I'd sufficiently suffered.

Eeyore shirt is apropos.....

So that's how my 2020 bike-birding story ends. This strange episode aside, it was a really good year, one during which I rode 2,940 miles and pushed my cumulative Bay Area Bike List to 327 species (I started 2020 at 299). It's going to be very hard to add new birds moving forward, but I'm far from saturating the contributing counties; there will be plenty of county and general birding to motivate me through 2021 - and beyond.

County                Start 2020        End 2020        Gain
San Mateo                 264                    286               22
San Francisco            188                    234               46
Santa Clara                186                    216               30
Alameda                    136                    192               56
Marin                           92                    138               46
Stanislaus                      0                      73                73
San Joaquin                   0                      59                59
Contra Costa                 0                       51                51
Santa Cruz                     0                      26                26
                  Total County Bike Ticks = 1275

Thanks for sticking with me for through the 6th year of this blog! I wish everyone a happy and healthy 2021! Cheers!


  1. Sonia to the rescue! Good on her.
    Had not thought that panniers could be so lethal, but as always, haste is a hazard.
    All the very best to you both for 2021 and beyond! May it be both happy and healthy!

    1. You nailed it; rushing seems productive in the moment, but slowing down usually reduces accidents. Fortunately, it's only a temporary setback. I'll be back on the bike in another week. I have Sonia to nurse me back to health in the meantime! Best wishes for 2021!

  2. Thanks for sharing the stories of your adventures as always, through all the ups and downs that bike birding serves up! Your humor and positive attitude are admirable. Great birding in 2021!

    1. Cheers! Stoked to hear people enjoy reading my silly stories. I hope they were a good distraction from COVID and politics during a difficult 2020. Hopefully 2021 will be a bit better. Good luck with your own wanderings!

  3. sounds like haste and inattention - a dangerous combo. being tired is another common factor that can be dangerous. i was just telling someone i've been in 17 ERs in my time. i can well imagine the pain. oy. here's some cheers, to an all around better 2021!

    1. You nailed it; it was totally careless! I've been to the ER a few other times, mostly for sport-sustained injuries in my youth, but 17 visits makes you a frequent flyer. Stay safe out there! Cheers!

  4. Great reading and, as always, an inspiration for my own bikebirding!

    1. Thanks a lot! I'm always glad to hear others have adopted the bicycle. It's ton of fun - as long as there isn't too much headwind!

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  6. Hey Dorian, great blog . . been following you since Biking BigYear. Keep up all the birding, but also take some time to smell the roses. Would love to have you as guest on our birding podcast!!