Saturday, January 30, 2021

Post #192 - An amazing day of bike-birding in Santa Clara County

Commitments have kept me off the bike for two weeks, so I'm gonna dust off a ride from early-January for this post. Undertaken on January 10th, it sought three would-be Santa Clara County bike birds at the southern end of San Francisco Bay. With negligible wind and partly sunny skies forecasted, I departed my San Mateo apartment with high hopes.

The day's first target was the long-staying Common Loon (COLO) on Pond A4 in Sunnyvale. Abundant on the oceanside of the peninsula, the species is highly unusual on the Santa Clara bay shore. I'd not found the time to pursue the bird during its two-month stay, but it cooperated for me as it had for so many others, the slow-slung swimmer materializing from hoards of scaup on the far/north side of the impoundment after a twenty-minute search (too far for photo). Santa Clara bike bird #217 bagged, the day was off to a good start.

Next up? Glaucous Gull (GLGU). Unusual but regular across all Bay Area Counties, the species has been a recent nemesis; I struck out on San Francisco example 3 times before dipping on an Alameda bird on the day I hurt my thumb. That's more than 150 miles of GLGU misses! Given those headaches, I was hella stoked to find the continuing second-year example shortly after arriving at Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge in Alviso (Santa Clara bike bird #218). I was also able to pull an Iceland (Thayer's) Gull (ICGU, Santa Clara bike bird #219) from the flock on an adjacent impoundment. Two-for-one - money.

Glaucous Gull at Don Edwards

Extending my hot hand still farther from home, I rolled into Lick Mill Park and immediately had a quick but identifiable glimpse the seasonally-aberrant Hermit Warbler (HEWA, Santa Clara bike bird #220) which had frequented the patch park since its Christmas discovery. The songbird nests at ridge elevations towards the southern end of the county, but those areas are a royal chore to reach on the bike. I tried for the bird at Monte Bello and along the Santa Clara reaches of Skyline Drive last summer - to no avail - and I was apprehensive about reaching farther and higher for it this year. Fortunately, that's a moot point now.

Running ahead of schedule and feeling like I couldn't miss, I decided to get greedy, expand my return route, and try for the Phainopeplas (PHAI) which had been hanging around the Stanford Dish since January 5th. The only problem? I had my scope in my panniers, and bikes aren't allowed into the Dish reserve; I wasn't about to lock my bike up and walk away from it with the scope hanging out the back pannier. The solution? I hid my panniers (and scope) in a heavily-wooded yard, continued a quarter-mile to the Dish entrance, locked the unloaded bike, and - after 52 miles of riding - started walking. It was quite warm at that sunny, mid-afternoon juncture, and I was lagging halfway through the 4-mile loop. Stopping to rest, I detected movement in a mistletoe-adorned oak and approached to find the female Phainopepla foraging in its upper reaches. Santa Clara bike bird #221 capped an incredible day of bike-birding! 

Female Phainopepla at Stanford Dish

My Santa Clara exploits on January 10

Three-and-a-half years into my Bay Area tenure, Santa Clara returns continue to diminish, so adding five birds on a single swing through the northern part of the county was a huge victory. I'd love to reach farther south and east in Santa Clara, but those longer trips will probably require an overnight ride and will be best done post-Covid. Until then, I'll keep exploring the bayshore for unaccounted species like Red-breasted and Red-naped Sapsuckers, Osprey, Cackling Goose, and Chipping Sparrow. I really enjoy birding in Palo Alto, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, and Alviso, and I'm guaranteed a good workout riding to and returning from those destinations. I just have to avoid days with strong north or west winds; those make the return ride a huge pain in the ass.

More coming soon. Stay tunes. Cheers.


  1. Thanks, as always, for the report. Do you have an explicit target number that you are hoping to achieve in the long run?

  2. Thanks Wim! I'm just glad to know people enjoy reading my posts! I don't have any target numbers for my Bay Area bike list or the individual county lists which comprise it. My wife and I never envisioned the Bay Area as a permanent solution (i.e. residence), and I could see us moving to Colorado, Canada, or somewhere farther afield in the next few years. As a result of our perceived transience, I haven't any specific goals. The biggest thing for me is trying to ride 40-50 miles per week when I'm in the Bay Area. It's great exercise, and I figure the species will take care of themselves. I would like to try to reach into more counties, but getting outside San Mateo, SF, the southern end of Marin, the western side of Alameda, and the northern half of Santa Clara necessitates overnight rides. One thing I'd like to do is a week-long, circa-SF Bay loop in the spring. It would be fun to do it as a fundraiser for the San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory or something. Who knows.....

  3. Hi Dorian! I've been reading your blog since the Biking for Birds days, and since I've moved to the Bay Area myself, I've been doing some of my own bike-birding, partly inspired by you. These Santa Clara birds may be on your radar already, but Red-breasted Sapsucker should be pretty reliable at the Stanford arboretum, especially in the pepper trees around here: (37.4354, -122.1663). I've seen Chipping Sparrows on both my visits to Terman Park in Palo Alto this winter. Farther afield, the Red-naped Sapsucker at Ulistac Natural Area seems to be cooperating well for people, and is an easy 2-mile ride from the Red-necked Grebe at Alviso Marina.

  4. Hey Adam! Thanks for the info. And I'm glad you've found some inspiration in my silly posts. As for you suggestions, the RNSA at Stanford is particularly interesting as that's barely an hour ride from here. Alviso is great but I gotta find a full day to get down there (60 miles round trip). Red-necked Grebe is pretty good motivation though! Cheers!