Thursday, October 21, 2021

Post #206 - The bike giveth, the bike taketh away.......

Williamson's Sapsucker (WISA) is common in California's Sierras but makes only rare appearances at lower, coastal elevations; between May of 2017 and September of 2021, eBird shows just three records from the Bay Area (blue pins on right map). All were single-observer encounters with flying/transient birds, so there was zero opportunity to initiate a pursuit in each instance. Given that scarcity and pattern, I was curious when Carter Gasiorowski reported a beautiful male at Vasona Park in Santa Clara County on October 4th (orange pin on right map). When the bird frequented the same small grove of trees through that day and the next, I decided to ride for it on the morning of the 6th. At 72 round-trip miles, it promised to be an exhausting undertaking.

WISA range (left) and Bay Area sightings 2017-2021 (right)
Map adapted from All About Birds

I departed San Mateo at 7:15am, battled heavy traffic and uncooperative lights south to Redwood City, and reached Palo Alto before joining Foothill Expressway and rounding the outskirts of San Jose. Reaching the park at 9:55, I intersected a dozen disappointed birders and photographers, the sapsucker absent all morning. Disregarding their dejection, I scoured the favored grove and surrounding with hopes of a midday reveal. No sapsucker in evidence and my stomach begging for sustenance by 1pm, I folded my search, grabbed a quick lunch, and started home. I assumed that task would consume three-plus hours given the northwest headwind which had built through the day, but I completed the inbound leg in the same 2 hours and 40 minutes which the outgoing required. Checking my phone after showering, I learned the WISA had shown for several observers at 3:30pm. Ugh - at least it was a nice day for a ride.

75 miles including a detour for Vesper Sparrow in San Carlos

That miss behind me, I turned my attention to the Ovenbird which Kaia Colestock and Elias Elias found at Salesforce Park on October 11th. Ovenbird is an eastern species which makes occasional cameos in California, usually during fall migration, but I'd not seen one anywhere in the state since moving from Boston in April of 2015 (6+ years). 

Ovenbird range

Huge northwest wind prevented a pursuit on the bird's discovery day, but positive reports on the 12th coupled with calm conditions to suggest a pursuit on that second afternoon. I'd knew nothing of the urban oasis when I arrived after an 85-minute ride, but it turned out to be a pretty neat place. I had no idea it was built on top of a transit center. It's not everyday I get in an elevator to go birding!

Salesforce Park in downtown SF

There was zero drama on this day; a horde of observers pointed me towards the Ovenbird five minutes after I arrived. It was very approachable/cooperative, and I was able to snap a serviceable digi-binoc pic as the bird poked about the understory. 

Ovenbird - Bay Area Bike Bird #342 (SF #251)

OK - remember the Williamson's Sapsucker from above? Well, it was seen on seven consecutive days following my failed attempt. Non-birding responsibilities and wind prevented redemption through the 13th, but I decided to give the bird another crack on the 14th. I couldn't have asked for a more perfect day -- sunny, no wind, mid-60's -- but the goddamn thing failed to show (again) despite my 5-hour vigil. It was a demoralizing defeat, and the return 36 miles miles took close to 3 hours when it was all said and done. And the worse part? The bird reappeared the following day and continued through the 20th! It seems to be most regular in the late-afternoon, but that timing doesn't work on the bike because I'd need to spend the night down there afterwards. So, the bird will remain one of my greatest misses unless it decides to stay into November, when I return from the East Coast.

72 miles direct, without detour for Vesper Sparrow as on 10/6

That's it for now. Cheers! 

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