Saturday, November 20, 2021

Post #208 - My final Bay Area bike chase and big plans for the future.......

No, I'm not retiring from the glory-sport that is bike-birding, but I will be vacating the Bay Area for the next 10 months. Airbnb is permitting Sonia to work remotely through next September, and Tropical Birding will fly me from wherever I am to wherever my tours run. So, with that flexibility, we've decided to rent our apartment and hit the road! We're going to Chile for all of December, and we're planning to spend the remaining winter in CA, NV, AZ, and NM once we've returned. We've not visited OK or AR, so we'll hit those states en route towards LA, hopefully in early-April. From the bayou, we'll follow the Mississippi River north through May. We'll explore Ontario and Quebec in June and July, and we're planning on camping in Norway, Finland, and Sweden in August before returning to the US, picking-up the car in Philly, and recrossing the country in September. Throw my tour schedule (TX, FL, NC, MA, WY, Newfoundland) on top of that plan, and it's going to be a very hectic year. I'm optimistic we'll have room for my bicycle on the US and Canadian legs, but there should be plenty of blog material regardless!

Given the necessary preparations ahead of our departure, bike-birding has recently been curtailed. I did, however, put a pause on planning to pursue a Gray Catbird (GRCA) which was found in the San Francisco Botanical Garden on November 1st. I'd missed the mostly-Eastern species (range map below) on two different occasions -- once in San Francisco's Presidio in September of 2018 and again Half Moon Bay in August of 2019 -- so I was keen to avoid a third strike when I mounted up on the morning of November 4th.

The 19.5-mile ride to the Golden Gate Park was painless (~85 mins). Half-a-dozen birders hadn't observed the bird by my arrival, so I settled into the search for the next hour. And then another. And then another. Nancy Palmer caught a glimpse of something promising as the fourth hour arrived, but it took another 30 minutes before a clearer view confirmed her initial suspicion, the bird finally perching in the open for all to see. It was a great 'get' given that I was ready to fold the search five minutes earlier!

Gray Catbird - Bay Area bike bird #343 (SF bike bird #252)

39 round-trip miles

The ride avenged my previous misses on this species and wrapped-up my Bay Area biking with a savory victory. I'll miss my adopted home these next ten months, but I know there will be plenty of biking and birding when we return next fall.

Here are some numbers since we moved to San Mateo in May of 2017.

2017: ~700 (estimate since I didn't keep track or know how obsessive I'd become)
2018: 2,001 miles
2019: 2,086 miles
2020: 2,940 miles
2021: 2,080 miles
Total; ~9,800 miles

Species totals by county:
San Mateo            292    (408 checklists)
San Francisco       252    (137 checklists)
Santa Clara           229    (71 checklists)
Alameda               194    (29 checklists)
Santa Cruz            117    (17 checklists, all on same overnight swing)
Marin                    138    (11 checklists spread across six visits, mostly Rodeo Lagoon)
Monterey               95     (6 checklists, all on one morning as part of 5-day trip)
Stanislaus              73     (3 checklists, all on one day as part of 5-day trip)
San Benito             62     (6 checklist across an afternoon and morning as part of 5-day trip)
San Joaquin           59     (4 checklists across one summer morning as part of 5-day trip)
Contra Costa          51    (4 checklists, all on one summer afternoon as part of 5-day trip)
1,562 county ticks representing 343 species

***These totals include widespread and ABA-countable introduced species like European Starling and Eurasian Collared-Dove but not Red-masked Parakeet (observed in SF), Mute Swan (the pets at SF palace of fine arts), Mitred Parakeet (observed in Palo Alto), Northern Red Bishop (observed in SF), Chilean Flamingo (observed in Alameda), and so so.

Particularly notable birds:
Tufted Duck (SM)
Broad-billed Hummingbird (SF)
Black Rail (heard-only in SC)
Hudsonian Godwit (SM)
Bar-tailed Godwit (SM, Ala)
Ruff (SM, SC)
Rock Sandpiper (SF)
Parakeet Auklet (SF)
Sabine's Gull (SF, SC)
Slaty-backed Gull (SM)
Laysan Albatross (SM)
Red-footed Booby (SM, SF)
Northern Gannet (SM)
California Condor (SB)
Yellow-green Vireo (SF)
Dusky Warbler (SM)
Brown Thrasher (SF)
LeConte's Sparrow (SM)
27 New World warblers including Canada, Black-throated Blue, Black-throated Green, Prairie, Yellow-throated, Lucy's, Worm-eating, and Ovenbird.

OK, enough. More from the road in the near future. Cheers!

Monday, November 1, 2021

Post #207 - A few recent photos

I've really struggled with the camera this calendar year. The closure of my local photo spot for major construction has been a crushing blow, and I've been reticent to travel for personal purposes during the pandemic (though that's about to change - big time). I have done some traveling while guiding for Tropical Birding, but it's virtually impossible to do my own shooting while I'm pointing out birds to clients or helping them take their own pictures. That said, I have managed a handful of decent frames around the Bay Area in recent months, and I'll use this post to present them and say a few words about each. 

First up is this Snowy Egret. I had way too much lens when this subject sauntered into my view on the SF bayshore, so a tight headshot was the best I could hope for given my proximity. The bird was very focused on a school of baitfish, but a quick whistle was enough to get it to look up for a brief moment. I'm a huge fan of the feather detail which these close-cropped frames reveal, and I find that it easy to connect with the subject when peripheral distraction is minimized, the yellow eye and lores attention-grabbing in this instance. I like this shot be because it's an uncommon look at a common bird.

NOTE: I sold my Canon 1DX Mark II and have been relying on my 7D Mark II while I raise funds to buy the mirrorless R5. It's been nice to dust off this older body and see what it can do! 

Snowy Egret - Egretta thula
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II on EOS 7D2
1/4000 at f/7.1, ISO 400

Next up is this Golden-crowned Sparrow which I intersected while birding outside San Jose. I rarely bother carrying the camera while I'm birding because I'm too focused on bird-finding and identification to worry about taking artistic photos, but I was stoked to have my walk-around rig with me when I spotted this subject at Vasona County Park. High overcast minimized midday shadows, and I consciously positioned the bird against some distant, low-hanging branches to suggest the Autumn season at the moment of capture. Sparrows don't get much photographic love, particularly in their winter plumage, so I was really happy with this colorful image of an under-appreciated species. 

Golden-crowned Sparrow - Zonotrichia atricapilla
Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 IS II on EOS 7D2
1/800 at f/5.6, ISO 800

Moving right along, I'll offer this Pomarine Jaeger, an oceanic species which spends the vast majority of its life many miles from land. We regularly intersect 'Poms' on pelagic trips, but those encounters are usually transient, the powerful fliers rocketing by the boat at high speed. It was therefore very unusual that this representative spent a week frequenting a public beach in Half Moon Bay. The bird flew around a good deal on my visit but eventually put down on the sand and allowed close approach. Unfortunately, the beach was covered with ugly-ass seaweed, so I decided to go with a headshot to keep the frame clean. I never imagined I'd be so close to this striking species. The light was super muted (see next photo for explanation why), but I like how that rendered the frame more contrasty than colorful.

Pomarine Jaeger - Stercorarius pomarinus
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II on EOS 7D2
1/1600 at f/7.1, ISO 800

Now for the best one! Snowy Plovers love to hunker in human footprints along the edges of the dunes, a behavior which doesn't lend to striking/memorable photographs, but circumstances suggested that I get creative when this incredible opportunity presented post-jaeger. While some lazy, fake-ass photographers have taken to swapping-in prefabricated backgrounds instead of working to obtain a real result, this one is totally legit, it generated as the setting sun shone through forest fire smoke which had drifted onto the Pacific. Though I was hundreds of miles from the inferno, the scene was a striking reminder of the challenges California will continue to face as the impacts of climate change compound. This is a bird photograph, but it's the surrounding negative space (beach and sky) which renders the frame memorable.

Snowy Plover - Charadrius nivosus
Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 IS II on EOS 7D2
1/2000 at f/5.6, ISO 800

Cheers for now!