Sunday, February 10, 2008

Long Ride

Yesterday morning I set out on a great adventure. Originally, I had been planning on birding the Santa Ana Mountains, but my dad came down with a cold. So - what to do? Bird Irvine Regional Park for the third time this week?

No! I decided to be a bit more adventurous. While studying my Orange County Bike Trails map, I noticed there was a bike path - a mountains to sea route - from Peters Canyon all the way to Upper Newport Bay. It was a long way - a good fifteen miles - but I had no plans for the day. I still needed a lot of coastal species, mainly shorebirds, for my Bigby list. So, I set out early Saturday morning.

I was happy to see that the trail followed both the San Diego and Peter's Canyon Creeks for fair distances. Along these creeks I found some interesting birds - a smattering of Least Sandpipers, Long-billed Dowitchers, and Greater Yellowlegs; a gaggle of Wilson's Snipes roosting behind the Irvine Civic Center; and most surprising, a trio of female Common Mergansers.

The ride went very smoothly. As I rolled under the Jamboree Road bridge over the San Diego Creek, I had my first glimpse of Upper Newport Bay. Excited to have finally made it, I raised my binoculars. A few Western Grebes floated out on the open water, a flock of American Avocets and Willets rested on the shoreline, and a tern - yes, a Forster's Tern - flew through the air. All were new for my Bigby list. I quickly added several other new species to my Bigby list, and then continued around the east side of the bay on Back Bay Drive.

Ducks abounded. I found Blue-winged Teals to be surprisingly numerous - I saw probably at least twenty. Green-winged Teal, Cinnamon Teal, and American Wigeon were also very common. Marsh Wrens, Common Yellowthroats, and Song Sparrows were omnipresent. As I approached the Big Canyon outlet, I could hear the low murmur of a big flock of birds - the yips and skimmers and the soft muttering of shorebirds. Sure enough, there was a big flock of Black Skimmers and shorebirds resting on the shoreline.

There were Marbled Godwits, Long-billed Curlews, and a few Whimbrels mixed in amongst the Black Skimmers. A large flock of dowitchers nearby contained both Short-billed and Long-billed Dowitchers - I distinctly heard both species calling. Closer inspection revealed several Dunlins, Least Sandpipers, and Western Sandpipers sprinkled amongst the dowitchers. American Avocets and various ducks were also present. Here's a photo showing a mixed flock of American Avocets, dowitchers, a couple Willets, and a single Dunlin.

I biked all the way to Newport Dunes, located at the south end of the bay. I contemplated pedaling to the beach, but I jettisoned that idea because of the lack of a good route. I biked back up Back Bay Drive. I stopped to scan a small flock of American Wigeon feeding nearby in the marsh, hoping for a Eurasian Wigeon. Suddenly, a beautiful drake Eurasian Wigeon jumped out at me - very neat bird to see, especially on a bike! The bird was slightly out of reach for my pathetic little camera, but I tried to get photos anyways.

After wolfing down a quick lunch, I pointed my bike homewards and started back up the San Diego Creek. Fortunately, the route was very flat except for the last couple miles. On the way back, I briefly stopped at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary. I checked the sightings board, expecting nothing out of the ordinary, but someone had reported a Tropical Kingbird! I checked the date - it was from today! I grabbed a map and rushed over to where it had been reported. No dice. I scanned treetops and strained my ears, but the only kingbirds I could find were the resident Cassin's Kingbirds. A consolation prize was a nice adult Black-crowned Night-Heron, another new Bigby bird.

After struggling up the Tustin hills, I stumbled around Irvine Regional Park for forty-five minutes to add to my day list. I logged 108 species for the day, which breaks my previous high total for a day of biking (102). It's hard to say how many miles I pedaled, but it was at least forty miles. I think I did quite well, considering I've never done a really long ride before, and I was only a tad bit sore today! ;)

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