Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Loaded Down

Binoculars can reach only so far. I quickly realized this soon after I began birding, while squinting through binoculars at ducks bobbing around far out in the chilly water of the Detroit River. It was November 1999, and I was on my first official field trip with the Detroit Audubon Society. Other birders with scopes began reeling off the identifications: Canvasback, Common Goldeneye, Hooded Merganser. The scope-wielding birders were kind enough to let me use their scopes; I was so short at the time that my dad had to heft me up to the eyepiece so I could get a quick glimpse of the bird.

I've owned a scope for years, but it is difficult to go birding by bike with a scope. That's a problem - it is very tough to add shorebirds and seabirds to one's Bigby list when you can't have a scope along. Fortunately, I've come up with a solution.

I purchased a back rack for my bike, along with a set of pannier bags. I put my binoculars, lunch, maps, and other items in the bags, and then strap the tripod to the rack. My scope is too large to fit comfortably in one of the bags, so I toss it in my backpack. As a result, my bike is loaded down with gear, but it works!

This morning I set off early, determined to reach the beach and add some seabirds to my Bigby list. My route took me around the Upper Newport Bay loop, which turned out to be a good thing. As I was whizzing along, I heard the harsh calls of a Clapper Rail and then glimpsed it as it flew a few feet and then disappeared back into the marsh. These Clapper Rails are notoriously difficult to find, and I've missed them on my several other visits to the bay this year. Otherwise, there were very few birds at the bay.

I reached Little Corona City Beach around 9:30. I've always found the birding decent at this little rocky beach, and today did not disappoint. Immediately upon arrival, I spotted a Pelagic Cormorant sitting among other cormorants on a rock just offshore. Another new Bigby bird. I hurriedly set up my scope and began scanning the ocean. It didn't take long for me to spot a few Sooty Shearwaters buzzing the swells well offshore, and they were soon followed by a couple Black-vented Shearwaters. Both of these were new Bigby birds for me.

In my hurry to scan the offshore waters, I neglected to check the rocks below the overlook for shorebirds. When I did finally look down, I was delighted to see five Wandering Tattlers nonchalantly loafing on the rocks. Yet another new Bigby bird for me, and always a neat bird to see. I clambered over the rocks and was able to approach closely for photos (I could only fit three of the birds in the frame).

After loitering around a bit longer, I turned around and began the long journey home. I managed to get out of the crowded and confusing maze of streets in Corona del Mar unscathed, and soon was cruising back around Upper Newport Bay. I stopped to scan a flock of shorebirds feeding on a distant mudflat, and after much careful scrutiny, I picked out a single Red Knot. Another new Bigby bird for me, bringing the tally of new Bigby birds for the day to six.

The ride home was anything but fun - pedaling uphill for miles in oppressive heat is exhausting. It was worth it, though; I haven't added six species to my Bigby list in a single day since March. When I finally arrived home at 2:15, I was more than ready for a hearty snack and a cold shower. The six new Bigby birds I added today brought my total to two hundred thirteen. Not too crummy - I wonder how many more I can find before the year ends? With the help of my new scope-carrying technology, hopefully many more.

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