Sunday, November 30, 2008

One Boy, One Bike, One Day

Nothing was on my schedule for Saturday, so I decided to take a crack at my record Bigby day (128). Finding this many species in one day requires covering lots of different habitats, such as seashore, estuary, freshwater marsh, and more. I ran my traditional biking route - down the mountains to sea trail to the coast. Unfortunately, days are short this time of year, so I was pressed for time. This difficulty is offset, however, by the diversity of birds around this time of year. I figured that the record would be fairly easy to beat, since I had made it without really trying.

It was a nippy fifty-two degrees when I pedaled out of my garage and down the street. Feeling only slightly ridiculous wearing a jacket and biking tights with binoculars slung around my neck, I sped towards the distant coast. I briefly paused at Peters Canyon, but after that I rode nonstop to San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary in Irvine. On the way, I found White-faced Ibis, Common Moorhen, and others without even slowing my pace.

I blew a good chunk of prime morning time at San Joaquin. If I were to do it again, I wouldn't spend as much time there, but I wanted to look for some of the interesting birds that had been reported there recently, including a Northern Waterthrush. According to the rare bird alert, the waterthrush had been seen in the "back area" - a flooded swamp acres large. I did find some interesting birds back in there, including Red-naped Sapsucker, Hutton's Vireo, Northern Flicker, and White-throated Swift. I dawdled around more, and didn't get out of there until ten-thirty.

To make up for the lost time, I frantically raced around Upper Newport Bay. It was high tide, anyway - about the worst time to look for most birds there. I figured I could catch some of the birds I missed on the way home, when tide was lower. I couldn't resist making a few quick stops, during which I found birds such as Horned Grebe, Marbled Godwit, Loggerhead Shrike (undoubtedly the same one I saw a couple weeks ago), and Whimbrel. I continued on towards Little Corona City Beach, where I hoped to find some birds more typical of the seashore.

On the way, I had to stop at the 76 gas station at PCH and Avocado to pick up a king-sized Hershey chocolate and almond candy bar. I think this is becoming a tradition. I arrived at Little Corona City Beach several minutes later. I began scoping the ocean while munching contentedly on my candy bar. Through the haze I spotted flocks of Black-vented Shearwaters skimming the water, Pacific Loons, and a new Bigby bird, a Common Loon. I descended to the beach to check the rocks for shorebirds. I was specifically interested in finding Black Oystercatchers, a species that has eluded me on my previous visits and kept off my Bigby list. I found lots of the common rocky shorebirds - Black Turnstones, Ruddy Turnstones, Surfbirds, and even a Wandering Tattler - but not oystercatchers. I picked my way across the rocks (climbing slick rocks with a scope on the shoulder should become an Olympic sport) to get a look around a bluff that was blocking my view of the rest of the beach. I reached a nice solid rock, and set up my scope on the uneven slimy surface. I carefully inspected the distant rocks, finding lots of turnstones and Surfbirds, and then... three Black Oystercatchers came out of nowhere, as certain people would say. I was still on a Big Day schedule, but I stopped and watched the oystercatchers for several minutes. Satisfied that I had vanquished another nemesis Bigby bird, I hopped back on my bike and headed back the way I had come.

By the time I got back to Upper Newport Back, the tide was lower and the birds were easier to find. Careful scanning of the enormous flocks of ducks and shorebirds produced some interesting new species for the day, including Eurasian Wigeon, Blue-winged Teal, Long-billed Curlew, and Dunlin. After glancing at the sun's low position in the sky, I decided I'd better hustle along if I wanted time to stop a couple more times. A five-minute spin through Mason Regional Park quickly produced Canada Goose and Townsend's Warbler, both new birds for the day. I knew of a Yellow Warbler wintering in a patch of willows in the San Diego Creek right along the bike trail, so I stopped and aimed some full-caliber pishes in the direction of the trees where it is wintering. The poor bird never had a chance. It immediately popped up, chipping away, and I also immediately popped onto my bike and pressed on. It took less than ten seconds.

After a lengthy ride, I arrived at Irvine Regional Park. I furiously dashed around the park, picking up several species characteristic of the foothills: Acorn Woodpecker, Oak Titmouse, and Western Scrub-Jay. I headed for home as the sun sank behind the hills. When I finally arrived home, I immediately counted up my list to see if I had broken the record. I had, and by a decent margin - my total for the day was 136. That's a fairly impressive total for one day on a bike, though I missed quite a few possibilities: Red-breasted Sapsucker, Lark Sparrow, Red Knot, Fox Sparrow, and others. I biked roughly forty-five miles and found two new Bigby birds, bringing my total up to 229. One hundred and forty in one day is the next barrier to break, but I think that will have to wait until next year.

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