Sunday, March 1, 2009

You set a record?!

Birding by bike has always intrigued me, particularly since moving to California, which is much more biking-friendly than Michigan. I don’t do so much biking to reduce my carbon footprint (more on that at some other time), but because it is fun and convenient. Soon after becoming hooked on birding by bike, I was very excited to break the one hundred barrier for a day. Over the past year and a half, I’ve broken that record again and again, until my biggest biking day total was one thirty-six. This is a pretty intimidating total to break, but I figured it was possible. I had nothing better to do on Saturday, so on Friday evening I decided to take a crack at the record.

My route was roughly as follows: San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary, Upper Newport Bay, Little Corona City Beach, Irvine Regional Park, and Santiago Oaks Regional Park. This is a lot of ground to cover! I left my house at dawn and sped toward San Joaquin. This is always a fun ride; I can attain speeds up to thirty-five miles per hour going down the enormous hill along Jamboree Road. I arrived at San Joaquin at seven forty, having already picked up a few key birds on the way down, including Wilson’s Snipe, White-faced Ibis, and Yellow Warbler in the San Diego Creek and Chipping Sparrow at a little park near my house.

I had already decided to not waste a lot of my precious time at San Joaquin. It is a great birding spot, but I often trick myself into searching for the Northern Waterthrush that doesn’t seem to exist there. I gave myself twenty minutes. My first spot to check was Pond Two, where some Ross’s Geese apparently have been spending the night recently. I was either too late or the geese have disappeared for good, because the only geese in the pond were Canada Geese. I did get a much-appreciated consolation prize in the form of a gorgeous adult-cycle Mew Gull mixed in with the Ring-billed and California Gulls loafing on one of the islands. I returned to the Audubon House, found the continuing Wilson’s Warbler in the vegetation around the parking lot, and then ran out to Pond B to see my only Black-crowned Night-Herons of the day. I pulled out of the parking lot at eight sharp.

Upper Newport Bay could make or break my day, since I depended on it to produce lots of ducks, shorebirds, and raptors for my list. The tide wasn’t optimal (high, but it was only a three-footer), but I found lots of birds anyway. Numbers and variety were a bit down from my other recent visits, and I struck out on a few much-needed species like Loggerhead Shrike, Merlin, and Eurasian Wigeon. However, I came through with a number of problematic species, including Sora, Horned Grebe, and Canvasback.

The beach is always an important spot on any Orange County Big Day. Little Corona City Beach isn’t the best beach for birding, but it is the closest and most convenient. On the way to the beach, I stopped to pish at a well-vegetated yard adjacent to Pacific Coast Highway near Fashion Island. I was hoping for a Townsend’s Warbler or something along those lines. I was downright shocked when the first bird to pop up was a White-throated Sparrow. While hardly a earth-breaking rarity (at least six or seven are wintering in the county this year), it was unexpected. Surprisingly, it wasn’t a Bigby bird for me, as I saw one in early January at Mason Regional Park. After a few more minutes of pishing, my hoped for Townsend’s Warbler did show up.

After weaving through some of the quaint neighborhoods of Corona del Mar, I arrived at Little Corona City Beach. The most conspicuous birds were the Brandt’s Cormorants and Brown Pelicans loafing on the rocks below the overlook. Among them I picked out a single Pelagic Cormorant. The few rocks that weren’t submerged were free of shorebirds. Finally, I spotted a few little bumps that were most likely shorebirds on some rocks at least half a mile down the beach. It was too hazy to scan offshore, so I set off down the beach to get a closer look at the shorebirds. It was more difficult than I anticipated. At several points, the tide forced me to spider along narrow cliff edges to continue down the beach (I had my scope on my shoulder the whole while, mind you.) I finally was able to approach the birds closely enough to identify Surfbirds, Black and Ruddy Turnstones, Willets, Whimbrels, and Marbled Godwits. I also spotted a Red-breasted Merganser, the only one of the day.

By now the haze had burned off somewhat, so I returned to the overlook to scope offshore. While munching on my lunch, I spotted a few Black-vented Shearwaters, singles of Common and Red-throated Loons, and a handful of Surf Scoters. Pretty meager fair, but it was better than nothing.

Around noon I headed back in the direction of Irvine and Santiago Oaks Regional Parks. After a long and difficult uphill ride, I arrived at Irvine Regional Park mid-afternoon. I quickly found most of my targets without difficulty, including Wood Duck, Ring-necked Duck, Acorn Woodpecker, Oak Titmouse, and Lark Sparrow. I continued on to Santiago Oaks Regional Park, hoping to scrape out a few additional species. The first bird I tried for, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, was nowhere to be found. I never seem capable of locating him when I really need to. However, I did managed to pish up one of the Golden-crowned Sparrows I had come across the previous day. After picked up a couple more common foothill species, I wearily pedaled home as daylight faded.

I anxiously tallied up my checklist upon arriving home. Did I find enough to break my record? I got a few surprise birds, but I also missed some easy ones (Green Heron, Wandering Tattler, Cooper’s Hawk, etc.) Turns out all the pedaling paid off (53.21 miles, to be exact) – my total for the day was one hundred forty-one. That’s a decent total for a day of birding in Orange County by car, let alone by bike. It will be extremely difficult to break this record, though if I really tried (i.e., looked for owls, kept a tighter schedule, staked out more birds) I could likely attain one fifty. Additionally, I added eighteen new species to my Bigby list, mainly common beach species. It was a pretty awesome day of birding.


Leigh said...

God I wish I was in good enough shape to bike 50+ miles in a day!

Anonymous said...

Nice Blog! I'm a student at SCCO in Fullerton. This morning I saw a small family of the exotic Nutmeg Mannikin at Craig Park. A new BGBY bird for me. I'm a fairly new birder. I signed up to get updates on your blog. Thanks for sharing your adventures.