Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Shifting Seasons

As the year passes by, new Bigby birds become more and more difficult to root out. It is easy to add a few dozen new species the first few times out in a year, but after that you are lucky if you tally half a dozen with an all-day ride. I rode over forty miles today and managed to dig out only four new Bigby birds. That’s over ten miles for each bird.

I haven’t taken a long bike ride since late February, so I knew I would at least score a couple easy birds. My main targets for the day were Grasshopper Sparrow and Least Tern. The tern I could get any time all summer long, as this species frequents San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary and Upper Newport Bay. Grasshopper Sparrows are easy enough to find along Shady Canyon on the far side of University California Irvine, but it is a five-mile side trip up a large hill. As a result, I drag my rear end up there once a year, and once I have heard them I gleefully coast down the hill with Grasshopper Sparrow on my list.

I decided to leave early, around six fifteen, so I would make it down to Shady Canyon while the sparrows were still singing. Once I arrived at Shady Canyon, I immediately heard the Grasshopper Sparrows – two of them – buzzing away from the grassy slopes above the road. Great. I puttered around for a few more minutes before turning around and heading to San Joaquin. See you next year, sparrows.

The Least Terns at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary also posed no problem. I easily found several flying around the first few ponds. While watching the terns, I noticed a Bonaparte’s Gull paddling around Pond C. Somewhat surprisingly, this was also a new Bigby bird for me (number two hundred, in fact!)

I wandered around San Joaquin for a couple hours, finding nothing extraordinary. All the neat winter birds – ducks and shorebirds – are gone, and I found very few migrants. However, there was a lot of breeding activity. Perhaps the most obvious were the American Avocets. The fluffy babies were prancing around the ponds, ignoring their shouting parents who were attempting to herd them around.

The most interesting nesting activity was happening on the Campus Dr. bridge over the San Diego Creek. Hundreds of Cliff Swallow nests line the sides of the bridge, and swarms of the swallows were fluttering around making a racket. It is very entertaining to stand below the bridge and drink in the spectacle: swallows poking their heads out of the nest holes, others gathering mud to be added on to the nests, and still others just flying around seemingly randomly.

In the late morning I decided to take a spin around Upper Newport to look for Elegant Terns. I had no luck with the Elegant Terns, and had very few birds overall. Only a few rather cruddy-looking shorebirds were around, probably second-years oversummering. All the ducks were gone. There were hundreds of Black Skimmers hanging around the nesting island at the north end of the bay, along with Forster’s and Least Terns. I gave up and headed towards home without finding any new Bigby birds.

While I was biking from Shady Canyon to San Joaquin earlier in the morning, I made a great discovery. Instead of taking the long way back through Mason Regional Park, I cut across from Culver on Campus. There, within a quarter mile of San Joaquin, I found an In-N-Out Burger restaurant. As I was biking from Upper Newport Bay, I was hungry, but I didn’t really feel like eating a squished peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I took the short detour to In-N-Out. As I looked over the menu (it isn’t hard to choose at In-N-Out, since there are only a handful of options), I pulled out my wallet and was horrified to find that I had only three dollars. Three bucks isn’t enough for a combo, but a burger and a small drink are only a few cents short of three dollars. Unfortunately, I had forgotten about a little thing called sales tax. Turns out I was fourteen cents short. Thankfully, the guy at the register let me off the hook and gave me $3.14 of food for $3.00.

After wolfing down my burger I headed for home. However, that plan changed when I last-minute decided to make a quick stop at Mason Regional Park. I’m glad I did. The park had decent numbers of migrants, which was nice to see after a couple weeks of absolutely dismal migration. The only new Bigby bird I found was Hermit Warbler (which I had actually been getting worried about), but I saw lots of Wilson’s, Townsend’s, Orange-crowned, and Yellow Warblers, along with Western Tanager, Black-headed Grosbeak, and Warbling Vireo.

I finally tore myself away from Mason and shot homeward. I kept my cruising speed around sixteen miles per hour and managed to get up the long hill on Jamboree Road without stopping. When I reached home, I was tired, dirty, and sunburned, but I had four new Bigby birds under my belt. These four new ones pushed my Bigby list up to two hundred and one. Here are a few more photos from the day.


Ali Iyoob said...

That was some day. Do you have a thin wheel bike or a mountain bike? I might try it some time.

John G said...

He probably let you off the hook because he assumed you were eleven years old!