Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Bikes and Birds

Sixty-five miles. That may not seem very far to those who travel primarily by car – it’s an easy hour’s drive, provided you aren’t on California freeways. Sixty-five miles by bike, however, is an entirely different matter. I spent nearly all day Saturday biking (and birding), racking up just over sixty-five miles.

Long bike rides have become a nearly weekly occurrence in my life. Relatively few potential new Bigby birds remain lurking out there, but I decided to spend my whole day Saturday partly to look for new Bigby birds, partly to do a big day by bike, and mostly just to have fun!

I took my traditional route to Corona del Mar. Seawatching is most productive early in the morning, so I left my house before light and pedaled by moonlight part of the way until the day broke. When I’m hustling to reach the beach before the day progresses too far, I try not to make any stops. However, a treetop White-tailed Kite near San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary, a Clapper Rail foraging on a mudflat at Upper Newport Bay, and some White-faced Ibis in the San Diego Creek demanded brief stops.

I reached the beach around eight. Unfortunately, it proved to be an awful day for seawatching. Very few birds were flying; twenty minutes of watching produced only a couple Sooty Shearwaters. A flock of five Black Oystercatchers on the jetty adjacent to the beach compensated for the paucity of seabirds. This species was new for my Bigby list, and finding it was a great relief, as this species is devilishly difficult to pin down. Other shorebirds at the beach included four Wandering Tattlers, six Surfbirds, and two Black Turnstones.

By mid-morning I saw no further purpose in lingering at the beach, so I hopped back on my bike and headed in the direction of home. Upper Newport was uncharacteristically dead, thanks to the high tide that flooded all the mudflats usually covered in shorebirds. The only notable birds were a Loggerhead Shrike, a small flock of Blue-winged Teal, and the continuing Surf Scoter.

I reached San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary in the heat of the day. Most of the shorebirds have abandoned the sanctuary in favor of areas with better habitat, and passerines were inactive because of the heat. Still, in an hour of birding, I found my only Virginia Rail, Sora, and Ruddy Ducks of the day. Following the shorebirds’ example, I abandoned San Joaquin in favor of better habitat – In-N-Out Burger!

After a hearty lunch at my preferred habitat, I lazily pedaled over to Mason Regional Park, my stomach full of cheeseburger, fries, and chocolate shake. I drifted around, pishing at the overgrown clumps of bushes and trees in hopes of adding a few migrants to my day list. It took a lot of picking through the hyper-abundant Orange-crowned Warblers, but I finally came up with Wilson’s Warbler, Townsend’s Warbler, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, and others. I dreaded the long hot ride up to my area in the hot afternoon, and after puttering around Mason Regional Park for a bit longer I finally began pedaling home.

I pulled into my garage with forty-seven miles under my belt. It was late afternoon, and I was missing a lot of common foothill species – birds as easy as Acorn Woodpecker! I was on the road again after a quick break in the chill of the air-conditioned house. My first stop was Santiago Oaks Regional Park, where I found the resident Rock Wren on the Villa Park Dam after a ten-minute search. I also picked up Northern Flicker, Lazuli Bunting, and other birds.

A five-mile detour brought me to my secret Clark’s Grebe location – a couple old water-filled quarries. Not only did I get the Clark’s Grebes, I also found several Western Grebes. Both were new birds for the day. After watching the grebes awhile, I turned around and headed toward Irvine Regional Park. While riding to Irvine Regional Park, I made a short deviation up Cannon Road where it climbs a ridiculously steep hill. When I reached the top, gasping for breath, I was rewarded with a couple Cactus Wrens flitting around on an adjacent hillside. Mission accomplished, I coasted down the hill and continued toward Irvine Park.

By the time I reached Irvine Regional Park, I had hit sixty miles for the day. I also had two hours before dark. I lazily cruised through the park on my bike, doing my best to dodge the numerous noisy family picnics. I found about a dozen new species without much effort. Some of the more interesting birds I found included White-breasted Nuthatch, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, American Robin, and California Quail. I loitered until sundown, hoping for a screech-owl. I staked out a particular patch of oaks that a particular screech-owl favors, but the squawks of the ravens coming in to roost drowned out everything else. After ten minutes of waiting and whistling, a Western Screech-Owl finally replied to my imitations. I headed for home, hearing a Barn Owl while riding through my neighborhood, and rolled into my garage with sixty-five miles on my odometer.

It was a long and satisfying day. Though I only tallied one new Bigby bird (Black Oystercatcher), all that riding was still worth it. I ended up with 121 species for the day, which isn’t bad considering I didn’t have particularly good luck at any point – I had almost no seabirds or migrants, and I hit the tides wrong at Upper Newport Bay. This is still twenty short of my record for number of species by bike in a day, though I could have reached 135 with better planning and with more migrants.

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