Saturday, December 5, 2009

Wild Card



Last night around eight o'clock, I decided to ride my bike to Bolsa Chica and some other coastal places down that way the next morning. It's amazing how casual my decisions to embark on lengthy bike rides have become; today, I rode nearly sixty miles after only a couple hours of planning. When I first began pedaling long distances, I planned the trips out at least a week in advance. I was actually planning on riding out to Chino today to look for a few lousy birds I needed for my Bigby list (Eurasian Collared-Dove, Gray Flycatcher... bleh), but when I realized last night that I'd need more than an hour to plan out this route (I've never ridden there before), I spontaneously decided to go to Bolsa Chica instead. I'm glad I did.

Riding to Bolsa Chica is a long and boring way to spend a couple hours. The route dives right through some of the nastiest urban jungle imaginable; it is possible to ride a mile and only see a dozen House Sparrows and a pigeon or two. The promise of a few new Bigby birds was alluring, however. Most of the potential new birds were wild cards--scarce, not guaranteed. Amazingly, I managed to find just about every possible new bird.

My luck began at Estancia Park in Costa Mesa. A Pine Warbler has wintered here the previous three winters, so I decided to pop over (the park is only a half-mile from the bike trail) to see if it was back. To be honest, I wasn't expecting anything. I scouted out the place a few weeks back and came up empty. I rolled up to the patch of pines the bird preferred, pished, and within five seconds, a small yellow bird flitted toward me. Eventually, it showed its face, and I was delighted to see that the Pine Warbler had returned for its fourth winter in a row. Additionally, it was a new Bigby bird for me.

The next wild card was Common Goldeneye. Contrary to its name, Common Goldeneyes are downright rare in Orange County. The Santa Ana river mouth has been a dependable place from them in the past, so I carefully scanned the ducks as I rode along. After looking through endless flocks of scaup, Bufflehead, and Red-breasted Mergansers, I found two female Common Goldeneyes. Sweeeet! Second Bigby bird of the day.

My next destination was Bolsa Chica. Well, not really. I talked myself into walking to the end of the Huntington Beach Pier to sea if there were any pelagic birds to be had. A visit of a few minutes turned into an hour and a half vigil. The birding was amazing.

First, a Northern Fulmar flew by. I wasn't expecting this one at all; not only was it a new Bigby bird, it was a new county bird! Next, after picking through the gobs of Surf Scoters bobbing around in the swells for several minutes, I stumbled across a female Black Scoter. Another new county and Bigby bird, and one that I hadn't thought I'd ever get. Just as I was thinking the day couldn't get any better, a Pomarine Jaeger flew by. Bigby bird #5 for the day...so far. These birds were the highlights of a whole mess of nearshore birds: loons of three flavors, Parasitic Jaegers (including one mercilessly chasing a tern up over the beach), Black-vented Shearwaters, Brant, and Western Grebes.

I hugged the beach as I continued northward to Bolsa Chica. As it turned out, this paid off. I bumped into some impressive flocks of gulls. Most of them were the expected Western, California, Ring-billed, and Heermann's, but one of the flocks contained no fewer than six Mew Gulls.



The gull flocks also contained numbers of Royal Terns. A common bird, to be sure, and one of the more numerous tern species in California in the winter. However, I don't usually get to see them up so close.



Interestingly, one of the terns seemed to be begging from another! The bird's behavior, plus its paler-colored bill from the other birds, makes me think it's a young one clinging to one of its parents. It's grown up and undoubtedly capable of catching his own fish, but still, a free meal from Dad beats working for your own dinner.



I finally got to my main destination of the day, Bolsa Chica. After quickly scoring the only sure new Bigby bird of the day, Snowy Plover in the back part of Bolsa Chica, I headed down the boardwalk to see what was around. Unfortunately, I hit it just about right at high tide, the worst time to bird Bolsa Chica. Shorebirds were nearly absent, undoubtedly trying to find somewhere that wasn't submerged. That was fine with me, though. The bird I was really looking for was Thayer's Gull, the next wild card of the day.

Prospects were looking good when I rounded the bend and found a couple thousand gulls roosting near the first overlook. California, Ring-billed, Western, Herring, Glaucous-winged...repeat. After fifteen minutes of laboriously sorting through the gulls, I managed to pick out not one but two Thayer's Gulls: an adult and a first-cycle. Happy with my seventh new Bigby bird of the day, and yet another wild card, I left Bolsa Chica.

At this point I experienced the lowest part of the day. While packing up my bike in the Bolsa Chica parking lot, I couldn't find the two little bungee cords I use to fasten my tripod to my bike rack in the pannier bag where I usually put them. I thoroughly rummaged through the bag without success. Next I checked the other pannier bag, and then my backpack, and then my pockets, and then the ground around my bike. They had disappeared. I was crushed. Those were my special tripod bungee cords! I secured my tripod with my belt instead. It worked... the tripod didn't fall off.

With about an hour left before I had to head home, I decided to pop over to the beach again to see if I could pull out a White-winged Scoter and make the Scoter Sweep. After locking up my bike and trekking over the broad beach, filling my shoes with even more sand. When I crested the small rise, I shaded my eyes and gazed upon flocks of scoters as far as the eye could see in both directions. It was overwhelming. There were thousands of scoters! I was surprised when the first non-Surf Scoters I found were three more Black Scoters, generally considered to be the most uncommon of the three. It was difficult to know where to start. Scoters were bobbing in the swells everywhere, some diving, some sleeping, some just sitting. To get a better view, I clambered atop a lifeguard tower (there was no one around to care) and began scanning. After half and hour of combing the flocks, I finally found a female White-winged Scoter, my last new Bigby bird and wild card of the day.

I had a long ride ahead of me, so I swung by subway and picked up the best sandwich ever: a sweet-onion chicken teriyaki sub on wheat bread with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and banana peppers. Mmmmm. Fueled up, I did the long ride home in about two hours, arriving just around dark. Whew. Fifty-seven miles, and eight new Bigby birds. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday!

1 comment:

Glennis said...

You found so many beautiful birds. The little yellow one is very pretty.