Monday, July 28, 2014

Day 209 - Lots of miles in my return to Wyoming

My ride today originated in Bloomington, ID and terminated 92 miles later in Alpine, WY. This ride was designed to put me into position to reach Jackson, WY tomorrow. I will probably spend 2-3 days birding in the Jackson area before I head west into and eventually across Idaho. Today's ride was really nice as there was good scenery and good quality roads for the duration. Unfortunately, since I had so much ground to cover, I really didn't do any birding today. I did manage a few shots of the scenery along the road for your enjoyment!

92 miles today - I think I am finally further north
that where I started in New England

Route 89 this morning

This WY sign is much better than the one I 
photographed earlier in the trip

View from the top of the second pass I climbed

Elkhorn arch in Afton, WY this afternoon

I have a very short list of birds I would like to find in/around Jackson. Trumpeter swan is my main reason for being here, and I think this will be the easiest of my sought species to find. I fully expect to find the swan tomorrow. I will also spend some time birding along the Moose-Wilson road looking for Great gray owl, Black-backed woodpecker and Ruffed grouse. I will have more chances at each of these 3 birds, but knocking a few of them here would be great. The owl is the most important of these 3 as I have only Le Grande, OR as a backup. I should be able to get the woodpecker and the grouse somewhere. If anyone has birding contacts in/around Jackson and would't mind passing that info along to me, I would really appreciate it. I am a bit thin on local knowledge at the moment!

I need to keep this on the short side tonight as I am busily updating my contact list for my remaining states: ID, OR, WA, CA, southern AZ (again), southern NM (again), and Texas (southern/LRGV this time around). If you live in these areas (or have friends in those areas) and want to be a part of Biking for Birds through birding with me, housing me, or most importantly feeding me, please drop me a note at! The more people I can meet along the way the better!

I hope to have some more bird news for you tomorrow!

Day 208 - Idahizzle? Fo' shizzle! Thoughts on listing, a teaser for gull aficionados,

If Calvin Broadus aka Snoop Dogg were to visit Idaho, this might be how he would announce his arrival. My rather muted entrance into the state was made this afternoon along the eastern shore of Bear Lake. Idaho represents state #25 on the Biking for Birds national bird finding tour. I will only be in Idaho for a single night before I cross into Wyoming en route to Jackson. I will, after birding Jackson, return to Idaho near Idaho Falls. From there I plan to head west to Boise and then into Oregon and probably Washington. 
Obligatory bike shot 

Today's ride was more challenging than I expected. The first 32 miles (yes, 32) were all uphill as I navigated through Logan Canyon. Over this distance I climbed almost 3,500'. What made the ride so tough was that the pitch of the road kept increasing along these 32 miles. I thought the grade was going to be fairly steady, so the very steep and difficult top third of the climb was a big surprise. Needless to say I wasn't in the best mood during this stretch of things. There were some really nice alpine meadows along the last few miles of the climb, but given how my legs were aching and how hungry I was, I didn't even bother to scan them for hummingbirds. All I wanted to do was reach the top and begin the decent on the other side. The second part of the ride was either downhill or flat, so my tired legs were able to manage the remaining 24 miles without incident.

The view of Bear Lake from the top of Logan Canyon.
Idaho is off to the left hand side of the photo.

A tough 56 miles today.

This region of Idaho is famous for raspberries, and
my hosts for the night have a huge berry patch in their yard.
And yes, I did pick and eat the whole 1-quart jar!

OK, since birding related news is nonexistent today, I'll touch on a topic that I think will interest many birders: bird listing. I think we can all understand the thrill of adding new birds to our ever-growing life lists. This thrill is compounded when the bird being added is out of its normal range. Why then are so many birders so cagey when it comes their own lists and listing proclivities? Why do so many birders want to avoid being labeled "listers"?

***Note, I realize that I am GENERALIZING below based on my own experience/observations***

There is not one specific answer to this question, but this is how I think about biases towards listers.  I suspect that many people feel that being a lister and a student of birds are mutually exclusive. A lister is thought, in my mind, to be someone who is concerned primarily with adding birds to his or her list. This person will often chase, or as I like to say "poach", high quality birds found by others rather than methodically birding the same areas over and over with the goal of thoroughly learning and enjoying the birds of a particular locale. I think that there is a feeling among some in the birding community that the second approach is nobler than the first, and because of this, listers are often thought to be in the birding game for the wrong reasons.

What many people fail to realize is that these two pursuits are not mutually exclusive.  For example, I am an unabashed lister. I have always been so, and likely always will be. However, as my Biking for Birds should prove to everyone, I am also very serious about bird conservation and bird education. This is my current mechanism to enjoy birds, and it encompasses many facets and motivations. When I return from this year, I am sure I will fall back into my photography-centric view of birds (I will also touch on the ongoing birder vs. bird photographer war at some point!). The point is that there is no right and wrong way to enjoy birds. The important thing is that people do what interests them with an eye towards understanding, appreciating, and conserving the birds they enjoy so much (you can donate to bird conservation here!). The more people who watch, list, learn about, and photograph birds, the larger our collective voice will be when we fight to protect the birds we love so much. We should focus on our common appreciation of birds, rather than delineating the rather minute differences between various bird-focused pursuits. 

Anyway, these are just some of my personal thoughts. I expect a flurry of emails and blogpost comments in response to this!

Lastly, since we are on the topic of listing. Here is a photo of a bird I took in Massachusetts in April of 2011. I have another photo (to which I do not have access as it in on my other computer) that shows a large window on the outer-most primary and a tiny window on the next primary; There were no other primary windows. 

This bird (I am deliberately being vague on the name/ID) was not accepted by the Massachusetts Avian Records Committee (MARC). I did not count it on my official ABA list. I have been torn for 3 years what to do about this bird with regards to my list. Should I add it despite the MARC decision? Should I wait for to find a bird that has been OK'd by the requisite birding bodies?  Should I stop worrying so much about the technicalities of my list? I am sure other folks have had similar experiences, so I am curious to hear what folks have to say! Comments in the blog would be preferable to emails since everyone can read these. It would be great to get some more discussion going between readers, not just between individual readers and me! Depending on how this little experiment goes, I may try to throw out more discussion points in upcoming weeks. For example, in a Wrestlemania-styled Battle Royale between North America's top birders, who do you think would emerge victorious? My money is on Debbie Shearwater! "If you're gonna throw up, throw up over the SIDE of the ring, not in the ring!" There are few hardcore birders in North America who haven't heard that speech. You know I love you Debbie! 

For those unfortunates not well-versed in
professional wresting, this is a Battle Royale!

Kenn "The Macho Man" Kaufman back in the 80s

I mean c'mon, who wouldn't want to see David Sibley in this?
You see that warbler over there?  - WOOOOOOOOO!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Day 207 - More roadside kindness, hard ride for Calliope!

I had several route choices to get from South Ogden, UT to Logan, UT. Each of these was roughly 50 miles, and each had advantages and headaches associated with them.

Option 1: Slow, mellow climb into mountains followed by additional VERY steep climb on dirt road. Long, slow decent on dirt road into Logan.

Option 2: Steep climb into mountains followed steep decent. I would then have to do the same additional VERY steep climb on the dirt road in Option 1 and the same long, slow decent on dirt road into Logan.

Option 3: Parallel the mountains on flat ground to Brigham City, then cut over them to the northeast with a moderate climb to reach Logan - all paved roads.

Option 2 was the most challenging and would probably going to be too hard for me given what I did yesterday. Option 3 would clearly be the easiest, but would give me the least time in the mountains where I would look for Calliope hummingbird. Given this, I settled on Option 1 even though I was not at all looking forward to the steep dirt road climb. This climb proved to be short but brutal. The road was incredibly rough. It was closer to a two-track than a graded dirt road. I was forced to push the bike for some of the climb. It was not fun - at all. I eventually reached the top and began the long slow decent north towards Logan. The road was still a bit rough, but at least it was downhill. 

I had hoped to find some nice alpine meadows with wildflowers where I could look for Calliope hummingbird. There were very few flowers all morning, and unfortunately since the road was so bad for so long, my attention was focused on not crashing versus bird finding. It was a really frustrating first half of the day.

A stretch of decent road at the top of the climb

Everything changed when I rejoined the paved road as I could start looking for birds again. At around 1:30pm, I passed a house in the foothills with a hummingbird feeder out front. Several birds scattered as I went by. I slammed on the brakes and set up shop in the street to do a bit of feeder watching. After about a 1/2 hour the homeowner appeared. Marlene was incredibly nice and said I should sit in the shaded yard instead of standing in the hot, sunny street. For the next 3.5 hours I feeder-watched as Marlene and her husband Robert kept me company. We had a very nice conversation that spanned politics, the environment, our respective lives, and so and so forth. It was great to have company as the hummingbirding ebbed and flowed over the afternoon. This was yet another example of extreme kindness shown to me by complete strangers. I was completely blown away by the generosity and hospitality demonstrated by Marlene and Robert. It is really reassuring to know such warm people exist in a world that sometimes can appear scary and intimidating. Bad news seems to get so much attention that it is easy to forget that there is much individual good in the world.

The most exciting moment of the afternoon came when a very small hummingbird buzzed the feeder. It momentarily flashed a very short tail with only a bit of white before it was chased off by a Broad-tailed. I was fairly certain it was a Calliope, but I really hoped it would return to confirm this diagnosis. About five minutes later what I presume was the same bird returned. I got a decent look this time as it perched right next to a male Black-chinned. The Black-chinned looked much larger than this bird. I managed a few photos showing both birds. The smaller front bird in the photos is the presumed Calliope with tiny beak and wings projecting beyond the short tail. This bird was minuscule. I counted this as Calliope hummingbird for #509. The bird did not return after these two brief appearances.

Marlene and me

Robert, Dog Marty, Marlene again

Afternoon stew provided by Marlene!
See mom, I am eating my vegetables.......

 I also managed to shoot a few of the other species a bit later in the day. There were lots of Black-chinneds and Broad-taileds! I am calling these all females, but I guess that it is possible that some of them are immatures.

Female Black-chinned

Same female Black-chinned as above

Female Broad-tailed

Another small hummingbird that I
think is a Broad-tailed.  It tail was on 
the short side though.

Another confusing bird......probably Broad-tailed

Same bird as above, but perched

Tomorrow I will head into state #25, Idaho! I hope to find Trumpeter Swan in the subsequent days as I cross back into Wyoming en route to Jackson.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Day 206 - Year bird hat trick at Antelope Island!

Today was going to be one of those very challenging days when I both look for birds and move a fair distance. This means I had to be very efficient as I biked and birded today. The morning ride took me ~45 miles from Sandy, UT to Syracuse, UT. From here I turned West and headed out into the Great Salt Lake over the Antelope Island Causeway. The main purpose of this western spur was to look for Chukar on Antelope Island. This is about the most reliable place around to find this species, so I made the big detour out there today.

~ 84 miles today

These days Antelope Island is a bit of a misnomer. Water levels in the lake are about as low as they have ever been according to die hard Utah birder Tim Avery. In fact, it took five miles on the causeway before I reached any water. Until that point it was basically salt flats on either side of the road for as far as I could see. This could have major repercussions during fall shorebird migration. The southbound birds need flooded flats to feed and refuel, and right now these are essentially nonexistent. 

Tim Avery and me. I actually stayed at Tim's 
house the last two nights.

The view of Antelope Island to the south
of the causeway. You can see the lightly colored, 
dry salt flats where often there is water instead.

View looking north from the causeway. This is not
snow, it is precipitated, crystalized salt. The "water"
you see is more like a salt slurry than anything else.

As soon as I did reach the water, I was treated to two 'free' year birds (free meaning I did not have to ride out of my way at all to find them). The first of these was Red-necked phalarope. This is a species I have seen many times before, but nothing has ever approached the numbers I saw today. Tim, who joined me for a few hours this afternoon, estimated that there were upwards of 20,000 of these little guys along the causeway. They were all very busy chomping down brine shimp and flies. It was really cool to see thousands of these birds turning every which way as they stalked prey. The second free bird I found today was Long-billed curlew, the largest shorebird in North America. I probably saw 6-8 of these scattered along the causeway on my way to and from Antelope. I was able to obtain distant photos of both of these birds, and I have included some additional photos to give you a better idea of what each of these species actually looks like.

Red-necked phalaropes from today for #506

Breeding female Red-necked phalarope from my collection.
Interestingly, female phalaropes are more brightly
colored than their male counterparts!
Taken at Plum Island, Massachusetts

Winter plumage Red-necked phalarope from my collection.
Taken in Monterey, California

Long-billed curlew from today for #507.
The black dots on the water behind him are flies.

Long-billed curlew from my collection, also from California.
The feathers on their backs are so pretty.

After these two freebies, I could turn my attention squarely towards the Chukar. There is a healthy population of these birds that lives in the rocky environs that surround the Antelope Island Visitor's Center. It took a bit of searching, but after about 1.5 hours I saw a bird standing on a rock in the distance. In approaching this bird, I found 2-3 other adult birds that were shepparding around what seemed like 12-15 chicks! This meant I actually saw between 15 and 20 Chukars today. This is a species I have seen only once before (in Oregon, and poorly at that), so this was a real treat. The light was terrible, but I squeezed out a few shots for your viewing enjoyment!

Chukar for #508!
F#$%^&ing midday light.
This would have been cash-money if was taken at 7pm!

Chukar chick!

Outside of the above mentioned birds, the birding around Antelope was fairly entertaining. There were thousands of Eared grebes, hundreds of Franklin's gulls, and lots of Willets, Killdeer, California gulls, and American white pelicans. There were also a handful of Loggerhead shrikes and a few Burrowing owls. Salt Lake reminds me a lot of the Salton Sea, a place I have birded many times before and will do so again in November of this year. Both landscapes are beautifully desolate, and they both hold an incredible number of birds at the right time of year. I would love to make it back to Salt Lake during migration to see the avian biomass than is here concentrated.

OK, I am beat. I am going to bed. Tomorrow I will ride the ~55 miles to Logan, UT. I'll leave you with two shots I took of a particularly cooperative American avocet today.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Day 205 - Goodbye Sonia, rest, plans for the next week and well beyond!

I had to say goodbye to Sonia very earl this morning. She repacked her life into the car and headed to Los Angeles where she will spend much of the second half of the year with her family. She will likely catch up with me around San Francisco in Mid-September. I will get to see her and her family as I pass through SoCal in October, and Sonia will meet me in Texas at the end of the year. It's great that I will get to see her at periodic intervals, but I will miss her greatly during these long stretches during which we are apart.

I have hardly moved from the sofa today. I have made a few foraging ventures towards the kitchen, but otherwise I have behaved in a very sloth-like manner. I am going to venture out to the Black Bear Diner for dinner a bit later. Sonia and I ate at the diner last night. This place serves the largest portions I have ever seen (the portions are very excessive for most everyone else - such a waste of food). However, it's perfect for someone like me who is probably burning 4,000 to 5,000 calories a day. Leftovers don't exist this year.

Tomorrow I will get back on the road. The plan for the next 4-5 days is to head north from Salt Lake, UT to Jackson, WY. I will try for Chukar at a very reliable spot north of Salt Lake tomorrow. After that, attention will shift to Trumpeter Swan. I should be able to pick up this species with relatively little effort as I move towards Jackson. I will look for Great gray owl and Black-backed woodpecker around Jackson. Should I miss either or both of these species, I will have another crack at them in Eastern Oregon in another 2 weeks. I am hoping to run into Calliope hummingbird sometime in the next two weeks as well. I expect to catch up with Ruffed grouse in either Wyoming or Idaho, and I will spend some time in Idaho looking for Gray partridge. This last species is not one I expect to find, and depending on how much time is spent looking for other species, I might to concede the partridge to keep moving.

If I end up in Boise around August 7-10 or so, I will have a lot of time in hand. Right now I thinking about making a run through Eastern Oregon and South-Central Washington towards Mount Rainier where I could catch up with Gray-crowned rosy-finch. I could then head to the coast to grab Mew gull. This is a bird I could easily miss further south since I will me migrating south well ahead of it. These normally reach Northern California by mid-October; I will be in Southern California by then so I need to make an effort to pick this bird up this summer (I won't get Thayer's gull or Ancient murrelet since these arrive in the lower 48 too late). After Mew gull, I could head towards Haystack Rock in Oregon where it seems totally feasibly that I could add Tufted Puffin. Although I think I can get Marbled Murrelet along the California Coast, I could possibly knock that bird out in Oregon as well. I could then spend some additional time inland in Oregon looking for birds that I might have missed on my first pass through the eastern part of the state. Mountain quail, White-headed woodpecker, Sooty Grouse, and Varied Thrush all fall into this category.

Here's the overarching timetable. I have allocated all of September and October to the Pacific Coast. It is ~1,400 miles from Seattle to San Diego where I plan to be at the end of October. I have covered 1,400 miles (with mountains!) in the past 23 days, so the ride down the coast does not intimidate me at all. I think most of the California bird-finding will be relatively straight forward. Yes, some species like Le Conte's thrasher, Spotted dove, and Pacific golden-plover might take some time to find, but many of the species will be free birds along the road (sparrows, titmice, wrentit, woodpeckers, chickadees, blackbirds etc). Heerman's/Glaucous-winged/Western gulls, Black oystercatcher, Wandering tattler, Surfbird, Black Turnstone, cormorants, and alcids will be easy to find in Oregon and California. The point is that once I make the turn south along the coast, I really don't think I will have much trouble finding the birds I hope to find. I could even ride as far north as Seattle before I make the turn south. Who knows...maybe I could be Boreal Chickadee or Spruce grouse in the Cascades (yes, I know these are LONG shots). As long as I start heading south by September 1, I think I will have time to bird California thoroughly enough to get the species I need. 

Looking even further ahead, my plan is to reach Monterey, CA around the end of September or the very beginning of October. While this year is going to be successful irrespective of the final species count, my ability to get within sniffing distance of the 600 species mark hinges squarely on my ability to tick a handful of pelagic birds in Monterey. I should be able to get Sooty and Black-vented shearwaters from shore with ease. With the right wind I should be able to get Black-footed albatross, Pink-footed shearwater, and Pomerine Jaeger from Point Pinos. Getting out in a kayak would virtually guarantee me all of the above even though I expect to get them from shore. However, if I could get onto a sailboat for 2-3 days, I would then have chances at Black and Ashy storm-petrels, Buller's shearwater, Red phalarope, Black-legged kittiwake, Long-tailed jaeger, Sabine's gull, Northern Fulmar, and other rarer species (Flesh-footed shearwater e.g.). There has been some talk about kayaking from Santa Cruz to Monterey across the Seavalley. This might work well, but surely a sailboat would be the best option. If anyone knows someone who might be able to sail me around Monterey Bay for 2-3 days, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE let me know! Pulling this off would surely be the biggest score of the year!

After Monterey, I will head South to SoCal to pick up what California birds I may have missed. I will also spend some time chasing what October rarities might appear. I will also need to chase down birds like California gnatcatcher, Bell's sparrow, and Spotted dove. From there its back east past the Salton Sea for Yellow-footed gull, across southern AZ and NM to Texas were I am as f now planning to end the year. 

The point is that I do want to move down the West coast too fast. I actually want to slow down in the Pacific Northwest before I dip south into California. The best time for Monterey seabirds is right around the turn from September to October, and the best time for migrants and rarities in SoCal is mid-October. Racing down the coast really doesn't get me much, so expanding my route north a bit to grab a few more birds with my extra time seems reasonable to me.

So, now that I'm at 505, we can start to play the "How could I get to 600 game?" Here we go...

Birds from UT/WY/ID/Interior OR (10 species)
Trumpeter swan
Great gray owl
Black-backed woodpecker
Calliope hummingbird
Sagebrush sparrow - if I miss this in the next few weeks, I'll get it wintering in AZ
Gray partridge
Ruffed grouse
Sooty grouse
Varied thrush

Birds from Coastal Pacific Northwest if I expand my route that direction (3 species)
Mew gull
Gray-crowned rosy-finch
Tufted puffin

Birds from Southern Oregon South to San Diego (49 species)

****I will get many of these before I get to California, but its easiest to sort them into this category

Greater-white fronted goose
Snow goose - will get in NM/TX if too early for it in CA
Ross’s goose  - will get in NM/TX if too early for it in CA
Pacific loon
Brandt’s cormorant
Pelagic cormorant
Sooty shearwater - I don't even consider this a pelagic species, will get it easily
Black rail - This is going to require some serious luck. I also need to contact Henry Detwiler in Yuma about this bird.
Mountain quail - Will require some serious searching
Black oystercatcher
Wandering tattler
Long-billed curlew - Might be at Salt lake tomorrow
Black turnstone
Pacific-golden plover - Maybe.......
Red-necked phalarope - Might be at Salt lake tomorrow
Heerman’s gull
Western gull
Yellow-footed gull - Salton Sea
Glaucous-winged gull
Elegant tern
Common murre
Pigeon guillemot
Marbled murrelet
Rhinocerous auklet
Spotted dove - LA peeps - I'll need help with this!
Cassin’s vireo
Yellow-billed magpie
Nuttall’s woodpecker
White-headed woodpecker
Red-breasted sapsucker
Chestnut-backed chickadee
Oak titmouse
Pacific wren
California gnatcatcher
Pacific-slope flycatcher
Allen’s hummingbird
Vaux’s swift
California thrasher
Le Conte’s thrasher - Can also get at famous "Thrasher spot" west of Phoenix on the way back east
California towhee
Hermit warbler
Golden-crowned sparrow
Bell’s sparrow
Tricolored blackbird
Lawrence’s goldfinch
Purple finch
Nutmeg mannakin

California pelagics (11 species)
Black-footed albatross
Northern fulmar
Buller’s shearwater
Pink-footed shearwater
Black-vented shearwater
Ashy storm-petrel
Black storm-petrel
Red phalarope
Sabine’s gull
Pomarine jaeger
Long-tailed jaeger (I have Parasitic from Florida)

Texas Lower Rio Grande Valley (20 species)
Least grebe
Plain chachalaca
White-tailed hawk
Whooping crane - I will have to ride up the Gulf Coast to get this
Red-billed pigeon
White-tipped dove
Groove-billed ani
Common paraque
Buff-bellied hummingbird
Green kingfisher (I have Ringed kingfisher already!)
Red-crowned parrot
Green parakeet
Green jay
Great kiskadeee
Couch’s kingbird
Long-billed thrasher
Sprague’s pipit
Olive sparrow
Altamira oriole
Audubon’s oriole

This is 92 total species. Added to the 505 I have now, this would bring me is 597. I fully realize that I will not get all 92 of these. If I can get more than say, 88, then 600 is possible when we consider the Code 3 and 4 birds below (I know Baird's sparrow is not a rare bird, but getting to where I can find it in AZ is going to be VERY difficult). The above 92 species take into account only Code 1 and Code 2 birds. If I could find a few of these rarities, then 600 becomes remotely possible.

Red-throated pipit (CA)
Yellow-green vireo (CA)
Rufous-backed robin (AZ)
Ruddy ground dove (AZ)
Baird's sparrow (AZ, wintering)
Harris' sparrow (TX) - I could swing into northern part of state en route to LRGV - requires medium detour
Smith's longspur - again not rare, it would just require a big detour
Aplomado falcon (TX)
Hook-billed kite (TX)
Brown jay (TX)
Muscovy (TX)
White-collared seedeater (TX)
Clay-colored robin/thrush - whatever the hell it is called these days (TX)
Blue bunting, Crimson-collared grosbeak, ??????. (TX)

If I could get to Santa Cruz Island to add the Scrub jay, that would be amazing! Who knows, maybe I could get Scripps murrelet on that trip too!

The point is that if I can get these last few mountain birds in the next 5 weeks, and I can get out on boat in Monterey, I should at least have a remote chance at getting to 600. It is going to be very exciting for sure! Hopefully, you'll stay tuned!

Day 204 - To Salt Lake and rest, California quail for #505

Sonia is leaving early tomorrow morning, so I am going to keep this short so that I can spent extra time with her. It has been great having her around the last week. It will be very difficult to let her go tomorrow, but I am sure I will see her again in California sometime this fall. Until then its will be just me and the birds.

Today I had a very easy 56-mile ride from Heber City, UT to Sandy, UT. I briefly thought about trying to go directly over the Wasatch Mountains to try for Calliope hummingbird at the high elevations. However, I decided against this once I got onto the bike and felt how tired my legs actually were. I instead selected a longer but much easier southern route to avoid any real climbing. This was a very wise decision. I was so tired I actually fell asleep in the ice cream store where Sonia and I went after lunch.

I will be spending two days here in Sandy/Salt Lake to recharge my batteries. Mentally I am feeling just fine, so I expect to have little trouble getting back onto the bike on the 25th when I head towards Antelope Island and its resident Chukar population. 

56-miles around the Wasatch today

I was able to add California quail for bird #505 today. I did not realize that this species was found this far east, but apparently they are quite common in and around Salt Lake City. It was nice to get a year bird with zero effort today!

California quail for #505

OK, that's it for now. Since today's blog was a bit wimpy, I promise a content rich discourse tomorrow! I'll leave you with one last photo from yesterday on Bald Mountain.

White-crowned sparrow

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Day 203 - A rosy day in Utah, Biking for Birds in Audubon Magazine!

Rosie O'Donnell? - Nope

Rosie Jetson? - Nah

Rosie the Riveter? - Not quite

Black rosy-finch - Hell yeah! Year bird #504!

This photo is just a teaser, so just keep reading for more shots of these guys!

The last two days have been totally dedicated to Black rosy-finch, and today this investment paid some huge dividends in the form of 20+ (yes, twenty plus!) Rosy-finches at the summit of Bald Mountain in the Uinta Mountains. I actually rode a bit further than I had planned yesterday. This put me in a very good position to hunt down the Rosy-finches today. Here is a revised map of my ride yesterday. The road up into the mountains, Route 150, was a really nice ride. It was also lined with campsites which meant I could reach a campsite, assess how I felt, and continue on if I felt OK. This allowed me to ride about 10 miles further than I had planned yesterday.

The route was a bit circuitous, but I did not want
to climb 6,000' feet over 45 miles on dirt roads.
Everything I rode yesterday was really well paved.

Today I got up early and headed directly uphill towards Bald Mountain Pass (10,700'). Sonia followed a few hours later. From here, we would climb Bald Mountain in search of the Rosy-finches. By adding those 10 miles yesterday, today's morning climb was 2200' vertical feet over 10 miles versus 3200' over 20 miles had I stopped where I had originally planned. The ride this morning was just gorgeous. We had perfect weather all day, and this made for an exceptionally nice day of birding. 

55 miles today - most downhill, unlike yesterday!

Lake on the way up to Bald Mountain

 Meadow below Bald Mountain

Bald Mountain

Sonia and I climbed the Bald Mountain trail. As soon as we got above treeline, we started to see fly-by birds that looked suspiciously like Black rosy-finches. A few minutes later we ran into another birder who had located a Rosy-finch on the ground. We had nice looks as this bird, but this was nothing compared to what was to come. The other birder was Luke Seitz. He is from Maine and is visiting Utah for much of the summer. I know his name as he is a really good young birder who has a great reputation around New England and beyond. It was nice to put a face to the name today. We spent the rest of the morning birding with Luke. As we climbed higher on the mountain, Rosy-finches became more and more abundant. There were numbers of fledglings testing their wings, and we got some amazing looks at these and their parents!

Luke and me

Juvenile Black rosy-finch

Adult Black-rosy-finch #1

Adult Black-rosy-finch #2

 Summit celebration!

Time to relax after finding the target bird!

As you can see today was wildly successful: year birds, new friends, and time with Sonia! After our Rosy-finch triumph and decent from Bald Mountain, we headed back down to Heber City for the night. Since we have been camping the last 3 nights, we were stoked to get into a motel and get a shower. Dinner at Tony's Taco's was ah-mazing. Sonia is half Mexican so I trust her analysis of the food. Tomorrow I am going to ride around the south end of the Wasatch Mountains and head into Sandy. I will probably take an off-day the following day before beginning the great Chukar search north of Salt Lake at Antelope Island.

Lastly, I recently did an interview with Audubon Magazine. The piece appeared online today! Please take a few minutes to check it out!

OK, OK, since you made it this far, I'll throw you one more bone. How about this shot of Townsend's solitaire from today!