Monday, February 24, 2014

Feb 24 (Day 55) - 5 new species to reach 202, rendezvous with other cyclists

Today started out in St. Augustine, Florida and ended in Daytona Beach 58 miles to the south. With a few miles of biking I did in St. Augustine before I hit the road, I cycled a total of 60 miles today. More importantly, I added 5 species that took me to 202 for the year! Now I can set my sites on 300 which will probably come sometime in April.

I did not have that far to ride today (at least compared to the last 2 days of 92 and 77 miles), so I arranged to meet local biker and green birder Diana Doyle for a few hours of birding this morning. Diana apparently makes it out on her bike almost every day, and so she was the prefect person to show me around St. Augustine. I think birding on a bike makes one aware of areas that he/she might ignore should he/she be birding by car. For instance, as we were riding along, Diana pointed down a dead end street. She said that she often sees hummingbirds down at the end. As Ruby-throated hummingbird would be a year bird, we poked our head down the cul-de-sac and immediately found one (#198). Next stop on our tour was a street where Yellow-throated warbler is known to nest. We quickly found a mixed flock of birds that included the usual chickadees, titmice, and kinglets. We were able to tease out a Blue-headed vireo for #199. Our initial efforts to hear the Yellow-throated warbler singing were thwarted by a leaf blower. However, when we returned a few minutes later we were able to hear a singing male (#200). He didn't stick around long, so he's getting tallied at as heard only even though I saw what I know was him fly out of the tree where he was singing. We unfortunately missed the continuing White-winged doves in a nearby neighborhood, but 2 out of 3 isn't bad. Diana later returned to find the doves after we had split up. She thereby preserved her perfect batting average when in comes to finding good birds in St. Augustine. She demonstrated that sometimes it is better to bird a limited area really thoroughly by bike than simply quickly surveying areas by car. It was a fantastic start to the day.

Diana and I with our bikes

The ride to Daytona Beach was straight south, and with a decent northeast tailwind, I made really good time as I paralleled the beach. At one point I noticed an odd-looking mockingbird on a wire ahead of me. Slowing down to approach it, I quickly realized that it was a Florida scrub jay (#201)! A second one soon joined it on the wire. I probably should have taken a photo, but between being backlit and the time to assemble the camera I decided against the effort. As I was watching the jay, a couple of bikers rolled up beside me and introduced themselves. They were Sabrina and David. The two Germans were in the midst of a 14-month bike trip that was going to take them through parts of Southeast Asia, the US, and Europe. They were carrying at least as much gear as me, and they looked like very well-seasoned cyclists at this juncture of their trip. These two were actually the first other traveling bikers into which I have bumped on my own trip. This is not altogether surprising as only I am crazy enough to brave this east coast winter on a bicycle! We exchanged blog information, and I will try to keep abreast of their movements when I have some downtime. Interestingly, I saw at least 3 other touring bikers after this, so it seems as though there will be some other riders in Florida with whom I will be able to swap stories as I continue.

Sabrina and David

The main reason for my staying in the NASCAR-fan-saturated Daytona Beach was jaegers. Looking in eBird, my new favorite website, I saw that Daytona Beach was my best chance of finding Parasitic jaeger. Local birders had told me the same thing, so I had planned to spend a few hours sea watching from the south end of town. On my way to Daytona, I found a large concentration of birds in the vicinity of several fishing boats just north of town. There were lots of gulls, tern, pelicans, gannets, and cormorants. I was floored by how many gannets there were this far south. I felt that they were noticeably thin up north, so maybe this is where all those birds moved. I was able to pick one jaeger, but it was so far away that I was not willing to even attempt an ID. It would remain safely anonymous as "jaeger, sp" (for unbirders, this means "an unidentified (sp)ecies of jaeger").

I arrived at Frank Rendon Park south of Daytona at 3pm, and I spent the next 3.5 hours perched on a boardwalk that gave me great views of the ocean. The wind had moved around to blow gently from the east. This was ideal as it might serve blow jaegers closer to shore. There was lots of gull activity at this spot, and I was able to pick a distant jaeger that eventually flew close enough for me to ID the smallish, slender bird as a Parasitic (#202). It rocketed by my vantage point and south down the beach. Despite much staring at the horizon, this was the only jaeger I was able to find at this spot. I will return to this spot tomorrow morning for a bit, so maybe I'll find a few more.

I was simply astounded at the numbers of gulls that continued to gather at this spot. I had been told that this was a big gull roost, but I was totally unprepared for the exact numbers. By the time the sun set, there were tens of thousands of gulls blanketing the beach two miles on either side of me. Most of these were Laughing gulls, but there were also large numbers of Ring-billed and Herring. I was able to pick out at least 30 (yes, 30) Lesser-blacked backed gulls at this spot. I have not seen that many in my life up until this point. I was also able to spy a previously reported Glaucous gull (a great bird this far south). As I stayed on the boardwalk for fear of missing a flyby jaeger, I did not see the adult California gull that was found about a mile down the beach by local birder Michael Brothers. While this is a great bird for Florida, it was not one that was going to make me abandon my jaeger post as I am going to see it later in the year anyway. The light was terrible so I did not take any photos of the gulls. It was a really cool spectacle nonetheless. Apparently this gathering is a nightly occurrence around here, so if you ever make it to Daytona, be sure to check it out. Incidently, it is this large gathering of gulls that attracts the jaegers. Jaegers are special gulls that steal food from "normal" gulls.

I am going to keep tomorrow fairly mellow and only ride about 30 miles (I've covered 230 miles in the last 3 days). This will leave much time for birding tomorrow! 


  1. I don't like much birding from a car, since I find it hard to spot them from the car. In a car, my attention suffers. On foot or a bicycle I am much better. A car's main use is to get to areas where I can walk to find birds.

    The commute to work by bicycle is the route I know most. I have accumulated 118 species over ten years over an area about 10 to 20 square kilometers in North Bay, Ontario.

  2. Dorian, it was great to have a chance to meet you and spend a couple hours bird-biking. Best wishes on your adventure of a lifetime!