Friday, September 26, 2014

Sept 25 (Day 268) - Call me "Swiffer", cuz I'm cleaning up....

Today was just a fantastic day of birding and riding. It rained fairly heavily last night and into this morning. For reasons I will explain in a bit, I think this was a very good thing. The rain did clear at around 7am, and this permitted Mark and I to hit the beach for a couple hours of seawatching. The waters off of California have been much warmer this year than in recent memory. Some folks might call this phenomenon "El Nino". Seasoned seabirders call it 'awesome'. Inshore, there have been tens of thousands of Sooty shearwaters off the San Mateo County Coast for several months now. Mixed in with these have been good numbers of both Black-vented and Pink-footed shearwaters. Offshore, pelagic trips have encountered a similarly amazing number of birds, and there have been an incredibly array of rarities found on boats of of both Monterey and Half Moon Bay this year. Birds such as Hawaiian petrel, Shy albatross, Craveri's murrelet, Brown booby, Blue-footed booby, and Red-billed tropicbird have all made Central California appearances in recent weeks. In short, this has been a very good sea birding year both inshore and offshore. 

Mark and I found the usual thousands of Sooties, and, by methodically watching the streams of these birds, we were able to pick out a few Pink-footed and at least a dozen Black-vented. These represented year birds, #558 and #559, respectively. The number of shearwaters was just amazing, and when one throws in gulls, terns, cormorants, and pelicans, it was a really incredible spectacle. We spent about 2 hours enjoying these birds from Pescadero State Beach before Mark had to head off to work. At this precise moment, my phone rang with an update from Half Moon Bay, 16 miles to the north. The Red-throated pipit was present this morning! I was stoked when it started raining last night since I figured this would help pin the pipit down overnight. This is exactly what apparently happened. The chase was on!

Mark at Pescadero this morning

The route up Highway 1. 51 miles total for out and back.

I loaded up the bike and hit the beautiful and famous Highway 1 for the sprint north. Skies had cleared, and there was very little wind to slow me. I made it in exactly an hour. I rendezvoused with Malia and Chris who immediately pointed out the pipit as it skulked around on the open beach. Number 560 was in the books! They had located and lost the bird several times this morning, but they managed to keep an eye on it for the hour that it took me to reach the spot. For this I owe them an incredible 'thank you'. They made finding this bird almost criminally easy. 

Chris and Malia confessed that they have been die-hard blog readers this year. Chris in particular seemed incredibly excited to share his lifer Red-throated pipit with me. His enthusiasm is EXACTLY why I put so much effort into the birding and the blogging. Although I am the one physically on the bike, I want the whole birding community to be along for the ride. This component, and the green angle, is really how I am trying to separate my big year from previous efforts. I certainly set out to see as many birds as possible, but I take just as much pride in the number of blog hits as I do the number of birds ticked. In a world of ebola, ISIS, income inequality, terrorism, government ineptitude, climate change, and the last-place Red Sox, I hope this blog provides a minimal and welcome distraction from all things frustrating in the world today. I hope that morning coffee tastes better with this blog than with any other real world news source.

Pa-pa-pipit real good (from Salt N Peppa)!
Red-throated pipt for #560!

Me, Malia, Chris

Sonia met me for lunch in the afternoon. We spent a relaxing few hours around Pillar Point Harbor. The sun was shining very brightly and provided some decent, albeit a bit steep for my taste, afternoon light for photography. I found a nice collection of shorebirds in the harbor that included Black oystercatcher, Surfbird, Black turnstone, Wandering tattler, Sanderling, Marbled godwit, Spotted sandpiper, Black-bellied plover, Willet, and Whimbrel. Sonia is becoming more an more proficient at identifying each of these. She is well on her way to becoming a full-fledged birder despite my best efforts to label her as such. She's even starting to to throw around terms like "Alcid". I am so proud!

Here are a few of the shots I collected this afternoon. I wood have liked the sun to be a bit lower to get rid of some of the shadows on the undersides of the birds. I couldn't get them doing anything terribly cool, but its a nice variety of stuff nonetheless.

Black oystercatcher

Black-bellied plover


Marbled godwit


Double-crested cormorant

Wandering tattler

Western gull photobomb!

The winds are really going to be banging from the west the next 2 days, so I am going to spend a lot of time of time seawatching from Pigeon Point. I will after that move south through Santa Cruz and then down to Monterey for more seawatching. 


  1. Big conrats on the pipit! Hope you're able to get out on a sail boat for some serious pelagics.
    I've been following your blog daily from back in Massachusetts. You're a real ironman, setting a new standard for big years. The combination of biking, birding and blogging every day about your adventures good and not so good, takes a lot of dedication. Keep up the great work!

  2. Nice shootin, Swiffer. Hope you're enjoying California. Make sure you get some In & Out while you're here.

  3. great post! i like to read the blog before sleep - much better than news! love all the pictures too.