Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Jan 6 - Road trip home, Luckiest bird finds of 2014, Chinese Buffet rankings

Real fast - Sonia and I are slowly making out way back to the northeast. Here are a few pics!

Roll tide - at least until they ran into Ohio State!

Honky tonkin' in Nashville

Sonia at the Louisville Slugger factory

Posing with Cal Ripken's game-used bat

Me swinging David Ortiz's game-used bat.
I realized after the fact I shoulda been a lefty!

In the last installment, I described what I thought were the most exciting birds of my 2014 bicycle big year. Today I will list, in chronological order, what I consider to be the 5 luckiest or most timely finds of the year. Most of those birds were found with relatively little effort and saved me much larger headaches/rides at later points. The Chinese Buffet rankings will follow afterwards! Like yesterday, you can click on the links to the full-day accounts.

Snowy owl and Common black-headed gull (3), Jan 1, Massachusetts
Both of these birds are regular but rare in the northeast each winter. Each could have caused major problems and been a huge timesink if it wasn't pegged early on. Problems with these two birds would have been compounded by the brutal 2013-2014 winter, the worst one on record in the last century. I saw the owl before sunrise, and the gull appeared unprompted a few hours later. This was an amazing start to 2014! Dovekie and Thick-billed murre should also get special mention as they both materialized right in front of me in Gloucester.

Bobolink, Apr 21, Texas
Bobolink is an eastern gulf spring migrant, much like Black-throated blue warbler (which I saw) and Cape May warbler (which I missed). This means that they can show up in High Island, Anahuac, and the Bolivar Peninsula on the Texas Coast, but they do so without frequency or predictability. I was lucky enough to find one of these on the Auto Tour loop at Anahuac. This was the only Bobolink I saw all year. I did not see any in Western Colorado or Southern Idaho where they supposedly nest. I could have probably scraped one out in these areas had I not seen the Texas bird, but thankfully I did not have to do this. This left time to instead focus on Greater sage-grouse, Sharp-tailed grouse, and Gray partridge in these areas.

Common black-hawk, May 18, Arizona
This might have been the single luckiest find of the year. This bird was not at all on my radar in the Chiricahuas in May. I was already floating on air after just having ticked Montezuma quail half an hour prior to this encounter. As I headed back towards Cave Creek, I saw a funny looking hawk soaring overhead. From a plumage standpoint I had NO idea what it could be. The broad wings suggested black-hawk, but as I had only seen adults previously, I had to consult the field guide to secure the ID - immature Common black-hawk! This is a bird for which I might have searched at some point, but it would have been a royal headache any way I had attacked it. This find saved me several days and several hundred miles of hard, hot, Arizona riding.

Dusky grouse, Jul 1, Colorado
On this night, I went on a very long midnight hike looking for Flammulated owl. I found it (with help!), and I additionally kicked up 2 Dusky grouse from the undergrowth. Even many Colorado birders had told me to forget about Dusky grouse. These birds are everywhere but seemingly nowhere. It is really tough to find them when you need to find them. I had missed these at a couple of other spots, and on this night they weren't something I expected to find. This was the last high elevation bird I needed to tick in Colorado. This find gave me the extra time to head east to look for Greater prairie-chicken. 

Gray-crowned rosy-finch, Aug 20, Washington
This is a bird that I did not originally expect to find this year. With my extra time during the summer, I was able to expand my route well into Northern Washington and the summer range of Gray-crowned rosy-finch. The most reliable spot for this species is Mt. Rainier. This locale would have required a big detour from the coast as well a very tough climb up the mountain. The birds can also be found in the North cascades albeit with much less frequency. As I was crossing over the Cascades highway anyway, I included an 8-mile hike in the middle of my 80-mile ride on August 20. I thought this was a very, very long shot. However, I was able to get a quick but countable look at several flyover birds on this hike. This find on this day meant I could cut out Rainier and keep moving towards to the coast. It was really an amazing find.

As for the Chinese Buffet rankings, it is an absolute 'no contest'. There was one place that stood the proverbial head and shoulders above the rest. However, before I crown the buffet 2014 Chinese Buffet Champion, I will note some other notable and quality establishments at which I dined this year. In no particular order, these were.

I think this is aimed at people like me!

King Buffet, Jennings, Louisiana
This was my first encounter with the bliss that is Chinese Buffet. I could not contain my excitement as I piled my plate high with spring rolls and chicken broccoli. A wide array of items held my attention for a solid 45 minutes, and I was satisfactorily stuffed by the time I left. I recall the price to be reasonable. One lesson I learned on this day is that the generous addition of hot sauce to 4 or 5 plates of food had a very adverse affect on my digestive system the following morning. Despite my love of hot sauce, I dialed back my use of it at future buffets to avoid similar 'spicy bowel' consequences.

Lu Mandarin Buffet, Flagstaff, Arizona
All of my visits to Chinese Buffets, save for one, occurred during the dinner hour after I had finished my rides. As a result, fatigue often limited how aggressively I could forage. I experienced no such problem at Lu Mandarin as I launched a full-frontal, lunch attack on what was otherwise an off-day from riding. I almost felt bad for the restaurant. Entering "Locust-mode", I demolished everything in sight. I think the Crab Rangoon tray needed to be refilled twice, and General Tso's chicken was pronounced an endangered species during my visit. The kicker in the whole thing? I think the total, after tax, was something like $7.65! It was absolutely criminal.....kinda like taking fortune cookies from a baby. 

Oriental Buffet, Arcata, California
Just steps from our motel, this place was a real diamond in the rough. A nice selection of tasty items justified the mid-range, ~$10.50 price tag. Sonia was visiting me at this stage of the Fall. She accompanied me to the buffet, and, although she forewent the buffet and instead ordered off the standard menu, she also sang high praises for the establishment. I had to dial back my consumption a bit so as not to disgust Sonia completely, but I still extracted decent value from the place. 

And now, without further ado, I present the undisputed 2014 Chinese Buffet Champion!

Buffet Palace, Greenville, Texas
I had been thinking about how to weigh the relative merits of the above buffets so as to be able to demarcate a clear and deserving winner. This debate was rendered moot the instant I walked into Buffet Palace. On that fateful Sunday night, it was packed. This fact should not be ignored as it was, by far, the largest buffet at which I ate this year. The buffet was so extensive it required strategic scouting. I did not want to gorge too aggressively on the sushi and appetizers and fill up before I reached the main courses. Everything I sampled at this place was gold. Heaps of sushi and spring rolls soon gave way to tender beef broccoli, crispy sesame chicken, and copious lo mein. The crab rangoon should come with a warning label; it was as addictive as crack-cocaine. There is just no overstating how money this place was. At ~$11, it was a steal. I ate so much that I got wicked cramps walking back to the hotel. As I had found all my target birds by this late stage of the year, I seriously considered staying Greenville for another day so as to revisit this place. Only Sonia managed to talk to out of it - and with great difficulty!


  1. Dude you rode your bike within 100' of nesting Bobolink in Utah this summer. This is an easy get here--at least for the time being.

  2. We're going to have to try that Oriental Buffet in Arcata. Hadn't ever considered it, but since it made your list of the top five, we'll go some time.

  3. I hope you post a list here of your speaking engagements for the coming year(s). Best,