Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Sept 23 (Day 266) - Kee-kee-Krrrrr! Plus special bonus find for 557! Great transit through SF....

As per the last 4 days, I got moving at ~5am to head down to the marsh, in this case Santa Venetia March preserve, to begin what had up until today been a futile vigil for calling Black rails. I basically birded the same areas as last night, but with much different results. Although I arrived in the dark, the sky soon started lightening to the east. I was alternating using the ke-ke-krrr call. and the aggressive growl call (I will in the next few days discuss, as I have on previous occasions, some of my thoughts on taping birds). I heard something interesting a maybe 40 yards down from me. I took a few steps out in the marsh and played the growl call. I received a prompt but quiet growling response from the other side of a small channel that I did not want to try to cross - for both my sake and that of the bird. It was surely a Black rail growling back at me. This is all I expected to get from this bird. It was probably not more that 20-25 feet from me, but it never showed itself. As I was entertaining this bird, a second bird gave me 4 quick ke-ke-krrrrr calls from down the path. Yes! I got to hear two birds doing 2 different calls. However, this was all I got as the sun peaked over the horizon a few minutes later and shut down all Black rail activity as far as I could discern. This was an incredibly victory for me. I had worked really hard to find this bird, and I was starting to think it was going to be impossible. The only things that bummed me out this morning was that Sonia had a 6am work call and could not join me. It would have been great to share this moment with her given how much time she had put into the search for the rail.

There is a Black rail buried in that Salicornia/Pickleweed
across the channel from me!

A slightly wider shot of the habitat at Santa Venetia Marsh

We then went into San Rafael to find some food. As I was eating, I received an email from SF-Bay bike-birder Rob Furrow informing me that a Rarity X (X, hereafter!) had been seen for the last 3 days in Sunnyvale at the south end of SF Bay. I had not yet started scanning the South Bay message boards, so this news came as a bit of a shock to me. X is a bird that I thought I might have an outside shot at finding in Central California. I figured it would be completely fortuitous if I saw X. The problem with Xs is that when they do turn up, they normally do not stick around. Thery are often "one hit wonders", so to speak. I was shocked to hear that this X had been seen in the same spot for 3 days running, including this morning. I made the decision that although the spot was 75 miles away, I would make a mad dash south to chase this bird this afternoon. This meant I effectively bypassed SF. I was only able to sprint through/around the city on this most amazing of weather days. I knew that I had to reach the bird by 6pm to have enough time to look for it. Miraculously, I made it with time to spare. This is no small feat considering the density of traffic lights through which I had to fight today! It only took a few minutes of searching, before X appeared right in front of me!

X = keep scrolling.........

......just a bit further......

Sabine's gull!!! #557!
Only complaint is that he was backlit the whole time.

Passing through SF was really nice today. If I had a spare million and Sonia was down with the idea, I would totally move to SF! I have been communicating with local bike-birding legend Josiah Clark over the past few weeks. He was kind enough to meet me on the Golden Gate bridge this afternoon and escort me at least part of the way through the city. Josiah, along with 2 other very-well known bike-birders, Rob Furrow (from above, yes) and Andy Kleinhesselink, actually holds the North American biking big day record at 181 species! These 3 guys conspired to reach the number in late April a year (or two or three?) back. I was also fortunate enough to meet Ron Weeks in Texas, another notable big day bike-birder. It's great to see how many of us there are scattered around the country! 

Josiah and me on the Golden Gate Bridge.
We saw a few birds, notably Parasitic Jaeger, as we crossed.

Matching Bridge and Bike (and Panniers!)

Fisherman's Wharf ride-by

This was a hard chase to tack on Sabine's gull today. I might see this bird while sea watching in the next few days/weeks, but if I do, cha css are it will be WAY offshore. It was great to see this bird so well today. I am incredibly proud of myself for grinding out the ride on busy, traffic light-filled streets. It was a good gut check moment, and I think I passed with distinction. At no point today did I have any issues with being on the bike. It looks as though the recent shorter days have helped reset my saddle tolerance. After ticking the bird I back-tracked into Palo Alto for the night. Many of you know I did my undergraduate work at Stanford, so it is really nice to be back in this familiar area. I would love to live in Palo Alto, but unless Sonia and I have several spare million, that ain't gonna happen either!

83 + 2 unmapped to marsh this morning for 85 miles today.

Tomorrow we will likely head out to the coast. I plan on doing some serious sea watching the next few days - probably from the beautiful Pigeon Point Lighthouse. There have been lots of shearwaters near shore recently, so I am very optimistic that I can tack on Black-vented and Pink-footed in the next few days. Pacific loon should also be easy to find, and I expect to find Pomerine Jaeger at some point as well. Fingers crossed for Red phalarope, Northern fulmar or anything else out-of-the-oridinary.....

Great morning light on this California quail.
Nice to see them up off the ground.


  1. Congrats on the rail! I was hoping to see a post like this when I checked in this morning (swedish time..)! Where did you see the Sabines gull? My sister lived in the area for a few years and I´m having a hard time picturing any suitable biotope ;) Best of luck on your journeys, you are true inspiration!
    Gothenburg, Sweden

  2. I live in Ohio, where we have many Amish birders who only bird by bike. I recall one time when I twitched a vermillion flycatcher in Amish country. I was the first of roughly 30 birders to arrive in a motorized vehicle. The rest had all come by horse, buggy or bike. Some of my Amish friends are "following" you through my reports. This year, an Amish farmer had a pair of black rails nest in one of his fields. That was my black rail life bird. Congratulations on a really tough bird for this time of year.

  3. Just awesome! Good for you for sticking with that little guy! :)

  4. Nice work yesterday. It's great that you ran into Josiah. And thanks for the shout-out. Crazily, Ron Weeks actually holds the same exact biking big day record as Josiah, Andy, and I, at 181 species. But he did it in Texas, with the help of migration, whereas we did it in the bay area, with the help of many habitats compressed into a tiny area (about 120 miles of riding during our 24 hours).

    Keep it up. I hope a booby is in your near future. A Debbie Shearwater trip recently had a Red-billed Tropicbird 9 miles out from Half Moon Bay, and Brown Boobies seem to be everywhere!

  5. Congratulations on that Black Rail and the Sabine's Gull. Wonderful news.

  6. Congrats on Rail-Gull Difecta.

    Dave Chapelle joke about SF: "This is the nicest city in the world. I couldn't understand how they made it so great. Then I realized: it was because they took all the s#!t and shipped it over to Oakland."