Monday, September 29, 2014

Sept 28 (Day 271) - Biggest gamble of the year so far........

Yesterday afternoon, en route to Santa Cruz, I received a phone call from Malia (who, with Chris, helped me find Red-throated pipit on the 25th) that a Pacific golden-plover had been found in Half Moon Bay (HMB). This is not an incredibly rare species, but it is rare enough that I need to keep it on my radar at all times if I am going to find one. Interestingly, this plover was found not 200 yards from where the Red-throated pipit was found  few days ago (As an aside, the pipit was found in the evening on the 24th. I saw it on the 25th whereafter it vanished. Man, did I time that right!). Anyway, despite the obvious attractions of the plover yesterday, I had to let it go for 3 reasons. First, it was Sonia's last night, and I wanted to spent time with her. Second, I was close to 40 miles south of HMB when the call came in. Third, there was a nasty north wind that would have made turning north impossible. For these reasons, this bird was going to be an impossibility. As the plover was found about 1/2 a mile from Malia's house, I did ask if she could stick her nose out onto the beach this morning and let me know if the bird was still around. What I would do with this information I didn't have a clear idea, but at least I would have it.

Malia called me at 7:15am this morning to say that the plover had stayed the night and was present in about the same area as yesterday. My newly-hatched plan was to have breakfast with Sonia and my host from last night, Tim, and then sprint the 51 miles from breakfast north back to HMB to look for the plover. I left hit the road at 9:45am today. I covered the 51 miles to HMBin 2 hours and 57 minutes. I was pushing very hard to beat the afternoon crowds that would take over the beach should the morning fog clear and the sun appear. This is exactly what happened as I was about 20 miles from HMB, and, as I feared, hundreds of people had descended on the beach before I arrived. Upon arrival, I called Malia to find out where she was. She sadly informed me that the Pacific golden-plover, along with the ~2 dozen Black-bellied plovers with which it was associating, had vanished and could not be relocated.

Tim and me at the diner

62 miles today

UGH - what an incredibly painful piece of news. It was a very intense ride in the complete wrong direction. I probably should have kept going south instead as one of these would likely pop up somewhere along my route anyway. This is a bird I really wanted, and I might have let me personal feelings to tick it force me into taking such a big risk. As I am staying with Chris and Malia in HMB tonight, I will have another crack at the bird on a person-less beach tomorrow morning before I retraced my steps south.

The beach was littered with people this afternoon. There was no place the group of plovers could find peace and quiet - except perhaps for the jetties in the harbor 3-4 miles down the beach. High tide was at 2pm today. I decided that I would relax util around 3:30 and then head out to check the jetties on a falling tide. I had seen loads of shorebirds in one particular elbow of the jetty a few days ago when I birded it after finding the pipit. I arrived today and found a nice mix of the same birds I had a few days ago. I scanned all around with no sign of the golden-plover. There were some Black-bellies, but I have no idea if these were the same birds that were associating with the golden-plover down the beach (Black-bellied plovers are very common along the coast). I decided to relax, take a few pictures, and take another stab at the golden-plover on the beach tomorrow morning once the weekend hoards had departed. As I was about to close-up shop, I took another scan down the exposed beach adjacent to the jetty that the falling tide had exposed. What the hell is that? A buffy head could be discerned from about 100 yards. Could that be the bird? I saw a fisherman climbing off the jetty right near the interesting bird. I started sprinting down the rocky beach toward to bird in hopes I could get a better look at it before the guy flushed it. I ran to within 50 yards of the bird and confirmed theat the bird was in fact the Pacific golden-plover! The fisherman flushed the bird 2 seconds later, and it flew right past me and back towards the harbor. Number 563 was found in the most amazing manner. I had guessed exactly right where the bird had gone after it had been flushed off the main beach 4 miles away 4 hours earlier!

Beach exposed along jetty as tide fell this afternoon

Uncropped frame showing Pacific golden-plover down jetty beach.
Its the smaller bird behind the central Whimbrel.

Crop from above showing plover a bit closer

BAM! No black under the wings!

Black-bellied plover showing black axilleries (i.e. armpits)
for comparison with above

There were quite a few other people hanging around the area, but over the course of the next hour I was very slowly able to approach this bird between regular disruptions from other people and dogs. I entered in "Bird Whisperer" mode and stalked/skulked/crawled my way to within a very short distance of this bird on several occasions. How close did I get? This close........

.....and bit closer still......

......don't move too fast......

.....hold your breath......

......he's right in front of you!

Yes, sure, I may have found this species further south without this big detour, but there is NO WAY I could have seen this bird better than I did today. I would have probably seen it 1/2 a mile out in a plowed field or sod farm. This was an incredibly satisfying find for me for several reasons. First, this is a bird I needed to find to keep the march towards 600 going. Second, I had looked for this bird in Washington and missed it; It was seen at that location the day before and the day after I looked for it. Third, I busted my ass to get here today. Yes, it was a big ride (and I must still do the return half of it tomorrow), but it was a defined ride. This defined devil is better than the undefined one I may (or may not even!) encounter later. Lastly, I think I showed some very good resourcefulness today to find this bird. 

And with that, the Pacific golden-plover joins the list in remarkable fashion.

Tomorrow I will head back south through Santa Cruz to Salinas. From there its to south to Monterey!

Goodnight from Maverick's.
Best big wave surfing spot in North America
when its going (not today)


  1. Well done, Dorian! Hope to see you in So Cal.

  2. Fantastic story and shots. I've yet to see one here on the Oxnard plain, so I'm glad you got it up there. Well worth the 50+ miles.

  3. Wow! Amazing story! Do you have any idea how hard it would be for most folks to bike 50 miles to tick a bird? On top of the physical difficulty of that chase I would think the mental let down when you got there and found the bird gone would have been crushing, but Birders are "prisoners of hope" and you appear to have a lots of hope on hand.Well done!

  4. Looking forward to many more epic chases as you approach SoCal! -Dave

  5. WOW!!! What a great photo and what perseverance you have. That calls for another $25 dollar contribution to the cause. I pledged to donate $25 for every 3 months (quarter) that you continued on this amazing bicycle journey.So far you've gone 9 months (3 quarters of a year) and now I've donated $75 to your very worthwhile cause. Thanks Dorian and keep going you're in the final stage now and there will be another $25 at Christmas time.Be careful and be safe.

  6. Big ups to you. I have a friend for whom this species is his bete noir. (I saw it using a method probably not available during a biking big year: I went to Hawaii.)

    Congrats again,

  7. Yes, I held my breath as I read this! Great post.

  8. I was hoping you would get one! You've probably deliberately blocked the memory, but you also just barely missed one at Fern Ridge in Eugene, Oregon. Congrats!