Sunday, January 31, 2010

Upping the Mileage - San Simeon and Back, 1/30

I birded on Saturday from my home in coastal Los Osos to the north coast of the county, with several stops in Cambria (about 25 miles north) and farther north. This was necessary to get some of the species that were only up in the north coastal part of San Luis Obispo county and to step up my mileage for some multi-day trips coming up.
On my usual morning dog walk/bird I heard the song (that spirals up in pitch) of a Purple Finch (#1) - a species that had eluded me so far for the year. Since the tide was very high, I next climbed on my bike and pedalled to the Morro Bay State Park Marina to search for 2 Nelson's Sparrows that had been seen there . On the way, I briefly checked the ducks pushed up against South Bay Boulevard by the incoming tide and picked out the bright rusty head and gray sides of a male Eurasian Wigeon in amongst the large flocks of wigeon, pintail, Green-winged Teal and Mallard. Some of the marina peninsula's main attractions were not as cooperative. Two Large-billed Savannah Sparrows (likely future split?) that had been chased out of the Salicornia (pickleweed) by the tide were easily spotted, but the 2 Nelson's that I was really after were not. After about an hour and a half, I decided that I had to head north on my bike - before the onshore wind from the northwest kicked up into my face and because it was already 10:00.
I had about 20 miles to get to my next "planned" stop. (With bicycle birding you never know when you might want to stop to see something you heard or saw while pedalling (and you can stop almost anywhere.) I went straight up the highway, rather than taking side routes, so I could make good time. I did stop at the overlook of the lagoon at Santa Rosa Creek Mouth, just off Moonstone Drive in Cambria, to check a flock of several hundred gulls, but found nothing unusual (before two unleashed dogs chased them off). My next planned stop was an ocean viewing deck near the northernmost pullout on Moonstone Drive. A birder friend of mine, Maggie, had found 2 Marbled Murrelets here the day before. The surf was high and the birds were out far - not a good combination for finding small alcids. Fortunately, I had brought my large Zeiss scope; I often leave it at home for bike trips, but not when I knew I'd be scoping offshore for species. It came in handy as I spotted 2 pairs of Marbled Murrelets (relatively tiny bird with a small bill, short neck, black cap, white stripes on the black back and white underparts)out well beyond the waves (Bigby # 2) at about the time I was ready to give up looking. With one target species down, I felt the ride was already worth it.
I then headed up to San Simeon Beach where I was skunked for target birds - no bittern, no mergansers, and no Snowy Plovers! Two Brant (pictured) at the creek mouth here seemed out of place. I headed north for my next stop, but decided to ride past it with a lone rider from France who was heading north, until I got to my northernmost destination - the fields of the Hearst Ranch north of San Simeon. There I said goodbye to him and scoped the grassy pasureland for raptors and geese, without any luck. I turned around and stopped at the San Simeon pier, which was quiet bird wise. Little Pico Creek had a fair number of birds off shore, and I picked out another pair of Marbleds Murrelets and one male Black Scoter (BIGBY #3)in among the several rafts of scoters - not great looks, but enough to ID the birds.
Farther south, I took a detour on Cambria Pines Road and took a loop through the Monterey pine/live oak forest for the usual birds of this area - Pygmy Nuthatch (Bigby #4), Hairy Woodpecker, Acorn Woodpecker, Brown Creeper, Townsend's Warbler, Steller's Jay, etc. I enjoy birding here, but I had to be quick because it was after 2:00 PM and I still had 25 miles to get home. I had also covered 52 miles already and I was starting to feel the hills. I did start to feel a good wind at my back, which was a real help.
I only stopped three times on the way home from the pine forest - once to watch an adult Golden Eagle (BIGBY #5) soar effortlessly over my head near Highways 46 and 1. Next, I paused to take the scenery photo herein posted. Last I bought a cookie (tasty fresh oatmeal raisin) and milk at Brown Butter Cookie Company in Cayucos - to help fuel me home. Not that I hadn't already had a fair amount of food on the trip (I have learned that you need to eat a lot on long cycling trips!). on this trip I had eaten a large whole wheat cinnamon roll, orange juice, ham sandwich, egg salad sandwich, blended banana and chocolate milk, power bar, 20 oz. of Gatorade, carton of juice, cashews, and a lot of water. The cookie got me home (at about 4:30) and feeling alright, but I will admit that the hills near home were harder than usual! The 77 miles on this trip made it feel like occasionally birding on a bike trip, rather than biking between birding spots. However, a mostly sunny day and the bright green fields and hills made the ride memorable (oh, and the birds too!).

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Return to Laguna Lake - 1/27

It was the kind of day where I had to take a break from work - a bright sunny day with a cool breeze, fresh from the recent storms. I cycled to Laguna Lake (about 4 miles) for a late lunch and to look again for the elusive White-throated Sparrow (I had missed this species in five tries so far this month!). Laguna Lake Park in San Luis Obispo offers lake habitat, riparian stands, grassland, rocky hillsides, marsh, some chaparrel and groups of pines, oaks and other introduced trees.
I discovered this sparrow species here before the local Christmas count and it was re-found at the count, so I pedalled straight for the spot near the main entrance where it had been, with other zonotrichia sparrows. I quickly found the same apparent flock, but it was so scattered in the weeds and oaks that I had to follow the flock around for 30-40 minutes before the flock finally concentrated in an open area around a footpath. Just as I saw the flock in the open through my binocs, a woman walked right past me and flushed the flock in all directions. What do you say to someone like that? "Excuse me ma'am, you just flushed my flock!" To which she would likely reply, "Stay away from me you weirdo, and stop looking at me with those binoculars!" I could imagine the morning paper's headline, "Local Stalker Pretends to be Birdwatcher". According to the arresting oficer, "He didn't even have a bird book!". "I did some investigation at the public library" the officer added, feeling clever, "and the bird book there showed that White-throated Sparrows don't even occur in California!"... So, I instead followed some Bonaparte's Gulls down to the lake (hoping for a different black-headed type gull).
I rode my bike along the lake shore, but found nothing interesting until I took off across some fields on my mountain bike and flushed a Sharp-shinned Hawk (new BIGBY species)and ticked off the field marks as it went into a thick tree. Other birds in the fields with scattered trees included Western Bluebird, juncos, butterbutts (Yellow-rumped Warblers), Say's and Black Phoebes, and a couple of Lark Sparrows (BIGBY #3 for the day). I checked the initial sparrow flock once more, but didn't find the White-throated, so I took off around the southwest side of the lake through a residential tract with a couple of viewpoints of the lake and up Diablo Drive (see my map link) for a view of the back of the lake. A White-tailed Kite (Bigby #4) was hunting out along the edge of the lake, and at least a hundred geese - Canada, Cackling and White-fronted were scattered along the back of the lake and out into the fields.
Last, before cycling back to work, I stopped at the ponds and flooded fields along Foothill Blvd., where wigeon, Gadwall, shovelers, Cinnamon Teal, coots and pintail fed and Northern Harrier, Kestrel, red-tail and other raptors perched. Despite the miss of the White-throated, my 10 mile midday ride was productive and enjoyable.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Cycling North Along the Coast

Today, I started with my usual 30 minute dog walk from home (52 species) and then loaded up my bike with my tripod, scope, lunch, day pack for my new pannier, and some walking shoes. I stopped a few routine bayside stops like the Baywood Pier,the overlook of the bay at the end of Seventh in Los Osos (see my map link), and on South Bay Blvd., on the way to Morro Rock to look for Canyon and Rock Wrens and a Red-necked Grebe that had been sporadically reported recently. My first new BIGBY bird was a Brown Creeper that sang a high pitched "trees, trees, beautiful trees" as I pedalled past Sweet Springs Nature Preserve. As I rode down State Park Road, near the Morro Bay State Park campground, a Lesser Yellowlegs flew along with me for a short distance and called for #2 (there are advantages to bike birding). I stopped briefly at Bayshore and Olive Overlooks of the bay and then continued on to Morro Rock. The waves were big and the mouth was very rough so it was difficult to scope grebes and impossible for sea birds. The usual contingent of tourists daring the waves on the nearby jetty was gone - swept out to sea or maybe the weather kept them in the Valley? A Canyon Wren did call a couple of times (#3), but no Rock Wrens (at least that I could hear over the sound of the surf). I scoped to the north of the Rock and could see birds, including many Surf Scoters and one female Long-tailed Duck (#4)that stood out because it was so white. Still no Rock Wren, but I did pick out one Herring Gull (#5) in a mixed flock of gulls. I stopped on the way up to Estero Bluffs at the beach near Old Creek mouth, but the people, dogs, and high surf chased away any Snowy Plovers that had been there earlier in the week (not a good weekend spot). I made a beeline for Estero Bluffs and locked my bike below the lot with a large fig tree adjacent to it. This is one lot past the windmill lot. From here, I thoroughly checked the coast to the north and south but found no Ruddy Turnstones or Wandering Tattlers (reported 2 days earlier). It was a nice day for a walk, but birding was slow at the bluffs trail. I was, however, surprised by the high number of Red-breasted Mergansers (at least 40) and a roost of almost 30 Royal Terns. Black Oystercatchers and Spotted Sandpipers were in several spots as well. The ride home was without much birding as I needed to get back. I always have to laugh as I go north on the main drag in Cayucos because there is a sign which shows the speed of all vehicles (including bikes). It is on a slight uphill grade and it always reminds me how slow I really am (14 mph at this spot)! In all, I biked about 40 miles and walked about 5 miles today.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Spring Has Sprung?

The first wildflowers (like this Milkmaid) are blooming, the finches and sparrows are eating willow buds, and the first Allen's Hummingbird has returned. Spring must be near? No, I am living in coastal southern California and it is January 17. We do have four seasons (honest) - wet (winter), windy (spring), foggy (summer), and dry and mostly sunny (fall). It is wet now and all of the above things are happening.
I dash out to the seabird lookout (see map) at Montana de Oro on my bike - to get some birding in before the approaching storms. I pedal and a neighbor birder and his beginning birder friend meet me in their car. It is a beautiful spot, but the wind and prolonged observation of different colored specks that have different shapes and flight patterns is not the stuff to excite a beginning birder for long. Pacific Loons are streaming by to the south with Common Murres and a Rhino Auklet (new BIGBY). A nearby otter eating shell fish on its stomach and being harassed by a Western Gull provides some entertainment. We leave after less than an hour to try a quick hike at Coon Creek where it begins to rain and the birds are quiet. I then experience one of the downsides of bicycle birding - pouring rain.

Are Bird/Wildlife Festivals Green?

So why did the Great Egret cross the road? So she could get away from those pesky Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival participants (like me) trying to take her picture. Seriously though, is the overall environmental effect of such a festival positive? What in the world could be wrong with a nature festival? A discussion of the Morro Bay festival might be useful and relevant for all such festivals.
First, many participants and vendors for the Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival came from out of the area. Most were from in-state, and drove to the festival. The out-of-state individuals (including some from europe) likely flew here, which has a more profound environmental effect than cars. Many of the field trips used vans, cars, and diesel powered boats. The carbon footprint of this festival was not insignificant. To its credit, the Morro Bay festival reduced its carbon footprint by using vans loaded with people and by carpooling when cars were used. Bottled water for participants was replaced with water stations for refilling individually owned reusable bottles. The festival also offered green trips which involved walking, kayaking, or canoeing only. (The Kern Nature Festival has compostable eating utensils and plates.)
Second, the possible negative effects on birds and other wildlife as they are pursued by participants is of possible concern. Since almost none of the birds at the Morro Bay festival were nesting, and since leaders generally kept participants a safe distance from any sensitive species, this effect was likely minimal.
Was the carbon footprint of this festival offset by positive effects on the environment? I am not aware of any trips at our festival that rescued birds, picked up litter, restored habitat or otherwise directly helped the environment. What about the indirect benefits to the environment? Education of participants through field trips, workshops, and other presentations, probably made them more aware and informed about species and issues involving species' existence as well as more sympathetic toward these species. Hopefully, the participants will take this information and sensitivity back to their home communities which may effect local environmental policy. This is obviously hard to measure.
Additionally, there was the effect of ecotourism generated by this festival. Many participants stayed at local lodging, ate meals in local restaurants, etc. Some will return at other times of year. This boost to the local economy gives another reason for local businesses and others to work to protect the very natural attractions that brought the festival participants to the area in the first place.
Last, the local environmental groups who sponsored this festival, made money from it. These groups do purchase, restore, and maintain sensitive habitat and rescue birds. They do influence local county and city environmental policies. So what is the net effect? This is a question that should be considered by organizers of these events and the negative effects should certainly be minimized where possible. Morro Bay is to be commended for its efforts to so mitigate.
Personally, I was not as conscious about these concerns as I should have been when I first volunteered to help with the festival. Next year at this festival I will try to lead more "green" trips. I have proposed a nearby all day sea watch at one location with no driving except to get there. I may also try a walking or biking trip. (Then I can also count the species I see on my BIGBY!)
I did get one new BIGBY species on Saturday, after leading an all day
driving(!) big day festival field trip. I rode my bike from home to the Morro Bay Sate Park bike trail area, near South Bay Boulevard (see my map), to see Short-eared Owls. This ten minute pedal was well worth it. I sat on a hill and watched the sunset sky over the back-bay as the western horizon turned yellow, and the clouds turned orange and purple over a powder blue sky, with pink cotton-ball patterns stretching across to the other horizon. All of this color was reflected in the pools and channels of water that snake through the pickleweed flats of the back-bay. Just as the color faded from the sky, a couple of Short-eared owls started hunting over the fallow pasture land - bouncing over the grass and bushes, dropping to the ground, and back into the air for more hunting and brief aerial acrobatic interactions with each other as their paths crossed. It is magical moments like this that make my BIGBY well worth the effort.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Cal Poly Birding - January 14

Having missed sapsuckers on my bike three times at Santa Rosa Park and twice at Cal Poly I was beginning to call these woodpeckers "suckers" without reference to sap, but today I was a little more lucky. Yes, I did miss the reported Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (birders often use the term "reported" when they cannot re-find a bird originally found by another birder), but today I did see a Red-breasted Sapsucker in a pepper tree in front of Cal Poly's Kennedy Library on a late lunch break from work. (Work is such a nuisance.) When photographing birds, I sometimes see things I don't otherwise observe. I noticed that the sapsucker's odd back pattern really blended in well with the bark of the tree that it was on. This possible adaptation is perhaps obvious to others, but I hadn't noticed it before.
After watching the sapsucker, I headed up to the wooded riparian, oak covered hillsides, and pastureland of Poly Canyon. I was in search of the introduced (or reintroduced - see Don Roberson's article at Turkey. A flock showed up near the wooden footbridge to the right of Poly Canyon, just before the ranch house (right where Mike Stiles said to look). They are sure funny birds. They seem to avoid flying as much as possible - I followed them up a steep slope, over rocks, and around trees. They stayed just enough ahead to avoid a good photograph and were fairly quiet for a flock of about a dozen very large birds in the woods. I confused them by circling behind them and gathering them in a tighter bunch. Upon approaching close they all blasted out a loud "gobble, gobble, gobble" and noisily crashed through the brush and fallen branches in all directions. It was startling and amusing at the same time. They then assembled back together and continued feeding quietly along the ground a short distance away from me. I then wondered if I should count these birds for my BIGBY since they are arguably not a native species. I decided to list my species from now on as either "native" or "introduced/reintroduced". Today I added one to each category.

Monday, January 11, 2010

San Luis Obispo Creek

I took a late lunch ride to the San Luis Obispo Waste Water Treatment Plant on Prado Road, which during dry weather may be the main source of water for San Luis Obispo Creek. I saw almost 150 Bonaparte's Gulls at a spreader with a variety of more common birds. I then pedaled over to the Bob Jones Bike Trail which parallels the creek, starting from Ontario Road between San Luis Bay Drive and Avila Beach Drive. It finishes at Avila Beach. I heard a Hutton's Vireo in the first part of the path. In the lower half many Common Goldeneye and Hooded Meregansers were actively feeding - diving with Bufflehead and grebes. The best vantage point was the pedestrian/golf cart bridge over the creek at Avila. These four new BIGBY species moved me over half way toward my yearly goal of 300 species.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

BIGBY Chasing

Chasing rarities is a little more of a challenge when you have to cycle to a bird, rather than drive to it. I have more time invested in a chase if I have to cycle twelve miles and hike 3 miles rather than driving and hiking 3 miles. This was the case with a Sage Thrasher, which my wife and daughter found on the local December 19 Christmas count. It had not been looked for since (as far as I knew) so it may may or may not still have been there. It was a bird I might not otherwise have seen on my BIGBY.
So, I decided to spend much of my morning looking for it today. My wife agreed to pedal over with me and show me where it was found. We locked our bikes at the kiosk for the Point Buchon Trail (PG&E property), just south of Montana de Oro State Park, and hiked out to Disney Point. From that location, the bird had originally been seen about 1/2 mile south - next to a boulder and rock pile, with bushes. Today it was not there! We searched all of the brushy area to the south of the boulder without luck. Just as we were about to leave, Celeste spotted the above bird perched on a bush over 100 feet away. It was too far away for a good photo, so I am posting the photo taken by my daughter on December 19th. A bird that you have to really work for is even more satisfying to find! We watched it for about ten minutes as it repeatedly flew to the ground to feed and then flew back to an open perch.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Whale Rock Reservoir

Today I pedalled up Old Creek Road from Highway 1, just south of Cayucos, to Whale Rock Reservoir. It was out of the coastal fog , but had a nice long climb to the top of the road before you drop down to Cottontail Creek Road which runs along the back of the reservoir, where the best birding usually is. The riparian habitat is birdy along Cottontail Creek Road, the bushy slopes above can be productive and the inlets of the lake along Old Creek and Cottontail Creek, at the back of the lake, are often good for waterfowl. I looked for the Rufous-crowned Sparrow in the first good brushy area along Old Creek Road - above the reservoir. The sparrows were all around me, but running through the bushes like mice so I could get no photos. I gave up and went on to Cottontail Creek Road where a lone bird perched on an open weed next to the road. I put my binos on it and it was a bold Rufous-crowned. I went up to it and took photos. When I gave calls it came in so close I had to back up to take photos; the above photos were 2 of the many ones I took of this friendly-seeming sparrow.
Since the water level in the lake was low, the number and variety of waterfowl was low and my only other new BIGBY bird was a Violet-green Swallow, soaring above with a Tree Swallow. These were the only two new year birds despite looking for 3 stake-out rarities at spots on the way home. Today's mileage was about 40 miles. New species are becoming more work already!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Lunch Time at Cal Poly

Cal Poly State University in San Luis Obispo provides a good amount of bird habitat, including a couple of creeks, exotic planting on the school grounds, crop lands, pasture, ponds, dairies, etc. It is also close enough to my work for a lunchtime mountain bike ride for birds. Today, 1/7, I looked for the wintering male summer tanager where I had seen it before on Stenner Creek, but no luck. I did find Acorn Woodpecker and Steller's Jay - both new for the count. I finally found the tanager (pictured) at the main library - up in some eucs. I checked sparrow flocks around the vegetable gardens near Highland Ave. and Stenner Creek, where I had seen a White-throated Sparrow for the local Christmas bird count, but no luck. I checked several rows of pepper trees on campus for sapsuckers (their favoite tree along with walnut in this area). I found no sapsuckers, but I left a few students wondering who the "weirdo" was - riding his bike slowly around campus looking up in trees. A search of the huge blackbird flocks, at the new dairy facility, yielded many Tricolored Blackbirds. Checking Shephard's Reservoir and the nearby small pond yielded nothing unusual, but the small pond just off Stenner Creek Road had a Sora and a nearby Cassin's Kingbird along the creek. Using a mountain bike is really the best way to bird this campus! A quick lunchtime trip yielded six new BIGBY birds!


Song For a Missed Chase Bird (a "Dip")

Dip-a-dee-doo-dah, dip-a-dee-ay
My, oh my what a slow birding day
Very few good birds headed my way
Dip-a-dee-doo-dah, dip-a-dee-ay

Western Bluebird on my shoulder
It's the truth, it's atch'll
Ev'rythings not satisfactch'll
Dip-a-dee-doo-dah, dip-a-dee-ay
Very slow birding, very slow day

Sorry, I thought of this as I spent my lunch hour January 6 searching Santa Rosa Park in San Luis Obispo for the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker that was seen there a few days before. I found very few birds and no sapsuckers, or even woodpeckers, of any kind!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Bird-Biking for Lunch

Some places are made for birding by bike and Laguna Lake is one of them. I had 1 1/2 hours for lunch today so I pedalled over to the lake to look for geese and other wintering species. Birding is like gambling in that you never know for sure what hand you are going to be dealt. Today I was getting good hands - in an hour of biding at the lake and on Foothill Road in san Luis Obispo I added 10 new BIGBY species. Working the edge of the lake from Madonna Road all the way to the very back end of the lake usually yields some interesting species and today I had an immature Thayer's Gull, a young Merlin, and 6 Wilson's Snipe. While there was a Cackling Goose (Aleutian Cackling Goose pictured above) near the front of the lake with a few Canada Geese, the main flock was to the west, across Foothill, to the ponds visible from Foothill and Los Osos Valley Road. Eleven Ross' Geese were mixed in with a large flock of Canadas and over 30 White-fronted Geese. There was a good variety of ducks including a male Gadwall right next to Foothill. A Cooper's Hawk and 3 Tree Swallows completed my days total of new BIGBY species. And I got back to work on time!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Birding the High Tide

Now I needed to figure out what known wintering species might not be around any other time of the year in this area. I wanted to see them for BIGBY list, especially the unusual ones that might not return next winter. Since there was a six foot tide today, I thought it would be a good time to look for shorebirds as they are forced up near the road for easy viewing and it is a good time to look for Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow and Large-billed Savannah Sparrow near the Morro Bay State Park Marina. The shorebirds where cooperative as I found many Dunlin and a couple of Red Knots (both new) without much searching from South Bay Boulevard. I zipped over to the peninsula next to the marina and the tide was almost at its highest point, but after almost 2 hours of searching I gave up on the sparrows. It was a gorgeous morning next to the bay, and a great variety of birds were nearby due to the incoming tide. A Northern Harrier (new) was eyeing a tidal smorgasboard and a flock of Caspian Terns formed nearby. White Pelicans soared overhead as I slowly left on my bike to try my luck on Turri Road for several new year birds: Yellow-billed Magpie, Rock Wren, Mountain and Western Bluebirds, and Horned Lark. I missed the first two species, but found the other three from the road. It was only day three and target birds were already coming slowly, but it was too beautiful of a day to do anything but enjoy the birding and the scenery.

Montana de Oro State Park

I was a little tired after my prior day's trip so I decided to do something different for my second BIGBY day. I also wanted to bird with a birding buddy, Ross, who was not doing a BIGBY and did not very live close by. So, I pedalled out to Montana de Oro State Park and met him (he was dropped off with his bike). We walked out to the bluff just to the north of Spooner's Cove and scoped the ocean for about an hour and a half from the highest vantage point - to see over the booming surf. It was active with dozens of Black-vented Shearwaters, many Common Murres, Pacific Loons, 3 species of cormorants, and other common birds. We couldn't find anything different, so we decided to check the creek mouth and the park's campground for Golden-crowned Kinglet and anything else we could find. We heard the high pitch calls of 2 Golden-crowned Kinglets in some cypress trees in the campground and after a long search found a pair inside one of the cypresses. Otherwise, the campground was very quiet and Islay Creek Mouth had a close perched Osprey, but not much else. Riding our bikes, we stopped at lower Hazard Canyon to look for Winter Wren and Rocky shorebirds (dipped). Then a quick stop at Upper Hazard to check a group off well-worked eucs. for sapsuckers, but only heard a distant one. About four hours off birding only yielded 3 new BIGBY species - flyby Semipalmated Plovers, the kinglet and House Wren!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

2010 BIGBY Begins

January 1st came quickly. A new big green big year! Getting up early after New Year's Eve was tough, but I was out walking in my small-town residential neighborhood listening for owls and any other vocal birds at 5:45. Except for the "swish" of a Barn Owl, a Black-crowned Night Heron "skwaack", and a distant Killdeer whistle, it was quiet. I thought that a black cat had closely crossed my darkened path as I neared home, but I realized when its tail went up and I could see some white on the back that this was a creature that could truly bring bad luck! I retreated quickly, but this may have been an omen for the day to come.
After a breakfast and a last check of my bike I walked the barely light neighborhood with my dog, my scope and my binos. The already high tide told me I would have to really scramble to get the shorebirds I needed before the 10:00 AM 6.7 foot high tide. I did manage to find 65 avian species along the edge of Cuesta Inlet with the highlight being an Osprey. I then went back home to get on my bike and have Celeste take the above photo.
My bad luck began when I tore a ligament in a finger while loading my bike and started on the road just after 8:00 with one finger that would not straighten. I checked the nearby golf course where three species of geese had been and none were there this morning! I briefly stopped at several bayside locations to look for waterfowl and shorebirds, but I realized about an hour of the way into my trip that my bike's rear axle was making weird noises. I kept heading north: hoping the noise would go away. I stopped briefly at the Elfin Forest to check the coastal scrub for thrasher, quail, Fox Sparrow and gnatcatcher. As I continued around the bay, the tide got so high that shorebirds were no longer at the bay's edge because the it was flooded by the incoming tide. I did manage to find the rusty head of a male Eurasian Wigeon in with all the Americans - in the flooded pickleweed. A fluffed-up young Peregrine perched on a low snag was making the Willets and godwits nervous as they huddled up on high spots to escape the in-rushing tide.
I made a careful search of the Morro Bay Sate Park Marina peninsula, looking for Sharp-tailed Sparrow and Large-billed Savannah Sparrow but saw none amongst the usual Savannah Sparrows that were running around just above the tide. The above Long-billed Curlew was working the edge with Greater Yellowlegs and Willets, seemingly little concerned about me.
I stopped a couple of times to scan the bay from overlooks on Bayshore and Olive Streets and stopped at Morro Rock where I scanned the ocean and ate my lunch. Black-vented Shearwaters and Common Murres flew by, along with Red-throated and Pacific Loons, cormorants, terns, and gulls.
North of Morro Bay is North Point which can be good for scoping the ocean and I did manage to find a White-winged Scoter with the Surf Scoters there. Surbirds and Black Turnstones flew around the rocks below my perch, evading the surf.
I continued north on my bike and so did the rear axle noise, which was getting worse. Should I keep going north up the coast on my bike, to camp well away from any town? Or should I turn around and return home at some point? I decided to bird more thoroughly and locally to cut down my mileage - I only went about 15 or 20 miles to the north and turned around. During the course of the trip I also realized that I was packed way too heavy (see picture above)and that all the weight on the rear of the bike made the bike unbalanced. The panniers (front and rear) that I had ordered would have helped with the balance, but I was carrying way too much optical gear - full sized Zeiss binos, an SLR camera with telephoto and wide-angled lenses, a large Zeiss scope and a tripod. My 2-man tent and sleeping bag were fine for backpacking, but not biking. (It turned out that I had a broken axle and a cracked hub on the rear wheel so it was good I turned around. After replacing my rear wheel, getting a new chain and cables, and having other routine maintenance, I am good to go for future trips.)
On the way home I stopped at more coastal locations. The day was comfortable in the mid-sixties and the wind was at my back as I pedalled south. I filled in some gaps of common species along the coast and my day's total was 122 species for January 1 - not what I had hoped for, but decent. I got a few must see winter species ticked off my list, but missed some rarities known to be present such as the 2 sparrows. I learned some lessens about bike touring as well - pack light, balance the load, and have your biked checked over by a good bike mechanic periodically if you plan to do multi-day trips. I still have to put my birds on eBirds and plan for the rest of the month's bike-birding.
Today's BIGBY route fro Los Osos to Cayucos (all by bike unless it says otherwise) was: 1)Walk Cuesta-by-the-Sea (Nancy to Pecho, along the bay, and adjacent residential area),2)Sea Pines Golf Course to check the 2 ponds from Howard, 3)Bay access at Mitchell and Doris, 4)Sweet Springs Nature Reserve on Ramona, 5)along the bay edge and to Baywood Pier on Second, 6)left on Pasadena Drive (check overlooks) to the Audubon Overlook at the end of Pasadena (very end of gravel part),7)Santa Ysabel to the overlook at end of Seventh, 8)Elfin Forest from the end of 13th (off Santa Ysabel)and check feeder at house at end of 13th, 9) South Bay Blvd.(best at 5 - 6 foot incoming tide) and ponds along the bay end of Turri Road, 10)Morro Bay State Park Marina on State Park Road and the edge of the bay from the bay side of the marina (6' high or higher tides are best), 11)Overlook on Bayshore (left off Main), 12)Overlook from the bay end of Olive, 13)Down Marina to Embarcadero and bird out to Morro Rock, 14) mouth of Morro Creek at the end of Embarcadero (where it is dirt where Coleman turns toward the Rock), 15) bike path off Main near Lemos Feed Store past Lila Kaiser Park, 16)bike path past Morro Bay High to the Cloisters Pond, 17)Sandlewood and Beachcomber along Atascadero Beach to Yerba Buena (scan beach) and left on Toro Lane before Highway 1 to North Point (scope from the dirt path above the parking), 18)Studio Drive to Old Creek Road to Whale Rock Reservoir (best birding is usually in the back along Cottontail Creek Road, 19)Back to Studio Drive to its north end and the creek mouth, 20)Take Cabrillo on the other side of Highway 1 through the cemetery and into Cayucos on 13th to Pacific, 21) ride along the coast to the Cayucos Pier (check if birds near end), and 22)the rocky shore from North Ocean Avenue to Highway 1.