Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A "Short Ride" - 2/28

"I'm just going out for a short ride and some birding. I'll be back after noon sometime", I told me wife as I left the house at about 8 AM. I packed a lunch (just in case)and loaded my scope, tripod and camera. I did not return till 5:30 PM, having biked fifty miles, hiked four miles, birded seven spots, and found 5 new BIGBY species on a gorgeous day between storms.
My first stop was a small wetland located on Quintana Road just south of South Bay Blvd., near Morro Bay. I pulled up to the kiosk on my bike and listened for the Virginia Rail Maggie had heard here recently. It obliged almost immediately with its clicking call - not the "dirty old man laugh" call. It stayed concealed in the dry reeds and green weedy undergrowth, so I pulled out my iPod and portable speaker system and stood playing a recording of its calls. I could not see the bird, but it sure sounded close! I then looked down and the bird was looking up at me, right at my feet! It was an "Oh my God!" moment for both of us - I was shocked by how close it was and it was shocked by the big monster in bright cycling clothes standing over it. It ran back to the reeds and I stepped back because it was too close to focus my telephoto lens. I then did what I should have done in the beginning - I sat down on a log a little ways away and played the recording. The rail only came to the edge of the weeds this time and I took a photo.
Next I went to a friend's house where an Orchard Oriole was sometimes being seen. I missed it, despite playing a recording of its song and calls. At Morro Rock I missed the wintering Red-necked Grebe for the fourth or fifth time. It was time to take out my frustration on some cycling - up the coast to Villa Creek (north of Cayucos). This was an easy ride along Highway 1 except for breeze coming off the ocean and into my face. I had forgotten one of the rules for cycling on the Central California coast - get as far north as early as you can, before the wind kicks up in the later morning. The relatively flat 15 mile ride was easy enough that the breeze was tolerable. I locked up my bike near Villa Creek (access is 2 or 3 turnouts to the south of the actual creek)and took my pannier and handle bar bag out to the beach for lunch with the Snowy Plovers.
The Snowies (BIGBY bird #2) were among the first birds I saw when I got out to the beach. They were hunkered down in footstep impressions in the sand, and running around with Sanderlings. Two of the approximately 90 plovers were banded, which I recorded (and later reported to Point Reyes Bird Observatory). The plovers got nervous if I got too close, but I managed to get some photos without flushing them. I ate lunch surrounded by these animated little whitish balls of feathers, and felt even more lucky when a passing hiker told me that the area was going to be closed off on the following day with a barrier. As I left Villa Creek, I stopped to watch a Peregrine Falcon tear up a bird I wasn't able to identify.
I cycled in shoes still wet from the trail at Villa Creek (take old running shoes for hiking next time)to Whale Rock Reservoir (above south Cayucos). Old Creek Road is a fairly steady climb, so it was a good place to work on my standing pedalling endurance. Despite the approximately 20 inches of rain this season, the lake was as low as it had been in October. I pedalled to Cottontail Creek Road, at the back end, where the birding is usually the best. Both the land birding along the riparian habitat (with rocky pasture) and the arms of the lake along Old Creek and Cottontail Creek are often birdy. I found an immature Bald Eagle with a huge bill, perched near the mouth of Old Creek. I wondered about my ID until it took off and the whitish areas spread out in the under wing from the leading edge and into the flight feathers in places, along with the less contrastingly colored tail and the farther protruding head and neck (compared to a Golden) convinced me of BIGBY #3 for the day. Two pair of Ring-necked Ducks on the Cottontail Creek arm were Bigby #4 (good thing I had my scope.)
On the way home I stopped at the Cloisters Pond (northern Morro Bay) where I saw my first Great-tailed Grackle for the year. I also stopped at Black Hill and road my bike on the dirt path on the back side that parallels Quintana. I could not find the wintering Grace's Warbler and Red-breasted Nuthatch. I made the mistake of taking the path toward South Bay Blvd, near which the path gradually turns into a gnarly Mt. Bike path. I had to walk my bike in many parts before getting back to a road and the ride home.

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