With careful planning, choosing the perfect date, picking a habitat-rich route and quite simply “bucking up” for what I knew would be a ride that would take me further than I had ever ventured before, we firmed up our agenda. With the “Carbon Free Big Year Master”, Josiah Clark, who holds the record for the most species recorded in a carbon free big year, (295), and long time friends Ivan Samuels and Jeff Miller, we made our commitment on a date and hoped that the fair weather gods to be with us. We had originally picked 4/20 but our area was getting blown away by strong winds and soaked with heavy rains. We postponed and kept our fingers crossed. It was April 22nd and it was on!
Jeff arrived at my gallery at 4:20 AM and we double checked our bikes, gear and optics. With day packs filled with water and food, heads and bikes adorned with lights, we rode into the darkness and out of town. In the cool and quiet predawn, we quickly peddled to the Bolinas School where we hooked up with Josiah and Ivan who were just arriving from San Francisco. By the way, they are not doing a carbon free year and so drove over in a car. They pulled their bikes out and prepared their gear. We chugged some strong coffee, bumped fists gave an enthusiastic whoop! We were off!!! 4:30 and we were moving. My hope and goal was to add 12 species to my big year total.
Cruising along the Bolinas Lagoon we heard our first species of the “day” when a singing male Red-winged Blackbird cranked out its “rusty machine” Conk-a-REE! Pulling up to a large grove of oak, we stood in the quiet darkness and were enlivened to hear a distant Great Horned Owl hooting from across the still and peaceful lagoon. That would be my first new bird of the day. #169. We couldn’t have moved more that a few hundred yards when my second bird would give itself away by calling and what a bird it would be! Josiah, with his seemingly “super human” hearing, excitedly pointed out “Northern Saw-whet Owl”! This is a species that I had never encountered in or around Bolinas so I was especially keen on hearing it. After some anxious seconds the tiny owl complied and gave itself over to me, with song. I was happy to know that these shy and reclusive creatures can be found in our immediate area. It seemed to calling softly from the willows that surround the small fresh water pond at the foot of the Bolinas-Fairfax Road. #170. With a few Green-winged Teal calling like crickets amongst the numerous American Wigeon, a Virginia Rail overwhelmed the still of the night by croaking out its loud and alarming ZHOOOP, Zhooop, Zhooop, zhooop, zhooooop! We peddled on. Once we neared the trees at Hwy.1 and Horseshoe Hill Road, I smiled to myself as several calling Swainson’s Thrush emitted their water-drop like “droip ?, droip ?” from the fern clad darkness that I found myself surrounded by. These highly migratory birds had very likely just arrived from their immense journey from as far away as South America, where they spend the winter. “Welcome home” I whispered under my breath. # 171.
After the heart thumping climb through the locally famous “13 Curves” portion of Hwy.1, we finally made it the 7 miles to the Randal trail where we hung a hard right and began our long climb to the top of the Bolinas Ridge, some 2 miles straight up. Where we could, we rode, but most of the time we were off our bikes and pushing them up the steep and rocky incline. Before long and just as the sun was starting to lighten the horizon a Red-breasted Nuthatch split the dawn with its “yank, yank, yank,” call. # 172. Huffing and puffing and only moments later, the clear as a bell “QUICK three BEERS”, song of a newly arrived Olive-sided Flycatcher gave us an inspirational nudge and pushed us forward. # 173! Nearing the ridge line the sky became blue and the lighting improved enough for me to see two male Hermit Warblers that Josiah got me on to. They were singing and engaging in territorial skirmishes over our heads. This species, my #174th is one of my favorite birds. Finally and with much relief we crested the ridge surrounded by ancient Douglas Firs and numerous giant Bay trees. We lifted our bikes up and over a fence and headed out to a meadow where we were delighted to see and hear a male Chipping Sparrow pouring its heart out in song with its steady, long and drawn out, dry, insect-like trill. #175.
Now it was time to start putting down some horizontal, rather than vertical mileage. We began our long and gradual descent north along the ridge, in the direction of Olema. The next wonderful surprise to break through the depth of the forest was the loud and highly recognizable “KANK, KANK, KANK, KANK”!!! call of the big ol’ Pileated Woodpecker. That was to be but one of five I heard call that day! # 176. I couldn’t believe my luck! This was great and better than I had hoped. Several times, Josiah kept hearing what he thought were Red Crossbills calling and finally a good sized flock landed in a large Eucalyptus tree and began to put on quite a show. They were copulating, flitting around and even flying down to the ground to drink. Topping that off was a very vocal male Western Tanager singing its heart out from the same tree! Those were two colorful new additions. #’s 177 and # 178. Before long, we found ourselves nearing the hill, a mile or so above the town of Olema. This is where we picked up the “burry” call of the Ash-throated Flycatcher as it graced us with its “chi-BEER”, “chi-BEER”. #179. Only a few moments later we were “high fiveing” as Josiah spotted a distant Lark Sparrow. Wanting to get a better look at this fine bird, we glided down the slope to enjoy this superb fence post “ornament”. # 180.
We decided to take the long route to Point Reyes Station. Instead of simply turning west and taking the hill down and onto Hwy. 1, we turned right and inland. Weeeeeeee! We quickly flew down the long steep hill that took us to the Tocaloma Bridge and a beautiful bike path toward Samuel P. Taylor State Park. Right off the bat, we heard the buzzy and down slurred “Bzzzeeer” call of the Western Wood Pewee as we slowly peddled down one of the most enchanting forest paths I know of. # 181. After a mile or so, we turned around and made our way back to and crossed Sir Francis Drake Blvd., finding Platform Bridge Road. Slowly moving along this quiet lane was a great choice as it quickly gifted me several more species. The first one came quickly as several Oak Titmice vocalized from, well, an Oak! # 182. We found ourselves gliding past a rather large farm house when a stunning male and a subtle female Bullock’s Oriole chattered and then flew from an oak and out of view. # 183. It was the wild yelling and full body pointing from Josiah that got me onto my next bird. It took the form of a goliath! So delighted was I, when I saw the Red-tailed Hawk stooping on the “Lord of the Sky” a stunning Golden Eagle! We were nearly as high as that bird was with a feeling of reward for our hard work that brought us to that point. Everyone, while tired, was very happy! # 184. Nearing the town of Point Reyes Station and badly needing lunch, we made one quick stop along a creek where we had a singing male Yellow Warbler. YES! # 185. Up one more hill and then down into town we saw several Eurasian Collared Doves.
Sandwiches all around, chips flew and liquids were poured down thirsty throats! Even though we were consumed with sustenance we also couldn’t help but notice the several Rock Doves that were flying over, and believe it or not, that was a new bird for me as well! # 186. Ya gotta git em when ya can and today was my day. After some impassioned consumption, we were back on our “Horses”. Feeling revived we moved toward Tomales Bay. Looking over the newly restored wetlands we started racking up many new birds for day list. Herons, Geese, Ducks and Shorebirds were ticked off as we looked up to see a flock of slowly flapping American White Pelicans! # 187! We teased out a Greater White-fronted Goose and two male Eurasian Wigeons.
NOW, we were at the “far point” of our day and it was NOW time to start making our way back south towards the Bolinas Lagoon area. We had several important stops to make before that though. After scanning the area around Whitehouse Pool, we dove into the Olema Marsh where we were successful at hearing a Sora calling from deep in the marsh! # 188. Our next stop was the Earthquake Trail at the Bear Valley Headquarters. Beyound that we scooted through and past the small town of Olema. Taking a deep breath and looking at eachother, we said, “Five Brooks”! Onto Hwy. 1 we quickly moved south until we arrived at the beautiful and productive pond surrounded by thick forest. While I didn’t add any new species to my Big Year, we did add several new species to the Big Day. Now, it was the hill I had worried about for so long and after six hard minutes of up, Up, UP, I crowned the hill and continued on. From that point it was fairly flat until we reached Thirteen Curves and enjoyed a nice long downhill plunge in elevation.
Now, it was time for a decision! Do we call it a day and easily ride back to Bolinas and home, (and bed) or do we pile up a bunch more species by heading an additional 5 miles to the town of Stinson Beach? Well when you are as hardcore, driven and insane as the four of us, there is only one choice! Moving along the lagoon we added such species as Scaup, Mergansers, Spotted Sandpiper and more. Before long we found ourselves at the Stinson Beach parking lot and scoping out to sea spotting new Loon and Cormorant species. As the sun slid below the mighty Pacific we picked up our tired and sorry asses and made a quick loop back and around the lagoon. With the few final rotations of our well worn wheels, we slid into the parking lot at the Bolinas School and dismounted. While whipped, we all were smiling and still enthusiastic. There were hugs all around and I pulled out my bird list and totaled it up. We topped out at 136 species for the day of which I saw or heard 135 of them! In addition, I added a whopping 20 species to my Carbon Free Big Year List! I was so happy and continue to be as my total for the year has now climbed to 188 species. I said my final goodbyes to the gang and rode the last mile to my home and my beautiful wife where I collapsed into her waiting arms!