Science for a Blue Planet

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A Tradition Unlike Any Other, The Ornicyles’ Bird-A-Thon Adventure

Written by Megan Elrod

Bird-a-thons, a tradition unlike any other. Wait, I stole that from somewhere…sports! Remember those? Birding is a sport y’all. Birding hard is definitely a sport when you’re on a bike for ten hours whilst birding. Birding and biking are particularly spectacular socially distanced sports, taking solo sweating to the max, entering and relishing that pain cave alone, miles apart from your fellow sufferer. Okay, stream of consciousness writing might not be the best approach for this summary, but it is 2020 when anything goes, and I can’t pick a solid intro, I can’t even pick out a pair of pants to wear around my house all day.

Scoping the ocean from Muir Beach

So here I am, summarizing our day of birding by bike for the Ornicycles Bird-A-Thon team, as we do, as an inadequate thanks to our supporters who donated to Point Blue for this fundraiser. Need I remind you, you donated to support science, birds, conservation, restoration, long-term data sets, yes – it’s a lot! But you gave a lot – thank you!

Just the numbers:

95 species of birds
7 mammals? Estimating, as we weren’t really counting mammals, but bats and harbor seals are worth a shout out
9:55:10 total time recording (~4 h 33 min moving? According to Strava)
3,189 ft (Garmin) 2,961 (Strava) 3,317 (Trailforks)
31.7 miles (all agree)
13 team members (including a couple honorary non-riders)

A long-winded run (err bike) down of the day: We met in the Muir Beach area at 7:00am. It was smoky, the air quality was worse that when we cancelled a week ago, but team members arrived, rolled out of their cars ready to ride- we’re doing this thing. A Great Horned Owl flew over the valley, and the sun hadn’t reached us yet, early risers started calling and Ornicycles 2020 were off. Put a little extra air in the ol’ Minions for the combo ride we were about to do. Rolling through the willows of the restored Redwood Creek, this place can produce quite a warbler flock, and local human residents too – met up with JP, who joined us by foot out to the ocean overlook. We got lucky and could actually see the ocean, thanks Karla (Karla is the new Karl: check it). We were awarded a great view of a Parasitic Jaeger! In with some Heermann’s Gulls and Brown Pelican. JP pointed out the Say’s Phoebe. Onward.

Up through Green Gulch, the warbler flock never materialized but we eeked out the Townsend’s and a Western Tanager before climbing up to the ridge. Oh, and a Sharp-shinned Hawk making a funny call that threw us for a second.

Top ‘o the ridge/morning to ya. Photo by Lisette

After the climb and a breather, we needed to shred a bit of dirt – for Ornicycles it’s a difficult tradeoff but when the trail points down the focus switches to speed and finding a shreddy line, so in no time we were down in Tennessee Valley. While regrouping, we bid farewell to Lisette, but gained a Toms, who somehow found us after suffering up Green Gulch alone – I wonder what we would have gotten if we had taken Dias Ridge up instead? We were forced to pavement and cruised the rest of the way down to sea level, to hit up Richardson Bay. We were at Bothin Marsh earlier than I had expected so the tide was still low enough to get great looks at Least Sandpiper tucked into the pickleweed, and out along the Sausalito shoreline a Spotted Sandpiper be-bopped along the rocks. We worked the parking lot veg hard trying to pick out other warblers, and managed a Yellow, but couldn’t turn anything into an Orange-crowned or something more exciting, but every bird counts on a BAT, vagrunts don’t pay more. We had a scope delivery from Nadav, but couldn’t pull out much more than an extremely distant American Coot out on the Bay – the ducks just aren’t back in numbers yet, but even if they were, they prefer those Sanctuary waters we couldn’t see, (I discovered last winter while surveying this part of Richardson Bay, but I was hopeful). Black-crowned Night-Heron would do, as well as a Western Bluebird on a streetlight. Back through Bothin Marsh – where is that stilt?!

We took a nice long lunch break at Hook Fish Co. and some even indulged in a beer. And had to say goodbye to Toms, we were down to seven. The climb was coming and it was heating up. Which way to climb though!? Finally the Black-necked Stilt was in its pond along the boardwalk. Cruising along the bike path, another shorebird caught my eye across the road. Turned into one of the best birds of the day – a Pectoral Sandpiper. Team members got good looks thanks to Scott’s packable – scope – thing what was he calling it? Time to climb. Tough call, but decided on the lower, more tree cover, gentler graded Old Railroad gravel climb up – which meant navigating more pavement through Mill Valley. Back in the saddle after lunch and pedaling slow (for birding, nothing to do with the giant burrito and a beer in my belly). We sat for an inexplicably painful amount of time at a busy intersection full of cars and Roadies, where Preston pointed out how out of our element the Ornicycles became when we had to get onto a street. Where’s my dirt?! We survived, barely, with the guidance of Julian, who has earned his urban riding badge from years of surviving the mean streets of Berkeley. Most of us were pining for West Marin and breathed deep when we hit dirt again in the shady holler back in Mill Valley – it was the middle of the day and the birds were quiet.

Climbing out of Mill Valley we mostly focused on the pedal strokes, tried to turn another Sharpie into a Coopers, but managed an Acorn Woodpecker at a water stop, and then again, a indisputable giant Cooper’s Hawk cruising low while stopped at our highest point for the day – West Point Inn (@ 1,692 ft). Most notably we were groaning at our obvious misses, and banking all our birds to be back in Muir Beach. It was all downhill from here (a good thing on the bike!). Open ‘er up and let ‘er rip. We got back to the ocean side of the County, to find our wind someone had been missing. Kicked up a Western Meadowlark and started thinking about how close we were getting to our cars, and cold beer. Screamed down more pavement and made a last ditch effort, squealed the rubber hard left and tried to get a few more birds in the waning light. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher was our last bird en route. Packed up, beers open in the parking lot, we were still scanning the skies and our ears were perked – Mourning Dove (somehow a surprisingly difficult bird in Marin at times, it isn’t the first BAT where it’s been the penultimate species). Final species though? A group of Cedar Waxwings, cheers to them, such a festive bird! And cheers to you, for coming along through this recap and being a great supporter of science. Done with 95. It was a little too much pavement for my liking, ah well. Someday I will find that holy grail of a route, one that is truly all dirt, but where we still get over 100 species. Maybe next year…

Honorary Team Members:

  • JP
  • Nadav


  • Julian
  • Liam
  • Scott
  • Preston
  • Isaiah
  • Peter
  • Zach
  • Lisette
  • Toms
  • Mark


Canada Goose
Pied-billed Grebe
Eared Grebe
Western Grebe
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Anna’s Hummingbird
American Coot
Black-necked Stilt
Black Oystercatcher
Least Sandpiper
Pectoral Sandpiper
Spotted Sandpiper
Greater Yellowlegs
Parasitic Jaeger
Common Murre
Heermann’s Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Western Gull
California Gull
Glaucous-winged Gull
Elegant Tern
Brandt’s Cormorant
Pelagic Cormorant
Double-crested Cormorant
Brown Pelican
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Turkey Vulture
White-tailed Kite
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper’s Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Great Horned Owl
Belted Kingfisher
Acorn Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Nuttall’s Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
American Kestrel
Black Phoebe
Say’s Phoebe
Hutton’s Vireo
Steller’s Jay
California Scrub-Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Oak Titmouse
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Pygmy Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
House Wren
Pacific Wren
Bewick’s Wren
European Starling
Northern Mockingbird
Western Bluebird
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
Cedar Waxwing
House Sparrow
House Finch
Purple Finch
Pine Siskin
Lesser Goldfinch
American Goldfinch
Fox Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
White-crowned Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln’s Sparrow
California Towhee
Spotted Towhee
Western Meadowlark
Brewer’s Blackbird
Common Yellowthroat
Yellow Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Townsend’s Warbler
Western Tanager

This trip summary was created using the eBird app for iPhone and iPad.
See eBird for more information.

Team shot (Toms hadn’t found us yet…) Photo by Zach