Back to the Bay – San Francisco Bay – Christmas 2019

As written in the headers for all of my blog posts, I conceived of this site as a place to “share pictures, stories, and reflections of my birding adventures – past and present…”  There have been a couple of exceptions but otherwise all of the posts, and this one will be post number 233, have had birds and birding as the main focus.  To be sure there has been much more with some history, psychology, politics, geography and what-not thrown in.  And of course many of the best times have been with wonderful people that I have tried to include.

Although there is an important connection to my birding past, indeed the very beginning of that history, this post will be very different.  It relates and reflects on a relatively short trip to San Francisco over Christmas 2019 with Cindy Bailey, the special lady that came into my life earlier this year and who has made my life immeasurably happier and better with her support and company.  We covered a lot of ground in just 4 days ending at Baylands Nature Preserve in Palo Alto, California, the largest tract of undisturbed marsh land in the San Francisco Bay and the place where I started my birding life.  The experience was so full and so fun that I wanted to memorialize it in one place – why not here?

The Flight


Alaska Airlines flight flight 1794 was scheduled to leave SeaTac Airport at 8:00 a.m. on Monday December 23rd.  Travelers were warned that due to heavy traffic at the airport, being there two hours early was advised.  So given the distance from Edmonds, the need to park the car and then shuttle to the terminal, we planned to leave Edmonds not later than 5:15 a.m.  Maybe it is from all the early morning risings for my birding adventures or maybe because I have no hair on my head to wash, dry and attend to, but I can be ready to go within 15 minutes of waking up.  It helped that we had packed everything except incidentals the night before.  Cindy has many fine qualities, but she does have that hair thing to deal with and is generally not quick to get going in the mornings in any event.  So the alarms were set for 4:00 a.m.  I was showered, dressed and had eaten breakfast and was ready to go at maybe 4:20.  Cindy skipped any breakfast and really made good time, so we were out the door not much after 5:00.  We needn’t have hurried.

The security lines at the airport were long but for some reason, the TSA line was as short as I could remember it.  We were through in just moments and were at the gate well before 7:00 a.m.  The plane was a little late to load but about 8:20 a.m. we were all onboard and ready to go.   Alas, there was no go as we sat there waiting to taxi off for at least 25 minutes.  Finally we backed away from the gate and got in line.  Sometime around 9:00 a.m. we were on the runway apron ready to get into the queue.  The attendants announced there were a lot of planes in line ahead of us and it would take awhile.  But even though we could see the line of planes, we never moved to take our place.  We sat…and sat…and sat.  Maybe thirty minutes passed – no movement and little information other than that there were problems in San Francisco to the extent that “they were not letting any planes land”.  Huh??

We were told we would head back to the terminal to … well it was not sure what.  We got to the terminal and were at first told we could get off and then moments later were told to stay onboard and wait to see what might happen.  Well, you could get off – but then would not be able to reboard.  At least they allowed access to the bathrooms on the plane.  As you can imagine there was not much happiness among the holiday travelers on board.  This certainly included Cindy and me as we had non-refundable tickets for the musical Hamilton that night – not a cheap date.  If this flight was canceled we would not be able to find another (assuming any planes would be landing at SFO) to get there that day.   The odds were not good on finding a flight the next day either.  We agreed that a 2.5 day trip without the theater was not worth the airfare, hotels, car etc.  We would cut our losses and celebrate – somehow – in Seattle. (There was much cursing under our breaths.)

Then news came that the SFO airport was open again and we would be leaving soon – not sure what soon meant.  Out to the apron again to get in line.  It seemed to take a long time but finally we moved into the queue and around 10:30 a.m. we headed off.  This was significantly later than we were originally scheduled to arrive in San Francisco.  Now that landing would be 3 hours late…BUT our theater tickets were still good and it was going to be a great holiday after all.  The SFO airport was a zoo as hundreds of flights had been canceled or delayed.  We heard many reasons for the delays – internet problems, a runway reconstruction project, mechanical failures and weather problems including fog and wind, but the weather was fine when we got there – sunny skies and 52 degrees.  No longer our problem in any event.  We took BART to Union Square and then walked over to the Staypineapple Hotel – yes that really is the name.  We had wondered about an early check in but with the flight delay, there was no need to worry as it was after 2:00 p.m when we got there.

San Francisco

Located at the corner of Geary and Jones, the Staypineapple Hotel is self described as an “elegant hotel”.  We agree.  It is fairly small and every detail is thought out and designed around the “Pineapple” theme.  We are probably too old to understand the full hipness of the name, but we loved the look.



Staypineapple Hotel (Exterior)


Staypineapple Hotel (Interior) – Over the Top Design

Staypineapple Interior


The cookies awaiting us in the lobby – pineapple shaped and flavored, of course – were a bonus.  Our room was fairly small but very attractive and the bed – with pineapple pillow was appealing.  And he tree in the lobby was a must for a photo.



Staypineapple Tree

Although there were few specific details, our original plan had been to be in downtown before noon and then check out some touristy spots before heading off to dinner and then the show.  There had been a fair amount of stress with the flight situation and we had been up early so we just took it easy and had a short cat nap in the room.  We expected to do a lot of walking during this visit in part because we knew there would be a lot of food consumed (even without those pineapple cookies).  Hamilton started at 7:00 and the Orpheum Theater was maybe 15 minutes from the hotel.  We had found an appealing restaurant that was somewhat in the same direction as the theater and it was also about 15 minutes from the hotel and then there would be another 10 minutes or so to the theater.  We had a dinner reservation for 5:15 and got there a few minutes early.  There was a long line and staff was not real helpful in explaining the check-in process, but they found us a table and we were set.

Max’s at the Opera Restaurant on Van Ness Avenue


Our restaurant, Max’s at the Opera, was like a glorified deli with many theater goers in attendance.  Not haute cuisine, but that was not the goal this night in any event.  Service was excellent and our waiter affirmed that their featured Reuben Sandwich really was excellent.  Why not? We were on vacation.  It really was excellent and we dismissed any caloric calculations for it or our drinks that preceded the meal.


At Max

The Reuben


My son Alex was visiting Seattle and we had a chance to have lunch with him before leaving for this trip.  It was the first time he and Cindy had met.  Much of our talk had been about his life in the world of specialty coffee and a potential change in employment, but we also talked about San Francisco as he had been there recently.  He is very urban and urbane and loves the city but called it a dystopia with the overwhelming homeless situation on many streets.  We had not seen that walking to the hotel, but it was very apparent walking to the restaurant (through the edge of the Tenderloin district) and then to the theater.  Very depressing indeed.

We were now off to see Hamilton.  It is always exciting to be in a theater crowd before a performance especially so with the anticipation for this much loved production at a very nice theater.  Our seats were excellent (at the price we paid they should have been) – about 20 rows up in the orchestra.  I won’t go into details about the show.  Incredible performances and an amazing conception and production.  As much as the main characters were terrific, it was the excellence of the many smaller players in the highly complicated choreography that stood out most to me.  I had mixed feelings on how the story was related and the music.  Rap is not my favorite and we often could not hear/understand the words, but there was no missing the incredible force and energy of the production – especially in the first half.  Not so much in the second half and especially the ending.  Production and casting (deliberate I am sure) definitely made it easy to not like Jefferson and Madison.  We were glad we went but are not members of the Hamilton as Best Musical Ever fan club.


Hamilton Close

It was nice to have the hotel well located to get to Union Square, restaurants and the theater, but that central in the heart of the city location also meant lots of noise at night with traffic, sirens etc. – a reminder that I am not an urban type especially as a light sleeper.  The (only) other less than appealing part of our hotel stay was a very limited breakfast menu at the “Bistro+Bar”.  The only fruits available were apples and bananas.  A few pastries (good) and some limited other options.  Not a big problem but especially with local markets and delis closed on the day before Christmas and Christmas day – not great.  Of course there was a Starbucks and a Burger King (or was it a Jack in The Box and aren’t they the same?) within a couple of blocks – so much for trendy San Francisco.   We survived and began a very full day of exploring the city as tourists.

We started at Union Square – with yet another Christmas Tree photo op.  The weather was perfect, cool, dry and windless with bright blue skies, and the crowds were not yet out in force – except for the lines for the the Cable Car which we had hoped to take to Fisherman’s Wharf.  We waited for 20 minutes just north of Union Square as two cars came by too full for us to board.  So we hiked down to where the cable car starts but found hundreds of people already in line – looking like an hour plus wait.  Not keen on lines anywhere so we started off relying on “shank’s mare” – as in walking (I have always wanted to use that term).  We casually walked through the shopping areas around Union Square.  Fashions, jewelry, art, more fashions and more fashions – many high end Italian and French designers as well as Bloomingdale’s and Saks.  Our shopping was all of the window kind, keeping our wallets tightly closed, but it was fun.  Cindy liked one dress or coat but not the other and so on and we usually agreed.

U Sq

Next was a walk through Chinatown with lunch an objective at some point.  The ethnic diversity of San Francisco was hard to miss and almost everywhere we went, Asians were by far the most visible – of course much moreso in Chinatown itself.  But there as well as everywhere else we heard many languages – Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Russian, French, Spanish, German, Arabic, Hindi, Bengali and Hebrew as well as many other Eastern and Northern European and Southeast Asian ones that we could not identify.   As much as Seattle at least sees itself as a big and cosmopolitan city and I have seen it become moreso in my now almost 50 years there, there is simply no comparison with San Francisco.

Chinatown Gate

Chinatown Gate

There were LOTS of people and lots of small stores offering goods cheap and expensive and food and groceries to feed visitors and residents alike.  Many were familiar and others were not.  Lots of fish, poultry, pork and vegetables as well as herbs, spices and sauces.  We were not sure if some of what we saw was to be eaten or… We had recently joined friends Randy and Janice Leitzke for dim sum at a small restaurant in Edmonds.  Pretty good, but we figured we could do better here.  Hawkers handed out pamphlets for competing restaurants and we chose one on a side street that looked just right – the Grant Place Restaurant.  A little bigger than a hole in the wall and definitely not design conscious, but the food in the window looked good and there were many Asian couples and families and groups inside enjoying their fare.

Grant Place Restaurant

Grant Place

The food and service were both great and the only problem was that we ate too much.  Back onto the street we continued north up Grant Street towards North Beach.  Now there were even more people and we were amazed how every little shop seemed to be selling the same foods and all were jammed.

North Beach is famous for Italian restaurants, cafes and bakeries.  We were already way over our theoretical calorie counts for the day but we figured we were doing a lot of walking so maybe a dessert would be okay.  First however, we were enticed by Goorin’s  Bros. Hat Shop on Stockton Street.  An awesome collection of hats that were really fun to try on.  There were definite temptations but I just could not see myself wearing the top hat that I liked best or the blue fedora that Cindy preferred.  One of the best parts of this day was that nothing was really planned and we could just react to whatever appealed to us.  The hat shop was fun, but the next stop was even more appealing.

Goorin’s  Bros. Hat Shop

Hat (2)

Molinari Delicatessen was established in 1896 and is one of the oldest delicatessens in the U.S.  It was mobbed and everybody seemed to be buying something.  If we had not already had our lunch, we would have been happy with any of a number of things offered.  We moved on – reluctantly.  But then we found Mara’s Italian Pastries and Gelato and this time we could not resist.

Molinari Delicatessen



Mara’s Italian Pastries



We got a wonderful poppy seed confection and a chocolate mousse to be eaten later.  Both were excellent and not terribly expensive.  I would be in serious trouble if I lived anywhere near either Molinari or Mara’s.  Happy but in serious trouble…

We headed back to the Staypineapple returning again through Chinatown.  There were easily a thousand or more people shopping.  Root vegetables seemed to be particularly popular.  Unlike the pastries or the deli, for these there was no appeal.  We took a little different route to check out the garage where we would be picking up our rental car the next morning on Bush Street.  We got back to our room while it was still light.  Being much further south and finally getting past the winter solstice, it was not dark as early in San Francisco as it had been when we left Seattle.  The skies were turning gray, however, a portent of things to come.

Recognizing that we had eaten a lot this day and the previous night, but had not had much of a breakfast, we had omelettes at a delicatessen a block from the hotel.  It was Christmas Eve and a lot of places were closed.  Not fancy, but not bad and we were back to the hotel and turned in early.  We had walked over 5 miles that day and were feeling pretty virtuous.  It was not as noisy as the previous night — until a major storm hit the area.  The rain pounded on the windows of the hotel.  Somehow Cindy slept through it but not me.  I was getting into serious sleep deprivation mode but could hardly feel sorry for myself thinking about what it must have been like for the homeless people on the streets.  Sigh…

Christmas Day was to be our day out of the City.  Cindy’s cousin Lisa and family were celebrating at their second home in Inverness, California in Marin County on Tomales Bay and near Point Reyes National Seashore.   About 50 miles away, it would be about a 90 minute ride without stops.  Our plan was to pick up the car early and drive to Inverness with some stops at Point Reyes, have lunch with the family and then return to San Francisco for a 7:00 dinner returning the car that evening.  That’s what the online rental arrangement said, but we were thrown a major curve ball when I was informed – only at the time that I picked up the car at 7:30 a.m. – that the car office would be closing at 3:00 p.m. and there was no way to drop the car off until the next morning – unless we wanted to take it to the airport. WTF!!!  There was no way we could be back by 3:00 p.m. and no way to go the airport – and then have to get back to our hotel – a two hour ordeal.  So our option was to keep the car overnight – pay (exorbitantly) for parking at the hotel and then to return the car the next morning.  To say we were unhappy would be a major understatement.  There being no other option, we carried on.

Inverness and Point Reyes – about 50 Miles Northwest


Another curve was that instead of the small SUV that I expected, we were “upgraded” to a very racy Chevy Camaro.  It was a fun car but with very low clearance and there were a couple of spots where this might have been an issue – especially with the somewhat flooded roads we would encounter in Marin County.  I can only imagine what the traffic would have been like if it were not Christmas day, but we had very little traffic getting out of San Francisco, and our only issues were that every intersection seemed to have a stoplight and each one of them was red for us – timed terribly.  But it was lovely.  The storm from the night before was nowhere to be seen and crossing the Golden Gate Bridge is a spectacular ride.  And Marin county is like a world apart compared to San Francisco – beautiful with its big trees, cypress, eucalyptus and others.  The roads were winding which thrilled me and frightened Cindy a bit.  It was a fun trek as we got more and more remote covering territory I could barely remember from early birding days in California almost 50 years ago.

We stopped at a really funky little coffee shop in Olema and felt like we were back in the Hippie days of the 1960’s.  Not a whole lot has changed since then probably.  Then we went to Point Reyes National Seashore stopping for a few birds on the way.  One was a very close in Red Shouldered Hawk, a new bird for Cindy.  It was close enough for an ID quality picture with my phone.  Birding friend Ann Marie Wood in Washington has been trying to see one there for months without success.  I could not resist sending her the picture.  I wish I could have brought it back for her.  We would see several Red Shouldered Hawks and more Red Tailed Hawks but the most common raptor were American Kestrels.  We probably saw two dozen.

Red Shouldered Hawk

Red Shouldered Hawk

We saw some of these and some of those species but mostly we were there to enjoy the spectacular scenery along the coast.  Mark Tomboulian later advised me that the ice plants that were everywhere are invasive, but they were nonetheless beautiful in many shades of red, gold and green and even purple.

View from North Beach at Point Reyes


We left the beach and joined cousins Jimmy and Lisa, her husband John and their kids Alec, Alana, and Sean, and their kids Arden and Coral and spouses Craig and Clare, for a relaxed visit at Lisa and John’s Inverness home.  More food and good company.  I had met Lisa in Edmonds but everyone else was new.  It was a good way to spend Christmas.

Around 3:00 p.m. we left to get back to the City.  We had dinner reservations at 7:00 at Tuba, a Turkish restaurant, but since it was a ways from our hotel and we could not return the car until the next morning anyhow, we drove to the restaurant and found nearby on street parking.  Although they were quite busy the restaurant was able to take us early and we had a good meal with some wine.  I had salmon and Cindy had lamb.  The ambiance was good and the service was excellent.

Tuba Restaurant

Tuba Outside

Cindy Toasting the Holiday

Tuba Cindy

My Salmon


Back to the hotel parking at the “reduced” overnight rate for hotel guests of only $30 for the night.  It was convenient, though.

Before the surprise on the rental car return, our plan had been more sightseeing in San Francisco all day on Thursday and then flying home on a 7:25 flight.  Since we still had the car, I called Alamo to see what it would cost to keep it and drop it off at the airport instead.  Here was the second disappointment with Alamo.  We were told it would only be another $6.95.  When we actually did drop it off, we were charged a lot more.  I will not go into details because I want to keep my blood pressure low.  Oh well, we had the car and changed our plans to drive around in San Francisco to see where Cindy had lived in the Marina District and then to see some of the beautiful homes and scenery at Sea Cliff and then the Presidio ending at Cliff House.  It was all beautiful.

I had never gone through the Presidio or gone to Seal Rock or Cliff House.  The Presidio was incredible and the view of the sea breaking in waves over Seal Rock was spectacular.  And I had no idea that there was so much sandy beach on San Francisco’s ocean side.  Cindy said that the wind and fog could be pretty awful and that cars were sand blasted by the wind blowing the sand from the beach which significantly depressed its desirability for permanent residence, but none of that was evident on this lovely day.

Seal Rock from Cliff House


Cindy with Our Camaro Parked at the Cliff House


We continued south along the Junipero Serra Freeway down the Peninsula heading to Stanford University.  Cindy had never been there and I am not sure if I have been back since Law School in 1973.  Rolling along on Highway 280 it was hard to believe that dense population was so close by.  Very light traffic on the day after Christmas certainly helped.  Stanford was as I remembered it – times 10.  There were many new buildings and the campus is truly awesome with magnificent palms, eucalyptus and open space.  We parked at the main quad and found ourselves with maybe several hundred other visitors.  No students as school was in recess for the Holidays.  It seemed that at least 90% of the people there were Asian, many families with children maybe with hopes to be accepted and enrolled someday.  It was really gorgeous.

Memorial Church at Stanford


We walked over to the Law School – its location changed from long ago when I attended.  A placard on the building showed donors whose contributions had made it possible.  I don’t know when the donations were made, but my name’s absence was evidence of how detached I am from those days.  It has been almost 40 years since I practiced law at all.  We had a nice lunch at a pizza place at Town and Country Village and then searched for the place I lived when I first arrived for law school – an apartment over the garage behind a modest home in Menlo Park.  I could not recall the street address and despite a diligent search, we could not find the place although I am sure we were close.

There would be one more stop before returning to the airport.  This was Baylands Nature Preserve, the place where I first became interested in birding back in those law school days.  That interest was sparked by seeing – yes actually seeing a Black Rail – an extremely secretive species I have not seen or heard since.  The marsh land is awesome, a great place for shorebirds, ducks, waders and many others.  Cindy is not a birder (yet) but has joined me on some of my trips.  I wanted her to see this special place.  It was not overflowing with birds but we had good looks at a bird we had seen the previous day on our visit to Marin County – a Long Billed Curlew – and also saw a few other shorebirds including Killdeer, Least Sandpipers, Black Necked Stilts, Greater Yellowlegs, Willets and Dunlin.

Long Billed Curlew

Long Billed Curlew 2 Bottle Beach

There were many duck species, some American Coots and numerous gulls, but by far the species of most appeal to Cindy were the Egrets, a couple of Great Egrets and several Snowy Egrets including one that came quite close and splayed its beautiful feathers and plumes for us.  At one spot both egrets stood together giving Cindy a great comparison and an appreciation of the very significant difference in size.

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret

I had to have a picture of me there to memorialize the return visit.  Many hours were spent there back in the old days.


We said goodbye and went to the airport.  Returning the car with the surprise additional charges was no fun but we did not let it ruin our wonderful trip.  We were a couple hours early for our flight and tried to get on an earlier one, but prior delays and cancellations made that impossible, so we waited…and waited…and waited some more as the congestion caused our flight to depart an hour later than scheduled.  I have flown Alaska Airlines many times in the past few years and have never had problems.  I am chalking the ones this time up to San Francisco Airport problems compounded by travel during the Holidays.  It was almost midnight by the time we were back in Edmonds.  Unfortunately we both picked up colds the last day we were there – maybe on the flight, maybe in any of the crowded venues we visited.  Not how you want to end a trip, but we were fine while we there and had a great time.  It was especially nice to be able to share all of the experiences together.





Emperor Goose at Dungeness NWR

A very quick post.  Today Cindy Bailey, Jon Houghton and I traveled to Sequim, WA hoping to find the Emperor Goose that has been seen intermittently in the area including specifically yesterday at Cline Spit viewable from Dungeness Landing Park (Oyster House).  No luck at that spot.  There were many hundred birds including many American Wigeon, Common Goldeneyes, Buffleheads, Brant, Dunlin, Black Bellied Plovers and Gulls.

Later at another stop we ran into Jon Anderson from Olympia who was also looking for the Emperor Goose.  No luck but we exchanged numbers and later when Jon located it on Dungeness Spit, he called to inform us.  We were just finishing lunch in downtown Sequim and rushed out to join him.  He told us that a seaplane had flushed it a few minutes before we arrived. Damn!!

But after lots of looking Jon found it again and we all got great looks.  YES!!  A juvenile bird with a heavy molt but no doubt on ID.  Lots of good photos.  We also had a cooperative Red Throated Loon, two Marbled Murrelets and a Black Scoter among other species.  It was a beautiful place with nice weather – no rain and no wind.  A beautiful day.  Thank you Jon.

Emperor Goose

Emperor Goose with Gras

Emperor Goose1


Red Throated Loon

Red Throated Loon Wings

Marbled Murrelet

Marbled Murrelet

So the good chasing streak continues:  Rock Sandpiper, Mountain Plover, Lesser Black Backed Gull, Ross’s Gull, Glaucous Gull and Emperor Goose.  I am off to the Okanogan tomorrow and hopefully good fortune will be with me.

50 Birds on 50 Days in 50 States – Birding in the United/Disunited States of America – Summary

A Project Is Born

In these past few years our nation has often seemed to be made up of states that are more Dis-united than United.  Rather than read about it in the news or hear about it on the radio or television or take it in through social media, I wanted to see for myself – to get out of my own bubble and with a mind that I hoped I could open further, expand my horizons and get real time, real life input.  Maybe I would understand better.  Maybe I could appreciate differences but still hopefully find common ground.  Maybe I could make sense of it all or find peace in the process.

I had often thought about a long road trip just getting in the car and without much planning heading off to enjoy whatever followed.  I have tried to become more spontaneous but I do better with some structure and I also do better when I have set goals and put my energy into meeting them.  Birding has often helped me get out of the doldrums when things seemed bleak personally – a soothing and restorative distraction.  In addition to the political landscape there had been some personal downers as well, so a plan came together fairly quickly:  a road trip  that would use my passion for birds to explore the diversity of our country and experience both the differences and the commonality and also to sustain me in these crazy, confusing and chaotic times.  It needed some structure and being a compulsive lister and liking round numbers and patterns, I came up with the idea of birding in every state with a goal of finding 50 species on single days in each of them.  I liked the symmetry of 50 states, 50 days and 50 species – an affirmation of something shared in and by each state no matter the differences in geography, habitat, weather, or cultural and ethnic diversity.   Finding 50 species on a single day is not necessarily a difficult thing to do – certainly not so when weather cooperates and it is not in the dead of winter.   It is certainly easy to do in the month of May almost anywhere as migration is in full swing, but there is only one month of May each year and I was somewhat concerned whether I could plan visits to be in each state when there would be sufficient species around to make reaching the goal likely.

That objective would get me to the diverse places I wanted to experience, but there was one more critical need.  Birds?  Yes, I could find them.  Places?  Yes, many great places to visit.  What was missing were people, local people who shared the connection with birds but also had the special history, knowledge and perspective of all of these places I would experience, many for the first time in my now over 70 years.  They would add immeasurably to my birding experiences but far more importantly would add immeasurably to my personal experiences.  Finding and coordinating with the right people was at times a complicating factor, another challenge to logistics and planning, but it was by far the most rewarding part of the adventure.

What an adventure it has been – far beyond anything I dreamed of when I started out.  It has been barely a month since my last trip that concluded in Arkansas – the last of the 50 states where in the company of new friends, I have been able to find the 50 species in a single day.   I am still digesting all of the experiences and planning some next steps that I hope will be meaningful to me and to others.  Blog posts have been completed  for all of the visits – more than 400 pages with about the same number of photos.  I expect there will be more as I slice and dice the experiences, but here I wanted to share a mostly statistical summary and overview leaving out the personal intersections and the details of each visit.   Lots of numbers.  Here goes.

The Calendar

I first came up with the specific goal of 50 birds in each state on individual days in late August 2018.   At that time there was no time line in mind for completing the project.  It was not intended to be a form of a Big Year.  Certainly too late to start one for 2018 and I wanted to get going not wait.  First though, I looked back on some birding trips earlier in 2018 that had been spectacular – especially for target birds.  These were trips to California and Texas in March and April respectively.  I found that I had seen 50 or more species on singular days in each state and the birding was with others.  I elected to include these trips in my saga retroactively as the plan was not driven by a need to do them all in one year or for that matter in any particular time frame.

So I want to be clear from the start that this adventure was not completed in a single calendar year.  Yet, although there was no planning to do so, as it turns out, each of the 50 official 50 species days was completed on a unique day of the calendar.  The visits were not all in the same calendar year but if one looked at the days of the month only, they could have been.  (More on that later.)   The map below shows for each state the day of the year that the 50 species were seen color coded by month.

By Date

One state was done each in January, February and March.  Three were done in April and 16 in that migration rich month of May.  Another 6 were done in June and none were done in July.  A single state was done in August and then 5 in September, 6 in October, 8 in November and 2 in December.  My general approach was to schedule trips to multiple adjoining states allowing on average two days for each state to cover travel time between states and to provide a potential insurance day in case 50 species were missed on any one day.  I generally started with a travel day to get to the target area then rented a car and birded the next day, traveled a day to the next state, birding the following day, continuing for as many states as made sense and then flying home the following day.

Fourteen states were done on a one off basis (including the ones added retroactively).   I had two 5-state trips, a single 4-state trip, two 3-state trips and one 2-state trip.  My longest trip was a nearly month-long visit to 14 states in May 2019.  While the simplistic look at calendar dates indicates 50 states done on 50 different days of the year, as I said, they were not in the same calendar year and a deeper look shows that the 50 states could not have been visited on those same days in just the one year.  Take for example the states completed in the Month of November.  The last states in the Adventure were Kansas on November 5th, Oklahoma on November 7th and Arkansas on November 9th – all in 2019.  In 2018, I had visited states adjacent to those three – Louisiana on November 2nd, Alabama on November 4th and Alabama on November 6th.  While it would not have been possible to be in each of those states on those days between November 2nd and 9th in a single year, I am sure that by changing the order and stretching it out by another few days, it would have been doable.

The next map shows the years in which each state was done.  I chose to include several states retroactively both as a logistical benefit and also because I wanted to share some of the specific experiences, people, places and birds.  This map, too, is color coded – this time by year – a unique color for each of the 7 years included.  Two states, Maryland and Wisconsin went way back to my first years of birding – included for reasons very meaningful to me.  Maine was the single state for 2015 since I really wanted to include that experience.  Alaska, Colorado and Washington were in 2016.  Colorado was a very special trip chasing (and finding) many gallinaceous birds.  The Alaska trip was a magnificent trip – my only serious birding there – too good to leave out.  Finally there is my home state of Washington.  There have been well over 100 days where I have had 50 species or more in a single day in Washington maybe several times that many.  I could have selected a terrific day in either 2018 or 2019 but a day in 2016 was most meaningful to me because of place, birds and especially the person I birded with and a story I wanted to tell, so I went retroactive.

I chose visits to Florida and Arizona in 2017 again because of place, birds and people but could have included a different visit to Arizona in 2018.  The remainder of the visits were in 2018 (16 states) and 2019 (26 states).  Again  with the adjustments suggested above, I am sure that it would have been possible to have kept the dates and do them in a single year BUT Alaska would have been tight AND more importantly it simply was not what I wanted to do – committing so much time energy and money to a single year doing it.  That said, it is definitely possible and I hope someone else may do so in a single year someday.  Might that be me?…well…

By Year

Quantity and Quality – Numbers and Favorites

In each state that I visited the critical objective was to find the 50 species in the single day and only after that maybe to include some species that were either new ABA Life birds or ABA Life photos when possible.  It was also essential to be birding with others and that coupled with logistics favoring areas of one state proximate to specific areas in another further coupled with choosing what may have been less than optimal times (e.g. October as opposed to May) meant that there was not an emphasis on doing a Big Day in each state maximizing the numbers seen on that day.  In most of the states, choosing a different time or place would have increased the species counts – perhaps substantially.

The following two maps shows the number of species seen in each of the 50 states ranging from a “we barely made it” 51 species in Hawaii to 110 species seen in Maryland.  The second map gives a further slice color coding the number of species as in 50 to 60, 60 to 70 etc.

By Species Count Blue


By Species Count

Half of the states were in the 50’s and 60’s species range, 14 were in the 70’s, 7 in the 80’s, 2 in the 90’s and 2 over 100.  Altogether on the Official 50 Species days only I observed a total of 491 species in the 50 states – excluding Hawaii the number in the ABA Area drops to 462.   Many of the days I used were parts of longer trips some with a week or more of birding.  Including all species seen on the full trips, 660 species were found – 629 if Hawaii is excluded.  I do not have a full list of ABA Life Birds seen or new ABA Life Photos on either the official days or during the longer trips, but it would be difficult to know in any event since I have included the trips to Maryland and Wisconsin from my early days and many of the species from those trips were ABA Lifers.  As for ABA Life photos, definitely over 100 and maybe 150.

I also have not kept track of miles traveled.  Certainly more than 12,000 by car and three times that much by plane.  Another important number is that all told I birded with more than 500 other birders along the way – every age, color, skill level, religion, gender and many nations of origin.  That has been the best part of the adventure without question.

Favorite Photos

I will probably do a longer post about favorite species with photos.  For this post and summary I have chosen my all time favorite as the featured image on top – the Swallow Tailed Kite seen in Florida with Paul Bithorn.  I am closing with my favorite 12 species seen and photographed after that one.  Some were rare and/or Lifers, others just loved even more than the others.  In no particular order.

Flammulated Owl – Utah with Tim Avery


Prothonotary Warbler – West Virginia with Beth Poole

Prothonotary Warbler1

Whooping Crane – Texas with Carlos Sanchez, Barry Zimmer and Victor Emanuel

Whooping Crane5

LeConte’s Sparrow – Arkansas with Vivek Govind Kumar

LeConte's SparrowR

Connecticut Warbler – Ohio with Danno Gesualdo, Laura Keene and David and Tammy McQuade

Connecticut Warbler3

Kirtland’s Warbler – Michigan with Sam Burckhardt and Cindy Bailey

Kirtland's Warbler

Nazca Booby – California with Doug Schurman

Nazca Booby7

Rufous Capped Warbler – Arizona with Jon Dunn and Dorian Anderson

Rufous Capped Warbler

Bananaquit – Florida with Paul Bithorn and Frank Caruso

Bananaquit Best

Willow Ptarmigan – Alaska with John Puschock

Willow Ptarmigan 2

Greater Sage Grouse – Colorado with Frank Caruso and Stephan Lorenz

24-Greater Sage Grouse 3

Piping Plover – Connecticut with Mike Resch

Piping Plover1

Final Words – (For Now…)

More than anything else this experience has been how my passion for birds energized me to get off my butt and have an incredible adventure full of memories and stories.  It has also been about community – a birding community that is readily found in every state.  Similar experiences and similar communities are available to all who follow their passions – whatever they may be.  Go for it!!

Two Extraordinary Days Featuring A Ross’s Gull and a Mountain Plover

As Jon Houghton and I left the Mouth of the Cedar River late on the afternoon of Saturday, November 30 and reflected on an incredible day, we wondered if anyone in history had ever seen the three special species we had seen that day.  It started when we left Edmonds early in the morning to chase the Mountain Plover that had been discovered the previous day by Carl Haynie.  Paul Baerny was going to join us but fearing he was coming down with a cold, he felt it better to go it alone.  Everyone would agree, Paul is a sensitive and thoughtful guy…good birder too.

We arrived at Griffiths Priday State Park just north of Ocean Shores and parked on Heath Road near the bridge over the creek and began the hike out to the mouth of Connor Creek where the target had been seen the previous afternoon.  There was a single car parked at the road end.  Was this another birder?  We soon found out.  After walking less than a mile on the open beach, I spied someone with a spotting scope and his binoculars were trained on a something on the wrack line maybe 100 feet up from the waves.  Jon was walking along the dunes hoping for a Lapland Longspur while I walked the open beach.  As I got closer, I recognized the birder to be Scott Downes, an excellent birder and lister from Yakima, Washington.  As I got closer, Scott asked: “Do you see it?”  I did not until I looked where he was pointing.  There was a single bird on the beach and it was the Mountain Plover.

Mountain Plover

Mountain Plover6

Rule 1 on a chase is “Go now”.  We had followed Rule 1 and now we would benefit from another rule on a chase – look for another birder and hope he/she has found the quarry.   He had and now we had it as well.  The Mountain Plover was a state life bird for all of us.   It is extremely rare in Washington.  One was seen in 1968 in Spokane.  Another was seen in Pacific County in 2000, a third in Ocean Shores in 2011 and another one had been seen there by a single birder in 2014.  I had not known about any of those others, so this had been an important opportunity and seeing this lovely bird on the beach was a joyous moment.  It had taken us less than 15 minutes from our arrival to find it.  I called Paul.  He was only 10 minutes behind us.  We watched the Plover scurry along the wrack line – a continuing photo op as the light was perfect and behind us.  Many pictures were taken.  Paul joined us and it was a state life bird for him as well.  It was state bird #445 for Scott – awesome!!

Mountain Plover

Mountain Plover

We watched the Plover for another 15 minutes.  Another friend Mark Tombulian had arrived and was walking up the beach toward us just in time … to see the bird fly off and disappear over the waves heading south.  He had seen the shape but certainly not a chance for a real ID.  This miss took some of the happiness out of the moment.  We hiked back to the parking area hoping the Plover had somehow returned to the beach and land giving Mark a chance.  It had not…sigh!!

It was not even 10:30.  Now what?  We drove the open beach near the casino at Ocean Shores and saw an almost continuous line of white shorebirds – thousands of Sanderlings foraging in the surf.  There were also hundreds of Dunlin and numerous Black Bellied Plovers.  We checked each one of the latter hoping maybe it would be the Mountain Plover.  No such luck.



Black Bellied Plover

Black Bellied Plover

The weather was beautiful with bright sunshine even if it was a little cool.  So far there was not much wind.  That would change at our next stop – the Point Brown Jetty at the southern end of Ocean Shores.  The hope was for a Rock Sandpiper – which would be a new year bird for Jon.   Rock Sandpipers, Surfbirds and Black Turnstones are together known as “Rockpipers”.   Rock Sandpipers are uncommon in Washington but this is probably the best place to find one.  I had 4 there the previous week.  The other two are common.  A flock of Rockpipers flew off just as we reached the rocks.  I was pretty sure I had seen two Rock Sandpipers in the mix of 40 plus birds.  Would that be it? Fortunately they all returned and for the next 20 minutes we watched them dodge the waves and forage on the rocks in great light and often no more than 40 feet away from us.  There were 20+ Surfbirds and 30+ Black Turnstones but where were the Rock Sandpipers?  And now the wind was picking up and the wind chill was pretty bad.  Still we waited.



Black Turnstone

Black Turnstone11.30

Patience paid off and the Rock Sandpipers did return.  Not as rare as the Mountain Plover, but an excellent bird for the day.  Now what?

Rock Sandpiper

Rock Sandpiper2

The next “what” would be a stop at the Mouth of the Cedar River in Renton to see if the Lesser Black Backed Gull was still there.  Not nearly as rare as the Mountain Plover, but a Lesser Black Backed Gull is quite rare and is a great bird in Washington.  Jon and I had each already seen it here, but I had not gotten a photo and we both felt it would be a great way to end this special day.  We found it quickly.  Later we were joined by another birder who had missed it on 5 earlier tries.  We made his day when we showed it to him as soon as he arrived.  I got my photo and as I said at the start, we wondered if anyone anywhere had ever seen a Mountain Plover, a Rock Sandpiper and a Lesser Black Backed Gull on the same day.

As we pondered that question, we got the great news that the Mountain Plover had returned to the beach at Griffiths Priday.  It was seen and photographed by Mark and many others. A very happy ending and Jon and I were pretty full of ourselves thinking we had an incredible day – one that would last in memory for quite awhile.

Little did we know…

At 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, I finally got around to taking a shower.  At 1:33 p.m. Dennis Paulson posted this on Tweeters, the Washington Birding Community’s main listserv: “Adult Ross’s Gull on platform N side of Marsh Island.”  It was not until 1:50 that I checked my emails and saw his message. OMG!!!!!  As I was getting dressed I called friends to tell them about it.  Ann Marie was on it and was waiting for her ride.  Jon Houghton was returning from West Seattle but was up for the chase.  I could not reach Mark.  Paul already knew about it too.  I even called friends David and Tammy McQuade in Florida who are doing a Big Year and had not seen a Ross’s Gull.  Jon said he could pick me up in 15 minutes.  I told him unless it was 10 or fewer, I would just go and see him when he got there.  RULE 1 – GO NOW!!  He said he could.  Traffic was not horrible and we made it to the trail leading to Marsh Island by about 2:30.  We met John Puschock coming to us on the trail.  He gave a thumbs up.  It was there…OMG!!!

We raced out to the platform.  Dennis was there as were at least another 10 birders.  All were looking out at the swimming platform – about 50 feet away – respecting its space and not wanting to scare what was there.  It was the adult Ross’s Gull sitting there quietly, its back to us.  A quick first photo and then I sat down to wait hopefully for it to turn and give us a better view.  But even if there had not been more, this was incredible.  A Ross’s Gull is iconic for a sought after mega-rarity.  This was only the third record for Washington State.  The last one was one at Palmer Lake in 2011.  There was another in 1994 in Benton County.

Ross’s Gull – Palmer Lake December 2011

Ross's Gull 2

Ross’s Gull – December 1, 2019

Ross's Gull Back

More people continued to come in.  Maybe 25 in all.  The Gull remained still for 15 minutes and then turned to give a profile view.  The light was not great, but the pink tinge which is one of the Gull’s famous fieldmarks was quite visible – more vivid in the scopes that were trained on it than in our photos.  Everyone was in awe of this occasion.  And everyone was happy – very, very happy.

Ross’s Gull

Ross's Gull1

Without any warning or any provocation from its admirers, after another 10 minutes, the Ross’s Gull took off and flew off the platform and out onto the water – maybe 50 yards out.  Some of the viewers and I then moved out onto the platform to see the Ross’s Gull on the water.  Then it happened…  A Bald Eagle swept in low and headed right for the Gull.  It lowered its talons and to our amazement and horror, it  snatched it and took off, the Ross’s Gull dangling behind it.  OMG!!!  It was like a scene from “Nature” or “National Geographic“.  The Eagle flew into a nearby Cottonwood tree and devoured what is probably the second rarest bird that has ever been seen in Seattle.  The rarest has to be the Swallow Tailed Gull found by Ryan Merrill at Carkeek Park in 2017.  [See my earlier blog post]

Bald Eagle with Ross’s Gull

Eagle with Gull3

Eagle Perched for Its Feast

Eagle in Tree

The lucky birders filed out and passed the unlucky ones who had arrived too late.  Many of the birders who had seen the drama unfold searched under the eagle tree for feathers or bones from the eaten Ross’s Gull.  Some were found and will make their way to local museums.  If ever there was a case in point supporting the Go Now Rule 1, this was it.  A delay of even 5 minutes had been the difference between success and failure for many this day.

Dennis Paulson – Searching for Remnants

Dennis Paulson

These past two days have probably been the best two consecutive days of birding in Washington that I have had.  As I said Jon and I had wondered if anyone had ever seen a Lesser Black Backed Gull, Rock Sandpiper and Mountain Plover on the same day ever before.  Add to that list a Ross’s Gull and I am positive that nobody has ever had those four species within any 30 hour period – anytime, anywhere.  Extraordinary is an understatement.

Earlier in the day Sunday Bill and Nancy LaFramboise had posted that they had a Brambling coming to their feeder in Benton County in Eastern Washington.  Almost as rare here as the Mountain Plover or the Ross’s Gull.  And they were the ones who had the Ross’s Gull in Benton County in 1994.  I write often about our amazing birding community.  These two days make the case.  The Mountain Plover was seen by Carl Haynie as he was working on a coastal survey.  He reported it on the Facebook where I saw it and then Ian Paulsen reported that on Tweeters.  Carl later posted on Tweeters and Ebird with great details so others could look for it.  The Ross’s Gull was reported on Tweeters by Dennis Paulson, but the underlying story is amazing.  His partner Netta Smith was walking the trail on Marsh Island and somehow noted an unusual gull on the platform.  She did not know what it was but knew enough to know it was different.  She took a photo with her phone and sent it to Dennis who of course knew immediately and took off to join her.  His report brought many others there quickly.  I had been able to get the word on both birds to some others who also made the trip.  Later Bill and Nancy reported that the Brambling had not been seen again.  I had considered a chase – but now would not.  And it all happens so quickly…

The best way to end this post is with another photo of the Ross’s Gull.

Ross’s Gull

Gull Face