Birds and Bicycles

Went for a ride today with another Berkeley guy up Mines Road, a back-country route that runs south of Livermore. As the name implies, it was built as a road from the Livermore Valley to mines (mercury mostly) in the sprawling range of hills to the south. It’s paved all the way through, but after it climbs the side of a high canyon above Los Moches Creek, it’s less than two lanes for more than 10 miles. The country out there has a wild, remote feel to it that sets it apart from the rest of the Bay Area. Live oaks and digger pines. Ranchettes and trailer homes that were off the grid until the last couple of decades. Boars running wild through the hills.

Two amazing bird moments occurred on today’s ride, which was very slow and relaxed (and warm and sunny). The second-most amazing first: As we descended a short and moderately steep hill, a turkey vulture — a hefty bird with about a six-foot wingspan if you’re not familiar with them — swooped down from a tree about 100 feet to the right of the road. My friend David was ahead of me, and the bird headed right for him; I waited for it to veer or soar away from David, but it never did. In fact, it came within a foot or so of hitting him. Then, after we passed, it followed us for 10 or 15 seconds — I was worried that it was going to dive bomb me, too. But it didn’t. I’ve seen vultures close up during rides before, but never anything like this. My guess is that it was nesting near the site we passed and maybe it was defending eggs or chicks (I figure even vultures have to take time out from eating dead stuff to produce a new generation).

That was the No. 2 moment. The most amazing moment happened a little earlier. We had reached the point on the ridge where the road levels out for a while. We were riding pretty casually, when suddenly a big raptor wheeled across the road about 50 yards ahead of us and began gliding straight toward us, about 10 or 12 feet up. I kept waiting to see that it was a red-tailed hawk — by far the most common raptor sighting in these parts — though I could see this bird was pretty big and too dark on its chest and under its wings to be a red-tail. The bird went directly over us, then turned up the ridge and showed its back and the top of its head: a golden eagle. We stopped, and it circled over us two or three times before flying out over the canyon to hunt.

I’ve known for years that golden eagles are out in that area, but until today I never saw one there. I never expected to see one so close that I almost could have reached up and touched it.

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3 Replies to “Birds and Bicycles”

  1. I love cool bird moments, and will share my personal best from a few years ago even though you didn’t ask (you’re welcome): Driving down Hwy 1 south somewhere near Big Sur, a huge black bird rode a thermal up from the ocean side, west of the car. We thought it was a turkey vulture at first glance. It then leveled off a few feet from our car’s passenger window and we saw how massive it was – much bigger than a vulture. It flew with us for about 10 seconds before going up and over the car, and up the ridge to the east of the road. It was a California Condor, and the biggest bird I’ve ever seen. For a second I thought it was going to pick us up. I nearly crashed because it was so incredible and so rare to see such a thing. I’ll never forget it.

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