That's no mean task: Despite that density, San Francisco remains one of the top bird spots in the world. f the 800 or so species of birds nationwide, around 400 have been spotted in San Francisco, Hopkins says.

But Mosur and Clark are a far cry from the classic image of birdwatching as a retiree's game. Their attitude, passions, dress, and lifestyle are all San Francisco Generation Y. They intersperse birding lingo with exclamations of "Dude!" and "Sweet." They come at birding with the sort of all-in artistic verve you might find in a Mission muralist, and with the sense of innovation and adventure of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.

Clark is a native San Franciscan and nonstop environmental proselytizer who works as an ecology consultant to cities seeking to re-establish native habitat. In 2008, he launched a Sebastopol nursery selling indigenous Northern California plants. Mosur, whose political dissident father fled Poland a quarter-century ago, came from San Diego to San Francisco during a low point in his life a decade ago because, he says, he'd heard dope was cheaper here. He soon met Clark, and became enthralled with the study of local wildlife. He quit toking for good, and now makes a living teaching kids about California nature.

Mosur retains some of his father's mindset, particularly when it comes to San Francisco's seemingly overwhelming desire to resist proposals to restore some natural plant and bird habitat to Fort Funston and thus limiting dog-walkers' range. "It's a huge piece of habitat that, if it were partitioned in a way where a little part could be revitalized, you could teach a full semester college course there on plants, birds, and the landscape," he says. "But it's being instead used for a giant dog park. It would be like having a roll of toilet paper made out of hundred-dollar bills. You could build orphanages. You could feed the poor. But you're wiping your ass with it. That's what I think about when I see Fort Funston."

Indeed, the most important way Mosur and Clark represent a new wave of environmentalism is in their focus not just on nature's inhabitants but on the restoration of urban ecosystems to benefit those inhabitants. In sporting terms, their work is like Olympic-caliber bird doping. Clark has helped the Department of Recreation and Parks restore natural plants to the Bison Paddock in Golden Gate Park. Now that area has become home to coyote as well as bird species like killdeer, black-bellied plovers, and western meadowlark, which Mosur and Clark eagerly mark on their tally sheets each time they attempt to break the local birding record.

These athletes-cum-advocates' larger goal is to help grow the urban ecology movement, which seeks to repair the natural environment close to home. It's a way to cut through the ambiguity of modern environmentalism, whereby driving a Prius may — or may not — prevent climate change. But there's no question that restoring native plant life has helped bring back the song of the Sunset.

"Here, if you talk to anyone who grew up in San Francisco, they'll say, there was this bird in my neighborhood that used to go too, tee, te lu lu lu lu lu. And that's the white-crowned sparrow," says Clark, stopping to listen to just such a bird as we pedal through the Sunset from Lake Merced toward Golden Gate Park. It's around 7:30 a.m., and we are at 45 species and counting. But somehow he has something on his mind other than numbers.

"That's the song of the avenues. If you don't have that song, something's missing," he says. "We almost lost it from some of the areas. And now it's back."

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6 comments
Adam Reeder
Adam Reeder

People have no idea how intoxicating bird watching can be, I am not trying to be ironic, it really is an amazing experience. My BFF started a website called birdpost.com and it has helped me keep track of birds as well as locate ones I have not yet seen. Good article!!!

Writeguy
Writeguy

Typographical error in worldwide bird species. Article says 800. Worldwide species count is now more than 10,000.

Brian Turner
Brian Turner

After just a couple years on the birding kick, I truly think people would be baffled to know what is right out their doorstep... Huge thanks to all those like Josiah and Dom who truly care about their surroundings and, even more importantly, have a passion for youth education. Keep it up...

Andy Kleinhesselink
Andy Kleinhesselink

Great article Matt, right on Josiah. One factual error: article states there are around 800 species worldwide. There are in fact around 10 000 (ten thousand!).

 
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