The 5MR Big Day Challenge

Today was supposed to be the day I won the 5MR Big Day challenge against Seagull Steve and Nuthatch Nate.  Today was supposed to be a victory.  Instead there is a pile of snow coming, followed by a pile of ice.  Because what Portland really needs right now is another effing ice storm.  UGH.

Due to the impending doom I opted to move my big day from today to yesterday.  I began at 5:15 a.m. under beautifully starry skies, freezing my butt off in the 18° morning, trying to find owls in every place I could think of before running out of coffee.  I found zero owls, but I did see a picture-perfect shooting star near Blue Lake.  Made the whole outing worthwhile.  My last stop was by the airport where the first light of morning appeared behind Mount Hood.

I returned home to feeder-watch and warm up while waiting for my friend Sarah to come pick me up with her heated seats.  Lesser Goldfinch was the only bird I saw that I did not see the rest of the day.  Right on schedule, Sarah came by and we headed to Broughton Beach to nab some species I knew we could not find elsewhere.

Beautiful, but not helpful.

We picked up Common Goldeneye, Greater Scaup, Horned Grebe, Bald Eagle, Ring-billed Gull, Common Merganser, and more, but that damn Burrowing Owl was a no-show.  I saw him on New Year's though, and he/she looked like this:


We also picked up Horned Larks but no pipits.

From the beach we drove east along the Columbia, nabbing Western Grebe and American Kestrel, with a short detour to a shopping center for Brewer's Blackbird (thanks, Colby!) and Johnson Lake for some ducks.  Then on to Blue Lake for another owl we could not find, but we got our only Chestnut-backed Chickadee and Hermit Thrush for the day.

A walk around the frozen wetlands area turned up a few birds, like this chilly little Anna's Hummingbird.

When we finished there it was late morning and the temperature had risen to about 26° with the east wind kicking.  We made a stop at Chinook Landing where no birds were added, then headed to Fred Meyer for my gulls.  My reliable gulls were of course not so reliable.  It took us forever to finally find the Thayer's on a light pole, and a Glaucous-winged that came in to check out some pigeon millet.  No Herring.

Our friend Eric had shared with us his little zen birding patch that hosts meadowlarks, so off we went to find them.  They were exactly where they were supposed to be, but I scared the crap out of them and they flew into a tree.  In front of the moon.  I'll take it.

The temperature briefly warmed to above freezing, a balmy 34°, as we headed to a burrito shop to pick up some lunch.  We met up with Jacob at Whitaker Ponds and ate our burritos with gloves on in the gazebo.  While we were eating Jacob found us a couple of Red-breasted Sapsuckers (near miss!) and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

We failed to find yet another owl, then failed to find a White-throated Sparrow.  We did find a plumped up towhee.

A cooperative Varied Thrush perched for us towards to the end of the loop trail.

I made Sarah and Jacob walk up the sketchy roadside with me to a house where someone used to feed tons of doves.  Their feeders were empty and there were no doves.  On the walk back one of the airport Red-tails was perched low on a branch over the slough, looking sharp.

After this stop I needed to get home to the dogs, which was fine since the sun had dipped below the horizon (or at least below the buildings blocking the horizon).  I was not feeling up to an after dark owl chase, or even a quick drive over to the Grotto for maybe one more species.  I called it a day, made a fire, cracked a beer, and accepted that I probably will not win this competition.

 Keep on creepin on, says this day bird

I had 8 hours and 53 minutes of daylight, only about two hours of which were above freezing temperatures and found 60 species.  I would like to note that Austin has 10 hours and 18 minutes of daylight these days, and the Bay Area has 9 hours and 41 minutes.  That's a lot more time I could have spent looking for birds.  Just saying.

Overall, despite the aching hands and feet, it was a really fun day of birding.  If it weren't for Sarah and her heated seats and fancy Celestron handwarmer I think I would have lost motivation way earlier in the day.  I am SO grateful she suffered through the day with me.  I'm also grateful that Jacob continued to help us find birds while we plowed through our burritos.  We did a decent job of covering a lot of ground, though I would have been better at time management if I were to do it again.  Maybe I will...

Now the embarrassing part.  The birds we missed:  Red-winged Blackbird, Bushtit, Mourning and Eurasian Collared-Doves, both nuthatches, Lincoln's Sparrow, Green-winged Teal, American Pipit, Canvasback, all owls, etc.  If only there was a Big Day count week!

Oh well, still good times with 11 species added to my 2017 5MR list!!


  1. I see you got RBSA and VATH, just as I predicted. This is a very poor year for VATH here, so I expect to miss both.

    You were brave to bird in such shit temps, and it looks like you paid the price. If you are crazed enough to do another one next week to get more birds, I fully back that idea. Judging by the size of your emoji, you are seriously considering it...excellent.

    Daylight shmaylight. I will do my best to beat you in less than 9 hours!

    1. Turns out we're getting more terrible weather this week so I don't think a redo will make much of a difference. If it doesn't snow too much maybe I'll try. Daylight is very useful for many things, don't scoff.

  2. A great showing with lack of daylight and warmth considered. You should combine those lists of yours into a challenge: a big motorless 5mr day?

    1. Oh I would win. Steve and Nate would NEVER have a motorless list.

  3. 60 species on a freezing day strikes me as a very strong number, especially considering the inevitable attrition/friction in such a large endeavor; some normally reliable birds will be missed, as we have all read in Carl von Clausevitz's monumental strategic opus, "On War and its Making."

    Kudos an also taking some beautiful shots in the midst, preserving your camera lens from cracking under the pressure, etc. Also if you would've spent more time birding it would've left less time to make that large emoji.

    Strange to see Burrowing Owl anywhere but next to a roadside or agr. field drainage ditch. I have seen dozens and dozens of members of this species and always in that setting. Yours is way prettier.

    1. Thanks, Laurence, I am trying not to feel like the worst birder ever with 60 species. That large emoji did take hours to create.

  4. (JEN) you rock! I'm impressed! I think a rematch is in order as weather was a def factor in your event. Every Booby Riggs wanted a do over. STILL let us celebrate your victories, finding 60 species on a frigid day is amazing. Just trying to see thorough foggy bins would make me nuts (okay nuttier).. IF it had snowed you might have actually done better as they stand out better on a white background! We had snow yesterday and frigid wind and its 50 now (INSIDE the HOUSE) soooo...My hat is off to you a try worthy of valor! NOW I want to see a dang Burrowing OWL so baddddd....seems to me they like piles of rocks when the ground is not burrow worthy?

    1. 50 inside the house! Oof, it's a mild 61 in my house and I'm chilly. You planning any big road trips this summer? I'm sure you could track down a burrowing owl!

    2. I finally made a it up to 59, the high never got over 32 outside today! I think I burned an entire tree in my fireplace in the past 24 I build a fire and its great but over night it goes out of course, I do turn the Baseboard heater on at night.
      YES if the sun moon and all the stars line up just right I'm headed West in the Spring -late spring, "depending". CO, NM, AZ, and TX!


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