Friday, December 28, 2018

January Bar Chart Challenge!

Even if you are not an eBird contributer there is a good chance that if you're a birder you use the data that eBird provides.  The bar charts can be particularly interesting to peruse when planning a visit to somewhere new. A Maine birder that joined the 2019 5MR Challenge mentioned that one of his goals for the year is to work on filling in gaps in various hotspot bar charts which is a great idea.

I took a close look at the bar charts for some of my favorite 5MR hotspots to see what was missing.  Here is a sample of the bar chart for Columbia Springs Fish Hatchery (named Vancouver--Biddle Lake in eBird):

Each month is broken up into 4 sections.  The first week is the 1st-7th, second week 8th-14th, third week 15th-21st, and fourth is 22nd through the rest of the month (varying lengths).  The thick green bars represent birds submitted on complete checklists.  The little green dashes (like the Gadwall from the first week of April) are usually birds submitted on incomplete checklists.

Scanning through the chart I saw all of March is void of checklists and in general there are a lot of random gaps.  There was no data for the last week of December so I went over there this week to take care of that (which is reflected in the chart above now).

 Great Blue Heron...check

 Rough-skinned newt...check

 Pied-billed Grebe...check

 The rain was becoming harder to ignore so I made my way back down the trail, stopping to check for the newt again.  Then I heard that funny little chuckle of an American Dipper.

What!  This is a VERY good bird in my 5MR.  I saw one at this same fish hatchery last December also so maybe the dippers do an elevational migration for winter.  This is definitely a spot to check again in January!

Back in May I created a new eBird hotspot for David Douglas Park, an interesting neighborhood park uphill from my regular birding patch.  Here's a sample from its bar chart so far:

This spot needs a lot of work and I was glad I managed to get over there twice this month.  I tend to visit other locations over this one because it lacks a water source and doesn't have a ton of habitat diversity.  Even still, my visit this week had surprises.

Merlin!!!  Always a good bird (Hotspot bird #43)

I walked around the paved trail noting the usual chickadees, kinglets, robins, starlings, and then a new sound:  the croak of a raven!  I ran up the trail to glimpse the bird as it cruised low over the tree tops.

Hotspot bird #44

This is a bird I have only seen once before in my 5-mile radius though it's not an uncommon bird in the county.  An excellent reminder that random birds can appear at any time!

So far what I've shown you are bar charts for very underbirded hotspots.  Now look at a sample of the Ridgefield NWR auto tour (the most eBirded hostpot in my county) bar chart and you will see how much more useful it is when there's a lot of data.

The widths of the green lines change throughout the year to better represent the frequency of each species.  My little hotspots are probably never going to look this good, but that's ok.

 ** Fun side note here, I just noticed that American Wigeon x Mallard hybrid shows a tiny mark in January.  That was a bird I photographed in 2011!  I went to find the checklist for it and realized it was linked to a photo that had been deleted from my Flickr account.  So then I dug out my old hard drive to find the actual photos.  Neat bird.

Anyway, my point is that the eBird bar charts are neat and useful and could probably use all of our help to improve, which brings us to our January Bar Chart Challenge*.

The goal is to submit checklists to fill as many gaps as you can in the eBird hotspots in your 5-mile radius.  One super sneaky way of doing this is to make sure to create some new hotspots which will each have 4 gaps to fill (Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4 as described above).  But definitely only use this method if you plan to bird the spot throughout the year.  Don't just make weird hotspots to win this contest.  The prize is not that good.

*This first challenge is admittedly for eBird users only, but I promise they won't all be like that.

*Edit: If you bird with another person at a hotspot that is in both of your circles, and your shared checklist is filling a bar chart gap, you BOTH get one point. 

 Thanks to everyone who has joined in the 2019 5MR Challenge!  If you want to participate make sure I have your name, email address, and county/state/country (leave a comment or send an email to  There are 48 participants so far with 15 states being represented, along with two Canadian provinces, and one Australian state.  Amazing!! Good luck to all in 2019!!

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Cheers to the 5MR!

The last few months I have really been obsessing over my 5-mile radius, trying to figure out ways to convince more folks to give it a shot.  I created an Instagram account to give people a daily dose of what's possible close to home which has only reinforced my obsession because clearly, I need a lot of material for it.  My next step might even be suggesting a 2019 challenge.  Eh?

On that note, let me offer some tips for success in growing your 5-mile radius list.

1. Find a tried and true birding patch.

This means finding a location with a decent mixture of habitats that you will enjoy birding regularly in every season.  Meadowbrook Marsh has filled that niche perfectly for me and I try to bird it 3-4 times a month.

Bonus points for reliable Fox Sparrows

Bonus points for two duck ponds that often contain Hooded Mergansers

 Points subtracted for messes left by campers (but bonus points for the campers being booted)

Bonus points for consistently solid birding (Bewick's Wren)

 Bonus points for surprises on every visit, like this Merlin last week

 Bonus points for multiple raptors on each visit (Cooper's Hawk)

2. Visit random unbirded (or underbirded) spots with potential like duck ponds, neighborhood parks, and cemeteries.

Here's a sample of what I have found in the last month at random places I have turned into eBird hotspots.

 Varied Thrush, David Douglas Park

 Pacific Wren, David Douglas Park

Intergrade Northern Flicker, David Douglas Park

 Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Pacific Park

 Ring-necked Ducks, pond along Evergreen Highway

 Random field along Burnt Bridge Creek that attracts tons of ducks when it floods

 The cemetery where I walk my dogs- that goose A3% was born in 2010 or earlier!

Wood Duck, Burnt Bridge Creek

3. Find a gull field or parking lot.

A good gull field (or a strip mall parking lot) can add several species to your 5MR list that you might not find elsewhere.  A middle school field less than three miles from my home has been consistently gull-filled when I have driven by on weekends.  The first time I stopped to check it out I immediately noticed a Herring Gull, an Iceland Gull, Mew Gulls, a Ring-billed Gull, and Glaucous-winged Gulls.

Ring-billed-Herring-Iceland combo

 Iceland picking up trash

 Another day Jacob and I stopped by and found another good gull:

Western Gull!  This was my 200th Clark County year bird and Jacob's straight up 200th Clark County bird.  200's all around!

4. Keep an eye out for spots with owl potential.

Jacob and I have been talking about the potential for Northern Saw-whet Owls at various spots in our 5-mile radius and I thought I finally found a roost last week.

I found a bunch of whitewash in this dense super tall tree and what looked like pellets below.  It didn't seem quite right for a saw-whet but the cemetery surrounding it is ideal hunting grounds.

Jacob and I visited at dusk to see if we could find an owl.  As the sun set and the temperature dropped we noticed activity in the tree.  Juncos were flying in to roost and they were settling in right at each patch of whitewash.

Dammit junco.

Another day we went searching for saw-whets and spent an hour checking trees before Jacob noticed some pellets on the ground.

It took several minutes of searching the tree above before I noticed something interesting, probably a weird stick or a squirrel.  I walked around to a different side and realized I was looking at my favorite heart-shaped face.

Barn Owl

 This bird was impossible to detect from most angles as it was nestled perfectly behind layers and layers of branches.

I still hope to find a saw-whet this winter but for now I'm content with this lovely owl.

So, any takers on a 2019 challenge?  I updated the 5MR FAQ page at the top of my blog in case you need help getting started.  To make it fair-er across the board we could compare percentages rather than total species.  Take the number of species seen in your 5MR and divide by the number of species seen in your county.  For example I've had 141 5MR birds this year and 234 species have been seen in my county (per eBird).  141/234 equals about 60%.  Just an idea and I am open to any others y'all might have.

**Edit: I created a Facebook group to connect with other 5MR-ers and share our sightings in 2019!

Good times!!!!  I'm leaving you with a dog pic because it's been awhile since I've posted one on here.

Evergreen Memorial Gardens, one of my 5MR cemeteries

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Oregon birds.

Oregon has been turning up some great birds recently and I've actually gone to look at a few of them.  The most famous one right now is actually two:  a pair of male Eastern Bluebirds.  These birds were found by my friend Eric while birding his little patch on the west side of Rocky Butte in NE Portland (in my former 5MR!).  He had assumed they were Westerns but after putting photos on iNaturalist he learned he had found something far rarer, a west coast first!

The day after the birds were identified I arrived at first light along with a ton of other local birders.  It was about 30 minutes or so before the birds appeared but they eventually perched in one tree in the middle of the field for a long time.

Everyone got great looks through various scopes and terrible photos to go home with.

The birds are still hanging out in this spot though it sounds like they have a large territory.

This week I ran my first North Portland raptor survey of the season for East Cascades Audubon Society.  I thought I was going to have to run it alone but thanks to Bush Sr. dying, Jacob got a surprise day off work (to mourn of course).  We started the route at Mays Lake and spent the next 5.25 hours scanning for raptors.  Force Lake turned out to be the most entertaining spot since much of it was frozen over and ducks on ice are always fun.

 Cinnamon Teals, Green-winged Teals, Shovelers, and a pintail

Canvasback not blending in

Settling down after a Bald Eagle flyover

Effective use of tail for landing on ice

The raptor survey includes two walking portions, one of which is the walk from Force Lake to Vanport Wetlands.  The east winds were kicking that day and this Red-tailed Hawk almost blew off the branch a couple times:

When we returned to Force Lake one of the Canvasbacks was super close to the road and let us take some photos.

 That was about all the excitement for the raptor survey.  We finished with 31 total birds counted over 50 miles that includes Heron Lakes Golf Course, the trail and Smith and Bybee Lakes, most of Marine Drive, and some other random spots.

Yesterday Jacob and I went to check out another well-known bird in Oregon right now, the Tundra Bean-Goose at Finley NWR.  I knew the general area where it had been seen so we started at the bird blind at McFadden Marsh.  There were several cars already there and we soon realized the blind was already packed.  I assumed these were all bean-goosers so I asked the woman closest to me if "it" had been seen yet.  She replied, "what?"  I said "the bean goose."  She said "uh, no."

Turns out she had no clue what I was talking about and all the people crammed in the blind were on an Audubon field trip.  Only the trip leader knew of the goose and he said he had not seen it and kindly herded his group out of our way.

Jacob vs. swans

After scoping the marsh from this viewpoint for awhile we headed back to the car to park at another spot where the Audubon group was gathered.  This time the leader had good news, that the bean goose was snoozing among the thousands of ducks and geese and swans.

Sleepy McSnoozerson

While waiting for the goose to do something I tried to photograph as many banded dusky Canada Geese as I could.  There was a ridiculous number of them, over a dozen, though not all within camera reach.  I went through pics this morning and was able to submit five bands!

*Edit: I received the band info back and learned two were banded this past July, one was banded in July 2016, another in July 2010, and one in August of 2002!!!!!  A 16-year old goose!!!  Amazing. Here's the goose and the band (it's the far left one in the above photo):

A Black Phoebe was very busy next to the pullout.

Sarah, Max and Eric showed up which made the wait for the goose to wake up more fun.  Eventually it did scratch a little, preen a little, and even stood up once.

Bellowing bean goose, very scary

We said goodbye to the goose and carried on the auto tour around Finley.  We found a Merlin, Western Bluebirds, a Peregrine and plenty of common birds on the tour before getting out to scope the raptor scene at the Prairie Overlook.

Red-shouldered Hawk

 We were hoping for a White-tailed Kite and eventually I saw a bird land WAY out there that looked good for one.  After a lot of scoping and watching the bird preen we confirmed it was our target.

Good looking dot

 Better views desired.

After Finley we drove north to follow a tip on a Burrowing Owl.  On the way we saw two Red-taileds tumble to the ground while fighting.  The loser stayed on the ground looking sad before finally flying off.

We arrived at the owl location and Jacob briefly saw the bird when a Rough-legged came flying by.  The owl dove into a ditch disappearing from sight.

Argh!  We drove way down the road and looked at other things like House Finches and Killdeer before returning to the spot.  Thankfully the owl had popped back out onto the road!

We took some photos before leaving it to do whatever it is Burrowing Owls do while they sit on roadsides during the day.  A perfectly adorable ending to our Oregon birding adventure!  Good times!!!