How to find a rare bird.

This is the story of my Walmart patch.

The blue lines represent the new sidewalks where I do most of my birding from

Last October I finally made an effort to explore this undeveloped area in east Vancouver, a large area of unique habitat in my 5MR.  I only learned of its existence because Google Maps would take me through it to get to Larch Mountain and I had been curious about what could be found there.

Drainage from the fields here are what feeds the beginning of Burnt Bridge Creek, which continues on for 13 miles all the way to Vancouver Lake.  The field labeled "cows" is grassy with patches of blackberries and weeds that attract lots of birds, but is also for sale for development.  The trees that run east-west along the route I walk are Oregon white oak (pretty sure) which adds another level of unique habitat.

My first eBird checklist for this spot had 22 species including Wilson's Snipe, Peregrine Falcon, American Pipit, and American Kestrel.  Nothing mind-blowing but my birding gut said this was a place where rare birds should happen.

In January the 2019 5MR Challenge kicked off with the side challenge of filling in eBird bar chart gaps.  Since I had only just created this new hotspot my bar charts were pretty vacant.

I stuck with my instinct that this was a good birding spot and made an effort to bird here once a week, only missing four weeks so far this year.  In February I had my first rare-ish bird, a Northern Shrike!

This was exactly the confirmation I needed to know I should follow my instincts and keep on birding this area.  In March I was rewarded again with a Loggerhead Shrike and a Say's Phoebe.

Even though most of these birds come up as rare they are annual in the county.  Also this month I found a Eurasian Wigeon in the flooded field, another new 5MR bird.

In April Lincoln's and Savannah Sparrows showed up, the latter of which stuck around in force for breeding season.  Later in the month I was very excited to find a Western Kingbird hanging out.

In May there was a Lazuli Bunting.

I wasn't sure if it was migrating through or if it would stick around.  In the end several stayed in the area to breed, one of my favorite nesting 5MR birds.


All year long I have seen a variety of other wildlife around here also, including coyotes, raccoons, squirrels, and deer.  One morning in May was particularly memorable.

Squirrel baby relocation

Raccoons and cows mingling

And a couple of coyotes from April that seemed to be recovering from their mange.

June came and I was still filling in bar charts for various eBird hotspots.  Some weeks there were tons of places that needed checklists but I always prioritized this area with its intriguing potential.

The summer here was pleasant but tame.  Willow Flycatchers and Western Wood-Pewees nested here, as did Common Yellowthroats, Savannah Sparrows, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Red-tailed Hawks.  Either my dog or my husband wrote their name on one of the concrete barriers.

A couple weeks later someone added "from State Farm" below it and I laughed way too hard.

September here was birdy and I was seriously craving a rarity.  I kept up my weekly visits but no rare birds were found.

 Lincoln's Sparrow 9.16.2019

Lesser Goldfinch 9.16.2019

October came and I knew I was heading into my one-year-anniversary with this patch. I had been wanting to put together a blog post about this spot and took some photos of the area.

No dumping. 

 Nice sidewalk 

 On Monday I visited to take more photos of the area and fill in the bar chart for October Week 2.  Fun fact that I realized later:  it was still Week 1 of October.  Anyhow, as I walked around I thought to myself that it would be nice to find one more "good bird" for my anniversary post.

On my mind were Ash-throated Flycatcher, Acorn Woodpecker, Lewis's Woodpecker, and maybe Clay-colored Sparrow (since Sarah and Eric had just found one in Portland).

Spotted Towhee

 Oak leaves

I figured I had all month to find a good bird and that since it was October the odds were good.  A woolly bear crossed the sidewalk and I stooped to take photos.  Because I don't have enough woolly bear photos.

There were some sparrows on the ground and I paused, hoping for a White-throated.  Golden-crowned after Golden-crowned instead.  A hawthorn bush in front of me had some movement and again, Golden-crowned, then something I couldn't quite see with a pale belly.  Probably another Golden-crowned, I thought.  Then it revealed itself.

My mouth started spewing "holy shit"s while my shaking hands tried to focus my camera on the Green-tailed Towhee in front of me. I managed to text Jacob and the Clark County birders group and lost sight of the bird.  It reappeared in a blackberry bush, then flew to another bush.  It would disappear and reappear and never made a peep.

This bird made me curse and laugh and maybe even cry a little as it confirmed everything my gut had told me about this spot.

Other birders began to show up but the dang bird disappeared.  After two hours of searching finally someone located it up the road, back in some blackberry bushes, and everyone got to see it.

That afternoon more birders tried and failed to locate it.  Yesterday morning, two days after the initial sighting, I birded the spot since it was actually the second week of October.

 Fox Sparrow

I watched sparrows coming out of a blackberry bush and the Green-tailed Towhee was among them. Throughout the day the rest of the birders who had wanted to see it actually saw it (including Jacob).

When I first found the bird I wasn't familiar with their exact range in the northwest.   Turns out they have a very tiny range in Washington.  There is only one eBird record in Clark County from 2016 at Ridgefield NWR, and no eBird records in Multnomah or Columbia.

So there it is, my best 5MR find for 2019!  I am so glad I decided to investigate this random area and stick with birding it regularly.  This was not me stumbling upon a random rare bird.  This was effort.  As a bottlecap once taught me, luck takes discipline.  Good times!!

1.1.2019 foggy sunrise over this patch


  1. Sweet Find! And great advice about following your gut.

    "Time, Patience, and Perseverance Accomplishith All Things"

  2. TRUE DEDICATION!!!! Great job FJ. Also, getting both shrikes in your radius - self found - is very droolworthy.

    1. Thanks, buddy! This patch has been very good to me.

  3. Whoa! Looks like the entirety of this post refutes your last post:-) To put this find in perspective, AFAIK GTTO is such a rare bird in Western WA that it has not been recorded in Grays Harbor Co., which I believe has the highest county list of species in WA.

    1. Yeah, this bird is definitely in the wrong zip code. I noticed one sighting from Skagit County that seemed to stick around for at least a month and a half. Perhaps this one will try to overwinter?

  4. I love all the things in this patch! Especially the racoons and cows together!

    Well done on finding such a special bird that everyone else could in enjoy too!

    1. Haha, the raccoons and cows were hilarious. Random people were stopping their cars to look at them.


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