Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The Future (is) 5MR

A year ago I was encouraging my fellow birders to join a challenge with no even playing field and no prizes.  I was expecting maybe 20 people to take on the 2019 5MR Challenge, but ended up with over 200.  As the year progressed many dropped out though a few new ones joined up, even into fall.  The final-ish list stands at 164 participants, mostly from the United States but also Canada, Australia, United Kingdom, and Bangladesh. 

I must admit, my goal was never to be competitive about it but it seemed like the best way to get birders to try a 5MR list.  The amazing thing is that it worked.  A lot of people chose to bird close to home this year, to drive less and explore more, to choose to bird nearby locations rather than the most visited hotspots in the county. 

It turns out 5MR birding is also an excellent way to get to know a new area as Jacob and I have discovered with our new house in Lincoln City.  There are a few hotspots around that I was familiar with but so many more areas that are underbirded, including our new neighborhood near Devils Lake.

It's cool to see Townsend's Warblers anywhere but especially when they're running around your yard eating little caterpillars.  We also have a flycatcher wintering in the backyard, a likely Pacific-slope but I suppose more accurately a Western.  

This is a good bird for December in Lincoln County!  

Most of this weekend was spent installing new flooring in our sunroom and other small projects around the house so birding was mostly focused on the yard.  I picked up 3 new yard birds because of this:  Hermit Thrush, Downy Woodpecker, and Red-tailed Hawk.  Jacob went to get pizza one night and came back to find a Red-breasted Sapsucker in the driveway.  This would have been a county bird for me but it flew away before I could see it. 

Yard Dougie

Jacob and Matthew headed back to Vancouver on Sunday afternoon but I stayed an extra night and did some birding.  I considered driving 40 minutes south to chase some potential county birds but instead decided on 5MR birding.  At the boat launch a quarter mile down our street I added Wilson's Snipe and Eared Grebe to the hotspot list. 
I also added drone:


At D River Open Space I found the boardwalk closed but still birded around the parking area.  

 Hermit Thrush

Fox Sparrow

The next morning I continued 5MR birding at the NW 15th Street beach access where I learned what lurks at the end of a rainbow:  an impure gull.  

The rocky area at this beach access attracts a decent number of birds.

Black Oystercatcher


 Surfbirds with Sanderling and Black Turnstone

 Sanderling with snack

I had been hoping for a Rock Sandpiper or Ruddy Turnstone but no luck there.  After a stop at Siletz Bay Park I headed to the sewage ponds.  The second bird I saw there was an American Kestrel perched next to a pond.

The usual mix of ducks and geese were in the water while a flock of Mew Gulls flew around constantly. 

The trees surrounding the ponds attract decent numbers of birds and on this occasion a couple let me get photos. 

 Golden-crowned Kinglet

Pacific Wren

It was a lot of fun birding these random underbirded locations and Eared Grebe was a new 5MR bird for me.  Looks like I will end the year in an interesting position with my two radii:

A tie!  156 species in my current 5MR AND my future 5MR!  What are the odds of that?? 

So the 2019 5MR Challenge is just hours away from being officially over but 5MR birding will live on!  I'm hoping local challenges will spring up and more birders will embrace birding away from the popular hotspots.  A friend of a friend, Justyn Stahl, wrote this really lovely email about this idea which he passed along to me and I recommend checking it out here

I haven't quite sorted out all my goals yet for 2020 but they will definitely include more 5MR birding, more birding of underbirded locations, and of course, seeing wild toucans.  Because Costa Rica!  

Good times and Happy New Year!!!!!

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Assorted Washington birds.

Let's start with the most popular Washington bird recently, the Rustic Bunting at Cape Disappointment State Park.  In the past Rustic Bunting sightings have either been too brief (I was thirty minutes too late at Mount Tabor) or too far (like Neah Bay).   This bird was around for 11 days though and was only two hours and four minutes from home!

Well.  Two hours and four minutes of driving followed by an hour and a half of wandering around a campground.  There were a lot of birds around though so I was easily entertained.

There were mixed flocks all over the place of Townsend's Warblers, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Brown Creepers, and Dark-eyed Juncos, all feeding on the ground.  Very distracting. 

Hermit Thrush 

Finally I encountered a bunch of birders pointing their cameras and binoculars at something and indeed, the Rustic Bunting was poking around under a picnic table.

My photos are all terrible from that encounter but that's okay. 

It was a sweet and relatively easy lifer!

Last weekend Jacob and I decided to check out a trail in Klickitat County for a change of scenery.  It was cold but sunny for most of our hike and we saw lots of good birds. 

Western Meadowlark

We saw some sparrows up ahead on the trail and I was surprised to find many were American Tree Sparrows!

There were at least five but possibly as many as ten. 

The closest sightings this season had been in Walla Walla and Ellensburg so this flock was pretty far west/south.

There were a couple Great Blue Herons around that would occasionally land on shrubs or barns.

And more birds from the trail:

Northern Shrike

 Black-billed Magpie

On the walk back we encountered the tree sparrows again and they posed nicely in the sunshine on the barbed wire.

Northern Harrier vs. Prairie Falcon

 Prairie Falcon after the harrier left

It was a fun little hike in lovely scenery, as is usually the case in Klickitat County.

No ticks for once!

Aside from these two day trips my month has been focused on the 5MR challenge of seeing more birds in my 5MR in December than I did in January.  Two weekends ago I did an early morning drive with the dogs around the farm fields in the eastern part of my radius.  I scored hooting Great Horneds and a Barn Owl perched on a post.

One of the Bed, Bath, and Beyonds in my 5MR has been hosting a decent gull flock this winter and I went over there one morning to look for a couple I needed. 

Ring-billed Gull

 Iceland Gull

One afternoon I went up to the Burnt Bridge Creek hotspot I used to think was too sketchy to visit.  A few chickadees flew by and one sounded funny.  I raised my binoculars and was shocked to find a Mountain Chickadee!

County bird!!!

This week I've added eight more species to my month list and I'm now at 87, only two shy of January's 89 species.  A female Cinnamon Teal at my patch was a nice addition.

A Brown-headed Cowbird at my Wal-mart patch was another good bird to snag.

Hopefully I find three more before the month is over!  Good times!!

Saturday, December 7, 2019

NoPo Winter Raptor Survey #1

This week I completed my first winter raptor survey for the season in Portland.  It's not as flashy as my old Gilliam County routes with their Golden Eagles and abundance of Roughies, but I don't even have to leave my 5MR to start!  Plus it takes me to so many places I used to bird A LOT, starting with my old patch, Mays Lake. 

Normally I just scan the trees here but on this day I decided to see what the duck scene was like.  I'm so glad I did because my 5MR year bird #154 was in there!


It was a good start even though it was not a raptor.  I drove the route down Airport Way to 82nd to Alderwood to Cornfoot.  I pulled over to check the slough at NE 55th and my first Cooper's Hawk of the day was perched in a tree.

After checking Airtrans Way I stopped at Whitaker Ponds and did a quick stationary count that included my first Bald Eagle of the day.

One of the best areas of my survey is along Marine Drive by the airport, but there is nowhere to pull over so I'm sure I miss birds every time.  I did check for the Rough-legged that's been hanging out near the fire station and completely missed it.  Someone eBirded it before AND after I was there so oops. 

Next I drove down NE 33rd where I found a couple of Red-tailed Hawks with airport wing tags.  I never bother to report these birds that are so close to the airport but the guy in charge of the raptor surveys specifically asked us all to report them.  So I did.



I sent photos of these birds with the location to Carole Hallett who is in charge of the airport raptor tagging program.  She replied back with some great info about these two:

"You captured great photos of two of our long-time resident birds: the male 8J:8J and female 50:50 of the West End/33rd territory. This pair nests on the west side of NE 33rd in the row of trees behind the barn that sits out in that field on the corner of Marine Dr and 33rd. The nest is easily visible from that big dirt pull out across from the National Guard building. '8J' joined the territory and was tagged in 2011, '50' joined in 2013 and was tagged in 2014, each replacing a bird that had been caught and banded in the first weeks of the raptor program back in 1999.  The original birds were female WE:WE and male X:S and they both lived deep into their teens."

It's so cool to learn about individual birds.  I never would have assumed that this was a pair or that they had ruled this area for so long.  To me they were just two random Red-tails perched at opposite ends of a large field.  I didn't think they knew each other.    

I checked the ducks at the Columbia Slough before turning around to head back north.  Nice Common Goldeneye in the mix.

From here the survey goes back to Marine Drive then down 13th, Gertz Road, and Fazio Way, then back to Marine Drive.  I always stop for snacks at the gas station where Marine Drive, MLK, and Vancouver Way all meet because they have the best snacks.  Chocolove salted caramel cups.  Late July nacho chipotle tortilla chips.  And more. 

Next is driving to the end of Heron Lakes Golf Course, then walking from Force Lake to Vanport Wetlands.  Another Cooper's Hawk was perched along the road there, one of three in the area.

The water at Vanport was so low I only saw one duck species before walking back to Force Lake.  Force Lake was my first patch, before I knew what a patch was or that it was called Force Lake, or that anyone else birded it.  It was where I first identified a Double-crested Cormorant and where I realized I liked birds and taking pictures. 

The far side of the lake offered an abundance of non-5MR Canvasbacks paired with golfers.

I was psyched to hear a Black Phoebe calling incessantly here though I never located it. 

By the time I made it to Smith and Bybee Lakes I had seen 22 raptors.  Last winter I think I had a survey with only 20, so I was feeling good. 

Here I had six Red-tailed Hawks, my only harrier of the day, and four adult Bald Eagles.  Also a couple of Greater Yellowlegs.

I walked out past the Bybee blind because that's usually my best bet for Red-shouldered Hawk and Peregrine, but no luck on those.  As I walked back there I thought to myself maybe there's a shrike back here.  I've dipped on shrike here a billion times over the last ten years so I had a good chuckle when there it was. 

Just like everybody says, it was actively hunting way out there.  Exactly where I've looked before.  Always feels good to slay a nemesis, even when you've kind of forgotten it was a nemesis.

Cheers to bad photos!

It was a pleasantly birdy walk back to the car.

Red-breasted Sapsucker

 From this spot the survey heads west to Kelley Point Park, down the park road and back, then over to N Time Oil Road.  This is a weird road but there's always a kestrel, which was my last raptor of the survey.

I finished my 50-mile survey with 36 raptors:  22 Red-tailed Hawks, 3 American Kestrels, 1 Northern Harrier, 5 Bald Eagles (all adults), and 5 Cooper's Hawks.  This is only my third winter doing this survey but the RTHA and COHA were high counts for me. 

At home I found another raptor waiting for me in the front yard, this gorgeous Sharp-shinned Hawk:

Good times!!