Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Five Mile Radius

The Five Mile Radius. Is there anything more chic in the birding world right now? Let me answer that for you...no. No there is not. But if you are still in the dark about this transformative approach to birding, I am happy to enlighten you.

The lists birders keep are mostly based on temporal (big day, year, big sit) and geopolitical (ABA, country, Lower 48, state, county) boundaries that were generally decided on by people who are long dead. The big exception is, of course, patches. A patch can be anything...a tiny park, a huge national wildlife refuge, a whole cluster of sites...there are no rules or borders to conform to. A list for your Five Mile Radius (5MR) is basically a cumulative list of all the birds you can find within five miles of your house - a patchwork of local patches, if you will. Simple, right?


Unlike my last 5MR, which had close to no fresh water birding spots at all, the new 5MR has numerous ponds and a couple of lakes. Stoked - this certainly helps compensate for the lack of saltwater in my new radius. I've already had all three merganser species within the 5MR, including this snazzy leucistic Common Merganser. Photographed at Almaden Lake.



Here is the pasty wonder with a typical female for comparison.


The idea (my interpretation) is that you should bird a lot within your 5MR, because almost everyone should be birding more locally than they already are. Less fuel burned, less time in the car, less going to the same old places where everyone else goes. If you think it is fun to get to know the birds of your county (let's face it, that is definitely your idea of a good time), then just think of the joy and ecstasy of mastering the status and distribution of birds within 5 miles of where you live! Plus it gets you exploring more, and what can be more rewarding than finding a gem of a hotspot or a gem of a rarity in your own backyard, so to speak? If you are wondering what your own 5MR may encompass for you, it can easily be displayed in Google Earth, which you can download for free (use the ruler tool, then select the circle tab). The simple but radical concept of a 5MR was created by Flycatcher Jen of I Used To Hate Birds, and after simmering a couple years in the hearts and minds of other birders, its popularity is beginning to boil over. The birding Zeitgeist is moving on from big years, and right into the 5MR!


Red-naped Sapsucker is a nice, low-level rarity in much of the state, but a great bird for a 5MR! This is also the only one I've seen in the county so far. Photographed at Almaden Lake, where it also wintered 2017-2018.

As a major arbiter and birding trendsetter, BB&B is more than happy to be a proud sponsor of the 5MR, and as a sponsor I have been very active within my own 5MR lately. I moved to San Jose less than a year ago, leaving behind a rather short-lived 5MR that included the Berkeley Hills and extensive bayshore areas in Alameda and Contra Costa counties - this is where the now-classic Five Mile Challenge went down, where I trounced Flycatcher Jen in Portland, OR, and This Machine Nate in Austin, TX. It wasn't a fantastic 5MR, but it was pretty good. So what is up with this new Santa Clara County 5MR? Well, that's it right there at the top of this post, you can see what it looks like. Basically, more than half of my radius is terrible, soul-crushing urban/suburban sprawl with a handful of greenbelts and one potentially interesting county park that I haven't been to yet. Pretty shitty from a birding/ecology perspective, there is no way around it, though I'm sure there there are some other parks up there that could yield some surprises. But the southern half of the 5MR looks very different....much of it is comprised of county parks and publicly accessible open space.


Western Bluebirds are abundant in the southern half of my new 5MR, seemingly present everywhere I bird. Can't complain! Photographed at Vasona Lake County Park.


Visiting birders often want to know where to find California Thrasher - for years I didn't have any great recommendations, but now I have spots for them within my very own 5MR! There is lots of readily accessible chaparral and scrub in my radius, and so there are readily accessible thrashers. Photographed on the Alamitos Creek Trail.


Human-tolerant Green Herons can easily be found at many sites. Photographed at Vasona Lake County Park.


Black-crowned Night-Herons abound as well. My hopes and dreams of discovering a wandering Yellow-crowned have so far not been met, but I am going to keep looking and looking and looking and looking. And looking. This half of the state is overdue for another one. Photographed at the Los Capitancillos Ponds.



Shorebirds are extremely hard to come by in my 5MR, but I am happy to say there is no shortage of gulls. There are several sites where one can comb through 1000+ gulls (with Herring being the most abundant), and to be honest, the rarity potential is scary high...I would be surprised if there wasn't a Slaty-backed or Lesser Black-backed somewhere around here. Iceland Gulls are pleasantly common as well. Photographed at Los Gatos Creek County Park. 


There are hordes of Canada Geese about, which act as bait for other species of geese to settle in. This young Greater White-fronted Goose was at Los Gatos Creek County Park. This is another species I've seen only in my 5MR in the county.

A handful of statistics; out of the very modest (sub-modest?) 225 species I've seen in this county so far, I've recorded 143 of those in my 5MR, which is 64% of my entire county total. Not so bad eh? My previous Albany 5MR was left at 149, and god willing, the Rancho de Bastardos 5MR will top that in a few months. I no longer have saltwater habitats available, which are powerful weapons to deploy in 5MRs, but the sheer number of ponds and semi-intact upland habitats I have at my disposal should get me there soon...spring migration is already underway, after all. Of course, my incredible yard list has a part to play in all of this too, but that is for another post.


I couldn't find any when I went to the east coast in October, but luckily a Black-throated Blue Warbler was waiting for me when I got back home! Brilliant. Without a doubt, this is the best bird I've seen in my new 5MR so far and it seems unlikely that I will be seeing another one in the county any time soon. Photographed next to the Santa Clara Valley Water District pond.

So what do you have to lose? Dare to be different. Draw up your own 5MR and start tearing it up. Bird it relentlessly. Become one of those "local experts" you've always heard so much about. Reap the rewards (and savings!) of being a patch-pummeler. If you want to be weird and do a 3MR or a 9MR instead, no one will stop you (not even the bird police!)...or you could be part of the 5MR movement, and join me in shaking up the birding world with a new kind of list. It's a lot more fun to compare your 5MR with someone else's, after all. To that effect, birders in Los Angeles County are even doing a year long competition of sorts with a bunch of new 5MRs sprouting up, which is fantastic!

Come join us and draw up your 5MR today. Depending on where you live, birding your 5MR may not be the most glorious kind of birding, but you will quickly find it scratching an itch that you may never have known you had.

25 comments:

  1. I copied your 5MR last year and got 139 species missing my goal by just 11. This year may be better, but even if it's not, it's fun and I've gotten a lot better at identifying birds because I've concentrated on the common birds.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Excellent, glad to hear it! Good luck finding some new birds and new spots this year.

      Delete
  2. I read this and immediately left work (it was quitting time anyway), went home and worked out a 5MR patch in eBird. That's an indication of either how influential you are or how pathetically desperate I am for one more list.

    Anyway, I'm in a farm desert in southern Michigan, but I surprisingly am at 135. One lake helps - bigly. I'm guessing now that you're forcing me to pay attention to this, I can get it over 150. Damn you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Influential? No. Traiblazing trendsetting tastemakers? Yes.

      Looks like you've got a lot of Bigly Lake in your future, ha!

      Delete
  3. I like this! Birdseye can also be set for 5 miles for needs (year, life) to help out.
    This could also easily be combined with a Green List(human-powered transportation only).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. GAB!! Get yer 5MR done!! Man, you will have THE MARSH in yours! GET IT! I bet you might even have more for yours that I do for mine!

      Delete
    2. Yeah, Jen keeps a green list, I'm sure that's part of why the 5MR came into existence.

      Delete
  4. I like making lists... current one I'm working on is for birds IDed without binoculars (or scope or camera). I ran into a bit of a dilemma while trying to create a 5mi circle - there are several hotspots whose starting point is within the circle, but the bulk of the territory is outside. If I'm strict about it I can't use eBird traveling checklists out of certain trailheads, etc. Can't really complain though, it has some awesome habitats!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't think you are the only one with that problem - apparently there is an app that will let you know exactly where you are in your circle at all times, so you don't accidentally wander outside (assuming your phone is with you): Count Circle by Stevens Creek Software. I guess it's $3? Thanks to Greg Neise for finding that.

      Delete
  5. Your 5mr surrounds my natal grounds. Take care of those perc ponds! I miss them :*(

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Some little shithead tagged a swastika on an ironwood tree next to one of them :(

      Delete
    2. What do citizens and authorities do about tagging on trees?

      Delete
  6. I think the 5-mile is also cool because it encourages people to take an interest in conservation at the local scale where they might actually be able to accomplish something, like planting native plants around the neighborhood, cleaning up a stream, or helping with a controlled burn.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Do people help with controlled burns in Florida? That isn't a thing out here.

      Delete
  7. I think you should have to bird your congressional district. Then birders would get involved in gerrymandering, which would be far more logical than our current method. Have you seen the beavers in LG Creek?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not a bad idea RT. Of course there is usually a lot of $$$ involved in gerrymandering efforts, but birders aren't exactly a demographic living at the poverty line.

      Have not seen the beavers, didn't know about them. What reach of the creek are they in?

      Delete
    2. The beavers have been going up and down from Lexington Reservoir to the LG Park area, depending on the drought. Last season a mom with a bunch of pups was seen again in LG Park, often from the Camden Bridge. Here's one of the news stories.

      Delete
    3. Awesome, I'll spend some more time on the bridge next time I'm there. There's nothing like getting a county beaver...is there?

      Delete
    4. I'd start watching for them in the stretch from Vasona to LG Park after this next set of storms. The creeks will be fuller, and they come out in spring to build. I'll keep an eye out for sightings and news reports to pass on.

      In CA, county and 5MR beaver is no small get for sure. Especially in the Bay Area. And if you spot an otter - give a shout, because there's folks watching for them to move back into some of those waterways from the Bay.

      Delete
  8. Ooh I love this idea, just drew mine! Made me even more appreciative of where I live (Newport, RI) - lots of great birding in my 5MR!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I Googled. Surrounded on three sides by water? That looks like a high quality radius.

      Delete
  9. Latest eBird newsletter says that 'Global Big Day' falls on 5/5. Sounds like perfect timing for global 5MC.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think the folks at eBird central would be stoked on birders getting into 5MRs...it would lead to a lot of rarely eBirded areas getting a lot more coverage.

      Delete
  10. Ok I finally looked at this year's eBird patch lists and all I could say was HOLY SHIT LOOK AT ALL THE 5MR'S! I should probably start working on mine a little harder.

    A global 5MC is an intriguing idea! Eh?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm hoping for a bunch of new 5MR birds when spring migration really kicks in...not to mention COUNTY BIRDS.

      Global or otherwise, I feel like another 5MC is inevitable somehow.

      Delete