Friday, January 4, 2019

2019: The Year of The 5MR

In 2018, White-throated Sparrow was a county bird, a Five Mile Radius bird, and eventually a yard bird! This was the #1 bird I was hoping to see at Rancho de Bastardos that I kind of expected to show up eventually, and this looker spent a few days here right before Christmas. Sadly, it abandoned us before 2019. Another fun fact: every White-throated Sparrow I've seen in my home county has been in my radius! I would grade my radius as being middling for sparrows, maybe even above average. Fingers crossed for a Harris's this year, though it would not have to show up in my yard to make me happy. 

By this point, every regular BB&B reader has heard about the Five Mile Radius (5MR) and has one of three opinions on it.

Opinion A: 5MR is a fantastic idea and I'm already doing one!

Opinion B: 5MR does sound interesting but not interesting enough for me to start one...yet.

Opinion C: 5MR is stupid. It is stupid because listing is stupid/I am too invested in rabid county listing all over the state/I am busy because I am always doing a big year and need to spend hella time driving or flying/not everyone is doing it so therefore I will not do it/I suck.

If you are of Opinions A or B, or even the highly unlikely Opinion D ("What is 5MR?"), then this post is for you. If you are of Opinion C, well, god help you.

My 5MR is very good for sapsuckers; I saw Red-breasted (above, fairly common here), Red-naped and Yellow-bellied all in 2018. 2019 started with Red-naped (a different one) and Yellow-bellied...nope, no Red-breasted yet! If a Williamson's ever shows up it will probably be in a little park or cemetery no one birds, and 5MR is all about birding places like that. Photographed at Almaden Lake County Park.

I am not going to punish regular readers with describing what 5MR is all over again, but in case you are wondering what all the fuss is about, you can read this BB&B post and check out Flycatcher Jen's new handy little 5MR FAQ page.

BB&B is world-renowned for being a leading trendsetter, influencer, and tastemaker for birding in the 21st century, but Flycatcher Jen, PNW's blogging darling, gets full credit for launching this concept...we are just here to preach the radial gospel. I am a 5MR missionary, if you will, and in the end many of you will be converted, or in other words, saved. The birding paradigm is beginning to shift. So what is new with 5MR birding?

Last fall was excellent for Willow Flycatchers in Santa Clara County; this one was in my yard for a few days in September. There are a number of decent places in my 5MR to check for migrant Empids, but kingbirds are much tougher.

The 2019 5MR challenge is what is new. Jen has invited birders everywhere to come join in; she is tracking everyone's 5MR for 2019, and is at almost 150 (!!!) participants in many states and multiple countries! It's really all about birding your 5MR (or 8.05KR if you are metrically inclined) a lot this year, and we will be tracking many more metrics than just the usual who-will-get-the-most-species stat. She is even doing monthly challenges! You can read all about it right here, and if that grabs ya check out some more of the nerdy, jaw-clenching metrics right here. She also set up a Facebook group devoted to 5MR, which is (somewhat unexpectedly) really flourishing - go here to check it out and join up. No need to sign up for the 2019 challenge to be in the group!

Birders of all levels and all stripes have embraced the 5MR, and you should too! Bird Police, civilian bird wizards, "young birders", geri birders, intermediate birders, and probably some stringy ones...we are all here! Come revel in the places less birded and the luxury of never having to drive more than 20 minutes from your home! Become the master of your local eBird hotspots, or if there aren't many, you can bring them into existence yourself! Of course, there is no need to sign up for the 2019 challenge to enjoy the fruits of 5MR, but I think it will be fun.

Easily one of the best birds in my 5MR last year was this Blackburnian Warbler, which I dipped on twice before connecting. I'm still figuring out how readily findable fall vague runts are in my 5MR, but clearly searching for them is not a fruitless endeavor. Incredibly, in December I got to see another one only 0.3 mile outside my radius. Photographed at Vasona Lake County Park.

Those of us living in urban areas tend to be very heavily biased towards months with wintering birds and lots of migrants passing through, but obviously no matter where you are, you can't forget about the birds that breed in your 5MR! Much of my radius is urban/suburban hell, but a lot of it is protected open space as well, mostly in the form of oak woodland, modest riparian corridors, and some chaparral. Good summer birds in my 5MR include Black-chinned Hummingbird, Vaux's Swift, Common Poorwill, Rufous-crowned Sparrow and Band-tailed Pigeons. I'm sure the pigeons are here year round but I don't see them around where I live for most of fall and winter. Look at this ridiculous thing mantling my tiny feeder! Need to track down Western Screech-Owl in my radius this year, among other residents/breeders.

I've said this a number of times now but there are a huge number of gulls in my radius in the winter months. I really, really want to find something rare in my 5MR (probably Glaucous, Lesser Black-backed or Slaty-backed) and in fact I'm sure they are around, it's just a matter of being in the right place at the right time. This Iceland was casually soaring over my yard last month.

If gulls and waterbirds are strengths, and perhaps even upland birds, the Achilles Heel of my 5MR is shorebirds. Why do they have to be so hard? Every species of shorebird I have recorded in my 5MR has been from my yard. That would be one species of plover (Killdeer, claro) and 4 sandpipers, of which Wilson's Snipe is the only interesting one, though it is the only expected one besides Spotted. It's pretty bad but I will take my snipes. Solitary is possible but I can't even fathom seeing something like a flock of peeps.

Not only do I have all three mergansers in my radius, I've seen them all from my yard! Red-breasted was a fluke though and I'm not sure if I will get another one in the radius this year. The ponds at Los Gatos Creek County Park are very reliable for Hooded Mergansers (where these cripplers were hanging out), which is probably the most heavily birded hotspot (for good reason) within my 5MR.

In 2018, I fared somewhat better than I thought I would in my 5MR. Birding at the very edge of my 5MR at Santa Teresa County Park in spring gave me some great birds like Calliope Hummingbird, Horned Lark, Grasshopper Sparrow and Rock Wren. The radius is real tricky there, with some sections of trail inside and some outside, but I finally got a good handle on it. Fall migration bestowed upon me a nice array of new 5MR birds like Cinnamon and Blue-winged Teal, Greater Scaup, Palm Warbler and Brewer's Sparrow. A Summer Tanager showed up right before Christmas, and the nearby Phainopepla is wintering at the same site again. I finished the year with 159 species in my 5MR without being really committed to inflating that total, which I'm pretty happy about - a few other 5MRs in Santa Clara County finished slightly below that number, though I have no doubt someone living closer to the salt ponds could do better than me, probably substantially so.

My 5MR has most of the expected Northern California wading species, though White-faced Ibis is not something that will be easy to find. Perhaps a Yellow-crowned Night Heron will turn up behind my house with all the Black-crowneds at some point? Yellow-crowned is long overdue in this part of the state and they have been increasing in Southern California. Until then, I will be content with the expected locals, like Great Blue Herons, when they choose to be confiding. Photographed at Los Gatos Creek County Park.

Of course, just because you don't want to sign up for the 2019 challenge doesn't mean you shouldn't do a 5MR at all! Absolutely none of my 5MR birding last year, or the year before, was done with me thinking about getting freaking year birds for my 5MR embarrassing is that? It's pretty embarrassing...but oh wait I am ALL IN on the 2019 challenge so this year will be different!

Well, maybe not all in...I am about to leave for Belize. So long White-crowned Sparrows, hello Tody Motmots! See you on the other side Bushtit, pleasant good morning to you American Pygmy Kingfisher! Godspeed Hutton's Vireo, oh so good to finally meet you Yucatan Vireo!

Right, but otherwise I am heavily invested. Looking forward to checking out some new spots (a couple cemeteries immediately come to mind), tracking down a few self-found rarities, and really pinning down species that I have yet to see in my 5MR that I could reasonably expect to find here...Eared Grebe, Allen's Hummingbird, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and Tricolored Blackbird all come to mind quickly, though that does not mean they will come easily. I am hoping to see some more 5MRs pop up in Santa Clara County in 2019 as well!

Challenge or no challenge, hope you all have a very radial 2019!

My last Santa Clara County bird of 2018 was also my last new 5MR bird. American Bittern was the closest thing I had to a nemesis bird in Santa Clara. Ugh I love bitterns so much, happy that they are possible in my radius. Photographed at Los Gatos Creek County Park.


  1. Excellent stuff. It’s amazing anyone bothers to make it out from their yards or local patches at all in California where Palm Warblers and Brewer’s Sparrows cross paths with the 3 Mergansiteers and Sapsuckers.

    Tomorrow is my first day back local of 2019 and first day birding I’m far too long.
    New I’d need a shot of something fierce right into the arteries and a dose of BB&B did the trick, as it always does!

    Enjoy Belize. That’s the one cool central Am. place I’ve been too. Was too young to appreciate the birding at the time but still saw a red-legged honeycreeper harassing a howler monkey. And no it wasn’t all the warm Belikin that conjured such an image.

  2. I'm all in on the 5MR this year. One thing in particular that is enhanced by this kind of birding is my ability to dip. I dipped on the same bird 4 times this weekend. You just cannot dip like that if you're driving tens of miles to chase.