I first learned about the concept of 5MR birding from Emma at Flying South; in one of the first blog posts of hers that I discovered, she mentioned this idea of focusing her birding efforts within a 5-mile radius of her home. I was traveling very far from my home 5-mile radius at the time so, although it piqued my interest, I put the idea on the back burner. Fast-forward to the end of my sabbatical and transitioning to being back in Orange County and back to work, I quickly realized how important it was that that I hold on to those daily doses of wildness that I was lucky to have so much of during my travels. In the interim, I discovered the originator of concept, Jen of I Used to Hate Birds, who happened to be organizing a 2019 5-mile Radius Challenge.
The premise of the challenge is simple: to see the most birds within a 5-mile radius of your home. This is a new spin on “patch birding” and the benefits are many – first and foremost, reducing your carbon footprint in the pursuit of birds. This is of particular interest to me, considering that I burned a lot of fossil fuels during my Very Birdy Year. It is also an opportunity to discover new natural areas near your home and contribute data on unbirded or underbirded areas in eBird. Finally, it deepens a connection with your own “backyard”; I sleep better and night since discovering that there are Burrowing Owls and a Great Horned Owl in my local parks.
Full disclosure: I am writing this far from my 5MR, on a plane bound for Honduras. In fact, I must admit that I am a somewhat reluctant participant. I typically jump at the chance to leave my 5MR. Don’t get me wrong, Orange County is a prime birding destination with a standing list of 495 species and I’m lucky to be within 5-miles of the coast. But, the OC has too many people and not enough space for my taste. And, I’m finally at the point in my life that I have the freedom and flexibility to travel, and I love to indulge that passion of mine. With all that said, I feel that the 5MR challenge provides a nice counterbalance and has definitely heightened my awareness of and appreciation for my local patch.
So far, my approach has been to focus more intensely on the parks adjacent to my home (Fairview Park, Talbert Regional Park, Canyon Park, and the Santa Ana River bike trail). Most of these explorations are casual and although I always have my bins, I am often without my heavy camera (especially earlier in the year as I was regaining strength following shoulder surgery). My goal for April is to increase my efforts in the less explored areas within by 5MR. A few of my favorite 5MR birds that I’ve been fortunate to catch on camera:
I am quite lucky that the Upper Newport Back Bay falls within my 5MR. This preserve protects sensitive species and critical habitats, including one of the largest coastal wetlands in Southern California and coastal sage scrub. This is an excellent spot for shorebirds, ducks, and raptors (although I’ve yet to find the Bald Eagle that is sometimes reported there). “Rudy” is a local celebrity; this Greater Roadrunner has been cruising the trails of the Back Bay for a few years now. He is often observed (and photographed) courting, displaying, and offering a lizard to his reflection but, being the sole Greater Roadrunner in this area, his efforts are thus far unsuccessful. Recently, I made a quick stop at the Back Bay on the way home from work, hoping to take advantage of a break between rain squalls, and found Rudy using the time to preen and clean his bill on a DG path right in front of me. The coastal sage scrub and restoration area adjacent to the nature center is a great place to see both California Gnatcatcher and Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, Allen’s and Anna’s Hummingbirds, Bushtits, California Towhee, Western Meadowlarks, and Western Bluebirds.
I am working on making the very center of my 5MR, my backyard, more bird-friendly. In the meantime, I enjoyed my first backyard Townsend’s Warbler and wake up most mornings to my local Black Phoebe, White-crowned Sparrows, Japanese White-eyes, in addition to the loyal House Finches and sometimes a Hermit Thrush. I frequently hear, and sometimes see, Northern Flicker and Nuttall’s Woodpecker. About a week or so ago, I ran outside after hearing upon hearing “peep” calls to find FIVE Osprey soaring overhead and calling rich above my backyard!
Of course, its not just about the birds but all the places birding takes me and all the fascinating discoveries along the way. And, the best is when you get to share these moments. Although its not the best photo, this Great Horned Owl captures my best 5MR “moment”. My friend Samantha was in town for a Raptor Workshop and I was looking forward to showing her a few of my favorite spots. Our afternoon raptor activities were cancelled due to rain but we decided to brave the weather on our own. After birding San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary in the rain we decided to make a quick stop at my closest 5MR park on the way home. We wandered through Canyon Park and reveled in all the water filling up typically dry creek beds. I took Samantha to a spot where I suspected Cooper’s Hawks might be nesting. No Cooper’s Hawks, but as we started to walk back we both stopped mid-sentence after hearing a single “hoot” of a Great Horned Owl. He was perched deep within a Eucalyptus Grove and Samantha was able to sort through the brush and locate him. We ran back to the car to grab my camera and by the time we made it back to the owl it was pouring rain but we were able to grab a quick shot!