In And Out of My 5MR

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.

Breeding Burrowing Owls have been extirpated from Orange County. I am hopeful that three Burrowing Owls chose my local park as their wintering grounds. Finding a Burrowing Owl is always a treat; finding one so close to home is just incredible!

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:

Vermilion Flycatcher (female) at Fairview Park. These birds seem to be extending their range throughout Southern California but I will never tire of seeing this incredible bird. The male is quite dazzling, but the female is gorgeous in her own more subtle way!
I rarely observe Merlins in Orange County. I have found two so far this year. This bird flew in to a Sycamore near the parking lot in Fairview Park just as I was wrapping up a long walk. A few days later, I found one in Canyon Park.


We have had so much rain this winter! It’s been incredible. This Golden-crowned Sparrow was mixed in a flock of White-crowned Sparrows, taking advantage of the puddles at Fairview Park.

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.

Greater Roadrunner at Upper Newport Back Bay. Locally, he is affectionately known as “Rudy the Roadrunner”.

Rudy the Roadrunner, taking a DG bath?
Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher being unusually cooperative. I have yet to get a California Gnatcatcher photo worthy of posting, but they are impressively abundant at Upper Newport Back Bay.

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!

My first backyard Townsend’s Warbler

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!

My local Great Horned Owl (in the pouring rain). Last year, I heard a male and female duet but this is my first time seeing a GHOW at Canyon Park. I’ll be keeping an eye out for a nest!
Samantha scanning for the Great Horned Owl. I love when my friends visit my 5MR!

3 thoughts on “In And Out of My 5MR

Add yours

  1. Great post!

    It’s so awesome you have Burrowing Owls and Roadrunners so local to you! And it’s always super weird for me to see a picture of gum trees on North American birding blogs, especially with non-Australian birds like Great Horned Owls in them hehe

    I am a bit like you, and I do like getting out of my 5MR and away from the people and the city and looking for different birds. I’m glad I could introduce you to the idea though, and it’s a fun challenge that Jen has come up with for this year 🙂 Good luck in April!


  2. Aw, poor lonely Rudy! Love that soggy rainy owl, too! I hear you on the “too crowded” bit, but it sounds like you have some amazing habitat and birds in your 5MR regardless. Good birding!


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