Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The 5MR Challenge: January Beginnings

"Bro, do you 5MR?" This has been the dominant question, hash tag, and tweet of the past two months. In case you're wondering, 5MR is actually pronounced 'FI-MER' (rhymes with timer) when used conversationally. And just in case you're not fully up to speed, allow me to elaborate:
If a nosey birder asks you, "Do you 5mer?" you should know that they are asking if you regularly track bird species seen within 5 miles of your home. 
For example, here's a nifty little screen shot of Butler's 5MR, with yellow pins showing potential birding spots based on satellite imaging, and blue pins showing established patches. 

The 5MR concept was pushed into the national birding spotlight as a competition to log the most species, in total and as a percent of species seen in a county/counties, by notoriously competitive and productive birder and blogger Jen Sanford, who used her social media nous + the Portland Underground to spread this craze trans-continental. The appeal is broad and reaches those who have limited time, limited transport, limited budget, concern for environmental impact, and a either a current or rejuvenating interest in their local avifauna. Why spend so much time in the car when you could spend it finding cool stuff near home, and then go home and nap?

Alas, appeal and potential do not always translate into easy local birding. Here is that same Butler's 5MR radius, since updated, based on (un)availability of public access and habitat preservation. 

In my nook of Wayne, NC, there is precious little public land. There are two nice state parks another 8 miles away, but here is mostly farmland and reservoirs that have been enclosed by pockets of neighborhoods. The people are generally hospitable and kind, and also prodigious hunters, but they can also be a suspicious folk, encapsulated well by (one of many) local Baptist churches.

This means YOU, Andy.
Maybe it's a parable. Or a metaphor.

The first week/weekend was a lot of trial and error, driving and crossing spots off on the map without getting to do much birding--actually rather antithetical to the 5MR idea. It did yield some drive-by raptors and agri. birds. And it was good for citizen science...or so I told myself a lot.


If the first week was slapdash Lewis & Clarkin' it, the next couple have been more in the line of the 1800s ornithological exploration. There are *pending eBird acceptance* three hotspots in my 5MR now. The first is a tragically trashed cemetery with limited views of the adjacent, privately enclosed reservoir. It is also conveniently located next to an adequately mediocre Food Lion grocery store, and its trashy woods have contributed Brown Creeper, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and Golden-crowned Kinglet to the 5MR. 

Eastern Bluebird was not added to the 5MR at Old Mill; they are everywhere. They are legion.

The biggest weakness in my 5MR relative to the rest of the county is the lack of open water. The wastewater treatment facility 10 miles away is loaded with waterfowl and waders, but the little lakes in my radius are all enclosed by private development and, from cursory glances, have no ducky rafts at all. I was very grateful for the one Mallard pair I have found thus far. I ogled the crap out of this lonely, precious, Pied-billed Grebe. I dream of the day a Ring-necked Duck loses its way into my slough.

Hotspot #2 --officially dubbed Peter's Branch Reservoir, because someone named peter carved his name in a branch on a tree there--is pretty much my only hope for waterfowl numbers this year. It has good numbers of skittish Cormorants, which always scare away the good numbers of Gulls before I can scan them with my wee binoculars.

My first trip to Peters Branch was also noteworthy for what was going on above the water, where one immature light Bald Eagle was being chased around by an immature dark Bald Eagle (yes, I tried to make it into a Golden Eagle before sense returned). Their back and forth caused great consternation to the Cormorants bobbing below. These were 5MR birds, and also super cool to watch.

The brambly baby's-breath blackberry scrub stuff around the lakes has been fantastic for Sparrows. I am a big fan of Sparrows. Even when I was not birding regularly, I thought about Sparrows a lot. Peter's Branch contributed White-throated, Savannah, and Swamp Sparrow on first visit, added a couple Field Sparrows on the second, and coughed up a nifty family of White-crowns on the third. 

It's a pretty strong Sparrow species-per-acre ratio. At this rate and progression I should have Golden-crowned by March, Henslow's by June, and Five-striped by September. The tribe of locally uncommon White-crowns will do for now.

The last "hotspot" in my 5MR, dubbed Bear Creek Thoroughfare, is a thin strip of land between plots of private property. It follows the creek and provides state access to different flow points. It actually has the lowest species total of my 3 patches so far, and this is not likely to change soon. But unlike Arizona, NC actually has seasons. With woodlands on one side and thick riparian vegetation along the creek, I think it will be an excellent migrant trap come spring.

How do Cardinals even survive in the wild?

Almost a month in, the Joy Drive 5MR has 65 species for the year, out of a total 87 species recorded for the county this year. The best pick up has been this pair of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers (admittedly would be common later in the year; just trying to steal some of the 5MR Portland peep's thunder) or the Bald Eagles at Peter's Branch Reservoir. 

Mostly importantly, I have been out birding over a dozen times, never for more than 2 hours at a time but never more than 5-7 minutes away from home. This is still more than I have done with the birds than in all of 2018. 
I probably should not admit that on a public bird blog--damages my personal brand you know--but let's be real, if you're reading it's only because you're here to try and glean some personal information about me to crack my Amazon password or something. 
Friggin' Russians.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Local, Organic, non-GMO: Birding

Ah, to be young and unencumbered again...those halcyon days when I could go birding any day of the week and crank out 160+ blogposts a year. Of course, being poor and de-facto celibate wasn't great during all the non-birding time (not that Butler's Birds is rolling in dough now--still waiting for the big Bird Blog corporate sponsorships to come through...err hem...Swarovski...), but it did have its appeals, not a perpetual weekend so much as a perpetual casual Hawaiian-shirt-and-jeans Friday.
I reminisce now, with a 45+ hour-a-week job and a full-blown toddler, another on the way. These are all things for which I am grateful. These are all things that make the birding pastime a bit complicated, and bring in to sharpest relief the appeals and the necessities of patch birding. They say necessity is the mother of invention. Case in point: scarce insects in winter necessitate normally insectivorous birds feeding on the ground like Towhees.  

When it comes to birding and balancing other obligations, necessity is also the mother of appreciation. Over the Holidays I followed other's exciting starts to 2019's 5MR Challenge while visiting family back in Arizona, unable to kickstart my own local birding but increasingly jazzed about doing so. It also kept me engaged in Phoenix, just around the neighborhood, to get the most out of what was there. I walked the dog; I walked the toddlers: I walked the grandparents; I walked the great grandparents; I feigned indigestion and walked myself. (Ok...I feigned nothing). I birded light, and without much depth or promise but I birded often. Hummingbirds stay busy in the same bailiwick and they seem pretty laid back, right? Right??

I also managed to get out proper for a few hours one morning and hit up an old haunt with Pops. At the Riparian Preserve in Gilbert we logged 67 species by 10:30am. This is not to brag about anything--for one that's a usual day and, for two, bragging about bird numbers is pretty lame. It is to--only for a moment--bemoan that in my 5MR I'm at 53 species, total, for the year.
Highlights were finding Fox Sparrow and Cedar Waxwings at the site, which are uncommon in the valley, and of course reminding myself how Good it is to be out doing dedicated bird-sleuthing on a crisp morning.

But the most satisfying experience from this here-and-there birding (How's that for a blog name: Here and There Birding?) was actually a neighborhood find of my Dad's. 

There's been an Acorn Woodpecker wintering a few houses down, in some out-of-the-way royal palms where there is ample storage space. In case you're wondering yes, I did walk backyards 130 yards down the street while maintaining steady eye contact (couldn't risk a Gila running it off and exchanging places, obvi) so as to claim this bird, officially and legitimately, from the yard list. 

I wouldn't think of royal palms as being any sort of vagrant/migrant trap, but another traditionally northern woodpecker from years before would says otherwise. They have their, err hem, niche.

At any rate, hopes springs eternal and I am now back in action in Wayne, NC, leaving no stone unturned in a quest to post the biggest, best, baddest 5MR I can --and also, most of all, enjoy regular birding. 

P.S. Leaving all stones overturned, has, thus far, a 0% correlation to finding birds.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Coming 'Round Again: The Birding Boomerang

Hello again, internet world. We have been apart for some time. During this separation you have grown larger and more powerful, have gained yet more speed and information, have dug your kraken tendrils yet deeper into the world. I have grown larger too, especially over these Holidays. 
I have also made resolutions. So prepare internet, internet readers and friends, poor internet saps who end up here when you're looking for naughty pictures and get misdirected by the crappy word-play links on this website (err hem -- I can see the google searches that brought you here), for you are about to grow with bird-blogging again!

The trail last went cold in August, after a family trip to the beach and an ensuing tsunami of work. You look for the tide going out, but sometimes it catches you coming in. And you just stand there with a blank look on your face.

Naturally, one should take advantage of the low tide, and see everything one can, like skittish Seaside Sparrows.

But it is even more important that one still find good stuff when the tide comes in. That's what happy people tend to do. That's what Herring Gulls do. And look at how happy and successful they are. 

Even with a summer molt going on

Even if there is adversity

2019 will probably bring the fewest opportunities and the least flexibility for birding trips, but nonetheless I hope to make much more of what is around, to share it with other birders, bloggers, and with friends and family.

At least, that's the plan until June, when these guys will be swinging by the Castille Butler again.

There's more coming soon. And if you haven't gotten caught up in the latest and best birding craze out there, you better bet up to speed and out with your bins!