Five-mile Radius Birding Results

As described in an earlier blog post, we decided for a variety of reasons to stick mostly close to home with our birding this year. Following the example of our friend Jen, we chose a 5-mile radius (5MR) around our house as the arbitrary boundary and kept track on eBird of all the bird species that we found there. 
We are lucky enough to be pro staff for Celestron and so we were equipped with their best binoculars and scope, plus a phone camera adapter, an awesome new Hummingbird scope and an invaluable handwarmer/USB charger.
We started out on a pleasant January 1st with our friend Eric at Koll Wetlands in Beaverton. Koll, also known as Creekside Wetlands, is nestled between a park and an office park and provides some great waterbird habitat. It ended up being our most productive spot this year, home to over 60% of all the species we saw. One of our favorite birds of the Day One was this tolerant Green Heron. A Swamp Sparrow was even more rare and exciting but was not scope-friendly.

Office park resident
Max charms a goose
The park-office park interface

After that exciting start, Portland got a bunch of ice and snow that kept us birding close to home for much of the next month or two. The upside to that was that we spent more time enjoying our backyard birds. We kept the hummingbird feeder thawed and the suet and seed coming and the birds responded.

Anna's Hummingbird in the snow
The brightest thing in the yard

We were grossed out to see a rat under the suet feeder, enjoying the bits that crumbled off and fell down, but it happens now and then. It turned out that this rat would become another part of our bird-feeding scheme. Shortly after we got a foot of snow, Max looked out the window and started shouting. I ran over to see a Western Screech-Owl had pounced on the rat and was working on killing it with its talons. In our excitement setting up the scope in our tiny kitchen wasn't easy, but we managed to get a few shots of the owl before it flew off with its prey.

"My rat! Mine!"

Once the snow melted and we could escape the neighborhood, we started exploring more birding spots within our 5MR. We're lucky that Portland has some wonderful natural areas where raptors and waterfowl are abundant all winter long.

Peregrine Falcon at Sellwood Riverfront Park
Bald Eagle at Milwaukie Waterfront Park

Green-winged Teal at Westmoreland Park
Great Blue Heron at Westmoreland Park

 Spring brought migratory birds (small, fast, high in trees, hard to photograph through a scope) and nesting birds (so much easier). We returned to Koll Wetlands to find grebes and coots hard at work on their first clutches of the season.

Pied-billed Grebe incubates on its floating nest

American Coot feeds its ugly/cute baby

We were excited to find a pair of Black-capped Chickadees excavating a nest in a small, broken-off trunk. It hardly seemed like there was enough room in there for one bird, let alone a nest, but we returned to find them feeding nestlings later in the year.

Max spies on Chickadees with the Hummingbird scope
Making a house with your face is hard

Summer came to Koll Wetlands and the Pied-billed Grebes just kept nesting. Some of them must have raised at least three clutches this year. Sounds like a lot of work. The jungle sounds of Pied-billed Grebes and the incessant begging of their chicks were the summer soundtrack at the wetland.

Male Pied-billed Grebe displays and calls while hanging out with his babies
Our beloved Regal M2 scope from Celestron

 This fall I coordinated volunteers for Audubon Society of Portland's Swiftwatch program, so I spent some time at Chapman School (also in our 5MR) with Vaux's Swifts and the people and birds who love them. Swifts spend the night in the chimney on their southerly migration and swirl around at dusk by the thousands before retiring.

Um, can we turn that light off?
This Cooper's Hawk perfected the swift grab from the chimney

We kept adding species to our list right up until December 31st, when we found an Iceland (aka Thayer's) Gull perched on a building overlooking our favorite wetland. We ended the year with 126 species in our 5MR radius, which we feel great about, considering that we lacked any part of the Columbia River in our circle and were working/going to school full time (excuses, excuses). A few last 5MR highlights:
  • Rarest bird: An Eastern Kingbird that stopped by for two minutes at Koll Wetlands.
  • Best "Wingman": Dwight Porter sent us lots of tips about great birds he found in our circle. Thanks for the Canvasbacks!
  • Best Birthday Bird: A Barred Owl seen at close range at Tryon Creek State Park
  • Coolest nest: A Hutton's Vireo next to a trail in Gabriel Park
  • Heard but not seen: So many, but notably: Pileated Woodpecker, Northern Pygmy-Owl, Virginia Rail, Evening Grosbeak and Great Horned Owl.
  • Most common bird not found: How is there not an American Kestrel around here?!
  • Worst timing: A Northern Mockingbird showed up in our circle on January 1, 2018.

Sneaky Black-crowned Night-Heron eluded us last winter but returned this fall


  1. This is so encouraging to people who can only bird nearby. It was hard to say what my favorite sighting was. Well, not too hard for those who know me. The screech owl getting the rat – love it!

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