California Gnatcatcher Culver City California

New to the 5MR list: California Gnatcatcher

eBird Mobile Feeds 5MR Fever

It’s been a great start to the 5MR this year. I’ve added 3 new 5MR lifers already – Tropical Kingbird, California Gnatcatcher, and Swainson’s Hawk. Another bird never before seen in my 5MR, a Red-whiskered Bulbul, was spotted four miles from my living room couch a few days ago. I struck out looking for it a day later. But they seem to be slowly expanding westward. It’s just a matter of time before it’s added to the list.

But the greatest 5MR development is a new feature on the eBird Mobile app I recently discovered. [Warning: what follows lays bare the depth of my birding illness. Only the similarly afflicted, or real nerds, should keep reading.] eBird Mobile can now draw your 5MR for you, and will list the birds reported on eBird within the 5MR that you haven’t seen. You can set it for birds you haven’t yet seen ever, this year, or this month. If for some reason you’re into radii of a different size, you can set it to draw circles with a radius of 1, 2, 10, or 30 miles.

To access it, open the eBird mobile app on your phone, and click “Explore” at the bottom of the screen. It draws a 5-mile circle around your precise location by default. So if you do it while actually sitting on your living room couch, you’ll get your exact 5MR. It then tells you which locations have been visited recently (the red pins), how many species in total have been observed in the last 7 days in your circle (who cares), and–most importantly–the species reported in your circle that you haven’t seen. These are the “targets.”

In the screenshot above, you can see my 5MR, and you can see that there are 20 species reported in my 5MR in the last week that I haven’t seen yet. If you tap the “20 targets”, it brings up the screen on the right, which is a list of the species. Tap on the individual species, and you get taken back to the map, this time indicating just where those species were reported. It’s almost perfect for 5MR birders trying to max out their 5MR year lists.

Unfortunately, this feature doesn’t solve a major limitation of using eBird to target 5MR year birds. It uses the entire county, not just your 5MR, to determine what you’ve seen and what you haven’t yet seen. So if you report in eBird a Wrentit you saw on a hike outside your 5MR but in L.A. County, Wrentit reports in your 5MR won’t show up as targets you haven’t yet seen. I figure it’s a coding nightmare, if not impossibility, to use anything but your county (or state/country/world) list to determine targets.

A way around that is to hold back eBird reports of some birds if seen outside your 5MR. That way, if they are spotted in your 5MR, they’ll show up as a target. You can also tap on the total species seen in your circle, and then scroll through the list for birds you know you haven’t spotted in your 5MR. Neither of those solutions is ideal, but I still love this new feature. 

Here’s the other 2 birds I added to my 5MR list so far this year. The Swainson’s Hawk is a rare bird anywhere in L.A. during the winter, but was especially surprising on the west side. Usually, they’re seen along the foothills further inland. The Tropical Kingbird was reported 4 blocks from my house. I found it later that same afternoon just a few houses down my block!