Birding or Running?

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Look for flycatchers and warblers? Or run the trail around the pond?

Now that it is May I am conflicted. The best time to go for a run for me is first thing in the morning. If I go early I have the least impact on my family, plus it just gets done. Putting it off means sometimes other things get in the way. If I go early, I go. The best time to go birding, however, is also first thing in the morning.

At first light the birds start singing their dawn chorus and, right now, the leaves are still not fully formed. So I can hear birds and see them. Migrants are passing through as well, so some birds can only be seen now since they don’t stick around to nest here. So what is a guy to do?

On the one hand I have been running a good amount, and I have not been injured. So I want to make sure I keep that streak going. But it is not easy to run in the morning when I hear all those songs. I hear something different and I just want to stop to find out what it is. And I do. But without binoculars (I am not carrying those on a run) it can be hard to see a little warbler way up in a birch tree. So I get stymied figuring out what it is. That means I am not really getting the most from my run and I am not really birding. I need to pick.

Rainy days in May are good for running, not because they make for the best runs but because it is harder to hear and see birds. In fact, I would have gone running this morning, but I had to take half the family to the airport. That means I did not bird or run. Some mornings are like that. But if it is raining when I wake? Grab the running shoes.

Mostly I need to get out to find birds now. This really is a small window. Soon the trees will be fully leafed out and those warblers will be way more elusive. And those birds don’t sing for long–in a month and a half they will start to quiet down. And those migrants? Need to find them while they are here.

So I need to get in some runs, for sure, but it is May, for goodness’ sake. This is the birder’s month in Vermont. It used to be the best month for running but since I have gotten into birding I am torn. It is a fortunate problem to have, is it not?

Greeting the Sun

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I almost never set an alarm. I wake early. I can’t help it. If I need to wake at 6:00 I wake by 6:00. These days I get up even earlier. Ideally I wake at 5:00. That way I can be out the door by 5:15/5:20. It is May. This is the time to go birding. Usually I wake by 5:15. This morning? 5:00 on the dot.

Typically I sneak out of bed and head to the bathroom. The night before I lay out clothes to go out, based on the weather. When I rise I brush my teeth, pop in contact lenses, dress, and split. It is plenty light these days by 5:30. The sun rises just before 6:00. I slowly walk down the driveway, looking and listening for birds. This morning by the time I walked that tenth of a mile I had counted 15 different species.

Today just past the fields and the river (Swamp Sparrows, Snipes, Barn Swallows, Phoebes, a couple Yellow Warblers and many others) I ducked up into the woods. This morning it was a birding bonanza. There is a window of days, and we’re in it now, when the leaves are not yet back on the trees and the song birds are starting to do their thing. Today I got the benefit of that. I saw my first Wood Thrush of the year (singing like a champ), my first Brown Thrasher, nine different warbler species (including Golden Winged, a hard one to find), a Blue Headed Vireo and a Rose Breasted Grosbeak. At one point there were 15 or so warblers in the trees around me flitting back and forth. It was a sight.

When the sun tops the hills the birds move around, but not for long. By 7:00 things were pretty still. It pays to get out early. That saying about the early bird? Right on the money.

Turkey in the fog

Turkey in the fog

Spotting the Birds

Eastern Kingbird I saw today

Eastern Kingbird I saw today

Last year I heard about the challenge to find 150 different bird species in one county in a calendar year. I had been to South Africa in December and January and by March I thought this would be a good challenge to take on. I started March 19th when I saw my first Bluebirds and Red-Winged Blackbirds. I went birding a lot, in lots of different places with lots of different habitats. By the end of December I was out there looking for anything I hadn’t found, mostly birds that come south from the far north. I found a couple in that last month. I had by then surpassed my goal and was aiming for 175. I got to 174.

This year I decided I would have two goals. The first would be to find that 175 species of birds in my county this year. The second would be to find at least 200 species of birds total anywhere. I am off to a good start.

Yesterday I took my son to baseball practice at the school. I ducked into the woods there while they practiced batting and catching. A stream flows through a strip of tall trees near the school, the athletic fields on one side and a meadow on the other. I finally saw a bunch of warblers. In fact I saw five different species within about ten minutes–Yellow-Rumped, Black and White, Yellow, Black-Throated Blue and Common Yellowthroat. Plus, I saw a bonus Alder Flycatcher. That last one I watched for a long time as there are several flycatchers that all look similar, but I finally narrowed it down. That one small venture into that patch of trees yielded five birds I had not yet seen this year. Sweet.

Today I had 20 minutes on my way home before I had to be at the end of the driveway to meet the school bus. I stopped at a nearby wetland preserve. Before I even got out of the car I saw my first Eastern Kingbird for the year, then another. I also heard a Virginia Rail. I sort of saw it, but it was hiding in the reeds and I just caught a glimpse. The call was pretty unmistakable though, so it counts. I saw a couple of ducks way off. One of them might have been something new for me, but it is easy to see what one wants when it is far away. So those ducks went un-identified.

As of today my county count is at 113. There are still plenty of birds I can count on seeing if I go looking. There are many more warblers, plus water birds and flycatchers, some hawks, several sparrows, and lots others. I am not worried about getting to 150, but 175 will still be a good challenge. My overall count for the year is 202, so that goal has been met by May. And May is the best month to go birding as all the locals are coming back and all the migrants are passing through. Even talking about it I am itching to get out there.

I will try to head out right here in the morning–rise at 5:00 as it is just getting light and the birds are just singing. Who knows what I’ll see? I certainly don’t. That is why this is so much fun.