Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Big Sit of the SWSA World

If you know anything about the odd competitions birders device for themselves and their peers (Big Years, Big Days, Bigbys, Sweaty Sanderlings…), you’ll know about the Big Sit, where you hang out in one spot for 24 hours and count all the birds you see from that one 10 foot diameter circle. Yesterday, I competed in my first ever track meet, something I perceive to be the Big Sit of the running world. How could this be? One is extremely sedentary, while the other is a spectacle of physical strength and stamina. What they have in common is confinement. At a track meet most everything happens on or within a 400-meter oval and my mission is to run 3200 meters (roughly two miles, or eight laps on the track).
I whipped past the lap counter, briefly noting the two remaining laps it denoted. Excellent, I thought, this is a whole lot easier than I thought it would be. As Welch has already reported, I fell on ice while running four days before the beginning of track season. The throbbing flashes of pain that had erupted in my knee whenever I tried to run had kept me out of action until now, nearly a month later. My speed wasn’t quite what it was before the accident, and my aerobic capabilities had definitely been affected by the many days when I was unable to hit the road, but at least I was running pain free now. As I directed my thoughts back to the present situation, I reached the far side of the oblong circle of fake asphalt, and once again the guy behind me tried to pass. I instantly matched his pace until he grudgingly fell back behind me again, unwilling to completely exhaust himself quite yet.

My "shadow" was right behind outside the frame of this

We had been in this position for the entire race, two freshmen runners halfway through the pack of nearly thirty high school distance runners. Whenever he passed his overly ebullient coach, he would try to pass me up, but I would put him back in place after another twenty meters. As we approached the lap counter again, I saw that it still read two laps. In a normal, un-exhausted state of mind, I would have just assumed that the person counting had lost track of the laps or had forgotten to update the sign. But as I was steeping in my exhaustion-fogged brain, I assumed that I must have miscounted and that there must indeed be two laps left in the race.

Hugging the inside of the curve, I resigned myself to the unanticipated extra lap. Approaching what I thought was the 600 meters-to-go mark, I braced myself for the expected speed surge from the guy trailing me. Sure enough, he appeared on my shoulder seconds after we passed his screaming coach. I matched his speed, expecting him to drop back behind me after a few seconds, as he had every other time he had tried to pull this maneuver.

But instead of the expected, he kept speeding up. I let him go, thinking that if he was planning on keeping that pace for an entire 500 meters, I had no plans to commit suicide with him. He was going to burn out after another thirty seconds and I would be able to easily catch and pass him in the final lap. But he continued accelerating, and I realized all too late that he was sprinting to the finish, a mere 100 meters away. My lips curled back in a snarl as I entered sprint-or-die mode, arms pumping and legs spinning. I didn’t catch my quarry, but I did pass two other people in the last stretch. I crossed the line in fourteenth place with a time of 11:47.35 minutes.

I ended my race looking like a rabid bi-pedal Howler Monkey.
How many birds did I see or hear? Zilch during my race. In fact, I don’t recall seeing any birds at all in the stadium area besides a handful of starlings and House Sparrows. Only when I left the high school to do my two-mile warm-up run through the neighborhoods of Johnstown did I see birds, though only in the forms of Eurasian Collared-Doves, House Sparrows, American Robins, and American Goldfinches.
2011 SWSA Totals
Species: 117
Total Miles: 232

Friday, March 25, 2011

how can we sleep when our beds are can we walk when our canes are can we run when our feet are blistered

My feet, shod for the entirety of the winter, have become soft. On one of my recent runs, I lost a slab of skin the size of rectangular quarter from the bottom of one of my behemoths (i.e., big toes). Then, I did a 6.5 mile run, and gave myself a beautiful blood blister on this tender patch of skin. I expect to be incapacitated for at least a week until it heals, since just walking on it is painful...curse you, fivefingers! At least my calves have finally accepted the concept of fivefingers and no longer explode into protest the morning after the run.

But was it worth it? Oh yeah. Ten new SWSA birds, with goodies like Summer Tanager, Violet-green Swallow, Black-throated Gray Warbler, and Lawrence's Goldfinch. I'm at 115; I need to catch up with those Colorado Criminals. They're Such wimps; I mean, seriously, complaining about a little ice and snow? That's like something I'd do!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Bugs, Birds, and Train Tracks

Over the past two weeks, I've run three times. I just haven't taken the time to post about them until now. The first run was a beautiful, 55 degree day. I ran along the river, hoping for some good gull action. There were gulls, and because it was my first river run of the year, all of them were SWSA birds. There was also a flock of scoter. As I ran down the path, contemplating the meaning of life and how to get my APHG work in on time, I started noticing that the benches along the path were moving. Then it hit me. Most literally, I ran straight into a large swarm of winged termites. I immediately turned around and ran back the way I came. However, it was just a few degrees warmer than it was when I started and it seemed like every single termite colony in the general area decided to take today to send out their winged devisions. When I finally got back to the car, I picked over 200 of them off me.

The second run was very non-consequential in comparison. I ran around a local lake, and was rewarded with some widgeon and ring necked ducks, both SWSA birds. The only thing that made this run of any note was that managed to slam my leg into the car door when I was exiting, creating a 3 inch long cut. That was admittedly not my finest moment.

For my most recent run, I decided to run along the train tracks. Train track birding is better than road birding in my opinion. The first thirty minutes were very successful. There were wrens, woodpeckers, chickadees, juncos, red-wings, gnatcatchers, and the like. At one point I started hearing a train. It took me a full 5 whistles of the train to realize that, oh, right, I was on a train track. I got off the track a good two minutes before the train came and ended up running through some farmer's field for a few minutes while it passed. Overall, the winter is done and the birds are coming back. There are birds to be seen now, even in PA.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Saying Goodbye to Winter

Mountain Bluebird

Weeks before, it was cold, snowy, and dangerously icy.* Now it is spring . . . 60° F, tender green grass sprouts, and budding willows. Best of all, spring migration has brightened the landscape with colorful birds returning for the upcoming breeding season.

The last weeks of winter only provided a few new SWSA birds: Northern Harrier (seen on the first run back in Colorado as it was getting mobbed by a couple rambunctious crows while flying over the snow-covered outskirts of Lyons), Pine Siskin (seen at a birdfeeder in Lyons), White-crowned Sparrow (heard along a ditch just above Lyons High School on the same day as the Pine Siskin), Mountain Bluebird (bright male seen on a 10 mile run in our neighborhood), Clark’s Nutcracker (a few fly-overs during a 3 mile loop in our neighborhood), Red Crossbill (a dozen or so type two crossbills chirping in a dense section of Ponderosa Pines), Cooper’s Hawk (an immature female flew over while running on the track at the Lyons High School).

On the 19th of March we stopped at Walden Ponds near Boulder, so Marcel could go birding, while I ran at Walden and the adjacent Sawhill Ponds. Both sites are the product of a land reclamation project at an old gravel mining operation near Boulder Creek.

American Wigeon

Tundra Swan (a bird that has been around Boulder County all winter) and American Wigeon

Bird List for when I was running at Walden/Sawhill Ponds:
Tundra Swan - New SWSA Bird
Canada Goose
Green-winged Teal - New SWSA Bird
Gadwall - New SWSA Bird
American Wigeon
Ring-necked Duck
Common Goldeneye
American Coot
Killdeer - New SWSA Bird
Greater Yellowlegs - New SWSA Bird
Ring-billed Gull
Eurasian Collared Dove
Belted Kingfisher
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Black-capped Chickadee
American Robin
European Starling
Song Sparrow
Red-winged Blackbird
House Finch

2011 SWSA Totals
Miles Run=200

*An example of “dangerous ice:”
After about 7” inches of snow fell on the ground, we were out for a run and Masai’s feet suddenly slipped out from under him. His abrupt slam onto the road resulted in some injuries. He’s been struggling with his knee ever since and has had to suffer a severely curtailed running schedule, which has resulted in his missing the first three track meets of his season.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

hawk, wren, warbler, grackle

Number eight fled in panic ahead of me, bounding up and down and then disappearing into a clump of bushes on the side of the trail. Number nine was heard only, rustling in some dried weeds just to my right. Rounding a corner of the trail, I almost wet my running shorts when number ten shot underfoot.

Counting the cute, fluffy namesakes of BunnyRabbit is one of my past times when running. I honestly have no idea how this many manage to survive when the landscape is overrun with coyotes and Great Horned Owls, but I routinely tally double digits when I run in the flood control basin near my house. My all-time record is in the low twenties; this morning was mediocre, with only eleven individuals.

Apart from quadrupeds, it was an average run. I noted four new SWSA birds, all gimmes: Red-shouldered Hawk, House Wren, Wilson's Warbler, and Great-tailed Grackle. My calves are sore (again); I think it's time to start wearing my fivefingers to class to get used to them.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Sudoroso Playero Areneros

I wiggled into my fivefingers and hit the trail, picking up the usual species as I ran: Booted Racket-tail, Crimson-rumped Toucanet, Russet-capped Warbler, Beautiful Jay.

Wait! Usual? For Tandayapa Lodge, Ecuador, that is.

Pelting rain was also usual, and it was pouring. My fivefingers squelched down the trail, leaving barefoot tracks in the mud. I turned onto the road, also made of mud, and ran through the “town” of Tandayapa, picking up a pair of White-capped Dippers foraging in a fast flowing, and very muddy, creek.

I did not see any new birds for nearly a half mile. Finally I came upon an actively foraging mixed flock. Buff-throated Saltators, Golden-naped and Blue-gray Tanagers hopped casually among the raindrops.

A bit later I turned around, returning to Tandayapa Lodge.

I was thoroughly drenched, my back, hair, and shoes were plastered with mud, and I had added a good number of species to my SWSA list—I had filled all requirements of a good run


Friday, March 18, 2011

seriously people


Or, better yet:


My excuse for not posting in over a month: I haven't run in over a month. My excuse for not running in a month: uhh...icy sidewalks?

On Wednesday afternoon, I emerged from my bio lab to a gorgeous, sunny afternoon with temps in the sixties. I had an hour before my next class, so I threw in a short run around campus. It was awesome. And I even got a new SWSA bird: a heard-only Sandhill Crane, which also happened to be new for my campus list.