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Thursday, May 10, 2012

To Bird or Not to Bird

A question I ask myself most spring mornings is," Should I go running or should I go birding?" My running shoes are right next to the bed so I am faced with them each morning as I wake. Peregrine Saucony's, running shoes so appropriately named for a birder! And my binoculars are hanging by the door, saying "Choose me! Choose me! Not those pink and blue shoes!"
Decisions, decisions! We know running isn't really great with a pair of binoculars hanging around your neck, binocular bra or not. The site of a newly arrived warbler may cause a shortness of breath, but birding doesn't really bring the heart rate up. So, what do you choose? Binos or the trail shoes?
Well, here's an idea. Choose the sneakers and leave your ipod at home. Enlighten those wonderful tools on the side of your head, the human ears, and do some birding by ear.
I have been running the same trail up Spruce Mountain for 10 years and it has been one of the best long term birding experiences to date. I know every bend, rock, root, and bird song along that trail. Not too mention the diversity of habitats I pass through along the way. Hemlock stands, power lines, a southwest facing hardwood forest, small brooks and old pastures with feathered edges of shrubs and fruit trees. The birds are numerous, the diversity something to be proud of, and for the beginner birder, more than overwhelming.
I started with one new bird at a time. "zee-zee-zee-Zoo-zee!"
Obviously not a chickadee. Running and focusing on that one song, I carried the tune back home and to my birding by ear resources. Black-throated green warbler. Check! Got it in my memory and in my muscles. That's called kinesthetic learning. Moving, talking, and creating images in your head. Powerful learning indeed.
As the seasons and years have gone by I feel like that trail run of mine is lined with friends. And most likely birds that come back to that same exact place every year. The solo guitar rift of the winter wren, melodious spiraling of the veery, the nonstop caffeinated song of the red eyed vireo. I have learned and embodied all these songs simply by running and paying attention to the sound of birds around me.
I like to learn new things. It's one the great things about being a human. There is always more to learn. And the more we learn about our green, green state of Vermont, the more we fall in love with it.

Please join us here at NBNC on May 19th from 7am to 3pm for BIRDFEST.  Amongst our line up of great workshops and activites, staff naturalist Larry Clarfeld will be teaching a workshop about how to fine tune your ear to the sound of bird song. Birding by Ear at 9:30. No running shoes required.


  1. Great post. Biking, paddling, & xc skiing are similar ways to get the HR up and see some birds - to say nothing of hiking & snowshoeing. Leisurely ambles have their place but it's nice to multi-task with a birding workout.

  2. Great post Amy! Its amazing how loud the trails can be when you leave your i-pod at home. :)