Bird vs. Birder

For the first time in two weeks I woke up the other morning feeling, well, awake. I’ve been struggling with motivation to run the past few weeks and instead of waking up ready to start my day, I’ve been groggy more often than not, staying in bed for just a few minutes longer. I am a morning person, friends. This is not normal. A combination of a busy travel schedule and colder mornings just saps my will to get out the door, and sometimes my will to even wake up. This past Saturday I opened my eyes and knew I was going for a run. It’s so strange–some days I can’t wait to put on my shoes and head out; others I get completely dressed and end up faffing about on Facebook and Twitter (yes, yes, perhaps the lesson here is to not check social media before I run?)

I am most likely to get my run in if one of two things is true (and ideally both of them):

  1. I run with someone else.
  2. I run in the morning.

The running with others thing is a work in progress. Since moving in August I’m still trying connect with local runners. When I am in town I’ve been running with Sierra Running one or two days a week, and that’s been great. The days I’m on my own are a little bit harder to motivate. I’m doing okay, mostly, but some days are harder than others.

The running in the morning thing, well, especially on the weekends that conflicts with the other thing I love to do: birding. So this past Saturday when I woke up and wanted to do both, I thought: why the heck not? When I’m running I always keep my eyes and ears open for birds, but this time I put on my running clothes, put my binoculars and spotting scope in the car, and drove down to the San Pedro River National Conservation Area. There is a great trail system that runs along the river and into the grasslands. If you run south you’ll hit the U.S. Mexico Border in about ten miles. If you run north, you can just keep going and going. I’ve never followed the river that far, but I suspect you can go for about 30 miles, until you hit the confluence with the Gila River.

The San Pedro House

The San Pedro House

Birders had reported a Green Kingfisher just south of the San Pedro House, so I headed that direction. I don’t do a lot of trail running, so I was just in my regular road shoes. Fortunately the trail was fairly smooth and even; the worst sections were sandy, but even those were fine. I ran a 3 mile out-and-back section of the trail, opting to stay along the grasslands instead of dropping down to the river. It was a beautiful, cool morning. Although the leaves of many of the cottonwoods had already fallen, some of them were still hanging on with beautiful splashes of yellow and fall colors.

Heading down to the river.

Heading down to the river.

Heading down to the river.

The river in the distance.

I passed a few birders and photographers enjoying lots of White-crowned Sparrows as I made my way down to the river. Heading south along the river bank I came to a fork in the trail where I could either go low and run along the river or stay high in the grasslands. I decided to stay high, where the trail is wider and firmer.

The trail wound around an old oxbow, full of tall cottonwoods but without water. I passed Green Kingfisher Pond and kept heading south (this is the spot where Green Kingfishers have been found in the past, and the only spot in Arizona where I’ve seen them; until the sighting of this year’s bird, though, it had been a number of years since one was seen on the San Pedro).

Green Kingfisher Pond in the distance.

Green Kingfisher Pond in the distance.

Finally I hit Garden Wash and headed west. As I was running the clouds began to build and the wind began to blow, but it was still a great day to be out for a run. The wash, of course, was dry. Our idea of a river in southeastern Arizona is more like most folks’ idea of a creek, except during the summer monsoon, when our rivers transform seemingly instantly into raging torrents. This year’s monsoon is over, and although there was still water in the river, Garden Wash was long-since dry.

SPRNCA trail marker.

SPRNCA trail marker.

Garden Wash.

Garden Wash, dry for most of the year.

When I hit the 1.5 mile mark I turned back, retracing my steps, heading back north through the grasslands, and making my way back to the car. After swigging some sports drink, I grabbed my binoculars, scope, and field bag and retraced my steps down to the river. See if you can spot the difference between me as bird and me as birder in the next two pictures:

Did you catch it?

So I headed down the trail, but this time in no hurry at all, stopping, looking, and listening at every opportunity. White-crowned Sparrows still sang in the mesquite trees, along with a pair of Lark Sparrows and a lone Lincoln’s Sparrow. A Red-tailed Hawk flew overhead. Gila Woodpeckers called from the cottonwoods. It was a great morning.

When I came to the fork in the trail this time, I decided to go low and follow the river. I came across some birders who said they’d JUST seen the Green Kingfisher, as well as a Louisiana Waterthrush, another good bird for the area. They pointed in the direction the birds had flown, so I headed south again.

The weather turned more overcast and windy. There was no sign of the kingfisher or waterthrush, and even the common birds were becoming silent. I did spot a lone Black Phoebe foraging along the river and played around with some digiscoping.

Black Phoebe.

Black Phoebe, digiscoped with Leica APO Televid 65 + iPhone 5 + Phone Skope adapter

I got back to Green Kingfisher Pond, this time walking around it in search of, well, Green Kingfishers. This old quarry holds water year-round and can be a good spot for herons and sometimes ducks, but it was silent today.

Green Kingfisher Pond.

Green Kingfisher Pond.

The weather got even windier and more overcast. The sun disappeared. I had on a long sleever, but even so I was beginning to feel chilly after getting sweaty on a run. I turned around and walked along the grasslands back toward the San Pedro House.

Spectacular view of the Huachuca Mountains behind the San Pedro House.

Spectacular view of the Huachuca Mountains behind the San Pedro House. No filter!

A bird birding.

A bird birding.

It was a better day for running than birding, but even when the birding is slow it is nice just to be outside. I’m lucky to live in a spot as beautiful as southeastern Arizona–and good to remember that running and birding don’t need to be an either/or proposition.

5 thoughts on “Bird vs. Birder

  1. Yay! It works! You are such a cool birder bird! And I love the pics of your stomping grounds. So different than up here. I’ll take some pics on my next run. 🙂

  2. You’re always so inspirational, Jennie! Love your words, love the photos, and love the motivation for me to get my butt back on the road and be a bird who birds. Gonna have to share this with my other birding and running buddies! Cheers!!

  3. Thanks, guys–I struggle to write just as much as I sometimes struggle to run, so it is especially nice to know that at least two people read my words.

    Portia–it’s easier to get comments when I turn on the ability to comment, yes? Southeast AZ and the PNW are about as opposite as it comes, but they’re both awfully beautiful. So I’m thinking a 5k somewhere in the PNW in 2015. You’ll just have to wait for me at the finish.

    David–Yes! And if your state or county listing gets slow, you can always start a running list. Thanks for the kind words.

  4. Hi Jennie! I am one of DLaP’s birding and running buddies and he sent me your way! I have a blog (link above) and the two often are combined for me 🙂 I do actually keep a run list and was super excited to add Short-eared Owl to it just this week! Gorgeous pics, looks like a great run….though I was esp jealous of your running gear as you aren’t nearly as bundled up as we are here in Cape May! I’m looking forward to following you blog on your running/birding adventures 🙂

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