Saturday, July 9, 2011

Measuring the Miles

As I continue to recover from an injury, when I run these days I need all the motivation I can get. Often it's my iPod shuffle, which drowns out the sound of my labored breathing and shuffling steps and impels me forward with peppy beats. (Favorite running tunes at the moment: Kanye West's "Stronger" and Delerium's "Silence" featuring Sarah MacLachlan.)

But some days I want to be distracted by bird song. In the spring, this is my chance to see what's back singing in the neighborhood. This time of year, it's to see what's still singing. By keeping track of the birds I see or hear during my run, my mind is (mostly) distracted from the toll exacted by the physical activity. To really help myself focus outward, I try to see how many total species I can tally in a run, which requires listening with care. It sometimes even determines which of my usual loops I will take. One loop almost always nets a house wren. The other usually guarantees a vulture or two.

When I get home, I figure out the average number of bird species per mile. Since my distance doesn't vary a whole lot, this can be a decent measure of bird activity. My high count for a run of three miles was 24 species, yielding an average of eight birds per mile.

This morning I was ready to run right after the rain stopped, ideal conditions: the air felt fresh and clear, birds livened up as the sun burned off lingering clouds, and as I began to overheat, trees refreshed me with sprays of loosened rain. I heard mostly the usual neighborhood species: titmouse, blue jay, goldfinch, red-eyed vireo, cardinal, yellowthroat, catbird. A highlight was an unexpected black-throated blue warbler singing in the woods near my office. It was a good run.

I measure my pace:
three-mile run, 24 birds--
good to go slowly.

1 comment:

  1. As I noted on your FB page, I love this measure of your run!

    And, if I may, it reminds me of doing field work one summer in the north woods. I was doing howling surveys by night and scouting roads for scat by day. To keep alert during the day (so easy to be hypnotized when driving) I would count species, so by the end of a 3 day shift I'd have a list of things like 17 moose, 1 red fox, 2 black bear, 700 swallowtails (I'd estimate each bunch of the butterflies), etc. It was a great tool for paying attention -- less about the counting of course than the noticing what was.