Why Exercise is Good For Birders!!!

I’m not an exercise-a-phobe, I do my fair share of gyming and playing team sports, however my love for running has severely diminished since I was a teen. In my younger days I loved to run far, screw the 100m I wasn’t happy with anything under 1500m. I ran the district cross country races and loves athletics. However after secondary school the opportunities decreased for sports unless you played hockey or rugby at college and in my punk days exercise really wasn’t at the top of my agenda. The only thing I stuck with was cycling and then when I tried to come back to running I found it put a lot of stress on my knees. So I avoided it, I climbed, I skied, I boarded and I cycled. But in the back of my mind I’ve always said to myself one day I will run the London marathon, it has been pushed back several times genuinely due to working abroad however this year is my last excuse and next year I’m determined, especially since now several of my friends have now achieved what I always said I would. The last push was when my friend Emma (Pipette’s and Paintbrushes) told me last week that she would be running this year. That was the boost I needed to get my ass into gear.

I’m starting slow, if I can run 3 times a week to start then I think that’s a good start. However after all these years of people telling me how good running is etc. nobody once mentioned the birding opportunities!! This weekend I visited Germany to see my family before my next season of fieldwork around the world. So this was what I needed…. no gym, no sport, so I packed my trainers and vowed to run…..and I did!

Yesterday morning I woke up, still drowsy and set off outside. I didn’t take a watch as I only had with me my smart citizen, so I just thought I’d run for 20-30mins. To be honest I didn’t think I’d make that. There was a point at university where I started running ever morning and rarely lasted more than 15 mins. And so I began. I remembered from my childhood that behind my aunt’s estate was a small play park with some fields behind, so I thought if I could find these fields it would be a good place to start. My memory rarely fails me and within minutes id found the fields, and they looked perfect. The path followed the river Sieg which translates as the river victory and I was quite interested to find that the river had a fish-gate installed to allow the passage of migratory fish around the small installed waterfall. So just 10 minutes in and my run was already turning in to a nerd-fest! After passing the fish-gate I spotted some fish jumping out of the river, I stood on the edge to try and spot them closer but after writing a few minutes could see nothing more and so continued but while keeping an eye out on the river. I then spotted a family of interesting looking ducks. At first I though these were Eurasian widgeons, similar to those I spotted in Norway, but soon noticed several differences including a pronounced crest just before the tail. I then realized these were Mandarin Ducks (Aix galericulata). Originally from China this species of duck was introduced to the UK and has since spread across the continent. They obviously caught others attention as when I repassed the spot on my way back I found a cyclist with a huge zoom lens photographing them from the river bank. Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera which caused me to cry silently inside several times whilst running. This was the first time I have spotted these and my first interesting bird encounter of the day.

I again continued running, the path was much more interesting now, winding through the forest, I enjoy this type of running my more, jumping over fallen logs and imagining myself running steeple chase, leaping over bushes and gates. I realized running could be fun, as long as the location is interesting and my run was about to get a lot more interesting. I noticed flying above, several grey herons (Area cinerea) and great cormorants (Phalacrocorax carbo). I reached a lake where there was a lot of commotion, swans and geese honking and birds circling. There were a lot of cormorants and herons circling and landing in the trees. I then saw in the center of the lake was an island with several large trees still bare from the winter. In these trees were huge nests, so big they gave the trees an appearance similar to those found on the planes of Africa, top heavy! I then realized that these were the nests of the grey herons and huge cormorants. I’m not going to lie, I was pretty excited…is that sad? Now I was really kicking myself that I didn’t have a camera, I could have got some great close up shots of herons in their nests in breeding pairs guarding their nests. I imagined the cute baby herons which were probably squeaking to their mothers for food.

And if all this wasn’t enough to get you birders excited about running on my way back along the river edge I saw the distinctive flash of blue of a kingfisher (Alcedo atthis). At that point I actually nearly cried, after wanting for so long to spot kingfishers I now spotted on and didn’t have my camera, but at least I know what the first thing I’m doing next time I come to Germany will be. I was going to repeat my run this morning but that old trusty rain soon put me off, and as this is my last day I will have to wait until next time. By the time I returned home I realized I had been gone for an hour, I must have run at least half of this and the other half may have been gawping in awe and kicking myself for not having a camera. I wonder if they make those ipod running mounts for SLR cameras???


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