Winter Running, Naturally

Winter can be quite the challenge to a runner’s motivation.  Chilly wind and icy precipitation are enough to sap the mojo of even the most dedicated runners.  The idea of winter racing brings on nightmares wherein your limbs feel leaden and on race day you awake to find that in a Kafkaesque turn of events you’re actually a turtle, sluggishly working up a seemingly endless hill:

No? Just me?*

Normal eagles have two wings. If you see any like this, there is a problem.

While a runny nose, frozen fingers, and the logistical and aesthetic challenges of tights may not be the most inspiring reasons to run in the winter, it happens to be a great time for spotting certain kinds of wildlife.  The absence of leaves from many trees provides an excellent opportunity to spot local birds.  In fact, now is a great time to see bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) in and around Prince George’s County.  I have seen eagles at Lake Artemesia and in the Oxon Hill/National Harbor area, though they are also viewable in many areas near water throughout the county. In addition, winter is a great time to see the smaller songbirds that can be harder to spot with foliage on the trees.  Over the winter I will discuss several natural aspects of a runner’s winter wonderland.

Today, inspired by their recent return to my feeder, I want to talk about the dark-eyed junco!  Often referred to as juncos around the nature center, the Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis) is only found in our part of Maryland during the winter.  The junco spends its summer breeding season in Canada and then heads south for the winter.  Juncos can be found in most parts of the continental United States at this time of year and are excellent early-winter bird feeder finds.  Though their call may be difficult to distinguish from other birds mid-run, if you have a moment to pause they may be easy to see anywhere that there are woods nearby.  For more information on the dark-eyed junco and their call, visit the Cornell Lab bird information pages here.  Next time you’re out for a run this winter, looking and listening for these as well as other birds may help you forget that you can’t feel your fingers!

*No turtles were harmed for the purposes of this post.  The turtles pictured above are captive animals and unable to be released.  The turtles are housed at Clearwater Nature Center in Clinton, MD with permission, and paperwork, from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.  Pictured is an enrichment exercise that happened to coincide with the running of the Boston Marathon in 2011, so they were outfitted appropriately.  Please do not recreate this at home.  Please do not remove any turtles from their natural habitats, as it can be damaging to their ability to function in the wild.  Then they can end up stuck at a nature center where people make them wear race bibs.  No one wants that.

4 Responses

  1. Fantastic post! Nature and wildlife are some of my favorite parts of running, especially in the winter. Thanks for this!

  2. A family member tells me he saw Eastern bluebirds and downy woodpeckers recently when running in Rosaryville State Park, birds he doesn’t usually see there.

    • Very cool! I’m not too familiar with the makeup of Rosaryville Park with respect to its bluebird habitat, but we do monitor bluebird populations at the Vet Cemetery very close to there. I haven’t seen any downy woodpeckerss yet, but I did see a red-bellied woodpecker at the nature center today. Also, I heard a Northern Flicker the other day, so perhaps I will post about woodpeckers and their ilk soon!

  3. oh i just saw this! i love this post.

    i like juncos because they’re always running around below my feeders. and they’re always there, even when there is a ton of snow. they’re a nice contrast to the landscape. my other favorite winter birds are the sparrows and goldfinches (which are more like puke-colored finches for the winter).

    you can see bald eagles (and what i think is a nest) on research road in BARC just outside of greenbelt. i have gotten a bit complacent about seeing the baldies lately because they hang out near where i work in SW DC and they are also right behind my house in Greenbelt. i have to say my favorite bald eagle is Talon, who lives at Clearwater Nature Center. he’s full of comedy and is very handsome.

    and while i’m talking about winter running, i have to say that running where there are things that are still green is nice. mountain laurels and hollies stay green all year long. they feature in most of the woods in the northern part of the county, but far less so in the southern part. i’m sure there are other greenery at this time of year down there, though.

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