I've already written a couple posts about my various wildlife sightings, although not nearly as many as I would have thought. If you're interested, you can read them here:
One of my favorite parts about running is being outdoors enjoying nature. I wish I could run on un paved trails more often, but for convenience's sake, I usually run on the paved sidewalks and bike paths near my house.
Fortunately for me, even running through suburbia, there's a great deal of wildlife within the Minneapolis and St. Paul metropolitan area. Eagan, where I reside, has ample green space. According to the City of Eagan's website, Eagan has 56 city parks, along with a county park and an adjacent state park. I've run by and through many of these parks, and seen an amazing variety of wildlife within the city limits.
Besides Eagan, I also get around the Twin Cities area for other runs. Many are urban, but even on those routes I often end up running along a lake, river, or stream, through a wooded area, or a restored prairie. In 2011 I did a lot of training in Afton State Park, and have run at several other county and regional parks over the past several years.
I don't have a single favorite place to run--either in general or for seeing wildlife. Some runs in places I'd expect to see wildlife--wooded parks, along rivers--end without seeing much of anything. Other runs--through suburban housing developments or near businesses--bring some of the most interesting wildlife sightings I've had while running through the twin cities.
Here's been some highlights of my year so far, along with some past sightings of note:
Mammals:I see tons of the two most common city mammals--squirrels and rabbits--as well as the semi-common ones--ground squirrels, chipmunks, muskrats, and deer. This year I've seen lots of all of these animals. Though squirrels aren't generally noteworthy, it is interesting to catch sight of a black or white squirrel. One of the coolest squirrels I saw was black, but it had a reddish brown tail--first time I've seen one like that.
I seem to see deer in spurts. Generally I see them early in the morning or later in the evening. Pretty much anywhere there's a patch of trees--even if it's in the middle of a housing development--there's a chance to see a deer. I've gotten pretty close to several deer. One morning I was running through a residential area, and in some pine trees I encountered three deer no more than forty feet away. All three kept munching on whatever they were eating and only glanced at me, obviously not considering me a threat. The other day a deer stood in the middle of the Minnesota River Bottoms Trail and allowed me to walk within twenty yards.
A little less common are raccoon--especially in the daylight hours--but last week I saw one climbing a giant cottonwood tree. I was running around Blackhawk Lake, and I was admiring a tree that's about twenty feet taller than any of the other trees. It just so happened that a raccoon was making her way up the tree as I was looking. I took a second lap around the lake, and when I came by the next time, several park goers had stopped to watch the raccoon moving on the cottonwood's thick trunk.
Beaver are another less common mammal to see--especially within the metro, but they can be spotted in some of our lakes and in the tributaries of the Minnesota and Mississippi. I see signs of beaver--houses, dams, felled trees with the tell-tale beaver gnaw mark--all the time when I run on the Fort Snelling Trail in Eagan, but seeing an actual beaver is pretty rare.
Some mammals I haven't spotted have in the past include a long tailed weasel, red fox, and coyote. The weasel was in Lebanon Hills Regional Park, and I saw it last spring. In was jumping in and out of some brush next to the trail about twenty yards ahead of me. It was pretty cool as I'd never seen a weasel before.
The fox was in what I would consider to be a pretty unlikely place. Central Park in Eagan is not a very "woodsy" park, geared more toward the playground, picnic areas, band shell, and outdoor workout equipment. Still, one evening as I was running near Central Park, a fox appeared on a small hill in one of the fields adjacent to the park. I've only seen a few foxes in the wild, and this one was by far the prettiest. It had a thick, auburn coat with black and white patches on its fur, and it seemed well-fed and healthy. Though I've unfortunately seen some roadkill foxes since, that's the only live one I've seen in Eagan.
Though I've read that there are quite a few coyotes in the metro area, I've only seen a couple. Once I was running on the Highline Trail in Eagan early one morning,. About twenty yards ahead of me a coyote was just standing in the middle of the trail. It stared at me for a while, and I stopped running to take a look at it. The other time I saw a coyote was when Laura and I were running early--before the sun came up--and a coyote was right next to the sidewalk just outside a copse of trees and a drainage pond. Pretty neat. Most recently I saw a coyote running out of a cemetery while I was coaching and running with the Burnsville High School Cross Country team.
Probably the coolest mammal I've seen was a river otter. On the way to the FANS 12 and 24 Hour Race to run a few laps with a couple buddies, I ran past some river backwaters in Fort Snelling State Park. In a pool of water near Lake Snelling, a river otter was floating on its back.
I could go on for pages about birds. My friends know me as a little bit of a bird nerd--not only do I actively look for birds when hiking, running, walking, driving, canoeing, or doing pretty much anything outdoors, I also have several bird feeders in my yard.
This post is already outlandishly long, but, as always, feel free to skip the next several paragraphs if you think watching birds is a waste of time, and reading about them is even worse.
There's an amazing variety of birds in the twin cities metro area; raptors, songbirds, and waterfowl are some of the major groups.
I really enjoy seeing raptors when I run. Some of the most interesting are the sharp-shinned, red-tail and Cooper's hawks, barred owls, and bald eagles. The other day I was running on a trail that passes through a wooded area interspersed with some marsh, and on a fallen branch within a few yards of a trail were a crow and a Cooper's hawk. It happened to be one of the few times I was running with my iPod, so I attempted to get a picture. The crow flew away as soon as I stopped, but the hawk moved to a higher branch. Unfortunately, by the time I had the iPod out and the camera turned on, the hawk was gone.
Bald eagle sightings are common. Generally I see them soaring in the skyline, but occasionally they're doing something interesting while airborne. I've witnessed a few engaged in mid-flight acrobatics. Just the other day, I saw an eagle carrying some type of mammal--possibly a rabbit or muskrat. Besides airborne eagles, I occasionally see eagles perched in trees or nests. On a run on a Fort Snelling riverside trail, a fledgling bald eagle squawked, presumably signaling its eagle parents that it was time to eat.
Songbirds are another of my favorites. Scarlet tanagers, indigo buntings, Baltimore orioles, cardinals, and various warblers always add nice splashes of color to runs.
A couple years ago was a particularly good year for bird sightings. I saw good amount of birds less common to my part of the metro including pelicans, an indigo bunting, and a cormorant. I've also seen lots of the semi-common birds like oriels, northern flickers, cat birds, yellow warblers, and ruby-throated humming birds.I also spotted a couple pileated woodpeckers.
I always have my eyes open for birds--scanning the trunks of oaks and cottonwoods along the Minnesota River for hairy, downy, and red-breasted woodpeckers; gazing into the distance at the sound of a pileated woodpecker; squinting into the sky wondering what waterfowl or raptor is soaring above my head.
ReptilesSpring and early summer are a particularly good time for spotting reptiles. Snapping turtles leave the wetlands to lay their eggs on higher ground. Western painted turtles sun themselves on logs and rocks in lakes and ponds. Garner, bull, and fox snakes warm themselves on bike paths and sidewalks.
I never tire of watching a painted turtle stretch its head out, its neck reflecting translucent rainbow hues. Or of a snapping turtle crossing a sidewalk or sitting by its edge, laying its eggs in soft dirt, ready to snap out with powerful jaws at careless observers.
Once, I was running down Blue Cross Blue Shield Road. Across the street from Blue Cross is a large pond. A small snapping turtle had made its way from the pond and up to the sidewalk and decided that the best place to dig its nest was about six inches from the sidewalk. As I ran by, I gave the turtle a wide berth.
Some people avoid being alone with their thoughts as they run, or, worse yet, thinking about the running itself. More often the not, runners I pass have earbuds, presumably listening to music, podcasts, or, less likely, recorded books.
I don't mind occasionally listening to music, an audio book, or a podcast, though I mainly distract myself with such things in the winter while running indoors. Occasionally, as I put in more miles and longer runs by myself, I'll take along my iPod and listen to something once or twice per week.
Still, I prefer focusing on my surroundings, and, if at all possible, nature. The varied colors of the sky, the many hues of green in the spring and summer woods, giving way to splashes of auburn, maroon, and reds in the fall--these sights along with the accompanying animals--whether mammal, bird, or reptile--all add to the experience of a run, quieting my inner monologue as I make my way down paths and trails, streets and sidewalks.
Thanks for reading.