Marathon Birding

Merriam-Webster provides the following defintions for “marathon”:

1: a footrace run on an open course usually of 26 miles 385 yards (42.2 kilometers) broadly a long-distance race
2a: an endurance contest
2b: something (such as an event, activity, or session) characterized by great length or concentrated effort

When the term is used in connection with birding, it is almost always the last sense of the word that is meant. It refers to something like a Big Day, where one is birding for as much as 24 hours non-stop, or some other attempt to do more than normal, more rapidly than normal.

A few months ago, as spring migration dried up, I decided I would do an actual marathon of birding: During a single outing, I would walk a distance of (at least) 26.2 miles (42.195 km) and record birds the entire way – with the exception of minimal stopping for food breaks, etc. No driving, no extended rests, and no periods of time in which I’m not compiling a checklist.

I suppose that a few marathon purists – those dedicated enough to actually run that distance, might giggle and point at those of us that only walk it and still call it a marathon, but no matter. The distance is the distance. I certainly respect the grueling nature of what marathon runners are able to do, but I have no desire to do it, any more than I desire to run or jog even 10 meters. Not only do I enjoy not having throbbing pain in my knees, I prefer to not see the exterior world zipping by that fast when I am out in it. I suppose this is why I don’t own a bike either, and never even bothered to learn to ride one as a child. Let me walk.

I did some searching for “marathon birding” and found very little that had to do with covering 26.2 miles on foot while ticking species. William Wise did a real running marathon and kept track of birds in his head. Well done! Don’t expect me to challenge your record. I also found this birding and running event in Peru, but it isn’t clear that 26.2 miles are to be covered in one day or not. Again, kudos if you can do this sort of thing, but I cannot imagine going back to Peru and doing anything but birding as religiously as possible.

It is said that walking a marathon typically takes between 6.5 and 8 hours. An 8 hour time woud mean an average pace of about 3.3 mph, or 5.3 km/hr. When I’m not birding I tend to walk faster than this – but while birding it is clearly less – yet since I mostly have to bird by ear, I don’t stop too often and keep up a good pace. So I estimated that, with a few stops for any good pockets of activity I might find, plus several short food / water / bathroom breaks, that 10 to 12 hours should be a reasonable time.

I planned on September as the being my first, best opportunity to give it a try. I could take advantage of pleasant weather and temperatures, plus the extensive daylight, in case my 12-hour estimate was too optimistic. The drawback is that I find autumn birding very challenging, because the migrants are singing much less and the foliage is so dense. eBirders around here are reporting all kinds of warblers right now – I have yet to see one this fall. So a repeat of this endeavor is planned for this coming May, when I will be able to seriously attempt to get a lot of birds. My expectations for September are low, but it will only give me room to improve. Water levels here are very high this year and lots of normally good shorebird habitat is just not there.

Next up was finding a good route. I want to be birding good spots, but I also wanted to start and stop at my house, and to sample a variety of habitat. Luckily there are plenty of places to bird and walk in our environs, namely, the southwest Twin Cities area where Bloomington and Eden Prairie meet up. Below is my planned route which I drew up on Google Maps. I will do complee lists not only at the hotspots shown, but for every different street, with none of them including more than, say, 3 miles. So at least eight or nine checklists at a minimum.

The planned route: 26.3 miles

I’d looked into a few sites with advice about preparing for a marathon, but I found it of little use. I typically walk about eight or nine miles a day, so I complete a marathon worth of miles once every three days or so. How much worse can it be packing three days into one? I fill find out tomorrow… and post the results.

2 thoughts on “Marathon Birding”

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