If you hear staccato tapping that reverberates through the forest on Roosevelt Island, look around for chunks of wood spraying from the trunk of a dead tree. You’ll likely see a pileated woodpecker drilling for its breakfast. These are the second largest woodpecker in North America, as big as a crow. They stand out with black and white striped faces and bright red mohawks (‘crests’ to serious birders). They can be spotted throughout the course, and a quick scan of the trees reveals evidence of their feasting, as they create distinct rectangular-shaped holes in the process.
At most running events, the natural setting and the animals that inhabit the area are barely noticed. parkrun provides a unique opportunity to observe the life on and around the course on a weekly basis as the seasons change. The low-key, leave-no-trace approach allows participants and the local fauna to happily share the space. Our parks partners appreciate parkrunners’ commitment to preserving these spaces and stepping up to join or lead conservation efforts. By combining this with building healthy communities, parkrun provides literal AND figurative warm fuzzies.
We asked parkrunners across the US to share pictures and stories about the critters that they meet on a Saturday morning, and we were amazed at the variety of responses.
Woodpeckers, robins, and geese can be found at many parkruns, and seasonal changes bring bluebirds and cardinals along, too. It’s not a race, so some parkrunners combine birdwatching with exercise. Andres Falconer, Event Director at Fletcher’s Cove parkrun, said “I wish I knew my birds. I’ve seen parkrunners show up with binoculars and cameras and walk the course.” Paul Cauchon spent some time photographing a juvenile robin while posted as course marshal at Kensington parkrun.
Roosevelt Island in the center of Washington DC is a haven for birds, deer, and squirrels. Volunteer Eden Gray parkruns with her dog Foxy in tow. “She would love to be able to chase them all!” Volunteer photographer Travis Helms often spots a beaver in the river. He keeps a respectful distance to avoid any tail slap warnings.
Travis’s camera also captured a bald eagle at College Park parkrun when he visited last December. Enormous great blue herons have been known to fly across the path of unsuspecting parkrunners, such as the one in this picture by Cindy Cohen.
When College Park hosted parkrun founder Paul Sinton-Hewitt, the team commissioned a lead biker in anticipation of the record turnout. At the last minute this role was switched to “duckling protection”, when an injured mallard duckling was found on the trail with its mother and a few siblings. Apparently the first barkrunner to pass by gave sufficient motivation for the ducklings to skedaddle off the trail.
Who, who who did Clermont Waterfront parkrunners see on a recent weekend? A great horned owl and its three babies, perched in a tree overlooking the course. Luiz Prestes took this picture that’s sure to have you wide-eyed in amazement. Look closely and you’ll see the always-watchful mother in the tree to the left of the baby on the nest.
On the West Coast, Crissy Field parkrunners see plenty of pelicans, according to regular volunteer Joanna Gadd, “but most of the wildlife at our parkrun swims.” They’ve spotted seals, sea lions and very excitingly WHALES! Joanna reported that one humpback whale would regularly swim under the Golden Gate Bridge and all the way to Alcatraz before leaving the bay. Humpbacks have followed krill into the bay, to the delight of parkrunners and other spectators. A local naturalist explains more here.
Heritage Harbor parkrun in Illinois had a lot of fish on their trail a few weeks ago, after local flooding. This is certainly not a typical parkrun course hazard, and for the sake of the poor fish we hope it’s a situation that won’t be repeated. Luckily, the large carp seen at Fletcher’s Cove parkrun stay in the canal … unless someone catches one with a fishing rod.
Fletcher’s Cove and Roosevelt Island boast numerous species of turtles, in the C&O Canal and Potomac River, and even on the course. One week someone noticed a turtle nest in the middle of the trail, so extra cones were dispatched to protect it. Another time volunteer Ian Ross came across a large snapping turtle on the island, but all fingers and toes survived the encounter. Snakes are a familiar sight at some parkruns, surprising runners as they slither across the trail. Hopefully this little frog at College Park was able to hop clear of the snakes and avoid becoming lunch.
Volunteers scouting potential parkrun venues in Florida have to take warnings about alligators in the parks into account. We hope that’s one reptile that keeps its distance!
White-tailed deer are regular visitors to many US parkruns, sometimes dashing across the trail in front of runners. One parkrunner saw a deer jump down the bank and then run through the C&O Canal and straight across the towpath in front of him. At Roosevelt Island, a buck with huge antlers and its family walked listened in on the run briefing, a good reminder that we always share the trails with others. Here are a few of the local deer in Livonia, courtesy of Lynn Boven, and Leakin Park, courtesy of Australian parkrunner Tracy Watson, who was unsure whether she or the deer was more surprised.
One Saturday in Renton parkrun in Washington State, a local parkrunner pointed out a low-flying American eagle to one of our international tourists who had never seen one and was thrilled at the sighting. The Renton course parallels a river and there is also a marshy area by the finish area that attracts many species of birds. Volunteer photographer Blake Kennedy captured a kingfisher during set-up in December and one weekend a conversation at the finish area was interrupted by the loud splashes of a male mallard duck aggressively pursuing a female.
Damp fall days in the Pacific Northwest means banana slugs are out and about, albeit very slowly, and the volunteer team wasn’t going to wait around for this guy to finish the course.
A short distance from Renton, Des Moines, WA will have a parkrun come June, and they expect to see all types of critters along their route. Come visit this course to see blue herons, kingfishers, mallard ducks, owls, raccoons, bunnies, squirrels, and even coyotes. The start/finish area is on the beach and will be a great spot to see ducks, Canada geese, river otters, seals, seagulls, bald eagles (with crows circling in harassment), sea eagles, osprey and other waterfowl. You can also expect to hear a not-so-wild resident rooster crowing nearby.
We love seeing all of the wildlife at our parkrun events, but who is the mystery critter on the parkrun flag? You know the one we’re talking about … the peek-a-boo rounded head with the blinking eyes. We polled some parkrunners, and got some interesting answers.
Pam Marcus: Mr. Eyes is my favorite parkrun character. Hedgehog? I don’t really see him as an animal – more of a connection with the person who is looking at the picture. I may be reading too much into it, but Mr. Eyes says to me to remember that the animals know we are there. We are all there together and need to be respectful of that. He’s also just darn cute and makes me smile.
Stephanie Coomes: I thought he was a hedgehog, too
Cam Kennedy: I think the animal on the sign is obviously a penguin …
Lynn Boven: The face in the parkrun logo reminds me of the creatures you see at night after about 20 hours of trail running. Probably a variety of animals but in the light of a headlamp all you see is eyes surrounded by shadow. I prefer to fancy it’s the universe watching to see how foolish a human could possibly be.
Andres Falconer: The parkrun animal in the image is a groundhog!
Eden Gray Maybe it’s an otter?
Regina Cross: Some part of me wants the mystery guest in the parkrun image to be a badger hiding in its burrow.
Joanna Gadd: That’s a mole isn’t it?
Danny Norman sent us this quote from Ross Gunther, the designer: “I would like to help close this argument, but in truth when I designed it I wanted to leave it up to people’s own imagination.”
And there you have it.
Cathryn Burby, Renton parkrun
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