Saturday, January 8, 2011

Things Ultrarunners Know: Animals

(Meadow vole image credit Wikipedia)

(Deer mouse image credit Wikipedia)

The other day, while running, I passed a road kill on a local road near my home. What made it a bit unusual was that it was a small critter, either a mouse or a vole.

One would think that a road-killed animal of such small size would have been completely smashed, but this one was not crushed; it was only slightly bloody about the head. But very dead.

That struck me as strange, meaning that the mouse-like animal would have been struck--but not run over--by a vehicle tire, as though it ran into the side of the tire. Now, I’m sure that it can happen that way, but my mind immediately thought “hawk” and I looked up to see whether I was under a tree or telephone pole where a raptor may have just dropped its partially eaten prey.

Nope, turns out I wasn't under any such perch, so the dead mouse or vole was in all likelihood just a road kill. But when you hear hoof beats, you think horses, not zebras. A hawk being involved seemed more likely than road kill, but I was wrong.

Why even bother with this pretty mundane story? Because it points to another example of what we ultrarunners know and “regular” people don’t. You see, we know local fauna in a way that most people don’t—we see dead animals up close on the roads. And we see live ones out on the trails and the roads. Without having taken a single zoology course, we ultrarunners have a pretty good idea of who in the animal kingdom lives nearby.

We know, for instance, whether the local cat population includes cougars, bobcats, lynxes, or none of the above. Or the difference between a skunk, an opossum, a raccoon, a beaver, and a woodchuck. How to distinguish between a red and a grey fox. Whether the deer is a whitetail of a mule deer. That the local large hawk is in all likelihood a red-tail, or how to ID one of the smaller raptors. And whether any bears (grizzly or black) live locally.

You get the idea. I plan to expand this theme of Things Ultrarunners Know into a series of posts on other disciplines such as meteorology, astronomy, geology, and hydrology, as a minimum. I previously did a post last May on this theme, about rain and getting wet.

We are a pretty smart bunch. Or at least observant.

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