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This is why we can’t have nice things

August 16, 2010
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I admit I can be a bit sensitive to real and perceived threats to the place I consider my “local patch”, Mason Farm Preserve.  The area is owned by the University of North Carolina and used as an experimental site for the Biology department, but also as public park for the community.  There are a few rules that the public has to follow that regular parks in Chapel Hill don’t require.  There are no dogs allowed, for one thing, not even leashed ones, and there are no bikes permitted either, because birders are slowly making their way around the loop and a fast moving bicycle could clobber them.  But there’s nothing that limits runners, who consider the 2 mile forested loop a popular destination.

I generally don’t have a problem with the runners.  Sure they can be loud, yelling at each other as they stomp around.  Sure they can tread across binocular views, and sneak up on a focused birder or be generally insensitive to others using the trail, but there’s no rule barring them so they’re part of scenery.  So it goes.  But recently at Mason Farm a runner, or a group of runners, decided the trail was for them and spray-painted a tree right along the loop with the marker “2km”.  They might have asked the Botanical Garden to permit a small marker, or made the calibration themselves to that they note it when they run by, but no.  Spray-paint. On a tree.

So yeah, you’re on my list runners!

Anyway, besides that discouraging revelation the morning at Mason Farm was a slow one.  While it’s still early for the big landbird movement, there’s still evidence that birds are places where they generally aren’t.  An Eastern Kingbird, definitely not a breeder at this particular location, was a nice bird.  Yellow-billed Cuckoos are starting to congregate in areas where Fall Webworms are making themselves apparent and making that other-wordly single coo-ah call that sounds like an alien ray gun.  For years that sound confused the heck out of me on late summer walks.  But there was little else about, and overcast skies made any attempt at photography messy.  Might I need a new lens already?  Hmmm…

As Noah was not with me that morning, I was able to hit a spot I generally miss when he’s jonesing to go home, a small waterfowl impoundment just over the county line in Durham.  These spots are pretty good places to check late in the summer for dispersing Herons and Egrets.  Most local records of unusual birds like the small herons and Ibis turn up at spots like this.

However, I soon discovered that the levee was completely overgrown with Sericea lespediza up to my waist, which in addition to being a particularly inidious invasive plant, is practically impossible to walk through without a jungle-rated machete.  Even so, I was able to hack my way out about half way, far enough to flush a dozen molting Wood Ducks in their eclipse drabbery.

Now, if we could only find a way to get the runners out to the impoundment to stomp down the Sericea.  Now that might put them to use doing something worthwhile, and I would even be bothered if they used spray paint.

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5 Comments
  1. August 16, 2010 12:28 pm

    Hi, my name is Megumi, originally from Japan and now living in Chapel Hill. This is my first time commenting on your blog, though I have been enjoying your blog for several months.
    I enjoyed birding at Mason Farm before, but I am now kind of away from the place because of some discouraging events I have seen and experienced. The worst thing was a mountain biker on the trail. So sad ….

  2. Nate permalink*
    August 16, 2010 12:51 pm

    @Megumi- There was a Mt Biker there when I was there as well, I guess they missed the big sign at the gate. I think I’m going to start taking photos of people breaking the clearly stated rules and sending them to the site administrator. I’ll still keep birding there since it’s the best spot in the immediate area.

    Thanks for commenting!

  3. August 18, 2010 8:36 am

    As a birder/marathon runner, I think runners are usually educated people who are usually respecting the environment. Sure enough, there is probably a few black sheep there and there, but I would think you have a real shot at explaining these people that they are welcomed in the preserve, but that paint markers are NOT OK.

    I would suggest you email to the local running club, asking them politely not to use paint markers for their interval training (yeah, Ive heard the 2000m reps are the rage this day). I am sure you will receive a positive answer from the community. Maybe there is a local email list where your email can be relayed. Try the local running store websites too. It is not going to erase the paint on your tree, but maybe you will avoid the “1M” marker “1/2M” markers next season….

  4. Nate permalink*
    August 18, 2010 8:59 am

    @Laurent- I think the site manager is already on top of it, there are signs around the park asking for information and noting that this sort of thing is not appropriate. On the plus side, it’s finally gotten the Botanical Gardens moving on fixing the keyed gate at the entrance so that you have to check in once a year and receive a key card to access the site.

    I will say that the vast majority of runners on the loop are not a problem, and know that it’s primarily a nature site. Most of the time my interaction with them is simply a nod, a good morning and we’re both on our way. The yell-talkers and vandal sorts are relatively few and far between.

  5. August 18, 2010 11:40 am

    I’m also both a runner and a birder–I actually got into birding while training for a half-marathon; my training route went along the mouth of a river leading to the beach and I kept myself motivated by tallying up the different kinds of wading birds and shorebirds I saw!

    The runners I encounter while birding tend to be polite and usually lower their voices if they see me actively looking at something. What a bummer a few rude people in the tribe can ruin things for everyone!

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