My personal trainer and I have this discussion every day. “Pedal,” he says.
“I am pedaling, but did you hear that northern parula back there?”
“Yes, but that’s not why we’re out here.”
I laugh. “That’s why I’m out here. I don’t know about you.”
I suspect it’s the difference between hikers and peak baggers. Between birders who are after a big year or those who chase rarities, and those who just bird all the time by osmosis. Or by chance. I am forever rolling down my car windows as I zoom around in my busy-ness–schlepping boys here and there, traipsing between schools in the course of my work life. I notice the killdeer family in the field. I count the cedar or–bonus–bohemian waxwings in the grocery store parking lot fruit trees in winter. I pull over when sandhill cranes fly across the Messalonskee Lake marsh next to the road. I’ve endured endless baseball games by grabbing my binoculars and wandering over to the nearby woods.
So birding by bike is inevitable no matter what my personal trainer, who also happens to be my husband, says. He doesn’t really mind and today I even got him to stop and listen. It was a meadowlark, an increasingly rare bird in our Maine fields, singing its heart out from atop a tall farmhouse maple. Haying schedules and habitat loss have resulted in a 72 percent decline in meadowlarks in the last 40 years according to a National Audubon Society study. So when I hear a meadowlark, I stop, fitness goals be damned.
Well, not damned really. I still covered 13 hilly miles on the bike today in the blessed heat. And I got a second meadowlark and four northern parula to boot. I also re-learned something from long ago, back when I used to bike tour, something I didn’t even know I’d forgotten: when you bike you hear and see more of the world at closer range and slower speed than almost any other form of transportation. Certainly more than from a car. I have driven the meadowlark road countless times in the nine years I’ve lived here and I’ve never had a meadowlark before. They have, no doubt, been here all along, waiting for someone to get out of their cars and notice. Or at least stop pedaling long enough to listen to the sound of summer.