For the Birds Radio Program: Paper Route
Helping your son do his paper route may be an unorthodox way to watch birds, but according to Laura Erickson, it works. 3:42 (Date confirmed)
One of the joys of driving your little boy on his paper route is that you never know when a Bald Eagle will fly above the car. My 13-year-old Joey, who’s actually taller than me and prefers being called “Joe,” so he technically no longer qualifies as a little boy, recently started delivering The Duluth Budgeteer on Saturdays, and the first couple of times Russ or I took him in the car and helped him figure out the most efficient route. It’s hard watching an adolescent boy trudge from door to door on a below-zero day while you sit in a warm car, so on my dour of duty I came prepared with birding magazines and a scissors for clipping out articles for my files, the current issue of Mad magazine because even I have a limit to how many bird articles I can read, and, of course, my binoculars.
I started out with the best of intentions, to get those magazines read and filed. But Mad had a satire of the movie A Clear and Present Danger which looked pretty good, and the crisp January sky seemed to beckon as if there might be real birds close enough to ignore those mere magazine replications. Mad magazine is particularly useful for birding while you wait in a car because the cartoons are brief enough that you can look up in the sky plenty often enough to feel like you’re not missing too much. I saw a couple of chickadees flit across the road at the first corner as I waited while Joey delivered his papers, and a Blue Jay and a flock of starlings as I drove a few blocks to meet him at the second corner, but it was cold enough, and we weren’t close enough to a feeder, that birds were few and far between. At the third or fourth stop I noticed a couple of ravens heating up the frozen sky with aerial games, and I watched them for many minutes. They were still in view after I moved three blocks away. Ravens defy winter with the very fiber of their beings. They’re hot blooded and hot tempered, looking like blackened coals that could melt ice and snow, and they can outshout the fiercest north wind. These ravens swooped and dove through the air as gracefully and comfortably as if it were balmy spring instead of the dead of January. But poor Joey came back to the car shivering. The sight of the ravens hadn’t warmed him a bit, so we went home for a cocoa break before doing the second half of his route.
So far all I’d seen were birds I already had on my 1995 list, so when we set out to finish delivering papers, I was eager to see something new. But it was a quiet afternoon, and birds were even scarcer than they’d been earlier. I kept a half-hearted watch between reading “Spy vs. Spy” and the adventures of Ventriloquist Priest, but as Joey’s carrier bag got emptier, so did my hopes. As he reached the last short stretch of houses, I’d pretty much given up when suddenly I noticed a large black shape gliding through the sky without flapping at all, a shape with long, flat wings, primaries jutting out like fingers. When it banked, the light hit its snow white head and tail, showing off the Bald Eagle to perfection. Joey came back to the car with a heart as light as his empty bag, and we went home, both satisfied with a job well done.