For the Birds Radio Program: Internet Bird News

Original Air Date: Jan. 21, 2008

The Internet is a rich source of bird news, but Laura doesn’t have access from her apartment yet.

Duration: 4′29″


When I moved to Ithaca, New York, at the start of the year, I drove here with everything I could fit in my Prius. Since I needed some pretty basic things like a mattress and kitchen supplies, there wasn’t a lot of room for books. I brought my laptop, and a week before I left I called Time Warner to arrange for internet. The modem arrived at my new place the day before I did, so I thought I’d be hooked into the Internet within days. I can get my hands on just about any information about birds on the internet, from breaking news—information about the Ross’s Gull that showed up in the Twin Cities was online within minutes of being sighted—to old stories. The trusty old Bent series of Life Histories of North American Birds is all online. The entire Birds of North America, the series organized by the American Ornithologists’ Union, the American Academy of Science, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, which I paid a thousand dollars for in its original paper edition, is now available online for at most $30 a year, and is significantly better than the original. The online version is frequently updated and has a wealth of photos, videos, and sound recordings which are obviously impossible to reproduce on paper.

So I figured I’d be fine in my new apartment without my huge library of books, all patiently waiting for me on Peabody Street. But the building I moved to is brand new, and wasn’t plugged into the 911 system. No one is allowed to hook up a telephone until that happens. I’m not clear why this makes anyone safer. Here I am, all alone in a new place on a dark road, no neighbor in the other apartment yet, and no phone at all. If there were a fire or other emergency, not only couldn’t I light up the 911 board with my precise location, I couldn’t call anyone for help except on my cell phone. My cellphone reception here is poor at best and sometimes nonexistent.

If it’s frustrating not having a phone, it’s downright awful to not have access to the Internet. When I first went online in 1996, it never occurred to me how dependent I would get, especially to stay connected to bird information and to produce my radio program. When I write a script for For the Birds, my first step is virtually always to run to the Internet to look up the subject on the Birds of North America, to check out interesting vocalizations from the Cornell Lab’s All About Birds site, and to check out recent sightings on the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union and Wisconsin Society for Ornithology websites. I usually never print out my scripts—I record them from my laptop so I won’t feel like my radio program is contributing to deforestation and the polluting processes involved in paper production. I know that the laptop uses electricity, but to at least minimize it, I use the battery as much as possible, and unplug it whenever I turn it off. After I record my voice, I plug it into my computer, mix in the bird sounds, and then use the Internet to put the program up on my website for you to listen to without using tape or CDs.

Time Warner says now that they’ll be at my house on January 29, a full month after I originally called them. I’m pretty impatient—the very nature of the Internet sets the timetable for our expectations in seconds, not hours or days, much less weeks. Isn’t it odd that rather than feeling free as a bird to escape the high tech world for a time, I’m anxious to once again be ensnared by its Web.