My oldest daughter called the other day to tell me she was chatting with a group of friends outdoors when a gray-brown bird with a noticeable blush of red landed on a branch nearby. One of the folks in the group had said, “Oh, look it’s a female cardinal.”
Charlotte politely pointed out the bird in question was not a cardinal, but rather a male house finch. Discussion ensued.
“Listen, my dad used to pay us kids a nickel if we properly identified a bird,” she told the others. “And he’d dock us that same nickel if we were wrong! If I know anything, I know my birds!”
Ah, the things that warm a father’s heart! I’d imagine I should explain our little incentive program.
Back when our kids were growing up our family vacation centered on a week-long quest of riding bicycles from one town to another as part of the Great Ohio Bicycle Adventure. This tradition began very early — when Charlotte was 3 years old and Ben was a mere 9 months old. Kristin and I pulled the pair in a little trailer behind our tandem bike. The first year was a mess of crying babies and frazzled parents. We knew we could do it better, so we signed up the following year. Then, in preparation to take the event by storm we trained nearly every day on short, 20-mile rides in the nearby countryside.
The kids weren’t exactly thrilled about this daily training regimen, so I developed the Bird Identification Incentive Program or “BIIP.” A kid might earn 50 cents or more on a good ride and Kristin and I could rack up our training miles without a single tear. Furthermore, no matter how big the day’s bird payout it still paled in comparison to paying a sitter. I won’t suggest I ever imagined the drill would help one of my kids win an argument a quarter-century later, but Charlotte’s story certainly adds a bit of icing to the cake of family history.
While I haven’t had a chance to hook up the bike trailer and pull the boy around the neighborhood just yet, I already have been making big plans for our new grandson, James. We’ve already had a few good birding sessions in the kids’ backyard in Kentucky where a small stream winds through a stand of tall, raggedy ash and honey locust trees, and a large and varied mix of woodpeckers and songbirds make their homes. I’d imagine every new grandparent would like to claim some sort of super-baby trait in their new grandchild, so I’m not ashamed in the least to suggest my little “chipmunk” was hanging on my every word as we both stared wide-eyed into the canopy above. If my grandson’s first words are “downy woodpecker” or “tufted titmouse” I’m prepared to claim full credit!
(I’d love to hear your questions or comments! Write to John Lorson Send Help, P.O. Box 170, Fredericksburg, OH 44627. Be sure to check out Facebook for time-lapse film clips of Kristin’s artwork and other fun stuff at JohnLorsonSendHelp)