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Birding the Wheel of Fortune


October 15, 2011 by Joseph C. Neal

​If you’re going birding, you’ll have to turn off the TV and today’s Wheel of Fortune rerun. I play it every day myself, planning out my bird watching adventures.

This involves one of my most jealously guarded secrets. How do I decide where to go birding today? This is something I only started asking myself seriously about three years ago when the U.S. Forest Service and I parted company after many years of mostly happy marriage. I have devised a foolproof system for figuring out my days. It begins with a checklist. Should I go birding today? Possible answers: (1) YES, and (2) YES.

I can afford to go birding because I paid into Social Security for 45 years. I don’t pay any attention to conservative Republicans and the Tea Party who claim my monthly check is evil socialism. If having some financial freedom in my 65th year is socialism, Bring it on!

I have made myself a big Wheel of Fortune with 25 possible stops corresponding to my favorite birding places within an hour or so of where my bicycle or car is parked. Unfortunately, I don’t have Vanna White to help me with the spin – at 65, that would be appreciated. When I get up in the morning, I give that wheel a healthy spin. Where it stops is where I go UNLESS I don’t want to. In this case, I give ‘er another spin, sometimes even backwards. Vanna would never consent to such a thing.

OK, I can just hear the howls. It’s unfair! He doesn’t play by the rules! If I wanted to keep playing by someone else’s rules I could have just kept plugging away according to how other people think I should be living. I guess the Social Security haters think grandma and I should have kept putting money into the stock market where it could be swindled away by Wall Street traders. One of my best friends recently called me an old curmudgeon and he meant it as a compliment.

Birder’s Wheel of Fortune Version 1.0 is too big to drag out of the house. I’m working on a digital version, with an iPhone app. Version 1.1 should help sort what uber-birdwatcher Roger Tory Peterson termed “confusing fall warblers” not to mention sparrows hidden in deep grass. It should work on birds flying high and away. Bird names are arranged on the wheel. Just give ‘er a few (digital) spins – as many as you want. The device takes the ​average of all stops and converts them to one species.

The wheel stopped at Devil’s Den this morning, but before hitting the door, I looked at my bank account to see if, once again the much-hated Federal Government had deposited my Social Security check. Yep, the money is there, again, like clock-work, like it has been every month since I retired. I’m gone birding.



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