After 7 months, 1 week and 4 days of nonstop birding you would think that I could tell a Bald Eagle and a Turkey Vulture apart. Until Tampa Bay’s 10 news channel threw a curve ball.
A pair of news makers tracked us down as cycled south. We pulled down a quiet lane while the reporters grabbed their equipment. I clipped a tiny microphone to my collar, slipped a chord under my shirt and clipped something else to my cycling shorts. The cameraman positioned his TV camera at an odd angle below my left pedal. He pointed an enormous lens up at me. “Now, what inspired you to take this on?” asked the interviewer.
“Well, uh, I guess reading books like Kingbird Highway and The Big Year about others who...” I said. The videographer held up his hand and moved the camera to a different angle. “... did Big Years earlier...” They peppered us with questions and filmed us from all angles.
“Now let’s get you guys looking at some birds!” Only a few butterbutts (Yellow-rumped Warblers) fluttered around in distant bushes. “Okay, say what they are and look at them with your binoculars.” I raised them. The cameraman crouched down and rotated the camera around me. “Okay, great! Now let’s get some shots of you cycling. Malkolm, keep that microphone. When I signal, give a ten second overview of what you’re journey is about.”
The cameraman braced his camera out of their car’s window as they cruised parallel to us. After several tries he got what he needed, and they stopped ahead of us. I coasted to a stop and fumbled to remove the microphone. I glanced at the vultures wheeling overhead. One of the birds was flying differently, with its wings held flat, as opposed to the upward tilted wings on the A Turkey Vutures. I focused on the bird. Its head and tail comfirmed my suspicions. “There’s a Bald Eagle.”
“Keep the microphone on! Say that again!”
“There’s a Bald Eagle!” He aimed his camera up.
As we cycled off I wondered how they would edit one hour of material into a one minute and forty-five second news clip. The next evening, we stayed with Barb and Steve Walker near Tampa Bay. They had recorded the news clip. It ran just as expected – until the final ten seconds. I saw a clip of me pointing skywards and saying, “There’s a Bald Eagle!”
Then I saw footage of a soaring Turkey Vulture.