Record turnout for birds and birders
The day began early, at 7 a.m., all participants met at the police station. Despite the frigid temperature and a wind-chill factor of 14 degrees, the hardy birders split into four groups to cover different areas of the island — Beavertail, the village and Fort Wetherill, the farms and marshes, and the north end. A record 74 different species were reported said Candy Powell, organizer of the event.
Powell and Evelyn Rhodes, both longtime birders, organized the count 23 years ago, and haven’t missed a year since. The inventory takes for birds and birders
place at Christmas and in the spring. The dates are not exact. The Christmas count was established by the National Audubon Society over 100 years ago and has been a tradition around the country ever since. Local chapters pick a specific day within 10 days of either side of Christmas and count all the birds in their area, then report their count to the state chapter.
Powell and the Conanicut Island bird counters followed suit with the Christmas count, then held another count every spring, helping the Audubon Society with additional statistics.
Before Powell and Rhodes organized the semiannual inventory, a woman long-recognized as the Jamestown Bird Lady, Mabel Davenport, whose husband owned the water company, kept meticulous records and diaries on subjects of nature for most of her life. Birds were her primary area of expertise. She passed her records, surveys, and statistics covering the many varieties of birds, their habitats, and numbers to the Rhode Island Audubon Society before she passed away in the early 1980s.
Shortly after Davenport died, Powell and Rhodes picked up where she left off by establishing the twice-yearly bird count.
“This year’s Christmas count of 74 species is the highest count we’ve ever had,” said Powell. “In 1964 we counted only 61 species. Then in 1992 and 2003 we came close with 71. However, it stands to reason that with additional people helping, we have a better chance of counting more varieties,” she continued. The record count included three rarely seen pine siskins, two peregrine falcons, and a great horned owl.
The event typically attracts 12 to 15 experienced birders. However, with Powell’s encouragement, novice birders have joined in the count, and brought the total number of birders to 18. Participation gives newcomers an opportunity to learn from experienced birders. “That’s how we all learned,” she noted.
Statistics show that environmental concerns have elevated the consciousness of the general populace in everything to do with nature, wildlife, habitats, and the proliferation of species. Interest in birding is an important part of this nationwide trend.
Although the semi-annual bird count is an event reserved for adults, Powell said that Jamestown offers many activities for young birders who want to be included in the activities and encourages them to participate in those programs.