Sixty-six birds counted on silver anniversary
Candy Powell and Evelyn Rhodes, both longtime birders, organized the count 25 years ago, and haven't missed a year since.
According to Powell, the final count this year was 67 species of birds. "Our average for a Christmas Bird Count is 65, so we feel really good. We had 63 by noon, and Gail Chase, a participant who reported birds from home, added three more in the afternoon. The most interesting species were the brown creeper, snow bunting, razorbill, thick-billed murre, common murre, and great horned owl," Powell said.
The inventory takes place for birds and birders at Christmas and again 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 Rhodes followed suit by organizing the Conanicut Island bird counters and continuing the Christmas count. Another count is held every spring, to further help the Audubon Society with additional statistics.
Before Powell and Rhodes organized the semi-annual 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.
To bring levity to the usually cold morning task, Conanicut Island bird counters have the opportunity of winning the prize of a pink flamingo, a tradition established by longtime bird counter Wayne Munn. Although B. J. Whitehouse, another avid counter, accuses Munn of always winning his own prize, Whitehouse made much ceremony of presenting the coveted plastic flamingo to Rey Larsen for his sighting of a snow bunting.
Larsen backed his sighting up with a photograph that was passed around for all to see. The prize was awarded complete with inscription in black magic marker of Larsen's accomplishment. The snow bunting was seen in the area of the Newport Bridge Toll Plaza. "We almost stepped on him," Powell said. "He seemed quite tame as he walked around with us."
Larsen also offers a yearly prize of his own to the person counting the most birds. This year the award was a book titled "A Bird Lovers Life List and Journal," and it went to Ed Long for the highest count.
In addition to the unusual sightings of murres, a great horned owl, and razorbills, Whitehouse claimed to have seen two red tail hawks necking at Beavertail.
The bird counters go to all corners of the island to get a thorough count. Beavertail, the North End, the farms and the town areas are all included. The final tallies of each species will be published in the Press when they are completed.
Powell said that she wants to extend her thanks and appreciation to all who were involved both at home and in the field.