2013-12-05 / Nature

Audubon Christmas Bird Count

By Jack Kelly


Paul Letoille, left, Danielle Leitao, and Matt Grimes observe and record waterfowl at Sachuest National Wildlife Refuge during 2011 Count. The three will volunteer again this year. (Photo by Jack Kelly) Paul Letoille, left, Danielle Leitao, and Matt Grimes observe and record waterfowl at Sachuest National Wildlife Refuge during 2011 Count. The three will volunteer again this year. (Photo by Jack Kelly) The 114th annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count will be held on Saturday, Dec. 14, across parts of Aquidneck Island. Our local bird tally is part of the international count that will be conducted between Dec. 14 and Jan. 3. For counting purposes, our region is known as the Newport County/Westport Circle, with its center in Little Compton. The circles, each of which is 15 miles in diameter, are set in zones across North America, South America, and other regions of the Western Hemisphere. This system allows the observation and cataloging of avian species that are present in the region. The data gathered will be used by biologists and ornithologists to calculate the populations of bird species across the country.


Northern Cardinal. (Photo by of Jerry Acton) Northern Cardinal. (Photo by of Jerry Acton) On the day of the count, teams of volunteer bird watchers, naturalists, biologists, and wildlife enthusiasts will travel to pre-determined locations that represent the best target areas for spotting multiple bird species. These regions have been part of the local count for decades and provide a historical and scientific body of information. The day begins at 5:30 a.m. with a nocturnal owl count in various forested areas and proceeds into the late afternoon. The teams will cover many miles on foot.

Many of the participants are long-time veterans of the count and are quite proficient at identifying species by size, plumage, flight characteristics, and behaviors, as well as by ear. All of those who assist in this avian exercise have one thing in common: they have a deep and sincere affection for all things winged and feathered.

Over the past few years a number of unusual and even rare vagrant birds have been sighted during the count. In December of 2010, Paul Letoille, a highly- experienced local bird watcher, observed, identified and photographed a vagrant Green-tailed Towhee at the Sachuest Beach campground. This small bird, 7.25 inches long with a wingspan of 9.75 inches, was about 3,000 miles away from its wintering grounds in the American Southwest and points south into Mexico and Central America.


Jack Kelly, a native Newporter, is a wildlife photographer and nature enthusiast who enjoys sharing his experiences with others. Jack Kelly, a native Newporter, is a wildlife photographer and nature enthusiast who enjoys sharing his experiences with others. Other information gathered in past years confirms that Bald Eagles have returned to southern Rhode Island area to winter. They can be found hunting for prey in the Middletown and Portsmouth areas. The numbers of other wintering raptor species, such as Peregrine Falcons, Merlin Falcons, Red-tailed Hawks, Cooper’s Hawks, and Sharp-shinned Hawks, have also risen.

This event promotes conservation and habitat protection while providing data on avian populations around the world. The knowledge gleaned from this project may also help with future issues related to climate change.

For more information on this event or to see the totals posted later in the month, visit asri.org or call 401-949-5454.

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