From the Jan. 4, 1974 edition of the Vineyard Gazette by George Moffett:

I went on my first Christmas bird count on Saturday. We met at Gus Ben David’s house at Felix Neck just before sunrise. I was the first of Gus’s team to arrive and he invited me in for coffee. We had it in the kitchen with two of his children, Shane and Phaedra, a box turtle, and a boa constrictor. The turtle lives next to the base of the refrigerator where the motor is because it is warm there. There was a Christmas sprig of pine and a red ribbon to mark his home. The constrictor was a present from Gus to son Shane.

“My son’s first constrictor,” Gus proudly told me. Shane is age two.

The two other members of our team came in, Tom “TC” Chase and Tim “Rangus” Baird, a veteran bird counter. Before starting out we went to one of Gus’s rehabilitation pens to feed the snowy owl that had been brought to Gus after it had flown into a car. Gus had had to truss one wing and amputate the other but the owl looked in pretty good shape. Gus put a pigeon head on the end of a stick and fed the owl like a baby while calling comforting endearments to it. “Beautiful! Got a whole head down,” Gus said, pleased.

We got into the Felix Neck VW bus and headed for the wildfowl pond, where we would start the count. Both Gus and Rangus were wearing long stocking caps. “We only wear them at the Christmas count,” Gus told me.

A great many mallards were flying around the Felix Neck Pond. Gus picked a particular bird out. “That’s a female redhead,” he said. It looked the same as the others to me. I marveled at his knowledge.

After counting the birds in the Felix Neck area we headed for Oak Bluffs. On the way TC Chase suddenly called out, “I think I got a spawk.”

“A what?” I asked.

“A spawk, That’s a sparrow hawk.”

We cruised at a very slow speed through the outskirts of Oak Bluffs looking through the outskirts of Oak Bluffs looking for birds in trees and backyards with our binoculars and telescopes. I felt we were like FBI agents on a stakeout. The birds didn’t have a chance.

We saw a cardinal and another mocker, which had its feathers all puffed up.

We went to the jetties down by Harthaven and looked out over the Sound. There was a raft of birds out on the water.

“Looks scoter-ish,” Gus said. He looked at them through his telescope. “No, they’re mergs.”

“Nice flock of goldeneyes on the other side of the jetty. Beautiful!”

Farm pond was on the other side of the road, and we “glassed” it, meaning we surveyed the pond with our binoculars.

“A great blue,” someone said. “Beautiful!”

We drove on through the small woods at Harthaven.

“A sharpie!” Gus called out in triumph. “Got a split-second look.” I had not seen anything. He had got a fleeting glance at a sharp-shinned hawk. Rangus confirmed it.

We drove to a bluff overlooking the Sound.

“A white-winged surf scoter!” Gus called out. “Oh, God, man, beautiful! Scope it,” Gus said to Rangus. Rangus spotted the bird in his telescope and confirmed it. It was a major trophy.

At 12:30 p.m., we went to Elizabeth Goodale’s home. Mrs. Goodale was the bird count coordinator. I found out that the Christmas bird count is nation-wide, under the auspices of the National Audubon Society. Communities all over the country pick on day between Dec. 15 and Jan. 1 for their count which takes place with a radius of 15 miles from some point in the area. For the Vineyard the point is somewhere around Tisbury Great Pond. This covers almost all the Vineyard except for the Gay Head area and Chappaquiddick.

Mrs. Goodale’s team was already there. Then Sue Whiting’s all girl team arrived, and we all compared notes.

Our three teams had counted 70 species. Mrs. Goodale was called to the phone. I heard her say, “We’re missing...” It was a report from Bob Woodruff, whose team was still in the field. She gave us his report. The count was up to 75 species now. I felt it was like the Dow-Jones climbing back from a bad fall. After we had compared notes we knew what was needed to bring the count up. Our big rival is Cape Cod, which usually gets more species than the Vineyard. We picked out spots to go on the Island in hopes of finding certain species.

After the midday break, the territorial imperatives are over. Teams can go wherever they want. Team captain Ben David took us all over the Vineyard in search of new species. Now and then we would up our count with a brown creeper (Rangus Baird), a robin (TC Chase) and a red breasted nuthatch (Ben David). My contribution was to make futile sparrow noises in thickets trying to scare up something for the experts to identify. Just before dark we were on a lovely hill overlooking Squibnocket Pond scoping for gadwalls. When we could not see any longer we tallied up our day’s count: 62 species.

It was my first Christmas Bird Count, and I had liked it.

Compiled by Hilary Wall