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Democrat Photo by Ted Waddell

WATCHING THE SKIES: From the left, Renee Davis, Kris Conklin and Ruth Shursky observe the birds winging around Sullivan County during the local Audubon Society’s annual bird count.

Bird Count Tallies Up
Over 50 Species in the County

By Ted Waddell
SULLIVAN COUNTY — February 22, 2000 -- Birds of a feather stick together, and a group of dedicated area birders banded together on a recent weekend to see how many avian species they could count during a 24-hour period in Sullivan County.
The third annual St. Valentine’s Day “Feathered Frenzy” started at 4 p.m. on Saturday, February 12, and continued through 4 p.m. Sunday, February 13. The object was to count as many different species of birds as possible in that time frame and then enter the numbers into a database.
The winter bird count was conducted by members of the Sullivan County Audubon Society (SCAS) which was founded in 1950. The “Frenzy” is the brainchild of local photographer Scott Graber.
As the clock struck 4 p.m. on Saturday, a trio of birders pulled back the drapes in Ruth Shursky’s living room and started counting species. After recording several common types of birds, they piled into Renee Davis’ trusty Jeep and headed off to a waterway near the Woodbourne Correctional Facility. Plenty of waterfowl were sighted, but nary a yardbird was to be seen.
Then onto Monticello, where they checked out the birding scene at Apollo Plaza. As dark descended, the birders headed off in search of owls.
“There’s a lot of roads to travel and not much time,” said Davis, who admits to having a keen eye for owls.
After all the ruffled feathers had settled and the birders tallied up the numbers, a total of 57 different species had been counted this year by three teams. The winning team of Valerie Freer and Mary Collier recorded 48 species of birds.
A team consisting of Renee Davis, Kris Conklin, Marge and Roy Gorton and Ruth Shursky counted 46 species, while the team of Arlene Borko, Dick Hirschman and Phyllis Jones tallied up 36 species.
In 1999, three teams counted a total of 43 species (the winner logged 39). During the first Feathered Frenzy, six teams counted a total of 56 species, and the leading team recorded 45 different kinds of birds.
“We’re trying to update the database to keep on top of trends that birds go through,” said SCAS president Renee Davis of Youngsville. “What might be relatively common now was uncommon 20 years ago. This way, we can compare what’s going on.”
The Sullivan County Audubon Society has a checklist of 278 species and two hybrids reported as being sighted in the county. Of these, 138 are breeding species, as is one hybrid, everything from pileated woodpeckers to cedar waxwings, a tufted titmouse and a bald eagle.
According to Davis, birding is no joke. She once traveled more than 2,500 miles to see a yellow-billed loon, and on another occasion flew to Florida, got off the plane, hopped in a car and drove to Michigan to catch a glimpse of a single Kirtland’s warbler. Davis has also journeyed to Arizona, Texas and Costa Rica – even New Jersey – in search of rarely seen birds.
Davis isn’t alone in her passion for birds. According to the National Audubon Society (NAS), an estimated 60 million Americans feed or watch birds. Davis has been watching birds all her life, and since 1976 has kept written records of her observations.
“Bird watching is the fastest growing outdoor recreation in the United States,” said Frank Gill, senior vice-president of the NAS. “As information needs grow, the observations made by those who care about birds become increasingly important to conservation. It is vital to use this hobby to aid science.”
Kris Conklin of Swan Lake is SCAS’ recording secretary.
“Although I started birding relatively late in life, I love being outdoors,” she said. “Sullivan County offers so many kinds of birds, especially the eagles. They really grab my attention.”
SCAS Vice-President Ruth Shursky of Hurleyville said, “I’ve been watching birds since I was a kid, but I didn’t really go out looking for them until I joined the local club seven or eight years ago.”
According to Shursky, she has been feeding her feathered friends for about 30 years.
Valerie Freer, past president of the SCAS, taught ornithology at the local community college. She is editor of the SCAS newsletter “Warblings” and is president of the Federation of NYS Bird Clubs. She is coordinating the Breeding Bird Atlas 2000, a 10-year project between the Federation, NYS Department of Conservation (DEC), Cornell’s Department of Natural Resources and the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.
The NAS and Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology are conducting the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) 2000 (Feb. 18-21). For information, call 1-800-843-BIRD (2473). Their web address is
In addition to their annual Feathered Frenzy, the Sullivan County Audubon Society also holds a similar event in May, a five-month-long feeder count, and participates in the NAS’ annual Christmas Count. This year, the NAS celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Christmas Count.
For information about the SCAS, call Renee Davis at 482-5044 or Ruth Shursky at 434-4417.

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