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THE FIRST BIRDS
No other event on the ornithological calendar is bigger than the traditional Christmas Bird Count supervised by the National Audubon Society. And of the 35,000 men, women and children who conducted the latest Christmas census in 1,500 locations in the Western Hemisphere, none had more hallowed turf to cover than Bob Hahn, a bearded and bespectacled gent who, encumbered with a pair of Swift 8x40 binoculars, a clipboard and pencils, showed up several days before Christmas at the Northwest Gate guardhouse of the White House. "You came to count birds?" one of the three guards on duty asked. The guard looked at his partners, and they all cracked up.
But that's what Hahn was doing, all right. While the White House is hardly a winter paradise for birds, the count there does have a certain historical cachet. Teddy Roosevelt kept a list of the birds he saw on the executive mansion's grounds during his presidency—56 species in all, including 21 varieties of warbler and a pair of saw-whet owls. The Audubon Christmas count didn't include White House sightings until 1969, when the late Fred Evenden, a biologist who headed up the Washington-based Wildlife Society, walked the grounds for the first time, accompanied by a gaggle of reporters and TV cameramen. The only trends Evenden reported as a result of his 11 annual White House counts were "the house [English] sparrow down, and the white-throated sparrow up."
Hahn, a fifth-grade teacher at St. Albans School in Washington, took over the count in 1981. His lists have remained as unspectacular as Evenden's were, with white-throated and English sparrows, pigeons, ring-billed gulls, starlings and common grackles far outnumbering cardinals, blue jays, robins and mockingbirds. This undistinguished cast of characters detracts not at all, however, from Hahn's enthusiasm for the task. In his latest outing, having finally received clearance from that disagreeable species, mockingguards, Hahn strode up the front walk and began checking out shrubbery and trees on the 18 acres that make up the White House grounds. The place was a vision of holiday splendor. Beribboned wreaths hung in the windows, the North Portico was festooned with greenery, and smoke from a burning yule log perfumed the air. Hahn counted 191 individuals and 15 different species, including a rufous-sided towhee, a house finch, a downy woodpecker and, just as he was preparing to leave, a noisy fish crow lumbering overhead. Because of that last sighting, the number of species exceeded the 1982 count by one, but Hahn took an exacting view of the results. "Not bad, considering the time of year," he said. "But not great, either."
In an effort to broaden their exposure, the Los Angeles Lazers of the Major Indoor Soccer League last month offered a free round-trip L.A.- Honolulu airline ticket to anybody 18 or older who attended 17 of the team's 21 then remaining home games. The offer was made only to those buying $8, $12 or $15 tickets, not $6 seats, but even so it was a good deal: Seeing 17 games at $8 each would cost $136, while L.A.- Honolulu round-trip passage goes for at least $ 100 more. Not surprisingly, the offer drew a good response; four home games have been played since it was announced, and 800 people have so far signed up and are in the running for the free flights.
There are a few catches. Parking at The Forum—the Lazers are owned by Jerry Buss, whose sporting empire also includes the arena, the NHL Kings and the NBA Lakers—costs $3. And to qualify for the deal, you must sign in at each game at one of the booths set up in The Forum for the purpose—the booths are decorated in a Hawaiian motif—and show your driver's license and ticket stub. You can simply sign in and leave, but the Lazer management hopes that most people will stick around to watch the games—and become fans.
The Lazers reserved a block of tickets in a special arrangement with World Airways, and it's another condition of the offer that the tickets be used no later than May 15. Since the MISL playoffs begin in late April and run until late May, this means that any new fans the promotion attracts will likely be vacationing in Hawaii during the early rounds. If the Lazers make the playoffs, the team had better arrange to televise its games in Waikiki—or its scheme may end up dissipating the very goodwill it's intended to create.