Bonita & Estero Magazine

Snowbirds of a Feather

Flocking together on our Gulf Coast islands

- BY DR. RAND ALL H. NIEHOFF Dr. Randall Niehoff has been determined to bloom where he is planted on Sanibel since 1991.

These insightful words by English journalist/author Linda Grant reflect the happy spirit of our times during the holiday season on our Gulf Coast islands. During warm, sunny days and cool, clear nights, locals and winter visitors alike can be found gathering in places to dine—whether two-legged primates or two-winged avians.

Both groups also do a lot of shopping: We humans search for presents to exchange, while our bird neighbors primarily hunt for food. From a distance individual­s identify each other in these flocks by outward appearance: People rely on distinctiv­e clothing, while birds are cloaked in colorful feathers. In each species, appearance tells a story and even suggests a name.

Before the turn of the 20th century a grim spirit marked this annual flocking together. A holiday tradition called the “Christmas Side Hunt” was launched in an effort to bring in the largest pile of feathered, or furred, quarry in order to win a prize. Concerned and alarmed, Frank Chapman (an ornitholog­ist and early officer of the Audubon Society) proposed a Christmas Bird Census that would count the bird species rather than kill them. In 1900, 25 volunteer “hunts” across the country resulted in 90 species being documented.

This December marks the 120th anniversar­y of that first census, and the San-Cap Audubon’s Annual Christmas Bird Count will again be one of many taking place around North and South America. Last December 15 here on the islands, 117 volunteers counted 9,582 birds and 101 different species. These numbers were down from the 2017 count (17,566 birds, 105 species), a result of the residual effects of the 2018 late-summer’s red tide and an 8 a.m. high tide that morning. Grateful as always for the help of the Sanibel-Captiva Conservati­on Foundation and the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Audubon is anticipati­ng a normal crowd of flockers this year; perhaps there will even be a record number of species identified.

Meanwhile, folks here find themselves grouped in a population that posts an average age well above most other states and listed in a generation on the far end of the spectrum from millennial­s. Despite our unique personal clothing, casual observers are tempted to categorize us by visible signs of physical maturity such as white hair (or the lack thereof)— which gives rise to such names as “Q-tip,” “coot,” “geezer” or the more politicall­y correct “elder,” “senior citizen,” or “retiree.”

Today, most everyone says they don’t want to grow old, but they do want to live a long time—and we are. So, what should we be called? According to Maureen Conners, a leader in fashion technology, the right word for older customers is perennials. Why? Because we’re still alive this new year, able to blossom again and again, taking breaks and starting over repeatedly. Put that in your census book and count on it!

“Clothes as text, clothes as narration, clothes as a story—the story of our lives.” —Linda Grant, The Thoughtful Dresser

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