Robert H. Hahn, 70, educator, bird-counter at White House

December 19, 1996|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Robert H. Hahn, a former Baltimorean, retired educator and noted bird-watcher who was responsible for counting the birds at the White House during the National Audubon Society's annual Christmas census, died of cancer Sunday at home in Reston, Va. He was 70.

Mr. Hahn's passion for bird-watching began during his childhood in Irvington in Southwest Baltimore.

In later years, the quiet, bearded, bespectacled man with a scholarly manner often could be found at Dorchester County's Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge or at Lake Roland in Baltimore County or in the back country of northwestern Maine, patiently setting up his telescope and waiting for a particular species of bird to appear.

As a teacher at St. Albans School for Boys in Washington, Mr. Hahn would be at the wheel of a school bus on weekends, taking his students, who included fifth-grader -- and now Vice President -- Al Gore for a day of bird-watching at Blackwater.

In 1981, he took over counting the birds that inhabited the grounds of the White House and the vice president's residence as part of the National Audubon Society's Christmas count, which is conducted by 35,000 volunteers at 1,500 locations in the Western Hemisphere.

He would show up at the White House gate armed with binoculars, clipboard and pencils. He would calmly endure the gentle chiding of Secret Service guards and then start walking the 18-acre property, carefully examining shrubbery and looking up into trees for birds.

Once while cataloging birds at the vice president's residence, he thanked the guards for stopping traffic to allow him to cross the street. But the guards told him that it was not for him but for the vice president, who leaving the residence.

While not an open-air rookery of great note, the presidential grounds are home, according to Mr. Hahn's records, of pigeons, white-throated and English sparrows, ring-billed gulls, starlings, mockingbirds, grackles, cardinals, blue jays and robins.

In a 1984 interview in Sports Illustrated, he commented on his Christmas 1983 sightings of 191 birds and 15 species on White House grounds.

"Not bad, considering the time of year. But not great, either," he said modestly.

Mr. Hahn also was responsible for the building, installation and maintenance of bluebird boxes throughout Northern Virginia and Montgomery County.

He was a member of the Montgomery County Ornithological Society, the Maryland Ornithological Society, the Virginia Society of Ornithology and the Raptor Society.

Born in Baltimore, Mr. Hahn was a 1944 graduate of Boys' Latin School, where his father, Frederick A. Hahn, was headmaster for 26 years.

After serving as a gunner in the Army Air Corps in the waning days of World War II, he enrolled at the Johns Hopkins University, earning a bachelor's degree in 1950.

He taught fifth grade at St. Albans School in Washington from 1955 to 1988. He was a teacher at the American School in London from 1953 to 1955.

He was a member of St. Mark Episcopal Church, 301 A St. S.E. in Washington, where services will be held at 11 a.m. today.

He is survived by his wife of 35 years, the former Celia Allison; a son, David L. Hahn of Gaithersburg; a daughter, Allison Hahn of Reston; and a brother, Dr. Donald P. Hahn of Mendocino, Calif.

Pub Date: 12/19/96

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