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Winter is for the birds and watchers

Among the birds that can be spotted during winter are the Carolina chickadee, left, northern cardinal, short-eared owl, fox sparrow, dark-eyed junco and Savannah sparrow.
Among the birds that can be spotted during winter are the Carolina chickadee, left, northern cardinal, short-eared owl, fox sparrow, dark-eyed junco and Savannah sparrow.

Keeping an eye on birds in the winter is a favorite pastime for many nature enthusiasts.

From stocking backyard feeders to clicking photographs and keeping up with a list of sightings, it's a way to stay active and enjoy the out of doors even in these cold months.

Opportunities abound for citizen scientists to join in walks, meetings, and organized bird counts. Here are just a few upcoming Central Kentucky connections:

Audubon: Granddaddy of them all

The National Audubon Society has been involved in wildlife conservation projects for more than 100 years. Named for wildlife artist John James Audubon, whose illustrations in the folio Birds of America gained international acclaim in the early 1800s, the Society was formed as a reflection of the newly realized need to preserve and protect the wilderness environment.

The Audubon Society of Kentucky, formed in 1910, was one of the earliest state chapters. Outings began around Lexington in 1911; today there are walks and bird observation trips, and local environmental education programs. You can help support its mission by visiting the Audubon Birdseed Sale, which will be 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Jan. 15 and 22 at Southern States Cooperative, 2570 Palumbo Drive. Call (859) 254-4747 for more information.

The group also is organizing free hikes to nearby birding hot spots on Feb. 5, 20 and 26 and March 5 and 19. For details and locations, visit: Audubonsocietyofky.home.insightbb.com.

Club secretary David Lang said the biggest effect on birds in and around Lexington is "probably loss of habitat due to continued development."

"On the plus side is the city program to improve stream-side habitat by limiting mowing around streams, and planting trees," Lang said. "This really improves the habitat for several species of birds. This year we have seen short-eared owls roosting there, along one of the streams in the long grass that used to be cut short." Lang, whose photographs record his birding trips, said there are several photographers in the group.

"We have had an increase in the number of people coming out on our walks recently, with newer birders joining the ranks," he said.

Coming up Feb. 18 to 21 is the Great Backyard Bird Count, co-sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. You may participate by filling in online checklists after making observations in your area. To participate, see Birdsource.org/gbbc.

You may join and support the National Audubon Society, as well as learn more about projects and access bird count data at its Web site, Audubon.org.

Programs at Lexington's two natural areas

The Lexington parks and recreation department offers programs at Raven Run and McConnell Springs.

Raven Run Nature Sanctuary, a 734-acre preserve at 5888 Jacks Creek Road, opened a $1.8 million, 4,800-square-foot visitor center in September. It's home to many environmental programs. A free Woodcock Watch program — in which, nature permitting, you may witness the unusual, seasonal flight dance of this small, ground-dwelling bird — is scheduled for 7 p.m. March 19. To register, call (859) 272-6105.

For the younger set, McConnell Springs Nature Park at 416 Rebmann Lane is offering a free Junior Naturalist program at 11 a.m. Jan. 15. This 26-acre historic site, settled in 1775 by William McConnell, is nestled close to downtown in an industrial area, yet the water and trees, including large bur oaks, still attract many birds. Children 10 and younger are invited to bring a rinsed-out milk jug or soda bottle to use in making a bird feeder, and they will learn about birds that visit feeders in our local neighborhoods. To register, call (859) 225-4073.

Information on both nature areas may be found at Lexingtonky.gov — click on "Parks and Recreation" and then on "Natural Areas."

Migrating birds make stops at state parks

Sandhill cranes migrate through Kentucky this time of year. At Barren River Lake State Resort Park in Barren County, you can learn more about them from park and Kentucky wildlife biologists. Attend a Nature Watch Weekend lecture and viewing program at sunrise or sunset, as thousands of these large, stately birds leave in the early morning to find food in nearby cornfields, and return to their roosting areas for the night. Programs are scheduled Jan. 21 and 22, and Feb. 18 and 19. Information is at Parks.ky.gov. Preregistration and advance payment are required. The $30 fee includes the program, tour, a box lunch and a T-shirt.

You might want to spend a night there before or after your event, as the sunrise tours begin at 5:30 or 6 a.m. For information, call 1-800-325-0057.

Migrating American bald eagles are also on the naturalists' agendas at many state parks. An Eagle Watch Weekend is scheduled at Kentucky Dam Village, with trips going out Jan. 22 and 23; at Kenlake, Feb. 5 and 6; Lake Barkley, Jan. 29 and 30; and Dale Hollow Lake, Feb. 4 and 5. Tour details vary depending on whether they are by bus, van or boat. Information may be found at Parks.ky.gov.

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