Christmas Bird Count numbers species in Fayette County

A cardinal was spotted on Whites Lane in southern Fayette County during Saturday's annual Christmas Bird Count in Lexington.
A cardinal was spotted on Whites Lane in southern Fayette County during Saturday's annual Christmas Bird Count in Lexington. HERALD-LEADER

More than 100 years ago, it was a tradition to go out and shoot as much game, including birds, as possible.

Then, in 1900, Frank Chapman, founder of a publication that later became Audubon magazine, suggested an alternative: Why not have people hunt birds only to count them?

The first recorded Christmas Bird Count in Lexington was in 1902. On Saturday, teams of people continued the annual tradition, driving from Denny's on Nicholasville Road to count birds in Fayette and Jessamine counties.

About 25 people worked in 12 teams. One team included Joe Pulliam; his wife, Doreen Jezek; and fellow birder Mike King. They set out for southeastern Fayette County in a Honda CR-V.

They scoured fields, ponds, fence rows and utility lines for any feathered friend they could find. Periodically they stopped, got out and looked through binoculars or a spotting scope to check promising places. In hushed, matter-of-fact tones they would begin to document what they saw or heard:

"Two crows."

"A dove just flew over."

"There's a kingfisher."

"Wood ducks, good."

When they came upon a pink yard flamingo at the end of Whites Lane, not far from Raven Run Nature Sanctuary, they joked about counting it.

"Birders have a good sense of humor," Jezek said.

During last year's national count, more than 62,000 volunteers documented more than 61 million birds in the United States, Canada, parts of Latin America and the Pacific islands.

The data collected by observers during the past century allowed researchers, conservation biologists and others to study the long-term health and status of bird populations.

"That is one of the neat things about birding, is that it's very much a citizen science," Pulliam said. "You really can have a lot of participation from thousands of people that really have no formal training, and yet they can make a valuable contribution."

For example, in the 1980s the bird count data were used to document the decline of wintering populations of the American black duck. Conservation measures were put in place to reduce hunting pressure on the species.

The Pulliam-Jezek-King team spotted a black duck Saturday and other waterfowl — mallards, Canada geese and a hooded merganser, a kind of diving duck with a saw-edged bill.

There are concerns for other species now. Populations of rusty blackbirds, similar to grackles, are down from 20 years ago. American kestrels, the smallest U.S. falcon that is seen perched on Kentucky utility lines, are also on the decline.

"It could be competition from other birds of prey that are starting to get their numbers back," Pulliam said.

From 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Pulliam's team identified 41 species in its assigned section of the county. More than 80 species were identified in Fayette County during last year's count.

Birding has been a hobby for Pulliam and Jezek for 10 years. Pulliam also photographs birds, and Jezek compiles the photos into scrapbooks that serve as journals of their trips.

King began birding about four years ago, after he and his wife took an interest in back-yard birds.

"I'm a big fisherman and I just like the outdoors," King said. "To actually be able to categorize a bird and tell what it is is a feeling of accomplishment for me."