This was a successful Christmas Bird Count (CBC) season in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The number of CBCs increased from 32 last year to 37 this year. Significantly, this is the first time that all Kentucky CBCs were also input into the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count database. A total of 143 species was recorded, up slightly from last year’s 139. There were three additional count week species reported: SNOWY OWL (requires KBRC review), Long-eared Owl, and Nashville Warbler. All three birds were well-documented; only the Snowy Owl was photographed. Total individuals was 393,893, and includes only birds identified to species. Seven count circles tallied 90 or more species: Paradise (95); East Allen County (94); Barren River Lake (92); Ballard County, Elkton, Lincoln’s Birthplace, and Russell-Adair County (90 each). Five count circles reported between 80 and 87 species, seven observed between 70 and 75 species, and the remaining 18 counted between 40 and 69 species.
Weather was cool and mild in Kentucky. The low temperature of -2°F in Falmouth (Jan. 1) was lower than the ten-year average low temperature of 15°F for the Commonwealth. Similarly, the high temperature of 58°F (Barren River Lake and Elkton, Dec. 21 and 22, respectively) was lower than the ten-year average high temperature of 67°F. Partly cloudy or cloudy weather was reported all day on 25 counts, but only eight counts reported rain (with all-day rain on 3 counts). No snow was reported. Rivers and creeks were generally open or partly frozen. Lakes and ponds varied from frozen to open. As always, the distribution of count days across the count period was not uniform. With the traditional holidays and related travel falling on the weekends this year, counts were concentrated on two days: 10 counts were held on Saturday, Dec. 16, and 5 were conducted on Monday, Jan. 1. There were five days in the count period on which no counts were done.
Highlights of this CBC season include the following. Most of these are documented by photographs, and all have considerable identification notes on the rarities: Ross’s Goose (39 on 8 counts), Cackling Goose (29 on 3 counts), Mute Swan (7 at Shelbyville), Tundra Swan (4 at Paradise), White-winged Scoter (2 at Green River Lake), Ruffed Grouse (1 at Ashland, Boyd County), Eared Grebe (2 at Russell-Adair County), Virginia Rail (1 at Paradise), Whooping Crane (flyover; 3 at Barren River Lake; italics indicate not countable in KY), Dunlin (2 at East Allen County), American Woodcock (1 at Ballard), Lesser Black-backed Gull (1 at Green River Lake), Forster’s Tern (11 at Land Between the Lakes), Red-throated Loon (2 on Barren River Lake), Great Egret (1 at Louisville), Black-crowned Night-Heron (12 at Louisville), Rough-legged Hawk (4 on 4 counts), Golden Eagle (3 on 2 counts), Merlin (10 on 6 counts), Peregrine Falcon (5 at Louisville), White-eyed Vireo (1 at Danville), Blue-headed Vireo (3 on 2 counts), House Wren (14 on 9 counts), Sedge Wren (2 on 2 counts), Gray Catbird (1 at Kleber WMA), RED CROSSBILL (requires KBRC review; 14 photographed at Paradise), LeConte’s Sparrow (3 on 2 counts), Lincoln’s Sparrow (1 at Paradise), Brewer’s Blackbird (2 at Otter Creek Park), Orange-crowned Warbler (4 on 3 counts) [Ed. Note: 1 was an IN bird], Pine Warbler (9 on 7 counts), Indigo Bunting (1 at West Allen County), and Dickcissel (1 at Burlington).
The ten most numerous species were European Starling (96,567); Common Grackle (88,244); American Robin (32,038); Ring-billed Gull (14,831); Red-winged Blackbird (13,847); Sandhill Crane (13,217); Mallard (12,664); Canada Goose (11,754); American Crow (6568); and Mourning Dove (6566). There were 19 common species that were reported on all 37 counts; 22 species were observed on only one CBC. Five count circles counted over 25,000 birds: East Allen County (40,752); Elkton (36,702); Paradise (36,622); Barren River (35,210); and Sorgho (26,599).
The 414 participants (including some multi-CBC people) logged a total of 1,119.21 party hours and 7,026.39 miles. Birders spent 28.5 hours owling while travelling 105.7 miles. Nineteen feeder watchers logged 44.65 hours observing. We are working to increase CBC participation on some counts, though in some areas far from population centers, it’s difficult to recruit observers. Progress is being made, however.
Historically, many CBCs held in Kentucky were published in The Kentucky Warbler (the quarterly journal of the Kentucky Ornithological Society), but were not included in the NAS CBC database. I am engaged in an ongoing effort to include all such counts that meet qualifying criteria. When that project is complete, better trending can be derived from that foundation of data, as well as making available the data to researchers and the public. Progress is slow but upon completion, this summary will be more substantive, and include trending data such as those included in my peers’ regional summaries.
I offer sincere thanks to the 414 observers who participated in this year’s counts. Most of these observations have also been reported in eBird. My special gratitude goes to the 37 hard-working compilers who organized and executed their counts, submitted count results online, and endured my many requests and questions. To those who completed Rare Bird Reports or otherwise documented the unusual birds, thank you very much.