Season’s 100,000th bird (and 100th species)!

Early birds logging the birds from atop the tower on April 1, 2015.

Early birds logging the birds from atop the tower on April 1, 2015.

Wednesday, April 1 was a great day for a longshore flight.  After off and on cold spells, it was no joking matter that the counters were ready for some good counting.  By dawn, some decent blackbird and robin flocks started to make an appearance.  It would soon be clear that new arrivals would be flooding in as well.   The sun was bright, winds were light, and viewing conditions were excellent today.

We broke the 3,000 bird slump today with a nice tally of 13,660 birds.  It also helped the count total reach 100,000 birds.  The first time to break 100,000 in the season the last four years are below.  Remember, 2012 was the hot year, 2013 was the average year (Temperatures), and 2014 was the cold year.  It also provided for the 100th bird of the season.  Those being… #98 Yellow-bellied Sapsucker , #99 Eurasian Collared-Dove, and #100 Eastern Towhee.  #101 was not far behind with a pair of American White-Pelicans.

100,000 birds date by season
2012- March 14
2013- March 28
2014- March 31

By mid-morning the cranes starting to migrate.  Despite the first flocks moving weeks ago, there were still plenty bottled up.  An excellent, and season high count of 4,765 cranes migrated over the duneland area.  It was also the best raptor flight of the year.  However, the caveat being that we have not had much of a hawk flight yet.  Some 84 birds of prey would fly over, with Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, and Sharp-shinned Hawks dominating.

Duck diversity was down slightly, but 19 Common Loons were the best of the season thus far.  24 juncos may not seem high, but the singing near the tower all day gave hint to a staging occurring now.  They should start to filter out soon.  Another season high was totaled with Pine Siskin.  48 were zipping past, far earlier than they usually peak at.  What will the next month bring!?

We start April with 104,715 birds, comprising 102 species.  Tomorrow we dodge rain drops, but if the timing is right, it could be another good day.  Time will tell.

 

 

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Lions or Lambs?

Lake and shelf ice still present, March 30, 2015.

Lake and shelf ice still present, March 30, 2015.

Sunny and warmer conditions greeted our longshore flight on Monday, March 30.  It’s been a cycle of cold and warm with very little continuing conditions.  What seems to be missing are multiple days with continued south winds, particularly those that continue through the night to bring a good morning flight.  By Tuesday morning we’ll be under north winds again.  Today’s count ended with 3,186 birds.  3,000 seems to be the daily average lately.  This puts us about 60% of where we might be on an average year, but right on course with where we were in last year’s really cold spring.  Time will tell if the blackbirds and robins ramp up in time for us to get a decent count from them.

Can you guess the accipiter flying by the beach this morning?  Free prize if you guess right!

Can you guess the accipiter flying by the beach this morning? Free prize if you guess right!  Click to enlarge.

Highlights from the day were White-winged Scoter, a few close flying accipiters, the season’s first Caspian Terns, one of the larger House Finch flights observed in the dunes (top 10 count), and continuing Pine Siskins.  53 species were logged for the day.  Notably absent was a good waterfowl flight, or cranes and hawks.  Do hawk flights still exist!  :)

Today’s full list below.

Canada Goose 9
Redhead 1
White-winged Scoter 4
Common Goldeneye 1
Common Merganser 2
Red-breasted Merganser 85
Wild Turkey 1
Red-throated Loon 1
Common Loon 2
Horned Grebe 1
Double-crested Cormorant 3
Great Blue Heron 3
Great Egret 4
Turkey Vulture 8
Northern Harrier 1
Sharp-shinned Hawk 6
Cooper’s Hawk 6
Bald Eagle 1
Red-shouldered Hawk 2
Red-tailed Hawk 5
Sandhill Crane 332
Killdeer 33
Ring-billed Gull 1616
Herring Gull 14
Great Black-backed Gull 2
Caspian Tern 3 FOY
Rock Pigeon  40
Mourning Dove 16
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker 1
American Kestrel 4
Peregrine Falcon 1
Eastern Phoebe 3
Blue Jay 2
American Crow 6
Horned Lark 1
White-breasted Nuthatch 2
Eastern Bluebird 3
American Robin 407
European Starling 84
Cedar Waxwing 4
American Tree Sparrow 7
Song Sparrow 1
Dark-eyed Junco 6
Northern Cardinal 1
Red-winged Blackbird 167
Eastern Meadowlark 10
Common Grackle 38
Brown-headed Cowbird 57
House Finch 164
Pine Siskin 13
American Goldfinch 1
House Sparrow 2

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Slow Going After the Ides of March

Breaking shelf ice seen this week by park staff.  March 2015.

Breaking shelf ice seen this week by park staff. March 2015.

It’s been probably noticeable that we haven’t given much in updates for the last few days.  After the nice surge of warm air that helped thaw things out and melt all the nearby snow, winds have wavered much more, with north winds pushing down the lake every few days.  It’s been rare to have a good night of south winds to prep the counters for a decent longshore flight.

American Kestrel (1 of 2) seen hanging out near the tower site this past week.  March 2015.

American Kestrel (1 of 2) seen hanging out near the tower site this past week. March 2015.

Despite this, there have been a few notables that should be mentioned.  Longshore flight counts occurred on March 20, March 21, and March 23.  None of these counts brought any impressive numbers of birds to the dunes.  In fact, collectively, fewer than 6,000 birds were seen on the three combined days.  Alas, here are the highlights you may have missed….

Common Redpoll just passing through.  March 20, 2015.

Common Redpoll just passing through. March 20, 2015.

1)  On 3/21, a group of 4 hungry Herring Hulls were watched harassing a European Starling.   Despite his or her efforts, Starling flew right out of the beak of 3-4 gulls before finally falling to the water, short of the beach.

2) on 3/20, the season’s single and only Common Redpoll landed near the counters and stuck around for nearly 30 minutes.  It was last seen near the tower feeders, but never actually feeding on them.

3) On a dreary and cold 3/23 with a surprise 4 inches of snow, a beautiful sub-adult Golden Eagle drifted past the tower.

Tower ramp construction work.  March 2015.

Tower ramp construction work. March 2015.

In other news, work progresses slowly on the observation tower ADA access.  With the brief warm up, the footers were set and concrete is ready to be poured into what will be the long accessible ramp to reach the top of the  tower.  We’re hoping work will complete on this phase by late summer.

Lastly, Brock’s Winter Lakefront Report, covering all the good birds seen from December through February is now online.  Access it here.

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More Flights and Lights.

FullSizeRender

Old and new shelf ice after the cold front from early Tuesday, March 17, 2015.

It’s hard to write about the longshore flight after a spectacular day like Monday.  By Monday night the winds were howling.  Weather vanes swung hard from south to north by midnight and Tuesday brought bone chilling cold on the lakefront.  The breaking shelf ice literally built a brand new white cap of ice mounds behind the existing layer.  By Tuesday’s end, the temperatures were thirty degrees cooler and waves could still be heard even though the winds had since died.

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St. Patrick’s Day aurora borealis. Photo courtesy Eric Hines.

The green luck of the Irish was certainly with us Tuesday.  The cold and clear conditions made it perfect for the bravehearts that made it down to the beach to watch one of the best Northern Lights or aurora borealis shows that this author has ever seen on the lakefront.  The perfectly dark skies over Lake Michigan provide for excellent viewing, despite the glowing light pollution from Chicago.

Since the cold front, birds have continued to move, but certainly not the 20,000+ birds that make the longshore flight so exciting.  Flight counts were done on Wednesday and today (Thursday).  Respectively, 6,046 birds and 6,044 birds each day.  Wednesday brought a residual robin flight, while Thursday’s slightly warmer weather brought an impressive 4,394 Sandhill Cranes.  For the season, 12,771 cranes have been recorded flying over the dunes this season.

Unfortunately, no new birds have been recorded since the major cold front came through.  This will no doubt change in the coming days.  Friday looks to welcome in some more warm, south air.

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Who Wants to Be the Millionth Bird!?…

Dawn greeting of thousands of blackbirds, grackles, and robins in the longshore flight.  March 16, 2015.

Dawn greeting of thousands of blackbirds, grackles, and robins in the longshore flight. March 16, 2015.  Click to enlarge.

…that could have been the question of the day!  After a sluggish week start, the longshore flight for Monday, March 16 could only be described as remarkable.  Perhaps for the counters, exhausting!  Dawn arrived at 6:59am local time and within minutes the first streams of blackbirds and robins filled the warm 54 degree air.  It didn’t take long to become apparent that the passerine longshore flight was going to occur primarily right over the beach.  Though many birds would also pass to the south, some 90% of the flight traveled right over the melting shelf ice.  Thousands of birds every fifteen minutes would nearly overwhelm everyone trying to keep tabs on the movement.  The day would end with a mind numbing 40,132 birds!  This is the second highest longshore flight ever recorded!

Sample sky shot during first two hours of longshore flight.  March 16, 2015.

Sample sky shot during first two hours of longshore flight. March 16, 2015.  Click to enlarge.

Congratulations Mr. Robin for being our 1,000,000th visitor to the longshore flight since it's inception in 2012!  March 16, 2015.

Congratulations Mr. Robin for being our 1,000,000th visitor to the longshore flight since it’s inception in 2012! March 16, 2015.

With two counters doing passerines, the writer assisted this morning by logging birds to the south, as well as any waterfowl movement over the lake.  Fortunately, the waterfowl movement was light, with exception of a good Ring-billed Gull migration.  By 9:20am, the robins were waning, but not before producing a probable state record 15, 753 American Robins.  These “Sultans of Spring” more than doubled the previous longshore flight, as well as any single count in the state before today.  So it is only expected that a careful count of the first 2,000 birds would reveal that an American Robin would be the 1,000,000th bird to fly past the tower in our four years of counting!  He or she was in a quick flock of 100 other robins that went by in the first 30 minutes of counting.  We’ll see who guessed robin and award the contest winner tomorrow!

Other notables for the day included, 2 Snow Geese, 1 Long-tailed Duck, 1 “happy to eat passerines” Merlin, 3,528 Sandhill Cranes (another lakeshore top ten count), 135 Killdeer, 2 Tree Swallows, Fox Sparrow, and Purple Finch.  67 species were logged for the day.  With 40,132 new birds, our season total now stands at 63,175 for the year.

Perched Purple Finch in front of the longshore counters today.  MArch 16, 2015.

Perched Purple Finch in front of the longshore counters today. March 16, 2015.

North winds are expected to overtake the region by midnight, so we’ll have a night of rest before evaluating the forecast for the next wind shift and our next wave of birds into the dunes.

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Major Crane Movement

Sunday, March 15 was one of those days to regret if you didn’t make it outside to enjoy the dunes.  Fortunately, those that didn’t were in the minority, as thousands of visitors winged over the sandhills along Lake Michigan.  They were joined by thousands of the human kind too.  It didn’t take long before the sounds of Sandhill Cranes became the background noise to spring football passing, melting lakeshore exploring, and forest and wetland hiking.

Sandhill Cranes migrating over the bird tower site.

Sandhill Cranes migrating over the bird tower site.

The longshore flight for March 15 was greeted with a southerly, yet cold wind, still ailing from yesterday’s northerly wind.  By mid-morning, 50s were soaring into the low 60s, and all sign of the early morning frost was gone.  As winds gained, an assortment of new annual birds flew past the tower, as a small contingent of counters helped reach 53 species for the day, comprising 7,513 individual birds.  It was the best day yet of the season.

New birds for the year were Cackling Goose, Great-horned Owl, Belted Kingfisher, Tree Swallow, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and Song Sparrow.  The season total now sits at 79 species of birds.

By 10am, the first of several waves of cranes began moving over the dunes.  The winds, being stronger than Friday, helped push many of the birds directly over the high dunes to the delight of park visitors.  Most turned westward and drifted towards Chicago in their wagon circling kettles.  In the end, 3,264 cranes migrated along the Lake Michigan shoreline for the day.  This puts the count as the 7th largest longshore  crane flight on record.  There’s still a few days to top the 6,644 counted just a few years ago.

Continuous shots are often needed to get a good open wing shot when blackbirds are going by the Green Tower.

One of 2,000+ Red-winged Blackbirds to fly past today.  10,000+ days are coming.

The full list is below, but first it should be pointed out that the 7,513 birds today brings the season total to 23,043 birds.  We’re now a mere 2,316 birds from the elusive 1 millionth bird.  As you may recall from our previous blog, a drawing will occur… likely tomorrow, to the person that guesses which species will be the great one millionth!  You can guess in the blog comments or on the Indiana Dunes Birding Festival Facebook Page.  The winner gets Brock’s Birds of Indiana Dunes, a bird festival magnet, bird festival bucket hat, and an Indiana Dunes State Park sticker.  Hurry, the 1 millionth will be coming fast.

Cackling Goose 1
Canada Goose 220
Mute Swan 2
Gadwall 1
Mallard 8
Northern Pintail 4
Greater Scaup 1
White-winged Scoter 3
Common Merganser 7
Red-breasted Merganser 333
Turkey Vulture 1
Cooper’s Hawk 4
Bald Eagle 4
Red-shouldered Hawk 4
Red-tailed Hawk 3
Sandhill Crane 3264
Killdeer 29
Ring-billed Gull 33
Herring Gull 1
Mourning Dove 2
Great Horned Owl 1
Belted Kingfisher 1
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1
Downy Woodpecker 1
Pileated Woodpecker 2
American Kestrel 1
Peregrine Falcon 2
Blue Jay 1
American Crow 38
Horned Lark 7
Tree Swallow 1
Black-capped Chickadee 1
Tufted Titmouse 1
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1
White-breasted Nuthatch 1
Carolina Wren 1
Eastern Bluebird 2
American Robin 53
European Starling 63
Cedar Waxwing 12
Yellow-rumped Warbler 1
American Tree Sparrow 1
Song Sparrow 1 FOY
Dark-eyed Junco 3
Northern Cardinal 1
Red-winged Blackbird 2719
Eastern Meadowlark 5
Common Grackle 646
Brown-headed Cowbird 9
House Finch 1
Pine Siskin 7
American Goldfinch 3
House Sparrow 1

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Craning Necks

Friday, March 13 was anything but spooky for the longshore count.  After a good night of south winds, early season waterfowl, early season passerines, and the first real crane flight would post the highest longshore flight of the season. Some 6,000+ birds would drift past the site today, nearly doubling the previous season high thus far.  61 species were seen today.

Though the shelf ice is still a good solid chunk, Dunes Creek is trying hard to punch a hole in it.  The rushing snow melt is piling up along the shore and will help to break it away from it’s footing.  Larger drift ice has now drifted substantially away from the shoreline, making waterfowl easier to see.  Today’s 18 species of waterfowl was a season high and included a nice eclectic mix, ranging from Long-tailed Duck, White-winged Scoter, to pintails and Green-winged Teal.  The appearance of the dabblers hints that some of the wetlands to the south of us must be thawing out.

Cranes drift over the bird observation tower as more are logged on the approach.  3/13/15.

Cranes drift over the bird observation tower as more are logged on the approach. 3/13/15.

20 earliest GREG sightings in the lakefront.  Courtesy Ken Brock.

20 earliest GREG sightings in the lakefront. Click to see larger image.  Courtesy Ken Brock.

Several new arrivals made it on the scene in today’s warmth.  The first Eastern Phoebe was confirmed, though suspected to have been in the area the last few days.  Even more noteworthy was a new lakefront record early date for Great Egret.  A lone bird was flying over the lake, beating the old spring record date by one day.  Click on the graph for the top twenty early record dates for Great Egrets.

By late morning, the first real crane flight took off.  In this first real movement, 847 flew past the site.  They no doubt enjoyed the south winds, but the winds were not strong enough to drive them to the beach for easy counting.  Most saw the imminent lake and turned west, but not before being seen by our stealth eyed counters.

For many days our male bluebird friends has staked out the nesting box right in front of the bird tower.  3/13/15.

For many days our male bluebird friends has staked out the nesting box right in front of the bird tower. 3/13/15.

Today’s full list is below.  The forecast for Saturday does not look promising (north winds), but the winds will shift quickly and build for a Sunday count, and more optimistically, a stellar Monday count.  1 million birds is not far away!

Canada Goose 126
Wood Duck 2
Gadwall 15
American Wigeon 6
Mallard 21
Northern Pintail 41
Green-winged Teal 1
Canvasback 28
Redhead 98
Ring-necked Duck 2
Lesser Scaup 250
White-winged Scoter 43
Long-tailed Duck 1
Bufflehead 21
Common Goldeneye 30
Common Merganser 3
Red-breasted Merganser 251
Red-throated Loon 3
Great Blue Heron 1
Great Egret 1 
Turkey Vulture 3
Bald Eagle 2
Red-shouldered Hawk 1
Red-tailed Hawk 6
Sandhill Crane 847
Killdeer 82
American Woodcock 1 
Ring-billed Gull 233
Herring Gull 100
Great Black-backed Gull 6
Rock Pigeon 7
Mourning Dove 2
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1
Downy Woodpecker 1
Pileated Woodpecker 1
American Kestrel 2
Peregrine Falcon 1
Eastern Phoebe 1 
Blue Jay 1
American Crow 36
Horned Lark 18
Black-capped Chickadee 1
Tufted Titmouse 1
White-breasted Nuthatch 1
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1
Eastern Bluebird 1
American Robin 702
European Starling 395
Cedar Waxwing 17
Lapland Longspur 2
Snow Bunting 7
American Tree Sparrow 1
Dark-eyed Junco 1
Northern Cardinal 2
Red-winged Blackbird 2073
Eastern Meadowlark 3
Common Grackle 803
Brown-headed Cowbird 1
House Finch 1
American Goldfinch 2
House Sparrow 40

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