Amazing Migration

Thursday, May 12 was a great migration day in the dunes.  The overnight period brought warm southerly winds, but a massive storm cell marched across northern Illinois and into Lake Michigan creating a blockage for migrants, in addition to an excellent pre-dawn lightning show over the lake.  During all of this the dunes remained dry, and those out before the sun rose could hear the chips of warblers and other migrants flying over.

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Cooper’s Hawk hanging out at the bird feeders… not eating bird seed!  

The list was the most diverse yet, with 109 species being recorded.  3,689 individual birds were counted.  The goodies were numerous.  The Grube Magnitude Index, which is used to score the intensity and diversity of our longshore flights was exceptional.  Thursday’s flight was 78.61, which is the fifth highest count recorded from the tower.  49 species really added to the count.  Major contributors were Rose-breasted Grosbeak- 65 (9th largest Ind count) contributed 9.3 points, Eastern Kingbird- the 257 counted (8th largest Ind count) generated 4.28 toward the total, and Yellow Warbler- 16 were tallied, which came to 4.68 Grube Mag points.  Others posting great counts were 1,207 Blue Jays, 311 Balimore Orioles, 448 Pine Siskins, and 476 American Goldfinch.  Wow!

Just this week 13 new species have been added to the annual tower list.  On Thursday, three were added.  Those being Blackpoll Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, and White-winged Dove. Chats are very hard to find in the dunes.  The dove has become nearly an annual from the tower site. Total species now for the year stands at 192.  Will we hit 200 before it’s done?

To read the complete list for Thursday, May 12, check the ebird list here. 

Sky full of Orange!

Greetings from the jam packed Indiana Dunes Birding Festival.  It’s been an amazing weekend of great folks and interesting birds.  Too many to mention right now.  But for now, let’s get an update on the Longshore Flight that took place yesterday, May 7. After two days of north winds, we had a great influx of birds for Saturday morning.  By 9am, a storm front moved through and shifted things back, but in an abbreviated 3.5 hour count, we logged thousands of birds.

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For the brief morning, 6,009 individual birds were counted by our counter and participating birders who packed the tower site.  81 species was the total for the day.

Special highlights included a flyby American Avocet that landed on the beach, Merlin, Sedge Wren, 26 pipits, and 14 Bobolinks.  The 1,196 Pine Siskins was also an amazing count.  This count looks to be the 4th highest state record ever recorded!

As impressive as the siskins are, the Baltimore Oriole flight was spectacular.  Orioles went by in groups of 12 and 14 in a fast action migration, with lots of singing whenever one would stage on a nearby cottonwood.  The former state record was 464 orioles seen by Ken Brock and Jeff McCoy at the same tower in 2003.  Saturday’s count of 536 is the new tentative state record!

For today’s full list, see the eBird post or scroll down below.

Canada Goose  10
Wood Duck  1
Mallard  2
Blue-winged Teal  3
Double-crested Cormorant  20
Great Blue Heron  1
Great Egret  1
Green Heron  4
Turkey Vulture  4
Sharp-shinned Hawk  1
Sandhill Crane  1
American Avocet  1
Killdeer  1
Spotted Sandpiper  2
Solitary Sandpiper  13
Lesser Yellowlegs  9
Ring-billed Gull  10
Herring Gull  1
Caspian Tern  2
Common Tern  2
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  1
Mourning Dove  15
Chimney Swift  224
Ruby-throated Hummingbird  3
Red-headed Woodpecker  2
Red-bellied Woodpecker  1
Downy Woodpecker  1
Merlin  1
Least Flycatcher  1
Eastern Phoebe  1
Eastern Kingbird  82
Warbling Vireo  3
Blue Jay  386
American Crow  1
Northern Rough-winged Swallow  4
Purple Martin  1
Tree Swallow  5
Bank Swallow  1
Barn Swallow  10
Cliff Swallow  2
Black-capped Chickadee  1
Tufted Titmouse  1
White-breasted Nuthatch  1
House Wren  1
Sedge Wren  1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  46
Eastern Bluebird  4
American Robin  22
Gray Catbird  1
Brown Thrasher  1
European Starling  5
American Pipit  26
Cedar Waxwing  30
Tennessee Warbler  2
Common Yellowthroat  1
Yellow Warbler  18
Palm Warbler  2
Pine Warbler  1
Yellow-rumped Warbler  23
Chipping Sparrow  1
Field Sparrow  1
White-crowned Sparrow  7
White-throated Sparrow  2
Song Sparrow  1
Swamp Sparrow  1
Eastern Towhee  2
Summer Tanager  1
Scarlet Tanager  9
Northern Cardinal  1
Rose-breasted Grosbeak  15
Indigo Bunting  62
Bobolink  14
Red-winged Blackbird  1675
Common Grackle  63
Brown-headed Cowbird  2
Orchard Oriole  11
Baltimore Oriole  536
House Finch  3
Pine Siskin  1196
American Goldfinch  1387
House Sparrow  1

Longshore Flight- May 3- Quick Update


After a long string of north winds, it finally looks like we’ll be back in business again.  Though the current forecast has winds wobbling around back and forth, at least some south wind is in the forecast.  This couldn’t have come at better timing with the 2nd Annual Indiana Dunes Birding Festival bringing over 400 birders to the area later this week.

Today, a virtually no wind day sent a few birds flying.  Aside from 391 Blue Jays, no major surprised flew by in the cool, but sunny morning.  Several firsts are now coming in, including Bobolinks, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Sedge Wren, and Gray Catbird.  We’re still seeing flyby Merlins, which are always cool.  The full list is below of all 79 species is below. 1,278 birds total.  To catch up on all the sightings, visit the eBird link.

Canada Goose  6
Wood Duck  6
Mallard  1
Red-breasted Merganser  7
Common Loon  7
Horned Grebe  3
Double-crested Cormorant  16
Great Blue Heron  4
Great Egret  1
Green Heron  1
Turkey Vulture  4
Sharp-shinned Hawk  5
Cooper’s Hawk  1
Red-tailed Hawk  2
Sandhill Crane  2
Killdeer  1
Bonaparte’s Gull  2
Ring-billed Gull  10
Herring Gull  2
Caspian Tern  17
Common Tern  4
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  30
Mourning Dove  12
Chimney Swift  187
Ruby-throated Hummingbird  1
Red-headed Woodpecker  5
Red-bellied Woodpecker  3
Downy Woodpecker  4
Hairy Woodpecker  1
Northern Flicker  1
American Kestrel  1
Merlin  1
Eastern Kingbird  3
Warbling Vireo  1
Blue Jay  391
American Crow  1
Northern Rough-winged Swallow  5
Purple Martin  5
Tree Swallow  54
Bank Swallow  19
Barn Swallow  11
Cliff Swallow  14
Black-capped Chickadee  1
Tufted Titmouse  1
White-breasted Nuthatch  1
House Wren  2
Winter Wren  1
Sedge Wren  1
Carolina Wren  1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  8
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  2
Eastern Bluebird  1
American Robin  7
Gray Catbird  1
Brown Thrasher  2
European Starling  16
American Pipit  3
Palm Warbler  1
Yellow-rumped Warbler  2
Chipping Sparrow  3
Field Sparrow  3
White-crowned Sparrow  6
White-throated Sparrow  5
Song Sparrow  1
Lincoln’s Sparrow  1
Eastern Towhee  3
Northern Cardinal  2
Rose-breasted Grosbeak  1
Indigo Bunting  6
Bobolink  1
Red-winged Blackbird  235
Common Grackle  27
Brown-headed Cowbird  4
Orchard Oriole  2
Baltimore Oriole  19
House Finch  10
Pine Siskin  5
American Goldfinch  39
House Sparrow  2


Stand Still- rarities coming!

Well it’s been a quiet week at Lake Michigan, Indiana, our hometown, out on the edge of the migration.  Things got a little colder here this last week.  While Sunday and Monday brought a mini heat wave and the pulse of migrants, a strong north wind clipper quickly shut off that valve Tuesday morning.  Fortunately the birds arrived Monday night and found no place to go, so we benefited and continue to do so if you’re bundled up enough to find them in the gloomy weather since then.  No more bluebird blue skies, but more phoebe gray perhaps.  The locals are practicing their silhouette birding skills, and warming up their warbler necks in anticipation of the next wave to come.  It drives you out to bird, just knowing there is something here that’s new to see.  Some new vireo in the treetops that has yet gone unseen this year.  New shorebirds are possible in the wet puddle, pond, or fuddle along some county road.  Maybe it’s the bright orange of an oriole at your feeder on a dreary morning, proving that spring is in fact coming, or more accurately  we’ll go from winter right to summer as is usually expected anymore.

The local Prothonotary Warbler is back at the Wilson boardwalk, Indiana Dunes State Park.

With those early Tuesday arrivals, was a pair of Prothonotary Warblers at the Dunes State Park board walk near the Wilson Shelter.  A single male typically heralds the season of golden yellow on the boardwalk, but apparently two males this past week found the wetland full of buttonbush and spatterdock to their liking.  The early bugs hugging the relatively warmer waters brought N Waterthrushes, Yellow-rumps, Palms, Orange-crowed Warblers all to feed near the surface at eye level.  All the while two bright yellow Prothonotaries dart around, each trying to sing louder then the other, and then to suddenly be pounced by the second bird, only to dart around and do it all again, all oblivious to the surrounding animals watching their hormone driven antics. Much like school boys swooning over a new belle in the school yard. a showmanship of one up man’s ship took place for many to see Tuesday morning.

From inside the Nature Center, plans are buzzing, people are moving now at a feverish pace as we prepare for the second annual Indiana Dunes Birding Festival.  If you’re wishing to attend, and haven’t registered, well things may be a bit late.  You know what they say about the early bird… Nonetheless there are activities abound for folks, whether registered or not.  Final preparations are being made, banners being hung, signs being made, merchandise and giveaways secured and counted.  With that comes prayers and hopes for good weather.  Of course, it’s more than birds were interested in too.  No doubt you, like other birders, enjoy the foxes, moles, rabbits, deer, and other wildlife that will be around for one of a kind glimpses.  We’ve done much for conservation in NW Indiana and no doubt you’ll see something special, no matter the weather.  A mink bounds along even a ditch, seeking out frogs, crayfish, or a thirsty vole.  The new Reynold’s Creek GHA, east of Chesterton offers a peek of nature coming back.  How quickly to things show up when given the chance, and solitude reserved for them.  A Great-horned Owl reclaims the territory first given to him by the Creator.  He slow glides over newly freed meadows and prairies on the edge of the forestland in search of young pheasants.  Baby pheasants, the delicacy of predators, found only where nature has been allowed to flourish.

Rare Snowy Egrets found in the dunes area today.  Photo by Kristin Stratton.

To find these amazing sights, seek out on your own.  Forge new paths, travel down un-ventured roads.  If you’re ready to chase, use our Indiana Dunes Rare Bird Alert.  You’ll join nearly 1,700 people who get rare birds in the dunes sent to their phone or email.  With any hope we’ll have plenty of alerts to send out and plenty of birds to come in the next few days as we wait this current cold system out.  East to northeasterly surface flow will continue for the next several days.  This will keep the current selection of migrants here for plenty to see.  Over a dozen species of warblers have already been logged in the dunes just this week.  Butter-butts remain the abundant warbler.  Temperatures do look to be on a slow warming trend early next week…with mainly dry weather expected.  Let’s keep our fingers crossed this plays out and new birds arrive in time for the bird fest.

That’s the news from Indiana Dunes, where all the Blue Jays are strong, all the sparrows are good looking, and all our fledgling colts are above average.  :)

Bonanza of New Arrivals

With real south winds overnight, not those pesudo southeast imposters, a good movement of bird arrived in the dunes.  With dawn before 6am, and a beautiful spring dune scene unfolding, new songs could be heard all around.  As expected, the longshore flight benefited with by producing the highest species total for the season.    The morning ended with 82 species seen.  Bluejays, goldfinch, and blackbirds helped carry the individual total to 4,730 birds counted today.  The season now stands at 153.

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Lark Sparrow singing near tower today.  4/25/16.

New birds were plenty.  Within the first hour the first Yellow Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Lark Sparrow, Indigo Bunting, Baltimore Oriole, and Orchard Oriole all flew past.  Later in the morning, a even rarer (for the dunes) Blue Grosbeak visited the tower site.  The recent fire next to the tower has been a benefit to bug eating birds who come down to check it out.  In addition to sparrows, an abundance of Palm Warblers have been using it.  Today, 75 Palms were counted.  Yellow-rumps also deserve a mention, since a decent 177 went by as well.

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One of 68 Pine Siskins today, 4/25/16.

The Blue Jay flight improved dramatically from yesterday’s start.  It was the first 1,000+ Blue Jay day.  The near constant stream of dozens at a time went by, all going east.  With them, smaller American Goldfinches also posted their first 1,000+ day too.  1,049 little undulating wild canaries were logged.  Mixed in were more siskins.  Pine Siskins, in recent years, have put on an incredible late spring push through the dunes.  It’s not rare to see large groups moving past the tower in May.  Today, 68 more went past.

Not to be outdone, the hawkflight was stellar today. What lacked today in Red-tailed Hawk and Sharp-shinned Hawk counts was easily made up for with the Broad-winged Hawk number.  206 individual Broad-winged Hawks kettled past the tower.  It is the highest total we’ve had since officially starting the longshore flight in 2012, and sits in the top 10 count of highest BWHA records.  Also noteworthy was the season’s first Rough-legged Hawk.  Earlier April weather had prevented any hawk watch, and we were afraid the season could have finished without having logged one.

Rounding out the notables was a good swallow movement, with all species being logged.  Orange-crowned Warbler was seen again today.  A single Rusty Blackbird joined some Red-winged Blackbirds.  Lastly, a singing Purple Finch serenaded the observers today.

All in all, a good day.  See today’s complete list of all 82 species here.

P.s.  a Rose-breasted Grosbeak at the writer’s house this afternoon in Valpo, but not official on the tower list this year… yet!

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Rose-breasted Grosbeak in Valpo today.  

An Old Fashioned Dunes Hawk Watch!

Sunday, April 24, saw the return of another dunes longshore flight count after two days of unpleasant weather.  Winds were late to turn to the south, finally shifting after midnight, resulting in the sunrise temperature being a chilly 49 degrees as the south winds started picking up.  As such, little arrived as far as new arrivals, but the day was a beautiful spring scene for the dunes.  For every bird seen, a park visitor made use of the tower area or nearby beach today.  The first beach swimmers were even spotted, as the lower area near the shore warmed quickly without the direct wind. Folks enjoyed the water, despite it still being around 46 degrees.

By the end of the day’s count 3,396 birds were logged, from 71 species.  One species was officially added today, Eastern Kingbird, but no warblers were new to the scene. Over the lake, it was a slow show, with a single merganser and two flyby loons comprising the majority of the waterbird show.  Blackbirds made a good early morning movement. By now, most are females only, with a few grackles mixed in.

Blue Jay past the tower.  

Blue Jays grouped to stage their first significant migration of the season.  Today’s 188 was a good early movement, and surely a tease of what’s to come.  Many were also utilizing the feeder area nearby.  Goldfinches continued their late April movement, with over 300 flying by.  21 siskins also flew past.  Rounding out the finches were 2 Purple Finches, including one singing individual.

Broad-winged  Hawk over the tower. Photo by Pete Grube. 

As mentioned in the title above, hawks finally moved today!  Though normally only par for a hawkwatch, today’s nearly 150 raptors constituted one of the best days thus far since starting in early March.  After the 41 Turkey Vultures, today’s 35 Broad-winged Hawks was an impressive sight. Several groups circled directly over the tower as they kettled higher and higher and drifted east along the lakefront. Many Red-taileds and Sharpies followed the same line.  Mixed in were also a few Bald Eagles and an Osprey.  Finally, one of three Merlins came by and landed in the nearby cottonwood to destroy some prey it had caught.  It picked and ripped into an unidentified food source for several minutes.

The upcoming weather pattern looks to be blocking again, but Monday should provide a last major movement before May arrives. To read today’s full list, visit here.



Misty Morning

The last of the south winds pushed through the area on Thursday.  As usual just before the cold front, rain was in the forecast.  At dawn the first wave of rain was out of the area and to the east, a nice southern wind was dominating still.  However, a light, fine mist was still hanging in the air that failed to show up on any radar signatures.  A fog was also present, limiting visibility to about 1/2 mile.  Mt Tom was barely visible in the distance, and Lake Michigan was a calm soup with no horizon line to be seen.

Despite the dreary conditions, a few goodies went by, and we were again able to log a few new arrivals to bring the season total up to 144.  For the morning, 59 species went by accounting for 1,403 total birds.  While one of the season’s lowest, it was a diverse list.

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Rusty Blackbird this morning.

New for the season were 3 Green Herons, a Winter Wren, a good looking Orange-crowned Warbler, and Brewer’s Blackbird.  Other notable highlights were a both Wilson’s Snipe and Greater Yellowlegs flybys, two lingering sapsuckers, and some late juncos still hanging out.  At one point a singing Rusty Blackbird came within scope distance and hanged out in one of the budding cottonwood trees.

The final highlight was a super fast Merlin who buzzed the top of the tower and swooped up to land on the cottonwood immediately next to the tower.  It posed, preened, and dried it’s wet feathers for several minutes to the delight of the tower watchers.

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Merlin posing at the tower site.  

For the complete list for Thursday, April 21, visit here.  For the season totals so far, visit here.



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