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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Longshore Flight- April 20

Here’s a quick update on the unique flight recorded yesterday, April 20.  The day was much windier than we’ve had of late.  Highs were in the low 70s, with 20 mph winds from the SE.  Most incredible was the first real hawk flight of the season!  For the day, 64 species making up 5,836 individual birds.  This was the best total count this week.

Highlights for the day included a lone and late Trumpeter Swan on the lake, 1 Solitary Sandpiper (go figure!), 12 Lesser Yellowlegs, 42 Caspian Terns, 4 American White Pelicans, 3 Merlins, 2 Bank Swallows, an early Blue-headed Vireo, 4046 Red-winged Blackbirds, and 126 American Goldfinch.

Probably most exciting was the raptor count.  147 raptors were logged in a few short hours.  48 Broad-winged Hawks were the most numerous bird of the day, with 44 Sharp-shinned Hawks coming in a close second.  All three expected falcons were also logged.

Season total now 139 species.  The full list is here.

 

Red-tailed Hawk of the Season
Red-tailed Hawk over the tower site. 

 

Flames Up… Temperature Down…

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Northeast winds today in the dunes.

Today, April 19, brought a stark contrast to the previous few days.  Clouds rolled in overnight, and morning lows generally failed to warm along the lakeshore, but as seen by the accompanying wind map, the angle and direction is everything.  Just farther south, winds being carried over land warmed areas south of here.  The mid-day temperature in Valparaiso was 73 degrees. The mid-day temperature in the state park was 48 degrees.  A northeast wind prevailed all day, putting the squash on any significant longshore flight.

Despite this, we still logged two new species for the year.  As often happens ahead of a cold front, a few shorebirds moved by.  The most notable was a pair of Dunlin that spent the better part of the entire morning directly in front of the tower site on the beach.  Farther west, our first Spotted Sandpiper made an appearance too.

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Dunlin on the beach this morning, 4/19/16.  Note the slight hint of black developing on it’s undersides.

Other notables in today’s small 23 species list included 3 tardy Common Mergansers, an excellent count of 30 Common Loons, and a lone Merlin.

In addition to weather, site conditions were a little different to start the day.  A pre-dawn fire in the old house that has sat for many years at the park’s border with the national park was involved in a fire today.  By dawn, the building was torched, with a good acre of marram grass up in flames near the tower. Fortunately, a planned fire line for an upcoming prescribed fire stopped it’s advance on the north wind.  But no doubt it would have been a big disappointment to see the tower site go up in flames had we had the usual west winds.

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Burned out area immediately west of the longshore tower.

Today’s full list is here.  Below is some video of today’s Dunlins.

Diminishing Returns of Migration

Monday, April 18 saw the fifth consecutive day of longshore counting. Overnight lows stayed a mild 57 degrees and warmed to a stifling 87 degrees in town.  Fortunately, a north lake breeze right at the shore and tower site helped to temper the heat, but the winds were light enough that the cooling winds did not travel too far inland today.  As we’ve learned after long stretches of warm and generally southern winds, each day produces less and less of a migration.  Though continuous, the pulse of migrants becomes a steady trickle, until a cold front or similar weather system resets the migration and a new pulse starts the cycle again.  Today’s total was 1,059 birds, comprised of 68 species. The last four days all saw totals of 2,000+ birds.

Despite the smaller returns right now, new species continue to show up and the newly arrived are growing in numbers.  We added two new species today with the addition of a flyby Northern Mockingbird, and more unusual a far flying American Bittern.  Mockingbirds are generally rare in the dunes area and the bittern is typically far more secretive.  We’re now at 132 species for the season.

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One of many Common Loons on the big lake today.

Other highlights for the morning included a season high 27 Common Loons on the lake, 6 Lesser Scaup, 61 flickers, a beach flying Pileated Woodpecker, 76 Yellow-rumped Warblers, 41 Chipping Sparrows, and 9 Pine Siskins. 24 goldfinch today were a tease of the larger goldfinch flight coming in a few weeks.

What was not seen today… not a single hawk, falcon, or eagle.  In fact a single Turkey Vulture made up the entire day’s hawkflight.  Signs that SE winds do not produce hawkflights can be written in stone now!

To see today’s entire 68 species list, click here.  

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