A lot of Sandhills over that Sand Hill!

This morning welcomed back a south wind to the old green tower site at Indiana Dunes State Park.  Yesterday’s northwest wind created cold and bitter conditions that helped drop the morning low to below freezing (27 degrees start).  Though things warmed up, the winds were again strong this morning, requiring extra coffee to keep warm and active.

Being a Saturday, the birding brought good company, as many birders visited the tower site to help log an amazing day along the lakeshore.  Spotting scopes were set up along the staircase and decking to watch an active flight with many notable sightings.

Over the water, White-winged Scoters put up good numbers for Indiana, as well as the first loons of the season, including both Common Loon and Red-throated Loon.  On land, Red-winged Blackbirds, American Robins, and Starlings would dominate the air.  However, pipits, longspurs, and Horned Larks were also noted moving.  A new Green Tower bird record was set this morning when a pair of European Goldfinch were seen flying by low and at short range.  The bold yellow wing pattern was noted well.

The obvious highlight for the morning was the Sandhill Crane count.  At approximately 8am, the cranes began moving.  At first it was small flocks of 8-10, coming from the east, all heading west.  By 9am the flocks had grown to 80-100 and were a near constant stream of birds cresting the far pine stands and slowly drifting overhead.  Occasionally, Red-tailed Hawks, Red-shouldered Hawks, and Sharp-shined Hawks could be seen between the groups, attempting to kettle on the same thermals.  Hawk highlights also included a flyby Merlin along the beach.  In total 43 birds of prey were logged today.

Migrating Sandhill Cranes, March 10, 2012

Just as quickly as it had started, the cranes completely stopped moving (or we had cleaned out Kankakee FWA!) by 10:45am.  By 11am, most of the day’s flight was complete and only a few more birds were logged during the last hour of counting.  As we seek to answer questions about migration along Lake Michigan, more questions arise.  It would have been great to have a reporter south of the dunes to tell us where these cranes had all come from.

Today alone, 22,396 birds were counted!  The season total is now at 34,589 birds.  A few highlighted totals follow, as well as a small video snippet of some crane counting today.  We look forward to warmer weather and lighter winds tomorrow!  Come on up and join us, and don’t forget to reset your clocks in the morning.

Selected Highlights:

White-winged Scoter- 33
Red-throated Loon- 4
Merlin- 1
Sandhill Crane- 6,644
American Crow- 56
Eastern Bluebird- 68
American Robin- 3,245
Red-winged Blackbird- 4,140
European Goldfinch- 2
Common  Redpoll- 2 

Youtube Video Snippet:

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