The Luck is with Us: Longshore Flight, March 17, 2012

Saturday, March 17 (St. Patrick’s Day) was the 8th consecutive day in which migration was counted from the old Green Tower site at Indiana Dunes State Park.  When the counter position was first envisioned, we figured you would get 3, maybe 4 days of south winds in March, followed by another 2 or 3 days of miserable north winds.  We never anticipated a continuous stream of warming winds with temperatures near 80 degrees.  Many birds have been seen 10-14 days earlier than last year.  Eastern Phoebes were first found at the Green Tower last year on March 23.  This year they appeared on March 11.  Also appearing on March 11 was the first Field Sparrow.  Last year, it was on April 1 that they were first heard.  Finally, the first sapsuckers were found on April 3.  The sapsuckers were found today (technically one was seen after the count period yesterday by Lee Sterrenburg and Kathy McClain!).

This morning's crew awaiting the longshore flight, March 17, 2012.

The morning’s south winds on a Saturday once again brought a larger contingent of Hoosier birders to gawk in the migration.  Ten birders watched the morning flight, providing many eyes and ears.  As predicted, today’s flight brought birds, to the tune of around 12,700 birds.  Robins, grackles, and red-wings continue to dominate the sky.  American Pipits produced a strong showing, with 86 birds seen flying over this morning.  Yesterday’s Norther Flicker flight start up continued today with 97 of the yellow-shafted variety winging it over this morning’s birders.  As mentioned above, the first Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers were also recorded today, with three birds going over.

Winter finches continue to make a presence, with Common Redpoll, Purple Finch, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and Pine Siskin all getting recorded.  Like yesterday, the obvious bird of the day was not one, but two Red Crossbills.  One such bird landed in the nearby pine tree for everyone’s enjoyment!

Hawks brought a modest movement.  While still poor compared to past years, it was the largest flight in days, with Bald Eagle, Osprey, Sharpies, Peregrines, and Kestrels all being seen.  62 birds of prey were logged today.  Sandhill Cranes also flew over late morning.  Today’s count of 2,521 brings the season total over the old Green Tower to 24,529.  In the 2010 Management Plan for Eastern Populations of Sandhill Cranes, estimates of the eastern population of cranes range from 80,000-100,000.  If you use the high end number then we have witnessed 24.5% of the entire eastern population fly over the Indiana Dunes State Park this spring!

The approximate range of the Eastern Population of Sandhill Cranes.
Adapted from Walkinshaw 1973, Jones et al. 2005, King 2008, Melvin 2008, Sutherland and Crins 2008, and International Crane Foundation unpublished data.

By the first 30 minutes tomorrow morning, this project will have reached the 150,000 birds mark over the old Green Tower site.  Tomorrow may bring new spring arrivals, more streams of robins and blackbirds, or a super rarity.  One must show up to find out!  Below are some other season totals for some of the numerous birds we’ve seen.

Red-breasted Merganser: 1,156
Sandhill Crane: 24,529
Ring-billed Gull: 14,299
Eastern Bluebird: 529
American Robin: 29,269
Red-winged Blackbird: 39,870
Common Grackle: 30,028

We’ll close with a great quote from our official counter, Brendan Grube, when describing the constant flow of robins seen this week…., “heading to a neighborhood lawn near you!”

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