The Descent

The old Green Tower site at Indiana Dunes State Park allows birders to stand in the middle of the road.  While looking down, you won’t see a pair of yellow stripes, but if you look up at dawn you’ll realize you’re smack dab in the middle of a migration super-highway.  The word migration comes from the Latin word, migratus which means “to change.”  The change that occurred yesterday will not be the same as the change that occurs today.  The magic of documenting this bird migration is that no day is ever the same.  The first bird seen today (Brown Creeper, by the way) is not likely to be the first seen tomorrow.  Remember, migration is a promise…

This morning promised to be slightly better than today.  No rain on the radar and a forecast for stronger winds made one think that the migration would be stronger, i.e. more birds, than yesterday.  Today was the 11th consecutive day of south winds, and also the warmest dawn this entire spring season.  For the last week we’ve been seeing diminishing returns, with each day producing slightly less birds than the day before.  The south winds may have birds stretched out, whereas the typical north wind fronts bottle birds up and provide spectacular releases when the winds do shift back again.

5,631 individual birds were logged at the old tower site this morning.  4 new birds upped the season total to 102 species.  Those being, Gadwall, Caspian Tern, Rough-legged Hawk, and Brown Creeper.  The terns arriving just after the record early date for the dunes area.

Despite the lower total, scores of good birds were seen today.  They include another flyby Short-eared Owl, both expected loon species, 72 raptors (including Bald Eagle), 244 Sandhill Cranes, Red-breasted Nuthatch, another spectacularly early Palm Warbler, and 17 Purple Finches.

The obvious highlight for those up there this morning was the continuation of yesterday’s Northern Flicker flight.  The woodpecker flocks, or descents, brought groups of undulating birds overhead at close range.  “wicka wicka wicka” could be heard constantly, followed a minute later by another descent of undulation.  Occasionally, a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker would zip by with them as well.  Today’s Flicker count was a massive 295 birds seen in just a few hours.  Over 770 have been seen this season already!

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker at the old Green Tower site.

Another birding highlight is occurring not at the old Green Tower site, but just a few miles away, where the annual parliament (yes, another flock term) of Long-eared Owls is beginning to build up as they migrate around Lake Michigan.  The local pineries can host up to half a dozen of these denizens of the deep woods.  This year, one particular male is under the belief that a certain Jack pine tree provides invisibility to all that seek him out.  If you’ve ever sought out a Long-eared Owl you know how flighty they can be.  Long-eared Owls should be found in the dunes now and through most of April.

Long-eared Owl hiding in the Jack pines in the dunes this spring. Click to enlarge.

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