A Hawk Advisory!

Today is Sunday, April 15.  Had it not been for the weekend it’d be Tax Day.  Despite it being two days away, the Green Tower counters were treated to a full refund of many birds being held back (some for what has seemed like years!).  Put simply, it was a spectacular day to be observing the longshore flight from every direction.  6,497 individual birds, comprising 76 different species were logged today in the Indiana Dunes State Park.  For those keeping score, the Grube Magnitude Index was 28.72, the 20th best on record.  The list included both record and near record counts, rare and unusual birds, and a return of a real hawk watch, a phenomenon more often talked about then actually witnessed here.  The  stories had become intricately woven tales from another time… until today!

The morning started gloomy.  The rain had cleared, but a large storm with lightning sheered just to the south of the tower.  Though the counters stayed dry, bird migration (and overhead airplanes) were obviously compensating for the storm cell.  Winds were already in the 10-15mph range, with gusts to 20mph at dawn, and built to gusts in excess of 30mph by the early afternoon.  By mid morning, the cloudy and breezy conditions allowed migration to continue in earnest, with loons, cormorants, swallows, and blackbirds being the real notables.

As if the good birding wasn’t enough, real show stoppers appeared every once in a while that proved why migration is so amazing in the Indiana Dunes.  Before noon had hit, the morning’s highlights included: 1 White-winged Scoter50 Red-throated Loons (state single site record), 2 American Golden-Plover, both Greater and Lesser Black-backed Gull, 1 WHITE-WINGED DOVE, 11 Yellow-belled Sapsuckers, 2,369 Tree Swallows (dunes area record count), 22 Cliff Swallows, 1 Smith’s Longspur, 21 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, and 1 Common Redpoll.

Counter Brendan Grube chasing after 2 American Golden-Plovers migrating along the beach.

Long before 9am, the first of many Merlin flew past the counter site.  Given the high winds and cloudy skies, and the fact that no early Sharp-shined Hawks had been seen, the notion of a hawk watch was not on anyone’s mind.  By the 5th, then 6th Merlin to fly past, it became apparent that something special was going to happen and that the count should continue.  Suddenly Osprey began appearing from the east and slowly tilt-gliding their way westward, over the high dunes.  More Merlin, Kestrels, and Harriers began to appear as well.

1 of 15 Osprey seen flying over the Green Tower on 4/15/12. This ties the dunes area record count.

Squinting high into the sky, the mythical hawk watch took flight when the first kettle of Broad-winged Hawks could be seen riding high against the dark clouds.  These hawks had chosen to withstand nearly gale force winds to migrate.  Surely any thermal built from the sun would have been sheered by the high winds.  By 1pm, the kettles of Broad-winged Hawks went from five and six birds, to groups in excess of 20 birds!  All while, Red-tailed, Sharp-shinned, Cooper’s, Kestrels, and a lone Peregrine made their way between swallow flocks.  Before it was done 96 Broad-winged Hawks were counted.  The record grabber of the morning was a new state record 13 Merlins.  The hawk watch total combined for 208 birds (including Turkey Vultures).

Tomorrow promises one more good push of south winds before north winds put a hamper to Tuesday’s count.  From there, winds will flip flop nearly daily.  The full list of 76 species seen from the Bird Capital of the World Green Tower follows.

Canada Goose 3
Wood Duck 7
Mallard 2
Blue-winged Teal 10
White-winged Scoter 1 
Red-breasted Merganser 87
Red-throated Loon 50 
Common Loon 12
Horned Grebe 4
Double-crested Cormorant 248
Great Blue Heron 13
Great Egret 2
Turkey Vulture 27
Osprey (American) 15
Northern Harrier 7
Sharp-shinned Hawk 9
Cooper’s Hawk 4
Red-shouldered Hawk 1
Broad-winged Hawk 96 
Red-tailed Hawk 14
American Kestrel 19
Merlin 13 
Peregrine Falcon 1
American Golden-Plover 2
Killdeer 8
Solitary Sandpiper 2
Greater Yellowlegs 3
Lesser Yellowlegs 2
Pectoral Sandpiper 5
Ring-billed Gull 436
Herring Gull 26
Lesser Black-backed Gull 1 
Great Black-backed Gull 1
Caspian Tern 24
Rock Pigeon 2
Mourning Dove 81
Chimney Swift 37
Belted Kingfisher 2
Red-bellied Woodpecker 3
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 11
Downy Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker 5
Pileated Woodpecker 1
Blue Jay 13
American Crow 2
Northern Rough-winged Swallow 101
Purple Martin 25
Tree Swallow 2369
Bank Swallow 8
Barn Swallow 201
Cliff Swallow 22
Tufted Titmouse 2
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 21
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1
Eastern Bluebird 7
American Robin 108
Brown Thrasher 1
European Starling 51
Cedar Waxwing 30
Smith’s Longspur 1 
Pine Warbler 3
Yellow-rumped Warbler 10
Eastern Towhee 1
Chipping Sparrow 19
Field Sparrow 1
Dark-eyed Junco 3
Northern Cardinal 2
Red-winged Blackbird 1914
Rusty Blackbird 1
Common Grackle 66
Brown-headed Cowbird 30
House Finch 5
Common Redpoll 1 
American Goldfinch 182
House Sparrow 2


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