1/4 Million Birds!

Longshore bird counting is a frustrating balance of birding expertise and humility.  Whether a mile out over Lake Michigan or a speeding bullet 20 feet above your head, you must be ready for a good number of birds to go by un-identified.  With experience, the spectators watch in wonder as birds are identified that might normally go unknown to others.  Even the experts are stumped occasionally.

The most frustrating aspect of missing a bird ID happens right now with the countless warblers migrating by.  Warbler flights after dawn are a strange oddity in themselves.  Why, two, three, four hours after dawn are warblers still going strong?  Logic says nocturnal migrants land at dawn, and diurnal migrants take off at dawn.  A quick anthropomorphism reminds me of heading through Michigan on vacation, and Dad saying, “just another 30 minutes and theirs a better rest stop ahead.”  But, what could be better than the dunes, so why not stop here?  40 species of warblers have been identified in the dunes area.  With many similar color patterns and plumages, identifying them on the wing can be a real challenge, whereas your typical woodland birding may yield higher diversity counts.  Thus, when ten or more species are found at the Green Tower site, it was a good day.

Yellow Warbler in Dunes State Park May 3, 2012. Yellows are one of the easier to identify longshore migrants.

Thursday, May 3 was another good day.  No show stopper rarity stole the show today, but several birds of note made the day pleasant, and warm (hottest count day of the season).  The total count for the day was 7,321 individuals.  Only seven less than yesterday.  However, total species diversity went from yesterday’s 101 to 87 species.  A major milestone was reached today with the passing of 1/4 million birds for the season!

Northern Harrier flying over Lake Michigan, May 3, 2012.

With visiting veteran birder, Ed Hopkins, in co-pilot this morning, several great counts were made, and a new state record was achieved.  The best highlights were: 9 American White Pelicans (rare on the lakefront), 25 migrating Red-headed Woodpeckers, 127 Eastern Kingbirds (nearly a dunes top 10 count), 2,515 Blue Jays (possible 9th largest state count), 32 Cliff Swallows, 248 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers (new Indiana state record, doubles yesterdays breaking of the state record), 574 Cedar Waxwings, 454 Yellow-rumped Warblers, 178 Palm Warblers (state’s 5th largest count), 140 Indigo Buntings, 115 Baltimore Orioles, and 1,718 American Goldfinch.

Baltimore Oriole stopping for a brief second for a few songs before migrating past, May 3, 2012.

It’s worth mentioning that Pine Siskins made a surprise resurgence today.  40 of the zippy winter finches were heard and seen flying over the tower site.

As mentioned above, warblers can be a difficult ID, and it can be easy to get complacent in calling each one a Yellow-rumped or Palm, when such high numbers are passing by.  Today’s counters did log 13 warbler species, including 13 Cape May Warblers, 1 Blackburnian Warbler, 1 Blackpoll Warbler, 1 Prothonotary Warbler (only second Green Tower record?), and 1 Ovenbird.  Today’s Yellow-rumps passed a milestone 2,000 for the year too!

We look forward to one more morning of south wind, then north winds kick in for the weekend.

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