Going out like a lamb…

A warm and sunny longshore flight brought the warmest temperatures of the month today.  Quite a change from the cold and snow of weeks earlier.  There used to be people who believed that bad spirits could affect the weather adversely, so they were cautious as to what they did or did not do in certain situations. Those beliefs often included ideas that there should be a balance in weather and life. So, if a month came in bad (like a lion), it should go out good and calm (like a lamb).  The weather certainly was good today.  Both birders and non-birders were out and about enjoying the great day in the Indiana Dunes State Park.

The winds overnight shifted from southerly to westerly.  Gusts by late afternoon began to shift to the northwest, ushering in a couple days of cold weather that will stiffle any longshore flight early this upcoming week.  We’re hopeful, however, that light winds south of us will allow a wave of migrants to set at Indiana’s doorstep, ready for the next push northward.  The hopeful arrivals in this wave coming to the dunes will likely include swallows, kinglets, Yellow-rumped and Pine Warblers, and a few more sparrow species.

Wind Map, Sun, March 31, showing incoming north winds.
Wind Map, Sun, March 31, showing incoming north winds.

Today’s flight was a decent 10,000 bird day.  Move over Batman, as the robins were in full swing.  With the aerial highway clear of any large scale blackbird movement, American Robins cruised the west winds, riding the undulating dune ridges.  A season high 5,834 cruised on by.  Pending verification, this count looks to be the state’s highest spring count of robins, and perhaps the second highest total ever seen by an observer in Indiana.  That’s a lot of birds, but pales when you consider that their estimated to be 320 million robins throughout North America.  Following our joke last year…, “heading to a neighborhood lawn near you!”

American Robins migrating against the wind.
American Robins migrating against the wind.

With 9,384 birds today, we now have reached 156,000 birds for the season.  This includes 98 species now!  Last year we had 186,000 birds at the end of March, so given the difficulties and north winds this month, we’re really only down 16%.  A few good south winds in early April can help us catch up or surpass last year’s flight.  Many birds have not ramped up yet in any decent numbers.  We’re still waiting on Flickers, Longspurs, Pipits, and Sapsuckers to get going.

Today’s major highlights below:

American Wigeon 40
White-winged Scoter 20
Great Egret 1 (first of the season)
American Woodcock 1
Great Black-backed Gull 1
Caspian Tern 3
Mourning Dove 158 (likely top 10 dunes area count)
Merlin 1
Eastern Phoebe 8
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1 (new for the season)
Golden-crowned Kinglet 4
American Robin 5834 All birds going West hugging the ground out of the wind.
Dark-eyed Junco 72
Red-winged Blackbird 936
House Finch 240
Common Redpoll 6



Great Hoosier Birding

Birding was on fire today in Indiana.  As promised, a notable flight occurred today over the Indiana Dunes area, including a few new records to talk about.  All of this occurring while hundreds of birders from throughout the country converged at the other end of the state at Goose Pond FWA for the now well known ABA Code 4 Spotted Redshank, from Europe.

Under an early morning, bone chilling cold (bone chilling = 28 degrees!), an all star cast of birders converged to assist or spectate in the count today.  Elbow room was tight, but the sky was tighter with birds weaving around each other as an early dawn flight began even before the sun was up.  The sky glowed pink to the east during the pre-dawn moments and  large blackbird flocks were seen not only overhead but to the distant south.

Turkey Vultures over the Green Tower site.
Turkey Vultures over the Green Tower site.

Throughout the morning a rough count of about 18 different birders visited the tower site.  Whether simply watching the morning flight or adding data to the count, several new dunes area or state records were achieved in today’s flight.  On top of this, nearly 25,000 birds were seen, from a diverse cast of waterfowl, raptors, and passerines.

Of today’s high counts, Red-winged Blackbirds continue to lead the pack.  Today’s count was 14,454 birds.  American Robins impressed with 1,958 birds.  1,941 Sandhill Cranes made a brief, but strong appearance near the noon hour.    On the water, 23 species of waterfowl (including loons and grebes) floated by, with Red-breasted Mergansers still going strong with 470 seen.

For records, 200 Greater White-fronted Geese took the second highest Dunes area count today.  These geese (as well as Snow/Ross’s) are generally rare on the lakefront.   Today’s crane flight was not the highest, but should find a spot in the top 10 Dunes Area high counts.  21 migrating Black-capped Chickadees was shy of the top 10 count, but significant nonetheless and evidence that Black-capped Chickadees do indeed migrate. Taking the seventh highest state count, 111 Eastern Bluebirds were a constant flight of “knock your grandma socks off, look at those bluebirds go!”  Our 73 Eastern Meadowlarks don’t break any state records, but will go down as the second highest count tallied in the Dunes Area.

Migrating Meadowlark
Migrating Meadowlark

The biggest record breaker of the day was 34 Eastern Phoebes… a new state second highest single party record.

Other highlights worth talking about include the fact that nearly every single count thus far this season (12 official counts) have included both White-winged Scoters and Common Redpoll.   A near record early Barn Swallow may be the early bird of the day.  A major hawk flight never materialized, but a showing of 74 bird of prey is nothing to ignore.

Today’s major highlights listed below.  For dunes area and state high count comparisons, every Hoosier birder should own both Brock’s Birds of Indiana and Brock’s Birds of Indiana Dunes*

Greater White-fronted Goose  200
Wood Duck  12
Northern Pintail  5
Redhead  63
Surf Scoter  2
White-winged Scoter  44
Red-breasted Merganser  470
Red-throated Loon  5
Common Loon  8
Turkey Vulture  25
Northern Harrier  3
Sharp-shinned Hawk  2
Red-tailed Hawk  26
Sandhill Crane  1941
American Woodcock  1
Bonaparte’s Gull  2
Caspian Tern  5    
Pileated Woodpecker  1
American Kestrel  10
Merlin  1
Eastern Phoebe  34
Tree Swallow  46
Barn Swallow  1
Black-capped Chickadee  21
Golden-crowned Kinglet  6
Eastern Bluebird  111
American Pipit  4
Lapland Longspur  25
Red-winged Blackbird  14454     
Eastern Meadowlark  73
Common Redpoll  23   
Pine Siskin  1

*This blogger has no financial interest in Brock’s Bird CDs!

100,000 Birds (finally!)

Today marked a milestone as we surpassed the 100,000th identified bird of the season.  Last year we surpassed 100,000 birds on March 14.  So, we are very much behind and looking to catch up.  So are the birds.  Early morning still is allowing large flocks of birds to attempt a migration before the north winds pick up.  Under north winds, we have had 39,000 Red-winged Blackbirds fly over the old green tower site in the past two days, despite there being no southerly winds to assist their migration.  Two similar north wind days last year during the same period only resulted in 3,000 Red-wings.

Migrating Sandhill Cranes at Indiana Dunes State Park.
Migrating Sandhill Cranes at Indiana Dunes State Park.

Also fighting a north wind were the first major flocks of Sandhill Cranes.  The season’s largest flight of 3,370 birds flew through the dunes today.  Many birds were merely specks on the far southern horizon.  Again, cranes entering the dunes area feel the sinking, cooler air from the lake and turn early to get around it, rather than hugging the nearshore.

Three new species were added to the season count.  The first American Pipits sailed over the high dune, as well as the first croaking sound of a lakeshore Caspian Tern.  Not observed or heard last year, two Great-horned Owls were heard dueting at the Green Tower site this morning.  86 species have now been logged this month since the count began.

Other highlights under this north wind count included: 56 Greater White-fronted Geese, 111 Red-throated Loons, 8 Great Black-backed Gulls, 1,100 robins, 46 Eastern Meadowlarks, and a healthy 41 Common Redpolls.

Upcoming Dunes Forecast.
Upcoming Dunes Forecast.

Yesterday brought predictions of a great flight Saturday.  We’re adding tomorrow (Friday) to this, as very light and variable winds may bring overpowering migration early tomorrow.  30,000 birds in a single day may be very possible both Friday and Saturday as warm air spills into the region.

O Spring, Where Art Thou?

March 27, 2013.  Winter still has it’s stronghold in the Indiana Dunes area.  Things could be worse, as we could have nearly a foot of snow on the ground to melt off!  But, temperatures and winds have not been conducive to migration.  The growing concern lies that birds will push on through the north winds in smaller numbers and by the time winds finally shift, and by the time the season passes we’ll be left with a short scorecard, rather than experience fewer, more more spectacular gang buster days.  The same fears of smaller migration numbers diminishes the perceived value of the lakefront for bird migration.

Waiting this long, the prospect of a south wind day feels like a kid waiting for Christmas morning.  It’s a daily check of the detailed weather discussions, hoping desperately for a mention of south winds.  Finally, that mention is upon us.  Last weekend, it looked fabulous.  South winds were being predicted Thursday-Sunday of this week.  Today, the south wind forecast has been reduced to Saturday and Sunday only.  To put frankly, we predict Saturday will be fantastic, if not the best migration day of the season thus far.  Mark your calendars and expect a large crowd on the staircase Saturday morning!

Dead White-winged Scoter at Beverly Shores this week.  Photo provided.
Dead White-winged Scoter at Beverly Shores this week. Photo provided.

This week has been a good test of north wind migration.  Small counts have been conducted the last two mornings.  Ducks and gulls continue to be seen off-shore.  Little passerine movement have been seen.  As more ducks and loons arrive on the lake, remnants of last season’s warm temperatures linger in the form of increased type E-Botulism.  Many articles came out last winter about ducks and loons dying off on the lake.  Just this week, several ducks have been found dead on the shores near the Indiana Dunes, including this scoter pictured above.

The oddity of the week was an incredible north wind blackbird flight that occurred today, including a single flock of 12,000 Red-winged Blackbirds attempting to move against the wind.  Though colder and slower, a few north wind migration counts seem to be paying off too.

Punxsutawney Phil is a Liar

Those tracking the spring migration through the dunes have no doubt noticed the lack of postings lately.  The now much talked about late winter chill is starting to take a toll on how many birds were logging, especially compared to last year’s record warm March.  Yesterday was the first day of spring and by this point last year we had logged 167,818 birds.  This year, 49,026 birds.  We’ve seen less than a 1/3 of the birds we saw last year!

Jet Stream from Intelicast.
Jet Stream from Intelicast.

If there is one good side, it’s that we’re not alone.  This is not unique to just the lower Great Lakes or Midwest.  The entire eastern United States seems to be under the same cold trough, created by a dipping jet stream.  Our neighbors to the north at Whitefish Point are also struggling to get their spring counts started.  Even scarier, check out the latest weekend forecast below for the Indiana Dunes area.  Let’s hope they are wrong in predicting 8 inches of snow this weekend.

Despite poor birding conditions, north winds do bring gull movement on the lake.  Thousands of gulls continue to stream by the park and our counter is attempting to log them.  The highlight of a brief and cold count yesterday was a Lesser Black-backed Gull.  The weather also doesn’t stop construction of the new birding tower.  After months of what appeared to be zero progress, things are taking shape with the addition of the staircase and soon to come decking.  All the wood being used was cut and salvaged from the Henryville, IN tornado.

New Birding Tower progress, 3/20/13
New Birding Tower progress, 3/20/13

Preparing For A Slump

Last night’s radar gave hint as some moderate migration.  It did translate into some small movement at dawn.   South winds prevailed until 10am, as winds shifted west, then due north with another lake breeze.  Fortunately, rain held off but clouds held tight throughout the day.

Radar movement overnight March 14, 2013.
Radar movement overnight March 14, 2013.

Today’s moderate movement totaled 13,739 individual birds.  Passerines picked up again with Red-winged Blackbirds, American Robins, European Starlings, and Common Grackles leading the pack.  Season first birds included the first Snow Geese and the first Peregrine Falcon.

After today, the weather doesn’t look very ideal for migration.  The weekend is definitely out, as well as many north wind days being predicted for next week.  Hopefully some changes will occur so migration may continue.

Highlights today:

Greater White-fronted Goose  17
Snow Goose  3
Canada Goose  669
Northern Pintail  4
White-winged Scoter  6
Red-throated Loon  2
Northern Harrier  1
Sharp-shinned Hawk  1
Cooper’s Hawk  3
Red-shouldered Hawk  1
Red-tailed Hawk  4
Sandhill Crane  93
Pileated Woodpecker  1
American Kestrel  1
Peregrine Falcon  1
Eastern Phoebe  3
Horned Lark  5
Eastern Bluebird  44
American Robin  2923
Red-winged Blackbird  6804
Eastern Meadowlark  21
Common Grackle  1115
Common Redpoll  4


Enter the Cranes

Thursday, March 14 brought a small south wind shift and welcomed back a small longshore flight.  The flight today was brief.  Any wind shift was quickly neutralized by a lake breeze that set in for the rest of the day.  Conditions began below freezing but finally warmed to the low 40s.

In honor of Pi day, here’s today’s layout of birds in a pie chart.

pie chart

As seen above, the largest number of birds today came from Sandhill Cranes.  The first flight of cranes over the dunes began today with 3,091 birds.  Most were observed south of the park, likely turning west in the face of the lake breeze, rather than flying directly to the lake before turning.

Other notables seen in the 6,540 birds that went over  today included 17 White-winged Scoters, 1 Rough-legged Hawk, 1 Thayer’s Gull, 1 Great Black-backed Gull, and 9 Common Redpolls.  Today’s new species bring the season total to 75 species so far.

Tomorrow morning holds promise of south winds for a short time, before north winds and rain set in sometime in the afternoon.  After that, the weekend looks out until Monday.   Birding has certainly been colder this year compared to last year.  On this date last year temperatures were pushing 80 degrees.  Below shows the comparison during the first two weeks of March this year and last year.

march temp graph