The Great Highway in the Sky

After a sluggish and cold start, things really started to pick up this morning.  A full third day of south winds brought the beginning of the passerine flight.  The sky was full of birds making way around the lake.  The chips of blackbirds, grackles, and robins were constant, with hundreds often in view.  Counting this many birds simply becomes too overwhelming for one, or even two or three people.  It was estimated that perhaps upwards of 50% of the strong bird flight overhead was missed, especially birds migrating behind the counters.

Migrating Eastern Meadowlark, March 19, 2012 (note the white malar and extensive white in the tail feathers to separate from Western Meadowlark).
Meadowlarks darted in off the lake in between other icterid flocks.  A good count of 19 were seen today.

When it was all finished, 22,816 individual birds were logged this morning!  Temperatures started warm, but gradually cooled throughout the morning.  Drizzle was off and on, but didn’t seem to bother the birds any.  It’s amazing that despite different weather patterns, two species made their first appearance today, and made their first appearance on March 11, last year!  Those two were the first Eastern Phoebe of the year and the first Tree Swallows.  Their calendars are spot on.

With viewing conditions difficult, it’s not surprising that waterfowl were lower in number.  However, like many inland sites this year, scoter numbers continue to impress.  30 more White-winged Scoters add to a combined 132 for the season already!  This total already exceeds last year’s count.

The counters today also experience the first real Killdeer flight.  Last year’s largest single day count was 162, but today shattered that count with a steady flow of 388.

Rounding out the highlights were 5,299 American Robins, which constitute the state’s fourth largest count ever.  11,000+ Redwings managed to get counted.  Rare on the lakefront in the spring, 25 Snow Buntings were a nice sight.  Finally, continuing the streak of a redpoll a day, a singleton Common Redpoll “chet chet”ed it’s way overhead today.

A female Merlin has been wintering near the beach and was likely the same one logged today, chasing kestrels around the prairie!
A female Merlin has been wintering near the beach and was likely the same one logged today, chasing kestrels around the prairie!

It should also be noted that today’s flight had a Grube Magnitude index of 37.63, which broke into the all-time top 20 flights. Today’s magnitude is the 15th highest ever.

Highlights from today’s count follows:

Northern Pintail  19
White-winged Scoter  30
Red-throated Loon  8
Bald Eagle  1
Killdeer  388     
American Kestrel  4
Merlin  1
Eastern Phoebe  1     same arrival date as last year
Tree Swallow  5     same arrival date as last year
Eastern Bluebird  54
American Robin  5299
European Starling  2630
Lapland Longspur  28
Snow Bunting  25
Red-winged Blackbird  11333
Eastern Meadowlark  19
Common Grackle  1905
Common Redpoll  1




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