The Gregarious Grackle

The typical longshore flight at the Indiana Dunes State Park begins before dawn.  The first of counters arrives, takes note of pre-dawn song, then proceeds to set up for the ensuing flight about to begin.  It will be in the first 2.5-3 hours that nearly 90% of the total individuals will go by.  By dawn, other enthusiasts, whether assisting or spectating, will begin to trickle in to the counting site.  Occasionally the colder the morning, the later that others may arrive, but most are die hard, anxious to see what might happen that morning.

Bernie "flicker clicker" Konrady shrugs off the morning frost to begin counting.  Dunes Bird Man, Ken Brock, awaits a morning hawk flight, April 4, 2012.
Bernie “flicker clicker” Konrady shrugs off the morning frost to begin counting. Dunes Bird Man, Ken Brock, awaits a morning hawk flight, April 4, 2012.

In the last few mornings, large icterid flocks have been observed well south of the count site.  These blackbirds, upwards of a mile a way, seem to start at dawn for a short period, before most are being observed near the lakeshore.  Today, over 6,000 blackbirds were observed far south as the flight began.  However, things quickly escalated on the lakeshore.  Today, the grackles took center stage, performing their largest flight of the season.  16,445 grackles flew over, dominating most blackbird flock percentages.  Red-winged Blackbirds were also heavy, with 11,830 birds being seen.  American Robins took third, with 1,069 going by.  Red-wing, Grackle, and Cowbird flocks continued until after 11am today.  The blackbirds led the way to a 32,210 individual bird day!  The high number counts continue.  Beating last year’s count is all but guaranteed at this point.

Grackle flocks going by, April 4, 2013.
Grackle flocks going by, April 4, 2013.

Just as exciting as the blackbird count were the other special birds found today.  Three new species brought the season total to 101 birds.  The season’s first Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and Red-headed Woodpecker led to a grand slam of all 7 woodpecker species today.  Tree Swallows also proved their toughness, with over 100 flying around in the freezing air this morning.  Two Barn Swallows joined them as well.

Number 101 of the day was meticulously picked out among a record count of Red-throated Loons.  Brendan Grube’s eagle eyes spied a basic plumaged PACIFIC LOON intermingling with a few Red-throateds.  Although far at first, the now set in lake breeze drifted the bird closer and allowed for a good comparison with the nearby loons.  The bird will go down as a Green Tower site first.

North winds should shift tonight, with a reappearance of south winds for Saturday.   The rest of today’s highlights follow.

Snow Goose  1 (lone bird migrating with cranes)
American Black Duck  1
White-winged Scoter  14
Ruddy Duck  5
Red-throated Loon  169
PACIFIC LOON  1
Common Loon  16
Sharp-shinned Hawk  2
Sandhill Crane  285
American Woodcock  1 (strutting in afternoon sun on the road to the tower site!)
Glaucous Gull  1
Caspian Tern  10
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker  1
Northern Flicker  19
Pileated Woodpecker  1
Merlin  1
Eastern Phoebe  9
Tree Swallow  113
Barn Swallow  2
Golden-crowned Kinglet  4
American Robin  1069
Lapland Longspur  2
Red-winged Blackbird  11830     
Eastern Meadowlark  15
Common Grackle  16445
Common Redpoll  1
Pine Siskin  6

Female Wood Duck zipping past the tower site, April 4, 2013.
Female Wood Duck zipping past the tower site, April 4, 2013.
Eastern Meadowlark coming in for a landing, April 4, 2013.
Eastern Meadowlark coming in for a landing, April 4, 2013.

 

 

 

 

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