After yesterday’s eclectic flight of birds, including the new state daily record count of American Kestrels, today looked to be a little tamer. Winds were forecasted to begin southwest predawn, but quickly shift west, then northwest by mid morning. Surprisingly, winds were still southwest at dawn, and northwest winds did not occur until around 1pm. For once, temperatures were mild and birding conditions pleasant. The day culminated in 6,521 birds. The count may not seem spectacular, but the birds that followed spoke otherwise!
Like yesterday, today brought another assortment of new birds for the season. Among them were the first Blue-winged Teal. Given the variety of waterfowl thus far, they seemed sort of late to the dance. Other firsts included Lesser Yellowlegs and Wilson Snipe. Both were seen as flybys today. Adding diversity to the new birds were a single Short-eared Owl flushed from the south dunes, as well as a singleton Eurasian Collared Dove accompanying an astounding dove flight. The last newcomer of the day were three Vesper Sparrows, such as the one pictured above. The season count now includes 117 species.
By 8am, it became quite evident that woodpeckers would be one of today’s themes. Flickers were on their first major flight of the season, undulating to the west in loose pairs, threes, fours, and sometimes up to 10 or more birds in view at the same time. The next Flicker could be heard calling in the tree line to the east, resting before the next leg. Shortly after, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers were being seen in tandem with Flickers. Single birds would pass by in the nearby cottonwoods or over the dune prairies to the south. Back on post by mid-morning, Bernie, our official Flicker clicker, was living his destiny by clicking off woodpeckers as they streamed by. A similar scene two years ago produced a state record 1,100+ Flickers. Today, 506 Northern Flickers would constitute the fifth highest lakefront count ever recorded. While impressive, their cousins would astound birders statewide. Throughout listserves all over the Great Lakes today, as well as other birding groups, sapsuckers were noted as making quite an invasion.
In April of 1960 a storm system collided with Lake Michigan during a period of heavy migration. The approaching storm forced thousands of migrating birds down into the forested dunes and wetlands. Those birds finding themselves over Lake Michigan were forced into the cold waters and drowned. This true fallout condition resulted in thousands of dead, washed up birds on the area beaches. The counts were notable for high counts such as 14 Yellow Rails, and several more notable strong flyers found succumbed to the storm. The state’s highest Yellow-bellied Sapsucker count was also made that day when 141 were found dead. After 50+ years, only one count has ever come close; an April 2011 longshore flight, where 91 sapsuckers were seen flying by. Before today’s flight had finished, 346 Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers would pass through the Dunes State Park, in front of our eyes. A true woodpecker descent. While Indiana records are closely tracked by birding expert and author Ken Brock, finding nationwide records is difficult. Though certainly not all inclusive and complete, searching high counts on eBird help give perspective to today’s count. In fact, as seen below, only one count of 358 birds in the entire nation beats our count today. That count was achieved in October on the East Coast. Interestingly too, look at the spring’s highest count, it’s the 91 birds we counted two years ago! How far does this new record extend in importance!?
After two days, totalling over 18 hours of birding and stiff winds in the face, and sand in the eyes, accolades go out to Brendan Grube, our official longshore counter. No matter the conditions, he finds the right angle and right position to set himself up to intercept moving birds. Even after the main flight is done, he sticks it out in search of rare and unusual migrants. A gentleman found his way to this blogger this evening, and was amazed at the dedication, even after a day of sand has left his eyes blood shot and squinted. We’ll get some sleep and repeat in the morning. Winds turn south before dawn, and we expect more birds to take wing!
Other birds were interesting and can be filtered from the highlights below. Note we had our first count without redpolls. But, the White-winged Scoters are still going strong!
Blue-winged Teal 6
Green-winged Teal 31
White-winged Scoter 22
Red-breasted Merganser 10 (season low count)
Red-throated Loon 11
Common Loon 4
Northern Harrier 9
Lesser Yellowlegs 8
Pectoral Sandpiper 4
Wilson’s Snipe 13
Eurasian Collared-Dove 1
Mourning Dove 417 (lakefront’s highest count, possible statewide top 10 count)
Short-eared Owl 1
Belted Kingfisher 1
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 346 (state record single party count, possibly within top counts in nation ever)
Northern Flicker 506 (state’s fifth highest count)
American Kestrel 4 (quite a difference from yesterday’s 103!)
Eastern Phoebe 41 (new high, possible state record count?)
Tree Swallow 113
Barn Swallow 2
Black-capped Chickadee 6
Golden-crowned Kinglet 35
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 4
American Robin 3268 (fourth highest count this season, top 10 count for lakefront)
Yellow-rumped Warbler 2
Vesper Sparrow 3
Pine Siskin 1