Tax Day Refunds

Today is another birding day.  Like any birding day, the birds to be seen are a complete surprise until the day ends. We can predict to some good degree how the birding day will go.  But in the end, predicting what birds you’ll see is really a crap shoot.  We knew we’d likely see some new arrivals, but not in the combos seen today.

The dawn began with a massive blackbird flight.  It’s now mid April and by this date last year numbers were dwindling and having 6,000+ Red-winged Blackbirds were unheard of.    Also leading the charge were Common Grackles.  5,822 grackles flew past this morning.  Large clouds of birds would crest the pine stands to the east and fly low overhead, almost diving between the counters on the high dune.

Large grackle and blackbird flocks streamed past for several hours today, 4/15/13.
Large grackle and blackbird flocks streamed past for several hours today, 4/15/13.
More blackbird and grackle flocks streaming along the beach, 4/15/13.
More blackbird and grackle flocks streaming along the beach, 4/15/13.

After the big icterid flocks moved on, a few season first birds showed up near the observation site.   It wasn’t the expected shorebirds, swallows, and house wren.  Today’s new bird highlights were: Black-crowned Night-Heron, Northern Goshawk, Northern Mockingbird, Pine Warbler, Palm Warbler, Henslow’s Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, and White-throated Sparrow.   A real eclectic combo.

Henslow's Sparrow, Dunes State Park Green Tower Count, 4/15/13.
Henslow’s Sparrow, Dunes State Park Green Tower Count, 4/15/13.  Photo courtesy John Kendall.

The Henslow’s Sparrow was found just south of the tower site in the marram grasses.  Henslow’s are very rare as migrants on the lakefront.  Fortunately, John Kendall was present and was able to sneak a couple pictures off through some thick brush.  The Henslow’s was a Green Tower first bird!  After many years, new site birds are hard to score.

Today’s official count concluded at 1pm when it became clear another hawk watch was not going to develop in the thick overcast (53 birds).  After a spectacular Henslow’s record, our counter, Brendan Grube, tempted fate by visiting the park’s Big Blowout in search of more sparrows. Big Blowout is at the park’s east end, 3 miles from the old Green Tower site.  At 2:18pm, a call came into the Nature Center reporting an immature Northern Goshawk, flying slowly west over the blowout.  Quickly dispatching, a scope was set up at the tower site and the wait began.  It didn’t last long, as within five minutes, a large accipiter was seen diving below the pines to the east.  As it cleared the trees and made it’s way over the prairie, it became evident this was no regular accipiter.  It was HUGE!  Looking a lot like an immature Red-tailed Hawk, this bird was a bullet, but with a long banded tail, tapered  wings, dark streakings below, and white scapular markings, creating a whitish mark on each wing.  Within minutes, the bird had sailed away.

Later, a Golden Eagle would also go by the Big Blowout, but would not go on the official Green Tower count since it was not viewed from there, though it no doubt passed by after the count ended.  All the dunes area expected birds of prey have now been seen in the park this spring.  Swainson’s Hawk is next!

Today’s highlights from 14,226 individual birds follows:

Blue-winged Teal 18
White-winged Scoter 3
Common Loon 4
Black-crowned Night-Heron 1
Osprey 2
Sharp-shinned Hawk 12
Northern Goshawk 1 Immature
Broad-winged Hawk 2
Wilson’s Snipe 1 (flew out of marram grass dune!)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 9
Northern Flicker 400
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 6
Northern Mockingbird 1
Brown Thrasher 1
Palm Warbler 1
Pine Warbler 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler 16
Henslow’s Sparrow
Song Sparrow 1
Swamp Sparrow 1
White-throated Sparrow 1
Red-winged Blackbird 6497
Rusty Blackbird 4
Common Grackle 5822
Pine Siskin 3

Brown Thrasher singing near the tower site, 4/15/13.
Brown Thrasher singing near the tower site, 4/15/13.
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