Today we closed another chapter on another great longshore flight season.  It’s been a rewarding year all around.  Today’s flight ended almost like it began, with an Eastern Meadowlark.  5,302 birds went past today, and like it’s been lately Cedar Waxwings again made up the vast majority of them (5,143).

Best birds of the day were 4 lingering Common Loons off the beach pavilion, 3 Spotted Sandpipers, 5 Red Crossbills, and 10 Pine Siskins.

Add them all together and you have 423,874 individual birds counted from this dune top since March 1.  Whew!  We owe some major accolades to our counter, Brendan Grube, who day after day braved the elements to log these birds.  The list of helpers who came up, whether an hour or a day, is also notable.  These folks helped in overwhelming conditions where many birds likely went past without eyes on them.  We’ll post another update with some specific totals and a comparison with the 2012 count, but the tentative total looks to be 216 species.  23 species were represented by only one bird.  Who led the pack?

2013 Top Twenty List 
1) Red-winged Blackbird 193374
2) Common Grackle 58579
3) American Robin 35593
4) Cedar Waxwing 31057
5)Blue Jay 19301
6) Sandhill Crane 10880
7) Ring-billed Gull 10852
8) European Starling 9987
9) Red-breasted Merganser 5184
10) American Goldfinch 5176
11) Brown-headed Cowbird 4954
12) Yellow-rumped Warbler 4317
13) Tree Swallow 3628
14) Pine Siskin 3193
15) Canada Goose 2461
16) Chimney Swift 2275
17) Mourning Dove 1828
18) Northern Flicker 1600
19) Eastern Kingbird 1534
20) Barn Swallow 1173

It can be argued over what the best bird of the season was.  Obviously new tower records are noteworthy given the history of the site and the many eyes and hours already spent birding here.  Thus, having Black Vulture, Marsh Wren, and Henslow’s Sparrow added to the official list in one year is spectacular.  Perhaps the trump bird would be the Swallow-tailed Kite seen on May 18.  It’s being wondered now if this may be the same individual bird being observed in Lafayette right now.  

This Swallow-tailed Kite in Lafayette could possibly be the same bird we observed from the platform on May 18, 2013.  Photo by John Kendall.
This Swallow-tailed Kite in Lafayette could possibly be the same bird we observed from the platform on May 18, 2013. Photo by John Kendall.

Later in the coming days we’ll highlight the best birds of the year and compare with how we did in 2012.  Until then, we’ll also keep blogging great breeding birds through the summer, keep promoting birding in the dunes, and maybe even give hints to a new birding workshop series to come in the future!

For now, here’s a flash back photo!  It was this water tower that started it all.  Now gone, construction continues on the current birding platform.  With some luck and good engineering, we’ll be up top the new tower for the 2014 count.

The old water tower sits today where the longshore flight count takes place.
The old water tower sits today where the longshore flight count takes place.

Happy Birding!


Final Checklists

Ornithological spring is quickly coming to a close.  While May 31 will end the official spring count, many lingering migrants can still be found in June.  Local dune birders often use June 5 as a better signal of summer.  Given the spring we’ve had, expect many lingering migrants to still be seen after this weekend.  We’ll still highlight summering birds and the upcoming fall migration on the blog.  Be sure to click the “Follow” link above to get updates this summer and fall.  We’ll also give tips on watching our saw-whet owl banding operations in October!

Today, May 30, was one of the warmest mornings of the season.  Strong south winds gusting to 20+ mph pumped in warm and humid air.  As has been the case this week, the warm air stimulated afternoon popcorn storms.  One such yesterday brought two inches of rain in 20 minutes.  For our count, the rain held off again until the afternoon, so a good count period took place, logging 3,595 birds.  Take a guess who led the pack today?

Cedar Waxwings enjoy a lakeside view during their late migration.  May 30, 2013.
Cedar Waxwings enjoy a lakeside view during their late migration. May 30, 2013.

Cedar Waxwings made up 85% of the migrating birds today.  In a sign that the end is near, not a single warbler was identified going by today.  Birds go by every day without identity, but if a warbler went by, it was not identified to species.  After a few weeks hiatus, another Eurasian Collared-Dove was seen going by.  Even stranger was the continued migration of Red Crossbills.  9 more flew past, making this the sixth day this May we’ve recorded them.   We’re clearly not the only ones seeing them.  Take this report of 80 crossbills seen in NW Ohio yesterday!

Cedar Waxwings migrating past the longshore platform.  May 30, 2013.
Cedar Waxwings migrating past the longshore platform. May 30, 2013.

The rest of the day’s steamy highlights follows:

Double-crested Cormorant 1
Green Heron 2
Northern Harrier 1
Red-shouldered Hawk 3
Red-tailed Hawk 14
Forster’s Tern 3
Eurasian Collared-Dove 1
Red-headed Woodpecker 2
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1
Eastern Kingbird 28
Blue Jay 102 
Cedar Waxwing 3079
Summer Tanager 1
Dickcissel 2
Bobolink 2
Orchard Oriole 2
Baltimore Oriole 3
Red Crossbill 9 
Pine Siskin 10

Oddball Red-headed Woodpecker eating nyger seed today!
Oddball Red-headed Woodpecker eating nyger seed today!

Super Waxwing Flight (and quiz answer)

Spring marches on in the dunes.  Today, March 29, brought on another longshore flight to record and take note of.  Just when things look to thin out, birds typical of other weeks or months are seen migrating past the longshore platform.  When will spring migration actually end this year?

Today’s flight of 11,844 birds was clearly dominated by the waxwings.  11,373 Cedar Waxwings took wing over the high dunes in fast and tight flocks.  The count came a few thousand birds short of beating the state record of 13,800 waxwings set right here at the Dunes State Park May 22, 2004.

In between waxwing flocks an eclectic mix of unusual birds were also found.  A single American White-Pelican floated eastward over the park late morning.  Kingbirds staged another good flight of 84 birds.  Early and mid season warblers continue to go by.  Tennessee Warbler was seen in the cottonwoods above, while a Palm Warbler fed in the Jack pines below.  Just down from the tower, a lone Blackpoll Warbler could be heard singing (if you call it singing!) near the round-about.

The most interesting bird of the day was one slipped into a flock of Forster’s Terns.  A presumed Arctic Tern was seen heading west off the beach. Details include a long-winged adult with small head and all white upperparts. Some gray to the belly suggestive of Common, with proportionally long tail.  Add this to a third hand report of a nearby Least Tern just across the state line in Michigan and it was a very interesting tern day.

Rounding out the strange list today was the never ending onslaught of siskins.  The first spring birds began March 28 and have been recorded nearly daily.  Add 29 more today and we may be seeing siskins into June.  We’re at 3,175 for the season.  The same may be said for Red Crossbills.  Another 9 flying by today gives 25 of them for the season.

Dead Common Nighthawk found on Beverly Drive this past week; an apparent vehicle collision.  Photo by Geof Benson.
Dead Common Nighthawk found on Beverly Drive this past week; an apparent vehicle collision. Photo by Geof Benson.

Slowly entering notoriety this spring are the amazing numbers of Common Nighthawks.  Since their mid-May arrival, a steady stream of nighthawks have been making near daily appearances.  Late afternoon birds have been heard at many dunes area locations, and flocks are being seen feeding near the beach at dusk.  Final numbers will be tallied after May 31, but early indications show this year’s numbers are 6-10 times what are normally seen during the spring.  Why?

Yesterday's quiz bird,  photographed at Dunes State Park, May 28 by Ken Brock.
Yesterday’s quiz bird, photographed at Dunes State Park, May 28 by Ken Brock.

Finally, we have yesterday’s quiz bird.  Truly not your expected find in late May, either in plumage or species.  The photo was tentatively ID’d by the photographer and re-affirmed by three independent dune area birders.  The bird certainly looks ragged.  First impressions may lead one to think this may be a fledgling bird, making the record all the more significant, but in the other photos provided, one can clearly see the brown vs black wing and tail feathers, indicating this bird is undergoing a molt.  A fledgling bird would have uniform flight or tail feathers.

First impressions can go along way here.  The bill is that of a warbler, however it’s possible the extreme stage of molt here has exposed more of the base of the bill, making the bill appear longer and more pointed.  Dull yellow splotches can be seen on the sides, under the wing.  Heavy streaking can be seen on the chest, but lacking in the throat.  While not complete, other features worth noting include the black legs, and small white spots on the outer tail feathers (undersides).

Don’t let the late date fool you.  This is a Yellow-rumped Warbler.  Interestingly, it was photographed within feet of an Orange-crowned Warbler also.  the faint eye stripe at this plumage can help with taking “Audubon’s” out of contention.  The even blocks of molt hint that this bird may be in it’s second year of life, but one may not know exactly without a better look at it’s wing coverts.  Older birds may show more mixed patterns of molt.  More importantly, it’s not a fledgling, which would be a significant breeding record for Indiana.  Lastly the bird shows gray and brown tones rather than blue and black tones that would be expected on a male bird.

Final answer, Second Year Female (Myrtle) Yellow-rumped Warbler.   And… spring marches on in the dunes.

Late Dune Migrants (and a photo quiz)

With Memorial Day out of the way, the summer has unofficially started.  We have one last week to wrap up our 2013 Spring Longshore Flight Count.  Late and unexpected migrants are still around to be seen flying past the point.  New species are still being logged from the dune top, including a new tower species (Marsh Wren).

The weekend’s north winds stalled over the dunes most of the weekend, but the week ahead looks to be all southern.  Scattered storms are accompanying the south winds too.  Birding can be good in between these down pours.  The exact timing of these storms may determine how this final week of counting goes.

A brief count was conducted on March 24, under strong north winds.  841 birds were counted, with Cedar Waxwings and American Goldfinches dominating the weak movement.    Temperatures stayed in the 40s throughout the day, but yielded one late spring surprise… a pair of Red Crossbills!  Siskins also continued to migrate, with 58 birds seen and heard.

On May 28, south winds and storms welcomed the work week.  But, with south winds the birds returned and though late in the migration season, an even 1,200 birds flew past the beach site.  A lingering Common Loon was off the beach pavilion most of the day, undisturbed by the growing beach crowds braving the still cold waters.  2 Osprey flew past,  but few other hawks were moving in the thick overcast.  The bird, or birds of the day, may have been the nice flock of 21 White-rumped Sandpipers on the swimming beach.  Unfortunately, the above mentioned beach crowds quickly scared them off.  The count of 21 will go down as a new Dunes Area high count, and most likely a top 10 count for the state.

15 Eastern Wood-Pewees went past this morning, doubling the season total thus far.  A nice mix of late warblers went past as well, including 13 Magnolias, and multiples of Wilson, Canada, and Mourning Warblers.  Another 45 goldfinches brings the season total to over 10,000 birds.  Rounding out the highlights were 8 Savannah Sparrows.  This many Savannah Sparrows in late April or the first week of May would be normal, but by this date it raises questions as to whether we’re seeing early breeding failures on the move already.

We’ll round out this week and give our season totals!

Finally, the photos below were taken this morning along the state park boundary road (Kemil Rd).  The photos were taken by Ken Brock.  Can anyone identify this bird to species, age, and sex?  We’ll give the answer in the next posting.

Quiz Bird.  Taken May 28 in the Dunes.
Quiz Bird. Taken May 28 in the Dunes.
Quiz Bird.  Taken May 28 in the Dunes.
Quiz Bird. Taken May 28 in the Dunes.
Quiz Bird.  Taken May 28 in the Dunes.
Quiz Bird. Taken May 28 in the Dunes.


Memorial Weekend Birding Outlook

With migration waning, typical late migration species are being seen in the state park.  Fortunately, the recent cold snap is keeping many of these birds trapped.  It’s allowing many mid-migration birds to be found, such as Nashville Warblers and Swainson’s Thrushes.  At the same time, now it prime time for late specialty warblers such as Mourning, Canada, and Connecticut Warblers.

Cerulean Warblers are a great specialty species that can be found with little difficulty in the Dunes State Park.

The weekend will be a good hurrah for the spring migration.  Typical Memorial Day birding in the dunes involves dodging the growing beach crowds.  Parking spaces become premium and quiet roadsides and trails become over run with weekend outings and picnic baskets.  Great for tourism, excellent for revenue, but a signal to birders that migration is near finish.  The colder weather should keep the beach traffics at bay for one more weekend and birders get one last weekend to rule the dunes.    So, here’s where to go…

Join the state park naturalists Saturday morning for a visit to the hawk’s nest!  The hike begins at 10am from the Nature Center and will seek out the new babies in town.  The park’s Red-shouldered Hawks are back in the same nest for the third year in a row and have white fluff ball babies now large enough to be seen from the ground.  Bring binoculars or borrow a pair, courtesy the Friends of Indiana Dunes.

Trails 2 and 10 in the state park always produce good variety.  Once migration begins waning, territorial, breeding birds are set up.  The first stretch of Trail 2 is often called “Cerulean Alley,” and for good reason.  In the first 1/2 mile, hearing 8 or more Cerulean Warblers in this stretch is not unheard of.   While you’re at it, visit the Wilson boardwalk where the local Prothonotary Warblers are done setting up their nest and egg laying likely is happening now.

For those seeking out the rarer and harder to find birds, seek out the old roadbed of South State Park Road.  This remnant residential area along the park’s southern boundary is  a secret spot for local birders.  Here, towering back dune maples surround abandoned homestead sites.  These homestead sites offer overgrown early successional micro-habitats rich in under-story growth and towering pine and spruce stands.  This is a great place to find breeding specialties like Hooded Warbler.  Even more unique are Blackburnian Warblers, who’s fire throats can be found in the old pine stands.  Duing migration this may be the best place to find Canada and Mourning Warblers.  With similar behaviors and habitat needs, expect Connecticut to be found here too.

With cooler temperatures and an already late migration, expect some fine birds this Memorial Day weekend.  Finding 20 or more warblers this weekend in the state park seems achievable.


Longshore Flight, May 21

May 21 brought another 4,000 bird morning over the high dunes of Indiana Dunes State Park.  Migration is still going strong.  You could tell warblers were still moving this morning just by the new sounds as you entered the park.  An incredibly intense storm rolled through after midnight, bringing a quick inch of rain.  This may have contributed to the bird influx.

With strong southerly winds, many of the smaller warblers moving through will hug the tree lines, stopping in the area Jack pines, and darting low through openings.  When waxwings and one of the largest kingbird flights of the year are going by overhead, it’s easy to miss the warblers slipping down low.  For birders visiting the longshore dune tomorrow, we’ll be attempting some bird banding in the nearby woodlot to see what may be slipping past us.  It’s prime time for a Connecticut Warbler!

Highlights today included: a single Black-bellied Plover, 237 Eastern Kingbirds, 3052 Cedar Waxwings, 6 lingering Yellow-rumped Warblers, the season’s 50th Orchard Oriole, and 51 more Pine Siskins.  Perhaps the best bird again was a flock of Red Crossbills.  Three birds flew past this morning.

Some interesting season totals this year include:

376 White-winged Scoters
551 Red-throated Loons
1048 Caspian Terns
2253 Chimney Swifts
19,061 Blue Jays
75 Black-capped Chickadees
810 Eastern Bluebirds
4,317 Yellow-rumped Warblers
7 Lark Sparrows
841 Baltimore Orioles
3086 Pine Siskins

Prairie Warbler at Indiana Dunes State Park.
Prairie Warbler at Indiana Dunes State Park.

Tomorrow should start good before a few days of north winds bring cooler, pleasant air in and a chance to bird the back dunes for late migrating birds.

1 Location, 400,000 Birds

Monday, May 20 brought one of the warmest day of the season.  By 10am, birds are slowing down, and our counters are seeking shade atop the high dunes here.  With good south winds pumping migrants through the area, migration continues and marches on.  The last birds are winging their way to the northwoods and beyond.  We humans define ornithological spring ending on June 5.  By that date, most of the late migrants have moved through and it will be a short 10 days before fall migration officially begins when the first shorebirds return south again.

Today was a milestone day.  We’ve now surpassed 400,000 birds!  We knew there were more birds to log than our 283,000 birds last year.  With good winds, great conditions, and lots of eyes, 1/2 million in a season is very doable.  15 days of potential migration dates  still exist.  The biggest of the migrant numbers have passed by.  Those being blackbirds, robins, grackles, and Blue Jays.  Cedar Waxwings and goldfinches will still wing it the next week.  Any day from March through May can bring a good rarity too.  Thus we keep counting.

Today’s 5,000 birds today were counted.  At this point Cedar Waxwings were the clear majority with 4,190 moving north.  They’ll surpass 10,000 birds before the season is over. Coming in still impressive are kingbirds.  Today’s 147 puts us a mere 4 kingbirds from 1,000 for the season. Interestingly, a new bird was logged today.  3 Least Flycatchers were seen today.  However, many Least have been seen locally already, so their arrival to the tower is late.

The birds of the day may be a flock of 8 Red Crossbills flying low over the dune.  These late winter finches continue to be fascinating.  Add 74 Pine Siskins to this too.  We may be seeing June siskins this year.

Today’s highlights below:

Red-shouldered Hawk 4
Red-tailed Hawk 6
Sandhill Crane 1
Caspian Tern 2
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 2
Red-headed Woodpecker 2
Red-bellied Woodpecker 7
Eastern Wood-Pewee 9
Least Flycatcher 3
Great Crested Flycatcher 3
Eastern Kingbird 147
Yellow-throated Vireo 1
Warbling Vireo 2
Red-eyed Vireo 2
Blue Jay 250
Purple Martin 10
Cliff Swallow 30
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 2
Eastern Bluebird 13
Cedar Waxwing 4190
Black-and-white Warbler 1
Yellow Warbler 2
Summer Tanager 2
Scarlet Tanager 6
Indigo Bunting 47
Dickcissel 5
Bobolink 7
Orchard Oriole 5
Baltimore Oriole 12
Red Crossbill 8
American Goldfinch 210

Yesterday’s Pacific Loon was a quick diving bird that made it’s way all the way to Beverly Shores in less than an hour.  Here’s a brief video taken by Brendan Grube.