Here in the Indiana Dunes, the summer bird breeding season marches on. Summer crowds are now at peak. Thousands of visitors will enter the main entrance gate daily. Just as birders watch birds, birds on territory along the park roadsides will witness an onslaught of humanoids being drawn almost hypnotically to the colder lake. While most visitors will pass the entrance gate and go directly to one of three beach parking, a few will continue past towards the campgrounds. Even fewer may go further to a back park shelter or parking spot to hit one of 16 miles of hiking trails.
By now with July here, breeding activity is already decreasing. Summer recreation is just peaking, but many birds have done the deed and if they are not working on a second brood, they are already thinking fall migration. Juvenile birds are being seen now. These ratty looking birds are only weeks from the nest and already on their own. Fall migration is being witnessed already in the form of shorebird movement. Willets, Marbled Godwits, Avocets, and other large shorebirds have been seen already migrating in the dunes area. Many of these birds will travel through ahead of cold fronts wherever they can find a peaceful stretch of beach. Smaller shorebirds will follow in August, and even later for Sanderlings as September comes.
For many, this can be the summer doldrums of birding. Not much is going on as we await the main fall migration waves. Even winter can seem more exciting with the prospect of rare northern visitors. One happy aspect bird wise in the park is the continuing construction of the large Bird Observation Platform at the old Green Tower site. The accessible ramp work is continuing, even though we are not up there birding. The last week’s weather has been good for construction. We have had one disturbance causing problems however. Who would have known that it would be a bird!?
For the better part of the last couple days, a Rock Pigeon set up camp at the platform. At first a neat novelty, the bird simply stood around construction workers. Crew bringing in sand to lay down the ramp foundation found him or her literally standing in the way. You’d walk over and move the bird, but it would be right back hanging out where you needed to go. Finally, the Nature Center was called and hearing it might be banded, we were interested in seeing the bird ourselves. We approached it easily and had no problem simply picking up the bird. The ease was obvious. It was indeed banded, but not USGS banding, but by a racing club.
The AU or American Racing Pigeon Union manages the sport of racing pigeons, stemming from the days of homing pigeons in Europe. Many Chicago clubs exist and finding a racing pigeon in the dunes has become a nearly annual occurrence. But… most don’t just hang out, they race. One factor that most racing pigeons moving along Lake Michigan don’t know is the healthy breeding population of Peregrine Falcons. The majority of racing pigeons found by park staff are headless somewhere down the beach. No doubt fodder for these fast flying raptors. Seeing a live one was a treat, and a super tame one even cooler.
Park staff were able to read the band numbers and determine that he or she has come from a racing club near Naperville, IL. We’ve contacted the club secretary and will hopefully tell the owner where his or her bird can be found. Whether this pigeon read the tourism guides, it’s clearly found a sweet vacation spot here in the dunes this summer.