Let the Fall Migration Commence!

Check the calendar and it clearly says summer is still here.  It’s easy to reason, given the high heat and humidity we experienced last week.  It truly is the “dog days” of summer.  Interestingly, and officially non birding, the dog days were named such because this is the time of the year that Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, also known as the “dog star” is present only when the sun is out.   In ancient times, Sirius was believed to add heat tot he sun’s energy, causing hot and sultry conditions.  The Egyptians calculated the dog days to be from July 3 to Aug. 11. 

Dog Days of Summer!
Dog Days of Summer!

The “dog days” are also a good time window to follow the first of fall’s migrating birds.  In between beach balls and bikinis, one can appear creepy and voyeuristic by grabbing your binoculars and spotting scope and heading to the beach to enjoy fall’s early birds… the shorebirds!

By late July, these high arctic breeders are in full migration back down the continent to their wintering grounds;  sometimes as far as the southern tip of South America.  The shorebird migration will continue through August and September, with a few lingering later.  These late birds are often overshadowed by the peaking songbird (i.e. warbler) migration also occurring by September and October.  However, now, before the rest of the ornithological troupe begins, you can brave the heat and humidity to find what are to many, the special shorebird treats.  The big ones!

It’s been noticed and theorized that many of the larger shorebirds tend to migrate out ahead of the passing cold fronts.  Thus, when the weather is at it’s hottest and most humid, one might find such shorebird finds like Willets, Godwits, or Whimbrels.  After the front passes, smaller shorebirds tend to trickle in, and may include the ever common Sanderling, or the ever rare Piping Plover.  This past week has been a good example of both types of shorebirds being found.    The state park beach has hosted several Willets and Whimbrels for the intrepid birder to find.  Many of these shorebirds must dodge the still strong beach crowd.  Thus, quiet and secluded beach spots, such as those areas in front of the Furnessville and Big Blowouts often harbor these birds.

Willets on the beach at Indiana Dunes State Park this past week.  Photo by Pete Grube.
Willets on the beach at Indiana Dunes State Park this past week. Photo by Pete Grube.
Whimbrel on the beach at Indiana Dunes State Park this week.
Whimbrel on the beach at Indiana Dunes State Park this week.  Photo by Pete Grube.

While the Whimbrel is a generally rarer sight to see when compared to the rest of the possible shorebirds in Indiana, even rarer was the sighting of not one, but 4 Piping Plovers on nearby Miller Beach this past weekend.  Casey Zillman’s report just may go down as the largest single party count in nearly 100 years.  A possible sign of their continued recovery and the efforts of those involved in the program.  You can see more of the photos on Casey’s Flickr Page.

Two of four Piping Plovers seen at nearby Miller Beach this past weekend.  Photo courtesy Casey Zillman.
Two of four Piping Plovers seen at nearby Miller Beach this past weekend. Photo courtesy Casey Zillman.

No matter how you look at it, the fall migration is on!

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