In a turn of events, last weeks’ first state record Lesser Sand Plover at Michigan City Harbor has been refound. Not back at the Lake Michigan beach, but at a unique inland pond within the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. For folks needing info on the first sighting, read here.
West Beach is a unit of the National Lakeshore that is well known as the main swimming destination for many park visitors. Educationally, West Beach hosts an amazing succession trail that takes visitors from foredune grass, through thick Jack pine stands that host hidden Long-eared Owls, and up towering dunes. The flat cactus fields behind the dunes host annual Le Conte’s Sparrows, and the scattered red cedars have on multiple occasions hosted wintering Merlins and Townsend Solitaires.
In southern part of the unit lies Long Lake. Though shallow, the entire lake stretches for nearly a mile. The lake is currently still holding very little water, from last year’s record heat and drought. In some winters, low water levels have led to winter fish kills.
Folks looking for the Sand Plover over the next day or so should also watch for other rare species too. The photo below of three White-faced Ibis was taken just a few days ago.
One of the spectacular aspects of birding around the Indiana Dunes (#dunesbirding) is you never know what might show up. Each season… each month can bring something new! Predicting the next big rarity or state record is a losing bet. Just when you think you’ll know, something far different can show up.
With most of the main songbird migration waning, and the woodlands left with Yellow-rumped Warblers and sparrows coming through, attention often begins to turn towards the lake, as waterfowl, loons, late shorebirds, and gulls begin to arrive in the dunes area. A good north wind will push them down the lake for birders to see. Imagine the surprise today, with light south winds and rain entering the radar, when a strange looking plover would enter Indiana’s record books and soak many scopes and their owners.
The State Park’s own longshore bird counter and all around eagle eye birder, Brendan Grube, ventured to Michigan City’s Washington Park to check for birds near the beach and off-shore. Without a camera, or even a phone today, he would stumble on a strange looking plover that through observation, was apparent that this was no usual plover we see. A quick phone call from a borrowed passerby, and birders began to converge. The bird moved to the outer breakwall, near the lighthouse, and the first digiscoped photos were taken, albeit nearly 1,000 feet away.
As birders gathered, and light rain entered the area, the bird took off from the outer breakwall and could be seen (and heard) flying southeast towards the shoreline. Moving east, past the gulls, the bird landed on the main beach and began to provide better views and opportunities for birders to photograph it. Again moving, this time, back towards the lighthouse and in the corner, where the lighthouse breakwall begins. A location convenient for birders to peer over the breakwall to snap shots, without disturbing the bird.
Lesser Sand Plovers, formerly known as Mongolian Plovers, are an ABA code 3 rare bird. Few inland records exist, and most that do show up are seen in Alaska or California. The map below from eBird.com shows a sampling of the records. This bird may be the first for the Midwest. Hopefully the rain and south winds will keep the bird for other birders to see tomorrow.
Now in it’s fifth year, the Dunes State Park Saw-whet Owl banding program is beginning! Most visitors can call the Nature Center for nightly updates, or follow our Facebook or Twitter page for updates.
We’ll give updates as the season progresses. There are also public banding presentations scheduled all three days of our “Howl”oween Weekend, October 25, 26, and 27th. We’ll also feature how we capture and band them right here on the blog in the coming weeks.
What can be a better highlight to a fall birding season than a fall birding festival! There isn’t a fall birding festival in the dunes every fall, but this year there is. The Indiana Audubon Society, one of the oldest Audubon societies in the country, is hosting their annual fall festival in the dunes. This annual event moves locations every year and in 2013, it happens to be here.
The state park staff get a special chance to highlight the longshore flight work with a special program Friday night. “Birding the Longshore Flight” will offer a glimpse into the first two years of bird counts being done at the new Bird Observation Platform. On Saturday, there are special birding tours, including a chance to climb the new bird observation platform. Afternoon speakers will offer a diverse offering of bird related talks.
The keynote speaker is Drew Lanham. The keynote “Connecting the Conservation Dots: Seeing Beyond the Birds” will focus on how birders can maximize the efforts to conserve the avifauna and habitats we all love so dearly. Drew will provide a history of wildlife conservation in America and how the efforts grew from our abuse of and cultural love for feathered things. His talk will expound on the historical successes and current failures in conservation and how we might best approach future challenges if birds and birding are to remain a part of our lives. From that morning cup of coffee to killing birds with kindness, it will be a keynote that will inform, invigorate, infuriate and hopefully inspire us all to greater conservation efforts.
More birding will be offered on Sunday, as well as bird banding from the Dunes State Park Nature Center. If you want to join, and haven’t registered yet, hurry! You only have two days left! You can get more information at the Fall Festival Agenda Page and you can register at the Registration Page.