ABA Rare Lesser Sand Plover at Michigan City Harbor!

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.

Calm, cloudy day at the Michigan City lighthouse.  10/15/13
Calm, cloudy day at the Michigan City lighthouse. 10/15/13

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.

Early birders gathered on the lighthouse point watching the Lesser Sand-Plover.
Early birders gathered on the lighthouse point watching the Lesser Sand-Plover.
First public photos of Indiana's first Lesser Sand-Plover, 10/15/13.  Photo by Pete Grube.
First public photos of Indiana’s first Lesser Sand-Plover, 10/15/13. Photo by Pete Grube.

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-Plover on the beach at Michigan City Harbor.  Photo courtesy Pete Grube.
Lesser Sand-Plover on the beach at Michigan City Harbor. Photo courtesy Pete Grube.

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.

Lesser Sand Plover sightings on eBird.com.
Lesser Sand Plover sightings on eBird.com.
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