Birding the Dunes is an easy place to promote. When most places go quiet after the fall migration, binoculars can be literally put on the shelf until spring returns. The Dunes offers the birding opportunities year round. However, if you were to throw the towel one month of the year, February maybe the one. As January transitions to February, the winter wonders have been seen, moved on, or perhaps the winter cold have finally gotten to the local birders. Cabin fever is in effect, the ice is at it’s thickest and the real anticipation is now focusing on the spring season.
This upcoming February may be the hardest test for dune birders. No winter finches to find. No expected western wanderers have been seen (solitaires, Varied Thrushes, etc…). The ice is the thickest in many years, reducing the waterfowl available. The saddest news may be the (expected) decline of the Snowy Owl invasion. We expect Snowy Owl reports to turn up in the dunes somewhat regularly through March, but this past weekend was the first weekend where no Snowy Owls were reported in NW Indiana!
Birding the dunes is just as much the knowledge we learn about bird migration, as much as the joy we get from birding. The entire study of ornithology is a rich topic with diverse opportunities here. We stand on the shoulders of birding greats in terms of what birds we expect to see, how we bird, and what species we study here. One great resource for birders in the Dunes is the Birds of Indiana Dunes series. Any birder wanting to truly learn when and where to find birds need this book or CD. It’s not another field guide for your library. The Brock guides, created by Birding Great Dr. Ken Brock area culmination of now over 1 million bird records. You can pick up the older second edition book or find the third edition CD at the Dunes State Park Nature Center or online as well.
Another thing to look forward to this spring is the re-introduction of the Birding 101 courses that introduced a large number of dune birders to a pair of binoculars. Birding in the Dunes returns this spring as an eight week course to introduce new birders to the joy of birding in the dunes, the where and how to bird the dunes, as well as some specific species study. Each week will also offer an optional field exercise to emphasize some of the inside study. The courses are offered Thursday nights from March 13-May 1. Registration is required as the workshop is expected to fill quickly (as of Jan 20, the course was nearly 1/2 full and has only been spread through word of mouth!). You’ll want to call the Nature Center (219-926-1390) if you want to get signed up!