Hotel California

Even with two full (official) longshore flight years under our belt, things continue to surprise you.  The unexpected is what spurs most birders out each day or week.  Numbers can fluctuate from day to day.  Today’s longshore flight count was a notable rebound from the first day of the season, with more than 10 times as many birds counted, compared to yesterday.  It was also 20 degrees warmer, making it far more comfortable to be on top of the windy tower site.  The day ended with 4,722 birds, making up 56 species.

Bald Eagles sitting on pack ice, March 10, 2014.
Bald Eagles sitting on pack ice, March 10, 2014.

As mentioned, warmer temperatures greeted any counters today.  The snow was thinner and making good progress towards melting.  The Lake Michigan pack ice was also more broken up.  You could still see lots of pushed ice at the horizon, but the near shore waters were open with floating islands of ice.  After some initial far scans for the first ducks of the day, it became obvious we had several eagles not too far out.  Three eagles had chosen to perch on the pack ice in search of food… or perhaps love.  The Bald Eagles performed for us for several hours.  They would jump from ice pack to ice pack, perch like kingfishers on chunks of ice, and at one point, when they looked to have lost numbers, one jumped up and had revealed that it had been mating with the other.  All was well in the eagle world until a passing adult Great-blacked Back Gull would have no tolerance of one of the eagles and began chasing it down.  The eagle was forced up and flew inland, right past the Bird Observation Deck, until turning back towards the lake and disappearing.

Bald Eagle moving past the Bird Observation Platform this morning.
Bald Eagle moving past the Bird Observation Platform this morning.

Aside from the Eagle show, the geese began performing as well this morning.  Geese normally don’t stage huge flights over the Indiana Dunes.  Despite large congregations at the Fish and Wildlife areas to our south, geese don’t seem to funnel around the lake, like cranes do.  Our only guess is the geese have been bottled up with the extended cold and today’s warmth provided the first exodus northward.   By 9am, streams of geese flocks could be seen from all 360 degrees.  Geese flocks came in from the south, traversed the lake from high elevation, or skirted our view along the south regions of the Valparaiso morraine.  Greater White-fronted Geese made a good appearance among the Canada Geese, and a lone Snow Goose showed up today also.  The 2,538 Canada Geese and 646 “speckle bellies” constitute the lakefront’s highest single party count.  Truly a sight to gander!

Mixed Canada and White-fronted Geese stream over the Bird Observation Platform this morning.
Mixed Canada and White-fronted Geese stream over the Bird Observation Platform this morning.

Aside from eagles and geese, it was good to see other birds arrive from this long, cold winter.  Turkey Vultures returned today, and were joined by a few raptors, including another Merlin, a Northern Harrier, and a few Red-tailed Hawks.  The blackbird trickle is picking up.  Only 380 today, but that will increase soon.  As predicted, the gull numbers increased notably today.  Many Ring-billed Gulls have returned.  Almost a thousand were observed moving with an assortment of other waterfowl.  Highlights are all below.

March 10, 2014 Longshore Flight Highlights:

Greater White-fronted Goose 646 
Snow Goose 1
Canada Goose 2538
Northern Shoveler 1
Northern Pintail 10
Redhead 26
White-winged Scoter 2
Long-tailed Duck 4
Common Goldeneye 5
Hooded Merganser 4
Common Merganser 10
Red-breasted Merganser 73
Red-throated Loon 7
Turkey Vulture 2
Bald Eagle 3
Rough-legged Hawk 3
Sandhill Crane 217
Great Black-backed Gull 5
American Kestrel 2
Merlin 1
Horned Lark 36
Snow Bunting 2

Beautiful Red-tailed Hawk soaring over kettles today.

Beautiful Red-tailed Hawk soaring over kettles today.
A darker Red-tailed Hawk visits the count area briefly, March 10, 2014.
A darker Red-tailed Hawk visits the count area briefly, March 10, 2014.

 

 

 

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