Raptor River over the Dunes

After two days off, south winds returned for another longshore flight today, April 16th.  During the break, another cold spell swept through.  Birders Tuesday morning awoke to an inch of snow.  I guess at this point we shrug it off.  Given the winter we’ve had, we kind of expected to see snow in April too.  This morning started on the heels of the last two days, cold, cold, cold!  Calm winds allowed arctic laden lake air to drift inland, while growing winds only made the already cool air even colder.  But the growing south winds did bring the best hawk flight of the season.  182 raptors would cruise by the shoreline today.

Caspian Tern over Lake Michigan.
Caspian Tern over Lake Michigan.  A nice count of 114 were logged today, April 16, 2014.

This is quite in contrast with another April 16.  On this exact date in 1960, the shoreline of Lake Michigan would turn into a death trap for thousands of birds migrating through.  During the overnight period, a strong storm swept by the lake, forcing the migrating birds down, and for many down to drown in the swells of the lake below.  a 10.5 mile survey the next day found 3,600+ birds dead along the dune shorelines.  Never had a bird drowning been recorded at this magnitude (define: fallout), and never has one been seen like this since here.  The full scope of the survey went on to became a well known Hoosier ornithological paper in the state’s Indiana Audubon Society publication, the Indiana Audubon Quarterly.  You don’t recount Yellow Rail knowledge in Indiana without citing this paper.  The full paper, written by Simon Segal, of Chesterton, IN, can be read here.

Full list of dead birds found April 16, 1960.  Segal, S. (1960). Bird Tragedy in the Dunes, Indiana Audubon Quarterly, 38:23-25.
Full list of dead birds found April 16, 1960. Segal, S. (1960). Bird Tragedy in the Dunes, Indiana Audubon Quarterly, 38:23-25.

We haven’t seen a death like the one on this date in 1960, but the dunes and Lake Michigan are still dangerous.  We’ve posted dead birds before, and documented some of the waterfowl that struggled this past winter.  Some deaths are more mysterious.  This Eastern Whip-poor-will was found deceased at the nearby Hammond Bird Sanctuary yesterday by Matt Kalwasinski.

Dead Whip at  Hammond Bird Sanctuary.  4/15/14.  Photo by Matt Kalwasinski.
Dead Whip at Hammond Bird Sanctuary. 4/15/14. Photo by Matt Kalwasinski.

Today’s flight involved no storms.  In fact the south winds did little to stimulate a good blackbird, grackle, robin, or other songbird flight.  For the day, a smaller sample size of 1,003 birds, comprising 57 species would be logged.  As mentioned above the hawks would be most notable.  The 182 hawks would be dominated by 75 sharpies and 61 Red-tailed Hawks.  This writer, while walking near the tower site this morning with 30 6th graders in tow, pointed out a Cooper’s Hawk near the tower.  It didn’t take long for the young eagle eyes’ to start pointing out kettling Red-tailed Hawks above the park.  It seemed like for a small moment, an ever so slightly small moment, nature brought awe… which quickly ceded back to singing lyrics to some new fad pop band that this person has not heard of. Despite the major flight, other highlights existed.  They included the seasons’ first reported Forster’s Tern, and an always super cool and rarity on the lakefront Yellow-headed Blackbird.  The longshore platform also had the honor of hosting the now third Whooping Crane record for Indiana Dunes State Park.  The lone bird trailed a small flock of Sandhill Cranes and can be seen in the video clip below. Today’s highlights, and a couple video clips from today and the last week follow:

White-winged Scoter 2
Red-throated Loon 4
Common Loon 4
Sharp-shinned Hawk 75
Broad-winged Hawk 1
Red-tailed Hawk 61
Rough-legged Hawk 1
Sandhill Crane 151
Whooping Crane 1
Bonaparte’s Gull 1
Great Black-backed Gull 3
Caspian Tern 114
Forster’s Tern 1
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1 (yes, RBWO do migrate)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 1
Northern Flicker 12
American Kestrel 2
Merlin 3
Hermit Thrush 4
American Tree Sparrow 7
White-throated Sparrow 1
Dark-eyed Junco 6
Yellow-headed Blackbird 1

Misc. longshore birds seen this week, including the Short-eared Owl seen earlier this week. Today’s longshore flight birds, including the Whooping Crane.  All videos by Brendan Grube.

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