Warbler Mania

The Indiana Dunes warbler peak can be manic, yet subtle.  An explosion of sounds and active motion in the bush and overhead.  You look to your right and left, but see no others.  You’re left with fish tales to tell of warblers dripping from the trees.  No elbow to elbow crowds, like seen in other state birding sites.  We won’t deny the appeal of the birder networking and many eyes or shared bird sightings going on at the more known birding sites, like NW Ohio.   Yet here, one can sit in silence, enthralled by the new songs coming from each tree, all performing their songs for you!  Now, crap… can you remember which warbler makes that sound!?

This past weekend, May 17/18 brought the true peak for warblers this season.  Ken Brock writes,

Perhaps no group of birds generates more excitement among birders than the wood warblers…   Accordingly, for many birders the warbler migration constitutes the very quintessence of birding.”

It was indeed written Saturday that the tall trees were dripping with warblers.  No reason to stay at the longshore tower to watch for migrating birds.  One could set up anywhere in the park and watch a parade of feeding warblers zip, jump, dive, and chase after emerging insects.  The temperatures were perfect for active feeding throughout the day.  Winds were light, but felt good in the sun.  The following chart shows all of the warblers that were reported by various birders, eBird reports, the longshore tower, or from the Dunes Birdathon team this weekend.

warbler seenAs mentioned above, it was also the Dunes Birdathon.  It’s NIMBA’s attempt to log as many bird species in the NW Indiana area in 24 hours.  The funds raised help out with various bird related activities in the dunes, such as the owl banding program at the state park.  This year’s team began at 2:30am.  American Woodcock was the first bird heard calling deep in Cowle’s Bog.  The day was joyous.  We quickly hit the dripping warbler wave when we first entered Beverly Shores, just after sunrise.  Tennessee Warblers chipping everywhere.  Redstarts in every understory tree.  Rare for the lakefront, one of the first warblers seen was a Yellow-breasted Chat on Beverly Shores’ far east side near Mt Baldy.  Thrushes would also be common, with both Swainson’s and Gray-cheeked nearly tying each other in numbers this day.

The 2014 Dunes Birdathon Team, weary yet awake at hour 13.   5 more hours to go!

The 2014 Dunes Birdathon Team, weary yet awake at hour 13. 5 more hours to go!

The team birded the state park by 9am and continued racking up good birds.  The park’s Cerulean and Pine Warblers were calling right where they had been.  A quick peak of the park’s nesting Red-shouldered Hawks found mom sitting on the nest.  The Wilson Shelter boardwalk Prothonotary Warbler show was still on.  Here, visitors have been treated to one of the biggest show off warblers.  Mom and Dad Prothonotary continue to gather nest material and build their box full of grass and moss right in front of everyone with no regard for distance.  Today, they would be busy on the ground searching for last minute nesting material.  We savored the sight for a moment, then moved on for more birds.

Prothonotary Warbler hanging out at Wilson Boardwalk this week.  Photo courtesy Pete Grube.
Prothonotary Warbler hanging out at Wilson Boardwalk this week. Photo courtesy Pete Grube.

The late afternoon meant new birds and new habitats.  Kankakee Sands provided many fillers, including the needed grassland sparrows, Bobolinks, Dickcissels, and meadowlarks.  A surprise Osprey in a small fishing pond helped with numbers.  Finally, Willow Slough would give us the bird of the day… an adult female Red-necked Phalarope in full breeding plumage.  A rarity anywhere in Indiana in the spring!

With light fading, our team raced back north to the Grant Street Wetlands.  Yellow-headed Blackbirds still proclaimed their territories, while nighthawks and a single Black-crowned Night-Heron flew by.  Wanting just one more bird, the team drove the growing darkness and had just enough light to see the local Bald Eagles sitting on their nest along the Little Calumet River.  Finally dark, the day was bright!  165 species were seen.  A new record for our little team.

Thanks to all that pledged.  Final numbers and pledges are still being added, but we look to have raised over $1,500.00 yesterday for bird conservation in the dunes!

Not to be outdone.  The bird tower also logged some good birds for those that visited.  Over the past two days, a couple new season birds were seen.  Sedge Wren and Ruddy Turnstone are both good site records.  Also worth noting this weekend were a single Merlin, a couple American White Pelicans, Common Loon, Great Black-backed Gull, 295 Chimney Swifts (Sunday),  and a well seen Lark Sparrow.

Lark Sparrow at the Bird Observation Tower on May 17.  Photo by Alex Forsythe.
Lark Sparrow at the Bird Observation Tower on May 17. Photo by Alex Forsythe.

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