Christmas Bird Counts Continue Long Tradition in the Dunes

Tomorrow marks the beginning of the annual Christmas Bird Count season.   115th Christmas Bird Count begins on Sunday, December 14th, 2014, and runs through Monday, January 5th, 2015. The count period runs from December 14 to January 5 every year.  It’s a great chance to get a snapshot of the wintering birds  throughout the US and Canada (and now beyond) during this couple week period.  One thing is for certain, no single year is ever the same.  One notable invasion of birds one year may give way to another group of birds the year after.


The history of the Christmas Bird Counts can be traced back to Frank Chapman, who proposed the new holiday tradition of counting the birds, rather than shooting them, as had been the previous custom.  25 Christmas Counts were held that first year, recording 90 species of birds.  The majority of these counts were in the NE US, but a few were as far as California and Canada.  With declining bird populations, there was a growing trend of concern for certain species of birds.  a mere five years later the National Audubon Society would be formed as well.

Region map showing area Christmas Bird count circles.

The very first Christmas Bird Count in the Indiana Dunes took place on December 24, 1916!  On that year 2 participants counted about a dozen species of birds.  Most notable were some bobwhites, a species not currently being seen consistently in the dunes.  A break occured, and the counts began again in 1972.  This time 46 participants scoured the dunes area.  At one point (1977) over 100 birders were participating.  Today, some 30+ birders, plus feeder watchers participate the first weekend of the count period.  We’ve logged over 150 species through the years.  Three birds have been logged during the count week, but not on the count day.  Those being Little Gull, Mew Gull, and a Rose-breasted Grosbeak.  Last year brought species 153 to the count when Jeff “Magic” McCoy logged the state’s first Christmas Bird Count Bobolink, hanging out along the railroad tracks near Michigan City.

While the Dunes’ main CBC will go on tomorrow, there is still the other, newer National Lakeshore West count that takes place on Tuesday, December 30.  This newer count, sponsored by the NPS, takes place in Lake and far eastern Porter counties and usually  needs counters willing to brave the cold and ice in search of birds.  You may also email Christie Gerlach at for more information on INDW.

Between winter finches, Snowy Owls, and the hopes for rare waterfowl, there is no reason to hang up the binoculars right now in the Indiana Dunes!


Its Been a Long Time

Greetings from duneland,

As our spring migration count ended and the warm air transitioned to summer, things simply got busy.  It’s true that we were too overwhelmed to blog the dune birds.  But, it doesn’t mean they weren’t moving.  We’re sorry we haven’t been on here as much.  We’re hoping to change that now that the winter season is setting in and some more free time will be available for us.

Let’s start with the obvious.  Snowy Owls are again on the move.  Though early indications say this won’t be of the same magnitude as last years’ unprecedented invasion, that should seem normal.  We’re not likely to see what we saw last year for many years!  But moving they are.  The lakefront has seen about 1/2 dozen Snowy Owl reports in the last two weeks or so, including this beautiful bird (below) photographed by Alex Forsythe.  As the season progresses, we hope to provide more updates on Snowy Owl sightings, as well as offer car pool tours for folks to see them.  They often sit out on the breakwalls and can be difficult for visitors to see if they don’t have the higher power optics that we can bring out to the site.

Snowy Owl at Miller Beach by Alex Fosythe, December 1, 2014.
Snowy Owl at Miller Beach by Alex Forsythe, December 1, 2014.

Another thing to watch for right now are some of the winter finches in the area.  Pine Siskins have been common at many feeders.  But, a few redpolls should start to be seen at a few feeders.  The winter finch forecast this fall made predictions of a good flight, but so far the numbers have been few and far between.

Common Redpoll seen in the dunes during the last invasion year.
Common Redpoll seen in the dunes during the last invasion year.

Finally, we’ll probably be beating this drum for a while, but mark your calendars for the first ever Indiana Dunes Birding Festival, May 7-10, 2015.  Get information now at the festival Facebook page!

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