Preparing for the Festival

Reporting from atop the bone cold birding tower today, there’s not a bird in sight.  In the past we’ve gone stretches where fronts park themself in the right spot and the dunes become the recipent of north winds for extended periods.  In March these spells reduce our blackbird and grackle count, in April, many new arrivals will be late to appear.  However, April of 2015 seems to be a whole other beast.  We haven’t conducted a longshore flight since April 19th, and the next window right now is looking like the weekend before any birds will be moving again.

The woodlands and wetlands of Dunes State Park is more reminiscent of mid April at this point.  The migrant Hermit Thrushes, White-throated Sparrows, and kinglets are in numbers considered quite low for this date.  Birders coming up from central Indiana have commented on how much quieter and “behind” things are here.  Fortunately, all this can chance with a few good days of south winds.  Our current prediction is that this will occur on Saturday and Sunday (May 2/3).  With it may bring the first real wave of neotropical migrants.  If you’re in the park, or on the tower you’ll probably notice good numbers of Eastern Kingbirds, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Nashville Warblers, Black-throated Green Warblers, as well as some of the dune specialties, like Prairie Warbler.

Park crew working near the tower today.  4/26/15.
Park crew working near the tower today. 4/26/15.

In the meantime we installed the longshore counting board today.  The board was donated By Konrady Plastics and will help visitors  to get a glmpse of some of the migrating birds, whether they are here in the morning or not.

Finished bird counting sign.  4/26/15
Finished bird counting sign. 4/26/15

In the meantime as well, no idle minds or hands are going to poor use.  Many shorebirds fly by the beach and from our vantage point, they are hard to identify.  Most just fly by and don’t stop.  Now, were hoping to slow them down or make them stop just for a second.  Brendan introduced his line of foam decoys that he plans to employ this spring, while counting.  From a far, they look pretty believable.  We’ll see how well they work in the coming week!

Brendan's minions... .aka peeps.  4/26/15.
Brendan’s minions… .aka peeps. 4/26/15.
A close up of Brendan's shorebird deboys.
A close up of Brendan’s shorebird deboys.
Close up of the shorebird deoys. 4/26/15



Birdathon 2015!

If it seems there have been a lack of reports from the longshore tower this past week or so, it’s for good reason.  This weather stinks!  Dominant north and west winds have locked out the Great Lakes (and much of the Ohio River Valley) from the benefits of a south wind for bird migration.  What started off as a warm and dry spring has quickly gone cold and wet.  What effects this will have on bird migration are yet to be seen, but one thing is for sure is that as long as north winds dominate, there will be no large scale bird flights occurring over the dunes at dawn.  If you look at the forecast grids below, it doesn’t look hopeful through the next week that we’ll see any big push. A newer website to track bird migration is


Yet despite this, there will be trickle birds.  They will move short distances in that urge to reach the breeding grounds.  We should expect most migrants to be grounded in the cold north winds, but a few recent arrivals should be picked up that haven’t been detected yet.

Until then, it’s time for our annual appeal.  Each year, our sleep deprived crew of five birders sets out to log as many species of birds as we can in 24 hours; all for the name of conservation.  The Northwest Indiana Migratory Bird Association will set out for another Birdathon in 2015! On Saturday, May 16th our team will be starting at 2:30am for owls, whippoorwills, and nighthawks, and race towards the finish line, after dark, picking up raptors, shorebirds, and warblers along the way.

How can you help raise money for dunes area bird conservation? It’s easy! Simply fill out the online form by  May 14th (do it today, while it is on your mind!). Last year our team found a team record 165 species of birds. If you had pledged a dime for each species, you would have $16.50…you get the idea! If you want to challenge our team with an extra $5.00 for a specific bird, maybe your favorite rare bird, please do so. It’s a fun way to raise money for a very good cause. The full list of birds will be sent to all that pledge. Your contribution is tax deductible as allowed by law.  Please consider making a pledge or flat donation here!

2014 Birdathon Team
2014 Birdathon Team

Last year’s funds are helping to support the inaugural Indiana Dunes Birding Festival, May 7-10.

Weekend Wrap-up

It’s been a difficult week of birding from the longshore platform.  Winds have bounced back and forth and never blown one direction for more than a few hours.  This weekend was a prime example of the entire week.  Saturday began with warm conditions, but by 10am the north winds pushed ashore and shut down any semblence of a longshore migration.  Sunday brought east winds and cloudy conditions.  Certainly not ideal, but just enough to raise some hope and bring birders up to count birds anyway.  If you combine the entire weekend’s effort, 8,500 birds were counted.

The most disappointing aspect of this week (and the week to come) is that there are so many new arrivals staged to arrive any day.  Without south winds, these birds will stage to the south of us and only trickle in.  Their window for record breaking entries and flights will close on us.  Flickers are now weaning, and the next intro of swallows, kingbirds, and Yellow-rumped Warblers will depend on these south winds if they hope to arrive in large numbers (or better yet we hope to see arrive in large numbers).

Brendan logging raptors from the tower site, Sun, April 19, 2015.
Brendan logging raptors from the tower site, Sun, April 19, 2015.


As can be expected during this period, even though there were no major flights this weekend, a handful of new arrivals were logged.  Those included Cliff Swallow, Lark Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, and Henslow’s Sparrow.

419 hawkflightMore exciting were a few rarer birds that flew by this weekend.  The two making most note were close flybys of YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD on Saturday, and a SWAINSON’S HAWK on Sunday.  The Swainson’s accompanied the best hawkflight of the season, as nearly 200 birds of prey flew past the tower, many directly over the beach in the strong east/southeast winds.

The season’s 189,000 birds stands with 130 collective species thus far.  Many more should arrive if we can get a good south wind push.  More birds, means more photos and more blogs!

On a side note, the Indiana Dunes Birding Festival has a openings left if you’d like to attend just the keynote presentation by James Currie on Saturday night, May 9th.  For more information, check the registration page.  


Dodging Rain Drops

Early morning calm between the rain storms.  April 12, 2015.
Early morning calm between the rain storms. April 12, 2015.

A warm and humid Monday greeted the dunes today, April 12.  The radar overnight indicated some major bird movement, but when rain enters the radar, it’s always difficult to gauge how many of the birds will actually reach the lakeshore for the morning flight.  Equally as difficult can be deciding when to roll out of bed to catch the morning flight when you hear thunder and lightning outside your bedroom.  Arriving at the longshore tower at the start of a rain storm leads to waterlogged counters, wet data sheets, and disgruntled spirits.  Waves came though this morning and both the counter and the blog writer got a little wet trying to time the arrival between these waves.  But, soon enough, the biggest wave passed and what remained of the morning flight took off and the morning’s count wasn’t too bad.

Poor photo of two Vesper Sparrows.  Taken through iPhone at 100 yards away.  4/12/15.
Poor shot of two Vesper Sparrows taken through iPhone at 100 yards away. 4/12/15.

For Monday, April 12, 3,892 birds, comprising 73 species flew past the tower.  Little bits of everything expected by this date could describe it best.  A handful of ducks made it past in the off lighting.  A handful of non-thermal kettling hawks went by.  Mixed passerines came by in small groups.  Perhaps most interestingly was a a flock of 4 Vesper Sparrows that came down the beach and landed in a small cottonwood together for an extended period.

Swooping Yellow-bellied Sapsucker from the big cottonwood by the tower.  4/12/15.
Swooping Yellow-bellied Sapsucker from the big cottonwood by the tower. 4/12/15.

Flickers and sapsuckers continued their undulating march northward.  With 60 flickers and 20 sapsuckers, they are close to approaching 1,000 and 100 for the season respectively.  Watching sapsuckers go by every few minutes, with their white stripes on their wings is always a neat seasonal occurrence, if not for just a week or two on the tower.

Annuals for the morning would include a flyby Greater Yellowlegs, a singing House Wren, and two White-throated Sparrows at the tower feeders.  The feeders have now hosted 9 sparrow feeders thus far this season, not including House Sparrows (weaver finches).


By afternoon the north winds had set in, so it looks like a break until Thursday.  Today’s full list follows.  Don’t forget that any blog photo can be clicked on for a larger version.

Canada Goose 17
Wood Duck 6
Mallard 2
Blue-winged Teal 7
Northern Shoveler 1
Red-breasted Merganser 33
Common Loon 4
Horned Grebe 2
Double-crested Cormorant 45
Great Blue Heron 4
Great Egret 2
Turkey Vulture 2
Northern Harrier 3
Cooper’s Hawk 1
Bald Eagle 1
Red-tailed Hawk 1
Sandhill Crane 1
Killdeer 2
Greater Yellowlegs 1
Bonaparte’s Gull 1
Ring-billed Gull 95
Herring Gull 1
Great Black-backed Gull 8 5 imm. and 3 adults.
Caspian Tern 14
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) 2
Mourning Dove 64
Belted Kingfisher 2
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 20
Downy Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker 60
American Kestrel 2
Merlin 1
Peregrine Falcon 1
Eastern Phoebe 2
Blue Jay 1
American Crow 1
Northern Rough-winged Swallow 1
Tree Swallow 53
Barn Swallow 3
Black-capped Chickadee 1
Tufted Titmouse 2
White-breasted Nuthatch 1
House Wren 1
Carolina Wren 1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 3
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 6
Eastern Bluebird 4
Hermit Thrush 1
American Robin 47
Brown Thrasher 5
European Starling 6
Yellow-rumped Warbler 20
Eastern Towhee 3
American Tree Sparrow 1
Chipping Sparrow 4
Field Sparrow 4
Vesper Sparrow 4
Song Sparrow 2
Swamp Sparrow 1
White-throated Sparrow 2
Dark-eyed Junco 8
Northern Cardinal 2
Red-winged Blackbird 1266
Eastern Meadowlark 6
Rusty Blackbird 2
Common Grackle 1935
Brown-headed Cowbird 21
House Finch 4
Purple Finch 59
Pine Siskin 5
American Goldfinch 2
House Sparrow 1

First Major Hawkflight for 2015!

Sunday, April 12 was a pretty great day at the longshore tower.  The night’s chilly low 40s warmed quickly at dawn and the growing south winds brought 70s for the first time of the flight count this year.  There was a good mix of passerines as well as the first major hawk flight of the season.

Several participants assisted the counter in logging 18,406 birds, comprising 67 species.  After today’s new arrivals, 120 species have now been logged this year.  The new season total is 171,000 birds.  Adding to the new species this morning were Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Bonaparte’s Gull, and Palm Warbler.

Golden Eagle over the hawkwatch today.  Photo courtesy John Kendall.
Golden Eagle over the hawkwatch today. Photo courtesy John Kendall.

For the first major hawk flight of the year, 122 raptors went past the tower site.  The diversity was good, despite not including a single Broad-winged Hawk.  Sharp-shinned and Red-tailed Hawks made up the majority, but the surprise bird was a Golden Eagle, captured on camera flying over the park.  This is the second Golden Eagle recorded this season from the longshore flight zone.

Other highlights included a late push of 291 Sandhill Cranes, 2 Eurasian-collared Doves, 236 Northern Flickers (a season high count),  American White Pelican (see below), and an astounding 1,822 Rusty Blackbirds.

American White Pelican over the longshore tower today.  Photo courtesy John Kendall.
American White Pelican over the longshore tower today. Photo courtesy John Kendall.

Today’s full list follows.  Conditions should provide another flight Monday before winds shift for Tuesday.

Canada Goose 4
Mallard 2
Red-breasted Merganser 3
Common Loon 7
Horned Grebe 1
Double-crested Cormorant 31
American White Pelican 1
Great Blue Heron 6
Great Egret 2
Turkey Vulture 17
Osprey 3
Golden Eagle 1 Juvenile.
Northern Harrier 4
Sharp-shinned Hawk 49
Cooper’s Hawk 2
Bald Eagle 2
Red-shouldered Hawk 2
Red-tailed Hawk 33
Rough-legged Hawk 1
Sandhill Crane 291
Killdeer 4
Bonaparte’s Gull 1
Ring-billed Gull 40
Herring Gull 1
Great Black-backed Gull 3
Caspian Tern 2
Rock Pigeon  12
Eurasian Collared-Dove 2
Mourning Dove 56
Red-headed Woodpecker 1
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 4
Northern Flicker 236
Pileated Woodpecker 1
American Kestrel 8
Eastern Phoebe 1
Blue Jay 1
American Crow 1
Horned Lark 3
Northern Rough-winged Swallow 6
Tree Swallow 82
Barn Swallow 7
Tufted Titmouse 1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 6
Eastern Bluebird 11
American Robin 269
European Starling 7
Lapland Longspur 25
Palm Warbler 2
Yellow-rumped Warbler 40
Eastern Towhee 2
American Tree Sparrow 1
Chipping Sparrow 9
Field Sparrow 1
Song Sparrow 1
Dark-eyed Junco 7
Northern Cardinal 1
Red-winged Blackbird 6464
Eastern Meadowlark 5
Rusty Blackbird 1822
Common Grackle 8390
Brown-headed Cowbird 369
House Finch 1
Purple Finch 16
Pine Siskin 18
American Goldfinch 2
House Sparrow 1

Aerial Flyers Only!

After a turbulent night, the longshore flight for Friday, April 10 was restricted to a select few.  Despite hoping for a more fruitful flight, this morning was greeted to strong, gusting west winds.  The skies were clouded and it looked almost gloomy.  The overnight brought howling winds, damaging storms, and even tornadoes to the west of the park in Illinois.  The early morning gloom  however would fade away to beautiful sunshine, despite the breezy conditions.

As alluded to above, there was hope for a good flight, but only 862 birds could be mustered.  Waterfowl made another little push over the lake, and some of the more aerial raptors took wing.  Most notable was an excellent push of Merlins.  Today’s 10 birds ties the state’s second highest count.  The previous 10 count and current state record single day count of 13 also belong to the longshore tower site.

Also expected, swallows put on a good movement today too.  Two new first of the year birds were logged. The first being a late and outgoing Thayer’s Gull, and the second was the season’s first Broad-winged Hawk.

Many park visitors are also getting treated to other animals besides birds.  The resident fox now makes near daily trips past the tower and is being seen more and more by park visitors, now that spring is bringing more people out.  The photo below was just taken yesterday in the campgrounds!

Red Fox at the campground entrance.  April 9, 2015.
Red Fox at the campground entrance. April 9, 2015.

The full list follows:

Canada Goose 1
Wood Duck 4
Gadwall 11
Mallard 6
Blue-winged Teal 7
Northern Shoveler 7
Green-winged Teal 4
Redhead 20
Lesser Scaup 27
White-winged Scoter 1
Bufflehead 12
Hooded Merganser 1
Red-breasted Merganser 27
Red-throated Loon 7
Common Loon 7
Horned Grebe 7
Double-crested Cormorant 20
Great Blue Heron 1
Turkey Vulture 10
Osprey 3
Northern Harrier 6
Sharp-shinned Hawk 5
Cooper’s Hawk 4
Broad-winged Hawk 1
Red-tailed Hawk 14
Sandhill Crane 2
Ring-billed Gull 335
Herring Gull 116
Thayer’s Gull 1 imm.
Glaucous Gull 1
Great Black-backed Gull 5
Caspian Tern 9
Mourning Dove 1
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 4
Downy Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker 11
Merlin 10 All birds flying west.
Eastern Phoebe 2
Blue Jay 1
American Crow 1
Northern Rough-winged Swallow 4
Tree Swallow 89
Barn Swallow 17
Black-capped Chickadee 1
Carolina Wren 1
Eastern Bluebird 2
Brown Thrasher 1
European Starling 8
Eastern Towhee 1
American Tree Sparrow 2
Field Sparrow 3
Song Sparrow 1
Dark-eyed Junco 6
Red-winged Blackbird 2
Common Grackle 1
Brown-headed Cowbird 1
Pine Siskin 7
American Goldfinch 1
House Sparrow 1

Moist Advection!

Thursday, April 9 brought a brief return to longshore counting in the dunes.  The previous couple of days have been a mix bag of rain, north winds, and generally poor migration conditions.  Even today was in the air, as east winds were predicted to dominate the area.  However, dawn found the dunes smack dab in the middle of two storm fronts moving through the lower Great Lakes.  Conditions were warm, moist, and full of birds migrating between the storms.  The southerly winds were bringing warm and wet air from the Gulf, but also birds that have been staging in southern Indiana and points south.

By noon, storms rolled in and shut down migration, but not before 10,000+ birds were logged, comprising 70 species.  New birds for the year included Pied-billed Grebe, Wilson’s Snipe (in the prairie), Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Hermit Thursh, Savannah Sparrow, and Swamp Sparrow.  Clearly new birds were riding the moist advection overnight.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker at bird tower site.
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker at bird tower site.

Blackbirds and grackles put on a good early morning movement. Particularly grackles.  5,000+ grackles, doubled the number of red-wings moving through.  Also notable in numbers were 21 Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers.  Not record count, but still pretty good.

Without the sunshine, the raptors didn’t put on a very big flight, but the fast flying raptors took advantage of the south winds.  4 Merlins doubled the season total thus far.  Kestrels, Peregrine Falcon, and Sharp-shinned Hawks rounded out the majority of raptors today.

Exciting news to share is the first Osprey on the Dunes State Park Osprey tower.  If you remember, the towers were put up last year and reported in our blog in 2014.  Well now, a year later, Becky Muraro was able to capture the following photo from atop the Kemil Rd tower. It hasn’t been seen since, but it’s obvious that the first Osprey has already taken notice to the beautiful nesting site!  If you build it….

Osprey on Kemil rd tower, April 2.   Photo by Becky Muraro.
Osprey on Kemil rd tower, April 2. Photo by Becky Muraro.

SUNP0185 (1280x952) (1280x952)

Today’s full list follows:
Canada Goose 12
Wood Duck 4
American Wigeon 1
Mallard 3
Blue-winged Teal 8
Green-winged Teal 36
White-winged Scoter 3
Bufflehead 5
Red-breasted Merganser 8
Pied-billed Grebe 1
Horned Grebe 4
Double-crested Cormorant 64
Great Blue Heron 6
Great Egret 1
Turkey Vulture 13
Northern Harrier 3
Sharp-shinned Hawk 4
Red-shouldered Hawk 1
Red-tailed Hawk 3
Killdeer 10
Wilson’s Snipe 1
Ring-billed Gull 20
Herring Gull 40
Great Black-backed Gull 2 Adults.
Caspian Tern 26
Mourning Dove 56
Belted Kingfisher 6
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 21
Northern Flicker 79
American Kestrel 10
Merlin 4
Peregrine Falcon 1
Eastern Phoebe 3
Blue Jay 1
American Crow 4
Horned Lark 6
Northern Rough-winged Swallow 1
Purple Martin 3
Tree Swallow 110
Barn Swallow 10
Black-capped Chickadee 3
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1
White-breasted Nuthatch 1
Golden-crowned Kinglet 1
Eastern Bluebird 13
Hermit Thrush 2
American Robin 696
European Starling 86
Lapland Longspur 12
Yellow-rumped Warbler 6
Eastern Towhee 1
American Tree Sparrow 4
Chipping Sparrow 3
Field Sparrow 8
Vesper Sparrow 1
Savannah Sparrow 1
Fox Sparrow 3
Song Sparrow 4
Swamp Sparrow 1
Dark-eyed Junco 34
Northern Cardinal 2
Red-winged Blackbird 2892
Eastern Meadowlark 1
Rusty Blackbird 254
Common Grackle 5250
Brown-headed Cowbird 377
House Finch 1
Purple Finch 3
American Goldfinch 2
House Sparrow 1