Birdathon Update and more

Greetings from the Indiana Dunes.  It’s been a long week or so since we last provided an update.  Truth be told, it’s the sad fact for so many blogs to wither away.  Fortunately, we’ve been able to capture and report on the migration in the dunes for four years now.  In the reality that has been the last two weeks, we have counted thousands of birds, hosted a very successful bird festival for the very first time, trained our staff for the upcoming season, dazzled in amazing warblers visiting the park, the nature center, and it’s feeders.  It’s now nearly 10 days since the festival ended and we’re now getting a chance to update everyone.

The birds continue to fly by the tower.  Brendan has logged many thousand neotropic migrants in the past week. Obviously todays cooler weather has put a damper on it, but there should be still some late movement coming through in the next week.  These include flycatchers, waxwings, late warblers, cuckoos, and some shorebirds. We’ll give an update soon on where we stand for the year.

In the cooler weather, both of the last two weekends, we’ve seen a multitude of warblers visiting the park feeders.  The bird bath and nearby shrubs have played host to many great species that can be seen from the comfort of the viewing bench.  Here’s a few below…. can you name them all!?  First 3 to name them gets a Dunes Birding Festival Bumper Sticker and Magnet!

bird6 bird1 bird2 bird3 bird4 bird5

Lastly, the Dunes birdathon just occurred this past weekend.  And.. what an interesting day for a birdathon.  An absolutely interesting day greeted Alexandra Forsythe, Matt Kalwasinski, Penny Starin, Kimbelry Ehn, and myself to tour the Lake Michigan Lakeshore searching for every bird we could find.  Despite concerns about hot weather and rain showers, we avoided nearly all of it, and only had a few sprinkles throughout the day.  The temperatures stayed low enough to keep bird activity going all day long.  We couldn’t quite make our new lofty goal of 170, but came close.  As luck would have it, we tied last year’s record of 165 species.  The day began with a peenting woodcock at Cowle’s Bog and ended after dark at the Gary Bald Eagle nest… just like last year.

We raised some funds for bird conservation and took the rare chance to be outside in nature for over 18 hours in a row! Despite all this, it’s amazing how many common birds you can miss. Our biggest misses this year… Belted Kingfisher, Barred Owl, and Veery!  Below is our full list for the day if you’re interested.  If you pledged, you’ll be getting all of this in the mail later in the week.

2015 Indiana Dunes Birdathon Results

Canada Goose
Mute Swan
Wood Duck
American Wigeon
Blue-winged Teal
Northern Shoveler
Lesser Scaup
Hooded Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Northern Bobwhite
Ring-necked Pheasant
Wild Turkey
Common Loon
Pied-billed Grebe
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Great-Blue Heron
Green Heron
Black-crowned Night Heron
Turkey Vulture
Bald Eagle
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Cooper’s Hawk
American Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon
Virginia Rail
Sandhill Crane
American Coot
Common Gallinule
Semi-palmated Plover
Solitary Sandpiper
Spotted Sandpiper
Lesser Yellowlegs
Least Sandpiper
Semi-palmated Sandpiper
Short-billed Dowitcher
American Woodcock
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Caspian Tern
Common Tern
Forster’s Tern
Rock Pigeon
Eurasian Collared-Dove
Mourning Dove
Monk Parakeet
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Eastern Screech Owl
Common Nighthawk
Eastern Whip-poor-will
Chimney Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Red-headed Woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker
Acadian Flycatcher
Eastern Wood Pewee
Willow Flycatcher
Least Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe
Great-crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
White-eyed Vireo
Bell’s Vireo
Blue-headed Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Yellow-throated Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Horned Lark
Purple Martin
Tree Swallow
N Rough-winged Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Bank Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Carolina Wren
Marsh Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Eastern Bluebird
Wood Thrush
Gray-cheeked Thrush
Swainson’s Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Blue-winged Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Northern Parula
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Yellow-throated Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Pine Warbler
Prairie Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Cerulean Warbler
Black-and-White Warbler
American Redstart
Prothonotary Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Northern Waterthrush
Louisiana Waterthrush
Mourning Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Hooded Warbler
Wilson’s Warbler
Canada Warbler
Connecticut Warbler
Scarlet Tanager
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Vesper Sparrow
Lark Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Grasshopper Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln’s Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Henslow’s Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Blue Grosbeak
Northern Cardinal
Indigo Bunting
Eastern Meadowlark
Red-winged Blackbird
Yellow-headed Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole
Orchard Oriole
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

165 species
Start Time: 2:35am
End Time: 8:25pm
Total Birding: 17 hours, 50 minutes


A Dunes Birding Festival Primer

IDBF logoIt’s Wednesday, May 6.  The inaugural Indiana Dunes Birding Festival kicks off tomorrow.  For some, the weather looks uncertain, for others it looks prime for some great birding opportunities.  One thing is for sure, there are a lot of birders converging in the Indiana Dunes for what looks to have the potential for a great birding event.

White-rumped Sandpiper at McCool Basin this week.
White-rumped Sandpiper at McCool Basin this week.

So far a multitude of good birds have been seen. The weather this past week has literally pushed in new waves on a daily basis.  Just in the last couple days, we’ve seen White-rumped Sandpiper, Neotropic Cormorant, 26 species of warbler, Clay-colored Sparrow, Harris’s Sparrow, a record Pine Siskin flight, and others.  What else is lurking around the dunes right now?

Given the current forecast, here are our hints to maximizing your birding experience this upcoming weekend.  One great resource for larger scale, regional bird foreasting is the new Bird Cast website.  Of particular note is there comments from the upper Midwest saying, “Although a passing frontal boundary disrupts this flow on Tuesday and Wednesday, another round of warmth builds through the end of the week and brings a new round of moderate to very heavy flights across the region”  We are already seeing heavy flights begin in the dunes and the southerly winds should continue this trend through the entire festival weekend.

One aspect that brings cheers or jeers is the aspect of rain.  There are good chances that some parts of the weekend will see rain.  But in migration, rain can mean grounding of birds, or better yet for birders, a fallout.  If the morning is wet and muggy, check the beaches for shorebirds.  Large shorebirds tend to migrate ahead of and during this weather.  Willets, Yellowlegs, and Dowitchers can be expected to be moving.

With south winds expected during the weekend, most dune locations should be ideal.  The Heron Rookery often hosts the first migrating warblers in each wave, as it is usually ahead of the dunes botanically.  However, if a good wave has entered the dunes before dawn, the lakefront traps in Lake County can be very good.  For those visiting  this weekend, you can find free parking at the Hammond Bird Sanctuary.  Tell the gate operators that you’re here for birding and there are a few saved spots.  For nearby Whiting Park, birders can enter “12411” in the parking meters for free parking.  Just place the receipt in your windshield.  This is also good at Whihala Park.

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

If winds pick up, consider birding back dune areas, such as the Trail 2 and 10 area in the Indiana Dunes State Park.  The areas near Cowle’s Bog can be productive if winds are high.  The local Prothonotary Warblers are back on territory on the boardwalk, and nearby you can check out the nesting Red-shouldered Hawk above the dumpsters in the S Orchard Picnic Area.  The nature center is also hosting many migrants.  Orioles, RB Grosbeaks, siskins, Lincoln’s Sparrows, and more are at the feeder today.

Steamy counters, May 8, 2014.
Steamy counters, a year ago this weekend.

Lastly, if it’s early and on a south wind, you should visit the longshore flight tower for it’s amazing flights and rare birds.  Birders can follow the directional arrows when you enter the park to access the West Beach Lot.  The tower has already logged over 180 species of birds thus far this season.

For more info on any birding location, be sure to visit the festival headquarters at the Indiana Dunes Tourism Visitor Center at SR 49 and US 20.

Siskin Records Shattered

Panoramic of morning flight crew on May 4, 2015.
Panoramic of morning flight crew on May 4, 2015.

The morning flight for May 4 was going to be a good one.  With rain showers throughout the area, one wouldn’t have predicted it to be “that” good though!  In fact, predawn rain soaked the dunes and led to widely scattered storm cells at sunrise.  Larger storms were building to the west and as if perfectly aligned, they only buzzed the southern tip of the lake, and brought only a brief spell of drizzle, while the rest of NW Indiana got a soaker.  Once the rain moved through, a latent flight pushed past the lake and kept the counters busy well into the late morning.  In fact it took five today to do the recording that our one expert counter meticulously manages, as he was home with a sick child.  It was decided he’s getting a raise next year!

Pine Siskin
Pine Siskin

The day ended with the highest season total yet, with 98 species, made up from 6,727 birds.  Several species put on big movements, while others that were so numerous just the day before became scarce.  Of course the big talk of the day were the tiny, yellow wing striped elephants in the room.  Right away the zipping of Pine Siskins could be heard.  Soon finch flocks were being seen over the beach that were discovered to be siskins too.  In each location that migrant flight lines occur near the tower, flocks of Pine Siskins were staging a major exodus from Indiana.  Where were these birds all winter?  At one point, several flocks charged past at eye level of the tower and forcing counters to duck and dodge to avoid being hit by them.  Groups averaged 40 birds, with some over 100.  When it was all said and done, the previous record of 2,000 birds was shattered.  3,922 siskins flew past the dunes today; marking a new state record.  It is also the highest spring count in the Great Lakes, and possibly the second highest Great Lakes count ever (

Other birds posing big movements today included 29 Red-bellied Woodpecker (Indiana’s 10th largest count), 227 Baltimore Orioles (Indiana’s 8th largest count), 51 gnatcatchers, 85 Yellow-rumped Warblers, and 31 Indigo Buntings.

Other notables included 2 late Red-throated Loons that appeared to be in breeding plumage.  They were distant, but showed now white throats that they wear in the winter.  A few shorebirds went past, including both yellowlegs, Solitary, and Short-billed Dowitcher.  A Sedge Wren was singing not far from the tower today.  Finally, the counters had a great look at a flyby Golden-winged Warbler at eye level.

Four good days have produced nearly 20,000 birds.  We have a single day of north winds, before shifting back to more migration inducing weather.  What the next four days holds (with the bird festival coming!) is anyone’s guess.  We’ll keep our eyes to the sky watching…

Full list follows: 

Canada Goose 6
Wood Duck 2
Mallard 4
Red-breasted Merganser 8
Red-throated Loon 2
Common Loon 4
Double-crested Cormorant 39
Great Blue Heron 4
Great Egret 1
Green Heron 1
Turkey Vulture 10
Northern Harrier 1
Cooper’s Hawk 2
Broad-winged Hawk 1
Red-tailed Hawk 3
Sandhill Crane 2
Killdeer 1
Solitary Sandpiper 5
Greater Yellowlegs 1
Lesser Yellowlegs 24
Short-billed Dowitcher 1
Ring-billed Gull 30
Herring Gull 3
Caspian Tern 9
Forster’s Tern 3
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) 2
Mourning Dove 19
Chimney Swift 73
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 11
Red-headed Woodpecker 18
Red-bellied Woodpecker 29
Downy Woodpecker 3
Hairy Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker 2
American Kestrel 1
Merlin 1
Least Flycatcher 1
Eastern Phoebe 1
Great Crested Flycatcher 1
Eastern Kingbird 42
Yellow-throated Vireo 1
Warbling Vireo 4
Blue Jay 453
American Crow 4
Northern Rough-winged Swallow 28
Purple Martin 3
Tree Swallow 51
Bank Swallow 5
Barn Swallow 119
Cliff Swallow 6
Black-capped Chickadee 2
Tufted Titmouse 2
White-breasted Nuthatch 1
House Wren 2
Sedge Wren 1
Carolina Wren 1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 51
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 5
Eastern Bluebird 9
American Robin 26
Gray Catbird 2
Brown Thrasher 1
European Starling 16
American Pipit 2
Cedar Waxwing 9
Golden-winged Warbler 1
Nashville Warbler 3
Common Yellowthroat 1
Blackburnian Warbler 1
Yellow Warbler 7
Palm Warbler 7
Pine Warbler 3
Yellow-rumped Warbler 85
Black-throated Green Warbler 1
Eastern Towhee 2
Chipping Sparrow 4
Field Sparrow 2
Savannah Sparrow 1
Song Sparrow 2
Swamp Sparrow 1
White-throated Sparrow 2
White-crowned Sparrow 3
Dark-eyed Junco 1
Scarlet Tanager 2
Northern Cardinal 3
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 12
Indigo Bunting 31
Dickcissel 1
Red-winged Blackbird 480
Eastern Meadowlark 2
Common Grackle 48
Brown-headed Cowbird 22
Orchard Oriole 4
Baltimore Oriole 227 t.
House Finch 2
Pine Siskin 3922
American Goldfinch 667
House Sparrow 2

Jeff McCoy watches the sky for the next rare bird.
Jeff McCoy watches the sky for the next rare bird.

Warbler Waves

As predicted, the longshore flight for Sunday, May 3 nearly doubled that of Saturday.  A good full night of south winds allowed for even more nocturnal migrant and perfect conditions allowed for a strong morning flight.  It was a fabulous flight for Blue Jays, gnatcatchers, Palm Warblers, and Yellow-rumped Warblers.  94 species, made up of 7,495 birds went past this morning.

FullSizeRender (2)
One of over 600 Yellow-rumped Warblers seen today.
FullSizeRender (1)
One of over 200 Palm Warblers logged today.


By dawn, warm and muggy conditions allowed for an early start for the first major Yellow-rumped Warbler wave.  A continual stream of chips would go by all morning, with nearly a third of them being Palm Warblers.  The 653 that went by goes down in the state’s top 10 list.  The same goes for the 211 Palm Warblers that wagged their tails past the tower today.  Both were also represented in the banding nets below the tower this morning.

Blue Jays also posted higher counts, from yesterday.  Today’s 2,911 more than doubled yesterday’s good flight.  Also notable was a nice, nearly 100 count of Baltimore Orioles, as well as over 200 Pine Siskins that flew past today.

Annuals this morning included Green Heron, Solitary Sandpiper, Great-crested Flycatcher, Wood Thrush, Cape May Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Bobolink, and a flock of 4 rare Smith’s Longspurs.  We’ve now logged 159 species for the season, and surpassed our 200,000 bird for the season today.

The weather brings in some needed rain tomorrow, but south winds will still prevail so some more flight may get logged between rain drops.  Stay tuned…

Full List, Sunday, May 3, 2015:

Canada Goose 1
Wood Duck 2
Red-breasted Merganser 18
Common Loon 1
Double-crested Cormorant 57
Great Blue Heron 1
Green Heron 1 FOY.
Turkey Vulture 8
Osprey 4
Northern Harrier 1
Sharp-shinned Hawk 4
Cooper’s Hawk 2
Bald Eagle 1
Broad-winged Hawk 1
Red-tailed Hawk 5
Sandhill Crane 2
Killdeer 2
Solitary Sandpiper 1 FOY.
Greater Yellowlegs 1
Ring-billed Gull 38
Herring Gull 2
Caspian Tern 7
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) 3
Mourning Dove 24
Chimney Swift 106
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 2
Belted Kingfisher 1
Red-headed Woodpecker 19
Red-bellied Woodpecker 23
Downy Woodpecker 1
Hairy Woodpecker 2
Pileated Woodpecker 1
American Kestrel 2
Merlin 1
Empidonax sp. 1 Yellowish and similar shape of a Traill’s.
Eastern Phoebe 1
Great Crested Flycatcher 1 FOY.
Eastern Kingbird 27
Yellow-throated Vireo 2
Warbling Vireo 4
Blue Jay 2913
American Crow 1
Horned Lark 2
Northern Rough-winged Swallow 12
Purple Martin 1
Tree Swallow 12
Bank Swallow 6
Barn Swallow 42
Cliff Swallow 19
Black-capped Chickadee 1
Tufted Titmouse 2
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1
House Wren 2
Carolina Wren 1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 168 Flying west.
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 2
Eastern Bluebird 11
Wood Thrush 1 FOY.
American Robin 25
Gray Catbird 1
Brown Thrasher 1
European Starling 56
American Pipit 5
Smith’s Longspur 4
Nashville Warbler 2
Common Yellowthroat 1 FOY.
Cape May Warbler 3 FOY.
Yellow Warbler 1
Palm Warbler 211 .
Pine Warbler 4
Yellow-rumped Warbler 653
Black-throated Green Warbler 1
Eastern Towhee 1
Chipping Sparrow 23
Field Sparrow 2
Savannah Sparrow 4
Song Sparrow 1
Swamp Sparrow 1
White-throated Sparrow 3
White-crowned Sparrow 6
Scarlet Tanager 1 FOY.
Northern Cardinal 1
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 3
Indigo Bunting 8
Bobolink 6 FOY.
Red-winged Blackbird 1588
Common Grackle 56
Brown-headed Cowbird 1
Orchard Oriole 5
Baltimore Oriole 91
House Finch 1
Purple Finch 9
Pine Siskin 218
American Goldfinch 912
House Sparrow 3

Migration Returns!

After a nearly two week hiatus, migration returned in style today.  It’s only fitting that this occurs today, as we write our 200th blog post since we began documenting the longshore morning bird flight over 3 seasons ago.  With warm south winds, conditions were ripe for the first waves to enter the dunes.  Conditions were also ideal for thirsty birders, parched from the dry spell we’ve been facing.  A full contingent tested the space limits on the longshore tower today.

Birders stack up on the longshore tower, May 2, 2015.
Birders stack up on the longshore tower, May 2, 2015.

Before midnight, light north winds gradually shifted east, then southerly allowing for what we hope is a teaser of a couple more powerful flights of birds.  If the bird represents a major baseball team, likely we saw multiples of them!  Bluejays… yup, over 1,000.  Orioles… yup, 30 to be exact.  Loons… ok, yep, we had a few of them too!  It was a morning with annuals galore, as we jumped to a daily total of 4,631 birds, represented by 90 species.

New for the scene this year were American Golden Plover, Eastern Kingbird, Yellow-throated Vireo, Warbling Vireos, Nashville Warbler, Northern Parula, Yellow Warbler, Palm Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, and Orchard Oriole.

Bluejays staged their first big push with 1,311 birds.  Over 1/4 of all birds today were Bluejays!  Goldfinches also put in a good movement with over 500 seen.  Gnatcatchers were not far behind  The 72 seen sits comfortably in the state’s top 10 count.  A few banding nets were also strung today, hoping to catch a few of these birds.  They’ll be up through the Indiana Dunes Birding Festival, and today had a nice pair of Brown Thrashers that a few folks got to see up close.

Brown Thrashers banded from the tower site today.  May 2, 2015.
Brown Thrashers banded from the tower site today. May 2, 2015.

With the most recent north winds, it’s not surprising that we have a few late migrants too.  Most notably some lingering juncos and tree sparrows.  Black-backed Gulls in May are also getting quite late.

Another good day looks in store for Sunday.  Until then, here’s a partial list of the main highlights from today.

Greater Scaup 1 
Red-throated Loon 6
Common Loon 4
American White Pelican 5
American Golden-Plover 10 FOY. Looking to land on the beach.
Great Black-backed Gull 2
Caspian Tern 9
Chimney Swift 158
Eastern Kingbird 7 FOY.
Yellow-throated Vireo 1 FOY.
Warbling Vireo 3 FOY.
Blue Jay 1311
Purple Martin 2
Cliff Swallow 2
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 72
American Pipit 10
Nashville Warbler 1 FOY.
Northern Parula 1 FOY.
Yellow Warbler 19 FOY.
Palm Warbler 4
Pine Warbler 9
Yellow-rumped Warbler 87
Black-throated Green Warbler 1 FOY.
American Tree Sparrow 1 
Chipping Sparrow 133
Vesper Sparrow 1
Savannah Sparrow 15
White-throated Sparrow 3
White-crowned Sparrow 1
Dark-eyed Junco 2
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 3 FOY.
Indigo Bunting 8 FOY.
Rusty Blackbird 1
Orchard Oriole 3 FOY.
Baltimore Oriole 30
Purple Finch 3
Pine Siskin 30
American Goldfinch 587

It’s on!

Just a quick update for everyone!

The north winds that have persisted since April 20 are about to finally depart.  We have nearly a week of straight south winds coming that will seriously amplify the bird migration in the dunes.  While other sites to our south have enjoyed a trickling of good birds, particularly south of Indy, the dunes area has been practically starved.  The current push of south winds coming after mid-night tonight and into next week should bring dozens of new arrivals each day.  Expect thousands of Blue Jays, joining a good longshore flight of orioles, warblers, flycatchers and more.  We expect Saturday to be good, but Sunday should be excellent!

Below are the wind maps forecasted for the early morning, Saturday-Monday.

Saturday morning.
Saturday morning.
Sunday morning.
Sunday morning.
Monday morning.
Monday morning.

A weak north wind still persisted this morning, but we got a small count in.  Most major new arrival was White-eyed Vireo.  Also two hummingbirds have been battling it out at the state park nature center feeders this morning.  A late American Tree Sparrow was also noteworthy, but given the winds, not too surprising.

Here’s today’s brief count:

Canada Goose 2
Mute Swan 2
Wood Duck 2
Mallard 1
Red-breasted Merganser 10
Common Loon 1
Horned Grebe 1
Double-crested Cormorant 6
Great Blue Heron 1
Turkey Vulture 12
Cooper’s Hawk 4
Red-tailed Hawk 1
Sandhill Crane 3
Killdeer 1
Ring-billed Gull 14
Herring Gull 20
Great Black-backed Gull 5
Caspian Tern 8
Mourning Dove 1
Chimney Swift 3
Red-bellied Woodpecker 2
Northern Flicker 1
American Kestrel 1
Merlin 1
White-eyed Vireo 1 FOY.
Blue Jay 12
American Crow 1
Northern Rough-winged Swallow 2
Tree Swallow 6
Bank Swallow 2
Barn Swallow 7
Black-capped Chickadee 1
Tufted Titmouse 1
House Wren 2
Carolina Wren 1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 1
American Robin 1
Gray Catbird 1
Brown Thrasher 2
European Starling 3
Pine Warbler 2
Eastern Towhee 3
American Tree Sparrow 1
Chipping Sparrow 3
Field Sparrow 6
Vesper Sparrow 2
Lark Sparrow 1
Song Sparrow 1
Swamp Sparrow 1
White-throated Sparrow 4
Northern Cardinal 2
Red-winged Blackbird 20
Common Grackle 3
Brown-headed Cowbird 1
House Finch 1
American Goldfinch 3
House Sparrow 1