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.

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