Run Turkey Run!

The beginning of March seems like a distant memory already.  Some 31 days have now passed as we turn the page to April. Memory has now faded as to whether March came in like a lion or a lamb, but today is much fresher.  The weather was very lion like, but the birds were a lamb.  So lamb like that a mere 630 birds were all that were counted today.  Such low numbers might not even get blogged!  So low was the day, only Ring-billed Gulls reached triple digits, and that’s among 57 species seen!

The weather this morning was a warm southwest gale.  Though not as hard as some other stormy mornings, a constant 20 mph wind brought multiple layers of clouds sailing over.  Rain was throughout the region to our south, east, west, and north.  Yet amazingly, the tower site remained dry through most of the morning.  Despite this, there was a general dearth of birds.  No blackbirds or significant robin flocks took flight in the weather.  Occasional swallows and a few good streams of dabblers were the bulk of the birds.  Most dabblers were Blue-winged Teal.

turkey3The only new birds for the season was a pair of turkeys poking around the tower site and a lone Hermit Thrush.  The turkeys simply trotted right up the road and nearly to the counters, then took full sprint around the longshore tower.  Some ten minutes later one of them could be seen in full sprint across the west lot below.  Wild Turkeys are typically annual birds from the tower, but not very common.

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Turkey trot in front of the longshore tower.  3/31/16

As March closes and April arrives, anticipation is high.  April is a time of constant new species, while still experiencing good numbers of blackbirds and robins.  It’s a time for the best hawkwatches… when Swainson’s or Goshawks go by.  It’s also a time for rarities.  From Say’s Phoebe, Upland Sandpipers, Western Kingbirds, Yellow-headed Blackbirds and more.  For the season so far just a tad over 150,000 birds have been officially counted.  The tower site has accumulated 114 species in just a month.  To compare that with all the other state’s hotspots on eBird, see the running total below.  Note that the two from today are not on the list yet.  Another cool feature of using eBird is the checklists that can be generated.  If you’re visiting in April, use this checklist at the site to log your birds on paper.  If you want the entire checklist for the Indiana Dunes State Park, you can download this list.

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Top Indiana eBird hotspots this year in total species.  Courtesy ebird.com

Today’s full 630 birds are here.  See you in April!

River of Rusties

The return of south winds brought the return of the longshore flight today.  Technically, a flight count was conducted yesterday, but the near calm conditions created a strong on-shore lake wind that killed much of a chance for any significant flight.  After a dud of a day yesterday (not blogged), today showed much more promise.  SSE winds shifting to due south by 8am, with building winds. For the most part the forecast was correct and a diverse 63 species were counted, totaling 10,473 birds.  The only downside was the persistent cloud cover which tempered any ground warming which all but killed any hawkwatch that may have occurred.

As has been the case most of the season, waterfowl numbers were again low.  Even still, the diversity was good with both Surf and White-winged Scoters being logged.  Nice comparisons could be seen today of both Red-throated and Common Loons.

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Vesper Sparrow today, 3/30/16

In other birds, several new birds entered the state park for the longshore count today.  Highlights included Greater Yellowlegs, Wilson’s Snipe, Barn Swallow, and Vesper Sparrow.  The latter teeing up nicely in the nearby cottonwood to be seen by all that assisted today.  The flickers and sapsuckers were again on the move.  10 sapsuckers and 120 Northern Flickers went by.  If you’ve ever watched flickers move by the tower (vs blackbirds, jays, or robins) it was postulated today that flickers must somehow wait in line and carefully migrate so that there is always 100 yards between birds.  Once again the birds moved in single file.

The morning blackbird flight was another typical average-above average movement today.  Not so average was the abundance of Rusty Blackbirds today.  It was a literal river of rusties, as they mixed heavily with grackles this morning.  An incredible 746 Rusty Blackbirds were counted migrating past the tower site today.  They still were outnumbers 10:1 by the 7,185 Common Grackles.

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Yellow-bellied Sapsucker at bird tower site.

The entire day’s list can be found here.  After tomorrow we’ll summarize the entire month’s total and compare with other years.  How close to 200,000 are we!?  One interesting aspect of this year’s count that can be measured on eBird is monitoring the season’s species list compared to other hotspots in Indiana.  Today’s 4 new species puts the Longshore Tower up to 115.  Goose Pond is at 101.  Eagle Creek Park is at 95.  Willow Slough FWA is 105.  Can you find one that is higher?  We should be able to match species even this far north with most of these sites.

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What might this logo be placed on!?

Lastly, time is almost up if you want early bird rates for the Indiana Dunes Birding Festival.  Register before March 31 at midnight if you want in on the cheap rates!  In addition, many trips are filling up fast!.  There is some pretty cool swag being given away this year too to all participants!  The keynote dinner and silent auction are also filling up.  The IDBF is happy to support not one, but two organizations this year at it’s Keynote Silent Auction, Saturday, May 7. Half of all auction proceeds will go to support the Moraine Ridge Wildlife Rehabilitation Center and the new Westchester Bird Sanctuary.  If you have an item you’d like to donate to the silent auction, message Beth Dixon at dixonclass@hobart.k12.in.us.

River of Grackles

With a hard freeze, frost covering everything, and a darn right cold morning, the longshore flight returned today as temperatures gradually recovered from their mid 20s start to a much more comfortable 50 degrees.  The day would end as the most diverse set of birds thus far for the season, with a few new additions to the year list.

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Sample image of grackles that were going over this morning, March 26, 2016.

Immediately at dawn, an influx of blackbirds began their flight parallel to the lake.  The constant streams of grackles, Red-winged Blackbirds, Rusty Blackbirds, and occasional cowbirds was awe inspiring.  Thankfully, robins were on the low side, and waterfowl were light on the water, as the entire time was spent logging the near steady stream of blackbirds moving directly overhead.  In one river flow of grackles, over 2,000 were counted.  The morning would end with 6,626 Common Grackles… the most numerous bird of the morning.  The day ended with 10,517 birds, divided into 66 species.

Raptors performed nicely today in the warming south winds.  44 Turkey Vultures were logged, in addition to 19 Sharp-shinned Hawks and 48 Red-tailed Hawks.  Among the red-tails was a dark morphed bird.  927 Sandhill Cranes would also move late morning.

As mentioned above, very little was on the water.  23 White-winged Scoters would make up the main  highlight.  A dead fish on the beach this morning drew the attention of many gulls, including 2 beefy Great Black-backed Gulls that would spend the time hogging the fish.  At one point, all the gulls picked up in the air.  Was it an eagle?  Nope, just the local beaver taking a swim out of Dune’s Creek to check out the big waters.  He swam and jogged along the shoreline.

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American Beaver on the beach this morning, March 26, 2016.

As predicted a few days ago, Northern Flickers began their first major flight today.  115 flickers streamed by, with a few stopping in the “flicker tree”… aka… the nearby cottonwoods.  Strangely, no sapsuckers joined them today.  Other notables for the day included another Caspian Tern, Brown Creeper, and a lone Purple Finch.

Today’s full list can be found here.  Unfortunately, as luck would have it, tomorrow is Easter, so an official count may not occur, but south winds should bring more birds in. Monday brings north winds, but we should be back out Tuesday and especially Wednesday of next week.

Washout

Today, March 24, was a bust in terms of a productive longshore flight.  Temperatures were a very comfortable 58 degrees at start up, but predicted storms moved in quickly, squashing all hope for a nice movement in the warm, moist air.  For the brief hour of movement this morning however, things were hopeful of what would have been a nice flight.  Robins were booking between sprinkles, landing to feed or wait out the rain, then resuming again when they had a chance.

For the brief hour count today, a surprising 3,045 birds were counted, comprising 38 species.  That’s about 50 birds a minute if you’re doing the math.  When rain came, visibility was hampered, resulting in very little waterfowl counted, and longer distance songbirds going unseen.

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Northern Flicker

It was the third morning in a row where Caspian Tern went logged.  A day after our early bird appeared on 3/22, Lake Erie also logged their first tern of the season.  18 Northern Flickers and a lone sapsucker hinted that today might have been a good flicker flight. We’re in that window now where 200-600 in a day is quite possible.  Also noticable were a band of 4 Golden-crowned Kinglets feeding in the small woods next to the tower.  Them and a pair of phoebes were feeding on the recently grounded insects.

Visit the ebird list to read the day’s total bird list.

Longshore Flight- March 23

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Wind directions at dawn this morning. Courtesy windyty.com

Sunrise this morning was greeted with a stationary front draped just south of the dunes.  Any south winds hit a wall before the lake, while north winds backed behind the front.  Thus, despite the diverse early season 64 species, only 1,646 birds were logged today.  The highlights today were 8 Long-tailed Ducks, the season’s first Eurasian Collared Dove, 2 Merlins and a visiting Field Sparrow at the feeder station.

Even though most of the cranes have seemed to have migrated, 107 today show that there are still some stragglers out there and perhaps we’ll get to log a Whooping Crane before the season is done.

Today’s full list can be found here.  Winds will remain south overnight, but rain will likely  hamper much of the counting tomorrow.  North winds briefly will dominate our Friday, but Saturday looks to be a good count day for any in the area.

Merlin featured image courtesy Matt Beatty today.

Spring’s Return

IMG_3484After a four day absence, the longshore flight from the Indiana Dunes State Park returned this  morning, Tuesday, March 22.  Officially, the first count of meteorological spring, today brought the arrival of many birds of such season.  Overall today’s flight was mediocre in quantity, but made up for in quality.  Early morning overcast finally cleared way to a sunny and warmer day.  The counters worked a little overtime today to log the season’s real first semi-decent hawkflight, as over 100 raptors were logged.  The day ended with 5,061 birds from 59 species.

An unusual blackbird flight last Friday brought 17,000 blackbirds.  But also the season’s first and only Lesser Black-backed Gull.  So today saw some excitement in guessing what the season’s 100th species would be.  As it would turn out it was the day’s first of 3 Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers.  Also new for the morning would be a pair of Golden-crowned Kinglets, a singing Field Sparrow, and a very early Caspian Tern.  The Caspian Tern was quite unique in that after leaving the gulf coast, these heavy billed terns tend to arrive at Lake Michigan before being sighted at traditional inland Indiana sites where they can be found.  We tend to log the first of the state here.  But, if you look at the recent eBird map, we also seemed to have beat out the rest of the entire inland eastern United States!  Today’s tern was the earliest in the five years of longshore flights, but not quite the state’s earliest (March 17, 2007).

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Caspian Tern sightings this year through March 22, 2016.  Taken from eBird.com.

As mentioned above, today was the first good hawk flight of the season.  111 raptors were logged today. 29 Sharpies and 19 Red-tailed made up the notables.  Oddly however, no eagles were seen at all.  Did many eagles stay farther north this winter?  Mid-winter eagle counts done in the state this year seem to point to a large number that were here, so perhaps they moved north in late February and missed being counted.

To read today’s full report, visit here.  We now sit at 105 species for the  year.  Counters assisting today included Adam Sell, Brad Bumgardner, John DeVaney, Ken Brock, John Cassady, Lynn Vernon, Kristin Stratton, and John Kendall.  Tomorrow looks promising for an early flight and south winds as long as the rain predicted holds off a few hours.

A Lucky Count

St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, brought about another stiff wind.  This time, from the west, after a night of WSW wind.  By mid morning, hints of a northwesterly flow was already starting, and unfortunately it looks like we’ll be dealing with this north wind for the next weekend, meaning no significant longshore flights will occur.  But, while we had this last good day, a nice assortment of birds were counted, including a few notables that we’ll reveal now.

For the day, 3,432 birds were counted, comprising 55 species.  The morning flight was heavy at first, but waned much quicker than normal.  Though blackbirds and grackles did put on a flight, the robins trumped them.  A large early movement of robins could be seen both in front of and behind the tower.  Some even flew right through the tower, and within feet of the counters today.  818 American Robins were logged today.

Compared to recently, the off shore waterfowl movement was weak.  Red-breasted Mergansers dominated, with 98 seen.  Both expected loon species were seen (Red-throated and Common).  Late morning gulls were the most interesting observation.  Over 900 Ring-billed Gulls streamed by in the wind.  A few Herring and 4 Great-blacked Backed Gulls also went past (see video).

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Long-eared Owl in the nearby pines today, March 17, 2016.

The major highlights of the day were 4 Common Redpolls.  These birds called feverishly as they flew directly overhead early this morning.  Shortly after, the season’s first Great Egret went by to the south.  This beats the old longshore tower record by 10 days and is within 3 days of the earliest ever in the dunes.  After the birds puttered out, we were able to scout the nearby pines that are scattered around the tower site.  In one of the higher white pines was a well camouflaged migrating Long-eared Owl roosting from a  night’s migration.  No doubt it will be gone by tomorrow.  We’ve been pretty successful at logging both Long-eared and Short-eared from the tower each spring.

Not so lucky was the photo taken below.  This unfortunate woodcock met it’s demise flying the guantlet of it’s greatest enemy… Chicago.  For the little woodcock, average migration altitude is something near 17 feet.  Many birds struggle to migrate through these large cities.  On the plus side, the dunes area woodcocks seem to be doing well.  In fact, we’ll offer up some trivia and prizes, as well as a special trip to see them tomorrow night at Birds and Brews: March.  It all takes place at the Craft House at 6pm (CDT).

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Unfortunate American Woodcock mortality this morning in downtown Chicago.  Photo courtesy Lisa Ramsey.

A few other goodies were captured in a little video today.  Feel free to watch it below.  We’ve now surpassed over 110,000 birds thus far this season.  It’s not a bad start so far. Today’s addition of the owl and egret bring the season total also to 98 species.  What will species number 100 be!?   For today’s full list, click here.