Greetings from a long winter slumber. Long in time, but not long in winter weather. The current El Nino conditions afforded us a mild winter and has even allowed for some early migration to occur in late February, with some early preseason longshore flight counts done on February 19, February 20, February 23, February 28, and February 29. Looking ahead to the upcoming season, this early movement and warm weather may look promising for large counts, but history has told us that the warmer springs don’t necessarily translate to larger spring totals. 2012 is our best year to compare with. Temperatures in the 70s and even 80s that year in March led to a quick stream of birds, but no single day with spectacular counts, as happens when north winds bottle birds up. However, the current El Nino outlook seems to be both currently exhibiting and forecasting a weakening in conditions. Whether this will happen in time for the flight or wait until early summer is something we’ll watch play out the next few months.
One aspect of the Dunes Longshore Flight Project that few folks realize is it’s integration into eBird. eBird provides a real-time, online checklist website that participants can access to learn more about the site, the birds seen, as well as an assortment of migration data. In addition to searching out species sightings, you can also directly view the summary of birds being seen at the Dunes SP Longshore Tower as a hotspot on eBird. The good folks at eBird have made this specific site an ebird hotspot, which allows all the sightings from this single location to be summarized. At over 260 species seen, it’s one of the highest total hotspots in the state, and when combined with the overall Indiana Dunes State Park, it’s in the top five hotspots on Lake Michigan. All of this from a single high dune, rather than the sprawling fish and wildlife areas and parks that it shares the top spots with. If you want to see a histogram summary of birds, visit here.
The first week of longshore counting this year should begin officially on Sunday, March 6. The current dunes forecast calls for nothing but south winds beginning that day and continuing all week. If a decent Red-winged Blackbird/Grackle/Robin flight starts this early, we could be looking at 100,000+ birds easily within the first week. As always, the public is welcome to join us as we count birds. We’ll again go into more detail here on how the count is done and some tips for this style of sedentary birding, but it’s best experienced in person. You can best locate the site on Google Maps. Hit the direction button. Birders can park in one of two places. Want to enjoy the scenery? Park down in the West Lot parking lot and walk the stairs up from the SW corner of the lot. For a more direct route, turn left up the service drive before entering the West Lot. Birders may park in the staging area near the park’s water treatment plant. There are several handicap parking spaces and room for other cars. Please don’t drive the access drive all the way to the tour as construction on the tower’s accessibility ramp is taking place.