A New Killdeer Dunes Record!

The view this morning.  High winds and a lack of birds to the south brought the decision to bird from below the tower.

Today’s title says it all.  With warm south winds overnight, and near perfect conditions at dawn, a massive longshore flight took place today, March 7 ,2016.  It the earliest longshore flight to reach 20,000 birds since the survey began in 2012.  The previous earliest date to reach 20,000 was March 10.  In total, 20,670 birds flew past the counters today, comprising 55 species.

A small view of the stream of blackbirds moving directly in front of the counters today.  Click on image for larger view.

As you might be able to guess, blackbirds and grackles dominated the totals today with 7,474 and 5,052 of each respectively.  It was a very good early March flight, but still far from the blackening skies that we’ll see later this month (or week!).  Robins posted their first good flight as well, with 881 of the warm orange bellies scooting west.

Very blurry and distant Red-throated Loon this morning.

Waterfowl were not in large number among the streaming gulls, but the diversity was excellent today.  A whooping 19 species of ducks, geese, loons, and grebes were logged today.  Several Red-throated Loons staged off shore for easy viewing with the morning sunlight reflecting off their still white chests.  Compared to the large scoter count yesterday, 7 White-winged Scoters was on the low side.  They must have really pushed out of here yesterday.  Among the ducks and gulls, larks, longspurs, and Killdeer were the main event seen flying over the lake, with Killdeer really impressing!


It was immediately apparent that Killdeer were on the move this morning.  Their loud and boistorous “kii-dee” calls were constantly in the background and flocks of 10-15 were a regular sight every few minutes over the open water of Lake Michigan.  Numbers quickly added up and it didn’t take long before the old dunes record, and fourth highest state record for Killdeer would be shattered.  Today’s 905 Killdeer that flew past the longshore tower toppled the old dunes area 342 that were seen where else… the longshore tower in 2003.  See the old top 10 counts in the dunes below.  As for state counts, this Killdeer number is the highest spring count in the state, and fourth behind the state’s record 1,200 bird seen in August 2009 at Pine Creek Gamebird Habitat Area.

Top Ten Largest Killdeer counts in the Dunes, courtesy Brock’s Birds of Indiana Dunes, 2010.

The morning ended off with a very good Sandhill Crane flight.  Though no record by any means, today’s 2,718 cranes was a good indicator of what was to come.  Likely, a good portion of the Kankakee River bottoms cleared out this morning, but afternoon reports indicated there were still several thousands still there, and many more in the rest of the state to bring more cranes this way.

Crane counting with the clicker.

The forecast for the remaining week doesn’t look to bad for more repeated good flights.  Off and on rain showers may hamper things, particularly Thursday, but temperatures in the 50s  and low 60s should allow for continued flights of birds, particularly with the southern winds being predicted.

To see today’s complete list of 20,620 birds, see the ebird list.



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