Today, Friday March 11, began as a cold, yet sunny morning. Roof tops glistened with frost as temperatures hovered right at the freezing mark in the dunes. A promised “light and variable” wind forecast proved to be more of a persistant north wind. Though light, it was enough to put the kabash on any passerine or waterfowl flight on the lake.
Typical north winds like this wouldn’t have even brought out a flight survey today. However, we were to meet with Mr. Wes Homoya, who with his Tropical Birding company, intended on providing speaker and logistical support to this year’s Indiana Dunes Birding Festival. So, despite the poor predicted conditions, we met at the tower site to cover the ins and outs of the longshore flight… when it occurs… and how he and his fellow staff members will be able to assist in counting and education efforts this spring.
Without warning, Sandhill Cranes began to fly past directly over the tower. They were hugging the beach line, far closer than most flocks do even on a strong south wind. Totaling 205 birds, their movement was notable in such conditions. Their altitude was also low, allowing for close up views without the need of binoculars or scopes. Also worth noting was their arrival. Most crane flights don’t happen until mid morning, when the sun’s position has allowed for adequate thermals to ease the calorie use of flight. From there, flock after flock would begin to fly over the dunes heading west.
Phone calls came into the park with inquisitive nature enthusiasts asking what the loud birds were overhead. Visitors stopped by the nature center to comment on the low flying cranes and how easy they were to see. Was it perhaps some upper level winds guiding them? Maybe the thermal mixing height was right where they were cruising at? Either way, the numbers continued to climb through the morning. Soon, the earlier week’s new lakefront record set on Tuesday was soon smashed as 19,712 Sandhill Cranes cruised over the park.
Remember Wednesday’s chart (see below) of the top Indiana Sandhill Crane counts in the spring? Today’s count marks the second highest spring count in the state. This assumes that the 20,000 count at Ewing Bottoms is accurate and not an over-estimate.