Heat Wave!

windy mapJust one week after unseasonably cold temperatures and snow, we’ve now been in the embrace of very warm and dry air.  Today’s temperature again topped out at 80 degrees with mid 80s being seen a little farther south from the lakefront.  Dawn’s 57 degrees was a sign of the warm day that would follow.  With lighter winds from the SE today, the land heating pulled the cooler air from the lake, resulting in a lake breeze throughout the southern basin of Lake Michigan today.  This can bee seen visually on the Windyty.com map to the right.  Today saw nearly copy cat lists from the last few days, as another 4,290 birds flew past, comprised of 68 species.

Two new species graced the tower today, bringing the season total to 130. Those were 5 American White  Pelicans and the first singing House Wren.The pelicans have become an annual at the tower, albeit not very common and typically just seen one or two days.  The House Wren was accompanied by a many more wrens throughout the state, as evidenced by ebird reports today.

Other notables included a single Greater Scaup, Red-throated Loon, 93 flickers, a Merlin, 2 Palm Warblers, 1,800 Red-winged Blackbirds, and 1,900 grackles.

Perhaps the single most excited find of the day was a new sub-species for the tower.  Among the 32 Yellow-rumped Warblers, a single “Audubon’s”Yellow-rumped went by showing it’s all yellow throat.  This former separated species from the eastern “Myrtle” has been discussed now for many years as a potential split again, so finding it may allow the tower to cash in on an arm chair tick at a later date.

Not the “Audubon’s” Yellow-rumped Warbler seen today, but a look at the yellow throat they possess. Photo taken by the author in South Dakota. 

Winds continue southeast, with a little more southerly component overnight and tomorrow. Tuesday should be interesting as a slow cold front is dropping down with amplification from the lake, but timing may delay it’s arrival until mid morning or even afternoon, allowing for a mix bag of birds to try to migrate in front of this stalling wind block. We’ll see what it brings!

Today’s full list can be accessed here.


Group Effort

The longshore flight continued again for the fourth consecutive morning of climbing temperatures.  Today winds finally shifted a little more southerly than easterly allowing for 80 degree temperatures and a little better longshore flight compared to yesterday.  For the day, 4,607 birds flew past the tower site today, comprising 78 species, a tie with our previous highest species count this season.

There was a good contingent of birders assisting today with the promise that the overnight winds brought some new species in.  While the flight was fair to good for the day, no new species were seen today.  But, some good highlights included White-winged Scoter, 9 Great Egrets, 3 Wilson’s Snipe, 264 Northern Flickers, 9 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, 27 Yellow-rumped Warblers, 3 Vesper Sparrows, 1,826 Red-winged Blackbirds, 1,663 Common Grackles, and five each of Purple Finches and Pine Siskins.

It was the best day thus far for Northern Flickers this week.  Even cooler was the complete sweep of all possible woodpeckers today.  This included a single Red-headed Woodpecker, Pileated, and 2 Hairy Woodpeckers.

Turkey Vultures over the Green Tower site.

Unfortunately, a raptor flight once again failed to materialize. All four days of east winds have not produced a single hawkflight worth mentioning.  Today 38 raptors were all that moved, and the majority were Turkey Vultures.

An interesting aside is that fact that few sites on the Great Lakes make note of similar longshore flights.  Let alone, log them.  There is no doubt that similar movements of birds are taking place on each of the Great Lakes under certain conditions, wind directions, etc… So it’s nice to read of any place on the Great Lakes that gets a chance to witness this phenomenon and record something similar to what we see here.  Take this Lake Superior  count that occurred today half way between Duluth and the Apostle Islands in Wisconsin.  Their 9,000 birds  is no doubt just a taste of some larger counts they could log if the blackbirds and grackles had really been moving.

Today’s full list is here.  We stand at 127 species for the year, and still have the highest hotspot count for the state this year.

Flicker… and another…. and another….

Just a quick update on yesterday’s longshore flight for Friday, April 15, the day that used to be tax day.  Like the previous few days, winds were again east to southeast with a chilly start, but soon warming to the season’s hottest day thus far.  2,025 birds from 72 species were logged Friday.  It was the second most diverse day so far, but still lagging behind total counts, likely due to the current wind direction.  ‘

New for the season were Chimney Swift and Broad-winged Hawk.  Other highlights included 2 Lesser Scaup, 12 Red-throated Loons, 1 Merlin, 2 Pine Warblers feeding in the back prairie, away from the tower, and a real influx of Chipping Sparrows, with 30 being seen.

flicker tree
Hiding in the “Flicker Tree.” .

215 Northern Flickers swooped by.  Marking the third consecutive day of good movements.  While no records were broken, we have seen over 500 this week.

Winter finches, having been fairly absent this spring showed up today.  A single Pine Siskin and 3 Purple Finch were seen.

A little video clip of a Peregrine seen today is below, as well as some local cranes seen next door.  To see the full list, visit here.

South Winds Flanked

As predicted, southern winds began to waft in early Wednesday morning.  The day started cold, well below freezing, but soon warmed to the upper 50s.  Similarly, today, Thursday ,April 14 also began chilly (35 degrees) and also warmed with slightly stronger winds.  The winds the last few days have been unusually oriented from the east, rather than west.  A strong system near Greenland is cycling wind our way with what they call an Omega blocking pattern stopping fronts from pushing east.

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One of several Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers the last few days.

Today’s report is a two day summary for both Wednesday and Thursday.  As predicted, the pulse of warm air has brought new migrants in, with each Thursday out doing Wednesday.  Hopefully Friday will out perform Thursday!  For Wednesday, we logged 78 species, comprising 2,758 individual birds.  On Thursday we tempered the species count to 71, but amassed 4,539 total birds for two day total of 7,297 birds.

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Brown Thrasher singing in the morning haze Wednesday.

Highlights on Wednesday were 85 raptors, 4 Bonapartes Gulls, nearly every woodpecker (except Hairy), a singing Brown Thrasher, the season’s first Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, both kinglets, the seasons’ first Pine Warbler, and good influx of Chipping Sparrows.

Highlights for Thursday included 7 late White-winged Scoters, a Ruddy Duck, 35 late Sandhill Cranes, a significant Northern Flicker movement totaling 196 birds, Cliff Swallow, two gnatcatchers, an early Palm Warbler, and a decent blackbird movement with many Rusty Blackbirds still moving through (243 today).

The last two days have added 6 new species to bring the tower list to 126 species for the year.  How’d we do with our wish list of 20 species to be added before Monday?  Birds checked off are in bold.  6 down, 14 to go!

Green Heron
Little Blue Heron
Broad-winged Hawk
American Golden Plover
Solitary Sandpiper
Pectoral Sandpiper
Henslow’s Sparrow
Short-eared Owl
Chimney Swift
Brown Thrasher
Cliff Swallow
Bank Swallow
House Wren
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Pine Warbler
LeConte’s Sparrow
Henslow’s Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow

Radar Wednesday night around 1:00am

An interesting phenomenon with the recent easterly winds can be seen by watching the radar at night.  With the winds the last two nights, there has been evident bird migration occurring on the radar at night.  The standard overnight radar in migration is the classic donut shape, showing thousands of birds in the air at the moment.  See to the right.  To learn more about reading radar for birds, visit this link. The image seen here was taken overnight Wednesday around 1:00am.

If you visit a good radar archive site such as here, you can see time lapse and regional reflectivity to watch the radar from several locations.  The image below was captured just after sunset Wednesday  night.  You can see the exodus of birds along the eastern side of the lake, from the Indiana Dunes north… exactly where the easterly winds were likely pushing birds against the last few days.

Radar Wednesday night at dusk.

Winds should continue a southern trend, with more south than east as the next few days progress.  We should knock off a few new species Friday-Sunday.  You can read the full Wednesday list and Thursday list for all the species seen.


Migration V.5

Monday, April 11 found warmer temperatures than the weekend previous.  It also found west winds, as opposed to the forecasted north winds that were supposed to be here at dawn.  With this little reprieve before the winds actually shifted, a weak migration occurred, totaling just 17 birds shy of 1,000 counted today.  More promising however, were the divers 67 species logged. It was the most diverse count of the season.

Little to report however, as no single bird really dominated the count.  Worth mentioning in the footnotes were a Red-throated Loon diving in the waters a mere feet from the shoreline, 18 Great Egrets in migration, 32 Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers undulating by, 2 Merlin, 17 early Barn Swallows, and the counts first Brown Thrasher and Swamp Sparrow of the season.  On the “we don’t want to see” side, were the most abundant bird today… 255 Brown-headed Cowbirds.  😦

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Cooper’s Hawk on nest, 4/11/16.

Among other raptors, 8 Northern Harriers flew past today.  Several going by fairly close to the tower and available for some short video clips, seen below.  Farther in the park we also had the first Lousiana Waterthrush of the season.  This species, while nesting in the park, is a rare bird to see going by the tower, as it’s Northern cousin.  A video of it singing is also in the video below.  Also farther in the park are a pair of local Cooper’s Hawks who birders Kristin Stratton and Kim Ehn found building a nest.  If you want to see it, visit the state park camp store parking lot and simply look about 100 feet south and across the street.  The nest is easy to spot right now since the leaves have not come out yet.  By early May it may be a little harder. Also intesting is the fact that the female is still in usual immature plumage with yellow eye, while the male is sporting the usual adult plumage.

Today’s list is here.  The video referenced should be below.

Migration Forecast Promising

Still waiting for the promised migration to occur here in the Indiana Dunes. We have not had a good flight in a week, but it’s not as bad as we had a few years back when a 17 day streak of bad winds bird blocked us during the latter half of April. Fortunately, it looks like our patience may get rewarded with a bumper crop of southerly winds later this week. Migration should be back in order soon enough and we’ll likely catch up on some average arrival dates that seem to be lagging, after a stellar March start.

Tree Swallow
Tree swallow passing the longshore tower.

Thus far we’ve logged approximately 118 species of bird from the tower this year.  Surprisingly, the longshore tower site is still on top in terms of total species among the major hotspots in the state.  Even with 118, there are several species in which should have arrived this week that aren’t on the list.  On major group that has been few and far between have been swallows.  We calculated the date at which all six swallows were finally seen at the tower, those being Tree, N Rough-winged, Barn, Bank, Cliff Swallow, and Purple Martin.  The arrival for all six comes by:

2012: April 13
2013: April 18
2014: April 12
2015: April 15

The dates to log all six species would be this upcoming week, so it would seem we’re not too far behind the last four year average.  We still have half to go, and the rest, aside from Tree Swallow, have all been just single birds.

Here’s why we’re excited though.  The upcoming forecast for from days 3-10 all look promising for an influx of birds. This cold and wet weekend will stand in clear contrast to the warmer temperatures and more southerly flow that will usher a burst of moderate bird movement into and across the dunes area by late week. Of particular interest to the counters would simply be the end of morning temperatures below freezing!

Weekly dunes area forecast with increasing warmth and more prevalent southerly winds.  

With this pulse of migrants, we should catch up on some dozen new arrivals we’re expecting, in addition to some mixed bag rarities, that our southern relatives have been enjoying lately.  With that, we present our longshore tower top 20 wish list for the week of April 11-17. We’ll check back after the 17th and see how many got officially added to the list.

  1. Green Heron
  2. Little Blue Heron
  3. Broad-winged Hawk
  4. American Golden Plover
  5. Solitary Sandpiper
  6. Pectoral Sandpiper

    henslows sparrow kendall
    Henslow’s Sparrow, Dunes State Park Green Tower Count, 4/15/13.  Photo by John Kendall.
  7. Short-eared Owl
  8. Chimney Swift
  9. Brown Thrasher
  10. Cliff Swallow
  11. Bank Swallow
  12. House Wren
  13. Red-breasted Nuthatch
  14. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  15. Pine Warbler
  16. LeConte’s Sparrow
  17. Henslow’s Sparrow
  18. White-throated Sparrow
  19. Savannah Sparrow
  20. Swamp Sparrow


C’mon Clipper!

If you’ve haven’t read a good update from us in a while, there’s good reason.  We’re certainly not slacking on the reporting.  Unfortunately, we have nothing to report.  While birders scouring the dunes area may find some newly arriving birds trickling in, without south winds, the longshore flights are pretty much dead.  When good mornings produce 10,000 birds, north winds bring 100.  Recording 1% or less from normal isn’t much fun, especially when it’s cold.

Our last count was only an abbreviated count on April 3.   During this day, a chilly start warmed with good sunshine.  No passerine flight took shape, but about 50 hawks migrated past in four hours, including 4 Bald Eagles, an Osprey, and 2 Merlin.

Osprey past the longshore tower.

The scientific discussion of weather going forward still shows below normal highs lasting until at least next Friday, April 15.  Expect little counts to happen for the next week.  The exception may happen this upcoming Sunday, when we will have a brief period of south winds lasting until midnight. Unfortunately this south wind push is also bringing with it some solid rainfall predictions.  The chances are lower than recently at dawn, increasing through the day.  If you’re looking to see some longshore counts the next few days, Sunday will likely be your best bet.

Rarities like the Say’s Phoebe tend to be found at the tower in late April.  Photo from Wikipedia.

If you’re not at the tower, we’re entering a special period right now.  Many species will be entering the area come April 15.  Kinglets, Gnatcatchers, Kingbirds, and even early warblers like Pine, Yellow-throated, and Black-and-white Warblers should all be arriving.  Raptor migration features Broad-winged Hawks starting to enter the scene.  This is also the special period for rarities.  Say’s Phoebe, Upland Sandpiper, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, White-winged Dove are all late April birds to look for here.

The take home story is birds are still arriving and get out there and find them!