Those Merlins, gotta look fast, they don’t screw around…

Clipboard01
Overnight Radar from 4/26/17.

and the birds were flying today!  As typically does for a late April longshore flight, new birds were entering the scene, and a gusty south winds were bringing in the usual gang of birds from afar.  Today’s longshore flight for Wed, April 26 brought a good influx of birds, though not necessarily at the volume expected.  It was a new high species count of 76 species for the day, lumped into 3,530 individual birds.  The morning began cloudy, as expected, but quickly opened up to mostly sunny by mid morning, and near perfect conditions for a hawkflight that was overall meager, but with some major highlights.

Let’s start with new arrivals.  Both Nashville and Black-throated Green Warblers were new for the season.  As was the Greater Yellowlegs.  The day’s major highlight, the Swainson’s Hawk, was also new of course.  Others that had just arrived the day before showed again, including Baltimore Oriole, Indigo Buntings, and 2 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.  Unfortunately, yesterday’s Clay-colored Sparrow was no where to be found.

18191122_10154515423505994_2062761823_n
Blue Jays at the tower feeders today.

The Blue Jays, as predicted, jettisoned out of the dunes with a stream of migrants that hit 1,255 birds.  A few even stopped to visit the tower feeders briefly for a recharge.

The hawkflight showed early promise, but fizzled in the high winds that picked up sharply at 9:30am as 20 mph wind gusts came in with the sky clearing.  In fact, only 69 birds were logged before today’s count was terminated by 1pm.  In the high winds, counters and spectators tried to catch some of the fast moving sharpies, kestrels, and Merlins that went by.  You had to look fast for some.  The day’s first Red-tailed Hawk turned out to be a dark morph western bird.  The tower site has logged an unusually high number of these this spring.

At approximately 9:30am, a circling raptor could be seen near a Red-tailed Hawk to the south west.  It drifted it’s way north and east towards the tower, and the bird’s longer wings and overall shape were seen immediately.  It wasn’t long for the first counters to exclaim, “SWAINSON’S HAWK,” to which everyone got on the drifting bird and watched it as it moved through the nearby cottonwoods and began circling again over Mt. Tom before drifting east along the lake.  The classic light adult underwing pattern could be seen by everyone watching, while others noted the uniform dark gray/brown back with no white scapular markings.  It was the first Swainson’s Hawk in two years.

Other highlights of note were a complete suite of swallows present today, that were likely undercounted.  85 Chimney Swifts were noteworthy.  As were the 20 Red-bellied Woodpeckers… a species most don’t realize do migrate in and out of the most northern part of their range.

The forecast going forward is iffy the next five days.  Rain is in the forecast so we may be dodging some wetness the next couple days.  After that the next wave of cold air arrives for the weekend, before opening up again for early next week, and into the start of the Indiana Dunes Birding Festival.

View the entire day’s list here.

FISH CROW!

After a weekend of north winds, the longshore survey at Indiana Dunes State Park has been ready for action again.  Monday brought virtually no flight, as winds remained north overnight, just shifting to east and then southeast during the day.  Which led today and tomorrow and the best chance for some major influx of birds before the next round of rain arrives.  The basic predictions were for a build up of birds to begin today with the larger total count occurring tomorrow.  We’ll see how it pans out, but for today, total number of birds was down, but diversity was good.  the 74 species (73 + 1 future split) was the highest yet this season.  2,081 birds were counted today.

Let’s start with the basics.  2 Loons and a single Red-breasted Merganser show that the waterbird flight is winding down.  Now the attention turns towards the beach where an assortment of shorebirds are now starting to move through the area.  On any given day, who know’s what may be seen.  Today, a Semipalmated Plover and 3 Spotted Sandpipers joined 6 Solitary Sandpipers in the air.

Today’s hawkflight was modest, as it has been throughout the season.  121 birds constitutes a hawkflight, but not by much.  Sharpies were most numerous, with 36 birds, followed by 34 Red-tailed Hawks.  Another Merlin flew past today, making the 31st bird of the season.  Or a single one has flown past 31 times!  We figure the former…

blja2013
Blue Jay over the tower site.

the Blue Jay movement continues to ramp up.  Counts the last week have been: 63, 71, 164, 456, and today’s 477.  We predict counts over 1,000 by tomorrow.

The obvious elephant in the checklist room is today’s FISH CROW.  The bird was heard calling from the far side of the West Lot, in front of the tower.  A quick dash located the smaller size crow, sealing in the 273rd eBird species for the longshore tower hotspot.  It is also only the second record of Fish Crow for the state, north of Indy.  The first being a small group that hung out at the Three Oaks Landfill in Berrien Co, MI a few years ago that would come across the Indiana line to roost and was logged by a few birders at the time.

Rounding out the highlights for the day was a rare “Audubons” Yellow-rumped Warbler.  This is only the second record for the site.  If future splits do occur, this could make species 274 for the tower list.  At the feeders a Clay-colored Sparrow joined a lingering Dark-eyed Junco.  The Clay-colored sang throughout the morning.

See today’s diverse list here.

Yellow-rumped Mayhem

18052804_10154496306545994_1224052826_n
Yesterday’s longshore list.

Yesterday produced an early warbler migration madness that is worth a quick blog post here.  Why any particular day is better than the next for migration depends primarily on weather conditions, especially wind speeds and directions.  Why spectacles like yesterday happen on one south wind day over another is one of those mysteries of migration that we’ll likely have more questions than answers.

Yesterday morning welcomed the dunes with very warm south winds.  Temperatures were already in the mid 60s at dawn, and shortly after dawn, the chips of Yellow-rumped Warblers could be heard and subsequently seen in mass numbers past the tower.  The first hour along produced approximately 300 Yellow-rumped Warblers.  From that point on, the intensity increased to rapid flights of dozens of birds per minute.  With clickers in hand, the surveyors began 10 minute point counts.  After each ten minutes, we cleared the score and started over.   The quick burst of birds is well seen in the chart below.

Clipboard01.jpg
10 minute point counts of Yellow-rumped Warblers from the Dunes Longshore Tower on April 19, 2017.

By the time the flight concluded, we had logged 2,213 butterbutts (37% of all birds counted yesterday).  This is the third highest ever count in Indiana.  The two higher counts, 2,823 and 2,570 both occurred at the same location, here at the state park longshore tower.  Facebook users can see a short clip of counting here.  The total also sits as the highest April total in the Great Lakes, and second highest spring Great Lakes count (according to eBird data).

Almost as equally noteworthy were the Pine Warbler flight.  Yesterday’s 47 Pine Warblers may be a new state single count record.  3 Orange-crowned Warblers were also

18009167_10154496310060994_1605449911_n
Purple Finch stopping to rest (and sing) near the tower yesterday.

pretty good this early in the season. 57 Palm Warblers also moved yesterday.

Rounding out the other highlights of the 66 species logged yesterday were one Wild Turkey, 2 Solitary Sandpipers, a small influx of 164 Blue Jays, 7 Red-breasted Nuthatches, and a few Purple Finches still moving.

 

Steady March of Migrants

It’s a magic time for the dunes longshore tower.  We’ve entered that period where anything is possible.  From new arrivals to rarities, it’s the period birders get most excited about.  It will last until the end of May for most of us in the Great Lakes.  From Golden-crowned Sparrows to Ruffs, the possibilities are endless.  Unfortunately, for today, April 18, the rarities remained just a possibility.

18034853_10154491593170994_386043903_n
Eastern Towhee singing near the tower today.

While the flight was moderate and the birds were certainly migrating and diverse, no new arrivals were logged today.  It remained much of what we’ve seen already.  However, we did count 7,574 birds to add to the season’s total, including many female Red-winged Blackbirds.  The total of 65 species was down slightly from previous days.  Thus far 138 species have been logged for the year.

Most notable was the beginnings of the Blue Jay flight.  For those who have followed in the past know that the Blue Jay migration can be spectacular the first week of May. On some days 5,000+ bird will go by west to east. Thus far we’ve logged single birds here and there.  Today’s 71 was a noticeable uptick, though far from where it will go in the following week or two.

Raptors were generally weak today, which was a surprise given the perfect southeast winds.  87 birds of prey went by. Sharp-shinned Hawks led the pack and Broad-wings, kestrels, Osprey, and Red-shouldered were only singletons today.  It was the first hawkflight in a while with no Merlin.  One surprise was the late push of 60 Sandhill Cranes that moved through the dunes today.

For the week going ahead, we hope to get one last good count in tomorrow before wind and rain get dicey.  The forecast shows a good north wind flow for Fri-Sun, but a nice south set up coming for Monday and Tuesday of next week.  This next south wind will really start to bring in the warblers, orioles, and tanagers.  Things start to get exciting now!

See today’s complete list of birds here.

Butter Butt Influx

Happy Easter.  No longshore flight officially is taking place today due to the holiday. However, Saturday, April 15th brought a very warm day to the dunes and is worth reporting.  Overnight spotty storms and south winds created a warm wind at dawn that increased through the day.  Like a good Saturday does, a contingent of bird enthusiasts joined our counter at the tower for an excellent morning of longshore flight.  By noon, temperatures were in the low 80s.  The group of birders logged 6,942 birds from 74 species.  Here are the highlights:

Little movement occurred over the lake, as the majority of waterfowl appear to have moved through.  Loons however, are still present.  3 Common Loons were seen on the water, but more significant was a good flock of 18 Red-throated Loons that took off from the water as a fishing charter boat went by past the park.

17910857_10154478138355994_1181330860_n
Pine Warbler from Friday’s count.

New for the season were House Wren, Palm Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, and White-throated Sparrow all right on time for the year!  The early wave of neo-tropical migrants was evident today, as the first rounds of typical early season warblers passed in full force Saturday.  37 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers was a significant early season movement of the the little buzzers.  The butter butts, aka Yellow-rumped Warblers, made a significant flight in front of the counters, often moving at eye level throught the nearby dune oak canopy, and landing briefly before pushing on towards Chicago and eventually Canada.  348 butter butts went by.  It wasn’t a state top 10 count, but still quite good.  In addition to the previously mentioned Palm Warbler, Pine Warblers moved through in excellent numbers too.  The day’s 23 Pine Warblers is the highest Pine Warbler total in the five years of official longshore surveys, and likely the state’s second highest single day count.

Likely due to the stronger wind speeds, the thermal development suffered and the day’s hawkflight failed to really materialize.  Only 49 raptors went by the tower.  Osprey and 5 Broad-winged Hawks were the highlights for the birds of prey.

Saturday’s full count can be found on ebird here.  The weather outlook looks good for some upcoming counts, so expect the birds to keep coming!  The season total species count so far is 137 species.

A Good Friday Count!

17965483_10154478138530994_2067119608_n
Singing Brown Thrasher by tower today.

Today, Friday April 14 saw the return of another moderate flight of birds over the dunes.  Though winds were east overnight, they quickly turned southeast after dawn, which served to facilitate some migration today.  The icterid flight was lower than has been seen in recent weeks, but when combined with the overall diversity of birds, it was a fine day for a longshore flight.  Early cloud cover kept the tower site cool through 9am, but once the sun starting peeking, the temperatures ramped up to 70 degrees, and a moderate hawk flight began, including the season’s first Broad-winged Hawks!  The day’s final tally was 73 species, comprised from 5,648 individual birds.

17918898_10154478138015994_1462205333_n
Red-breasted Nuthatch next to the tower today.

New for the season were Red-breasted Nuthatch, Broad-winged Hawk, Lark Sparrow, Solitary Sandpiper, and Chimney Swift.  It was a day for birds to put on full song.  Many species hung around the tower and posed for photos as well during the morning hours.   The Lark Sparrow came flying in past the tower low, and eventually would hang around the feeder area off and on for several hours today.  The nuthatch, to the right also flew directly overhead and landed in the cottonwoods next to the tower and played it’s tin horn a few times before moving west.

The hawkflight began in earnest, with a few sharpies and kestrels on the move. Once things began to warm up, the buteos showed up.  First with a single Red-tailed Hawk here and Red-shouldered there.  For the day 215 raptors were logged, with Sharp-shinned leading the pack with 55.  43 Red-tailed Hawks were logged, as well as 23 Broad-wings.  164 Sandhill Cranes also joined in the thermal guide today, likely emptying out what leftover birds remained in the Kankakee River area.

17909387_10154478138175994_18621634_n
Poor but identifiable photo of Lark Sparrow at feeders today.
17910857_10154478138355994_1181330860_n
Pine Warbler in nearby Jack Pines today.  

Other notables for the day included a parade of Purple Finches.  Small flocks of 10-20 moved by overhead, totaling nearly 100 for the morning.  The 31 flickers was down significantly from the past few days, but still notable.  Finally, 13 Gnatcatchers was the season’s best showing, alongside 104 Yellow-rumped Warbler (and one Pine Warbler).

Today’s complete list is here.  Tomorrow looks to be an even better day with several new arrivals.  The Dunes Longshore count sits at 132 species for the year.  For those in the dunes area tomorrow, the park will be hosting a special Woodcock Walk.  We’ll be carpooling from the main entrance parking lot to see the special sky dance of this amazing bird.  The program is free and begins at 7:30pm (CDT).

17918620_10154478138260994_328418089_n
Eastern Bluebird hanging out on the tower ramp today.

 

 

Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah

As predicted, the weekend brought forth the predicted south winds needed badly for a good old fashioned longshore flight along the southern shores of Lake Michigan.  Also, as predicted, a cooler start and lighter winds brought a lighter flight on Saturday, with more hawks, and a stronger overall flight Sunday, with winds causing thermal sheer and lowering overall hawks, most notably buteos.

Temperature wise, you couldn’t have asked for a better two days.  With upper 60s on Saturday, and mid 70s on Sunday, it was very May like.  Unfortunately, the May birds are still quite a bit away from the dunes.  The only downside to the weekend’s flight was the total increase in new arrivals.  Four new arrivals made it to the dunes.  Those being American White Pelican, Purple Martin, Barn Swallow, and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.  

Saturday’s major highlights include the 135 raptors that went by.  Leading the pack were 41 Turkey Vultures and 32 Red-tailed Hawks (including one dark morph).  Over 5,000 grackles streamed by, with an excellent 990 Rusty Blackbirds also mixing in. Some flocks were pure Rusties.

 

Sunday brought even warmer temperatures, with starting temperatures in the mid 50s.  But winds were much stronger. Enough to keep the counters down below the tower for much of the day.  The dawn flight brought a much larger icterid movement.  Some 10,000 grackles, blackbirds, and cowbirds moved in great streams overhead.  The main flight path was nearly directly over the beach, making for great visual counting.  The grackles nearly doubled the previous day, an Rusty Blackbirds exceeded the day before with 1,378 birds.

FullSizeRender (1)
Enlarge to see sample grackle flight at dawn over the tower site.  Those specks aren’t your dirty screen.

The major highlight of the morning was the strong flicker flight and excellent sapsucker count.  An even 300 Northern Flickers undulated past the beach.  Their sounds could be heard in each of the nearby woodlands.  More silent and stealthy, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers staged a huge movement in not just the dunes, but many reported stations throughout Indiana.  By the end of the day, 55 of them were counted.  This is the fourth highest state count ever.  In case you’re wondering, the dunes area holds the next three higher records as well.

ybsa2
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker at the old Green Tower site.

In contrast to the raptor flight of Saturday, only 92 raptors were seen.  Though many early Sharp-shinned Hawks were seen early, giving promise to more later.  The much awaited Broad-winged Hawks did not arrive today.  The other notable today was a very good 74 Yellow-rumped Warblers for this date in early April.  Most high counts occur in late April, with the state record being 2,823 of them in a single day counted from this very spot.

Saturday’s list is here and includes 9,047 birds coming from 68 species.

Sunday’s list is here and includes 16,009 birds divided among 78 species.

The current forecast shows promise for a Monday flight, but begins to waiver, particularly for Wednesday.  But another warming trend is not far behind for the next wave of migrants.  We’re hoping for some more of neo-tropical variety!