All posts by indianadunessp

The longshore count blogger for the Indiana Dunes State Park during the spring longshore bird flight count survey, held each March through May.

Warbler Mania

Tuesday, May 1 brought a flood of migrants into the dunes area.  Overnight winds from Sunday and Monday night created one of the most memorable warbler mornings at the tower in a long time.  In addition to the warblers that were moving, a new record for total new arrivals in one day may have been beat for the tower site.

Backing up first, Monday, April 30 was the first south wind in nearly a week.  There was a good movement yesterday of blackbirds, and a few first arrivals as well, including the first oriole, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Palm Warbler, Yellow Warbler, and Bank Swallow.  Over 3,200 birds flew past, comprising 68 species.

By far the highlight on Monday was the dunes’s area’s third ever FISH CROW.  This was also the second one at the site this year and first ever video/audio documented bird.

On Tuesday, 80 species were logged in a shortened survey until 10:30am.  In this period over 5,000 birds were counted.  The dawn flight was intense in warblers and other first arrivals.  Though blackbirds still made up the largest total, Yellow-rumped Warblers flew by in the strong winds, with 800+ being seen.  Equally impressive for the site, over 300 Palm Warblers went by.  The warbler list was immense, with Blue-winged, Blackburnian, Yellow, Pine, Cape May, Nashville, Tennessee, and Orange-crowned all being seen.  Unusual at this date as well, as the appearance of both Bay-breasted and Blackpoll Warbler.

Eastern Kingbird on May 1, 2018

Orioles impressed with 62 Baltimore Orioles and 8 Orchard Orioles.  Their Bobolink cousins also appeared today.  The first kingbirds arrived today.  Finally, finches did well as well.  Both Purple Finches and Pine Siskins were up, and goldfinches topped 500 birds!

Blue-winged Warbler on May 1, 2018.

The south winds should continue overnight for another good day on Wednesday if you’re near the dunes area.  Come on out.

Here are the official totals for:
Monday, April 30-
Tuesday, May 1-


18,000 Bird Morning!


As the lions or lambs of March goes out and April slides in, we finally had the first major south wind push of the season.  Winds this morning, were nearly due south, slightly SW.  Mostly cloudy skies gave way to full cloudiness and eventually rain by 9am. But in the 2 hr 40 minutes of counting, a quick 18,000+ birds flew past the tower this morning.  This was the highest total count of the season, albeit a very short count.  Birds began quickly grounding as the first sprinkles came and the entire morning flight was done by the time the rain was falling.



With Kyle out of town for holiday family time, Brad and Brendan substituted in for the count this morning.  The morning was punctuated by a massive grackle and blackbird flight.  The flocks were less organized and moving in both directions, making counting difficult.  All the while, loose robin flocks moved by below the main flocks, mainly moving east to west.

A Short-eared Owl flew out over the parking lot, circled over the tower, and then proceeded to run circuits over the prairie to the south.  For a few minutes it appeared to be feeding, before setting down just south of the tower for the day.  Other new season highlights included a flyby Osprey around 8:15am, and a cooperative Vesper Sparrow that posed in the usual cottonwoods near the tower, yet evaded a photo today.

Other notables were a flock of 5 Common Loons that went over.  Aside from the loons and 4 Caspian Terns, few waterfowl were moving.  The first push of Tree Swallows occurred, as 28 birds went by.  Rounding out the highlights were a nice bump of 5 Fox Sparrows.  Only one was singing their sweet song however.

For the day, 18,500 birds were seen, comprising 48 species.  For the full eBird list of the morning, visit here.

Spring Training

The 2018 Longshore Flight Survey is set to begin soon!  This year marks the 6th year of counting atop the old “Green Tower” site at Indiana Dunes State Park.  Thus far we have identified 1.2 million birds as they migrate north and out of Indiana.

Kyle Wiktor primaryFor the first five years we were lucky to have Brendan Grube as our point counter.  But as season’s change, so must our counters.  We’re happy to announce that Chicago area birder, Kyle Witkor will be taking the helm of the point count this year.  The season officially starts on March 4, and will run through May.  Feel free to visit the tower site any morning on a south wind to see what’s moving.  The earlier the better!

Greater White-fronted Geese flying over tower site this week.

With the current warm spell in place, we’ve been visiting the tower site to prepare for the upcoming season.  Feeders are being filled, benches dusted off, and counting skills sharpened.  In fact, we’ve had two good mornings with some flights going on already that we want to get on the books and recorded as to capture the entire spring migration.  Most counts can be accessed on the eBird hotspot for the tower.  In a couple days of pre-season counting, we’ve logged many new arrivals, more typical of March, such as Snow Geese, Wood Ducks, Killdeer, Longspurs, and nearly 1,000 cranes.  Common Redpolls have been seen the last few days, hinting at a good March movement still to come.  The last few days have also brought over 100 bluebirds over the tower site.  Flocks of 10-15 are being seen.  For recent checklists, see here, here, and here.

You can also subscribe to get notifications whenever count updates are given here on the blog. It’s your best way to keep up to date on the migration over the dunes!

Looking south over the newly completed ADA ramp.



Latest Bonanza of Birds

Greetings from the dunes,

It’s been a week or so since we’ve been able to provide an update.  Having the bloggers out of town during the one week in May when the winds have actually been southerly has been a bummer for both the bloggers and those that enjoy the daily updates.  So with that, we provide an update of the last week in birds.

May 15-20 brought a decent influx of new migrants, as warm south winds blanketed the dunes with migrants, and warmed the sand to over 80 degrees.  A far cry from the upper 40s we had a week earlier.  From May 15-20 we added a whooping 16 new species to the longshore totals.  This included: Northern Parula,  Laughing Gull, Blackburnian Warbler, Canada Warbler,  Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Veery, Connecticut Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler, Eastern Whip-poor-will (added by Andrew Edwards), Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Hooded Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, 
Common Nighthawk, Willow Flycatcher,  Red-eyed Vireo, Black-and-white Warbler.  We now stand at 205 species for the year, which matches last year’s total, which is the highest species total for any eBird hotspot this year in the state..  The Laughing Gull may be a first site record, not for the state park, but for the actual spring tower count.

Missing from this total was another new species to the tower, seen on May 14.  As told by our counter:

Northern Bobwhite

“Extraordinary sighting for this location. A distinct Bobwhite call note was heard, but I had assumed the resident mockingbird had added to its repertoire. It became apparent that 2 birds were calling and the Bobwhite did not deviate from the 3 note cadence. In hunting the bird down, I sure as sh$t had a Northern Bobwhite fly across the road at eye level. One species I have said I would never get here.”

In other news, Blue Jays are waning, but Cedar Waxwings are beginning their major flights.  4,000+ birds were logged multiple mornings, including May 16 and 17.

Two Blue Grosbeaks were also logged on the 16h, with one female hanging around the feeder station this past week.

The eBird Hotspot for the Observation Tower has this year’s annual totals and the new species for the year.  The last week of counting remains, and hopefully a few more species can be added before we close the chapter on this latest wild and crazy spring.

Quick May Update


Our apologies for the delayed postings.  With the Dunes Birding Festival and general spring bird craziness, we’ve not had a chance to give an update recently.  As most know, the north winds have set up a block and really slowed down migration here in the dunes.  Many neo-tropical migrants have been delayed up to a week.  The state park’s first Cerulean Warbler of the year didn’t arrive until May 8 (the day after the festival!), when they typically arrive in the first days of May. Today, the park’s first Acadian Flycatcher finally arrived, days behind when we usually get the first one.

Diversity is still climbing however.  In the last three days, 12 new species have been logged flying by at the tower site.  This is WITHOUT south winds!  They include: Ovenbird, Tennessee Warbler, American Redstart, Magnolia Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Least Flycatcher, Swainson’s Thrush, Wood Thrush, Cape May Warbler, Warbling Vireo, Summer Tanager, and  Blue Grosbeak.

Clay-colored Sparrow at IDSP Tower Feeders.

Of note in recent days has been a Clay-colored Sparrow visiting the feeders.  It was present on May 9 and is still there today, May 11.

Despite the winds, the tower stands at 184 species for the year.  Wednesday’s most recent count list is here.

Chimney Swift Chaos

After a brutal cold and rainy weekend, overnight south winds helped push another wave of birds into the dunes late last night and into the morning.  As is such, we were out today to do another longshore flight.  The current forecast the coming week doesn’t look so good for longshore counting, so we were eager to tally what birds were moving and what new arrivals were waiting in the wings.  The day did not disappoint.  For Monday, May 1 we logged 3,466 birds, from a nice tally of 87 species.

New for the season included a myriad list of birds, including Sora, White-eyed Vireo, Sedge Wren, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Blue-winged Warbler, Common Yellow-throat, Yellow Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Orchard Oriole, Dickcissel, and Bobolink!  The new arrivals puts the longshore tower at 169 species for the year, and now ties Goose Pond for the most diverse bird list in the state this year among eBird hotspots.

The biggest noticeable migration of the day was not the expected Blue Jays that only put in a meager 55 birds, but that of the Chimney Swifts. A constant stream of cigars on wings flew past, intermingled with swallows.  This sort of fast action migration is more difficult than the typical robin and blackbird flight, as silhouettes take a few more split seconds of visual to make the correct ID.  A whooping 921 swifts went by today, which is the highest swift total since the longshore count started.  It’s also the state’s second highest spring total.  A combined 568 swallows also accompanied them, with most being Tree and Barn, but a surprising 76 Purple Martins went by, and 98 Cliff Swallows.

Also noteworthy today was both a Sora and Short-eared Owl in the dunes prairie, as well as a flyby Smith’s Longspur.  A single American White Pelican flew past.

We’re working fast now towards the Indiana Dunes Birding Festival, so we’ll leave the rest of the updates for you to find on the eBird checklist here.

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

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.

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.