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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

Greetings,

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.

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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…

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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.

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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…

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.