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.

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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.

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A Good Friday Count!

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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.

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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.

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Poor but identifiable photo of Lark Sparrow at feeders today.
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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).

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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.

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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.

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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!

 

Influx of Birds Coming!

With several days off since that last significant bird movement, birders in the dunes are primed for a massive movement of birds.  Yesterday saw winds build from the north as a system dropped into the Great Lakes that was more reminiscent of a fall storm.  By 6am, winds were gusting over 50 mph.  It was a brutal day along the lakeshore as waves pounded the sand, pushing the water to the foredunes, and no doubt carving out some fresh bank swallow walls.

Though we took off any flight counts on Thursday, the usual gull movement took place on the lighter north winds right after the cold front.  Why large movements of gulls takes place on the southern shore in a north wind isn’t completely known.  However, in three hours of counting 700 gulls flew past the park today, making up 6 different species!  We’re pushing or past the departure date for Thayer’s and Iceland’s Gulls, yet one of each were seen today.  Both Lesser and Great Black-backed Gulls were logged today as well.  Friday’s north winds survey can be found here.

Equally exciting, is the upcoming south winds approaching.  The winds shift overnight Friday night and will build to a beautiful Saturday, and the first wave of migrants.  Continued south winds Saturday night will bring an even larger wave of new migrants.  The longshore survey sits at 118 species.   The images below show aloft wind speeds at 2,000 feet on both Saturday morning and Sunday morning.  Birds will have a clear path of south winds from Texas to the Great Lakes this weekend.  The only question is how far can they travel in a few days.

Many new sources are making bird migration forecasts based on weather predictions.  The eBird Regional Migration Forecast is one source doing weekly predictions.

The state park will highlight the migration going on Sunday morning.  If you want to see the best of the morning’s flight you need to head to the longshore tower at dawn.  If you’re completely new to the longhsore flight, visit the beach pavilion at 9am Sunday.  Naturalist staff will be on hand to take people up to the tower and look for birds along the way.  Join us!

A Tale of Two Loons

April greeted the dunes to a few days of spring weather this past weekend.  The southerly winds extended into today (Monday) to allow for two countable days of longshore flights.  Though Saturday had the sunny skies, the south winds failed to shift to the south until nightfall, thus the count was much lower than it could have been.  Sunday was a stiff southeast wind, which brought not only a decent songbird flight, but even raptors under a generally overcast sky.  Monday saw continued southeast winds, but more cloudy conditions.  So how did the three days compare?

Saturday, April 1 (north winds) had 59 species, but only 881 individual birds.
Sunday, April 2 (southeast winds) had 61 species, including 6,904 individual birds.
Monday, April 3 (southeast winds) had 67 species, including 20,490 individual birds.

Each day offered new arrivals this past extended weekend.  April 1 included the survey’s first Hairy Woodpecker, a early Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and 4 Vesper Sparrows for the year.  New arrivals for April 2 included an early Northern Rough-winged Swallow.  April 3, as you might guess, offered the more new arrivals, including Brown Thrasher (2) and Pied-billed Grebe.  Another early Northern Rough-winged Swallow made an appearance.

Of note the last few days has been a stream of loons moving through the southern Great Lakes.  On Sunday, a combined 79 loons were seen migrating past the tower.  These were split nearly even with Common Loons just edging out Red-throated Loons.  More Commons were spotted flying directly due north from above the tower, while Red-throateds were more likely to be on the lake moving east or west.  Nearly all Common Loons are in breeding plumage by now, while Red-throated Loons will not transition until late May and early June and are very rarely seen in breeding plumage in Indiana. Monday continued the loon movement, with 31 Red-throated Loons being seen on the water from the tower site.  However, only 3 Common Loons were seen today.  A comparison of two loons on the water from today is below, taken digiscoped with an iPhone.  Hover over to identify each loon.

 

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Merlin near the tower site, 4/2/17.

Raptor diversity has also been the specialty the last few days, with both falcons and buteos putting in some mileage over the longshore tower.  Sunday’s southeast winds pushed some 269 hawks, falcons, and vultures over.  the usual flight paths were not followed and birds seemed to move in many directions.  Falcons put on a good show, with a few Merlins even buzzing the tower and stopping to eat cowbird fodder, which the tower feeders have in ample supply right now.  29 kestrels Sunday, and 4 more Monday rounded out the falcon show.

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American Kestrel perched in the dunes prairie 4/3/17.

Rounding out the odds and ends in notables…. Sunday produced the best Northern Flicker flight of the season with nearly three hundred birds (285 to be exact).  A weaker, yet still significant 122 went by on Monday.  Rusty Blackbirds increasted ten fold, from 102 seen Sunday to 1,479 seen on Monday among the icterid flocks.

Duck diversity had been waning, but did well on Monday, as late waterfowl finish their migration through the dunes.  15 species passed by, with most dabblers being seen, and a few divers, including Lesser Scaup and White-winged Scoter.

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Distant and cropped iPhone photo of Monday’s Short-eared Owl moving along the beach.  4/3/17.

Lastly, several counters Monday got a late morning treat of a Short-eared Owl flying east along the beach.  The beautiful dune prairie, behind the tower, may have had some allure, as it turned and began working circles over the parking lot, and then towards the tower, as it inspected the prairie and then decided to continue it’s eastward movement.  It was last seen putting down somewhere near the prairie dune that sits next to Mt. Tom.  Migrating Short-eared Owls are a more common fall sight than in the spring.

For the three days of April, we welcomed 28,275 birds through the dunes, comprising 88 unique species.  Our season total as of today stands at 116 species.  You can view the year’s total species count and accumulated checklists here.

North winds visit again, and include the chance for snow this week, but if the forecast holds out, we should be in store for a nice bank of south winds by the weekend and into next week.  April is a prime time for new arrivals and rarities, so anything is possible!

East Wind Hawkflight

If large totals have seemed lacking this spring, you’re not alone in that observation.  The season’s longshore flight has been noticably absent of 20,000 or 30,000 bird mornings.  The biggest culprit likely lies with the lack of south winds.  After a super warm February, March has been averaging 6 degrees cooler than last March.  The graphs below show our local weather station in March 2016, and March of this year.  Of note, look at the winds.  Last year we had several days of sustained south winds, before a new front would come in.  This year, the south winds are almost immediately accompanied with a front and precipitation.

In 2012, we conducted 21 longshore flight counts in the month of March.  In 2016, last year, we had 16 counts done.  This March has only seen 13 days with longshore flights.  Many of those weren’t south winds.  Obviously, south winds are the best for measuring migration.  Followed by westerly winds, and then finally east winds.  North winds are the worst.  Wind speed can also affect this.  When the weather’s not conducive to migration, anything other than a north wind will be measured, as was the case today, March 29.

With east winds blowing, a typical songbird flight will not happen in any significant quantity, but if the sun is shining, a few migrating thermal riding birds may push off and be forced against the lakeshore, when you’re east of Miller beach.  This produced the best Sandhill Crane count since March 5, with 2,376 going by.

With no passerine distractions, raptors put on their best migration of the season at the dunes longshore tower today.  307 raptors went by, with Red-tailed Hawks (154) being the most abundant.  The full list of raptors counted was:

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Turkey Vulture banking near the longshore tower.

91 Turkey Vultures
4 Northern Harrier
42 Sharp-shinned Hawk 

1 Cooper’s Hawk 
1 Bald Eagle 
13 Red-shouldered Hawk 
154 Red-tailed Hawk Including 4 dark morphs.
1 American Kestrel

Unfortunately, the next 7 day forecast doesn’t look good still for south winds.  NOAA’s 8-14 day outlook shows above average temperatures, and below average precipitation.  This may bring the needed south winds to kickstart the dunes bird migration.  Until then, we’re enjoying just a small trickle of the dunes potential.

Today’s’ full count is here.

5 Seconds of Sunshine

Despite the continued warm temperatures, the longshore flight for Saturday, March 25 brought a all around wet and dreary day.  A warm pocket of air persisted through the rain showers today to keep the dunes nearly muggy at one point.  If you look at the temperature heat maps of the region today you’ll notice this interesting pocket, while nearby areas were up to 30 degrees cooler, particularly in southeastern Wisconsin.

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Chicago Region Temperature Heat Map, Saturday, March 25, 2017.

When the rain didn’t disappoint, a few birds were logged, including 3 new annuals at the tower, bringing the season total to 104 species.  For the morning 724 birds were counted, from 40 species.  Only 6% of yesterday’s flight.

Interestingly, yesterday’s Eurasian Collared Dove appeared again this morning.  This time, it visited the feeders.  Will it become a regular this season?  A Winter Wren was also singing it’s melodious and bubbly trill from the tower site.  New for the season were Brown Creeper, Lesser Yellowlegs, and 7 Wild Turkeys.  

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Flyover Osprey

The biggest highlight of the morning was the brief clearing that occured in the early afternoon.  After the continuous light rain and drizzle from the morning, the peek of sunshine was unexpected.  Perhaps the birds saw it coming, as raptors quickly took off and staged the first significant hawkflight of the season.  129 birds went by quickly during this short window.  Red-tailed Hawks (48), Sharp-shinned Hawks (51), and Northern Harriers (11) made up the majority.  Notable as well was an early Osprey.  Actually two of them!

Today’s full checklist is here.