Tag Archives: Blue Jay

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.


An Old Fashioned Dunes Hawk Watch!

Sunday, April 24, saw the return of another dunes longshore flight count after two days of unpleasant weather.  Winds were late to turn to the south, finally shifting after midnight, resulting in the sunrise temperature being a chilly 49 degrees as the south winds started picking up.  As such, little arrived as far as new arrivals, but the day was a beautiful spring scene for the dunes.  For every bird seen, a park visitor made use of the tower area or nearby beach today.  The first beach swimmers were even spotted, as the lower area near the shore warmed quickly without the direct wind. Folks enjoyed the water, despite it still being around 46 degrees.

By the end of the day’s count 3,396 birds were logged, from 71 species.  One species was officially added today, Eastern Kingbird, but no warblers were new to the scene. Over the lake, it was a slow show, with a single merganser and two flyby loons comprising the majority of the waterbird show.  Blackbirds made a good early morning movement. By now, most are females only, with a few grackles mixed in.

Blue Jay past the tower.  

Blue Jays grouped to stage their first significant migration of the season.  Today’s 188 was a good early movement, and surely a tease of what’s to come.  Many were also utilizing the feeder area nearby.  Goldfinches continued their late April movement, with over 300 flying by.  21 siskins also flew past.  Rounding out the finches were 2 Purple Finches, including one singing individual.

Broad-winged  Hawk over the tower. Photo by Pete Grube. 

As mentioned in the title above, hawks finally moved today!  Though normally only par for a hawkwatch, today’s nearly 150 raptors constituted one of the best days thus far since starting in early March.  After the 41 Turkey Vultures, today’s 35 Broad-winged Hawks was an impressive sight. Several groups circled directly over the tower as they kettled higher and higher and drifted east along the lakefront. Many Red-taileds and Sharpies followed the same line.  Mixed in were also a few Bald Eagles and an Osprey.  Finally, one of three Merlins came by and landed in the nearby cottonwood to destroy some prey it had caught.  It picked and ripped into an unidentified food source for several minutes.

The upcoming weather pattern looks to be blocking again, but Monday should provide a last major movement before May arrives. To read today’s full list, visit here.



Warbler Waves

As predicted, the longshore flight for Sunday, May 3 nearly doubled that of Saturday.  A good full night of south winds allowed for even more nocturnal migrant and perfect conditions allowed for a strong morning flight.  It was a fabulous flight for Blue Jays, gnatcatchers, Palm Warblers, and Yellow-rumped Warblers.  94 species, made up of 7,495 birds went past this morning.

FullSizeRender (2)
One of over 600 Yellow-rumped Warblers seen today.
FullSizeRender (1)
One of over 200 Palm Warblers logged today.


By dawn, warm and muggy conditions allowed for an early start for the first major Yellow-rumped Warbler wave.  A continual stream of chips would go by all morning, with nearly a third of them being Palm Warblers.  The 653 that went by goes down in the state’s top 10 list.  The same goes for the 211 Palm Warblers that wagged their tails past the tower today.  Both were also represented in the banding nets below the tower this morning.

Blue Jays also posted higher counts, from yesterday.  Today’s 2,911 more than doubled yesterday’s good flight.  Also notable was a nice, nearly 100 count of Baltimore Orioles, as well as over 200 Pine Siskins that flew past today.

Annuals this morning included Green Heron, Solitary Sandpiper, Great-crested Flycatcher, Wood Thrush, Cape May Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Bobolink, and a flock of 4 rare Smith’s Longspurs.  We’ve now logged 159 species for the season, and surpassed our 200,000 bird for the season today.

The weather brings in some needed rain tomorrow, but south winds will still prevail so some more flight may get logged between rain drops.  Stay tuned…

Full List, Sunday, May 3, 2015:

Canada Goose 1
Wood Duck 2
Red-breasted Merganser 18
Common Loon 1
Double-crested Cormorant 57
Great Blue Heron 1
Green Heron 1 FOY.
Turkey Vulture 8
Osprey 4
Northern Harrier 1
Sharp-shinned Hawk 4
Cooper’s Hawk 2
Bald Eagle 1
Broad-winged Hawk 1
Red-tailed Hawk 5
Sandhill Crane 2
Killdeer 2
Solitary Sandpiper 1 FOY.
Greater Yellowlegs 1
Ring-billed Gull 38
Herring Gull 2
Caspian Tern 7
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) 3
Mourning Dove 24
Chimney Swift 106
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 2
Belted Kingfisher 1
Red-headed Woodpecker 19
Red-bellied Woodpecker 23
Downy Woodpecker 1
Hairy Woodpecker 2
Pileated Woodpecker 1
American Kestrel 2
Merlin 1
Empidonax sp. 1 Yellowish and similar shape of a Traill’s.
Eastern Phoebe 1
Great Crested Flycatcher 1 FOY.
Eastern Kingbird 27
Yellow-throated Vireo 2
Warbling Vireo 4
Blue Jay 2913
American Crow 1
Horned Lark 2
Northern Rough-winged Swallow 12
Purple Martin 1
Tree Swallow 12
Bank Swallow 6
Barn Swallow 42
Cliff Swallow 19
Black-capped Chickadee 1
Tufted Titmouse 2
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1
House Wren 2
Carolina Wren 1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 168 Flying west.
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 2
Eastern Bluebird 11
Wood Thrush 1 FOY.
American Robin 25
Gray Catbird 1
Brown Thrasher 1
European Starling 56
American Pipit 5
Smith’s Longspur 4
Nashville Warbler 2
Common Yellowthroat 1 FOY.
Cape May Warbler 3 FOY.
Yellow Warbler 1
Palm Warbler 211 .
Pine Warbler 4
Yellow-rumped Warbler 653
Black-throated Green Warbler 1
Eastern Towhee 1
Chipping Sparrow 23
Field Sparrow 2
Savannah Sparrow 4
Song Sparrow 1
Swamp Sparrow 1
White-throated Sparrow 3
White-crowned Sparrow 6
Scarlet Tanager 1 FOY.
Northern Cardinal 1
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 3
Indigo Bunting 8
Bobolink 6 FOY.
Red-winged Blackbird 1588
Common Grackle 56
Brown-headed Cowbird 1
Orchard Oriole 5
Baltimore Oriole 91
House Finch 1
Purple Finch 9
Pine Siskin 218
American Goldfinch 912
House Sparrow 3

Migration Returns!

After a nearly two week hiatus, migration returned in style today.  It’s only fitting that this occurs today, as we write our 200th blog post since we began documenting the longshore morning bird flight over 3 seasons ago.  With warm south winds, conditions were ripe for the first waves to enter the dunes.  Conditions were also ideal for thirsty birders, parched from the dry spell we’ve been facing.  A full contingent tested the space limits on the longshore tower today.

Birders stack up on the longshore tower, May 2, 2015.
Birders stack up on the longshore tower, May 2, 2015.

Before midnight, light north winds gradually shifted east, then southerly allowing for what we hope is a teaser of a couple more powerful flights of birds.  If the bird represents a major baseball team, likely we saw multiples of them!  Bluejays… yup, over 1,000.  Orioles… yup, 30 to be exact.  Loons… ok, yep, we had a few of them too!  It was a morning with annuals galore, as we jumped to a daily total of 4,631 birds, represented by 90 species.

New for the scene this year were American Golden Plover, Eastern Kingbird, Yellow-throated Vireo, Warbling Vireos, Nashville Warbler, Northern Parula, Yellow Warbler, Palm Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, and Orchard Oriole.

Bluejays staged their first big push with 1,311 birds.  Over 1/4 of all birds today were Bluejays!  Goldfinches also put in a good movement with over 500 seen.  Gnatcatchers were not far behind  The 72 seen sits comfortably in the state’s top 10 count.  A few banding nets were also strung today, hoping to catch a few of these birds.  They’ll be up through the Indiana Dunes Birding Festival, and today had a nice pair of Brown Thrashers that a few folks got to see up close.

Brown Thrashers banded from the tower site today.  May 2, 2015.
Brown Thrashers banded from the tower site today. May 2, 2015.

With the most recent north winds, it’s not surprising that we have a few late migrants too.  Most notably some lingering juncos and tree sparrows.  Black-backed Gulls in May are also getting quite late.

Another good day looks in store for Sunday.  Until then, here’s a partial list of the main highlights from today.

Greater Scaup 1 
Red-throated Loon 6
Common Loon 4
American White Pelican 5
American Golden-Plover 10 FOY. Looking to land on the beach.
Great Black-backed Gull 2
Caspian Tern 9
Chimney Swift 158
Eastern Kingbird 7 FOY.
Yellow-throated Vireo 1 FOY.
Warbling Vireo 3 FOY.
Blue Jay 1311
Purple Martin 2
Cliff Swallow 2
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 72
American Pipit 10
Nashville Warbler 1 FOY.
Northern Parula 1 FOY.
Yellow Warbler 19 FOY.
Palm Warbler 4
Pine Warbler 9
Yellow-rumped Warbler 87
Black-throated Green Warbler 1 FOY.
American Tree Sparrow 1 
Chipping Sparrow 133
Vesper Sparrow 1
Savannah Sparrow 15
White-throated Sparrow 3
White-crowned Sparrow 1
Dark-eyed Junco 2
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 3 FOY.
Indigo Bunting 8 FOY.
Rusty Blackbird 1
Orchard Oriole 3 FOY.
Baltimore Oriole 30
Purple Finch 3
Pine Siskin 30
American Goldfinch 587

Lake Michigan Neotropical Madness!

May 8 was the little longshore flight that could.  Under steamy conditions and a strong south gale, passerines streamed out of areas to our south in search of bug infested zones to raise their young.  May 8 was also the longshore flight that just came short of some record breaking counts.  To come second or fourth place is still impressive.  It also becomes a nice contrast.  Today was not too different than yesterday, but the birds were again diverse and different.

Steamy counters, May 8, 2014.

By dawn, it became obvious that a massive Blue Jay movement of near count was underway.  blue Jays would cloud the sky, going west to east.  Unlike yesterday, warblers were only an occasional chip note overhead.  In place of warblers were buzzy zip notes of Indigo Buntings.  Orioles gave full song as they flew past an occasionally land on a nearby cottonwood tree.  Again and again, orioles would fly by to the thought, “oh, just another oriole…”

First of the season birds included Golden-winged Warbler (first at the site in many years), American Redstart, Yellow-throated Warbler (first in many years, a rare tower bird), Blue Grosbeak, and a great record of Red Crossbill.

But, back to the high counts.  Today’s 7,058 jays makes a new second state record for highest single party count.  Last year, the record was broken with 7,264 on May 1.  So close!  Orioles came in at 243.  The record for the tower is 464, so today’s count, while impressive sits in the top 5 high counts.  Today’s Indigo Bunting count likely also will score in the top 10 when all is analyzed.

Updated Record Results from Ken Brock:
Blue Jay 7058 Indiana’s 2nd largest daily count
Baltimore Oriole 243 Indiana’s 6th largest count
American Goldfinch 960 Indiana’s 20th largest count
Eastern Kingbird 158  Indiana’s 9th largest count

Baltimore Oriole stopping for a brief second for a few songs before migrating past.
Baltimore Oriole stopping for a brief second for a few songs before migrating past.

Appreciable numbers of bird counters in the early hours helped with the morning flurry of longshore migrants. Randy Pals counted Blue Jays, while John Cassady twitched for goodies. Brad Bumgardner, Ken Brock, John Kendall and Lynea Hinchman all did a stint atop the platform. And Hal Cohen, the San Diego county Swainson’s Hawk counter, came out from Chicago.  The day ended with 82 species, making up nearly 10,000 birds (9,328).  This is the highest count since mid-April!

White-winged Scoter  1    
Common Loon  1
Black-crowned Night-Heron  1
Bald Eagle  1
Lesser Yellowlegs  3
Least Sandpiper  13
Forster’s Tern  13
Chimney Swift  165
Ruby-throated Hummingbird  5
Red-headed Woodpecker  11
Eastern Kingbird  158  
Blue Jay  7058
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  18
Cedar Waxwing  87
Golden-winged Warbler  1
Palm Warbler  18
Yellow-rumped Warbler  19
Yellow-throated Warbler  1
Lark Sparrow  1
Summer Tanager  3
Scarlet Tanager  14
Rose-breasted Grosbeak  19
Blue Grosbeak  1
Indigo Bunting  69  
Dickcissel  1
Bobolink  15
Orchard Oriole  12
Baltimore Oriole  243
Red Crossbill  1
American Goldfinch  960


Wrapping up April

April 30 continued the third straight day of warm, moist air blowing in.  Birds have been forced to dodge rain storms, but a stalled out front has allowed for continuing migration, while overnight radar to our west show a shutdown system.  The last few days have been a nice save to another cold month.  While still behind, birds are arriving as they should, with a few arriving right on schedule, with others still about a week behind.

Early morning view of Lake Michigan.  Note the fishing boat that stirred up a few waterbirds on the lake.  April 30, 2014.
Early morning view of Lake Michigan. Note the fishing boat that stirred up a few waterbirds on the lake. April 30, 2014.

April wrapped itself up nicely  and put a bow on it as well today.  Some nice birds made their way through the dunes.  The rain held off again until the afternoon, but compared to previous days, sunshine was a harder commodity to score.  Thicker cloud banks would make birds up high hard to identify.  After three days of south winds, some expected late April songbirds made their appearance today.  It was a good day for orioles, early warblers, swallows, and sparrows.

An early boat stirred up some late waterfowl activity.  Often, a passerby boat can kick up loons and ducks sitting far on the water that may not be visible.  Today’s boat kicked up both species of loon, Red-breasted Mergansers, and another late flock of 14 Long-tailed Ducks, pushing the season total on Long-tailed Ducks to 1,700 birds.

In gentle winds, blackbirds came by in decent late April numbers.  Goldfinches joined warblers zipping by.  Blue Jays, after teasing the counters with 161 birds, made their first major flight, and right on time.  2,197 jays streamed past on their way up to Toronto.  Even Red-headed Woodpeckers got in on the migration.  8 individual birds were logged going over today.  Orioles continued their good start yesterday.  10 more today gives the tower site 25 orioles in two days.  Certainly more to come.

Migrating Blue Jays take a break for seed at the Bird Observation Platform.  April 30, 2014.  Photo courtesy John Kendall.
Migrating Blue Jays take a break for seed at the Bird Observation Platform. April 30, 2014. Photo courtesy John Kendall.

The bird of the day would almost be missed as counters watched a stream of Blue Jays.  Just before 9am, some dispersing Blue Jays scattered near the bird seed pile.  At the same time, a pigeon sized gray bird with larger white wing patches was seen flying west through the prairie with two much grayer birds in company.  At first fast, their flight slowed as they passed the state park property boundary, and began climbing elevation and moving left and right around the higher elevation Porter Beach homes.  The three birds disappeared behind the dunes, but not before all four at the tower site got a decent glimpse at a striking WHITE-WINGED DOVE sporting it’s racing stripes.  White-winged Doves are only recent to Indiana’s avifauna history.  Today, about 15 confirmed records exist for the state.  There is no dependable location to find this southwestern dove in the state, except with seven of the sightings occurring at Indiana Dunes State Park, a pattern is clearly emerging.

Rounding out the day’s other highlights included 2 Little Blue Herons, Black-crowned Night-heron, Merlin, Red-breasted Nuthatch, 72 Yellow-rumped Warblers, the continuing Clay-colored Sparrow at the seed pile, LeConte’s Sparrow in the prairie grass,  continuing juncos, and a Summer Tanager.  Today’s count included 82 species, and 6,424 individual birds.  Brendan was joined by John Kendall, Brad Bumgardner, Kim Ehn, and John DeVaney to assist in counting.

Total day highlights and their numbers:
Long-tailed Duck 14
Little Blue Heron 2 
Black-crowned Night-Heron 1 
Osprey 1
White-winged Dove 1 
Mourning Dove 76
Red-headed Woodpecker 9
American Kestrel 1
Merlin 1
Blue Jay 2197 
Cliff Swallow 26
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1
Hermit Thrush 1
American Pipit 4
Black-and-white Warbler 1
Yellow Warbler 1
Palm Warbler 6
Pine Warbler 3
Yellow-rumped Warbler 72
Clay-colored Sparrow 1 
Le Conte’s Sparrow 1 
White-throated Sparrow 4
White-crowned Sparrow 1
Dark-eyed Junco 3
Summer Tanager 1
Red-winged Blackbird 2784
Rusty Blackbird 27
Baltimore Oriole 10
American Goldfinch 329

Farther in the park, bird song can be heard.  A drive down the entrance road is often a good cue to what arrived overnight.  A drive this morning offered the songs of Black-and-white Warblers, catbirds, Common Yellowthroats, and Northern Waterthrushes.  For 5 years, a Yellow-throated Vireo with a very strange call has been on territory near the Nature Center.  His weird titmouse like call was heard today.  He’s back!   One bird not heard yet, thankfully, is the Trail 8 (Wilson) boardwalk.  Check it out as they will likely arrive the next couple days.  Thanks to park volunteer Penny Starin for making the dreaded wade out there to reset it.

Penny Starin sets the new Prothonotary Warbler box, April 30, 2014.
Penny Starin sets the new Prothonotary Warbler box, April 30, 2014.



Blue and Orange are common colors in this part of the state, especially in the fall.  It’s possible to drive through the dunes region and alternate between homes owned by Colts fans and homes adorning the logo for the Bears.  Blue and orange, Blue and white, blue and orange, blue and white…. It’s not fall, but we saw lots of blue and orange today.  However in this case, it was Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles.

Winds shifted southward for a good period today.  Rain also held off, allowing for a complete count to occur.  This all spoiled after 5pm, but another good count day felt good as we prepare for another break of north winds that will likely last through the weekend’s Big May Day Count.

Baltimore Oriole stopping for a brief second for a few songs before migrating past.
Baltimore Oriole stopping for a brief second for a few songs before migrating past.

Today, 7,761 birds took wing over the dunes.  Blue Jays dominated the flight 4 to 1.  After the new state record 7,000+ birds last week, it was great to see another large flight of 5,811 jays.  This likely will go down as the state’s third highest Blue Jay count!  Accompanying them was a major orange incursion.  Orioles, both Baltimore and Orchard streamed by, with occasional stops to sing their musical tones.  Birders are excited to see an oriole or two on a spring day, try on 387 Baltimore Orioles and 18 Orchard Orioles.  The former just may be the state’s second highest single party count.  The Orchard Oriole may also place second for the lakefront, and definitely a top ten count for the state.

Aside from Blue Jays and orioles, Chimney Swifts put on a major flight with 318 birds.  Red-bellied Woodpeckers continued their new migration, with 18 birds undulating past.  144 Cliff Swallows is amazing for the dunes area, but not anywhere near state records.  56 Cedar Waxwings gave signal to the last major flight we observe in May, the large waxwing movement!  Late in the day, a new season bird winged past the longshore tower dune.  11 American White Pelicans drifted over the state park and was captured in the video below.

With north winds coming, birds are still here to be found.  Many warblers could be heard throughout the park today.  Be careful if you hear a Golden-winged Warbler along the entrance road.  For the third spring, we have a weird Cerulean Warbler on territory that gives a very good GWWA song.  The dunes has traditionally had Blackburnian Warblers nest here.  A unique situation for Indiana, as few locations host them in the summer.  Birds have been heard recently at their traditional location along South State Park Road.  If you venture down there, listen for their distinctive, high pitched song.

Gray-cheeked Thrush in the Dunes State Park, 5/8/13.
Gray-cheeked Thrush in the Dunes State Park, 5/8/13.

Today’s other highlights follow:

Red-throated Loon 6
Common Loon 3
American White Pelican 11 
Great Egret 2
Osprey 1
Northern Harrier 3
Broad-winged Hawk 1
Caspian Tern 6
Common Tern 1
Chimney Swift 318 
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 3
Red-headed Woodpecker 8
Red-bellied Woodpecker 18
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 1

Pileated Woodpecker 1
Blue-headed Vireo 1 (new season bird)
Warbling Vireo 4
Blue Jay 5811 
Cliff Swallow 144 
Gray Catbird 6
European Starling 24
American Pipit 8
Cedar Waxwing 56
Common Yellowthroat 1
American Redstart 1
Yellow Warbler 3
Blackpoll Warbler 1
Palm Warbler 9
Yellow-rumped Warbler 49
Henslow’s Sparrow 1
Lincoln’s Sparrow 2
White-throated Sparrow 1
White-crowned Sparrow 9
Summer Tanager 1 (new season bird)
Scarlet Tanager 7
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 25
Indigo Bunting 25
Bobolink 1
Orchard Oriole 18
Baltimore Oriole 387 
Purple Finch 17
Pine Siskin 17
American Goldfinch 312