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Today was an important day.  It’s the day before the Indiana Audubon Big May Day count.  It’s also the day before International Migratory Bird Day.  The weather patterns now may dictate the birds we can log tomorrow.  After being nearly a week behind schedule, some amazing winds have brought 4 excellent migration nights and each morning has shown promise of more and more birds.  the tower site is not only producing, but so are nearly every inland area of the dunes.  A great example of migration catching up was the 22 Common Nighthawks observed today feeding over the back dunes (see the video below!).  Most dunes area birders won’t see their first nighthawk for another week or so.

To celebrate International Migratory Bird Day, birders will be out scouring the wetlands, high dunes, lakes, prairies, forests, and more.  The state park has several birding options for anyone looking to enjoy the great peak of migration and hopefully some nice weather.  A warbler bird walk will be offered at 9:30am, at the state park nature center.  From 1:30pm-4pm, it will be an afternoon for the birds.  There will be live bird banding, bird crafts, activities, and even some bird prizes for the young birders.  Visit the nature center for part or all of the time.

To allow for adequate rest, today’s highlights will be truncated.  But, with the morning downpours, shorebirds took advantage to move along the beach.  There were a few notable annuals that arrived today, but the rain brought no significant longshore flight.  New birds today included Semipalmated Sandpiper, Sanderling Baird’s Sandpiper, Dunlin, Dowitcher spp, Common Nighthawk, Willow Flycatcher, and Franklin’s Gull.  The morning ended short with 1,304 birds, making up 69 species.

Kentucky Warbler on Trail 2.  5/9/14.
Kentucky Warbler on Trail 2. 5/9/14.

Inland, warblers were everywhere after the rain falls.  Landon Neumann was kind enough to report a Kentucky Warbler on Trail 2 this morning.  Several other birders were able to see or hear it.  Kentucky Warblers, while more common down south, are much rarer in the dunes.

Will we see you tomorrow?



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


Tail Wagging Warblers

The morning routine, cold with coats, then sunburns and short sleeves later.  5/6/14.
The morning routine, cold with coats, then sunburns and short sleeves later. 5/6/14.

Today’s longshore flight brought another good day of migration.  Despite the east winds, with northerly tendencies (especially after noon) the day ended being the best flight of the season and sixth best of all time according to the Grube Magnitude index (65.80 specifically).   88 species, making up 2,790 birds were logged today.  Warblers were the show all morning.

Palm Warbler at the Bird Observation Platform.
Palm Warbler at the Bird Observation Platform.

Despite the evening songbird flight being done, many warblers and other nocturnal birds continued on after the sun had risen.  12 species of warbler were observed going over in high speed mode.  These 12 warblers included 1,144 birds.  That’s right… 1000+ warblers were identified from the platform today.  As would be predicted in a season running a week behind, Yellow-rumped Warblers would make up the super majority.  the 924 butter butts would be the state’s seventh highest count.  they zipped past going east by ones and loose groups.  Two other equally impressive (for their species) counts came from Palm Warblers (156) and Nashville Warblers (26).  It was the 12th highest state count for the Palms, and 11th highest for the Nashvilles.  The total warbler count today doubled the cumulative totals thus far this season.

Other notable warblers seen going by included a single Orange-crowned, 12 Black-throated Green, 7 Pine, and 2 Blackburnian Warblers.  Warbler neck is on!  Adding to the diversity today were the season’s first hummingbirds, while juncos and Clay-colored Sparrows flirted with the feeders below.  A real eclectic group today.

Palm Warbler feeding nonchalantly along Trail 10.  5/6/14.
Palm Warbler feeding nonchalantly along Trail 10. 5/6/14.
Trail 2 Boardwalk.
Trail 2 Boardwalk.

We finally will crank into some serious south winds and we expect some good flights to occur for anyone wishing to visit the next few days and into the weekend for the IAS Big May Day Count.  Blue Jays and Warbs should deliver some impressive totals, and birders taking the inland route will find some good variety too.  Already today, other good birds were logged inside the park by birders.  The Trail 2/10 loop is a good start.  The back dunes along the wetland provide shelter and nice control burn areas that allow birds to feast on the forest floor.  The 1/2 mile long boardwalk can bring any bird to surprise you, while the rest of Trail 2 is a peaceful backwoods of wildflower carpets, Cerulean’s galore, and loud drumming Pileated Woodpeckers.  Reports from this area today include Blue-winged Warbler, the season’s first Prothonotary Warbler, lots of Pine Warblers, Lincoln Sparrow,  and some equally impressive counts to rival the tower site.  134 Palm Warblers were seen feeding on Trail 10 today.  This is why our birding trails are better than anywhere else in the state!

A rare view into the end of the day summary calculations.  5/6/14
A rare view into the end of the day summary calculations. 5/6/14

You’re daily highlights below:
Osprey 1
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 4
Eastern Kingbird 52
Yellow-throated Vireo 1
Red-breasted Nuthatch 2
American Pipit 103
Lapland Longspur 3 
Northern Waterthrush 1
Black-and-white Warbler 7
Orange-crowned Warbler 1
Nashville Warbler 26
Cape May Warbler 5
Northern Parula 1
Magnolia Warbler 1
Blackburnian Warbler 2
Palm Warbler 156
Pine Warbler 7
Yellow-rumped Warbler 924 
Black-throated Green Warbler 12
Chipping Sparrow 30
Clay-colored Sparrow 3 
White-throated Sparrow 24
White-crowned Sparrow 4
Dark-eyed Junco 3
Scarlet Tanager 8
Bobolink 11
Orchard Oriole 5
Baltimore Oriole 124 
Purple Finch 1
American Goldfinch 220

Don’t forget we’re desperate to keep counting birds.  Really, we have no other skills!  Consider pledging to our Birdathon on May 17 to help fund bird related events and programs at the Indiana Dunes State Park!


Birdathon Time! aka. mom and dad, please send money!

The first week of May and her wild swings of weather fits seems to be settling down a bit and may actually reward us for all we’ve waited for this past two months.  If the forecast is right, some warm southerly winds may envelope us for an extended period, beginning as early as Wednesday.  South winds between May 5-10 can mean 1 million birds/hour entering the dunes area on a good migration night.  It can mean the difference between a quiet drive down your neighborhood at dawn and a full chorus of unknown song types the next morning.  With new arrivals entering daily, any such morning right now is worth getting out to explore your favorite birding patch.

Our spring blog is dedicated to the longshore bird flight that is most impressive when it comes to species diversity and magnitude.  Most birders wanting to visit the dunes will find the interior birding trails, boardwalks, and service roads just as spectacular.  It may be less emphasized, but our many birders that help log hours in at the platform are spending later hours checking the back dunes for other new arrivals that have gone unseen from the high dunes.  We’ll try to emphasize these areas more this month.

The last few days have been a struggle, knowing millions of birds are staging to our south.  Winds have not been ideal.  Today was northeast.  The winds have their bite as it continues to keep the dunes area in a blanket of cooler air.  For birders right now, this also means that bird activity is extended into the afternoon.  You can sleep in and still bird!  Longshore flights were recorded on Saturday, May 3 and today, May 5.  The two days combined gave less than 2,000 birds recorded.  However, we were greeted with several new arrivals, including Least Flycatcher, Nashville Warbler, Cape May Warbler, Grasshopper Sparrow, Lincoln’s Sparrow, and Blue-headed Vireo.  Long-tailed Ducks continue to be found daily.  One more was seen today.

1 of 3 Clay-colored Sparrows today at the seed pile.  Photo courtesy Pete Grube.
1 of 3 Clay-colored Sparrows today at the seed pile. Photo courtesy Pete Grube.

At the seed pile, Clay-colored Sparrows continue to impress.  Joining the first bird was a second bird this weekend.  A third bird came to join the first two today.  How many can we get?  The lakefront high count is only six birds.  We’re half way there!

BIRD 4 bucksOur counter, Brendan Grube, has weathered some difficult elements this spring.  Snow and ice continued late.  Sunny, cool, windswept days brought sun burns.  The next day would see soupy fog.  The counter’s life is not a relaxed view of Lake Michigan every day, running down before noon to dip your toes in the water.  This position also has it’s importance in detecting the magnitude of bird life that migrates over the park.  This data has research value as well as birding tourism value.  There are no park positions like this at any other state park in Indiana.  We depend on grants and donations to make this count, this blog, and all of our other birding initiatives come to fruition each year.   A team from NIMBA is set out to count all the birds it can find in a single day, by scouring the dunes, swamps, prairies, and lakefront sites throughout NW Indiana.  Funding helps bird related projects and the Dunes State Park is eligible to apply for these funds.

How can you help!?  The team desperately needs your pledge to help raise funds for birding efforts done in the dunes.  NIMBA has pledged it’s entire fundraising this year to bird activities in the Indiana Dunes. The birdathon is being conducted on Saturday, May 17.  Please consider pledging today (while it’s on your mind!) to help keep this count, our blog, and more birding efforts going on!  You can pledge online here!  You can also print the pdf form Dunes Birdathon 2014.

Swainson’s Hawk!

Warm air and humidity spilled into the region today and allowed a few good birds to slip into the area.  Unfortunately, the 5 day forecast doesn’t look too good for any huge influxes of migrating birds.  But, today’s dune daily download will likely keep the area habitats with worthy birds to seek out through the weekend, no matter the temperature.

The day’s count was diverse, but not high.  Only 1,251 birds were seen, but they were represented by 75 species.  New birds at the tower site for the year were only a flock of Pectoral Sandpipers.  Early spring migrants may be making their last hurrah, with a single White-winged Scoter and 11 Long-tailed Ducks still moving by.

The highlight of the day was one of the best hawkwatches of the season.  This season’s hawk numbers have been nothing compared to last year’s banner year, so 135 birds becomes good this year! It only takes one hawk to make a good hawkwatch though.  Early in the hawkwatch period today, a single Swainson’s Hawk passed over the tower site.  Most, but not everyone present got to see it.

Yesterday we teased a few warblers to ID.  Today we’re going to combine that quiz with another.  So to win the Sibley Birding Basics book either ID the 3 warblers in yesterday’s video found here or comment here with the ID of the two hawks below.  We’ll extend the date through the weekend.

Today’s count had the assistance of John Cassady and Ken Brock.  Highlights below:

Blue-winged Teal 7
Lesser Scaup 21
White-winged Scoter 1
Long-tailed Duck 11 
Red-breasted Merganser 7
Red-throated Loon 21
Osprey 4
Sharp-shinned Hawk 30
Broad-winged Hawk 14
Swainson’s Hawk 1
Sandhill Crane 7
Pectoral Sandpiper 10
Great Black-backed Gull 2
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 1
Pileated Woodpecker 1
Merlin 1
Blue Jay 10
Black-capped Chickadee 1
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 4
Pine Warbler 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler 43
Dark-eyed Junco 2
Yellow-headed Blackbird 1 
Purple Finch 6

Easter Egg Hunt

Morning view, April 20, 2014.
Morning view, April 20, 2014.

From atop the Dunes Bird Observation Platform, anyone visiting today had a pleasant bird’s eye view of a beautiful early spring dune landscape.  Off in the distance daffodils are flowering in front yards and children are exhibiting a high addiction to a plastic colored egg.  Back at the park, a steady stream of Easter weekend families are enjoying the park.  Some down on the beach (some even sun bathing!),  others hiking on trails.  However, no bunnies were seen today.

Last night’s south winds brought promise to a great morning movement.  Today’s flight was good, but it appears there was more exodus then arrivals.  5,510 birds were logged.  Two new birds for the platform this season were 6 American White-Pelican (rarer on actual lakefront) and a single early morning singing Henslow’s Sparrow back in the Dunes Prairie Nature Preserve.

Things are dwindling on the lake.  Though waterfowl numbers are going down, terns and Double-crested Cormorants continue to increase.  Blackbirds continue to pose good flights in the early morning hours, but are for the most part petered out around 9am.  Some of the other expected species continue to be a week behind.  By now we should be seeing a few other warblers, the first kingbirds, Lark Sparrows, and generally larger numbers in the present swallows, loons, and many other species.

The hawks attempted to make a strong movement in the stronger south winds today.  The day’s 91 birds constitutes as a weak-medicore flight.  Saving for the smaller flight was the diverse group of raptors.  12 species made today’s hawkwatch the most diverse of the season.  A few Broad-winged Hawks accompanied the many Red-tailed Hawks.  All three expected falcons were seen, as well as a late Rough-legged Hawk.

Accompanying the counter today was John Devaney, John Kendall, Brad Bumgardner, and Katie McGowan.  Some highlights are below.  Tomorrow holds some early promise for a good flight before the rain comes and the thermometer drops out on Tuesday.

Red-throated Loon 2
American White Pelican 6
Sharp-shinned Hawk 14
Broad-winged Hawk 6
Red-tailed Hawk 36
Great Black-backed Gull 5
Caspian Tern 36
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 2
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 26
Yellow-rumped Warbler 18
Henslow’s Sparrow 1
Rusty Blackbird 485
Purple Finch 4

Raptor River over the Dunes

After two days off, south winds returned for another longshore flight today, April 16th.  During the break, another cold spell swept through.  Birders Tuesday morning awoke to an inch of snow.  I guess at this point we shrug it off.  Given the winter we’ve had, we kind of expected to see snow in April too.  This morning started on the heels of the last two days, cold, cold, cold!  Calm winds allowed arctic laden lake air to drift inland, while growing winds only made the already cool air even colder.  But the growing south winds did bring the best hawk flight of the season.  182 raptors would cruise by the shoreline today.

Caspian Tern over Lake Michigan.
Caspian Tern over Lake Michigan.  A nice count of 114 were logged today, April 16, 2014.

This is quite in contrast with another April 16.  On this exact date in 1960, the shoreline of Lake Michigan would turn into a death trap for thousands of birds migrating through.  During the overnight period, a strong storm swept by the lake, forcing the migrating birds down, and for many down to drown in the swells of the lake below.  a 10.5 mile survey the next day found 3,600+ birds dead along the dune shorelines.  Never had a bird drowning been recorded at this magnitude (define: fallout), and never has one been seen like this since here.  The full scope of the survey went on to became a well known Hoosier ornithological paper in the state’s Indiana Audubon Society publication, the Indiana Audubon Quarterly.  You don’t recount Yellow Rail knowledge in Indiana without citing this paper.  The full paper, written by Simon Segal, of Chesterton, IN, can be read here.

Full list of dead birds found April 16, 1960.  Segal, S. (1960). Bird Tragedy in the Dunes, Indiana Audubon Quarterly, 38:23-25.
Full list of dead birds found April 16, 1960. Segal, S. (1960). Bird Tragedy in the Dunes, Indiana Audubon Quarterly, 38:23-25.

We haven’t seen a death like the one on this date in 1960, but the dunes and Lake Michigan are still dangerous.  We’ve posted dead birds before, and documented some of the waterfowl that struggled this past winter.  Some deaths are more mysterious.  This Eastern Whip-poor-will was found deceased at the nearby Hammond Bird Sanctuary yesterday by Matt Kalwasinski.

Dead Whip at  Hammond Bird Sanctuary.  4/15/14.  Photo by Matt Kalwasinski.
Dead Whip at Hammond Bird Sanctuary. 4/15/14. Photo by Matt Kalwasinski.

Today’s flight involved no storms.  In fact the south winds did little to stimulate a good blackbird, grackle, robin, or other songbird flight.  For the day, a smaller sample size of 1,003 birds, comprising 57 species would be logged.  As mentioned above the hawks would be most notable.  The 182 hawks would be dominated by 75 sharpies and 61 Red-tailed Hawks.  This writer, while walking near the tower site this morning with 30 6th graders in tow, pointed out a Cooper’s Hawk near the tower.  It didn’t take long for the young eagle eyes’ to start pointing out kettling Red-tailed Hawks above the park.  It seemed like for a small moment, an ever so slightly small moment, nature brought awe… which quickly ceded back to singing lyrics to some new fad pop band that this person has not heard of. Despite the major flight, other highlights existed.  They included the seasons’ first reported Forster’s Tern, and an always super cool and rarity on the lakefront Yellow-headed Blackbird.  The longshore platform also had the honor of hosting the now third Whooping Crane record for Indiana Dunes State Park.  The lone bird trailed a small flock of Sandhill Cranes and can be seen in the video clip below. Today’s highlights, and a couple video clips from today and the last week follow:

White-winged Scoter 2
Red-throated Loon 4
Common Loon 4
Sharp-shinned Hawk 75
Broad-winged Hawk 1
Red-tailed Hawk 61
Rough-legged Hawk 1
Sandhill Crane 151
Whooping Crane 1
Bonaparte’s Gull 1
Great Black-backed Gull 3
Caspian Tern 114
Forster’s Tern 1
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1 (yes, RBWO do migrate)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 1
Northern Flicker 12
American Kestrel 2
Merlin 3
Hermit Thrush 4
American Tree Sparrow 7
White-throated Sparrow 1
Dark-eyed Junco 6
Yellow-headed Blackbird 1

Misc. longshore birds seen this week, including the Short-eared Owl seen earlier this week. Today’s longshore flight birds, including the Whooping Crane.  All videos by Brendan Grube.