Tag Archives: chimney swift

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.



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

Butterbutts Blowing in the Breeze!

As predicted last night, strong south winds fed a stream of birds into the dunes overnight.  By dawn, the winds were stiff and strong, feeling far stronger than the 10-20mph that was predicted for today.  We almost felt concerned for our Longshore Platform construction workers who are laying the outer ring of the platform decking in the strong wind.

One of many Bluejays to cruise past the dunes today.  4/30/13.
One of many Bluejays to cruise past the dunes today. 4/30/13.

The day started early with the usual first dawn blackbird movement.  Within an hour after sunrise, the Blue Jay flight had begun, even stronger than yesterday.  Even our labor staff working on the platform were in awe of the giant flocks of jays going by, right over their heads.  1,660 jays were recorded today.  Even though impressive, it wasn’t the Blue Jays that dropped jaws today.

Jay flock moving overhead.  4/30/13.
Jay flock moving overhead. 4/30/13.

Unexpected in such breezy conditions, hoards of Yellow-rumped Warblers, Palm Warblers, and tiny Blue-gray Gnatcatchers fought the wind as they crested each dune top in their way.  During certain gusts, gnatcatchers seemed motionless in the air, available to grab right out of the sky.  Two years ago in similar winds, Yellow-rumps staged their largest flight in the state when 2,823 birds were counted from this same location.  We nearly matched it again today when 1,967 butterbutts were today.  This is the state’s third highest count of Yellow-rumped Warblers and has come close nowhere else in the state.  If the butterbutts were impressive, check out our Palm Warbler count… 449!  This is a new state high count and smashes the previous 301 out of the water.  A record that has held for nearly a decade.  You can guess where the previous record was broken at!  Folks on local listserves today are posting that they saw a Palm or Yellow-rumped while birding.  Yeah, we saw one too!

A Blue-gray Gnatcatcher fighting the wind today.  4/30/13.
A Blue-gray Gnatcatcher fighting the wind today. 4/30/13.

Normally the above highlights would make for a good day of birding the Indiana Dunes.  In fact, it was enough to draw interest from the local ABC 57.  They reportedly will be running a story on the massive Blue Jay flight on their local news.    But, hold on!  Add these specialties to today’s full list: 2 Red-throated Loons, 2 Merlins, 445 Chimney Swifts (spring top 10 count!), 2 Smith’s Longspurs seen at short range, 5 Nashville Warblers, a Scarlet Tanager, 3 singing Henslow’s Sparrows, a Blue Grosbeak, an impressive 24 Baltimore Orioles. and a very large late count of 121 Pine Siskins!

Migrating Baltimore Oriole. 4/30/13
Migrating Baltimore Oriole. 4/30/13

The day ended warm and windy.  8,931 birds in the bag, 360,000+ for March and April.  May 1 begins a new season and more birds.  We’ve already logged 167 species this year.  Another ideal south wind blows overnight.  Tomorrow should be another outstanding day.  Will it rival today?  We’ll find out soon enough!

Once again, the major highlights from today follow:

Wild Turkey 1
Red-throated Loon 2
Great Egret 1
Turkey Vulture 21
Osprey 2
Sharp-shinned Hawk 6
Broad-winged Hawk 1
Solitary Sandpiper 12
American Woodcock 4
Forster’s Tern 2
Chimney Swift 445
Merlin 2
Peregrine Falcon 2
Eastern Kingbird 55
Blue Jay 1660 
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 85 
Eastern Bluebird 25
American Pipit 53
Lapland Longspur 16
Smith’s Longspur 2
Orange-crowned Warbler 2
Nashville Warbler 5
Cape May Warbler 1
Yellow Warbler 6
Palm Warbler 449 
Pine Warbler 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler 1967
Black-throated Green Warbler 3
Henslow’s Sparrow 3 
White-throated Sparrow 2
White-crowned Sparrow 2 (Nature Center invaded with them too today!)
Dark-eyed Junco 1
Scarlet Tanager 1
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 1
Blue Grosbeak 1
Orchard Oriole 2
Baltimore Oriole 24
Purple Finch 28
Pine Siskin 121 

The mid-morning birding spread.  Scope, binoculars, caffeine, banana, checklist and clickers, and a video camera to catch that rare bird!
The mid-morning birding spread. Scope, binoculars, caffeine, banana, checklist and clickers, and a video camera to catch that rare bird!

A Longshore Flight Addendum:
In the time since we published today’s longshore flight update some great info has come in. Last year we introduced the Grube Magnitude Index.    It basically creates a value for each bird seen that is a usual migrant.  The more we see, the higher the value.  The index total gives a sense of the total longshore flight by species diversity and abundance.  To stop one species dominating a count, each species is limited to a index value of 10.  Generally, the higher magnitude index means more birds and more species, which also translates to a more enjoyable birding experience.  The index was developed by Ken Brock and has seen several changes.  We’ve been notified that today’s count index had a Grube Magnitude of 80.25, with 41 standard species recorded. It is the second best flight ever, by a minuscule margin.  Great news and a reflection of the great day we had.  If Blue Jays had really taken off…

Finally, here’s a little gallery of great photos shared to us by our great local photographer Pete Grube.

Yellow-rumped Warbler seen today.  4/30/13.  Photo courtesy Pete Grube.
Yellow-rumped Warbler seen today. 4/30/13. Photo courtesy Pete Grube.
Orange-crowned Warbler seen today.  4/30/13.  Photo courtesy Pete Grube.
Orange-crowned Warbler seen today. 4/30/13. Photo courtesy Pete Grube.
Palm Warbler seen today.  4/30/13.  Photo courtesy Pete Grube.
Palm Warbler seen today. 4/30/13. Photo courtesy Pete Grube.


The One That Got Away

Today, Tuesday, April 9 had yet again another significant migration witnessed over the Indiana Dunes.  It was a special day in that we surpassed our grand total from 2012, with an incredible amount of migration still to go.  It is amazing how weather patterns play havoc with migration and alter what we see in any particular season.  Unlike yesterday’s clear blue skies (afternoon!) , today was significantly different, being overcast most of the day.

Comparison of yesterday's birding view vs. today's view.
Comparison of yesterday’s birding view vs. today’s view.

Continuing the never-ending March migration, blackbirds and robins continue to spill through the area, tacking on large counts that bring up the final tally.  Clearly, Red-wings and American Robins are starting to wane, but grackles continue to go strong.  11,501 grackles migrated over head today.  But, 6,392 Red-winged Blackbirds also continued their journey northward.

New to this list for the season were Brown Thrasher and Chimney Swift.

Another hawk flight occurred today.  Under a nice south wind, and good cloud coverage that made seeing raptors easy, 100 birds of prey were logged.  The best bird of the afternoon may be the one that got away.  A possible immature Ferruginous Hawk circled briefly.  Our counter packed up and headed west in an attempt to intercept the bird 10 miles away, but was unsuccessful.  Other birders heeded the call to sub in at the tower site and count raptors while the chase went on.  The strange buteo was never re-located, but a good mix of both buteos, accipiters, and falcons were enjoyed this afternoon.

Pete Grube assisting in today's hawkwatch.  4/9/13
Pete Grube assisting in today’s hawkwatch. 4/9/13

With today’s 20,755 birds, the new season total is 298,961.  We’ve passed 1/4 million birds and hitting 1/2 million doesn’t seem all that impossible this year.  Tomorrow doesn’t look so good for a morning flight, with north winds entering the scene tonight.  There will be a brief flight Thursday as southeast winds pump in and we look to surpass 300,000 birds.  Then, things are back down again for Friday and Saturday as a strong cold front moves in.  We hope to be back again then on Sunday to resume the longshore flight.

Today’s other highlights below:

American Wigeon 1
Blue-winged Teal 4
Green-winged Teal 1
White-winged Scoter 3 (still going strong!)
Long-tailed Duck 1
Red-throated Loon 1
Common Loon 8
Osprey 4
Northern Harrier 22
Sharp-shinned Hawk 33
Cooper’s Hawk 4
Red-shouldered Hawk 6
Red-tailed Hawk 7
Rough-legged Hawk 1
American Woodcock 1
Ring-billed Gull 35 (low count)
Caspian Tern 17
Long-eared Owl 1 (still roosting near Green Tower site)
Chimney Swift 1 (FOY)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 13
Northern Flicker 201 (another nice flight)
American Kestrel 9
Peregrine Falcon 2
Purple Martin 2
American Robin 1220
Brown Thrasher 1 (FOY)
American Pipit 2
Lapland Longspur 14
Yellow-rumped Warbler 6
Vesper Sparrow 2
Fox Sparrow 3
Red-winged Blackbird 6392
Common Grackle 11501

Sharp-shinned Hawk in today's hawkwatch, 4/9/13
Sharp-shinned Hawk in today’s hawkwatch, 4/9/13

Great Day to Be a Birder!

The longshore flight at Indiana Dunes State Park on May 2, 2012 will be remembered as one of the best flights witnessed by both number of species seen and incredible high counts.  Long before dawn, signs that today would be a good day were already being seen.  The forecast was for stronger south winds in the 10-20mph range, less rain than the last two days, and a predawn radar image that made Chicago look like the eye of a hurricane;  a hurricane of birds winging it northward.  Not only were the birds good, but the list of birders present was also impressive.  So impressive, that their presence on a weekday can only mean sick days were being used or bosses were in the dark.  Thus, today’s list of counters will for the most part remain anonymous.

The local Prairie Warbler was performing again today with beautiful Lake Michigan in the background, 5/2/12.

It’s hard to decide where to begin.  Let’s start by noting that 101 species were seen from the site today.  This included 7,328 individuals (2,517 yesterday).  Monday and Tuesday were great count days, but seemed to have been leading up to today.  The previous best Grube Magnitude Index from the Green Tower site was 67.85.  Today, it was blown away with a very impressive 79.04 per Ken Brock.  This quantification calculates today’s count as the best ever observed!

At dawn the stream had started and the variety and strength of the morning flight would continue for many hours.  By 11am, hawkwatching was distracting, as gnatcatchers, swallows, and orioles still continued to migrate past the old tower site.

Cape May Warbler adding to the day’s diversity, 5/2/12.

Let’s tick off two sets of highlights.  First the rarities, then the high counts.  Major rarity highlights for today included, a single Black-crowned Night-Heron landing in the nearby pines, 2 Bald Eagle, 4 Merlin, 67 American Golden Plovers, 1 American Woodcock, 1 SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHER, 1 Tennessee Warlber, 1 Magnolia Warbler, 1 good looking Prairie Warbler, 1 early Summer Tanager, 3 Lark Sparrows, 1 singing! Clay-colored Sparrow, and 8 Pine Siskin.

High counts included, 11 Osprey, 73 Sharp-shined Hawks, 100 Broad-winged Hawks (state’s second highest for the month of May) , 364 Chimney Swifts (state’s 7th highest count), 2,121 Blue Jays (state’s 10th largest count), 19 Cliff Swallows, 124 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers (new state record!), 535 Yellow-rumped Warblers state’s 9th largest count),  109 Palm Warblers, 268 Baltimore Orioles (state’s second highest count) , 139 Indigo Buntings, and 1,579 American Goldfinch.

Flyover Osprey, one of 11 for the day, 5/2/12.
Flyover American Kestrel, one of 15 today, 5/2/12.

Inland, away from the Green Tower, and not on the official list, other warblers were noted, giving a dunes area total of at least 17 warbler species, including the well known Prothonotary Warbler that is back on the Wilson Shelter Boardwalk.  A Golden-winged Warbler was also found today in the nearby IN Dunes NL Heron Rookery unit.

Winds will continue southerly overnight, thus our counters will head to bed early, sore and sunburn, with dreams of what may appear tomorrow morning.

Birding… O! the Joy!

Leaving Fort Mandan on April 7, 1805, the thirty-three member Corps of Discovery team began their long journey to the Pacific Ocean. Encountering wildlife, waterfalls, and breathless beauty their toilsome persistence rewarded them in November of 1805 when Clark wrote “Ocian in view O! The Joy!”.  While our suffering may seem insignificant compared to that shared by the Lewis and Clark expedition, for spring birders having gone so long without south winds, joy is the only word that could describe today.

Monday, April 30, 2012.  With a full backing of joyous, south wind, the green tower counters experienced the best count in over two weeks.  4,604 birds, from 83 species would wing over and under the high dune counters.  Using the Grube Magnitude Index to measure bird migration in the dunes, it would go down as the 7th highest score ever (47.91).  No doubt bolstered by the good April diversity and staggering high counts from Chimney Swifts, Yellow Warblers, Song Sparrows, and American Pipits.

New for the season were American Bittern (flushed from the marram grass blowout!), Eastern and Western Kingbird (see more below), Blackburnian Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, and Orchard Oriole.  The season total now stands at 160 species.

The morning would stay cloudy, making identification difficult for the many small warblers going by.  Several themes were present through the morning.  It was clear an insect hatching had occurred on the beach, as hundreds of swallows and swifts took advantage by both swooping constantly in tight knit groups in front of the beach pavilion, but also sitting by the hundreds on the beach to feed.  The swarm would eventually lead to the highest spring dunes area count of 467 Chimney Swifts (4th highest dunes overall record).  The other theme was shorebirds.  Many migrating yellowlegs, Dunlin, Pectoral, Solitary, and Least Sandpiper would be seen flying by today.

Lesser Yellowlegs silhouette against the gloomy sky, 4/30/12.

Rounding out the day’s highlights included: 2 Merlin, 31 Eastern Kingbirds, 248 Blue Jays, 41 American Pipits, 232 Yellow-rumped Warblers, 88 Baltimore Orioles, a lone Common Redpoll, and 2 Pine Siskins.

By 10:15am, rain showers had entered into the picture.  Normally, the morning flight is shut down.  However, this morning, the birds continued moving.  Swallows continued to stream past, while intermittent blackbird flocks passed over.  While seeking shelter at the Beach Pavilion to watch for shorebirds, counter Brendan Grube noticed a yellow colored Kingbird approaching from off shore.  A quick phone call brought this reporter and his camera racing to the beach from the park’s interior.  With seconds to spare, the Western Kingbird had continued to stay perched high in a cottonwood, allowing for study (in albeit horrible lighting).  The extent of yellow on the breast and white edged retrices were noted in person.  As we approached for a photo, the bird disappeared, only to appear over our heads flying towards the lake, while quickly gaining altitude.  Among the passing swallows one photo was taken, seen below.  While it won’t pass records committee muster by itself, it helps capture a yellow bellied tyrant of some species.

Western Kingbird eluding the Green Tower Counters on 4/30/12.

The only thing that beats today is the prospect of what tomorrow’s south winds bring.  Birding… O! the Joy!

The Grube Magnitude Index

Tuesday, March 27 was one of March’s lions, rather than lambs.  After several days of north winds, last night brought an abrupt shift of winds, with gusts to 30mph.  These winds would continue at dawn for one of the windiest mornings on the old tower site since the first days of the count season. Temperatures were also similar to early March, with a morning start of 37 degrees.

The day’s flight would finish much like the flight before the front.  Slow.  Only 1,564 birds.  The day was more reminiscent of a north wind morning, with few passerines moving, and more longshore lake birds moving.  The gulls would provide a nice diversity, with a season high 36 Herring Gulls, and both Glaucous and Great Black-backed Gulls being logged.  The day screamed for a passing Thayer’s or Iceland, but none flew past.

Other highlights included 2 Snow Geese, White-winged Scoter, Great Egret, Lapland Longspur, and Purple Finch.  The biggest highlight was an amazingly early Chimney Swift.  According to eBird, there have been no sightings north of Nashville TN.  However, the funneling along Lake Michigan continues to provide new surprises every day.

After a single day of birding, how do you best quantify the the magnitude of flight witnessed?  Enter the Grube Magnitude Index (sounds like a Big Bang Theory episode).  Developed by Dr. Ken Brock, and later refined through many permutations, it essentially produces a magnitude score based on the total diversity of birds seen in a morning, while also taking into account the total individuals seen.  For total individuals seen, each species is compared to the mean average of previous counts, creating an index point for the 60 most common green tower migrants.

The species chosen for the Grube Magnitude are, for the most part, well-recognized longshore migrants.  An effort was made to avoid species that breed near the Dunes State Park green tower site (e.g., Brown Thrasher, Prairie Warbler, Towhee, and Field Sparrow), as there is always uncertainty about whether these are local birds or migrants

Standards were calculated from each species mean using the below equation.  The advantage of this approach is that indexes of the less common species more closely match their flight numbers (i.e., they are not overpowered by the standard), thereby emphasizing flight diversity.

  Std = loge(4^mean)

Obviously there are other parameters not mentioned.  One such limits a single species score to 10, thus a single record flight from one species will not skew the total index score.  

Grube Index baselines for 60 common migrants.

The computer program uses the given date and location to search database files for each of the above species.  The number of each species is divided by its corresponding standard; these quotients are referred to as indexes.  The sum of all indexes involved in the flight is the Grube Magnitude.

Consider the following printout of the 25 April 2009 count at the Dunes S.P. green tower site (Table II).  The left number gives the species order in the list of 60 selected species.  Missing numbers reflect species that were not recorded on this flight. Note below that the number #1 (KILL ) was absent in this day’s count.  For the Solitary Sandpiper the count of 8 was divided by the standard (5.55) to yield the index.  The Grube Magnitude for this flight (sum of all the indexes) is 41.58.

The 20 best flights, based on Grube Magnitude, are listed in Table III.

The longshore flight magnitude is named for Brendan Grube’s leadership in guiding us all to the lakefront’s most superb watch site.  The index and it’s permutations have been developed by Ken Brock.  If you have ideas on making it better or questions, let us know in the comments box.  We can also provide a full synopsis of the Grube Magnitude Index IIIa in it’s current form.  Thanks to Ken Brock for allowing us to share this unique way to measure the longshore flight.  We’ll also try to include Index numbers for this year’s flight in various posts too.  You can see above that three of our flights this year have already made it into the top 20.