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250,000 birds! … but not done yet.

The longshore flight continues.  Despite the warming weather, leafing trees, and all the signs of Memorial Day and the start of the summer season, there are still thousands of birds that will be logged from the platform before we call spring migration finished.  Today’s count of 2,295 birds helped push the season count to 250,000 birds.  A far cry from last year’s 428,000 birds.

Today’s 62 species and yesterday’s 87 only brought in two new species for the year.  Those being Yellow-bellied Flycatcher and Mourning Warbler.  Add these two species and we’ve now logged 221 species from the site this year.

Cedar Waxwings enjoy a lakeside view during their late migration.  May 30, 2013.
Cedar Waxwings enjoy a lakeside view during their late migration in May.

The highlights from the past two days are below.

Common Loon 1
Osprey 1
Red-shouldered Hawk 1
Broad-winged Hawk 2
Dunlin 1
Caspian Tern 3
Forster’s Tern 6
Chimney Swift 174
Common Nighthawk 12
Pileated Woodpecker 1
Eastern Wood-Pewee 1
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher 1
Least Flycatcher 1
Great Crested Flycatcher 1
Eastern Kingbird 62 (162 on 5/20)
Yellow-throated Vireo 1
Warbling Vireo 1
Red-eyed Vireo 1
Cedar Waxwing 404
Tennessee Warbler 1
Mourning Warbler 1
Common Yellowthroat 1
American Redstart 1
Magnolia Warbler 2
Yellow Warbler 4
Blackpoll Warbler 1
Pine Warbler 1
Palm Warbler 3
Yellow-rumped Warbler 1
Black-throated Green Warbler 1
Lark Sparrow 1
White-crowned Sparrow 1
Scarlet Tanager 6
Indigo Bunting 18
Dickcissel 1
Bobolink 8
Orchard Oriole 2
Baltimore Oriole 24
American Goldfinch 103

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More Flicker Madness

Saturday, April 12 was the spring day offered up to dunelanders in exchange for all the cold and dreary spring days that had been delivered thus far.  With a light breeze at dawn, and warm temperatures, it was a day where just about anything could pass by.By the end of the day, it was a steamy 77 degrees and the winds were now powerful southerly gales.  It was a good day to log 76 bird species, from all over the tower site.

Sunshine over Mt. Tom.
Sunshine over Mt. Tom.  The tower panoramic this morning.

Magnitude!  Again, that’s the spectacular observation one gets here.  You don’t need to visit the Bird Observation Platform to see your first gnatcatcher or Cliff Swallow of the year.  But you come here so that you can see 98 gnatcatchers or 101 Cliff Swallows.  Today’s magnitude began three days ago when Flickers started building.  First 162 were witnessed Thursday, then 180 yesterday.  Today’s observers watched a massive 649 individual Northern Flickers undulated past the tower.  It’s a new second highest state count, behind the 1300+ seen at the same site in 2010.  We’re now over 1,100 flickers for the spring.  Other magnitudes worth mentioning were 205 Long-tailed Ducks (now over 1,500 for the year!), 233 Mourning Doves (including a Eurasian Collared-Dove) and a grand slam of all expected swallow species.

Blackbirds and grackles posted a great flight today.  The squeeky door sounds of Rusty Blackbirds also posted a good 761 birds.  New arrivals today included the first Broad-winged Hawk, American Golden Plovers, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Bank and Cliff Swallows, and first White-throated Sparrows.  The new arrivals would push the daily count to 76 species.

A simple Sharpie Silhouette.  April 12, 2014.
A simple Sharpie Silhouette. April 12, 2014.

Wind gusts picked up considerably by late morning and under strong 25-30 knot winds, hawks picked up.  Both Sharpies and Red-tailed Hawks posted good numbers.  Adding to the total was a lone Bald Eagle, two Osprey, and five Merlin.  The hawkwatch logged over 100 raptors today.

Today’s highlights of 17,448 birds are below.  The counter was assisted by Kim Ehn, Penny and Jim Starin,  John DeVaney, Brad Bumgardner,  and John Kendall.  Ken Brock’s regular birding tour provided a brief birding moral support stop.

American Wigeon 1
American Black Duck 2
White-winged Scoter 1
Long-tailed Duck 205
Red-throated Loon 10
Common Loon 16
Osprey 2
Sharp-shinned Hawk 37
Broad-winged Hawk 1
Red-tailed Hawk 23
Rough-legged Hawk 1
Sandhill Crane 302
American Golden-Plover 25
Eurasian Collared-Dove 1
Mourning Dove 233
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 1
Northern Flicker 649
American Kestrel 15
Merlin 5
Northern Rough-winged Swallow 5
Purple Martin 4
Tree Swallow 279
Bank Swallow 1
Barn Swallow 7
Cliff Swallow 3
American Pipit 1
Lapland Longspur 196
Yellow-rumped Warbler 23
White-throated Sparrow 1
Red-winged Blackbird 8819
Rusty Blackbird 761
Common Grackle 4625
Purple Finch 8

 

Fire and Ice

Migration pushes on.  Each year a little different.  Today’s longshore flight produced a respectable 8,356 birds.  For the season we have now logged 165,000+ birds.  But how does it compare with past years?  At this point last year we had just passed the 300,000 mark and in 2012, we were sitting just shy of 200,000 birds.  So, birds are clearly behind and big wow days haven’t been as frequent.  The biggest underachiever of the season…. American Robins!  We have yet to have a 2,000+ robin morning this year.  Last year we had 6 of them by this date, and 9 of them in 2012.  More on robin theories for another post though.

Today’s count had high hopes, light south winds and warm temperatures.  Today’s count also had some fear.  The fear that did in fact materialize was that the light southerly winds would be overtaken by a lake breeze as the land warmed.  The lake breeze was present almost immediately after dawn and kept massive flights from moving.  Some birds did move, but no OMG day.  After scraping ice off cars this morning, the day warmed and and provided afternoon hawk watchers with a smoky backdrop for finding hawks.  That smoky backdrop would be a park prescribed fire in the Trail 9/10 area of the park.  The smoke really illustrated the air conditions going on.  At first the lake breeze would take the smoke inland, but higher, southerly transport winds would then push it back to the north.  See the image below to see what we’re talking about.  A Great Lakes hawkwatching phenomenon.

Prescribed fire today.  Look at the initial lake breeze, and then subsequent south winds pushing the smoke around.
Prescribed fire today. Look at the initial lake breeze, and then subsequent south winds pushing the smoke around.

Fighting the north wind today would be another Flicker push.  180 more just edged out yesterday’s flight.  New arrivals would include Brown Thrasher, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and a single Red-breasted Nuthatch.  A distant raft of Long-tailed Ducks pushed the day’s total to 104, and the season total to an astounding 1,373!

Helping the counter hit 62 species today was Brad Bumgardner, Kim Ehn, John DeVaney, John Kendall, and Ed Hopkins.  The weekend holds good promise for dune area birders looking for new birds, then Mother Nature will give us a slap back to reality come Monday (dare those weather jerks say the S word again!).

Today’s Highlights:

Green-winged Teal  23
Ring-necked Duck  5
Long-tailed Duck  104
Red-throated Loon  2
Common Loon  8
Bald Eagle  1
Sandhill Crane  186
Killdeer  1
American Woodcock  1
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker  7
Northern Flicker  180
Pileated Woodpecker  4
Merlin  2
Peregrine Falcon  1
Red-breasted Nuthatch  1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  1
Golden-crowned Kinglet  6
Brown Thrasher  1
Yellow-rumped Warbler  4
Fox Sparrow  2
Red-winged Blackbird  7305

Belted Kingfisher over the tower today.  April 11, 2014.
Belted Kingfisher over the tower today. April 11, 2014.

Long-tailed Madness

It’s hard to believe the longshore flight took 5 day break this week.  Winds have not been conducive, or rain was in the area.  Either way, it’s good to back counting.  Having waited this long, it made sense that a handful of annuals would grace the Bird Observation Platform this morning.  As well as a few birders itching for some spring birds.  In fact, it was the best species morning of the year for total diversity.  Over 80 species would be counted today.

A beautiful morning at the Bird Platform, April 6, 2014.
A beautiful morning at the Bird Platform.  Check out the magnet QR codes that link to this blog, provided free by John Lindsey.  April 6, 2014.

The day began sunny with a gentle south breeze.  A good blackbird and robin flight was underway immediately after the sun rose.  A small sampling of waterfowl streamed past to keep the observers watching in all directions.  The first of the season birds to pass by this morning included: Great Egret, Osprey, N Rough-winged Swallow, Barn Swallow, and Yellow-rumped Warbler.

First Great Egret of the season.  April 6, 2014.
First Great Egret of the season. April 6, 2014.

By late morning, and with the main passerine flight waning, a late morning offshore surge began to bring waterfowl into view.  A coincidental lake breeze set up to cool the dune at the same time.  This waterfowl surge was different however.  Loons began to appear on the lake.  Conditions provided for decent viewing of both Common and Red-throated Loons.  Though neither in notably high numbers.  More impressive was the Long-tailed Duck tally.  Throughout the viewable area from the Indiana Dunes State Park, Oldsquaw rafts could be seen at every distance.  Adding the early birds, and a sweeping view of the lake, a grand total of 428 Long-tailed Ducks would be recorded today.  Today’s count would place 8th in total single day counts in the state, and the new highest in nearly 60 years.  There’s no doubt that the Great Lakes ice cover is forcing these birds into the lower Great Lakes.  The closest watch up there to compare with ours is the Whitefish Point owl/waterfowl/hawk blogs.  Their most recent post doesn’t even make mention of waterfowl (and few hawks at that either).  Things are clearly snowy and locked in still up there.

Hiding in the "Flicker Tree."  April 6, 2014.
Hiding in the “Flicker Tree.” April 6, 2014.

Other birds that deserve some mention were 17 White-winged Scoters, the season’s third highest count, 2 Red-necked Grebes, which included one that flew near the shoreline, providing excellent views.  1,254 cranes were a surprise, considering we thought that most of the major flight was done.  Even more surprising since no real hawk flight materialized.  The mid-April Northern Flicker flight is about to begin.  74 today was the first hint of more to come.  Finally, a single Purple Finch came by.  All winter finches have been rare this flight season.

Assisting the counter today was John DeVaney, Brad Bumgardner, Kim Ehn, Matthew Beatty, Madison Gallegos, Lee Sterrenburg, Jeff McCoy and John Kendall.  Total highlights, from 82 species, and nearly 10,000 birds today:

White-winged Scoter 17
Long-tailed Duck 428
Red-throated Loon 31
Common Loon 16
Red-necked Grebe 2
Great Egret 7
Osprey 1
Bald Eagle 2
Rough-legged Hawk 1
Sandhill Crane 1254
American Woodcock 1
Great Black-backed Gull 7
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 2
Northern Flicker 74
Pileated Woodpecker 2
American Kestrel 4
Merlin 1
Northern Rough-winged Swallow 1
Tree Swallow 102
Barn Swallow 5
American Robin 523
Lapland Longspur 3
Yellow-rumped Warbler 1
Eastern Towhee 1
Fox Sparrow 7
Red-winged Blackbird 3173
Rusty Blackbird 37
Common Grackle 2553
Purple Finch 1

Lastly, congratulations today to Ken Brock for being awarded the ABA Ludlow Griscom Award in regional ornithology.  The Nature Center at the state park was packed with over 100 people.

Piper helping to watch for hawks.  She isn't very good at it yet.  April 6, 2014.
Piper helping to watch for hawks. She isn’t very good at it yet. April 6, 2014.

 

 

 

100,000+ for 2014

View of the tower from the back dunes prairie on Trail 3.  March 31, 2014
View of the tower from the back dunes prairie on Trail 3. March 31, 2014

Monday, March 31 was a spectacular longshore flight day.  From dawn through mid afternoon the tower site was abuzz with bird migration.  It was also the warmest day of the season, and the first day this year to reach 60 degrees on the lakeshore.  South winds poured over the dunes throughout the night setting up for a warmer start than we’ve had previously.  By 8am, that same wind was already building to moderate gale strength and would try the diligence of any counter on top of the platform.  By lunch time, scopes, chairs, and hats were being knocked over on a regular basis.

Though it was feared that the wind would be too strong to keep many birds migrating, the urge to migrate overcame the winds and migrate they did!  The dawn blackbird and grackle flight was intense.  Over 100+ birds a minute were passing the tower for the first hour.  It was hard to pick out the other species while trying to get an accurate count of the clouds of black going overhead.  The blackbird and grackle count was no doubt under counted.  Miraculously, cowbirds, starlings, robins, and even 200+ Rusty Blackbirds were picked out among them too.  During mid-stream, Lapland Longspurs began their first push, as well as a few American Pipits and Horned Larks.  It was a real debacle trying to keep tally of it all.

One flock of Greater White-fronted Geese, honking their "huevos, huevos" for all to hear.  March 31, 2014
One flock of Greater White-fronted Geese, honking their “huevos, huevos” for all to hear. March 31, 2014

Waterfowl were steady, though clearly not the main highlight of the day.  Long-tailed Ducks continue to be seen daily, but another gigantic (for the lakeshore) wave of Greater White-fronted Geese came by.  Before this year, the daily record up here was 200 or so.  Today’s 641 was five shy of the new record set just three weeks ago.  354 Redheads may also be a new spring lakefront record.  Finally, 13 Common Loons were the first push of loons in the area this season.

1 of 13 Common Loons to head out over the big lake today, March 31, 2014
1 of 13 Common Loons to head out over the big lake today, March 31, 2014

It was clear that the south winds pushed things in, as more Caspian Terns went by, over 60 Tree Swallows filtered past.  Robins started their push, with a still less than organized stream of just under 1,000 birds.  By 10am, the raptor and crane show picked up.  After yesterday’s massive crane flight, today’s birds sought out to beat their predecessors.  Unfortunately for the counters, most turned away from the lake miles out and didn’t go directly overhead.  It made counting harder, but a careful eye found the second highest dunes area count ever, with 6,583.  Falling short of the record of 6,644 set in 2012.  Hawks posted their finest count of the season, with 116 birds going by.  Red-tailed and Turkey Vultures dominated.  A few dark-morphed Rough-legged Hawks were pretty sights, with one being nearly all black.

Short-eared Owl over the platform today.  March 31, 2014.
Short-eared Owl over the platform today. March 31, 2014.

After yesterday’s Long-eared Owl sighting, it was only fitting to have the season’s first Short-eared Owl sighting.  This bird was far more accommodating as it came in from the west and flew over the platform for everyone to see.  It later landed in the dunes prairie of Trail 3 and was seen by a couple folks later.

Today’s great count had many helpers.  Assisting Brendan today were: Brad Bumgardner, Ken Brock, John Kendall, Kim Ehn, Penny Starin, Bernie Konrady, and Rick and Pam Firks.  The day ended with an amazing 29,511 individually counted birds comprising 62 species! The best day yet, and pushing our season total now past 100,000+ birds.  Should we mention the 100+ House Sparrows seen today too?  Second year birds forging out to find their own home… or did McDonald’s open late today?

Today’s super highlights below, as well as some extra video footage and images.

Greater White-fronted Goose 641
Canada Goose 490
Tundra Swan 21
Wood Duck 22
Redhead 354
White-winged Scoter 1
Long-tailed Duck 10
Common Loon 13
Turkey Vulture 39
Sharp-shinned Hawk 17
Red-tailed Hawk 31
Rough-legged Hawk 3
Sandhill Crane 6583
American Woodcock 1
Bonaparte’s Gull 3
Caspian Tern 4
Mourning Dove 68
Short-eared Owl 1
Tree Swallow 61
Golden-crowned Kinglet 1
American Robin 932
American Pipit 5
Lapland Longspur 584
Red-winged Blackbird 11770
Rusty Blackbird 210
Common Grackle 5772
Purple Finch 11
House Sparrow 106

1 of 15 Great-blue Herons to go by this morning.  March 31, 2014.
1 of 15 Great-blue Herons to go by this morning. March 31, 2014.

Longshore Flight March 26 (and oil spill update)

Though bone cold, this morning’s longshore flight was a good sign of what is to come.  Temperatures warmed by late in the afternoon and the winds were clearly from the south.  Hopefully now that a little warmer air is in place for overnight, the next morning’s flight will produce some real numbers.  The only kink in the plan is expected rain tomorrow.  The hourly forecasts show the main part of the rain arriving around 10am.  This would still allow a decent flight to occur.

Southerly winds pouring north from Texas, March 26, 2014.
Southerly winds pouring north from Texas, March 26, 2014.

Today’s longshore flight (March 26) brought another 10,000+ bird day, in large part due to an early blackbird and grackle movement.  Other songbirds were still low in numbers.  On the lake, waterfowl were in low numbers as well with one exception.  Long-tailed Ducks continue to make a fifty year record occurrence in the state.   48 Long-tailed were seen this morning.  With total Great Lakes ice coverage at 72 percent still, there is still lots of ice to our north and no doubt many ducks, geese, and loons waiting to enter the area.

Brendan was joined today by Robert Guth.  Highlights from the count today:

Northern Pintail 2
White-winged Scoter 8
Long-tailed Duck 48 
Common Merganser 7
Red-breasted Merganser 38
Common Loon 1
Sharp-shinned Hawk 1
Bald Eagle 2
Red-shouldered Hawk 2
Red-tailed Hawk 5
Rough-legged Hawk 1
Sandhill Crane 46
Glaucous Gull 1
Horned Lark 4
American Robin 4
Red-winged Blackbird 11990
Common Grackle 3954

Many folks have been asking about the recent oil spill at Whiting Park.  Information about the specifics can be found here, here, and also here.  As regrettable and unfortunate the event was, it appears that Lake Michigan, and the residents who love it, dodged a good bullet here.  Winds during the last few days have been out of the north.  The orientation and location of the specific beach, in between the BP Refinery and the Arcelor-Mittal East Chicago Steel Mill has long north south borders that would push any oil into the bay and not let it escape into the lake.  The very cold waters of the lake also should help the oil from dissolving into the water or from clinging to any surfaces.  Lastly, the opening of the lake is allowing many of the waterfowl to feed away from the shoreline, and away from this winter harbor.  The effects on waterfowl and gulls should be minimal due to late winter timing.   The oil spill is a tragedy, but from a birding standpoint, we’ll continue to cross our fingers that we avoided an accident of the nature seen at other locations nationwide the last few years.

Migration Eve!

With any luck, at this time tomorrow, our blog will start off with, “It was a great day for migration in the dunes!”  The winds have not been favorable since last Friday evening, resulting in very little to report.  Whenever the north winds have shifted this spring, the large quantity of pack ice settles back up against the shelf ice and makes waterfowl viewing impossible.  This morning’s feeble count contained virtually no ducks since the light east winds had failed to open up the lake.  East winds are also not very conductive to a good longshore flight.  The rarer east winds can be good for lakefront birders north of us in Michigan, but not here.

Today’s count was a weak 18 species, comprising 1,418 individuals.  It was the coldest morning start, not just for this year’s count, but for all of the counts since we started in early 2012.  The low teens slowly rose to freezing, but afternoon.  Very little moved today, but the shifting south winds did hint at the larger crane flight to come.  Nearly 1,000 were sighted from the tower site this morning.  The short crane flight accounted for 2/3 of the birds this morning.

Monday night Wind Map showing strong south winds coming in from the west.  Map courtesy http://hint.fm/wind/
Monday night Wind Map showing strong south winds coming in from the west. Map courtesy http://hint.fm/wind/

The fun of the longshore flight is predicting that big day.  That spectacular birding morning that the site is known for producing.  March is known for the high quantities.  April.. the great mix of quantity and quality.  May has the quality in it’s favor.  But rarities can show up during any month.  Looking at forecast, tomorrow, March 18, should be the best morning of the season.  Blackbirds and Robins should make their first real flight, while waterfowl should also stream in. Cranes and hawks should then post their best flights to date.  An all around good day should be expected.  Depending on the rain forecast for Wednesday, it could be another good day for the 19th.  We should have several new arrivals by the end of the week as we finish with a strong Friday flight.  Join us this week!

viewing Trail 3 from the bird tower.  Photo courtesy SannePhotos.
viewing Trail 3 from the bird tower. Photo courtesy SannePhotos.