Tag Archives: counting

3 Seasons of Counting

Waterfowl watching the first week of the longshore flight in 2014.
Waterfowl watching the first week of the longshore flight in 2014.

It’s hard to believe three short months ago we were standing atop an near arctic shoreline shivering as we waited for ice to break up and Snowy Owls to drift past the lake.  The past three years have seen average springs, warm springs, and now cold springs.  In just three years, it’s clear that the average spring is better for counting migrating birds.  Now, in no way can we take into account irruptions of certain species, seasonal movements that vary each year.  All these can affect individual species counts, but as a whole, the extreme cold and hot weather patterns couldn’t beat the average high for bird flights.

The last official count of the season took place yesterday, June 1.  A few late migrants will trickle through the first days of June, but by June 5 most are done migrating, breeding is in high gear, and the first hints of fall migration are only a few weeks ago.  Proof that the migration has come to and end, Sunday’s count was a measly 125 birds.  It was the lowest longshore count of the season.  The second lowest…. the first day of our season, March 9. So how did the year’s compare:

2012: 285,383 birds
2013: 428,374 birds
2014: 260,884 birds

American Robins migrating against the wind.
American Robins migrating against the wind.

It will take some time to analyze all the data.  But one species still stands out.  American Robins, one of the most abundant migrants over the dunes, especially mid-March through mid-April, posted dismal totals this year.  Compare this year’s 8,152, with last year’s 35,000 and the 37,000 seen in 2012.  Where were all the robins.  Strangely, you’d expect the colder and snowier winter to drive more robins south, which would mean that more robins would have streamed north.  One theory was has it that the productive summer resulted in a good winter crop of berries throughout the northern US.  Just as no winter finches irrupted this winter, few robins did either.  Thus, you might consider robins an  irruptive species.

The last migrants seen on June 1 consisted of typical late migrants.  Brendan logged both Olive-sided and Yellow-bellied Flycatchers, Purple Martin, Cedar Waxwings, Wilson’s and Canada Warblers, and a late and odd Lark Sparrow still visiting the site.

Expect us to better compare the last three years and give some insight into the migration over the dunes in the coming weeks.  We’ll also continue to give birders a peak into the breeding season birds in the coming months and send you to the great dune sites to see them.  Until then, we’ll leave you with one final video of some of the late and amazing birds seen in the dunes (and general NW Indiana area) this past week.


Gotta Love Those Flyways!

Last night, as predicted, a large movement of neo-tropical birds moved through Indiana, and brought the most diverse longshore flight of the season.  It was also the first day this season to surpass 100 species in one morning.  Today’s flight brought 2,743 birds of 102 species.

Radar showing bird migration last night, May 6, 2014- May 7, 2014..  Approximate time about midnight.
Radar showing bird migration last night, May 6, 2014- May 7, 2014.. Approximate time about midnight.

When large flights are predicted, you can also predict large congregations of birders.  As such, there were many eyes out today assisting the counter push past 100 species.  New counter birds for this season were Chestnut-sided Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Ovenbird, Prairie Warbler, and Least Sandpiper.  By noon, the warm are was almost sweltering.  The stiff wind prevented any of the colder off-shore water from cooling the dunes.  The forecast overnight is for the dying winds to allow the warm air draw the cooler lake air into the area, but south winds throughout the state will flood the area with more birds tonight.  Tomorrow should be another great flight.  Bring your oriole eyes with you!

Assisting Brendan today was Ed Hopkins, Jeff “Magic Eyes” McCoy, Pete and Nila Grube, and John Kendall.  Don’t forget we’re desperate to keep counting birds. Brendan has really forgotten how to do anything else.  Consider pledging to our Birdathon on May 17 to help fund bird related events and programs at the Indiana Dunes State Park!

Today’s complete 102 species list!
Canada Goose 2
Lesser Scaup 3 Landed close to shore.
Red-breasted Merganser 15
Double-crested Cormorant 11
Great Blue Heron 1
Great Egret 1
Green Heron 2
Turkey Vulture 16
Osprey 1
Northern Harrier 3
Sharp-shinned Hawk 5
Cooper’s Hawk 4
Bald Eagle 1
Red-shouldered Hawk 4
Broad-winged Hawk 9
Red-tailed Hawk 10
Sandhill Crane 11 Two flocks migrating.
Killdeer 4
Spotted Sandpiper 2
Solitary Sandpiper 7
Lesser Yellowlegs 10
Least Sandpiper 1 FOY.
Ring-billed Gull 1
Herring Gull 1
Caspian Tern 1
Forster’s Tern 3
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) 1
Mourning Dove 10
Chimney Swift 29
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 12
Red-headed Woodpecker 8
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1
Downy Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker 1
American Kestrel 17
Peregrine Falcon 2
Eastern Phoebe 1 Migrant.
Eastern Kingbird 80
Yellow-throated Vireo 1
Blue-headed Vireo 1
Warbling Vireo 4
Blue Jay 494
American Crow 1
Northern Rough-winged Swallow 1
Purple Martin 3
Tree Swallow 8
Bank Swallow 17
Barn Swallow 7
Cliff Swallow 26
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1
House Wren 1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 30
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 3
Eastern Bluebird 64 Migrant flocks.
Veery 2 FOY.
American Robin 9
Gray Catbird 11
Brown Thrasher 1
European Starling 8
American Pipit 75 A flock of 12.
Cedar Waxwing 43
Lapland Longspur 2 Rattle call, and seen.
Ovenbird 1 FOY.
Black-and-white Warbler 3
Nashville Warbler 3
Common Yellowthroat 1
Cape May Warbler 1
Magnolia Warbler 3
Blackburnian Warbler 1
Yellow Warbler 6
Chestnut-sided Warbler 2 FOY.
Blackpoll Warbler 1 FOY.
Palm Warbler 58
Pine Warbler 4
Yellow-rumped Warbler 34
Prairie Warbler 1 FOY.
Black-throated Green Warbler 1
Eastern Towhee 1
Chipping Sparrow 5
Clay-colored Sparrow 2
Field Sparrow 1
Lark Sparrow 1
Savannah Sparrow 2
Song Sparrow 1
White-throated Sparrow 2
White-crowned Sparrow 8
Dark-eyed Junco 2
Summer Tanager 1
Scarlet Tanager 2
Northern Cardinal 1
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 2
Indigo Bunting 9
Bobolink 18
Red-winged Blackbird 678
Common Grackle 19
Brown-headed Cowbird 1
Orchard Oriole 1
Baltimore Oriole 98
House Finch 1
Purple Finch 1
American Goldfinch 663
House Sparrow 1

Burning off the Fog

The weather lately has been difficult to predict big flights.  Many small longshore counts have been conducted the last few days, but we haven’t posted any full lists.  In fact, we haven’t had a real good 5,000+ bird day since April 20.  Yet, here we are staring May 1 in it’s face.  May won’t bring in record blackbird, grackle, or robin flocks, but will shower us with waves of Blue Jay and Cedar Waxwing numbers to help boost the total birds seen over the high dunes this spring.

Beach Pavilion in early morning fog, April 29, 2014.
Beach Pavilion in early morning fog, April 29, 2014.

Today, like yesterday, and again tomorrow was a game of rain dodging.  Winds, which had been predicted to be more easterly last weekend, were a more ideal southerly this morning.  There was no rain on the radar this morning, but one step outside revealed that the winds had died, creating a dense fog bank that blanketed both the land and water.  You might as well been flying blind if you attempted to migrate today.  Things started quiet, but feeder birds found their seed, and waterbirds found their water.  From the mist, the season’s first Willets could be seen on the beach.  They stayed close, and traveled only when forced to this morning, while Spotted Sandpipers braved the fog a little more and attempted small flights along the beach.

10 Willets hunker down and await the fog burn off before continuing migration.  April 20, 2014.
10 Willets hunker down and await the fog burn off before continuing migration. April 20, 2014.

By 9am, the winds gradually picked up and you could see the fog lift off and be carried off in the wind.  Suddenly, the cork was released and birds began a late longshore flight.  A quick 1,000 blackbirds would stream by, swallows by the  hundreds began feeding, and single chip notes of warblers, sparrows, and finches could be heard.

Waiting for the fog to lift.  April 29, 2014.

Waiting for the fog to lift. April 29, 2014.

During the late morning push, some 88 species of birds would be logged from the tower site this morning.  2,675 individuals would be counted.  First of the season birds were plentiful and included, the above mentioned Willets, Great-crested Flycatcher, Warbling Vireo, Clay-colored Sparrow (see photo below), Indigo Bunting, and both Baltimore and Orchard Orioles (Baltimore’s exploded on the scene with 15 flying by).

There were additional highlights too.  The season’s second Upland Sandpiper flew over the tower around 8:30am.  The first precursor to the upcoming Blue Jay flight brought over 160 jays past the site.  With perfect winds and a thick but fluffy cloud deck, hawks began a short and impressive flight.  Unfortunately, growing storm cells shut down the movement just as the first 100 birds had passed.  But early indications showed that it would have been a most impressive flight for both Sharp-shinned Hawks and Broad-winged Hawks. Kestrels could have also been a season high if it weren’t for the storms.

As we round out April, we have now logged 216,000 birds this year.  By this time in 2012, we were at 234,000 and an even higher 360,000 last year.  Numbers haven’t hit any mind blowing days quite yet.  Though not likely, it is still within reach that our three year total could surpass 1 million counted birds!  Species wise, were at 162 species for the year.  So many more species still to go.

Here are some select fog highlights:

Red-throated Loon 2
Common Loon 5
Sharp-shinned Hawk 34
Bald Eagle 6
Broad-winged Hawk 31
Killdeer 1
Spotted Sandpiper 5
Solitary Sandpiper 7
Greater Yellowlegs 1
Willet 10
Lesser Yellowlegs 1
Upland Sandpiper 1 
Pileated Woodpecker 1
Merlin 1
Great Crested Flycatcher 1
Eastern Kingbird 23
Warbling Vireo 1 
Blue Jay 161
Red-breasted Nuthatch 3
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 27
Lapland Longspur 4
Yellow Warbler 1
Palm Warbler 8
Pine Warbler 4
Yellow-rumped Warbler 57
Clay-colored Sparrow 1 
White-throated Sparrow 4
White-crowned Sparrow 2
Dark-eyed Junco 3
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 4
Indigo Bunting 1
Red-winged Blackbird 1676
Orchard Oriole 1
Baltimore Oriole 15

Distant seed pile photo showing Clay-colored Sparrow with Chipping Sparrow.
Distant seed pile photo showing Clay-colored Sparrow with Chipping Sparrow.
One of three Lark Sparrows seen yesterday.  None were present today.
One of three Lark Sparrows seen yesterday. None were present today.

Finally, we offered up a Sibley Birding Basic’s guide to those that could ID the warblers from last week, as well as the two raptors observed on Thursday.  The warblers were indeed an Orange-crowned, Pine, and Worm-eating.  The hawks were Broad-winged and Osprey.  Instead of picking, we’ll award both Laura Hess and Matthew Beatty a free copy.  Thanks folks!


The Longshore Mixed Bag

Another longshore flight, another video for you today!  Today, April 17, brought a little rebound in both temperatures and total number of birds.  For the day 67 species totalling 4,549 birds were counted.  It was a little mixed bag of birds today.  A little highlight from each bird group.

From the lake, 9 lingering  White-winged Scoters and 3 Long-tailed Ducks were worth noting now in late April.  From the air up high, blackbirds put on a small show.  Most surprisingly was an increase in the already surging Rusty Blackbird count we’ve been logging this year.  1,525 more Rusty Blackbirds (and one Brewer’s Blackbird) look to be the dunes area’s 4th highest count.  Just behind the slightly higher count posted on the 14th.

The afternoon flight brought in only a few raptors.  Again this year, Merlins seem to make a good flight.  They’re being seen nearly daily, and our season total is already up to 25 bird, which is five more than we saw at this point last year.  The afternoon also brought a very good bird for the park.  Right around noon, an Upland Sandpiper was sighted drifting in over the pines.  It glided into the dune prairie grass and disappeared.  A search for it on foot re-found the bird, but it unfortunately continued on it’s migration.  Videos of both birds are below.

Brendan was joined by Ken Brock, Brad Bumgardner, Ben Mitchell, Eric Delbecq, Penny Starin, and Carl Swisher.  Highlights below.  The next two days do not look very ideal for the longshore flight, but Sunday looks good.  If you have a chance to break away from Easter activities, join us at the tower site.

April 17, 2014
White-winged Scoter 9
Long-tailed Duck 3
Red-throated Loon 8
Common Loon 5
Osprey 1
Solitary Sandpiper 3
Lesser Yellowlegs 3
Upland Sandpiper 1
Wilson’s Snipe 1
Bonaparte’s Gull 3
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 3
Pileated Woodpecker 1
American Kestrel 1
Merlin 4
Eastern Phoebe 2
Eastern Bluebird 1
Hermit Thrush 1
American Robin 48
Lapland Longspur 2
Yellow-rumped Warbler 30
Red-winged Blackbird 1420
Rusty Blackbird 1525
Brewer’s Blackbird 1
Purple Finch 1

Duck Flight at the Quack of Dawn

Sunrise over the West Lot Pines, April 1, 2014
Sunrise over the West Lot Pines, April 1, 2014

Tuesday, April 1 began quite in contrast to yesterday’s flight count.  With strong and warm south winds overnight, you would have expected a similar flight of passerine species.  However, the winds began a shift just before dawn, pushing the south winds into a westerly wind.  Dawn wind speeds were holding at 15mph, with gusts to 30mph.  The day’s high occured as the sun rose over the pines and would drop each hour as cold air over the lake was allowed to sweep over the dunes.  By noon, the wind vector was creating white caps and rolling waves on the lake.  More reminiscent of a late fall lakewatch.

Like a fall lakewatch, waterfowl were the highlight of the day.  No real blackbird or robin flight took off, but things were not boring.  An impressive longshore duck flight streamed west.  Many duck flocks flew directly over the breaking shelf ice and provided stellar looks in the early morning glow.  Flocks had to be scrutinized as few contained single species, but mixed groups flying in tandem together.  24 species of waterfowl were identified from the high dune this morning (too windy for the tower top!).

Great Black-backed Gull going by the tower site, Apri l1, 2014.
Great Black-backed Gull going by the tower site, Apri l1, 2014.

Redhead ducks again staged a great spring flight today.  Today’s total of 929 is the new spring high count for the dunes.  It’s interesting to see a huge spring movement since we also recorded a massive fall movement.  A superb longshore flight of 1,615 were seen at  Miller Beach on 23 November, 2013.  Long-tailed Ducks continue their daily appearance.  Both loons were logged today.  Both Green-winged Teal and Gadwall posted 100+ counts today also.

In other birds, the winds stimulated a massive gull movement, with many riding the winds directly over the dunes.  Both Great and Lesser Black-backed Gulls would go logged.  Sapsuckers showed an early movement, with 7 being seen.  Flickers… 6.  Won’t be long until their migration gets going.  Finally, 14 Fox Sparrows was proof of an overnight movement of these husky sparrows.

Fox Sparrow today.  April 1, 2014.
Fox Sparrow today. April 1, 2014.

Highlights below.  Add it all together and 6,749 birds were counted today, comprising 59 species.  Today’s helpers included Brad Bumgardner, Bernie Konrady, Matt Beatty, and Madison.  The current forecast does not look ideal for a good flight for the next few days.

Greater White-fronted Goose 5
Gadwall 114
American Wigeon 40
Northern Shoveler 92
Green-winged Teal 113
Canvasback 43
Redhead 929
White-winged Scoter 13
Long-tailed Duck 7
Wild Turkey 2
Red-throated Loon 3
Common Loon 4
Horned Grebe 9
Sandhill Crane 42
Ring-billed Gull 4135
Lesser Black-backed Gull 1
Great Black-backed Gull 1
Caspian Tern 15
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 7
Tree Swallow 4
Brown Creeper 1
Golden-crowned Kinglet 2
Lapland Longspur 1
Field Sparrow 2
Fox Sparrow 14
Dark-eyed Junco 30

Breaking (Bad) Ice

Hints of spring continue to do battle with winter’s foot hold.  Spring rains melt and break up months old ice, and the ever present theme of change continues to amaze and astound this writer.  As goes the quote, changes in nature, change your nature.   So the seasons roll.

Waves pound and batter the melting shelf ice, March 28, 2014.
Waves pound and batter the melting shelf ice, March 28, 2014.  Click image for larger view.

A brief longshore flight did occur today.  A change in winds occurred later than predicted and early south winds shifted to the northwest mid-morning when the front dragged over the southern shore of Lake Michigan around the 8am hour.  Rain before and after made passerine birding difficult, but  with birds filtering in, they are around to find if you look hard enough.  Temperatures started in the mid-40s, but dropped to the mid-30s before noon came.

Today’s super highlights included a diverse group of 19 species of waterfowl.  The cork is being released on the recent pack ice.  The waves can now reach the shelf ice and the wind shift today battered and pounded the locked in ice.  Loud roars could be heard today as rolling waves echoed inside ice caverns and tossed icebergs around like rag dolls.  Long-tailed Ducks made memory today, as 189 “oldsqauws” posted the single highest single party count for Indiana since Jim Landing counted (200) at Michigan City Harbor on 14 December 1958*.  A 50+ year record.   Blue-winged Teal were first of season birds along the lakeshore as well.

A Common Goldeneye comes in for a landing in the safety of the shelf ice harbor as pounding waves batter the shelf ice behind. March 28, 2014.  Click images for better view.
Common Goldeneye hiding in the shelf ice harbor. March 28, 2014.

Other great birds included the season’s first Caspian Tern.  It’s amazing how stealthy they arrive in Indiana each year.  The first reports each year come from Lake Michigan, somehow eluding hundreds of other birders statewide as they bee line for their favorite lake.  The best diurnal raptor of the day was a cooperative Merlin seen in the rain.  The best nocturnal raptor was the wolf in sheep’s clothing, aka. the Snowy Owl that flew past the shore with the the other gulls going by.  It was seen long enough to capture some incredible video, seen below (with some Merlin footage too!).  See how long it takes you to realize that it is indeed not a gull but a Snowy!?

The rest of the day’s highlights:

Gadwall 28
Blue-winged Teal 3 FOY
Northern Pintail 6
Canvasback 5
Redhead 42
White-winged Scoter 7
Long-tailed Duck 189
Red-breasted Merganser 15
Ruddy Duck 2
Red-throated Loon 1
Common Loon 3
Caspian Tern 1
Snowy Owl 1 A migrant gliding and soaring to the west, just cresting the dune tops. Essentially, the bird was caught in the passage of gulls at 100-200 ft up.
Merlin 2
Fox Sparrow 1

*Thanks to Ken Brock for the Long-tailed Duck record dates.

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.