Tag Archives: Dunes State Park

A Tale of Two Loons

April greeted the dunes to a few days of spring weather this past weekend.  The southerly winds extended into today (Monday) to allow for two countable days of longshore flights.  Though Saturday had the sunny skies, the south winds failed to shift to the south until nightfall, thus the count was much lower than it could have been.  Sunday was a stiff southeast wind, which brought not only a decent songbird flight, but even raptors under a generally overcast sky.  Monday saw continued southeast winds, but more cloudy conditions.  So how did the three days compare?

Saturday, April 1 (north winds) had 59 species, but only 881 individual birds.
Sunday, April 2 (southeast winds) had 61 species, including 6,904 individual birds.
Monday, April 3 (southeast winds) had 67 species, including 20,490 individual birds.

Each day offered new arrivals this past extended weekend.  April 1 included the survey’s first Hairy Woodpecker, a early Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and 4 Vesper Sparrows for the year.  New arrivals for April 2 included an early Northern Rough-winged Swallow.  April 3, as you might guess, offered the more new arrivals, including Brown Thrasher (2) and Pied-billed Grebe.  Another early Northern Rough-winged Swallow made an appearance.

Of note the last few days has been a stream of loons moving through the southern Great Lakes.  On Sunday, a combined 79 loons were seen migrating past the tower.  These were split nearly even with Common Loons just edging out Red-throated Loons.  More Commons were spotted flying directly due north from above the tower, while Red-throateds were more likely to be on the lake moving east or west.  Nearly all Common Loons are in breeding plumage by now, while Red-throated Loons will not transition until late May and early June and are very rarely seen in breeding plumage in Indiana. Monday continued the loon movement, with 31 Red-throated Loons being seen on the water from the tower site.  However, only 3 Common Loons were seen today.  A comparison of two loons on the water from today is below, taken digiscoped with an iPhone.  Hover over to identify each loon.


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Merlin near the tower site, 4/2/17.

Raptor diversity has also been the specialty the last few days, with both falcons and buteos putting in some mileage over the longshore tower.  Sunday’s southeast winds pushed some 269 hawks, falcons, and vultures over.  the usual flight paths were not followed and birds seemed to move in many directions.  Falcons put on a good show, with a few Merlins even buzzing the tower and stopping to eat cowbird fodder, which the tower feeders have in ample supply right now.  29 kestrels Sunday, and 4 more Monday rounded out the falcon show.

American Kestrel perched in the dunes prairie 4/3/17.

Rounding out the odds and ends in notables…. Sunday produced the best Northern Flicker flight of the season with nearly three hundred birds (285 to be exact).  A weaker, yet still significant 122 went by on Monday.  Rusty Blackbirds increasted ten fold, from 102 seen Sunday to 1,479 seen on Monday among the icterid flocks.

Duck diversity had been waning, but did well on Monday, as late waterfowl finish their migration through the dunes.  15 species passed by, with most dabblers being seen, and a few divers, including Lesser Scaup and White-winged Scoter.

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Distant and cropped iPhone photo of Monday’s Short-eared Owl moving along the beach.  4/3/17.

Lastly, several counters Monday got a late morning treat of a Short-eared Owl flying east along the beach.  The beautiful dune prairie, behind the tower, may have had some allure, as it turned and began working circles over the parking lot, and then towards the tower, as it inspected the prairie and then decided to continue it’s eastward movement.  It was last seen putting down somewhere near the prairie dune that sits next to Mt. Tom.  Migrating Short-eared Owls are a more common fall sight than in the spring.

For the three days of April, we welcomed 28,275 birds through the dunes, comprising 88 unique species.  Our season total as of today stands at 116 species.  You can view the year’s total species count and accumulated checklists here.

North winds visit again, and include the chance for snow this week, but if the forecast holds out, we should be in store for a nice bank of south winds by the weekend and into next week.  April is a prime time for new arrivals and rarities, so anything is possible!


Summer Transitions

The summer season has slowly begun to take hold.  Temperatures, like this spring, remain on the colder side.  The state park trails and recreation areas have now filled in with visitors from all over the world (48 states and 29 countries registered in 2012).  Many are taking reprieve in the more pleasant weather.  The trails are seeing high use, while the beach remains quiet still (beach water at 51 degrees still).  Things will change, but for now, the breeding season birding weather is perfect!

With breeding season here, a vast array of specialty birds can be found for the visiting birder.  As has been stated before, a remarkable park feature is the fact that many southern birds (e.g. White-eyed Vireo, Cerulean Warbler, and Summer Tanager) nest here along with typical northern species (e.g. Veery, Blackburnian Warbler, and Canada Warbler).  We’ll highlight some of these unique species during the course of the summer.  We’re also logging many birds in the park as part of the Indiana Audubon’s Summer Bird Count.    The first of several counts was done done by park staff and volunteers just yesterday.  Portions of Trails 2, 10, and more developed areas of the park were surveyed for all the birds present.  We’re happy to report some great numbers thus far, including: 14 Eastern Wood-Pewees, a late singing Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, 26 Acadian Flycatchers (possible second highest dunes area daily count), 25 Red-eyed Vireos, 31 American Redstarts, and finally an impressive 10 Cerulean Warblers.

Cerulean Warbler today at Indiana Dunes State Park.  6/7/13.  Photo by Pete Grube.
Cerulean Warbler today at Indiana Dunes State Park. 6/7/13. Photo by Pete Grube.

The above mentioned Cerulean Warblers are forest canopy insectivores not easily seen.  Recognizing their buzzy call can help you zero in on one.  Their fondness for large forest tracts makes them particularly sensitive to forest loss and degradation.  For Indiana, Cerulean’s are state endangered and have had petitions sent in for federal protection.  Traditionally, the first sections of Trail 2, east of the Wilson Shelter have harbored a “Cerulean Alley” of sorts.  A trek down 2 should allow the careful ear a chance to hear them singing.

Finally, we mentioned we’d share more comparison of this spring’s longshore bird survey, compared to last year.  With 428,000 birds compared to 285,000 birds in 2012, there are certainly some noticeable increases.  But, the decreases in numbers are equally interesting.  While presented here as raw data, we won’t offer complete conclusions yet.  Some will be due to weather during appropriate migration periods, others may represent an actual increase or decrease in population.  More years of data will help us draw the most complete and accurate conclusions.  Saying that, here’s some neat data.  The first show the ten species with an increase.  As expected, winter finches staged a larger spring flight, compared to last year.  The White-winged Scoters aren’t surprising either.  For the decreased species, how much did weather play a role in the final count?

Does not include non-migrants counted, and those that had numbers less than 10 birds.


Does not include non-migrants counted, and those that had numbers less than 10 birds.


If you look at other notable decreases after this top ten you’ll find Red-eyed Vireo, Nashville Warbler, and Gray Catbird.  The cold spring and late arrival into the count likely is the explanation for this entire group of May migrants being down from last year’s count.

Lastly of interest are the birds that had numbers nearly identical (or within 10%) of last year’s count.  Here’s a few of those:

Does not include non-migrants counted, and those that had numbers less than 10 birds.


Just Another Goshawk?

Today, Friday, April 25, 2013, was an absolutely delightful day to be atop the longshore dune for another bird flight.  Not wanting to stand around freezing again, this writer bundled up for another cold start.  Fortunately, a good southeast clip had kept the dunes from getting too cold last night.

The morning started mediocre.  Early radar returns show only a small movement occurred last night.  Blackbirds made up the majority of the early morning songbirds.  Also making an appearance was both Rusty and Brewer’s Blackbirds.  Just before 7am an early Lark Sparrow shot by going west in front of the counters.  An hour later, another Lark Sparrow was seen feeding at the seed pile on the platform entrance drive.  Within minutes of the second bird, a third Lark Sparrow flew in from the west and perched high in the nearby cottonwood tree.  It’s always hard to guess if one was from an hour ago, but we’ll be bold and claim an excellent count of 3 Lark Sparrows for the day.  This is one shy of the dunes area all time high count of four birds, which happened to be recorded right here at Dunes State Park.

1 of 3 Lark Sparrows seen for the day.  4/25/13.  Photo courtesy Pete Grube.
1 of 3 Lark Sparrows seen for the day. 4/25/13. Photo courtesy Pete Grube.

By 9am, most of the passerine flight was weakening.  There was more exodus, then entry last night.  4,720 birds were logged today during a long passerine watch and subsequent hawk watch.  In a mix of old and new, 2 White-winged Scoters and 4 Red-throated Loons show some lingering early birds, while the first Blue Jay flight (only 32 birds!) gave hint of more to come in May.  The first significant goldfinch movement also was observed, with 109 undulating yellow specks.

114 bird of prey during a hawk-watch at Dunes State Park just enters the category of a good day.  Having the eclectic mix of raptors logged today makes for an excellent day.   Sharpies were moving by 9am this morning and by mid morning some buteos also started to enter the scene.  The lack of high, white stratus clouds were not completely ideal for picking out birds of prey, but enough to allow today’s counters to find them both low and high.

It’s an interesting day when a Northern Goshawk goes by in Indiana and it’s NOT an annual bird for the counters!  Shortly after 10am a giant accipiter suddenly appeared overhead.  With slow, but stiff beats, it made its way south and west and only when it was just about out of sight, it banked and returned!  Now heading north, it gained altitude in quick rising thermals and began soaring directly over the longshore dune.  A nearby Broad-winged Hawk attempted to thermal with the bird, but was quickly shown the door by the Goshawk with a quick stoop.  Minutes later a Peregrine Falcon would attempt to thermal by the Goshawk and was given a fierce pounce that sent it too on it’s way.  The sighting came quick, but experienced hawk watchers should be able to separate the Goshawk from the Broad-winged Hawk below.

Northern Goshawk and Broad-winged Hawk in same kettle above the Longshore Dune.  4/25/13.  Click for larger image.
Northern Goshawk and Broad-winged Hawk in same kettle above the Longshore Dune. 4/25/13. Click for larger image.
Heavily cropped and sharpened shot of distant N Goshawk.  4/25/13
Heavily cropped and sharpened shot of distant N Goshawk. 4/25/13

If the Goshawk wasn’t enough excitement, 9 Ospreys (including a vocalizing bird), 1 Merlin, 42 Sharpies, and 32 Red-tailed Hawks gave hawkwatchers plenty to see today.  It also helped elevate the season hawkwatch total to 2,117 birds… the highest season total in 20 years.  Check out the pale “Krider’s” Red-tailed Hawk caught briefly on video today too.

Though not seen yet in the dunes this year, we’ve began our annual accumulation of hummingbird feeders.  We hope to intercept as many migrating hummers as we can.  There’s a missing Bahama Woodstar somewhere!  If you visit, you’ll notice our feeders have had their toll of windswept dunes, scorching sun, and missing flower ports.  We’re always willing to take hummingbird feeder donations or sugar for that matter!  The park has 10 hummingbird feeders up currently, so donations always help!  See us at the high dune or Nature Center to donate.  Tell them it’s for the Dunes State Park and I bet our friend Chuck at Chesterton Feed and Garden will give you a discount!

2 of 6 hummer feeders sprinkled about the Longshore Birding Dune.  April 2013.
2 of 6 hummer feeders sprinkled about the Longshore Birding Dune. April 2013.

The list below rounds out the day’s highlights.  Tomorrow looks especially golden, as southwest winds will bring in good migrants, and hold through the morning.  Winds will be iffy, but still bringing in migrants Sunday and Monday.  Tuesday looks like another gangbuster day to visit.  Also below today’s highlights are some more photo gallery birds from today!

White-winged Scoter 2
Red-throated Loon 4
Common Loon 2
Horned Grebe 3
Great Egret 3
Osprey 9
Northern Harrier 3
Sharp-shinned Hawk 42
Cooper’s Hawk 5
Northern Goshawk 1
Bald Eagle 1
Red-shouldered Hawk 1
Broad-winged Hawk 5
Red-tailed Hawk 32
Rough-legged Hawk 2 (getting late)
Caspian Tern 45
Forster’s Tern 2
Red-headed Woodpecker 1
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 3
Merlin 1
Blue Jay 32
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 4
Lapland Longspur 3
Yellow-rumped Warbler 10
American Tree Sparrow 1
Lark Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow 2
Dark-eyed Junco 6
Rusty Blackbird 2
Brewer’s Blackbird 2
Pine Siskin 5
American Goldfinch 109

Great-blue Heron seen today.  4/25/13
Great-blue Heron seen today. 4/25/13
Rough-legged Hawk today.  4/25/13.  Photo courtesy John Kendall.
Rough-legged Hawk today. 4/25/13. Photo courtesy John Kendall.
White-throated Sparrow at the seed pile today.  4/25/13.  Photo courtesy Pete Grube.
White-throated Sparrow at the seed pile today. 4/25/13. Photo courtesy Pete Grube.