Tag Archives: Hawkwatch

A Good Friday Count!

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Singing Brown Thrasher by tower today.

Today, Friday April 14 saw the return of another moderate flight of birds over the dunes.  Though winds were east overnight, they quickly turned southeast after dawn, which served to facilitate some migration today.  The icterid flight was lower than has been seen in recent weeks, but when combined with the overall diversity of birds, it was a fine day for a longshore flight.  Early cloud cover kept the tower site cool through 9am, but once the sun starting peeking, the temperatures ramped up to 70 degrees, and a moderate hawk flight began, including the season’s first Broad-winged Hawks!  The day’s final tally was 73 species, comprised from 5,648 individual birds.

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Red-breasted Nuthatch next to the tower today.

New for the season were Red-breasted Nuthatch, Broad-winged Hawk, Lark Sparrow, Solitary Sandpiper, and Chimney Swift.  It was a day for birds to put on full song.  Many species hung around the tower and posed for photos as well during the morning hours.   The Lark Sparrow came flying in past the tower low, and eventually would hang around the feeder area off and on for several hours today.  The nuthatch, to the right also flew directly overhead and landed in the cottonwoods next to the tower and played it’s tin horn a few times before moving west.

The hawkflight began in earnest, with a few sharpies and kestrels on the move. Once things began to warm up, the buteos showed up.  First with a single Red-tailed Hawk here and Red-shouldered there.  For the day 215 raptors were logged, with Sharp-shinned leading the pack with 55.  43 Red-tailed Hawks were logged, as well as 23 Broad-wings.  164 Sandhill Cranes also joined in the thermal guide today, likely emptying out what leftover birds remained in the Kankakee River area.

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Poor but identifiable photo of Lark Sparrow at feeders today.
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Pine Warbler in nearby Jack Pines today.  

Other notables for the day included a parade of Purple Finches.  Small flocks of 10-20 moved by overhead, totaling nearly 100 for the morning.  The 31 flickers was down significantly from the past few days, but still notable.  Finally, 13 Gnatcatchers was the season’s best showing, alongside 104 Yellow-rumped Warbler (and one Pine Warbler).

Today’s complete list is here.  Tomorrow looks to be an even better day with several new arrivals.  The Dunes Longshore count sits at 132 species for the year.  For those in the dunes area tomorrow, the park will be hosting a special Woodcock Walk.  We’ll be carpooling from the main entrance parking lot to see the special sky dance of this amazing bird.  The program is free and begins at 7:30pm (CDT).

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Eastern Bluebird hanging out on the tower ramp today.

 

 

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East Wind Hawkflight

If large totals have seemed lacking this spring, you’re not alone in that observation.  The season’s longshore flight has been noticably absent of 20,000 or 30,000 bird mornings.  The biggest culprit likely lies with the lack of south winds.  After a super warm February, March has been averaging 6 degrees cooler than last March.  The graphs below show our local weather station in March 2016, and March of this year.  Of note, look at the winds.  Last year we had several days of sustained south winds, before a new front would come in.  This year, the south winds are almost immediately accompanied with a front and precipitation.

In 2012, we conducted 21 longshore flight counts in the month of March.  In 2016, last year, we had 16 counts done.  This March has only seen 13 days with longshore flights.  Many of those weren’t south winds.  Obviously, south winds are the best for measuring migration.  Followed by westerly winds, and then finally east winds.  North winds are the worst.  Wind speed can also affect this.  When the weather’s not conducive to migration, anything other than a north wind will be measured, as was the case today, March 29.

With east winds blowing, a typical songbird flight will not happen in any significant quantity, but if the sun is shining, a few migrating thermal riding birds may push off and be forced against the lakeshore, when you’re east of Miller beach.  This produced the best Sandhill Crane count since March 5, with 2,376 going by.

With no passerine distractions, raptors put on their best migration of the season at the dunes longshore tower today.  307 raptors went by, with Red-tailed Hawks (154) being the most abundant.  The full list of raptors counted was:

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Turkey Vulture banking near the longshore tower.

91 Turkey Vultures
4 Northern Harrier
42 Sharp-shinned Hawk 

1 Cooper’s Hawk 
1 Bald Eagle 
13 Red-shouldered Hawk 
154 Red-tailed Hawk Including 4 dark morphs.
1 American Kestrel

Unfortunately, the next 7 day forecast doesn’t look good still for south winds.  NOAA’s 8-14 day outlook shows above average temperatures, and below average precipitation.  This may bring the needed south winds to kickstart the dunes bird migration.  Until then, we’re enjoying just a small trickle of the dunes potential.

Today’s’ full count is here.

Bonanza of New Arrivals

With real south winds overnight, not those pesudo southeast imposters, a good movement of bird arrived in the dunes.  With dawn before 6am, and a beautiful spring dune scene unfolding, new songs could be heard all around.  As expected, the longshore flight benefited with by producing the highest species total for the season.    The morning ended with 82 species seen.  Bluejays, goldfinch, and blackbirds helped carry the individual total to 4,730 birds counted today.  The season now stands at 153.

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Lark Sparrow singing near tower today.  4/25/16.

New birds were plenty.  Within the first hour the first Yellow Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Lark Sparrow, Indigo Bunting, Baltimore Oriole, and Orchard Oriole all flew past.  Later in the morning, a even rarer (for the dunes) Blue Grosbeak visited the tower site.  The recent fire next to the tower has been a benefit to bug eating birds who come down to check it out.  In addition to sparrows, an abundance of Palm Warblers have been using it.  Today, 75 Palms were counted.  Yellow-rumps also deserve a mention, since a decent 177 went by as well.

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One of 68 Pine Siskins today, 4/25/16.

The Blue Jay flight improved dramatically from yesterday’s start.  It was the first 1,000+ Blue Jay day.  The near constant stream of dozens at a time went by, all going east.  With them, smaller American Goldfinches also posted their first 1,000+ day too.  1,049 little undulating wild canaries were logged.  Mixed in were more siskins.  Pine Siskins, in recent years, have put on an incredible late spring push through the dunes.  It’s not rare to see large groups moving past the tower in May.  Today, 68 more went past.

Not to be outdone, the hawkflight was stellar today. What lacked today in Red-tailed Hawk and Sharp-shinned Hawk counts was easily made up for with the Broad-winged Hawk number.  206 individual Broad-winged Hawks kettled past the tower.  It is the highest total we’ve had since officially starting the longshore flight in 2012, and sits in the top 10 count of highest BWHA records.  Also noteworthy was the season’s first Rough-legged Hawk.  Earlier April weather had prevented any hawk watch, and we were afraid the season could have finished without having logged one.

Rounding out the notables was a good swallow movement, with all species being logged.  Orange-crowned Warbler was seen again today.  A single Rusty Blackbird joined some Red-winged Blackbirds.  Lastly, a singing Purple Finch serenaded the observers today.

All in all, a good day.  See today’s complete list of all 82 species here.

P.s.  a Rose-breasted Grosbeak at the writer’s house this afternoon in Valpo, but not official on the tower list this year… yet!

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Rose-breasted Grosbeak in Valpo today.  

An Old Fashioned Dunes Hawk Watch!

Sunday, April 24, saw the return of another dunes longshore flight count after two days of unpleasant weather.  Winds were late to turn to the south, finally shifting after midnight, resulting in the sunrise temperature being a chilly 49 degrees as the south winds started picking up.  As such, little arrived as far as new arrivals, but the day was a beautiful spring scene for the dunes.  For every bird seen, a park visitor made use of the tower area or nearby beach today.  The first beach swimmers were even spotted, as the lower area near the shore warmed quickly without the direct wind. Folks enjoyed the water, despite it still being around 46 degrees.

By the end of the day’s count 3,396 birds were logged, from 71 species.  One species was officially added today, Eastern Kingbird, but no warblers were new to the scene. Over the lake, it was a slow show, with a single merganser and two flyby loons comprising the majority of the waterbird show.  Blackbirds made a good early morning movement. By now, most are females only, with a few grackles mixed in.

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Blue Jay past the tower.  

Blue Jays grouped to stage their first significant migration of the season.  Today’s 188 was a good early movement, and surely a tease of what’s to come.  Many were also utilizing the feeder area nearby.  Goldfinches continued their late April movement, with over 300 flying by.  21 siskins also flew past.  Rounding out the finches were 2 Purple Finches, including one singing individual.

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Broad-winged  Hawk over the tower. Photo by Pete Grube. 

As mentioned in the title above, hawks finally moved today!  Though normally only par for a hawkwatch, today’s nearly 150 raptors constituted one of the best days thus far since starting in early March.  After the 41 Turkey Vultures, today’s 35 Broad-winged Hawks was an impressive sight. Several groups circled directly over the tower as they kettled higher and higher and drifted east along the lakefront. Many Red-taileds and Sharpies followed the same line.  Mixed in were also a few Bald Eagles and an Osprey.  Finally, one of three Merlins came by and landed in the nearby cottonwood to destroy some prey it had caught.  It picked and ripped into an unidentified food source for several minutes.

The upcoming weather pattern looks to be blocking again, but Monday should provide a last major movement before May arrives. To read today’s full list, visit here.

 

 

Easter Birds and Counting Primer

The longshore flight for the last two days continued with the light south winds present.  However, the flight has not been what one would expect this time of year.  The birds have been much more similar in numbers to the cold 2014 season count.  Longshore flight counts occurred on both Saturday, April 4 and Sunday, April 5 (Easter), however only a combined 4,000 birds were added to the season total, now approaching 150,000 birds.  Saturday began with south winds, but had been north through much of the night, therefore no major nocturnal movement had occurred.  Sunday was warmer, but with gusty 20-25 mph winds.  Few birds were braving the stiff winds to migrate.  On a side note, Sunday was the first morning without shelf ice.  She’s officially gone!

Birders counting on a crisp Saturday morning, April 4, 2015.
Birders counting on a crisp Saturday morning, April 4, 2015.

Despite the lower totals, a number of first of the year birds flew past this weekend.  April is a month of daily arrivals.  So it makes sense that even in the slower days, a new bird or two can be expected.  New for the weekend were arriving Osprey, Brown Thrasher, and a few Vesper Sparrows.  With a little luck, one of these Osprey will find the nesting platforms that were installed last year.

hawkflightIn regards to hawks, it has seemed like a pretty slow year for hawks thus far.  There have been no major hawk flight days with over 100 birds.  Though the peak is still to come, it was pointed out that the few handful we’ve had each day is slowly adding up.  You can see the season totals so far below.  This right on par with last year’s count, and is a good clip ahead of 2013, when we only had 301 birds of prey logged by this point.

This year we have jumped right into the birds, with little introduction on how we count the birds, why we count, and the species diversity.  With our fourth year now going, it seems helpful to refer back to past posts that help explain our process and why we do it.  So today, I’ll direct you to Peterson’s Birding Basics- A green tower prerequisite.  It’s a good intro to counting the most numerous birds being seen right now.

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Lastly, we received word yesterday the inaugural Indiana Dunes Birding Festival was set to receive it’s 200th registration sometime today.  Quite an accomplishment for it’s first year.  If you haven’t registered yet, and hope to, you’ll certainly not being getting the early worm.  Field trips are said to be full, and many of the programs will be tough getting into.  Better register today than risk not getting to go!

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