Tag Archives: Longshore Flight

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.

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Those Merlins, gotta look fast, they don’t screw around…

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Overnight Radar from 4/26/17.

and the birds were flying today!  As typically does for a late April longshore flight, new birds were entering the scene, and a gusty south winds were bringing in the usual gang of birds from afar.  Today’s longshore flight for Wed, April 26 brought a good influx of birds, though not necessarily at the volume expected.  It was a new high species count of 76 species for the day, lumped into 3,530 individual birds.  The morning began cloudy, as expected, but quickly opened up to mostly sunny by mid morning, and near perfect conditions for a hawkflight that was overall meager, but with some major highlights.

Let’s start with new arrivals.  Both Nashville and Black-throated Green Warblers were new for the season.  As was the Greater Yellowlegs.  The day’s major highlight, the Swainson’s Hawk, was also new of course.  Others that had just arrived the day before showed again, including Baltimore Oriole, Indigo Buntings, and 2 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.  Unfortunately, yesterday’s Clay-colored Sparrow was no where to be found.

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Blue Jays at the tower feeders today.

The Blue Jays, as predicted, jettisoned out of the dunes with a stream of migrants that hit 1,255 birds.  A few even stopped to visit the tower feeders briefly for a recharge.

The hawkflight showed early promise, but fizzled in the high winds that picked up sharply at 9:30am as 20 mph wind gusts came in with the sky clearing.  In fact, only 69 birds were logged before today’s count was terminated by 1pm.  In the high winds, counters and spectators tried to catch some of the fast moving sharpies, kestrels, and Merlins that went by.  You had to look fast for some.  The day’s first Red-tailed Hawk turned out to be a dark morph western bird.  The tower site has logged an unusually high number of these this spring.

At approximately 9:30am, a circling raptor could be seen near a Red-tailed Hawk to the south west.  It drifted it’s way north and east towards the tower, and the bird’s longer wings and overall shape were seen immediately.  It wasn’t long for the first counters to exclaim, “SWAINSON’S HAWK,” to which everyone got on the drifting bird and watched it as it moved through the nearby cottonwoods and began circling again over Mt. Tom before drifting east along the lake.  The classic light adult underwing pattern could be seen by everyone watching, while others noted the uniform dark gray/brown back with no white scapular markings.  It was the first Swainson’s Hawk in two years.

Other highlights of note were a complete suite of swallows present today, that were likely undercounted.  85 Chimney Swifts were noteworthy.  As were the 20 Red-bellied Woodpeckers… a species most don’t realize do migrate in and out of the most northern part of their range.

The forecast going forward is iffy the next five days.  Rain is in the forecast so we may be dodging some wetness the next couple days.  After that the next wave of cold air arrives for the weekend, before opening up again for early next week, and into the start of the Indiana Dunes Birding Festival.

View the entire day’s list here.

Yellow-rumped Mayhem

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Yesterday’s longshore list.

Yesterday produced an early warbler migration madness that is worth a quick blog post here.  Why any particular day is better than the next for migration depends primarily on weather conditions, especially wind speeds and directions.  Why spectacles like yesterday happen on one south wind day over another is one of those mysteries of migration that we’ll likely have more questions than answers.

Yesterday morning welcomed the dunes with very warm south winds.  Temperatures were already in the mid 60s at dawn, and shortly after dawn, the chips of Yellow-rumped Warblers could be heard and subsequently seen in mass numbers past the tower.  The first hour along produced approximately 300 Yellow-rumped Warblers.  From that point on, the intensity increased to rapid flights of dozens of birds per minute.  With clickers in hand, the surveyors began 10 minute point counts.  After each ten minutes, we cleared the score and started over.   The quick burst of birds is well seen in the chart below.

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10 minute point counts of Yellow-rumped Warblers from the Dunes Longshore Tower on April 19, 2017.

By the time the flight concluded, we had logged 2,213 butterbutts (37% of all birds counted yesterday).  This is the third highest ever count in Indiana.  The two higher counts, 2,823 and 2,570 both occurred at the same location, here at the state park longshore tower.  Facebook users can see a short clip of counting here.  The total also sits as the highest April total in the Great Lakes, and second highest spring Great Lakes count (according to eBird data).

Almost as equally noteworthy were the Pine Warbler flight.  Yesterday’s 47 Pine Warblers may be a new state single count record.  3 Orange-crowned Warblers were also

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Purple Finch stopping to rest (and sing) near the tower yesterday.

pretty good this early in the season. 57 Palm Warblers also moved yesterday.

Rounding out the other highlights of the 66 species logged yesterday were one Wild Turkey, 2 Solitary Sandpipers, a small influx of 164 Blue Jays, 7 Red-breasted Nuthatches, and a few Purple Finches still moving.

 

Steady March of Migrants

It’s a magic time for the dunes longshore tower.  We’ve entered that period where anything is possible.  From new arrivals to rarities, it’s the period birders get most excited about.  It will last until the end of May for most of us in the Great Lakes.  From Golden-crowned Sparrows to Ruffs, the possibilities are endless.  Unfortunately, for today, April 18, the rarities remained just a possibility.

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Eastern Towhee singing near the tower today.

While the flight was moderate and the birds were certainly migrating and diverse, no new arrivals were logged today.  It remained much of what we’ve seen already.  However, we did count 7,574 birds to add to the season’s total, including many female Red-winged Blackbirds.  The total of 65 species was down slightly from previous days.  Thus far 138 species have been logged for the year.

Most notable was the beginnings of the Blue Jay flight.  For those who have followed in the past know that the Blue Jay migration can be spectacular the first week of May. On some days 5,000+ bird will go by west to east. Thus far we’ve logged single birds here and there.  Today’s 71 was a noticeable uptick, though far from where it will go in the following week or two.

Raptors were generally weak today, which was a surprise given the perfect southeast winds.  87 birds of prey went by. Sharp-shinned Hawks led the pack and Broad-wings, kestrels, Osprey, and Red-shouldered were only singletons today.  It was the first hawkflight in a while with no Merlin.  One surprise was the late push of 60 Sandhill Cranes that moved through the dunes today.

For the week going ahead, we hope to get one last good count in tomorrow before wind and rain get dicey.  The forecast shows a good north wind flow for Fri-Sun, but a nice south set up coming for Monday and Tuesday of next week.  This next south wind will really start to bring in the warblers, orioles, and tanagers.  Things start to get exciting now!

See today’s complete list of birds here.

Wind Swept – Longshore Flight 3/24/17

Friday, March 24 produced the best longshore flight of the season.  Without final Grube Magnitude Index numbers, the total diversity and abundance alone is enough for us to be fairly confident in today’s flight.  This time the weatherman was right on.  Warm temperatures overnight brought a decent nocturnal flight, and the same continued southerly gusts kick started a good morning flight.  The gusty south winds were too much for the counters to be elevated on the platform, but with the winds keeping many birds close to shore, the nearby staircase worked well today to count nearly 12,000 birds (11,743 to be exact).  Today’s 70 species was also the highest of the season.

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Predawn blackbird counting, 3/24/17

The radar loop from 1am to 7am showed a good nighttime movement, despite early rain that fell shortly after dusk.  April and May radar signatures will develop higher dB values later in the season. Counters were on scene before dawn today to get an early sense of how the morning flight would flesh out.  With sunrise not even upon us, fast moving flocks of blackbirds, mainly grackles, were already utilizing the pre dawn light to begin an exodus north.  Many flocks riding the strong winds like a buoy floating over waves in the lake.

Blackbird and robins flocks were literally using every flyway we observe near the tower.  Some were traveling high and fast both east and west.  Many west bound flocks were trying the low route that would take them dipping through the west lot, and then swiftly rising at near eye level to the counters.  Another pathway brought birds just south of the tower site in similar streams.

As arrival dates go, today was pretty darn good.  Overall, over a dozen new birds for the season were logged today.  The list of new arrivals helps identify many of the species throwing blips on last night’s radar.  Today’s new arrivals included:  Blue-winged Teal, Double-crested Cormorant, Pectoral Sandpiper ,Wilson’s Snipe, Bonaparte’s Gull, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker,Winter Wren, American Pipit 
 Yellow-rumped Warbler,Savannah Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow , and Eastern Towhee.

Waterfowl numbers were generally low, but the 14 species diversity was good.  A late push of 600+ gulls seems to indicate that Ring-billed Gulls are still migrating.  However, many local birds have returned, so this can be hard to ascertain.

Flickers were the surprise this morning, as they started their longshore appearance with a bang.  Usual flicker flights don’t occur until April, with exception of a March 20-28 flight in 2012 during the hot spring and summer.  So it shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise to see them ready to go, given the warm February we received last month.  201 Flickers flew past through the morning hours.

Other notables for the day included 362 Tree Swallows, 850 American Robins, and eight species of sparrow.  A Fox Sparrow was singing near the tower site, but not as impressive as the 80 reported today at the Hammond Bird Sanctuary by Michael Topp.  This count likely represents a new state record count.

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Longshore board after today’s count.

Today’s complete list of all 70 species is here.  We’re at 99 species for the season now.  What will number 100 be!?

The upcoming storm systems will make counting hard the next few days.  Some south winds will reappear for Sunday, but rain is still inthe forecast.  The week will hold fickle weather with shifting winds nearly daily, before the long range shows some strong south winds Thursday into Friday, with tight gradients, which would mean gusty conditions again before shifting back to the north for next weekend and start of April.  Looks like the same month that came in like a lion intends to go out the same way!

 

 

 

Season 2017 Start!

5 years ago we would have never imagined that we’d have over 1.2 million birds cataloged and new insights into the migration along the Indiana Dunes that we have today.  The migration along the shores of Lake Michigan is a wondrous event that as we learn more, more questions come up.  When we first started the longshore flight survey, timings were unknown.  Did migration start in March, February?  Do we need to be out in south winds only?  What about east winds?  What exact conditions will initiate a raptor flight?  Today we certainly know much more.  We know more about timings of migration, but variables such as climate change, storm events, habitat destruction and restoration throw wrenches into our knowledge and not only justify, but necessitate the continued study we’re embarking on again this year.

The 2017 longshore flight season traditionally starts officially the first full weekend in March. For two years in a row now, we’ve seen that migrants are already starting before this date.  We logged a few “preseason” counts last year in February, and the wild weather of this past winter has us doing it again.  It feels odd to be doing spring migration counts when it’s still officially ornithologic winter.  While many migrating birds are still enjoying the warm climate of the tropics and are otherwise unwise to the warm winter events happening in the Great Lakes, thus we would not expect them to return early, many short distant migrants have taken advantage of the warm weather and southerly winds to arrive early.  The race to mate has brought woodcocks, pintails, snow geese, and Sandhill Cranes into the dunes earlier than usual.  This arrival carries a risk.  Should a major snow storm arrive and bury the dunes in a March storm, these same birds who are pioneers in migration, may find themselves a footnote instead.

For those not as familiar with the longshore migration count done atop the old Green Tower at Indiana Dunes State Park, our long running blog has a great archive of past posts.  March 2012 has many posts that describe our count, the birds seen, and some of the early numbers we posted when we first started.  2017 has four official count days already in the books.  When we noticed Sandhill Cranes migrating in earnest, we set out to make sure they were getting logged.  With an eastern population of 100,000 birds, it’s pretty significant that 1/3 of the entire population is flying over the Indiana Dunes in it’s migration route.

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The approximate range of the Eastern Population of Sandhill Cranes. Adapted from Walkinshaw 1973, Jones et al. 2005, King 2008, Melvin 2008, Sutherland and Crins 2008, and International Crane Foundation unpublished data.

The most recent flight, yesterday, was a big movement of cranes, with a few early associated raptors.  6,180 Sandhill Cranes flew over the Indiana Dunes area on it’s way north.  Yesterday’s crane count was the 4th highest count ever logged from the tower site.  With many more thousands being seen to the fish and wildlife areas to our south, the migration is still far from done.

Another 39 raptors went by, with Red-tailed Hawks being the largest majority.  At 11:15am, a magnificent GOLDEN EAGLE flew directly over the tower and decided to kettle right over the counters.  The bird circled for approximately 3 minutes as it climbed higher and higher before drifting west along the shoreline.  No doubt on it’s way back to northern Canada.

The Indiana Dunes State Park is the single most diverse site in Indiana for birds.  With over 300 species seen in the park, the single longshore tower site is the most productive single site in the state to find birds over the course of the year.  With the advent of eBird, we can now share the full sightings that we log via the hotspot for the tower site.  We look forward to sharing the spring migration with you!

Migration Waning

Greetings to those joining us.  It’s been a while since we posted an update.  This tends to happen each year around this time.  Things get crazy at the park. Between getting ready for summer visitors, the bird festival, birdathons, and other activities, the blog sometimes takes a hit.  Despite this the birds have been coming.  Migration is still going on, albeit the waves of Robins, Blackbirds, and Grackles are now just a thing of the past.  Even the abundant Yellow-rumped Warbler has all but moved on.  It’s neat to watch the influx of new migrants, then to see them leave, only to be replaced with the next wave, almost perfectly timed.

Counts have been done in recent days with the last of the May migration waves.  These being Cedar Waxwings, Eastern Kingbirds, and flycatchers.  Each day right now still holds promise of new species, though not the 5-6 per day we were seeing in early May.  The Longshore Tower count now stands at 209 species!

The biggest rarity the last few days was a Pacific Loon off shore on May 22.  New arrivals include your typical host of late May species.  They’ve included Mourning Warbler on May 23, Wilson’s and Blackburnian Warbler on May 24, Alder and Acadian Flycatcher at the tower on May 24, and just today, Philadelphia Vireo and Yellow-bellied Flycatcher.  The flycatcher sightings are significant, as most flybys would not get ID’d.  These birds take a moment to land nearby and give a call or song to help identify them.  Also singing nearby has been a Black-billed Cuckoo along the park’s western boundary, near the old Johnson hill area.  It was first heard on May 20, and was found again today. This is likely a territorial bird… .always difficult to find in the state.

Speaking of territorial birds, the Blackburnian Warbler, a dunes area specialty nesting bird is back on territory.  If you want to find one, visit the South State Park Road (the old abandoned road bed east of the park entrance) and walk down towards a set of spruce trees.  It is back again this year and one of the few if not only spot in the state you can find one nesting!

Rain has entered with these sounds winds, so counts may be spotty as we finish migration.  It’s been great to count the birds for a fifth year in a row.  We look forward to counting up the entire season total of birds and also doing some more in depth analysis for a possible research project now that we have a good chunk of data to work with.  So thanks for reading with us, following along, and expect a little more here before migration wraps up.

For the last two days counts, visit May 24 here and May 25 here.