Tag Archives: Merlin


After a weekend of north winds, the longshore survey at Indiana Dunes State Park has been ready for action again.  Monday brought virtually no flight, as winds remained north overnight, just shifting to east and then southeast during the day.  Which led today and tomorrow and the best chance for some major influx of birds before the next round of rain arrives.  The basic predictions were for a build up of birds to begin today with the larger total count occurring tomorrow.  We’ll see how it pans out, but for today, total number of birds was down, but diversity was good.  the 74 species (73 + 1 future split) was the highest yet this season.  2,081 birds were counted today.

Let’s start with the basics.  2 Loons and a single Red-breasted Merganser show that the waterbird flight is winding down.  Now the attention turns towards the beach where an assortment of shorebirds are now starting to move through the area.  On any given day, who know’s what may be seen.  Today, a Semipalmated Plover and 3 Spotted Sandpipers joined 6 Solitary Sandpipers in the air.

Today’s hawkflight was modest, as it has been throughout the season.  121 birds constitutes a hawkflight, but not by much.  Sharpies were most numerous, with 36 birds, followed by 34 Red-tailed Hawks.  Another Merlin flew past today, making the 31st bird of the season.  Or a single one has flown past 31 times!  We figure the former…

Blue Jay over the tower site.

the Blue Jay movement continues to ramp up.  Counts the last week have been: 63, 71, 164, 456, and today’s 477.  We predict counts over 1,000 by tomorrow.

The obvious elephant in the checklist room is today’s FISH CROW.  The bird was heard calling from the far side of the West Lot, in front of the tower.  A quick dash located the smaller size crow, sealing in the 273rd eBird species for the longshore tower hotspot.  It is also only the second record of Fish Crow for the state, north of Indy.  The first being a small group that hung out at the Three Oaks Landfill in Berrien Co, MI a few years ago that would come across the Indiana line to roost and was logged by a few birders at the time.

Rounding out the highlights for the day was a rare “Audubons” Yellow-rumped Warbler.  This is only the second record for the site.  If future splits do occur, this could make species 274 for the tower list.  At the feeders a Clay-colored Sparrow joined a lingering Dark-eyed Junco.  The Clay-colored sang throughout the morning.

See today’s diverse list here.


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!

Misty Morning

The last of the south winds pushed through the area on Thursday.  As usual just before the cold front, rain was in the forecast.  At dawn the first wave of rain was out of the area and to the east, a nice southern wind was dominating still.  However, a light, fine mist was still hanging in the air that failed to show up on any radar signatures.  A fog was also present, limiting visibility to about 1/2 mile.  Mt Tom was barely visible in the distance, and Lake Michigan was a calm soup with no horizon line to be seen.

Despite the dreary conditions, a few goodies went by, and we were again able to log a few new arrivals to bring the season total up to 144.  For the morning, 59 species went by accounting for 1,403 total birds.  While one of the season’s lowest, it was a diverse list.

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Rusty Blackbird this morning.

New for the season were 3 Green Herons, a Winter Wren, a good looking Orange-crowned Warbler, and Brewer’s Blackbird.  Other notable highlights were a both Wilson’s Snipe and Greater Yellowlegs flybys, two lingering sapsuckers, and some late juncos still hanging out.  At one point a singing Rusty Blackbird came within scope distance and hanged out in one of the budding cottonwood trees.

The final highlight was a super fast Merlin who buzzed the top of the tower and swooped up to land on the cottonwood immediately next to the tower.  It posed, preened, and dried it’s wet feathers for several minutes to the delight of the tower watchers.

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Merlin posing at the tower site.  

For the complete list for Thursday, April 21, visit here.  For the season totals so far, visit here.


Longshore Flight- March 23

Wind directions at dawn this morning. Courtesy windyty.com

Sunrise this morning was greeted with a stationary front draped just south of the dunes.  Any south winds hit a wall before the lake, while north winds backed behind the front.  Thus, despite the diverse early season 64 species, only 1,646 birds were logged today.  The highlights today were 8 Long-tailed Ducks, the season’s first Eurasian Collared Dove, 2 Merlins and a visiting Field Sparrow at the feeder station.

Even though most of the cranes have seemed to have migrated, 107 today show that there are still some stragglers out there and perhaps we’ll get to log a Whooping Crane before the season is done.

Today’s full list can be found here.  Winds will remain south overnight, but rain will likely  hamper much of the counting tomorrow.  North winds briefly will dominate our Friday, but Saturday looks to be a good count day for any in the area.

Merlin featured image courtesy Matt Beatty today.

Aerial Flyers Only!

After a turbulent night, the longshore flight for Friday, April 10 was restricted to a select few.  Despite hoping for a more fruitful flight, this morning was greeted to strong, gusting west winds.  The skies were clouded and it looked almost gloomy.  The overnight brought howling winds, damaging storms, and even tornadoes to the west of the park in Illinois.  The early morning gloom  however would fade away to beautiful sunshine, despite the breezy conditions.

As alluded to above, there was hope for a good flight, but only 862 birds could be mustered.  Waterfowl made another little push over the lake, and some of the more aerial raptors took wing.  Most notable was an excellent push of Merlins.  Today’s 10 birds ties the state’s second highest count.  The previous 10 count and current state record single day count of 13 also belong to the longshore tower site.

Also expected, swallows put on a good movement today too.  Two new first of the year birds were logged. The first being a late and outgoing Thayer’s Gull, and the second was the season’s first Broad-winged Hawk.

Many park visitors are also getting treated to other animals besides birds.  The resident fox now makes near daily trips past the tower and is being seen more and more by park visitors, now that spring is bringing more people out.  The photo below was just taken yesterday in the campgrounds!

Red Fox at the campground entrance.  April 9, 2015.
Red Fox at the campground entrance. April 9, 2015.

The full list follows:

Canada Goose 1
Wood Duck 4
Gadwall 11
Mallard 6
Blue-winged Teal 7
Northern Shoveler 7
Green-winged Teal 4
Redhead 20
Lesser Scaup 27
White-winged Scoter 1
Bufflehead 12
Hooded Merganser 1
Red-breasted Merganser 27
Red-throated Loon 7
Common Loon 7
Horned Grebe 7
Double-crested Cormorant 20
Great Blue Heron 1
Turkey Vulture 10
Osprey 3
Northern Harrier 6
Sharp-shinned Hawk 5
Cooper’s Hawk 4
Broad-winged Hawk 1
Red-tailed Hawk 14
Sandhill Crane 2
Ring-billed Gull 335
Herring Gull 116
Thayer’s Gull 1 imm.
Glaucous Gull 1
Great Black-backed Gull 5
Caspian Tern 9
Mourning Dove 1
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 4
Downy Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker 11
Merlin 10 All birds flying west.
Eastern Phoebe 2
Blue Jay 1
American Crow 1
Northern Rough-winged Swallow 4
Tree Swallow 89
Barn Swallow 17
Black-capped Chickadee 1
Carolina Wren 1
Eastern Bluebird 2
Brown Thrasher 1
European Starling 8
Eastern Towhee 1
American Tree Sparrow 2
Field Sparrow 3
Song Sparrow 1
Dark-eyed Junco 6
Red-winged Blackbird 2
Common Grackle 1
Brown-headed Cowbird 1
Pine Siskin 7
American Goldfinch 1
House Sparrow 1

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

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.