Tag Archives: migration

Butter Butt Influx

Happy Easter.  No longshore flight officially is taking place today due to the holiday. However, Saturday, April 15th brought a very warm day to the dunes and is worth reporting.  Overnight spotty storms and south winds created a warm wind at dawn that increased through the day.  Like a good Saturday does, a contingent of bird enthusiasts joined our counter at the tower for an excellent morning of longshore flight.  By noon, temperatures were in the low 80s.  The group of birders logged 6,942 birds from 74 species.  Here are the highlights:

Little movement occurred over the lake, as the majority of waterfowl appear to have moved through.  Loons however, are still present.  3 Common Loons were seen on the water, but more significant was a good flock of 18 Red-throated Loons that took off from the water as a fishing charter boat went by past the park.

Pine Warbler from Friday’s count.

New for the season were House Wren, Palm Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, and White-throated Sparrow all right on time for the year!  The early wave of neo-tropical migrants was evident today, as the first rounds of typical early season warblers passed in full force Saturday.  37 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers was a significant early season movement of the the little buzzers.  The butter butts, aka Yellow-rumped Warblers, made a significant flight in front of the counters, often moving at eye level throught the nearby dune oak canopy, and landing briefly before pushing on towards Chicago and eventually Canada.  348 butter butts went by.  It wasn’t a state top 10 count, but still quite good.  In addition to the previously mentioned Palm Warbler, Pine Warblers moved through in excellent numbers too.  The day’s 23 Pine Warblers is the highest Pine Warbler total in the five years of official longshore surveys, and likely the state’s second highest single day count.

Likely due to the stronger wind speeds, the thermal development suffered and the day’s hawkflight failed to really materialize.  Only 49 raptors went by the tower.  Osprey and 5 Broad-winged Hawks were the highlights for the birds of prey.

Saturday’s full count can be found on ebird here.  The weather outlook looks good for some upcoming counts, so expect the birds to keep coming!  The season total species count so far is 137 species.


Migration Returns!

After a nearly two week hiatus, migration returned in style today.  It’s only fitting that this occurs today, as we write our 200th blog post since we began documenting the longshore morning bird flight over 3 seasons ago.  With warm south winds, conditions were ripe for the first waves to enter the dunes.  Conditions were also ideal for thirsty birders, parched from the dry spell we’ve been facing.  A full contingent tested the space limits on the longshore tower today.

Birders stack up on the longshore tower, May 2, 2015.
Birders stack up on the longshore tower, May 2, 2015.

Before midnight, light north winds gradually shifted east, then southerly allowing for what we hope is a teaser of a couple more powerful flights of birds.  If the bird represents a major baseball team, likely we saw multiples of them!  Bluejays… yup, over 1,000.  Orioles… yup, 30 to be exact.  Loons… ok, yep, we had a few of them too!  It was a morning with annuals galore, as we jumped to a daily total of 4,631 birds, represented by 90 species.

New for the scene this year were American Golden Plover, Eastern Kingbird, Yellow-throated Vireo, Warbling Vireos, Nashville Warbler, Northern Parula, Yellow Warbler, Palm Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, and Orchard Oriole.

Bluejays staged their first big push with 1,311 birds.  Over 1/4 of all birds today were Bluejays!  Goldfinches also put in a good movement with over 500 seen.  Gnatcatchers were not far behind  The 72 seen sits comfortably in the state’s top 10 count.  A few banding nets were also strung today, hoping to catch a few of these birds.  They’ll be up through the Indiana Dunes Birding Festival, and today had a nice pair of Brown Thrashers that a few folks got to see up close.

Brown Thrashers banded from the tower site today.  May 2, 2015.
Brown Thrashers banded from the tower site today. May 2, 2015.

With the most recent north winds, it’s not surprising that we have a few late migrants too.  Most notably some lingering juncos and tree sparrows.  Black-backed Gulls in May are also getting quite late.

Another good day looks in store for Sunday.  Until then, here’s a partial list of the main highlights from today.

Greater Scaup 1 
Red-throated Loon 6
Common Loon 4
American White Pelican 5
American Golden-Plover 10 FOY. Looking to land on the beach.
Great Black-backed Gull 2
Caspian Tern 9
Chimney Swift 158
Eastern Kingbird 7 FOY.
Yellow-throated Vireo 1 FOY.
Warbling Vireo 3 FOY.
Blue Jay 1311
Purple Martin 2
Cliff Swallow 2
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 72
American Pipit 10
Nashville Warbler 1 FOY.
Northern Parula 1 FOY.
Yellow Warbler 19 FOY.
Palm Warbler 4
Pine Warbler 9
Yellow-rumped Warbler 87
Black-throated Green Warbler 1 FOY.
American Tree Sparrow 1 
Chipping Sparrow 133
Vesper Sparrow 1
Savannah Sparrow 15
White-throated Sparrow 3
White-crowned Sparrow 1
Dark-eyed Junco 2
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 3 FOY.
Indigo Bunting 8 FOY.
Rusty Blackbird 1
Orchard Oriole 3 FOY.
Baltimore Oriole 30
Purple Finch 3
Pine Siskin 30
American Goldfinch 587

250,000 birds! … but not done yet.

The longshore flight continues.  Despite the warming weather, leafing trees, and all the signs of Memorial Day and the start of the summer season, there are still thousands of birds that will be logged from the platform before we call spring migration finished.  Today’s count of 2,295 birds helped push the season count to 250,000 birds.  A far cry from last year’s 428,000 birds.

Today’s 62 species and yesterday’s 87 only brought in two new species for the year.  Those being Yellow-bellied Flycatcher and Mourning Warbler.  Add these two species and we’ve now logged 221 species from the site this year.

Cedar Waxwings enjoy a lakeside view during their late migration.  May 30, 2013.
Cedar Waxwings enjoy a lakeside view during their late migration in May.

The highlights from the past two days are below.

Common Loon 1
Osprey 1
Red-shouldered Hawk 1
Broad-winged Hawk 2
Dunlin 1
Caspian Tern 3
Forster’s Tern 6
Chimney Swift 174
Common Nighthawk 12
Pileated Woodpecker 1
Eastern Wood-Pewee 1
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher 1
Least Flycatcher 1
Great Crested Flycatcher 1
Eastern Kingbird 62 (162 on 5/20)
Yellow-throated Vireo 1
Warbling Vireo 1
Red-eyed Vireo 1
Cedar Waxwing 404
Tennessee Warbler 1
Mourning Warbler 1
Common Yellowthroat 1
American Redstart 1
Magnolia Warbler 2
Yellow Warbler 4
Blackpoll Warbler 1
Pine Warbler 1
Palm Warbler 3
Yellow-rumped Warbler 1
Black-throated Green Warbler 1
Lark Sparrow 1
White-crowned Sparrow 1
Scarlet Tanager 6
Indigo Bunting 18
Dickcissel 1
Bobolink 8
Orchard Oriole 2
Baltimore Oriole 24
American Goldfinch 103

Warbler Mania

The Indiana Dunes warbler peak can be manic, yet subtle.  An explosion of sounds and active motion in the bush and overhead.  You look to your right and left, but see no others.  You’re left with fish tales to tell of warblers dripping from the trees.  No elbow to elbow crowds, like seen in other state birding sites.  We won’t deny the appeal of the birder networking and many eyes or shared bird sightings going on at the more known birding sites, like NW Ohio.   Yet here, one can sit in silence, enthralled by the new songs coming from each tree, all performing their songs for you!  Now, crap… can you remember which warbler makes that sound!?

This past weekend, May 17/18 brought the true peak for warblers this season.  Ken Brock writes,

Perhaps no group of birds generates more excitement among birders than the wood warblers…   Accordingly, for many birders the warbler migration constitutes the very quintessence of birding.”

It was indeed written Saturday that the tall trees were dripping with warblers.  No reason to stay at the longshore tower to watch for migrating birds.  One could set up anywhere in the park and watch a parade of feeding warblers zip, jump, dive, and chase after emerging insects.  The temperatures were perfect for active feeding throughout the day.  Winds were light, but felt good in the sun.  The following chart shows all of the warblers that were reported by various birders, eBird reports, the longshore tower, or from the Dunes Birdathon team this weekend.

warbler seenAs mentioned above, it was also the Dunes Birdathon.  It’s NIMBA’s attempt to log as many bird species in the NW Indiana area in 24 hours.  The funds raised help out with various bird related activities in the dunes, such as the owl banding program at the state park.  This year’s team began at 2:30am.  American Woodcock was the first bird heard calling deep in Cowle’s Bog.  The day was joyous.  We quickly hit the dripping warbler wave when we first entered Beverly Shores, just after sunrise.  Tennessee Warblers chipping everywhere.  Redstarts in every understory tree.  Rare for the lakefront, one of the first warblers seen was a Yellow-breasted Chat on Beverly Shores’ far east side near Mt Baldy.  Thrushes would also be common, with both Swainson’s and Gray-cheeked nearly tying each other in numbers this day.

The 2014 Dunes Birdathon Team, weary yet awake at hour 13.   5 more hours to go!

The 2014 Dunes Birdathon Team, weary yet awake at hour 13. 5 more hours to go!

The team birded the state park by 9am and continued racking up good birds.  The park’s Cerulean and Pine Warblers were calling right where they had been.  A quick peak of the park’s nesting Red-shouldered Hawks found mom sitting on the nest.  The Wilson Shelter boardwalk Prothonotary Warbler show was still on.  Here, visitors have been treated to one of the biggest show off warblers.  Mom and Dad Prothonotary continue to gather nest material and build their box full of grass and moss right in front of everyone with no regard for distance.  Today, they would be busy on the ground searching for last minute nesting material.  We savored the sight for a moment, then moved on for more birds.

Prothonotary Warbler hanging out at Wilson Boardwalk this week.  Photo courtesy Pete Grube.
Prothonotary Warbler hanging out at Wilson Boardwalk this week. Photo courtesy Pete Grube.

The late afternoon meant new birds and new habitats.  Kankakee Sands provided many fillers, including the needed grassland sparrows, Bobolinks, Dickcissels, and meadowlarks.  A surprise Osprey in a small fishing pond helped with numbers.  Finally, Willow Slough would give us the bird of the day… an adult female Red-necked Phalarope in full breeding plumage.  A rarity anywhere in Indiana in the spring!

With light fading, our team raced back north to the Grant Street Wetlands.  Yellow-headed Blackbirds still proclaimed their territories, while nighthawks and a single Black-crowned Night-Heron flew by.  Wanting just one more bird, the team drove the growing darkness and had just enough light to see the local Bald Eagles sitting on their nest along the Little Calumet River.  Finally dark, the day was bright!  165 species were seen.  A new record for our little team.

Thanks to all that pledged.  Final numbers and pledges are still being added, but we look to have raised over $1,500.00 yesterday for bird conservation in the dunes!

Not to be outdone.  The bird tower also logged some good birds for those that visited.  Over the past two days, a couple new season birds were seen.  Sedge Wren and Ruddy Turnstone are both good site records.  Also worth noting this weekend were a single Merlin, a couple American White Pelicans, Common Loon, Great Black-backed Gull, 295 Chimney Swifts (Sunday),  and a well seen Lark Sparrow.

Lark Sparrow at the Bird Observation Tower on May 17.  Photo by Alex Forsythe.
Lark Sparrow at the Bird Observation Tower on May 17. Photo by Alex Forsythe.

Lake Michigan Neotropical Madness!

May 8 was the little longshore flight that could.  Under steamy conditions and a strong south gale, passerines streamed out of areas to our south in search of bug infested zones to raise their young.  May 8 was also the longshore flight that just came short of some record breaking counts.  To come second or fourth place is still impressive.  It also becomes a nice contrast.  Today was not too different than yesterday, but the birds were again diverse and different.

Steamy counters, May 8, 2014.

By dawn, it became obvious that a massive Blue Jay movement of near count was underway.  blue Jays would cloud the sky, going west to east.  Unlike yesterday, warblers were only an occasional chip note overhead.  In place of warblers were buzzy zip notes of Indigo Buntings.  Orioles gave full song as they flew past an occasionally land on a nearby cottonwood tree.  Again and again, orioles would fly by to the thought, “oh, just another oriole…”

First of the season birds included Golden-winged Warbler (first at the site in many years), American Redstart, Yellow-throated Warbler (first in many years, a rare tower bird), Blue Grosbeak, and a great record of Red Crossbill.

But, back to the high counts.  Today’s 7,058 jays makes a new second state record for highest single party count.  Last year, the record was broken with 7,264 on May 1.  So close!  Orioles came in at 243.  The record for the tower is 464, so today’s count, while impressive sits in the top 5 high counts.  Today’s Indigo Bunting count likely also will score in the top 10 when all is analyzed.

Updated Record Results from Ken Brock:
Blue Jay 7058 Indiana’s 2nd largest daily count
Baltimore Oriole 243 Indiana’s 6th largest count
American Goldfinch 960 Indiana’s 20th largest count
Eastern Kingbird 158  Indiana’s 9th largest count

Baltimore Oriole stopping for a brief second for a few songs before migrating past.
Baltimore Oriole stopping for a brief second for a few songs before migrating past.

Appreciable numbers of bird counters in the early hours helped with the morning flurry of longshore migrants. Randy Pals counted Blue Jays, while John Cassady twitched for goodies. Brad Bumgardner, Ken Brock, John Kendall and Lynea Hinchman all did a stint atop the platform. And Hal Cohen, the San Diego county Swainson’s Hawk counter, came out from Chicago.  The day ended with 82 species, making up nearly 10,000 birds (9,328).  This is the highest count since mid-April!

White-winged Scoter  1    
Common Loon  1
Black-crowned Night-Heron  1
Bald Eagle  1
Lesser Yellowlegs  3
Least Sandpiper  13
Forster’s Tern  13
Chimney Swift  165
Ruby-throated Hummingbird  5
Red-headed Woodpecker  11
Eastern Kingbird  158  
Blue Jay  7058
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  18
Cedar Waxwing  87
Golden-winged Warbler  1
Palm Warbler  18
Yellow-rumped Warbler  19
Yellow-throated Warbler  1
Lark Sparrow  1
Summer Tanager  3
Scarlet Tanager  14
Rose-breasted Grosbeak  19
Blue Grosbeak  1
Indigo Bunting  69  
Dickcissel  1
Bobolink  15
Orchard Oriole  12
Baltimore Oriole  243
Red Crossbill  1
American Goldfinch  960


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

Tail Wagging Warblers

The morning routine, cold with coats, then sunburns and short sleeves later.  5/6/14.
The morning routine, cold with coats, then sunburns and short sleeves later. 5/6/14.

Today’s longshore flight brought another good day of migration.  Despite the east winds, with northerly tendencies (especially after noon) the day ended being the best flight of the season and sixth best of all time according to the Grube Magnitude index (65.80 specifically).   88 species, making up 2,790 birds were logged today.  Warblers were the show all morning.

Palm Warbler at the Bird Observation Platform.
Palm Warbler at the Bird Observation Platform.

Despite the evening songbird flight being done, many warblers and other nocturnal birds continued on after the sun had risen.  12 species of warbler were observed going over in high speed mode.  These 12 warblers included 1,144 birds.  That’s right… 1000+ warblers were identified from the platform today.  As would be predicted in a season running a week behind, Yellow-rumped Warblers would make up the super majority.  the 924 butter butts would be the state’s seventh highest count.  they zipped past going east by ones and loose groups.  Two other equally impressive (for their species) counts came from Palm Warblers (156) and Nashville Warblers (26).  It was the 12th highest state count for the Palms, and 11th highest for the Nashvilles.  The total warbler count today doubled the cumulative totals thus far this season.

Other notable warblers seen going by included a single Orange-crowned, 12 Black-throated Green, 7 Pine, and 2 Blackburnian Warblers.  Warbler neck is on!  Adding to the diversity today were the season’s first hummingbirds, while juncos and Clay-colored Sparrows flirted with the feeders below.  A real eclectic group today.

Palm Warbler feeding nonchalantly along Trail 10.  5/6/14.
Palm Warbler feeding nonchalantly along Trail 10. 5/6/14.
Trail 2 Boardwalk.
Trail 2 Boardwalk.

We finally will crank into some serious south winds and we expect some good flights to occur for anyone wishing to visit the next few days and into the weekend for the IAS Big May Day Count.  Blue Jays and Warbs should deliver some impressive totals, and birders taking the inland route will find some good variety too.  Already today, other good birds were logged inside the park by birders.  The Trail 2/10 loop is a good start.  The back dunes along the wetland provide shelter and nice control burn areas that allow birds to feast on the forest floor.  The 1/2 mile long boardwalk can bring any bird to surprise you, while the rest of Trail 2 is a peaceful backwoods of wildflower carpets, Cerulean’s galore, and loud drumming Pileated Woodpeckers.  Reports from this area today include Blue-winged Warbler, the season’s first Prothonotary Warbler, lots of Pine Warblers, Lincoln Sparrow,  and some equally impressive counts to rival the tower site.  134 Palm Warblers were seen feeding on Trail 10 today.  This is why our birding trails are better than anywhere else in the state!

A rare view into the end of the day summary calculations.  5/6/14
A rare view into the end of the day summary calculations. 5/6/14

You’re daily highlights below:
Osprey 1
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 4
Eastern Kingbird 52
Yellow-throated Vireo 1
Red-breasted Nuthatch 2
American Pipit 103
Lapland Longspur 3 
Northern Waterthrush 1
Black-and-white Warbler 7
Orange-crowned Warbler 1
Nashville Warbler 26
Cape May Warbler 5
Northern Parula 1
Magnolia Warbler 1
Blackburnian Warbler 2
Palm Warbler 156
Pine Warbler 7
Yellow-rumped Warbler 924 
Black-throated Green Warbler 12
Chipping Sparrow 30
Clay-colored Sparrow 3 
White-throated Sparrow 24
White-crowned Sparrow 4
Dark-eyed Junco 3
Scarlet Tanager 8
Bobolink 11
Orchard Oriole 5
Baltimore Oriole 124 
Purple Finch 1
American Goldfinch 220

Don’t forget we’re desperate to keep counting birds.  Really, we have no other skills!  Consider pledging to our Birdathon on May 17 to help fund bird related events and programs at the Indiana Dunes State Park!