Tag Archives: Palm Warbler

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.


South Winds Flanked

As predicted, southern winds began to waft in early Wednesday morning.  The day started cold, well below freezing, but soon warmed to the upper 50s.  Similarly, today, Thursday ,April 14 also began chilly (35 degrees) and also warmed with slightly stronger winds.  The winds the last few days have been unusually oriented from the east, rather than west.  A strong system near Greenland is cycling wind our way with what they call an Omega blocking pattern stopping fronts from pushing east.

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One of several Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers the last few days.

Today’s report is a two day summary for both Wednesday and Thursday.  As predicted, the pulse of warm air has brought new migrants in, with each Thursday out doing Wednesday.  Hopefully Friday will out perform Thursday!  For Wednesday, we logged 78 species, comprising 2,758 individual birds.  On Thursday we tempered the species count to 71, but amassed 4,539 total birds for two day total of 7,297 birds.

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Brown Thrasher singing in the morning haze Wednesday.

Highlights on Wednesday were 85 raptors, 4 Bonapartes Gulls, nearly every woodpecker (except Hairy), a singing Brown Thrasher, the season’s first Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, both kinglets, the seasons’ first Pine Warbler, and good influx of Chipping Sparrows.

Highlights for Thursday included 7 late White-winged Scoters, a Ruddy Duck, 35 late Sandhill Cranes, a significant Northern Flicker movement totaling 196 birds, Cliff Swallow, two gnatcatchers, an early Palm Warbler, and a decent blackbird movement with many Rusty Blackbirds still moving through (243 today).

The last two days have added 6 new species to bring the tower list to 126 species for the year.  How’d we do with our wish list of 20 species to be added before Monday?  Birds checked off are in bold.  6 down, 14 to go!

Green Heron
Little Blue Heron
Broad-winged Hawk
American Golden Plover
Solitary Sandpiper
Pectoral Sandpiper
Henslow’s Sparrow
Short-eared Owl
Chimney Swift
Brown Thrasher
Cliff Swallow
Bank Swallow
House Wren
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Pine Warbler
LeConte’s Sparrow
Henslow’s Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow

Radar Wednesday night around 1:00am

An interesting phenomenon with the recent easterly winds can be seen by watching the radar at night.  With the winds the last two nights, there has been evident bird migration occurring on the radar at night.  The standard overnight radar in migration is the classic donut shape, showing thousands of birds in the air at the moment.  See to the right.  To learn more about reading radar for birds, visit this link. The image seen here was taken overnight Wednesday around 1:00am.

If you visit a good radar archive site such as here, you can see time lapse and regional reflectivity to watch the radar from several locations.  The image below was captured just after sunset Wednesday  night.  You can see the exodus of birds along the eastern side of the lake, from the Indiana Dunes north… exactly where the easterly winds were likely pushing birds against the last few days.

Radar Wednesday night at dusk.

Winds should continue a southern trend, with more south than east as the next few days progress.  We should knock off a few new species Friday-Sunday.  You can read the full Wednesday list and Thursday list for all the species seen.


Warbler Waves

As predicted, the longshore flight for Sunday, May 3 nearly doubled that of Saturday.  A good full night of south winds allowed for even more nocturnal migrant and perfect conditions allowed for a strong morning flight.  It was a fabulous flight for Blue Jays, gnatcatchers, Palm Warblers, and Yellow-rumped Warblers.  94 species, made up of 7,495 birds went past this morning.

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One of over 600 Yellow-rumped Warblers seen today.
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One of over 200 Palm Warblers logged today.


By dawn, warm and muggy conditions allowed for an early start for the first major Yellow-rumped Warbler wave.  A continual stream of chips would go by all morning, with nearly a third of them being Palm Warblers.  The 653 that went by goes down in the state’s top 10 list.  The same goes for the 211 Palm Warblers that wagged their tails past the tower today.  Both were also represented in the banding nets below the tower this morning.

Blue Jays also posted higher counts, from yesterday.  Today’s 2,911 more than doubled yesterday’s good flight.  Also notable was a nice, nearly 100 count of Baltimore Orioles, as well as over 200 Pine Siskins that flew past today.

Annuals this morning included Green Heron, Solitary Sandpiper, Great-crested Flycatcher, Wood Thrush, Cape May Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Bobolink, and a flock of 4 rare Smith’s Longspurs.  We’ve now logged 159 species for the season, and surpassed our 200,000 bird for the season today.

The weather brings in some needed rain tomorrow, but south winds will still prevail so some more flight may get logged between rain drops.  Stay tuned…

Full List, Sunday, May 3, 2015:

Canada Goose 1
Wood Duck 2
Red-breasted Merganser 18
Common Loon 1
Double-crested Cormorant 57
Great Blue Heron 1
Green Heron 1 FOY.
Turkey Vulture 8
Osprey 4
Northern Harrier 1
Sharp-shinned Hawk 4
Cooper’s Hawk 2
Bald Eagle 1
Broad-winged Hawk 1
Red-tailed Hawk 5
Sandhill Crane 2
Killdeer 2
Solitary Sandpiper 1 FOY.
Greater Yellowlegs 1
Ring-billed Gull 38
Herring Gull 2
Caspian Tern 7
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) 3
Mourning Dove 24
Chimney Swift 106
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 2
Belted Kingfisher 1
Red-headed Woodpecker 19
Red-bellied Woodpecker 23
Downy Woodpecker 1
Hairy Woodpecker 2
Pileated Woodpecker 1
American Kestrel 2
Merlin 1
Empidonax sp. 1 Yellowish and similar shape of a Traill’s.
Eastern Phoebe 1
Great Crested Flycatcher 1 FOY.
Eastern Kingbird 27
Yellow-throated Vireo 2
Warbling Vireo 4
Blue Jay 2913
American Crow 1
Horned Lark 2
Northern Rough-winged Swallow 12
Purple Martin 1
Tree Swallow 12
Bank Swallow 6
Barn Swallow 42
Cliff Swallow 19
Black-capped Chickadee 1
Tufted Titmouse 2
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1
House Wren 2
Carolina Wren 1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 168 Flying west.
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 2
Eastern Bluebird 11
Wood Thrush 1 FOY.
American Robin 25
Gray Catbird 1
Brown Thrasher 1
European Starling 56
American Pipit 5
Smith’s Longspur 4
Nashville Warbler 2
Common Yellowthroat 1 FOY.
Cape May Warbler 3 FOY.
Yellow Warbler 1
Palm Warbler 211 .
Pine Warbler 4
Yellow-rumped Warbler 653
Black-throated Green Warbler 1
Eastern Towhee 1
Chipping Sparrow 23
Field Sparrow 2
Savannah Sparrow 4
Song Sparrow 1
Swamp Sparrow 1
White-throated Sparrow 3
White-crowned Sparrow 6
Scarlet Tanager 1 FOY.
Northern Cardinal 1
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 3
Indigo Bunting 8
Bobolink 6 FOY.
Red-winged Blackbird 1588
Common Grackle 56
Brown-headed Cowbird 1
Orchard Oriole 5
Baltimore Oriole 91
House Finch 1
Purple Finch 9
Pine Siskin 218
American Goldfinch 912
House Sparrow 3

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!


Butterbutts Blowing in the Breeze!

As predicted last night, strong south winds fed a stream of birds into the dunes overnight.  By dawn, the winds were stiff and strong, feeling far stronger than the 10-20mph that was predicted for today.  We almost felt concerned for our Longshore Platform construction workers who are laying the outer ring of the platform decking in the strong wind.

One of many Bluejays to cruise past the dunes today.  4/30/13.
One of many Bluejays to cruise past the dunes today. 4/30/13.

The day started early with the usual first dawn blackbird movement.  Within an hour after sunrise, the Blue Jay flight had begun, even stronger than yesterday.  Even our labor staff working on the platform were in awe of the giant flocks of jays going by, right over their heads.  1,660 jays were recorded today.  Even though impressive, it wasn’t the Blue Jays that dropped jaws today.

Jay flock moving overhead.  4/30/13.
Jay flock moving overhead. 4/30/13.

Unexpected in such breezy conditions, hoards of Yellow-rumped Warblers, Palm Warblers, and tiny Blue-gray Gnatcatchers fought the wind as they crested each dune top in their way.  During certain gusts, gnatcatchers seemed motionless in the air, available to grab right out of the sky.  Two years ago in similar winds, Yellow-rumps staged their largest flight in the state when 2,823 birds were counted from this same location.  We nearly matched it again today when 1,967 butterbutts were today.  This is the state’s third highest count of Yellow-rumped Warblers and has come close nowhere else in the state.  If the butterbutts were impressive, check out our Palm Warbler count… 449!  This is a new state high count and smashes the previous 301 out of the water.  A record that has held for nearly a decade.  You can guess where the previous record was broken at!  Folks on local listserves today are posting that they saw a Palm or Yellow-rumped while birding.  Yeah, we saw one too!

A Blue-gray Gnatcatcher fighting the wind today.  4/30/13.
A Blue-gray Gnatcatcher fighting the wind today. 4/30/13.

Normally the above highlights would make for a good day of birding the Indiana Dunes.  In fact, it was enough to draw interest from the local ABC 57.  They reportedly will be running a story on the massive Blue Jay flight on their local news.    But, hold on!  Add these specialties to today’s full list: 2 Red-throated Loons, 2 Merlins, 445 Chimney Swifts (spring top 10 count!), 2 Smith’s Longspurs seen at short range, 5 Nashville Warblers, a Scarlet Tanager, 3 singing Henslow’s Sparrows, a Blue Grosbeak, an impressive 24 Baltimore Orioles. and a very large late count of 121 Pine Siskins!

Migrating Baltimore Oriole. 4/30/13
Migrating Baltimore Oriole. 4/30/13

The day ended warm and windy.  8,931 birds in the bag, 360,000+ for March and April.  May 1 begins a new season and more birds.  We’ve already logged 167 species this year.  Another ideal south wind blows overnight.  Tomorrow should be another outstanding day.  Will it rival today?  We’ll find out soon enough!

Once again, the major highlights from today follow:

Wild Turkey 1
Red-throated Loon 2
Great Egret 1
Turkey Vulture 21
Osprey 2
Sharp-shinned Hawk 6
Broad-winged Hawk 1
Solitary Sandpiper 12
American Woodcock 4
Forster’s Tern 2
Chimney Swift 445
Merlin 2
Peregrine Falcon 2
Eastern Kingbird 55
Blue Jay 1660 
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 85 
Eastern Bluebird 25
American Pipit 53
Lapland Longspur 16
Smith’s Longspur 2
Orange-crowned Warbler 2
Nashville Warbler 5
Cape May Warbler 1
Yellow Warbler 6
Palm Warbler 449 
Pine Warbler 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler 1967
Black-throated Green Warbler 3
Henslow’s Sparrow 3 
White-throated Sparrow 2
White-crowned Sparrow 2 (Nature Center invaded with them too today!)
Dark-eyed Junco 1
Scarlet Tanager 1
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 1
Blue Grosbeak 1
Orchard Oriole 2
Baltimore Oriole 24
Purple Finch 28
Pine Siskin 121 

The mid-morning birding spread.  Scope, binoculars, caffeine, banana, checklist and clickers, and a video camera to catch that rare bird!
The mid-morning birding spread. Scope, binoculars, caffeine, banana, checklist and clickers, and a video camera to catch that rare bird!

A Longshore Flight Addendum:
In the time since we published today’s longshore flight update some great info has come in. Last year we introduced the Grube Magnitude Index.    It basically creates a value for each bird seen that is a usual migrant.  The more we see, the higher the value.  The index total gives a sense of the total longshore flight by species diversity and abundance.  To stop one species dominating a count, each species is limited to a index value of 10.  Generally, the higher magnitude index means more birds and more species, which also translates to a more enjoyable birding experience.  The index was developed by Ken Brock and has seen several changes.  We’ve been notified that today’s count index had a Grube Magnitude of 80.25, with 41 standard species recorded. It is the second best flight ever, by a minuscule margin.  Great news and a reflection of the great day we had.  If Blue Jays had really taken off…

Finally, here’s a little gallery of great photos shared to us by our great local photographer Pete Grube.

Yellow-rumped Warbler seen today.  4/30/13.  Photo courtesy Pete Grube.
Yellow-rumped Warbler seen today. 4/30/13. Photo courtesy Pete Grube.
Orange-crowned Warbler seen today.  4/30/13.  Photo courtesy Pete Grube.
Orange-crowned Warbler seen today. 4/30/13. Photo courtesy Pete Grube.
Palm Warbler seen today.  4/30/13.  Photo courtesy Pete Grube.
Palm Warbler seen today. 4/30/13. Photo courtesy Pete Grube.


1/4 Million Birds!

Longshore bird counting is a frustrating balance of birding expertise and humility.  Whether a mile out over Lake Michigan or a speeding bullet 20 feet above your head, you must be ready for a good number of birds to go by un-identified.  With experience, the spectators watch in wonder as birds are identified that might normally go unknown to others.  Even the experts are stumped occasionally.

The most frustrating aspect of missing a bird ID happens right now with the countless warblers migrating by.  Warbler flights after dawn are a strange oddity in themselves.  Why, two, three, four hours after dawn are warblers still going strong?  Logic says nocturnal migrants land at dawn, and diurnal migrants take off at dawn.  A quick anthropomorphism reminds me of heading through Michigan on vacation, and Dad saying, “just another 30 minutes and theirs a better rest stop ahead.”  But, what could be better than the dunes, so why not stop here?  40 species of warblers have been identified in the dunes area.  With many similar color patterns and plumages, identifying them on the wing can be a real challenge, whereas your typical woodland birding may yield higher diversity counts.  Thus, when ten or more species are found at the Green Tower site, it was a good day.

Yellow Warbler in Dunes State Park May 3, 2012. Yellows are one of the easier to identify longshore migrants.

Thursday, May 3 was another good day.  No show stopper rarity stole the show today, but several birds of note made the day pleasant, and warm (hottest count day of the season).  The total count for the day was 7,321 individuals.  Only seven less than yesterday.  However, total species diversity went from yesterday’s 101 to 87 species.  A major milestone was reached today with the passing of 1/4 million birds for the season!

Northern Harrier flying over Lake Michigan, May 3, 2012.

With visiting veteran birder, Ed Hopkins, in co-pilot this morning, several great counts were made, and a new state record was achieved.  The best highlights were: 9 American White Pelicans (rare on the lakefront), 25 migrating Red-headed Woodpeckers, 127 Eastern Kingbirds (nearly a dunes top 10 count), 2,515 Blue Jays (possible 9th largest state count), 32 Cliff Swallows, 248 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers (new Indiana state record, doubles yesterdays breaking of the state record), 574 Cedar Waxwings, 454 Yellow-rumped Warblers, 178 Palm Warblers (state’s 5th largest count), 140 Indigo Buntings, 115 Baltimore Orioles, and 1,718 American Goldfinch.

Baltimore Oriole stopping for a brief second for a few songs before migrating past, May 3, 2012.

It’s worth mentioning that Pine Siskins made a surprise resurgence today.  40 of the zippy winter finches were heard and seen flying over the tower site.

As mentioned above, warblers can be a difficult ID, and it can be easy to get complacent in calling each one a Yellow-rumped or Palm, when such high numbers are passing by.  Today’s counters did log 13 warbler species, including 13 Cape May Warblers, 1 Blackburnian Warbler, 1 Blackpoll Warbler, 1 Prothonotary Warbler (only second Green Tower record?), and 1 Ovenbird.  Today’s Yellow-rumps passed a milestone 2,000 for the year too!

We look forward to one more morning of south wind, then north winds kick in for the weekend.

Great Day to Be a Birder!

The longshore flight at Indiana Dunes State Park on May 2, 2012 will be remembered as one of the best flights witnessed by both number of species seen and incredible high counts.  Long before dawn, signs that today would be a good day were already being seen.  The forecast was for stronger south winds in the 10-20mph range, less rain than the last two days, and a predawn radar image that made Chicago look like the eye of a hurricane;  a hurricane of birds winging it northward.  Not only were the birds good, but the list of birders present was also impressive.  So impressive, that their presence on a weekday can only mean sick days were being used or bosses were in the dark.  Thus, today’s list of counters will for the most part remain anonymous.

The local Prairie Warbler was performing again today with beautiful Lake Michigan in the background, 5/2/12.

It’s hard to decide where to begin.  Let’s start by noting that 101 species were seen from the site today.  This included 7,328 individuals (2,517 yesterday).  Monday and Tuesday were great count days, but seemed to have been leading up to today.  The previous best Grube Magnitude Index from the Green Tower site was 67.85.  Today, it was blown away with a very impressive 79.04 per Ken Brock.  This quantification calculates today’s count as the best ever observed!

At dawn the stream had started and the variety and strength of the morning flight would continue for many hours.  By 11am, hawkwatching was distracting, as gnatcatchers, swallows, and orioles still continued to migrate past the old tower site.

Cape May Warbler adding to the day’s diversity, 5/2/12.

Let’s tick off two sets of highlights.  First the rarities, then the high counts.  Major rarity highlights for today included, a single Black-crowned Night-Heron landing in the nearby pines, 2 Bald Eagle, 4 Merlin, 67 American Golden Plovers, 1 American Woodcock, 1 SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHER, 1 Tennessee Warlber, 1 Magnolia Warbler, 1 good looking Prairie Warbler, 1 early Summer Tanager, 3 Lark Sparrows, 1 singing! Clay-colored Sparrow, and 8 Pine Siskin.

High counts included, 11 Osprey, 73 Sharp-shined Hawks, 100 Broad-winged Hawks (state’s second highest for the month of May) , 364 Chimney Swifts (state’s 7th highest count), 2,121 Blue Jays (state’s 10th largest count), 19 Cliff Swallows, 124 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers (new state record!), 535 Yellow-rumped Warblers state’s 9th largest count),  109 Palm Warblers, 268 Baltimore Orioles (state’s second highest count) , 139 Indigo Buntings, and 1,579 American Goldfinch.

Flyover Osprey, one of 11 for the day, 5/2/12.
Flyover American Kestrel, one of 15 today, 5/2/12.

Inland, away from the Green Tower, and not on the official list, other warblers were noted, giving a dunes area total of at least 17 warbler species, including the well known Prothonotary Warbler that is back on the Wilson Shelter Boardwalk.  A Golden-winged Warbler was also found today in the nearby IN Dunes NL Heron Rookery unit.

Winds will continue southerly overnight, thus our counters will head to bed early, sore and sunburn, with dreams of what may appear tomorrow morning.