Tag Archives: pine 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.


A Hawk Advisory!

Today is Sunday, April 15.  Had it not been for the weekend it’d be Tax Day.  Despite it being two days away, the Green Tower counters were treated to a full refund of many birds being held back (some for what has seemed like years!).  Put simply, it was a spectacular day to be observing the longshore flight from every direction.  6,497 individual birds, comprising 76 different species were logged today in the Indiana Dunes State Park.  For those keeping score, the Grube Magnitude Index was 28.72, the 20th best on record.  The list included both record and near record counts, rare and unusual birds, and a return of a real hawk watch, a phenomenon more often talked about then actually witnessed here.  The  stories had become intricately woven tales from another time… until today!

The morning started gloomy.  The rain had cleared, but a large storm with lightning sheered just to the south of the tower.  Though the counters stayed dry, bird migration (and overhead airplanes) were obviously compensating for the storm cell.  Winds were already in the 10-15mph range, with gusts to 20mph at dawn, and built to gusts in excess of 30mph by the early afternoon.  By mid morning, the cloudy and breezy conditions allowed migration to continue in earnest, with loons, cormorants, swallows, and blackbirds being the real notables.

As if the good birding wasn’t enough, real show stoppers appeared every once in a while that proved why migration is so amazing in the Indiana Dunes.  Before noon had hit, the morning’s highlights included: 1 White-winged Scoter50 Red-throated Loons (state single site record), 2 American Golden-Plover, both Greater and Lesser Black-backed Gull, 1 WHITE-WINGED DOVE, 11 Yellow-belled Sapsuckers, 2,369 Tree Swallows (dunes area record count), 22 Cliff Swallows, 1 Smith’s Longspur, 21 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, and 1 Common Redpoll.

Counter Brendan Grube chasing after 2 American Golden-Plovers migrating along the beach.

Long before 9am, the first of many Merlin flew past the counter site.  Given the high winds and cloudy skies, and the fact that no early Sharp-shined Hawks had been seen, the notion of a hawk watch was not on anyone’s mind.  By the 5th, then 6th Merlin to fly past, it became apparent that something special was going to happen and that the count should continue.  Suddenly Osprey began appearing from the east and slowly tilt-gliding their way westward, over the high dunes.  More Merlin, Kestrels, and Harriers began to appear as well.

1 of 15 Osprey seen flying over the Green Tower on 4/15/12. This ties the dunes area record count.

Squinting high into the sky, the mythical hawk watch took flight when the first kettle of Broad-winged Hawks could be seen riding high against the dark clouds.  These hawks had chosen to withstand nearly gale force winds to migrate.  Surely any thermal built from the sun would have been sheered by the high winds.  By 1pm, the kettles of Broad-winged Hawks went from five and six birds, to groups in excess of 20 birds!  All while, Red-tailed, Sharp-shinned, Cooper’s, Kestrels, and a lone Peregrine made their way between swallow flocks.  Before it was done 96 Broad-winged Hawks were counted.  The record grabber of the morning was a new state record 13 Merlins.  The hawk watch total combined for 208 birds (including Turkey Vultures).

Tomorrow promises one more good push of south winds before north winds put a hamper to Tuesday’s count.  From there, winds will flip flop nearly daily.  The full list of 76 species seen from the Bird Capital of the World Green Tower follows.

Canada Goose 3
Wood Duck 7
Mallard 2
Blue-winged Teal 10
White-winged Scoter 1 
Red-breasted Merganser 87
Red-throated Loon 50 
Common Loon 12
Horned Grebe 4
Double-crested Cormorant 248
Great Blue Heron 13
Great Egret 2
Turkey Vulture 27
Osprey (American) 15
Northern Harrier 7
Sharp-shinned Hawk 9
Cooper’s Hawk 4
Red-shouldered Hawk 1
Broad-winged Hawk 96 
Red-tailed Hawk 14
American Kestrel 19
Merlin 13 
Peregrine Falcon 1
American Golden-Plover 2
Killdeer 8
Solitary Sandpiper 2
Greater Yellowlegs 3
Lesser Yellowlegs 2
Pectoral Sandpiper 5
Ring-billed Gull 436
Herring Gull 26
Lesser Black-backed Gull 1 
Great Black-backed Gull 1
Caspian Tern 24
Rock Pigeon 2
Mourning Dove 81
Chimney Swift 37
Belted Kingfisher 2
Red-bellied Woodpecker 3
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 11
Downy Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker 5
Pileated Woodpecker 1
Blue Jay 13
American Crow 2
Northern Rough-winged Swallow 101
Purple Martin 25
Tree Swallow 2369
Bank Swallow 8
Barn Swallow 201
Cliff Swallow 22
Tufted Titmouse 2
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 21
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1
Eastern Bluebird 7
American Robin 108
Brown Thrasher 1
European Starling 51
Cedar Waxwing 30
Smith’s Longspur 1 
Pine Warbler 3
Yellow-rumped Warbler 10
Eastern Towhee 1
Chipping Sparrow 19
Field Sparrow 1
Dark-eyed Junco 3
Northern Cardinal 2
Red-winged Blackbird 1914
Rusty Blackbird 1
Common Grackle 66
Brown-headed Cowbird 30
House Finch 5
Common Redpoll 1 
American Goldfinch 182
House Sparrow 2

More Birders than Birds

Saturday, April 7 brought a small taste of southerly winds, and likewise drew a handful of birders to see if any migration would take place.  The winds were more east during the night, but turned southerly at dawn, at first quite light, but slowly building speed.  By 1pm, the lake breeze had set in and north winds were again prevailing.

Green Tower Birders, April 7, 2012.

More birders than birds were present this morning, as the late shift in the winds failed to produce any movement.  Though north winds are forecasted on Sunday, perhaps some evening southerlies will bring some new birds in for the counters.  Like many other birders, we’ve been following the cool, new wind map being produced by hint.fm.  A trip to your neighborhood birding haunt will nearly always have birds, but the green tower count depends on the right winds.  It’s a boom or bust cycle for us up here.

This morning’s numerous birders counted a paltry 1,644 individual birds.  To date we are less than 2,500 birds from 200,000 for the season.  The best birds of the morning were 2 Red-throated Loons, 1 Great Egret, 1 flushed American Woodcock (new season bird), 1 light phase Rough-legged Hawk, 1 circling Short-eared Owl, 89 Tree Swallows, 4 Barn Swallows, 1 Pine Warbler, 2 Rusty Blackbirds, and 4 Purple Finches.

The full list follows:

Canada Goose 4
American Black Duck 1
Mallard 2
Red-breasted Merganser 46
Red-throated Loon 2
Common Loon 2
Double-crested Cormorant 194
Great Blue Heron 3
Great Egret 1
Turkey Vulture 7
Sharp-shinned Hawk 3
Cooper’s Hawk 3
Red-shouldered Hawk 1
Red-tailed Hawk 4
Rough-legged Hawk 1
American Kestrel 1
Killdeer 1
American Woodcock 1
Bonaparte’s Gull 4
Ring-billed Gull 276
Herring Gull 4
Great Black-backed Gull 1
Caspian Tern 27
Mourning Dove 6
Short-eared Owl 1
Belted Kingfisher 1
Red-bellied Woodpecker 3
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 1
Downy Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker 13
Pileated Woodpecker 1
Eastern Phoebe 1
Blue Jay 2
American Crow 10
Tree Swallow 89
Barn Swallow 4
Tufted Titmouse 1
White-breasted Nuthatch 2
Eastern Bluebird 11
American Robin 48
Brown Thrasher 1
European Starling 2
Pine Warbler 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler 5
Eastern Towhee 1
Chipping Sparrow 9
Field Sparrow 1
Song Sparrow 1
Northern Cardinal 1
Red-winged Blackbird 501
Eastern Meadowlark 1
Rusty Blackbird 2
Common Grackle 225
Brown-headed Cowbird 33
Purple Finch 4
House Finch 5
American Goldfinch 64

Turkey Vulture over the Green Tower, April 7, 2012. Someone had a foul odor today.

The Dawn Lift

Every once in a while spring migration brings a south wind for birders to enjoy and birds to take wing with.  This morning brought a pretty decent south wind and warmer temperatures AND actually provided some bird migration.  Tuesday, April 3, was a pleasant morning to witness the return of the blackbird flocks.  Some of the other migrants that are usually present in low numbers were also seen today, including Lapland Longspurs, American Pipit, and Horned Lark.

The migration was also well represented on the radar last night.  For folks that don’t know, you can follow the nightly migration of birds here.  The concentric donuts that appear during south winds represent birds and insects migrating northward.  This donut will disappear with dawn, as birds spiral downward back to earth after a night of migration.  A typical pre-dawn shot, taken last night around 5am central (6am eastern) time is below.

A unique migration phenomenon that is special to coastal areas is the dawn lift or rise that occurs just as the first light appears on the horizon.  Birds, unknowingly flying over the water, will fly upward when they find out where they are.  By rising, they can then turn towards the nearest land they can find.  This leads to an apparent reverse migration, as birders witness birds coming south from Lake Michigan.  Migration conditions were set up to create a dawn lift this morning.  Notice the the blob seen over the lake.  This blob is picked up on the outer reaches of the radar, at a higher altitude then those detected near the radar center.  The image below was taken about 15 minutes before sunrise.

This morning involved a heavy and early longshore flight that quickly died down before 9am.  During four hours of counting today, 6,014 birds were identified, leaving us just shy of 200,000 for the season.  Waterfowl were on the light side, but today saw an increase in many species.  Some of these highlights included: 23 Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, 122 Tree Swallows, 2 Barn Swallows, 2 N Rough-winged Swallows, 21 Yellow-rumped Warblers, 2 Vesper Sparrows (new for the season!), and 32 Purple Finches (including multiples singing at the green tower site).

Yellow-rumped Warbler at Indiana Dunes SP, April 3, 2012

The local Pine Warbler makes his round each morning, giving his soft trill in search of his potentially arriving mate.  He patrols the main pine stand between the two beach lots, then often moves up hill along the road to the Green Tower site.  He hops along the West Lot Jack pines before returning back to his original pine stand.  During a brief lull, he posed for the counters today.

Pine Warbler, April 3, 2012.

Just as the migration starts to pick up again, mother nature will shut it back down.  Highs will drop to the mid 40s for the duneland area.  South winds are not predicted until Saturday.

Some Loony Weather

Longshore Rainbow, March 23, 2012

This morning greeted the counters with the first real precipitation in days, if not two weeks.  Despite the weather, it was absolutely beautiful and calm out over the high dune.  By dawn, most of the morning rain was more of a drizzle off and on.  The rain was never really hard enough to put a hamper on the birding.  Heavier rains came later in the afternoon, but for the morning, songs could be heard, and a few birds did choose to migrate.

The best highlight may not have been a bird, but the amazing full color rainbow that arched across the sky around 8:30am.  As the old birding lore goes, some mega rarity was sitting off shore at the end of that rainbow.  A Yellow-billed Loon perhaps.

A loon no doubt, as there was a good movement of loons early this morning.  The loon migration typically peaks in mid-April, but a good number are already being seen.  The dunes area hosts record counts of 1,000+ birds.  The majority of these high counts occur in the fall, but a few spectacular spring counts also exist.  Thus today’s 69 Common Loons and 5 Red-throated Loons are merely the tip of the iceberg, but quite enjoyable for folks that have never seen that many loons on the water at once.

As one can guess, the morning flight of passerines never really took off.  Perhaps 1,000 robins and blackbirds flew over the tower site this morning.  However, once again, Palm Warblers made a presence, with two more birds being seen.  One of the Palm Warblers chose to serenade the counters with it’s weak trill from the West Lot for quite a while.  A quick look on Ebird and IN-Bird shows that no other birders in Indiana have seen a Palm Warbler yet.  Odd?  Accompanying the Palm Warbler in song was the season’s first territorial Pine Warbler.  Add the two Yellow-rumped Warblers and it was the season’s first three warbler species day!

After 14 full days in a row of counting birds, it may be nice to have some breaks in the coming week.  The forecast becomes more complicated and wind shifts will occur more often.  Calm north winds don’t necessarily mean no birds, so if conditions look good, we will still be out there.

She Keeps Blowing From the South!

Day two (March 7, 2012) of the 2012 Dunes State Park Green Tower Migration Count picked up much like yesterday ended… strong, wild wind!  From the bedroom early this morning you could hear the wind howling.  It wasn’t even dawn and the wind gusts were already topping 30mph.  By 8am, we were getting 40mph gusts that were whipping across the Dunes Prairie Nature Preserve.  So once again, birding was forced down to the next landing below our main birding spot.  From here, about seven feet lower than normal, one can bird without the main gusts.  However, after a little time there, you begin to accumulate some sand that softly falls upon you, covering cameras, scopes, and Frappuccinos!

Early Icterid Flight over the High Dunes
Early Icterid Flight over the High Dunes at dawn this morning. Can you identify them!?

At arrival to the old Green Tower site this morning, the sky was a constant stream of various early migrating birds.  Last night’s strong south winds had apparently brought new arrivals northward.  One would think that 40 mph winds would hamper flight and it would be best to rest somewhere calm.  Doing the opposite of popular opinion, birds apparently use the Jim Irsay playbook.

In flocks of 30-50, various bands of Red-winged Blackbirds would flash by going east to west over the dunes.  Occasional grackles could be found within the groups.  Usually seperate, robins started moving this morning, also together in loose flocks .  Starlings put up good numbers this morning, with nearly a thousand going by.  Lapland Longspurs made a strong appearance, with 135 individual birds going by, a Dunes Area top 10 count.  Also posting nice numbers were Killdeer.  Loose bands of 4-6 could be found every few minutes moving right off of the water line.  162 Killdeer would be counted before the morning was over.

Other unusual highlights this morning included 4 White-winged Scoters flying just off shore.  Their white wing markings reflected the early morning sunshine.  A few other ducks would go by this morning too.  Later, some “pishing”  convinced a lone Common Redpoll to turn around and landed in a small oak next to the staircase this morning.  It took off seconds later giving it’s mechanical “chet chet chet” call, leaving one to wonder why they didn’t take a photo!

Finally, the record breaker this morning was a singleton Pine Warbler seen briefly before departing the nearby Jack Pines.  This morning’s bird likely represents the earliest spring migrant for the northwestern Indiana area (if not all of northern Indiana), beating the previous spring record, a feeder bird on March 12, 2008, again here at Indiana Dunes State Park.

In two March days, the old Green Tower site at IDSP has produced 12,192 identified birds.  Add a few more for the un-identified birds that have gone by.   The real movement hasn’t even started yet!  Here’s some other random numbers from today.

Ring-billed Gulls: 2,070

Eastern Bluebirds: 14 flew past today

American Robin: 538 individually logged

European Starling: 936 tailless birds seen

Red-winged Blackbirds: 3,460 birds.  High counts later will top 10,000 in a few hours of counting

Common Grackles: 270 seen.  Again, a fraction of what is to come.

As we look ahead and study the forecasts, cold weather and north winds look to greet us for a couple days.  We’ll likely pick up again with below freezing temperatures on Saturday morning.