Tag Archives: raptors

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.

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Super Hawk Flight 2013

On April 15, 2012, an excellent hawk flight was enjoyed by many lakefront birders.  Partly due to an unexpected Broad-winged Hawk flight, as well as a new state record Merlin flight, this high count set forward a new era and renewed effort in hawk watches at the Indiana Dunes State Park.  An even more impressive May 1 flight brought in 336 raptors of 13 species.  The season ended with 1,837 diurnal birds of prey being counted.  It was the best hawk watching season here since 1992.  The hawk watch was reborn!

1 of 21 record breaking Osprey to migrate over the old green tower site today.  Photo by Pete Grube.
1 of 21 record breaking Osprey to migrate over the old green tower site today. Photo by Pete Grube.

Nearly one year from last year’s great hawk start, today, April 14, 2013, would usher in another great hawk watching season.  692 birds of prey of 13 species would be counted soaring over the dune in numbers not seen in decades if ever!  While official records are tentative, today’s counters found a combined total of 21 Osprey (new state record party count),  9 Bald Eagles (dunes area second highest count), 93 Northern Harriers (new state record count), 214 Sharp-shinned Hawks (state’s third highest count), 7 Merlin (fourth highest state count), and 222 Red-tailed Hawks (possible fourth highest state count!).  Red-tailed Hawks didn’t end there.  With a multitude of hawks going by it was inevitable that a diverse group of Red-tails would be seen.  No less than 7 dark morph Red-tails and a single intermediate/rufous Western Red-tail would be included in this high count.

Rufous Western Red-tailed Hawk flying over the high dunes today.  Photo courtesy Pete Grube.  4/14/13
Rufous Western Red-tailed Hawk flying over the high dunes today. Photo courtesy Pete Grube. 4/14/13

Hawks were not the only flavor of the day.  There was not a big influx of new arrivals today, but several notable birds were logged throughout the day, and did include just a couple season firsts.  3 Long-tailed Ducks would add serious numbers to their season total. White-winged Scoters continue to be present.  Another Pacific Loon was logged, but quickly disappeared before most visitors could see it.  9 Broad-winged Hawks added to the hawk count and were also new for the season.  86 Flickers brings their season total to nearly 1,000.  30 more Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers show that their migration is far from done.  The first Blue-gray Gnatcatcher was seen today.  The season’s best Yellow-rumped Warbler flight watched over 75 birds go by.  Still no other warblers though.

The season's first Broad-winged Hawk was a welcome sight.  Photo by photographer extraordinaire Pete Grube.  4/14/13
The season’s first Broad-winged Hawk was a welcome sight. Photo by photographer extraordinaire Pete Grube. 4/14/13

The day ended with 3,450 individual birds; the highest in about a week.  The day was also the longest official hawk watch ever done at the dunes, with 9.5 hours logged watching hawks.  Winds were easterly, shifting more southerly as the day went on.  With strong south winds overnight, we expect a good push tomorrow morning, particularly in the new season arrival department.  We may greet our first warbler diversity, gnatcatchers, kingbirds, swallows, and more tomorrow.

Here are today’s unedited total highlights:
Blue-winged Teal 8
Green-winged Teal 4
White-winged Scoter 8
Long-tailed Duck 3

Red-throated Loon 25
Pacific Loon 1
Common Loon 5
Great Egret 7
Turkey Vulture 49
Osprey 21
Northern Harrier 93
Sharp-shinned Hawk 214
Cooper’s Hawk 19
Bald Eagle 9
Red-shouldered Hawk 15
Broad-winged Hawk 9
Red-tailed Hawk 222
Rough-legged Hawk 1
Sandhill Crane 334
Bonaparte’s Gull 40
Caspian Tern 220
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 30
Northern Flicker 86
American Kestrel 28
Merlin 7
Peregrine Falcon 5
Northern Rough-winged Swallow 16
Purple Martin 4
Brown Creeper 5
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 1
Golden-crowned Kinglet 11
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 5
Eastern Bluebird 13
American Robin 280
Lapland Longspur 23
Yellow-rumped Warbler 78
Chipping Sparrow 11
Vesper Sparrow 2
Fox Sparrow 1
Red-winged Blackbird 420
Eastern Meadowlark 3
Pine Siskin 3

Longshore Flight birding crew today including always welcome assistance from the SAS Audubon Chapter birders led by Jim and Susan Hengeveld.  4/14/13
Longshore Flight birding crew today including always welcome assistance from the SAS Audubon Chapter birders led by Jim and Susan Hengeveld. 4/14/13

Lake Erie birders… eat our dust!

Great Hoosier Birding

Birding was on fire today in Indiana.  As promised, a notable flight occurred today over the Indiana Dunes area, including a few new records to talk about.  All of this occurring while hundreds of birders from throughout the country converged at the other end of the state at Goose Pond FWA for the now well known ABA Code 4 Spotted Redshank, from Europe.

Under an early morning, bone chilling cold (bone chilling = 28 degrees!), an all star cast of birders converged to assist or spectate in the count today.  Elbow room was tight, but the sky was tighter with birds weaving around each other as an early dawn flight began even before the sun was up.  The sky glowed pink to the east during the pre-dawn moments and  large blackbird flocks were seen not only overhead but to the distant south.

Turkey Vultures over the Green Tower site.
Turkey Vultures over the Green Tower site.

Throughout the morning a rough count of about 18 different birders visited the tower site.  Whether simply watching the morning flight or adding data to the count, several new dunes area or state records were achieved in today’s flight.  On top of this, nearly 25,000 birds were seen, from a diverse cast of waterfowl, raptors, and passerines.

Of today’s high counts, Red-winged Blackbirds continue to lead the pack.  Today’s count was 14,454 birds.  American Robins impressed with 1,958 birds.  1,941 Sandhill Cranes made a brief, but strong appearance near the noon hour.    On the water, 23 species of waterfowl (including loons and grebes) floated by, with Red-breasted Mergansers still going strong with 470 seen.

For records, 200 Greater White-fronted Geese took the second highest Dunes area count today.  These geese (as well as Snow/Ross’s) are generally rare on the lakefront.   Today’s crane flight was not the highest, but should find a spot in the top 10 Dunes Area high counts.  21 migrating Black-capped Chickadees was shy of the top 10 count, but significant nonetheless and evidence that Black-capped Chickadees do indeed migrate. Taking the seventh highest state count, 111 Eastern Bluebirds were a constant flight of “knock your grandma socks off, look at those bluebirds go!”  Our 73 Eastern Meadowlarks don’t break any state records, but will go down as the second highest count tallied in the Dunes Area.

Migrating Meadowlark
Migrating Meadowlark

The biggest record breaker of the day was 34 Eastern Phoebes… a new state second highest single party record.

Other highlights worth talking about include the fact that nearly every single count thus far this season (12 official counts) have included both White-winged Scoters and Common Redpoll.   A near record early Barn Swallow may be the early bird of the day.  A major hawk flight never materialized, but a showing of 74 bird of prey is nothing to ignore.

Today’s major highlights listed below.  For dunes area and state high count comparisons, every Hoosier birder should own both Brock’s Birds of Indiana and Brock’s Birds of Indiana Dunes*

Greater White-fronted Goose  200
Wood Duck  12
Northern Pintail  5
Redhead  63
Surf Scoter  2
White-winged Scoter  44
Red-breasted Merganser  470
Red-throated Loon  5
Common Loon  8
Turkey Vulture  25
Northern Harrier  3
Sharp-shinned Hawk  2
Red-tailed Hawk  26
Sandhill Crane  1941
American Woodcock  1
Bonaparte’s Gull  2
Caspian Tern  5    
Pileated Woodpecker  1
American Kestrel  10
Merlin  1
Eastern Phoebe  34
Tree Swallow  46
Barn Swallow  1
Black-capped Chickadee  21
Golden-crowned Kinglet  6
Eastern Bluebird  111
American Pipit  4
Lapland Longspur  25
Red-winged Blackbird  14454     
Eastern Meadowlark  73
Common Redpoll  23   
Pine Siskin  1

*This blogger has no financial interest in Brock’s Bird CDs!

A lot of Sandhills over that Sand Hill!

This morning welcomed back a south wind to the old green tower site at Indiana Dunes State Park.  Yesterday’s northwest wind created cold and bitter conditions that helped drop the morning low to below freezing (27 degrees start).  Though things warmed up, the winds were again strong this morning, requiring extra coffee to keep warm and active.

Being a Saturday, the birding brought good company, as many birders visited the tower site to help log an amazing day along the lakeshore.  Spotting scopes were set up along the staircase and decking to watch an active flight with many notable sightings.

Over the water, White-winged Scoters put up good numbers for Indiana, as well as the first loons of the season, including both Common Loon and Red-throated Loon.  On land, Red-winged Blackbirds, American Robins, and Starlings would dominate the air.  However, pipits, longspurs, and Horned Larks were also noted moving.  A new Green Tower bird record was set this morning when a pair of European Goldfinch were seen flying by low and at short range.  The bold yellow wing pattern was noted well.

The obvious highlight for the morning was the Sandhill Crane count.  At approximately 8am, the cranes began moving.  At first it was small flocks of 8-10, coming from the east, all heading west.  By 9am the flocks had grown to 80-100 and were a near constant stream of birds cresting the far pine stands and slowly drifting overhead.  Occasionally, Red-tailed Hawks, Red-shouldered Hawks, and Sharp-shined Hawks could be seen between the groups, attempting to kettle on the same thermals.  Hawk highlights also included a flyby Merlin along the beach.  In total 43 birds of prey were logged today.

Migrating Sandhill Cranes, March 10, 2012

Just as quickly as it had started, the cranes completely stopped moving (or we had cleaned out Kankakee FWA!) by 10:45am.  By 11am, most of the day’s flight was complete and only a few more birds were logged during the last hour of counting.  As we seek to answer questions about migration along Lake Michigan, more questions arise.  It would have been great to have a reporter south of the dunes to tell us where these cranes had all come from.

Today alone, 22,396 birds were counted!  The season total is now at 34,589 birds.  A few highlighted totals follow, as well as a small video snippet of some crane counting today.  We look forward to warmer weather and lighter winds tomorrow!  Come on up and join us, and don’t forget to reset your clocks in the morning.

Selected Highlights:

White-winged Scoter- 33
Red-throated Loon- 4
Merlin- 1
Sandhill Crane- 6,644
American Crow- 56
Eastern Bluebird- 68
American Robin- 3,245
Red-winged Blackbird- 4,140
European Goldfinch- 2
Common  Redpoll- 2 

Youtube Video Snippet:

Birding the Indiana Dunes!

Migration is a promise… a promise to return.  For eons, birds have returned to and through the dunes along the shores of Lake Michigan.  This mass migration is a phenomenon to be seen by any Hoosier (or out of state) birder!  Here, from a small dune top, one can witness the rafts of migrating waterfowl, wonder in thousands of songbirds flying overhead, and sit back and enjoy an afternoon raptor flight.  All, while sitting in one position.

Migrating Blue Jay in May

For many years, the mass migration, or longshore flight has been well noted among lakefront birders.  For the first time in 2012, this longshore migration will be quantified with an official bird counter.  From March through May we welcome birding phenom Brendan Grube, as he grapples with the identification and quantifying of an estimated 1/2 million individual birds that will flyover the old Green Tower site at Indiana Dunes State Park.  Our counts will occur 5 days a week and attempt to document the true spring magnitude of migration along the Indiana Dunes.  This position is funded by the Lake Michigan Coastal Program and sponsored by the Northwest Indiana Migratory Bird Association.

Want to witness it for yourself?  Visitors are welcome to the the top of the staircase where Trail 3 starts.  Park in the Indiana Dunes State Park West Lot on an early morning with south winds.  Check back frequently for updated daily counts as the season progresses!

Birding the old Green Tower high dune at Indiana Dunes State Park