Tag Archives: Rusty Blackbird


As predicted, the weekend brought forth the predicted south winds needed badly for a good old fashioned longshore flight along the southern shores of Lake Michigan.  Also, as predicted, a cooler start and lighter winds brought a lighter flight on Saturday, with more hawks, and a stronger overall flight Sunday, with winds causing thermal sheer and lowering overall hawks, most notably buteos.

Temperature wise, you couldn’t have asked for a better two days.  With upper 60s on Saturday, and mid 70s on Sunday, it was very May like.  Unfortunately, the May birds are still quite a bit away from the dunes.  The only downside to the weekend’s flight was the total increase in new arrivals.  Four new arrivals made it to the dunes.  Those being American White Pelican, Purple Martin, Barn Swallow, and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.  

Saturday’s major highlights include the 135 raptors that went by.  Leading the pack were 41 Turkey Vultures and 32 Red-tailed Hawks (including one dark morph).  Over 5,000 grackles streamed by, with an excellent 990 Rusty Blackbirds also mixing in. Some flocks were pure Rusties.


Sunday brought even warmer temperatures, with starting temperatures in the mid 50s.  But winds were much stronger. Enough to keep the counters down below the tower for much of the day.  The dawn flight brought a much larger icterid movement.  Some 10,000 grackles, blackbirds, and cowbirds moved in great streams overhead.  The main flight path was nearly directly over the beach, making for great visual counting.  The grackles nearly doubled the previous day, an Rusty Blackbirds exceeded the day before with 1,378 birds.

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Enlarge to see sample grackle flight at dawn over the tower site.  Those specks aren’t your dirty screen.

The major highlight of the morning was the strong flicker flight and excellent sapsucker count.  An even 300 Northern Flickers undulated past the beach.  Their sounds could be heard in each of the nearby woodlands.  More silent and stealthy, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers staged a huge movement in not just the dunes, but many reported stations throughout Indiana.  By the end of the day, 55 of them were counted.  This is the fourth highest state count ever.  In case you’re wondering, the dunes area holds the next three higher records as well.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker at the old Green Tower site.

In contrast to the raptor flight of Saturday, only 92 raptors were seen.  Though many early Sharp-shinned Hawks were seen early, giving promise to more later.  The much awaited Broad-winged Hawks did not arrive today.  The other notable today was a very good 74 Yellow-rumped Warblers for this date in early April.  Most high counts occur in late April, with the state record being 2,823 of them in a single day counted from this very spot.

Saturday’s list is here and includes 9,047 birds coming from 68 species.

Sunday’s list is here and includes 16,009 birds divided among 78 species.

The current forecast shows promise for a Monday flight, but begins to waiver, particularly for Wednesday.  But another warming trend is not far behind for the next wave of migrants.  We’re hoping for some more of neo-tropical variety!



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.


River of Rusties

The return of south winds brought the return of the longshore flight today.  Technically, a flight count was conducted yesterday, but the near calm conditions created a strong on-shore lake wind that killed much of a chance for any significant flight.  After a dud of a day yesterday (not blogged), today showed much more promise.  SSE winds shifting to due south by 8am, with building winds. For the most part the forecast was correct and a diverse 63 species were counted, totaling 10,473 birds.  The only downside was the persistent cloud cover which tempered any ground warming which all but killed any hawkwatch that may have occurred.

As has been the case most of the season, waterfowl numbers were again low.  Even still, the diversity was good with both Surf and White-winged Scoters being logged.  Nice comparisons could be seen today of both Red-throated and Common Loons.

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Vesper Sparrow today, 3/30/16

In other birds, several new birds entered the state park for the longshore count today.  Highlights included Greater Yellowlegs, Wilson’s Snipe, Barn Swallow, and Vesper Sparrow.  The latter teeing up nicely in the nearby cottonwood to be seen by all that assisted today.  The flickers and sapsuckers were again on the move.  10 sapsuckers and 120 Northern Flickers went by.  If you’ve ever watched flickers move by the tower (vs blackbirds, jays, or robins) it was postulated today that flickers must somehow wait in line and carefully migrate so that there is always 100 yards between birds.  Once again the birds moved in single file.

The morning blackbird flight was another typical average-above average movement today.  Not so average was the abundance of Rusty Blackbirds today.  It was a literal river of rusties, as they mixed heavily with grackles this morning.  An incredible 746 Rusty Blackbirds were counted migrating past the tower site today.  They still were outnumbers 10:1 by the 7,185 Common Grackles.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker at bird tower site.

The entire day’s list can be found here.  After tomorrow we’ll summarize the entire month’s total and compare with other years.  How close to 200,000 are we!?  One interesting aspect of this year’s count that can be measured on eBird is monitoring the season’s species list compared to other hotspots in Indiana.  Today’s 4 new species puts the Longshore Tower up to 115.  Goose Pond is at 101.  Eagle Creek Park is at 95.  Willow Slough FWA is 105.  Can you find one that is higher?  We should be able to match species even this far north with most of these sites.

What might this logo be placed on!?

Lastly, time is almost up if you want early bird rates for the Indiana Dunes Birding Festival.  Register before March 31 at midnight if you want in on the cheap rates!  In addition, many trips are filling up fast!.  There is some pretty cool swag being given away this year too to all participants!  The keynote dinner and silent auction are also filling up.  The IDBF is happy to support not one, but two organizations this year at it’s Keynote Silent Auction, Saturday, May 7. Half of all auction proceeds will go to support the Moraine Ridge Wildlife Rehabilitation Center and the new Westchester Bird Sanctuary.  If you have an item you’d like to donate to the silent auction, message Beth Dixon at dixonclass@hobart.k12.in.us.

First Major Hawkflight for 2015!

Sunday, April 12 was a pretty great day at the longshore tower.  The night’s chilly low 40s warmed quickly at dawn and the growing south winds brought 70s for the first time of the flight count this year.  There was a good mix of passerines as well as the first major hawk flight of the season.

Several participants assisted the counter in logging 18,406 birds, comprising 67 species.  After today’s new arrivals, 120 species have now been logged this year.  The new season total is 171,000 birds.  Adding to the new species this morning were Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Bonaparte’s Gull, and Palm Warbler.

Golden Eagle over the hawkwatch today.  Photo courtesy John Kendall.
Golden Eagle over the hawkwatch today. Photo courtesy John Kendall.

For the first major hawk flight of the year, 122 raptors went past the tower site.  The diversity was good, despite not including a single Broad-winged Hawk.  Sharp-shinned and Red-tailed Hawks made up the majority, but the surprise bird was a Golden Eagle, captured on camera flying over the park.  This is the second Golden Eagle recorded this season from the longshore flight zone.

Other highlights included a late push of 291 Sandhill Cranes, 2 Eurasian-collared Doves, 236 Northern Flickers (a season high count),  American White Pelican (see below), and an astounding 1,822 Rusty Blackbirds.

American White Pelican over the longshore tower today.  Photo courtesy John Kendall.
American White Pelican over the longshore tower today. Photo courtesy John Kendall.

Today’s full list follows.  Conditions should provide another flight Monday before winds shift for Tuesday.

Canada Goose 4
Mallard 2
Red-breasted Merganser 3
Common Loon 7
Horned Grebe 1
Double-crested Cormorant 31
American White Pelican 1
Great Blue Heron 6
Great Egret 2
Turkey Vulture 17
Osprey 3
Golden Eagle 1 Juvenile.
Northern Harrier 4
Sharp-shinned Hawk 49
Cooper’s Hawk 2
Bald Eagle 2
Red-shouldered Hawk 2
Red-tailed Hawk 33
Rough-legged Hawk 1
Sandhill Crane 291
Killdeer 4
Bonaparte’s Gull 1
Ring-billed Gull 40
Herring Gull 1
Great Black-backed Gull 3
Caspian Tern 2
Rock Pigeon  12
Eurasian Collared-Dove 2
Mourning Dove 56
Red-headed Woodpecker 1
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 4
Northern Flicker 236
Pileated Woodpecker 1
American Kestrel 8
Eastern Phoebe 1
Blue Jay 1
American Crow 1
Horned Lark 3
Northern Rough-winged Swallow 6
Tree Swallow 82
Barn Swallow 7
Tufted Titmouse 1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 6
Eastern Bluebird 11
American Robin 269
European Starling 7
Lapland Longspur 25
Palm Warbler 2
Yellow-rumped Warbler 40
Eastern Towhee 2
American Tree Sparrow 1
Chipping Sparrow 9
Field Sparrow 1
Song Sparrow 1
Dark-eyed Junco 7
Northern Cardinal 1
Red-winged Blackbird 6464
Eastern Meadowlark 5
Rusty Blackbird 1822
Common Grackle 8390
Brown-headed Cowbird 369
House Finch 1
Purple Finch 16
Pine Siskin 18
American Goldfinch 2
House Sparrow 1