Tag Archives: Short-eared Owl

18,000 Bird Morning!


As the lions or lambs of March goes out and April slides in, we finally had the first major south wind push of the season.  Winds this morning, were nearly due south, slightly SW.  Mostly cloudy skies gave way to full cloudiness and eventually rain by 9am. But in the 2 hr 40 minutes of counting, a quick 18,000+ birds flew past the tower this morning.  This was the highest total count of the season, albeit a very short count.  Birds began quickly grounding as the first sprinkles came and the entire morning flight was done by the time the rain was falling.



With Kyle out of town for holiday family time, Brad and Brendan substituted in for the count this morning.  The morning was punctuated by a massive grackle and blackbird flight.  The flocks were less organized and moving in both directions, making counting difficult.  All the while, loose robin flocks moved by below the main flocks, mainly moving east to west.

A Short-eared Owl flew out over the parking lot, circled over the tower, and then proceeded to run circuits over the prairie to the south.  For a few minutes it appeared to be feeding, before setting down just south of the tower for the day.  Other new season highlights included a flyby Osprey around 8:15am, and a cooperative Vesper Sparrow that posed in the usual cottonwoods near the tower, yet evaded a photo today.

Other notables were a flock of 5 Common Loons that went over.  Aside from the loons and 4 Caspian Terns, few waterfowl were moving.  The first push of Tree Swallows occurred, as 28 birds went by.  Rounding out the highlights were a nice bump of 5 Fox Sparrows.  Only one was singing their sweet song however.

For the day, 18,500 birds were seen, comprising 48 species.  For the full eBird list of the morning, visit here.


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!

Wind Block

Aside from the birding, another great feature for those that live on the southern rim of Lake Michigan is the mighty influence that 1,040 cubic miles of water has on the landscape. One really can’t take too much faith in the weather forecast anyway.  Wind shifts can warm or cool the land, bring unexpected rain or snow, as well as wash up a vagrant bird rarity.

A delayed rain forecast over night allowed for a night of strong south winds, with the bulk of the rain and front changing wind to arrive later Sunday afternoon.  Indeed, a nice warm air did greet the dawn.  Winds gusted right away and an early morning flight of birds began almost immediately down near the beach line.  Weather wise, what occurred next was intriguing. With the main cold front trailing through northern Illinois, the upper portion hit Lake Michigan and the colder air allowed it to, what the advanced meteorological discussion site said, “back-door down the Lake Michigan shore.”  At 11am, the dunes were plunged into the cold air over the lake.  Temperatures dropped from 72 degrees to 48 degrees in 2 minutes!  No rush of cold wind, but a rapid descent that was noticed by everyone around.  The cold air hit the warmer shoreline and fog developed that would shift and sway from the beach line with each passing wind.  Temperatures never really recovered and the flight was done.

Before the temperature would take a nose dive, 8,297 birds would be logged.  It was a good morning for new arrivals.  First appearances were made by Greater Yellowlegs, Chimney Swifts, Northern Mockingbird (rare up here), Vesper and Swamp Sparrows.  Another first appearance is not only the first for the season, but a first for the site… a flyby Snowy Egret!

Yellow-rumped Warbler by Pete Grube.
Yellow-rumped Warbler by Pete Grube.

Flickers will not stop!  629 more today now gives us 1,732 for the season.  Where else can you see over 1,000 Flickers in 3 days!  Over 100 Yellow-rumped Warblers is showing us that the early warblers are on the move.  Butter-butts for everyone in attendance.

Lastly of note, early morning joggers going down the sand trails of Trail 3 and the Dunes Prairie Nature Preserve were overhead yelling, “look,  an owl!”  A Short-eared Owl flushed from the grasses and made his/her way out over the lake with crows in pursuit.

Today’s count of 63 species gives us a new season total of 128 species.  More birds than most have seen in Indiana all year.  Helping Brendan today were Brad Bumgardner, John Kendall and Karen and Warren Leow.  Highlights below:

Great Blue Heron 14
Great Egret 1
Snowy Egret 1
Osprey 1
Bald Eagle 1
Greater Yellowlegs 1
American Woodcock 1
Short-eared Owl 1
Chimney Swift 3
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 26
Northern Flicker 629
Pileated Woodpecker 2
Merlin 2
Eastern Phoebe 3
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 8
Northern Mockingbird 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler 113
Vesper Sparrow 1
Swamp Sparrow 2
Red-winged Blackbird 3608
Rusty Blackbird 1532 (possible tower high count)
Purple Finch 18

100,000+ for 2014

View of the tower from the back dunes prairie on Trail 3.  March 31, 2014
View of the tower from the back dunes prairie on Trail 3. March 31, 2014

Monday, March 31 was a spectacular longshore flight day.  From dawn through mid afternoon the tower site was abuzz with bird migration.  It was also the warmest day of the season, and the first day this year to reach 60 degrees on the lakeshore.  South winds poured over the dunes throughout the night setting up for a warmer start than we’ve had previously.  By 8am, that same wind was already building to moderate gale strength and would try the diligence of any counter on top of the platform.  By lunch time, scopes, chairs, and hats were being knocked over on a regular basis.

Though it was feared that the wind would be too strong to keep many birds migrating, the urge to migrate overcame the winds and migrate they did!  The dawn blackbird and grackle flight was intense.  Over 100+ birds a minute were passing the tower for the first hour.  It was hard to pick out the other species while trying to get an accurate count of the clouds of black going overhead.  The blackbird and grackle count was no doubt under counted.  Miraculously, cowbirds, starlings, robins, and even 200+ Rusty Blackbirds were picked out among them too.  During mid-stream, Lapland Longspurs began their first push, as well as a few American Pipits and Horned Larks.  It was a real debacle trying to keep tally of it all.

One flock of Greater White-fronted Geese, honking their "huevos, huevos" for all to hear.  March 31, 2014
One flock of Greater White-fronted Geese, honking their “huevos, huevos” for all to hear. March 31, 2014

Waterfowl were steady, though clearly not the main highlight of the day.  Long-tailed Ducks continue to be seen daily, but another gigantic (for the lakeshore) wave of Greater White-fronted Geese came by.  Before this year, the daily record up here was 200 or so.  Today’s 641 was five shy of the new record set just three weeks ago.  354 Redheads may also be a new spring lakefront record.  Finally, 13 Common Loons were the first push of loons in the area this season.

1 of 13 Common Loons to head out over the big lake today, March 31, 2014
1 of 13 Common Loons to head out over the big lake today, March 31, 2014

It was clear that the south winds pushed things in, as more Caspian Terns went by, over 60 Tree Swallows filtered past.  Robins started their push, with a still less than organized stream of just under 1,000 birds.  By 10am, the raptor and crane show picked up.  After yesterday’s massive crane flight, today’s birds sought out to beat their predecessors.  Unfortunately for the counters, most turned away from the lake miles out and didn’t go directly overhead.  It made counting harder, but a careful eye found the second highest dunes area count ever, with 6,583.  Falling short of the record of 6,644 set in 2012.  Hawks posted their finest count of the season, with 116 birds going by.  Red-tailed and Turkey Vultures dominated.  A few dark-morphed Rough-legged Hawks were pretty sights, with one being nearly all black.

Short-eared Owl over the platform today.  March 31, 2014.
Short-eared Owl over the platform today. March 31, 2014.

After yesterday’s Long-eared Owl sighting, it was only fitting to have the season’s first Short-eared Owl sighting.  This bird was far more accommodating as it came in from the west and flew over the platform for everyone to see.  It later landed in the dunes prairie of Trail 3 and was seen by a couple folks later.

Today’s great count had many helpers.  Assisting Brendan today were: Brad Bumgardner, Ken Brock, John Kendall, Kim Ehn, Penny Starin, Bernie Konrady, and Rick and Pam Firks.  The day ended with an amazing 29,511 individually counted birds comprising 62 species! The best day yet, and pushing our season total now past 100,000+ birds.  Should we mention the 100+ House Sparrows seen today too?  Second year birds forging out to find their own home… or did McDonald’s open late today?

Today’s super highlights below, as well as some extra video footage and images.

Greater White-fronted Goose 641
Canada Goose 490
Tundra Swan 21
Wood Duck 22
Redhead 354
White-winged Scoter 1
Long-tailed Duck 10
Common Loon 13
Turkey Vulture 39
Sharp-shinned Hawk 17
Red-tailed Hawk 31
Rough-legged Hawk 3
Sandhill Crane 6583
American Woodcock 1
Bonaparte’s Gull 3
Caspian Tern 4
Mourning Dove 68
Short-eared Owl 1
Tree Swallow 61
Golden-crowned Kinglet 1
American Robin 932
American Pipit 5
Lapland Longspur 584
Red-winged Blackbird 11770
Rusty Blackbird 210
Common Grackle 5772
Purple Finch 11
House Sparrow 106

1 of 15 Great-blue Herons to go by this morning.  March 31, 2014.
1 of 15 Great-blue Herons to go by this morning. March 31, 2014.

Thunder Storm Warning!

With the warmer weather upon us, if you’re like me, you’ve got the window opened or perhaps cracked slightly.  The moist breeze can filter in and some of the early spring songs can be heard.  Outside my place a robin was beginning it’s song quite early today; even before 5am had arrived.  I leaned over to the nightstand, checked the iPad weather app and was pleasantly surprised to see the rain had lifted north and much of the nearby cells were moving north and away from the dunes.  Perhaps a few birds did indeed take off through the night’s rain and found themselves in the dunes.  If not, the warm air and water would help stimulate plant growth, then subsequent insect growth, and of course provide food for the arriving birds.

As seen on the radar above, the rain was to our west, but would only stay that way for just a few hours.  By 9am, the line had drifted east in a thunder storm warning, with strong winds, lightning, and heavy downpours.  Our already swelled up creeks and swamps are overflowing with 3.5 inches of rain in the last 36 hours.

This morning's early radar returns, showing intense storms just west of the Indiana Dunes.  4/18/13
This morning’s early radar returns, showing intense storms just west of the Indiana Dunes. 4/18/13

After a sluggish start the first 30 minutes, the birds became quite active.  Nearly 5,000 birds were logged this morning before the storm came.  The impressive sight this morning was the swallow flight and early hawk flight.  Nearly 1,000 Tree Swallows would be logged going overhead, to the south, and in large groups over the lake.  Among them were hundreds of Barn and Rough-winged Swallows.  All the other expected swallows, martins, and swifts would be logged today too.  Today’s swallow numbers are no doubt an underestimate   It’s hard to strictly count them when warblers, sparrows, and other migrants are also passing by.

Hawks began strong this morning  as well.  It’s disappointing that the rain arrived when it did.  While buteos were not posting any big numbers, it looked to be a good falcon day.  In just a couple hours 32 kestrels and a season high 10 Merlins were counted.  If you remember last year’s impressive 40 Merlins logged during the season, today’s season total of 30 birds is quickly surpassing last year’s impressive movement.

The day also brought a couple new birds.  New for the season were: Pied-billed Grebe, Sora, Solitary Sandpiper, American Golden Plover, Bank Swallow, and a very early Eastern Kingbird.  

Another Short-eared Owl was seen today in the dune swales to the south.  This bird flushed up and actually perched in the nearby cottonwoods for nearly 30 minutes before eventually taking off and flying east, out of sight.

We’re now at 327,013 birds, comprised from 144 species thus far.    The major highlights from today are again below.  Tomorrow will be interesting, as a WSW wind will blow cooler air into the area.  It may not be the most ideal, but with two days of south wind, it may reveal some neotropical migrants that we’ve been short of.  Saturday looks to be cold and without a flight.  Sunday and Monday looks to be good again.  Sunday’s southeast winds may produce another hawk flight  and Monday will come at the heels of a good overnight period for more annuals to arrive.

Longshore Flight Highlights, 4/18/13

Northern Shoveler 43
White-winged Scoter 2
Red-throated Loon 46
Great Egret 20
Osprey 17
Bald Eagle 1
Sora 1
American Golden-Plover 1
Solitary Sandpiper 1
Short-eared Owl 1
Chimney Swift 104
Northern Flicker 19
American Kestrel 32
Merlin 10
Eastern Kingbird 1
Northern Rough-winged Swallow 245
Purple Martin 22
Tree Swallow 938
Bank Swallow 7
Barn Swallow 360
Cliff Swallow 57
Hermit Thrush 3
American Robin 140
Palm Warbler 2
Pine Warbler 3
Yellow-rumped Warbler 279
American Tree Sparrow 2
Savannah Sparrow 3
Dark-eyed Junco 14
Red-winged Blackbird 1501
Rusty Blackbird 3
Purple Finch 1

Field Sparrow, one of many sparrows enjoying the seed piles just down the drive from the tower site.  4/18/13.
Field Sparrow, one of many sparrows enjoying the seed piles just down the drive from the tower site. 4/18/13.

Another Indiana State Record Broken!

After yesterday’s eclectic flight of birds, including the new state daily record count of American Kestrels, today looked to be a little tamer.  Winds were forecasted to begin southwest predawn, but quickly shift west, then northwest by mid morning.  Surprisingly, winds were still southwest at dawn, and northwest winds did not occur until around 1pm.   For once, temperatures were mild and birding conditions pleasant.  The day culminated in 6,521 birds.  The count may not seem spectacular, but the birds that followed spoke otherwise!

New for the season included three Vesper Sparrows, 4/7/13.
New for the season included three Vesper Sparrows, 4/7/13.

Like yesterday, today brought another assortment of new birds for the season.  Among them were the first Blue-winged Teal.  Given the variety of waterfowl thus far, they seemed sort of late to the dance.  Other firsts included Lesser Yellowlegs and Wilson Snipe.  Both were seen as flybys today.  Adding diversity to the new birds were a single Short-eared Owl flushed from the south dunes, as well as a singleton Eurasian Collared Dove accompanying an astounding dove flight.  The last newcomer of the day were three Vesper Sparrows, such as the one pictured above.  The season count now includes 117 species.

By 8am, it became quite evident that woodpeckers would be one of today’s themes.  Flickers were on their first major flight of the season, undulating to the west in loose pairs, threes, fours, and sometimes up to 10 or more birds in view at the same time.  The next Flicker could be heard calling in the tree line to the east, resting before the next leg.  Shortly after, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers were being seen in tandem with Flickers.  Single birds would pass by in the nearby cottonwoods or over the dune prairies to the south.  Back on post by mid-morning, Bernie, our official Flicker clicker, was living his destiny by clicking off woodpeckers as they streamed by.  A similar scene two years ago produced a state record 1,100+ Flickers.  Today, 506 Northern Flickers would constitute the fifth highest lakefront count ever recorded.   While impressive, their cousins would astound birders statewide.  Throughout listserves all over the Great Lakes today, as well as other birding groups, sapsuckers were noted as making quite an invasion.

One of 346 record breaking Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers viewed by today's longshore flight counters. 4/7/13
One of 346 record breaking Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers viewed by today’s longshore flight counters. 4/7/13

In April of 1960 a storm system collided with Lake Michigan during a period of heavy migration.  The approaching storm forced thousands of migrating birds down into the forested dunes and wetlands.  Those birds finding themselves over Lake Michigan were forced into the cold waters and drowned.  This true fallout condition resulted in thousands of dead, washed up birds on the area beaches.  The counts were notable for high counts such as 14 Yellow Rails, and several more notable strong flyers found succumbed to the storm.  The state’s highest Yellow-bellied Sapsucker count was also made that day when 141 were found dead.  After 50+ years, only one count has ever come close; an April 2011 longshore flight, where 91 sapsuckers were seen flying by.  Before today’s flight had finished, 346 Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers would pass through the Dunes State Park, in front of our eyes.  A true woodpecker descent.  While Indiana records are closely tracked by birding expert and author Ken Brock, finding nationwide records is difficult.  Though certainly not all inclusive and complete, searching high counts on eBird help give perspective to today’s count.  In fact, as seen below, only one count of 358 birds in the entire nation beats our count today.  That count was achieved in October on the East Coast.  Interestingly too, look at the spring’s highest count, it’s the 91 birds we counted two years ago!  How far does this new record extend in importance!?

eBird high count graph for Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers for all years in North America.   Taken from www.ebird.com.
eBird high count graph for Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers for all years in North America.  Click for larger view.  Taken from http://www.ebird.com.

After two days, totalling over 18 hours of birding and stiff winds in the face, and sand in the eyes, accolades go out to Brendan Grube, our official longshore counter.  No matter the conditions, he finds the right angle and right position to set himself up to intercept moving birds.  Even after the main flight is done, he sticks it out in search of rare and unusual migrants.  A gentleman found his way to this blogger this evening, and was amazed at the dedication, even after a day of sand has left his eyes blood shot and squinted.  We’ll get some sleep and repeat in the morning.   Winds turn south before dawn, and we expect more birds to take wing!

Other birds were interesting and can be filtered from the highlights below.   Note we had our first count without redpolls.  But, the White-winged Scoters are still going strong!

Gadwall 18
Blue-winged Teal 6
Green-winged Teal 31
White-winged Scoter 22
Red-breasted Merganser 10 (season low count)
Red-throated Loon 11
Common Loon 4
Osprey 3
Northern Harrier 9
Lesser Yellowlegs 8
Pectoral Sandpiper 4
Wilson’s Snipe 13
Eurasian Collared-Dove 1
Mourning Dove 417 (lakefront’s highest count, possible statewide top 10 count)
Short-eared Owl 1 
Belted Kingfisher 1
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 346 (state record single party count, possibly within top counts in nation ever)
Northern Flicker 506 (state’s fifth highest count)
American Kestrel 4 (quite a difference from yesterday’s 103!)
Eastern Phoebe 41 (new high, possible state record count?)
Tree Swallow 113
Barn Swallow 2
Black-capped Chickadee 6
Golden-crowned Kinglet 35
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 4
American Robin 3268 (fourth highest count this season, top 10 count for lakefront)
Yellow-rumped Warbler 2
Vesper Sparrow 3
Pine Siskin 1

One of three Osprey observed today.  4/7/13
One of three Osprey observed today. 4/7/13
More herons migrating past today.  4/7/13
More herons migrating past today. 4/7/13

A Wind Advisory!

Monday April 16 brought even higher winds than yesterday.  At 7mph, a single grain of sand on the beach will begin to move.  It’s this movement that creates the dunes.  At 20mph, a grain of sand will then be picked up by the wind and blow.  Today’s counters brought home many grains of sand throughout their clothing.  Sand from the Dunes Prairie Nature Preserve blew hard with the wind gusts that reached 40mph (53mph wind gust recorded in Valparaiso later in the day).

With wind gusts stronger that yesterday, the morning flight was noticably weaker and terminated much earlier.  By 8am, 95% of the morning’s longshore flight had finished.  As the season progresses, new birds continue to be found.  This morning’s new arrivals were Pied-billed Grebe, Green Heron and House Wren.  3,357 birds from 57 species were logged today.

Like the last few days, the swallow flight was again strong, even if a fraction of yesterday’s record count.  All swallows but Bank would be recorded today.  A large gull movement occurred offshore in the strong winds, and a flock of migrating egrets provided an interesting sight among the stream of gulls over Lake Michigan.

One of a flock of Great Egrets migrating over Lake Michigan on 4/16/12.

Other highlights of the morning would include: 5 Hooded Mergansers, 1 Red-throated Loon, 3 Merlin, 1 Short-eared Owl, 10 Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, and 452 Tree Swallows.

A distant, but identifiable Merlin perched near the Green Tower site this morning, 4/16/12.

If you break down the most common species seen, then express them over the course of two week periods for the count season, you’d have the results before.

Most Abundant Migratory Species, Indiana Dunes State Park Green Tower 2012

March 1-15
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
American Robin
Sandhill Crane
Ring-billed Gull
European Starling
Red-breasted Merganser
House Finch
Brown-headed Cowbird
Eastern Bluebird

March 16-31
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
American Robin
Sandhill Crane
Ring-billed Gull
Brown-headed Cowbird
Northern Flicker
European Starling
Red-breasted Merganser
Tree Swallow

April 1-15
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Tree Swallow
Ring-billed Gull
American Robin
Red-breasted Merganser
Brown-headed Cowbird
Double-crested Cormorant
American Goldfinch
Barn Swallow