Tag Archives: south winds


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!



Wind Swept – Longshore Flight 3/24/17

Friday, March 24 produced the best longshore flight of the season.  Without final Grube Magnitude Index numbers, the total diversity and abundance alone is enough for us to be fairly confident in today’s flight.  This time the weatherman was right on.  Warm temperatures overnight brought a decent nocturnal flight, and the same continued southerly gusts kick started a good morning flight.  The gusty south winds were too much for the counters to be elevated on the platform, but with the winds keeping many birds close to shore, the nearby staircase worked well today to count nearly 12,000 birds (11,743 to be exact).  Today’s 70 species was also the highest of the season.

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Predawn blackbird counting, 3/24/17

The radar loop from 1am to 7am showed a good nighttime movement, despite early rain that fell shortly after dusk.  April and May radar signatures will develop higher dB values later in the season. Counters were on scene before dawn today to get an early sense of how the morning flight would flesh out.  With sunrise not even upon us, fast moving flocks of blackbirds, mainly grackles, were already utilizing the pre dawn light to begin an exodus north.  Many flocks riding the strong winds like a buoy floating over waves in the lake.

Blackbird and robins flocks were literally using every flyway we observe near the tower.  Some were traveling high and fast both east and west.  Many west bound flocks were trying the low route that would take them dipping through the west lot, and then swiftly rising at near eye level to the counters.  Another pathway brought birds just south of the tower site in similar streams.

As arrival dates go, today was pretty darn good.  Overall, over a dozen new birds for the season were logged today.  The list of new arrivals helps identify many of the species throwing blips on last night’s radar.  Today’s new arrivals included:  Blue-winged Teal, Double-crested Cormorant, Pectoral Sandpiper ,Wilson’s Snipe, Bonaparte’s Gull, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker,Winter Wren, American Pipit 
 Yellow-rumped Warbler,Savannah Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow , and Eastern Towhee.

Waterfowl numbers were generally low, but the 14 species diversity was good.  A late push of 600+ gulls seems to indicate that Ring-billed Gulls are still migrating.  However, many local birds have returned, so this can be hard to ascertain.

Flickers were the surprise this morning, as they started their longshore appearance with a bang.  Usual flicker flights don’t occur until April, with exception of a March 20-28 flight in 2012 during the hot spring and summer.  So it shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise to see them ready to go, given the warm February we received last month.  201 Flickers flew past through the morning hours.

Other notables for the day included 362 Tree Swallows, 850 American Robins, and eight species of sparrow.  A Fox Sparrow was singing near the tower site, but not as impressive as the 80 reported today at the Hammond Bird Sanctuary by Michael Topp.  This count likely represents a new state record count.

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Longshore board after today’s count.

Today’s complete list of all 70 species is here.  We’re at 99 species for the season now.  What will number 100 be!?

The upcoming storm systems will make counting hard the next few days.  Some south winds will reappear for Sunday, but rain is still inthe forecast.  The week will hold fickle weather with shifting winds nearly daily, before the long range shows some strong south winds Thursday into Friday, with tight gradients, which would mean gusty conditions again before shifting back to the north for next weekend and start of April.  Looks like the same month that came in like a lion intends to go out the same way!




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.


It’s on!

Just a quick update for everyone!

The north winds that have persisted since April 20 are about to finally depart.  We have nearly a week of straight south winds coming that will seriously amplify the bird migration in the dunes.  While other sites to our south have enjoyed a trickling of good birds, particularly south of Indy, the dunes area has been practically starved.  The current push of south winds coming after mid-night tonight and into next week should bring dozens of new arrivals each day.  Expect thousands of Blue Jays, joining a good longshore flight of orioles, warblers, flycatchers and more.  We expect Saturday to be good, but Sunday should be excellent!

Below are the wind maps forecasted for the early morning, Saturday-Monday.

Saturday morning.
Saturday morning.
Sunday morning.
Sunday morning.
Monday morning.
Monday morning.

A weak north wind still persisted this morning, but we got a small count in.  Most major new arrival was White-eyed Vireo.  Also two hummingbirds have been battling it out at the state park nature center feeders this morning.  A late American Tree Sparrow was also noteworthy, but given the winds, not too surprising.

Here’s today’s brief count:

Canada Goose 2
Mute Swan 2
Wood Duck 2
Mallard 1
Red-breasted Merganser 10
Common Loon 1
Horned Grebe 1
Double-crested Cormorant 6
Great Blue Heron 1
Turkey Vulture 12
Cooper’s Hawk 4
Red-tailed Hawk 1
Sandhill Crane 3
Killdeer 1
Ring-billed Gull 14
Herring Gull 20
Great Black-backed Gull 5
Caspian Tern 8
Mourning Dove 1
Chimney Swift 3
Red-bellied Woodpecker 2
Northern Flicker 1
American Kestrel 1
Merlin 1
White-eyed Vireo 1 FOY.
Blue Jay 12
American Crow 1
Northern Rough-winged Swallow 2
Tree Swallow 6
Bank Swallow 2
Barn Swallow 7
Black-capped Chickadee 1
Tufted Titmouse 1
House Wren 2
Carolina Wren 1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 1
American Robin 1
Gray Catbird 1
Brown Thrasher 2
European Starling 3
Pine Warbler 2
Eastern Towhee 3
American Tree Sparrow 1
Chipping Sparrow 3
Field Sparrow 6
Vesper Sparrow 2
Lark Sparrow 1
Song Sparrow 1
Swamp Sparrow 1
White-throated Sparrow 4
Northern Cardinal 2
Red-winged Blackbird 20
Common Grackle 3
Brown-headed Cowbird 1
House Finch 1
American Goldfinch 3
House Sparrow 1

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.


Summer Time?

Panoramic shot from today’s birding crew. 5/18/12

Friday, May 18 brought the first taste of south winds since late last week.  Though southeast, with more southerly winds tomorrow, there was a noticeable increase in migrating birds.  The south winds also brought warmer temperatures, with morning lows now longer in the 40s, but mid 50s today.  The dune top would warm to 80+ degrees before the day would finish.  The warmth was enough to bring early beach goers to the shore.  Some partaking in typical beach games, other setting up the blanket for an afternoon of sunbathing.

The season’s 206th species was logged mid-morning when Jeff “Magic Eyes” McCoy located a single Ruddy Turnstone coming in off of the lake.  It would be joined by a second bird in alternate plumage and feed for an hour or so in front of the high dune counters.

Cedar Waxwings also made a significant flight, with 1,287 birds seen; the highest single day total of the season.

Rounding out the highlights were 1 Common Loon, 1 Osprey, 50 Eastern Kingbirds, 1 “Trail’s” Flycatcher, 161 Blue Jays, 5 Summer Tanagers (a rare high for the lakefront), 41 Baltimore Orioles, and 9 Pine Siskin.

Finally, work has begun on the new bird observation deck from the old Green Tower site.  The steel support structure is first, and from the picture below you can see all of our donations hard at work to make this dream become a reality.

Bird Observation Deck Construction work, 5/18/12.

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.