Tag Archives: Swallows

Chimney Swift Chaos

After a brutal cold and rainy weekend, overnight south winds helped push another wave of birds into the dunes late last night and into the morning.  As is such, we were out today to do another longshore flight.  The current forecast the coming week doesn’t look so good for longshore counting, so we were eager to tally what birds were moving and what new arrivals were waiting in the wings.  The day did not disappoint.  For Monday, May 1 we logged 3,466 birds, from a nice tally of 87 species.

New for the season included a myriad list of birds, including Sora, White-eyed Vireo, Sedge Wren, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Blue-winged Warbler, Common Yellow-throat, Yellow Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Orchard Oriole, Dickcissel, and Bobolink!  The new arrivals puts the longshore tower at 169 species for the year, and now ties Goose Pond for the most diverse bird list in the state this year among eBird hotspots.

The biggest noticeable migration of the day was not the expected Blue Jays that only put in a meager 55 birds, but that of the Chimney Swifts. A constant stream of cigars on wings flew past, intermingled with swallows.  This sort of fast action migration is more difficult than the typical robin and blackbird flight, as silhouettes take a few more split seconds of visual to make the correct ID.  A whooping 921 swifts went by today, which is the highest swift total since the longshore count started.  It’s also the state’s second highest spring total.  A combined 568 swallows also accompanied them, with most being Tree and Barn, but a surprising 76 Purple Martins went by, and 98 Cliff Swallows.

Also noteworthy today was both a Sora and Short-eared Owl in the dunes prairie, as well as a flyby Smith’s Longspur.  A single American White Pelican flew past.

We’re working fast now towards the Indiana Dunes Birding Festival, so we’ll leave the rest of the updates for you to find on the eBird checklist here.


Run Turkey Run!

The beginning of March seems like a distant memory already.  Some 31 days have now passed as we turn the page to April. Memory has now faded as to whether March came in like a lion or a lamb, but today is much fresher.  The weather was very lion like, but the birds were a lamb.  So lamb like that a mere 630 birds were all that were counted today.  Such low numbers might not even get blogged!  So low was the day, only Ring-billed Gulls reached triple digits, and that’s among 57 species seen!

The weather this morning was a warm southwest gale.  Though not as hard as some other stormy mornings, a constant 20 mph wind brought multiple layers of clouds sailing over.  Rain was throughout the region to our south, east, west, and north.  Yet amazingly, the tower site remained dry through most of the morning.  Despite this, there was a general dearth of birds.  No blackbirds or significant robin flocks took flight in the weather.  Occasional swallows and a few good streams of dabblers were the bulk of the birds.  Most dabblers were Blue-winged Teal.

turkey3The only new birds for the season was a pair of turkeys poking around the tower site and a lone Hermit Thrush.  The turkeys simply trotted right up the road and nearly to the counters, then took full sprint around the longshore tower.  Some ten minutes later one of them could be seen in full sprint across the west lot below.  Wild Turkeys are typically annual birds from the tower, but not very common.

Turkey trot in front of the longshore tower.  3/31/16

As March closes and April arrives, anticipation is high.  April is a time of constant new species, while still experiencing good numbers of blackbirds and robins.  It’s a time for the best hawkwatches… when Swainson’s or Goshawks go by.  It’s also a time for rarities.  From Say’s Phoebe, Upland Sandpipers, Western Kingbirds, Yellow-headed Blackbirds and more.  For the season so far just a tad over 150,000 birds have been officially counted.  The tower site has accumulated 114 species in just a month.  To compare that with all the other state’s hotspots on eBird, see the running total below.  Note that the two from today are not on the list yet.  Another cool feature of using eBird is the checklists that can be generated.  If you’re visiting in April, use this checklist at the site to log your birds on paper.  If you want the entire checklist for the Indiana Dunes State Park, you can download this list.

top 10 lists indiana
Top Indiana eBird hotspots this year in total species.  Courtesy ebird.com

Today’s full 630 birds are here.  See you in April!

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.

The Gregarious Grackle

The typical longshore flight at the Indiana Dunes State Park begins before dawn.  The first of counters arrives, takes note of pre-dawn song, then proceeds to set up for the ensuing flight about to begin.  It will be in the first 2.5-3 hours that nearly 90% of the total individuals will go by.  By dawn, other enthusiasts, whether assisting or spectating, will begin to trickle in to the counting site.  Occasionally the colder the morning, the later that others may arrive, but most are die hard, anxious to see what might happen that morning.

Bernie "flicker clicker" Konrady shrugs off the morning frost to begin counting.  Dunes Bird Man, Ken Brock, awaits a morning hawk flight, April 4, 2012.
Bernie “flicker clicker” Konrady shrugs off the morning frost to begin counting. Dunes Bird Man, Ken Brock, awaits a morning hawk flight, April 4, 2012.

In the last few mornings, large icterid flocks have been observed well south of the count site.  These blackbirds, upwards of a mile a way, seem to start at dawn for a short period, before most are being observed near the lakeshore.  Today, over 6,000 blackbirds were observed far south as the flight began.  However, things quickly escalated on the lakeshore.  Today, the grackles took center stage, performing their largest flight of the season.  16,445 grackles flew over, dominating most blackbird flock percentages.  Red-winged Blackbirds were also heavy, with 11,830 birds being seen.  American Robins took third, with 1,069 going by.  Red-wing, Grackle, and Cowbird flocks continued until after 11am today.  The blackbirds led the way to a 32,210 individual bird day!  The high number counts continue.  Beating last year’s count is all but guaranteed at this point.

Grackle flocks going by, April 4, 2013.
Grackle flocks going by, April 4, 2013.

Just as exciting as the blackbird count were the other special birds found today.  Three new species brought the season total to 101 birds.  The season’s first Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and Red-headed Woodpecker led to a grand slam of all 7 woodpecker species today.  Tree Swallows also proved their toughness, with over 100 flying around in the freezing air this morning.  Two Barn Swallows joined them as well.

Number 101 of the day was meticulously picked out among a record count of Red-throated Loons.  Brendan Grube’s eagle eyes spied a basic plumaged PACIFIC LOON intermingling with a few Red-throateds.  Although far at first, the now set in lake breeze drifted the bird closer and allowed for a good comparison with the nearby loons.  The bird will go down as a Green Tower site first.

North winds should shift tonight, with a reappearance of south winds for Saturday.   The rest of today’s highlights follow.

Snow Goose  1 (lone bird migrating with cranes)
American Black Duck  1
White-winged Scoter  14
Ruddy Duck  5
Red-throated Loon  169
Common Loon  16
Sharp-shinned Hawk  2
Sandhill Crane  285
American Woodcock  1 (strutting in afternoon sun on the road to the tower site!)
Glaucous Gull  1
Caspian Tern  10
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker  1
Northern Flicker  19
Pileated Woodpecker  1
Merlin  1
Eastern Phoebe  9
Tree Swallow  113
Barn Swallow  2
Golden-crowned Kinglet  4
American Robin  1069
Lapland Longspur  2
Red-winged Blackbird  11830     
Eastern Meadowlark  15
Common Grackle  16445
Common Redpoll  1
Pine Siskin  6

Female Wood Duck zipping past the tower site, April 4, 2013.
Female Wood Duck zipping past the tower site, April 4, 2013.
Eastern Meadowlark coming in for a landing, April 4, 2013.
Eastern Meadowlark coming in for a landing, April 4, 2013.





The Great Highway in the Sky

After a sluggish and cold start, things really started to pick up this morning.  A full third day of south winds brought the beginning of the passerine flight.  The sky was full of birds making way around the lake.  The chips of blackbirds, grackles, and robins were constant, with hundreds often in view.  Counting this many birds simply becomes too overwhelming for one, or even two or three people.  It was estimated that perhaps upwards of 50% of the strong bird flight overhead was missed, especially birds migrating behind the counters.

Migrating Eastern Meadowlark, March 19, 2012 (note the white malar and extensive white in the tail feathers to separate from Western Meadowlark).
Meadowlarks darted in off the lake in between other icterid flocks.  A good count of 19 were seen today.

When it was all finished, 22,816 individual birds were logged this morning!  Temperatures started warm, but gradually cooled throughout the morning.  Drizzle was off and on, but didn’t seem to bother the birds any.  It’s amazing that despite different weather patterns, two species made their first appearance today, and made their first appearance on March 11, last year!  Those two were the first Eastern Phoebe of the year and the first Tree Swallows.  Their calendars are spot on.

With viewing conditions difficult, it’s not surprising that waterfowl were lower in number.  However, like many inland sites this year, scoter numbers continue to impress.  30 more White-winged Scoters add to a combined 132 for the season already!  This total already exceeds last year’s count.

The counters today also experience the first real Killdeer flight.  Last year’s largest single day count was 162, but today shattered that count with a steady flow of 388.

Rounding out the highlights were 5,299 American Robins, which constitute the state’s fourth largest count ever.  11,000+ Redwings managed to get counted.  Rare on the lakefront in the spring, 25 Snow Buntings were a nice sight.  Finally, continuing the streak of a redpoll a day, a singleton Common Redpoll “chet chet”ed it’s way overhead today.

A female Merlin has been wintering near the beach and was likely the same one logged today, chasing kestrels around the prairie!
A female Merlin has been wintering near the beach and was likely the same one logged today, chasing kestrels around the prairie!

It should also be noted that today’s flight had a Grube Magnitude index of 37.63, which broke into the all-time top 20 flights. Today’s magnitude is the 15th highest ever.

Highlights from today’s count follows:

Northern Pintail  19
White-winged Scoter  30
Red-throated Loon  8
Bald Eagle  1
Killdeer  388     
American Kestrel  4
Merlin  1
Eastern Phoebe  1     same arrival date as last year
Tree Swallow  5     same arrival date as last year
Eastern Bluebird  54
American Robin  5299
European Starling  2630
Lapland Longspur  28
Snow Bunting  25
Red-winged Blackbird  11333
Eastern Meadowlark  19
Common Grackle  1905
Common Redpoll  1



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

200,998 Birds and Counting!

After a five day absence from the tower site, Friday, April 13 brought more good luck than bad luck.  It was a pleasant morning to watch several new arrivals for the tower site this season.  Those new for the old Green Tower this spring included, Bank Swallow, Cliff Swallow, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Hermit Thrush, and Savannah Sparrow.

Today’s 2,755 birds surpassed the 200,000 bird mark this season.  While we’ll claim that the Ross’s Goose was number 200,000, it was likely one of the many female Red-winged Blackbirds that flew over today.

Strangely, Ross’s Geese have been reported this season in the area, only to be found flying over the tower later.  Today, after a report of a lone bird in Chesterton, a single Ross’s Goose was seen well flying nearshore with 14 Canada Geese.  This spring has been incredible for Ross’s Geese in the dunes.  With approximately 20 birds seen total in the dunes before 2012, we’ve logged nearly half of that just this spring.

Ross's Goose in Chesterton this week.
Ross's Goose in Chesterton this week.

Other birds posting good counts included 10 Red-throated Loons, 42 Caspian Terns, 6 Purple Martins, 63 Tree Swallows, 16 N Rough-winged Swallows, 25 Barn Swallows, 33 Lapland Longspurs, 35 Yellow-rumped Warblers, and 4 Purple Finches.

Fortunately, two more days of south wind are in the forecast.  Let’s hope that rain does not put too much of a hamper on the count so we can get in full swing again.