As our spring migration count ended and the warm air transitioned to summer, things simply got busy. It’s true that we were too overwhelmed to blog the dune birds. But, it doesn’t mean they weren’t moving. We’re sorry we haven’t been on here as much. We’re hoping to change that now that the winter season is setting in and some more free time will be available for us.
Let’s start with the obvious. Snowy Owls are again on the move. Though early indications say this won’t be of the same magnitude as last years’ unprecedented invasion, that should seem normal. We’re not likely to see what we saw last year for many years! But moving they are. The lakefront has seen about 1/2 dozen Snowy Owl reports in the last two weeks or so, including this beautiful bird (below) photographed by Alex Forsythe. As the season progresses, we hope to provide more updates on Snowy Owl sightings, as well as offer car pool tours for folks to see them. They often sit out on the breakwalls and can be difficult for visitors to see if they don’t have the higher power optics that we can bring out to the site.
Another thing to watch for right now are some of the winter finches in the area. Pine Siskins have been common at many feeders. But, a few redpolls should start to be seen at a few feeders. The winter finch forecast this fall made predictions of a good flight, but so far the numbers have been few and far between.
Finally, we’ll probably be beating this drum for a while, but mark your calendars for the first ever Indiana Dunes Birding Festival, May 7-10, 2015. Get information now at the festival Facebook page!
A reporter called today. He was with a radio station down in Indy and when it came to wintering animals, our division of communication staff thought us in the dunes would be the best to talk to in regards to toughing out the cold! I had plenty of stories of heat pad stuffed thermal underwear and shivering behind open car doors while birding the lakefront, but alas he wasn’t interested in that. He had been posed the question of how the winter weather was affecting the sudden disappearance or appearance of different animals in Indiana. The question seemed worthy enough of a little news minute and radio interview. So off we went…
The Snowy Owls were obviously a central topic for the bit being recorded. Questions arised as to whether their sudden invasion was weather based and what possible other animals were here because of the recent cold snap, or more news friendly term, polar vortex. It was a good chance to talk about irruptions and migration in general. These millions of birds flee the incoming cold for warmer climates. Or so we think…! Truth be told, most of these birds that migrate or irrupt occasionally are doing so more based on food supplies than actual temperature. As we’ve mentioned in previous posts, the current Snowy Owl invasion (now approaching 100 recorded birds for Indiana!) is derived from a good breeding summer and subsequent search for food by younger owls. These birds are no better predictors of incoming cold weather than, say, Punxsutawney Phil. Seasonal fluctuations cause the different reports we get each year. Since not all birds breed in the same areas or feed on the same food sources, it’s safe to say that one species irrupting, doesn’t necessarily translate to a similar bird irrupting.
That truth is easy to see with our recent fall Saw-whet Owl banding season. The fall of 2013 was our lowest banding totals ever. Here, in this instance, there was poor breeding in the Canadian northwoods and few Saw-whet Owls migrated south. Since mid-December there have been no Saw-whet Owls reported in the entire state (versus 100 Snowy Owls!). No one has seen a Saw-whet Owl in the dunes since our banding season ended either. Until today!
As we often tell folks during the banding season, those with a keen eye may find a wintering saw-whet owl after the season is done. Watch those dense pines, cedars, and spruce trees. Whitewash or pellet accumulations may give hint to a roosting bird too. The photos above and below were taken of a N Saw-whet Owl found in a spruce tree in a resident’s front yard today. Unfortunately the entire area is private property and access is not public. But, fortunately, for the bird, it should be allowed to continue too hunt and hunker all winter long at this site without too much disturbance.
Going back to our reporter. What else is here that we don’t normally see. The bad news I gave him was that there really isn’t much to report that could be attributed to the polar vortex. It’s all food related I told him. Perhaps the story could look at what may we be losing. With southern species, like Tufted Titmice, Carolina Wrens, or Eastern Bluebirds enjoying several years of mild winters, there is a chance that the cold weather knocks them back. Time will tell and we’ll see who’s singing their spring song in a few weeks.
No major winter bird story to report, but this recent sunset shot this week reminded us that we’re only 50 days away from the 2014 Longshore Flight Survey. Weather dependent, we should be counting the first waves of blackbirds, grackles, and robins sometime during the first week of March. Until then, the beach is locked in some incredible shelf ice formations.