Tag Archives: Yellow-bellied Sapsucker


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!



Spring’s Return

IMG_3484After a four day absence, the longshore flight from the Indiana Dunes State Park returned this  morning, Tuesday, March 22.  Officially, the first count of meteorological spring, today brought the arrival of many birds of such season.  Overall today’s flight was mediocre in quantity, but made up for in quality.  Early morning overcast finally cleared way to a sunny and warmer day.  The counters worked a little overtime today to log the season’s real first semi-decent hawkflight, as over 100 raptors were logged.  The day ended with 5,061 birds from 59 species.

An unusual blackbird flight last Friday brought 17,000 blackbirds.  But also the season’s first and only Lesser Black-backed Gull.  So today saw some excitement in guessing what the season’s 100th species would be.  As it would turn out it was the day’s first of 3 Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers.  Also new for the morning would be a pair of Golden-crowned Kinglets, a singing Field Sparrow, and a very early Caspian Tern.  The Caspian Tern was quite unique in that after leaving the gulf coast, these heavy billed terns tend to arrive at Lake Michigan before being sighted at traditional inland Indiana sites where they can be found.  We tend to log the first of the state here.  But, if you look at the recent eBird map, we also seemed to have beat out the rest of the entire inland eastern United States!  Today’s tern was the earliest in the five years of longshore flights, but not quite the state’s earliest (March 17, 2007).

cate records
Caspian Tern sightings this year through March 22, 2016.  Taken from eBird.com.

As mentioned above, today was the first good hawk flight of the season.  111 raptors were logged today. 29 Sharpies and 19 Red-tailed made up the notables.  Oddly however, no eagles were seen at all.  Did many eagles stay farther north this winter?  Mid-winter eagle counts done in the state this year seem to point to a large number that were here, so perhaps they moved north in late February and missed being counted.

To read today’s full report, visit here.  We now sit at 105 species for the  year.  Counters assisting today included Adam Sell, Brad Bumgardner, John DeVaney, Ken Brock, John Cassady, Lynn Vernon, Kristin Stratton, and John Kendall.  Tomorrow looks promising for an early flight and south winds as long as the rain predicted holds off a few hours.

Duck Flight at the Quack of Dawn

Sunrise over the West Lot Pines, April 1, 2014
Sunrise over the West Lot Pines, April 1, 2014

Tuesday, April 1 began quite in contrast to yesterday’s flight count.  With strong and warm south winds overnight, you would have expected a similar flight of passerine species.  However, the winds began a shift just before dawn, pushing the south winds into a westerly wind.  Dawn wind speeds were holding at 15mph, with gusts to 30mph.  The day’s high occured as the sun rose over the pines and would drop each hour as cold air over the lake was allowed to sweep over the dunes.  By noon, the wind vector was creating white caps and rolling waves on the lake.  More reminiscent of a late fall lakewatch.

Like a fall lakewatch, waterfowl were the highlight of the day.  No real blackbird or robin flight took off, but things were not boring.  An impressive longshore duck flight streamed west.  Many duck flocks flew directly over the breaking shelf ice and provided stellar looks in the early morning glow.  Flocks had to be scrutinized as few contained single species, but mixed groups flying in tandem together.  24 species of waterfowl were identified from the high dune this morning (too windy for the tower top!).

Great Black-backed Gull going by the tower site, Apri l1, 2014.
Great Black-backed Gull going by the tower site, Apri l1, 2014.

Redhead ducks again staged a great spring flight today.  Today’s total of 929 is the new spring high count for the dunes.  It’s interesting to see a huge spring movement since we also recorded a massive fall movement.  A superb longshore flight of 1,615 were seen at  Miller Beach on 23 November, 2013.  Long-tailed Ducks continue their daily appearance.  Both loons were logged today.  Both Green-winged Teal and Gadwall posted 100+ counts today also.

In other birds, the winds stimulated a massive gull movement, with many riding the winds directly over the dunes.  Both Great and Lesser Black-backed Gulls would go logged.  Sapsuckers showed an early movement, with 7 being seen.  Flickers… 6.  Won’t be long until their migration gets going.  Finally, 14 Fox Sparrows was proof of an overnight movement of these husky sparrows.

Fox Sparrow today.  April 1, 2014.
Fox Sparrow today. April 1, 2014.

Highlights below.  Add it all together and 6,749 birds were counted today, comprising 59 species.  Today’s helpers included Brad Bumgardner, Bernie Konrady, Matt Beatty, and Madison.  The current forecast does not look ideal for a good flight for the next few days.

Greater White-fronted Goose 5
Gadwall 114
American Wigeon 40
Northern Shoveler 92
Green-winged Teal 113
Canvasback 43
Redhead 929
White-winged Scoter 13
Long-tailed Duck 7
Wild Turkey 2
Red-throated Loon 3
Common Loon 4
Horned Grebe 9
Sandhill Crane 42
Ring-billed Gull 4135
Lesser Black-backed Gull 1
Great Black-backed Gull 1
Caspian Tern 15
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 7
Tree Swallow 4
Brown Creeper 1
Golden-crowned Kinglet 2
Lapland Longspur 1
Field Sparrow 2
Fox Sparrow 14
Dark-eyed Junco 30

Super Hawk Flight 2013

On April 15, 2012, an excellent hawk flight was enjoyed by many lakefront birders.  Partly due to an unexpected Broad-winged Hawk flight, as well as a new state record Merlin flight, this high count set forward a new era and renewed effort in hawk watches at the Indiana Dunes State Park.  An even more impressive May 1 flight brought in 336 raptors of 13 species.  The season ended with 1,837 diurnal birds of prey being counted.  It was the best hawk watching season here since 1992.  The hawk watch was reborn!

1 of 21 record breaking Osprey to migrate over the old green tower site today.  Photo by Pete Grube.
1 of 21 record breaking Osprey to migrate over the old green tower site today. Photo by Pete Grube.

Nearly one year from last year’s great hawk start, today, April 14, 2013, would usher in another great hawk watching season.  692 birds of prey of 13 species would be counted soaring over the dune in numbers not seen in decades if ever!  While official records are tentative, today’s counters found a combined total of 21 Osprey (new state record party count),  9 Bald Eagles (dunes area second highest count), 93 Northern Harriers (new state record count), 214 Sharp-shinned Hawks (state’s third highest count), 7 Merlin (fourth highest state count), and 222 Red-tailed Hawks (possible fourth highest state count!).  Red-tailed Hawks didn’t end there.  With a multitude of hawks going by it was inevitable that a diverse group of Red-tails would be seen.  No less than 7 dark morph Red-tails and a single intermediate/rufous Western Red-tail would be included in this high count.

Rufous Western Red-tailed Hawk flying over the high dunes today.  Photo courtesy Pete Grube.  4/14/13
Rufous Western Red-tailed Hawk flying over the high dunes today. Photo courtesy Pete Grube. 4/14/13

Hawks were not the only flavor of the day.  There was not a big influx of new arrivals today, but several notable birds were logged throughout the day, and did include just a couple season firsts.  3 Long-tailed Ducks would add serious numbers to their season total. White-winged Scoters continue to be present.  Another Pacific Loon was logged, but quickly disappeared before most visitors could see it.  9 Broad-winged Hawks added to the hawk count and were also new for the season.  86 Flickers brings their season total to nearly 1,000.  30 more Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers show that their migration is far from done.  The first Blue-gray Gnatcatcher was seen today.  The season’s best Yellow-rumped Warbler flight watched over 75 birds go by.  Still no other warblers though.

The season's first Broad-winged Hawk was a welcome sight.  Photo by photographer extraordinaire Pete Grube.  4/14/13
The season’s first Broad-winged Hawk was a welcome sight. Photo by photographer extraordinaire Pete Grube. 4/14/13

The day ended with 3,450 individual birds; the highest in about a week.  The day was also the longest official hawk watch ever done at the dunes, with 9.5 hours logged watching hawks.  Winds were easterly, shifting more southerly as the day went on.  With strong south winds overnight, we expect a good push tomorrow morning, particularly in the new season arrival department.  We may greet our first warbler diversity, gnatcatchers, kingbirds, swallows, and more tomorrow.

Here are today’s unedited total highlights:
Blue-winged Teal 8
Green-winged Teal 4
White-winged Scoter 8
Long-tailed Duck 3

Red-throated Loon 25
Pacific Loon 1
Common Loon 5
Great Egret 7
Turkey Vulture 49
Osprey 21
Northern Harrier 93
Sharp-shinned Hawk 214
Cooper’s Hawk 19
Bald Eagle 9
Red-shouldered Hawk 15
Broad-winged Hawk 9
Red-tailed Hawk 222
Rough-legged Hawk 1
Sandhill Crane 334
Bonaparte’s Gull 40
Caspian Tern 220
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 30
Northern Flicker 86
American Kestrel 28
Merlin 7
Peregrine Falcon 5
Northern Rough-winged Swallow 16
Purple Martin 4
Brown Creeper 5
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 1
Golden-crowned Kinglet 11
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 5
Eastern Bluebird 13
American Robin 280
Lapland Longspur 23
Yellow-rumped Warbler 78
Chipping Sparrow 11
Vesper Sparrow 2
Fox Sparrow 1
Red-winged Blackbird 420
Eastern Meadowlark 3
Pine Siskin 3

Longshore Flight birding crew today including always welcome assistance from the SAS Audubon Chapter birders led by Jim and Susan Hengeveld.  4/14/13
Longshore Flight birding crew today including always welcome assistance from the SAS Audubon Chapter birders led by Jim and Susan Hengeveld. 4/14/13

Lake Erie birders… eat our dust!

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 Little of This and That

Wednesday, March 28 brought another light morning in migration.  The southerly winds throughout the night shifted to west at dawn.  A west wind from the high dune top travels over a small sliver of Lake Michigan before chilling the counters.  It also helps create small waves on the beach.

Today’s flight consisted of 1,428 individual birds.  Clearly, the earlier bang of blackbirds and robins have been bottled up.  We have many more of them to see throughout April, so the weather is evidently restricting their movement.  Gulls were again moving again, with 14 Herring Gulls noted and 3 Great Black-backed Gulls.  The now well known Great Black-backed (Glaucous?) hybrid gull made it’s near daily flight past the green tower.  We believe  it now waves when it goes by.  Flickers made an attempt to migrate today, with 39 being seen.  A few sapsuckers were flying with them.  But, compared to recent counts, these numbers were small.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker male on March 28, 2012

Two new birds were added to the season totals today for the old Green Tower site.  The first, a well seen, flyby female Hooded Merganser was near the shoreline moving west.  The second, technically within spittin’ distance to observation area, a beautiful Long-eared Owl was located in the nearby pine stands.  This bird stared intently at visiting birders carefully throughout the day, and was still present roosting in the park as of this writing.

Long-eared Owl in Dunes State Park, March 28, 2012.

113 species have been seen from the Green Tower area in March of 2012.  We hope to wrap up the week with some more counts, but the March lions may prevent it.  April 1 looks good, with a strong south winds.  Let’s hope it’s not an April Fools joke.


The Luck is with Us: Longshore Flight, March 17, 2012

Saturday, March 17 (St. Patrick’s Day) was the 8th consecutive day in which migration was counted from the old Green Tower site at Indiana Dunes State Park.  When the counter position was first envisioned, we figured you would get 3, maybe 4 days of south winds in March, followed by another 2 or 3 days of miserable north winds.  We never anticipated a continuous stream of warming winds with temperatures near 80 degrees.  Many birds have been seen 10-14 days earlier than last year.  Eastern Phoebes were first found at the Green Tower last year on March 23.  This year they appeared on March 11.  Also appearing on March 11 was the first Field Sparrow.  Last year, it was on April 1 that they were first heard.  Finally, the first sapsuckers were found on April 3.  The sapsuckers were found today (technically one was seen after the count period yesterday by Lee Sterrenburg and Kathy McClain!).

This morning's crew awaiting the longshore flight, March 17, 2012.

The morning’s south winds on a Saturday once again brought a larger contingent of Hoosier birders to gawk in the migration.  Ten birders watched the morning flight, providing many eyes and ears.  As predicted, today’s flight brought birds, to the tune of around 12,700 birds.  Robins, grackles, and red-wings continue to dominate the sky.  American Pipits produced a strong showing, with 86 birds seen flying over this morning.  Yesterday’s Norther Flicker flight start up continued today with 97 of the yellow-shafted variety winging it over this morning’s birders.  As mentioned above, the first Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers were also recorded today, with three birds going over.

Winter finches continue to make a presence, with Common Redpoll, Purple Finch, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and Pine Siskin all getting recorded.  Like yesterday, the obvious bird of the day was not one, but two Red Crossbills.  One such bird landed in the nearby pine tree for everyone’s enjoyment!

Hawks brought a modest movement.  While still poor compared to past years, it was the largest flight in days, with Bald Eagle, Osprey, Sharpies, Peregrines, and Kestrels all being seen.  62 birds of prey were logged today.  Sandhill Cranes also flew over late morning.  Today’s count of 2,521 brings the season total over the old Green Tower to 24,529.  In the 2010 Management Plan for Eastern Populations of Sandhill Cranes, estimates of the eastern population of cranes range from 80,000-100,000.  If you use the high end number then we have witnessed 24.5% of the entire eastern population fly over the Indiana Dunes State Park this spring!

The approximate range of the Eastern Population of Sandhill Cranes.
Adapted from Walkinshaw 1973, Jones et al. 2005, King 2008, Melvin 2008, Sutherland and Crins 2008, and International Crane Foundation unpublished data.

By the first 30 minutes tomorrow morning, this project will have reached the 150,000 birds mark over the old Green Tower site.  Tomorrow may bring new spring arrivals, more streams of robins and blackbirds, or a super rarity.  One must show up to find out!  Below are some other season totals for some of the numerous birds we’ve seen.

Red-breasted Merganser: 1,156
Sandhill Crane: 24,529
Ring-billed Gull: 14,299
Eastern Bluebird: 529
American Robin: 29,269
Red-winged Blackbird: 39,870
Common Grackle: 30,028

We’ll close with a great quote from our official counter, Brendan Grube, when describing the constant flow of robins seen this week…., “heading to a neighborhood lawn near you!”