Yesterday produced an early warbler migration madness that is worth a quick blog post here. Why any particular day is better than the next for migration depends primarily on weather conditions, especially wind speeds and directions. Why spectacles like yesterday happen on one south wind day over another is one of those mysteries of migration that we’ll likely have more questions than answers.
Yesterday morning welcomed the dunes with very warm south winds. Temperatures were already in the mid 60s at dawn, and shortly after dawn, the chips of Yellow-rumped Warblers could be heard and subsequently seen in mass numbers past the tower. The first hour along produced approximately 300 Yellow-rumped Warblers. From that point on, the intensity increased to rapid flights of dozens of birds per minute. With clickers in hand, the surveyors began 10 minute point counts. After each ten minutes, we cleared the score and started over. The quick burst of birds is well seen in the chart below.
By the time the flight concluded, we had logged 2,213 butterbutts (37% of all birds counted yesterday). This is the third highest ever count in Indiana. The two higher counts, 2,823 and 2,570 both occurred at the same location, here at the state park longshore tower. Facebook users can see a short clip of counting here. The total also sits as the highest April total in the Great Lakes, and second highest spring Great Lakes count (according to eBird data).
Almost as equally noteworthy were the Pine Warbler flight. Yesterday’s 47 Pine Warblers may be a new state single count record. 3 Orange-crowned Warblers were also
pretty good this early in the season. 57 Palm Warblers also moved yesterday.
Rounding out the other highlights of the 66 species logged yesterday were one Wild Turkey, 2 Solitary Sandpipers, a small influx of 164 Blue Jays, 7 Red-breasted Nuthatches, and a few Purple Finches still moving.
Happy Easter. No longshore flight officially is taking place today due to the holiday. However, Saturday, April 15th brought a very warm day to the dunes and is worth reporting. Overnight spotty storms and south winds created a warm wind at dawn that increased through the day. Like a good Saturday does, a contingent of bird enthusiasts joined our counter at the tower for an excellent morning of longshore flight. By noon, temperatures were in the low 80s. The group of birders logged 6,942 birds from 74 species. Here are the highlights:
Little movement occurred over the lake, as the majority of waterfowl appear to have moved through. Loons however, are still present. 3 Common Loons were seen on the water, but more significant was a good flock of 18 Red-throated Loons that took off from the water as a fishing charter boat went by past the park.
New for the season were House Wren, Palm Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, and White-throated Sparrow all right on time for the year! The early wave of neo-tropical migrants was evident today, as the first rounds of typical early season warblers passed in full force Saturday. 37 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers was a significant early season movement of the the little buzzers. The butter butts, aka Yellow-rumped Warblers, made a significant flight in front of the counters, often moving at eye level throught the nearby dune oak canopy, and landing briefly before pushing on towards Chicago and eventually Canada. 348 butter butts went by. It wasn’t a state top 10 count, but still quite good. In addition to the previously mentioned Palm Warbler, Pine Warblers moved through in excellent numbers too. The day’s 23 Pine Warblers is the highest Pine Warbler total in the five years of official longshore surveys, and likely the state’s second highest single day count.
Likely due to the stronger wind speeds, the thermal development suffered and the day’s hawkflight failed to really materialize. Only 49 raptors went by the tower. Osprey and 5 Broad-winged Hawks were the highlights for the birds of prey.
Saturday’s full count can be found on ebird here. The weather outlook looks good for some upcoming counts, so expect the birds to keep coming! The season total species count so far is 137 species.
As predicted, the longshore flight for Sunday, May 3 nearly doubled that of Saturday. A good full night of south winds allowed for even more nocturnal migrant and perfect conditions allowed for a strong morning flight. It was a fabulous flight for Blue Jays, gnatcatchers, Palm Warblers, and Yellow-rumped Warblers. 94 species, made up of 7,495 birds went past this morning.
By dawn, warm and muggy conditions allowed for an early start for the first major Yellow-rumped Warbler wave. A continual stream of chips would go by all morning, with nearly a third of them being Palm Warblers. The 653 that went by goes down in the state’s top 10 list. The same goes for the 211 Palm Warblers that wagged their tails past the tower today. Both were also represented in the banding nets below the tower this morning.
Blue Jays also posted higher counts, from yesterday. Today’s 2,911 more than doubled yesterday’s good flight. Also notable was a nice, nearly 100 count of Baltimore Orioles, as well as over 200 Pine Siskins that flew past today.
Annuals this morning included Green Heron, Solitary Sandpiper, Great-crested Flycatcher, Wood Thrush, Cape May Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Bobolink, and a flock of 4 rare Smith’s Longspurs. We’ve now logged 159 species for the season, and surpassed our 200,000 bird for the season today.
The weather brings in some needed rain tomorrow, but south winds will still prevail so some more flight may get logged between rain drops. Stay tuned…
Full List, Sunday, May 3, 2015:
Canada Goose 1
Wood Duck 2
Red-breasted Merganser 18
Common Loon 1
Double-crested Cormorant 57
Great Blue Heron 1
Green Heron 1 FOY.
Turkey Vulture 8
Northern Harrier 1
Sharp-shinned Hawk 4
Cooper’s Hawk 2
Bald Eagle 1
Broad-winged Hawk 1
Red-tailed Hawk 5
Sandhill Crane 2
Solitary Sandpiper 1 FOY.
Greater Yellowlegs 1
Ring-billed Gull 38
Herring Gull 2
Caspian Tern 7
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) 3
Mourning Dove 24
Chimney Swift 106
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 2
Belted Kingfisher 1
Red-headed Woodpecker 19
Red-bellied Woodpecker 23
Downy Woodpecker 1
Hairy Woodpecker 2
Pileated Woodpecker 1
American Kestrel 2
Empidonax sp. 1 Yellowish and similar shape of a Traill’s.
Eastern Phoebe 1
Great Crested Flycatcher 1 FOY.
Eastern Kingbird 27
Yellow-throated Vireo 2
Warbling Vireo 4
Blue Jay 2913
American Crow 1
Horned Lark 2
Northern Rough-winged Swallow 12
Purple Martin 1
Tree Swallow 12
Bank Swallow 6
Barn Swallow 42
Cliff Swallow 19
Black-capped Chickadee 1
Tufted Titmouse 2
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1
House Wren 2
Carolina Wren 1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 168 Flying west.
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 2
Eastern Bluebird 11
Wood Thrush 1 FOY.
American Robin 25
Gray Catbird 1
Brown Thrasher 1
European Starling 56
American Pipit 5
Smith’s Longspur 4
Nashville Warbler 2
Common Yellowthroat 1 FOY.
Cape May Warbler 3 FOY.
Yellow Warbler 1
Palm Warbler 211 .
Pine Warbler 4
Yellow-rumped Warbler 653
Black-throated Green Warbler 1
Eastern Towhee 1
Chipping Sparrow 23
Field Sparrow 2
Savannah Sparrow 4
Song Sparrow 1
Swamp Sparrow 1
White-throated Sparrow 3
White-crowned Sparrow 6
Scarlet Tanager 1 FOY.
Northern Cardinal 1
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 3
Indigo Bunting 8
Bobolink 6 FOY.
Red-winged Blackbird 1588
Common Grackle 56
Brown-headed Cowbird 1
Orchard Oriole 5
Baltimore Oriole 91
House Finch 1
Purple Finch 9
Pine Siskin 218
American Goldfinch 912
House Sparrow 3
Today’s longshore flight brought another good day of migration. Despite the east winds, with northerly tendencies (especially after noon) the day ended being the best flight of the season and sixth best of all time according to the Grube Magnitude index (65.80 specifically). 88 species, making up 2,790 birds were logged today. Warblers were the show all morning.
Despite the evening songbird flight being done, many warblers and other nocturnal birds continued on after the sun had risen. 12 species of warbler were observed going over in high speed mode. These 12 warblers included 1,144 birds. That’s right… 1000+ warblers were identified from the platform today. As would be predicted in a season running a week behind, Yellow-rumped Warblers would make up the super majority. the 924 butter butts would be the state’s seventh highest count. they zipped past going east by ones and loose groups. Two other equally impressive (for their species) counts came from Palm Warblers (156) and Nashville Warblers (26). It was the 12th highest state count for the Palms, and 11th highest for the Nashvilles. The total warbler count today doubled the cumulative totals thus far this season.
Other notable warblers seen going by included a single Orange-crowned, 12 Black-throated Green, 7 Pine, and 2 Blackburnian Warblers. Warbler neck is on! Adding to the diversity today were the season’s first hummingbirds, while juncos and Clay-colored Sparrows flirted with the feeders below. A real eclectic group today.
We finally will crank into some serious south winds and we expect some good flights to occur for anyone wishing to visit the next few days and into the weekend for the IAS Big May Day Count. Blue Jays and Warbs should deliver some impressive totals, and birders taking the inland route will find some good variety too. Already today, other good birds were logged inside the park by birders. The Trail 2/10 loop is a good start. The back dunes along the wetland provide shelter and nice control burn areas that allow birds to feast on the forest floor. The 1/2 mile long boardwalk can bring any bird to surprise you, while the rest of Trail 2 is a peaceful backwoods of wildflower carpets, Cerulean’s galore, and loud drumming Pileated Woodpeckers. Reports from this area today include Blue-winged Warbler, the season’s first Prothonotary Warbler, lots of Pine Warblers, Lincoln Sparrow, and some equally impressive counts to rival the tower site. 134 Palm Warblers were seen feeding on Trail 10 today. This is why our birding trails are better than anywhere else in the state!
Don’t forget we’re desperate to keep counting birds. Really, we have no other skills! Consider pledging to our Birdathon on May 17 to help fund bird related events and programs at the Indiana Dunes State Park!
April 30 continued the third straight day of warm, moist air blowing in. Birds have been forced to dodge rain storms, but a stalled out front has allowed for continuing migration, while overnight radar to our west show a shutdown system. The last few days have been a nice save to another cold month. While still behind, birds are arriving as they should, with a few arriving right on schedule, with others still about a week behind.
April wrapped itself up nicely and put a bow on it as well today. Some nice birds made their way through the dunes. The rain held off again until the afternoon, but compared to previous days, sunshine was a harder commodity to score. Thicker cloud banks would make birds up high hard to identify. After three days of south winds, some expected late April songbirds made their appearance today. It was a good day for orioles, early warblers, swallows, and sparrows.
An early boat stirred up some late waterfowl activity. Often, a passerby boat can kick up loons and ducks sitting far on the water that may not be visible. Today’s boat kicked up both species of loon, Red-breasted Mergansers, and another late flock of 14 Long-tailed Ducks, pushing the season total on Long-tailed Ducks to 1,700 birds.
In gentle winds, blackbirds came by in decent late April numbers. Goldfinches joined warblers zipping by. Blue Jays, after teasing the counters with 161 birds, made their first major flight, and right on time. 2,197 jays streamed past on their way up to Toronto. Even Red-headed Woodpeckers got in on the migration. 8 individual birds were logged going over today. Orioles continued their good start yesterday. 10 more today gives the tower site 25 orioles in two days. Certainly more to come.
The bird of the day would almost be missed as counters watched a stream of Blue Jays. Just before 9am, some dispersing Blue Jays scattered near the bird seed pile. At the same time, a pigeon sized gray bird with larger white wing patches was seen flying west through the prairie with two much grayer birds in company. At first fast, their flight slowed as they passed the state park property boundary, and began climbing elevation and moving left and right around the higher elevation Porter Beach homes. The three birds disappeared behind the dunes, but not before all four at the tower site got a decent glimpse at a striking WHITE-WINGED DOVE sporting it’s racing stripes. White-winged Doves are only recent to Indiana’s avifauna history. Today, about 15 confirmed records exist for the state. There is no dependable location to find this southwestern dove in the state, except with seven of the sightings occurring at Indiana Dunes State Park, a pattern is clearly emerging.
Rounding out the day’s other highlights included 2 Little Blue Herons, Black-crowned Night-heron, Merlin, Red-breasted Nuthatch, 72 Yellow-rumped Warblers, the continuing Clay-colored Sparrow at the seed pile, LeConte’s Sparrow in the prairie grass, continuing juncos, and a Summer Tanager. Today’s count included 82 species, and 6,424 individual birds. Brendan was joined by John Kendall, Brad Bumgardner, Kim Ehn, and John DeVaney to assist in counting.
Total day highlights and their numbers: Long-tailed Duck 14 Little Blue Heron 2 Black-crowned Night-Heron 1
Osprey 1 White-winged Dove 1
Mourning Dove 76 Red-headed Woodpecker 9
American Kestrel 1 Merlin 1 Blue Jay 2197
Cliff Swallow 26
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1
Hermit Thrush 1
American Pipit 4
Black-and-white Warbler 1
Yellow Warbler 1
Palm Warbler 6
Pine Warbler 3 Yellow-rumped Warbler 72 Clay-colored Sparrow 1 Le Conte’s Sparrow 1
White-throated Sparrow 4
White-crowned Sparrow 1
Dark-eyed Junco 3
Summer Tanager 1
Red-winged Blackbird 2784 Rusty Blackbird 27
Baltimore Oriole 10
American Goldfinch 329
Farther in the park, bird song can be heard. A drive down the entrance road is often a good cue to what arrived overnight. A drive this morning offered the songs of Black-and-white Warblers, catbirds, Common Yellowthroats, and Northern Waterthrushes. For 5 years, a Yellow-throated Vireo with a very strange call has been on territory near the Nature Center. His weird titmouse like call was heard today. He’s back! One bird not heard yet, thankfully, is the Trail 8 (Wilson) boardwalk. Check it out as they will likely arrive the next couple days. Thanks to park volunteer Penny Starin for making the dreaded wade out there to reset it.
What can be a better highlight to a fall birding season than a fall birding festival! There isn’t a fall birding festival in the dunes every fall, but this year there is. The Indiana Audubon Society, one of the oldest Audubon societies in the country, is hosting their annual fall festival in the dunes. This annual event moves locations every year and in 2013, it happens to be here.
The state park staff get a special chance to highlight the longshore flight work with a special program Friday night. “Birding the Longshore Flight” will offer a glimpse into the first two years of bird counts being done at the new Bird Observation Platform. On Saturday, there are special birding tours, including a chance to climb the new bird observation platform. Afternoon speakers will offer a diverse offering of bird related talks.
The keynote speaker is Drew Lanham. The keynote “Connecting the Conservation Dots: Seeing Beyond the Birds” will focus on how birders can maximize the efforts to conserve the avifauna and habitats we all love so dearly. Drew will provide a history of wildlife conservation in America and how the efforts grew from our abuse of and cultural love for feathered things. His talk will expound on the historical successes and current failures in conservation and how we might best approach future challenges if birds and birding are to remain a part of our lives. From that morning cup of coffee to killing birds with kindness, it will be a keynote that will inform, invigorate, infuriate and hopefully inspire us all to greater conservation efforts.
More birding will be offered on Sunday, as well as bird banding from the Dunes State Park Nature Center. If you want to join, and haven’t registered yet, hurry! You only have two days left! You can get more information at the Fall Festival Agenda Page and you can register at the Registration Page.
Spring marches on in the dunes. Today, March 29, brought on another longshore flight to record and take note of. Just when things look to thin out, birds typical of other weeks or months are seen migrating past the longshore platform. When will spring migration actually end this year?
Today’s flight of 11,844 birds was clearly dominated by the waxwings. 11,373 Cedar Waxwings took wing over the high dunes in fast and tight flocks. The count came a few thousand birds short of beating the state record of 13,800 waxwings set right here at the Dunes State Park May 22, 2004.
In between waxwing flocks an eclectic mix of unusual birds were also found. A single American White-Pelican floated eastward over the park late morning. Kingbirds staged another good flight of 84 birds. Early and mid season warblers continue to go by. Tennessee Warbler was seen in the cottonwoods above, while a Palm Warbler fed in the Jack pines below. Just down from the tower, a lone Blackpoll Warbler could be heard singing (if you call it singing!) near the round-about.
The most interesting bird of the day was one slipped into a flock of Forster’s Terns. A presumed Arctic Tern was seen heading west off the beach. Details include a long-winged adult with small head and all white upperparts. Some gray to the belly suggestive of Common, with proportionally long tail. Add this to a third hand report of a nearby Least Tern just across the state line in Michigan and it was a very interesting tern day.
Rounding out the strange list today was the never ending onslaught of siskins. The first spring birds began March 28 and have been recorded nearly daily. Add 29 more today and we may be seeing siskins into June. We’re at 3,175 for the season. The same may be said for Red Crossbills. Another 9 flying by today gives 25 of them for the season.
Slowly entering notoriety this spring are the amazing numbers of Common Nighthawks. Since their mid-May arrival, a steady stream of nighthawks have been making near daily appearances. Late afternoon birds have been heard at many dunes area locations, and flocks are being seen feeding near the beach at dusk. Final numbers will be tallied after May 31, but early indications show this year’s numbers are 6-10 times what are normally seen during the spring. Why?
Finally, we have yesterday’s quiz bird. Truly not your expected find in late May, either in plumage or species. The photo was tentatively ID’d by the photographer and re-affirmed by three independent dune area birders. The bird certainly looks ragged. First impressions may lead one to think this may be a fledgling bird, making the record all the more significant, but in the other photos provided, one can clearly see the brown vs black wing and tail feathers, indicating this bird is undergoing a molt. A fledgling bird would have uniform flight or tail feathers.
First impressions can go along way here. The bill is that of a warbler, however it’s possible the extreme stage of molt here has exposed more of the base of the bill, making the bill appear longer and more pointed. Dull yellow splotches can be seen on the sides, under the wing. Heavy streaking can be seen on the chest, but lacking in the throat. While not complete, other features worth noting include the black legs, and small white spots on the outer tail feathers (undersides).
Don’t let the late date fool you. This is a Yellow-rumped Warbler. Interestingly, it was photographed within feet of an Orange-crowned Warbler also. the faint eye stripe at this plumage can help with taking “Audubon’s” out of contention. The even blocks of molt hint that this bird may be in it’s second year of life, but one may not know exactly without a better look at it’s wing coverts. Older birds may show more mixed patterns of molt. More importantly, it’s not a fledgling, which would be a significant breeding record for Indiana. Lastly the bird shows gray and brown tones rather than blue and black tones that would be expected on a male bird.
Final answer, Second Year Female (Myrtle) Yellow-rumped Warbler. And… spring marches on in the dunes.