So, this post actually covers a bit more than 24 hours. It does end with me spending 24 hours in Indiana Dunes NP during Dunesfest. I am fortunate enough to have a job that allows me, on occasion, to bird in the morning and then work later in the day. "Have laptop; can work - 24/7".
Since we are supposed to be at peak migration, I was trying to slip out to Eagle Creek Park in the mornings for a bit of birding and then working from lunch until some time in the evening. Peak migration, or any migration at all, has been a bit of a question mark this year. Is it happening? Did we miss it? Is it still coming? The consensus with a few birders that I have talked to this week is that we are on the downside with one more push left. At some point, it seems the majority of migration somehow bypassed us and went straight over? We may be the Crossroads of America, but we are pretty much a flyover state for: most major airlines (we badly need an airline to designate a hub at the airport), your favorite rock band (who never seems to stop here), and, now, migration. All I really can say is that conditions started out fairly birdy on Thursday (my first day out) and deteriorated quickly from there. By Saturday, the park was eerily quiet. A lot of the Yellow-rumps had disappeared. There were a handful of Blackpoll Warblers about. I was happy to get shots of Baltimore Oriole and Eastern Phoebe.... A special thanks to Scott Enochs for spotting the low Blackburnian at the Skating Pond.
Saturday morning birding ended a bit early, but I was not finding much anyway. I had to take Carmen to the airport. On the drive home, I had a bit to contemplate. I was originally planning to pack up and head to Magee Marsh. Initial reports from there were just as dire as here, but things had picked up significantly starting on Friday. For some reason, I just was not feeling it. Probably a bad call. I knew that staying in Indy was going to be a worse call. This last weekend happened to be Dunesfest up at the Indiana Dunes NP. Birders from Indiana and all around converged on northern Indiana to look for migrants. The reports filing in were non-stop. It made my next decision a lot easier. While Carmen was wrapping up some last minute to-do items for her trip, I was throwing stuff in a backpack and reserving a room up north. I dropped her off at the airport a bit after noon. About 2 and a half hours later, I was pulling into a parking space at the Heron Rookery. This started what turned out to be a little over 24 hours of a lot of birding fun.
It was off to a bit of a rough start, though. There was a Connecticut Warbler being seen at this location. On the way in, I ran into Bill Sharkey, and he said the bird was still being heard. That was good news. I got there, and someone was playing for it. That was not great news. The bird did not respond. I birded around a bit and was fortunate to locate a Mourning Warbler. The Connecticut sang a few times but never made itself visible. I wandered down trail a bit and was trying to figure out how to shoot a Northern Watersnake being harassed by some American Redstarts. No joy; too many leaves and branches in the way. I had just given up when I heard the Connecticut sing again. I popped back to where the group was standing and no one was actively looking for the bird. Curious, I asked if someone had played. The reply was, "yeah - someone over there." The tone was snide and set the responder and their group of friends into a fit of giggles. Encouraged, the birder followed up with some general mocking of me having asked. I generally accept that these birds are going to be played for. I was not looking to out anyone. I just wanted to know if I was wasting time coming back to look for a bird that was not really active. I left. Things got better after that.
I headed into the state park and ran into Lisa and Randy Vanderbilt. They had an Olive-sided Flycatcher staked out, and I had not seen one for a few years. It was fun hanging out and chatting with some birders. As Lisa and Randy were leaving, I asked about tagging along. They were nice enough to let me follow them around the rest of the day. Birding eventually wound down, and we called it a day; making somewhat loose plans to bird Cowles Bog the following morning. I arrived a bit later than they did, but we eventually met up. We had a ton of warblers in the oaks near the road, and Lisa found me a Sora after I had just mentioned that I had not seen one for a while. I hung out there for a bit longer after we parted and then headed back into the park. I wanted to walk a trail. I really do not know much about the trails there. I knew that Trail 10 was birdy the day before and headed that way. I parked at the Wilson Shelter and started walking the boardwalk back to the trails.
Along this boardwalk is probably the most famous Prothonotary Warbler nest box in the state. It is iconic, and pictures of the birdhouse are instantly recognizable. So, when I get on the boardwalk and see a birder (binocs hanging around their neck) standing there with their phone out and playing the Prothonotary Warbler song, I was a bit shocked. Could they just not wait for the bird to show? Honestly, I am not even sure the box was being used. Behavior like this may be part of the problem. I did not see our hear a Prothonotary in that area any of the times I walked by.
If you have ever birded with me. You know I pish. Yes, the funny shushing noises that makes you look/sound like an idiot most of the time. Sometimes, it works. That is my only defense. On Sunday (5/12/2023), along Trail 9 in the Indiana Dunes SP, it worked amazingly. All the other days when I am wondering why I try, I need to remember this day. In case you were paying attention, I was heading for Trail 10, but I ended up on Trail 9 anyway. I was standing, not purposely, near a branch that hung low over the trail. I started pishing and looked up into the oaks. I could immediately see about a dozen warblers move into the area. I kept pishing, and slowly they worked their way down and closer. Like, super close. A Blackburnian about flew into my face. Nashville, Chestnut-sided, Bay-breasted, Magnolia, the Blackburnian, and some other warblers I did not get a clear view of all came down within 5 to 15 foot of me. The problem was that I had no way of shooting them. As soon as I moved, they bounced back up into the trees. Once they figure out what is going on, the game is over. So, I moved about 100 yards up the trail and did it again. This time, there were some low bushes thicketing the area below some oak trees. The birds came down out of the oaks and into the bushes. They kept piling into one in particular, and I photographed a couple species in it. I managed to do this a few more places up the trail before I got to a point where I wanted to head back. I did not get a lot of pics, but the experience was amazing. I wish I had taken some video with my phone. I was going to try a couple other trails (8 and 10), but it was hitting noon, and the foot traffic in the area was picking up. I headed back to the lot at the Wilson Shelter and birded there a bit.
The highlight there was sharing a Blackburnian with another birder. I could hear one calling in the thick trees that grow in the marshy area, there. I spotted it and was phishing for it when I noticed another birder nearby. I asked if they would like to see a Blackburnian, and they practically ran over. I pointed out the bird and said I was going to try to call it in. Now, for the aforementioned reasons above, I do not usually pish in front of strangers, but I gave it a go anyway. A few warblers slowly came in, and the birder commented that it was really working; so, I was at least not looking like a total idiot. We had lost track of the Blackburnian, but then it popped out from hiding about 20 foot away on an open limb - and it stayed there. I think the other birder even got some shots. I told them the birds always retreat once they figured out what was going on, and a few seconds later, they started moving back in the trees.
I left and grabbed lunch and a full tank of gas. I hit up some areas outside the park but eventually ended up back in the park. Things had slowed down, and I was thinking it might be time to head home. About then, I heard a Prothonotary sing. I had not seen one yet this trip and walked over to the marshy area near the shelter. It was very actively searching for food; flitting from spot to spot. It hopped onto a stump in the open, and I started jumping for joy on the inside. I was sure it was going to perch perfectly on tope of the stump. It. Did. Not! Well, I got some pics, anyway.
As for pics, well, I did okay. Some were taken a bit higher up than I would prefer. Some were just not what I had hoped for when I saw the shot. A couple had to have an annoying twig removed in post processing - something I am not keen on. In general, I am just happy to have some shots to share. After all, when I started this blog, I promised to share pics and not ramble on a lot. You can see how well that is going.
After seeing the Prothonotary, I figured it was time to head home. I had been up there a bit closer to 25 hours, and I had had a lot of fun. It has been a while since I have seen this many warblers. Sharing some time with some other birders is always fun, too. I think I will plan to spend more time up there next year.
Thanks for reading,