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2 June 2001

by Lynea Hinchman

An Early June Day's Birding in the Dunes.

On Saturday, 2 June 2001, Susan Bagby, Clyde Fields and I spent a leisurely day birding selective locations along the lakefront.  It was overcast all day with a couple of short spells of light rain.  Below normal temperatures reached a high of about 60 degrees F and winds were out of the NW at 10 mph.  Another day of below normal temperatures and NW winds both contributed to a fairly poor day of birding for this time of year.  Knowing that the weather was not conducive to finding many migrants, we concentrated our efforts in areas that would yield nesting species but also late migrants if any were around.

We began with a special trip to Calumet Park on the far southside of Chicago.  This stop gave us a chance to bird at a more aesthetically pleasing lakefront site.  As I had anticipated, migrants were almost non-existent.  However, we did manage to find the following noteworthy species: Chimney Swift, Eastern Kingbird, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Philadelphia Vireo, White-eyed Vireo, Warbling Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, and American Redstart.

Our target species and primary purpose for our visit over the Illinois state line was Monk Parakeet, a life bird for all three of us.  I told Susan to keep her ears open for the loud squawks that are so typical of all the parrot species.  My previous experiences with parrot species in Central and South America told me that we would hear this species before we saw it.  Susan's keen ears didn't fail us.  Within ten minutes of entering the park, Susan was excitedly shouting, "Stop the car." Soon we were out of the car watching these colorful birds as they went about the business of adding sticks to their already massive nests.  They were oblivious to our presence and appeared to almost pose as Clyde quickly took this opportunity to get some good pictures.  Before long we were all back in the car and heading back to Indiana.

Our next stop was at State Park Boundary Road where we hoped to find Blackburnian Warbler.  This species is suspected to be nesting in this area.  We drove to the area where the bird was previously reported and got out of the car.  Within seconds, I told Susan and Clyde, "That's it!" It was singing almost over our heads.  We combed the branches with our binoculars until we finally found this dazzling little songster.  He was leisurely gleaning insects as he moved quickly through the leaves.

We birded the rest of the road on foot before.  It wasn't long before Susan was showing off her acute hearing again.  This time, she had a singing Hooded Warbler.  Not long after that, I checked a dead snag and found the male Ruby-throated Hummingbird that claims this territory.  Now finished birding this road, we headed for the entrance to the state park.  We paused to listen in awe as a Veery sang its ethereal song.  I never grow tired of listening to this woodland music.

Once inside the state park, Clyde directed me to the parking lot site where he had previously found Bank Swallows nesting in a vertically cut section of dune.  This parking lot borders the western edge of the state park.  Clyde told us he had singing Prairie Warblers here earlier too.  In the Dunes area, Prairie Warblers have been confined to areas in and around the state park.  However, this is the first time we have had them at the west end of the park.  Within seconds we heard this species' ascending buzzy song.  Soon after we had the swallows nest holes in sight.  I did a double take when I noted a pair of No.  Rough-winged Swallows using one of the nesting holes.  Typically, this species is not a colonial nester.  Several Bank Swallows were busy sailing gracefully about catching insects on the wing and occasionally swooping into or flying out of one of the nest holes.  One Barn Swallow was found among the feeding swallows.  After spending several minutes watching the antics of the swallows, we moved on to the Wilson Shelter area.

We were greeted by the Chipping Sparrows that are always busy in the lawns around the Wilson shelter area.  Next, we took the short boardwalk to the footbridge that spans the marsh.  Soon we were hearing the White-eyed Vireo that has set up its territory here.  Yellow Warblers and Common Yellowthroats were both singing all around us.  Somewhere nearby a Great-crested Flycatcher was loudly calling out its wreeeap sound.  A quick check of a distant snag by yours truly yielded a Ruby-throated Hummingbird that uses this snag as a perch while flycatching insects.  I could see its little head busily turning back and forth as it watched for insects.

We took a short walk along trail 10.  We discovered a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird darting forward and backward in front of a spider web.  It appeared that she was busily gathering strands of silk to use in constructing her nest.  Next we watched a female Scarlet Tanager.  She was moving from sapling to sapling at eye level.  Soon she had landed on the forest floor and I could see that she was holding several small twigs in her bill.  She flew up into a tree where she was joined by her incredibly good-looking mate.  He too was holding something in his bill.  I checked to see if he was helping her with nest building, but his attention was focused on food, not nesting.

It wasn't long before Susan came upon a small daintily woven nest hanging from the end of a branch of a white oak a few feet above eye level.  Susan said the bird had just flown.  I had watched as it landed above our heads.  It was a Red-eyed Vireo.  We studied the nest for a few minutes.  Soon a bird flew in to the nest.  We watched in disbelief as we both realized that this was not the vireo, but a female Brown-headed Cowbird.  Susan gave her usual cowbird response, "Oh, ick!" We then discussed the cowbird's behaviour and concluded that there must be no vireo eggs in the nest yet since the cowbird didn't lay an egg in it herself.  No doubt the cowbird will return to do so later after the vireo has laid its eggs.

Soon we were at the horseshoe bend section of Trail 10 where we diligently checked for Connecticut Warbler.  Our search was in vain.  I listened for the resident Screech Owl that was calling here on count day.  Today, it was silent.  Susan and I did an about face and birded our way back to the footbridge where we found Clyde waiting for us.  Clyde had nothing exciting to report.  He did mention that the Prothonotary Warblers had not put in an appearance in our absence.

Our last stop in the state park was to check on the Red-shouldered Hawk chicks.  This species has used this same nest for the past decade.  The nest is approximately fifty feet up in a mature tree that is adjacent to the trail.  To view the nest, it is necessary to stand more than 100 feet back away from it.  Tree leaves somewhat obstructed our view.  Two almost ready to fledge chicks in juvenile plumage were standing up on the edges of the nest.  Not wishing to disturb the chicks, we retreated after a satisfying look.

Soon we were turning north onto Kemil Road.  We listened as we drove slowly to the Kemil Road parking lot.  We checked it for birds and continued driving north upon exiting back onto Kemil Road.  Soon we heard the now familiar song of the resident Prairie Warbler.  We found a place to turn around and were driving back north past the parking lot when I spotted a Cooper's Hawk off to the east.  Eventually it flew right past the front of the car giving us all great looks.  We headed towards Beverly Drive.  As we passed the cattails just before the turn, we heard a Marsh Wren singing its sewing machine song.

We did a slower than usual pace along this normally birdy road.  But, the wind and the later morning hour resulted in a somewhat disappointing outcome.  Again, we searched in vain for Connecticut Warbler checking some of this species' previous haunts along Beverly Drive.  The two most noteworthy species were both east of Broadway.  We had a singing Alder Flycatcher in the St.  Clair area.  Our search elicited no Willow Flycatchers.  At Central and Beverly, we all had a shot of adrenaline as we heard a Mourning Warbler repeatedly sing its churry, churry song.  Soon we were at the east end of Beverly Drive.

Our afternoon birding began with a drive on Mineral Springs Road.  Blue flag was blooming along the edges of the marsh as we drove north towards the guard shack.  National Park volunteers were busy at work removing cattails from the edges of the marsh area in an effort to curtail this plant that is becoming all too invasive in Cowles Bog, not a true bog, but a fen.  Our drive yielded the typical Yellow Warblers and Common Yellowthroats that make this area their summer home.  Sedge Wrens have nested at the south end of this area for some time.  But we didn't hear any singing today.  A stop at the National Lakeshore parking lot did not produce the Cerulean Warbler that Clyde had previously heard singing here.  Time to move on.

Our last stop of the day was at Beaver Dam Marsh.  Clyde directed me to his favorite pull-in spot.  We birded from the car using it as a blind to keep from disturbing this Great Blue Heron rookery.  We spent over an hour here watching as adult Great Blues came in to the large stick nests high up in the dead trees that are prevalent in this duckweed covered wetland.  We noted that most nests contained four heron chicks.  They would sit quietly in the nest until a parent arrived.  Then their noisy sounds and tugging at the adult's long bill would cause it to regurgitate a meal down into the waiting bellies of the young.  The adult would depart and the young would quiet down and resume their resting positions.  Occasionally, a chick was seen flapping its soon to be used wings.

An adult Black-crowned Night Heron was perched within forty feet of us on a horizontal branch that was laying on the surface of the water.  Clyde took this opportunity to photograph this species while Susan and I studied its plumage.  This was clearly an adult bird, but at this close proximity, we noted that the wings appeared to be a delicate buffy color rather than the gray that we usually see when these birds are more distant.  We noted its striking red eye with black pupil.  Its stout black bill was dotted with duckweed from earlier feeding attempts.  The bird had two long white plumes extending from the back of its black crown.  It looked like a statue as it perched completely motionless all the while watching vigilantly for a morsel in the water that it could quickly snatch up and gobble down.

The most unusual discovery of the day was found at this location by Susan.  She kept insisting she was seeing a scaup.  But each time she would begin to give us directions to find it, it would disappear from sight.  Finally, it remained visible long enough to get a satisfactory scope view of it.  Observable field marks indicated it was a Lesser Scaup.  It was exhibiting an interesting feeding pattern.  It would use its bill as a scoop as it moved slowly through the duckweed.  Further research in Kenn Kaufman's "Birds of North America," revealed that this species nests in marshes so it was probably employing feeding behaviour that it uses when it is on its nesting territory.  This was an excellent find for this time of year.  According to the finding data for this species in Brock's Revised Edition of "Birds of the Indiana Dunes," this is the first June record for this species.  Nice going, Susan!

By now it was time to call it a day.  We departed and headed back for our earlier rendezvous point.  Along the way, I asked Susan and Clyde what the bird of the day was.  Susan immediately said it was the Monk Parakeet.  From the standpoint that this was a life bird for all three of us, I would have to agree with her.  However, in truth, the Lesser Scaup was a much better find.



Red-shoulder Hawk (chicks at the nest) 2
Turkey Vulture
Chimney Swift 4
No. Rough-winged Swallow 2
Barn Swallow
Bank Swallow 20
Acadian Flycatcher 4
Willow Flycatcher
Great-crested Flycatcher 3
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
Eastern Wood Pewee 7
Veery 2
Gray Catbird 4
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 3
House Wren 4
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 6
Red-eyed Vireo 13
Yellow-throated Vireo
White-eyed Vireo
Warbling Vireo 1
Hooded Warbler 2
Blackburnian Warbler
Cerulean Warbler 4
American Redstart 8
Prairie Warbler
Yellow Warbler 6
Common Yellowthroat 7
Scarlet Tanager 2
Chipping Sparrow


Great Blue Heron
Green Heron
Cooper's Hawk
Turkey Vulture
Chimney Swift 2
Purple Martin
Barn Swallow 2
Tree Swallow 3
Acadian Flycatcher 2
Least Flycatcher 2
Alder Flycatcher
Great-crested Flycatcher 2
Eastern Wood Pewee 4
Cedar Waxwing
Veery 2
Gray Catbird 13
House Wren 5
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 3
Red-eyed Vireo 10
Yellow-throated Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Mourning Warbler
American Redstart 21
Prairie Warbler
Yellow Warbler 19
Common Yellowthroat 23
Scarlet Tanager
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 2
Eastern Towhee 5
Indigo Bunting 5
Swamp Sparrow 2
Marsh Wren


Yellow Warbler 4
Common Yellowthroat 2
Swamp Sparrow 3
Marsh Wren 2


Great Blue Heron 40
Green Heron
Black-crowned Night Heron 6
Wood Duck 3
Northern Flicker 2


Great Egret (Wolf Lake)
Mute Swan (Wolf Lake)
Little Blue Heron (US Highway 12 just east of SR 49)

Copyright 2001 by Lynea Hinchman, Michigan City, Indiana. All rights reserved. Reproduction of this article in whole or in part without written permission from the author is prohibited. Contact Lynea Hinchman at the address below for further information.

Lynea Hinchman
Michigan City, IN