eBird Featured Hotspot – Indiana Dunes State Park

By Team eBird 25 Feb 2015

Indiana Dunes has potentially the second-highest single-day count of Yellow-bellied Sapsucker ever – 346!

We are pleased to introduce a new periodic series in eBird – the eBird Featured Hotspot. This is intended as a means to highlight an eBird Hotspot somewhere on the globe, showcasing a location that illustrates an area of conservation concern, exemplary birding opportunities, or interesting research. Hotspots are public birding locations created by eBird users, and are used to centralize the sightings in an area. Hotspots do not have to be incredible birding locations, instead they are simply public locations that may be worth visiting. You can read more about Hotspots in our Help Center Hotspot article.  If you have an idea for a future Hotspot to feature, please email us with your suggestion. This month’s eBird Featured Hotspot is on the Indiana Dunes Longshore Count Project, a research project conducted by Indiana Dunes State Park in Chesterton, Indiana, US!

Even birds have layovers. For spring migrants in the Indiana Dunes, Lake Michigan provides both resources and a massive obstacle. Birds hit the brakes when they see the big lake, and there we wait, poised to count them as they fly past. In 2012 we made the first official attempt to monitor spring migrants moving along the lake’s southern shore, either east towards Michigan or westwards to Chicago. From atop a high dune within the Indiana Dunes State Park, the inaugural year tallied 285,000 birds, increasing in 2013 to 428,000 birds winging their way along the lake, with 260,000 during a bone-chillingly cold 2014 spring season.

As it currently stands, the Indiana Dunes Longshore Count Project has recorded almost a million birds between 2012-2014, despite only counting for three months each spring. In addition to giving park staff and local birders valuable insight into the magnitude of bird migration in the lower Great Lakes, this initiative has provided a perfect opportunity to educate the public on the implications of projects that threaten birds, such as nearshore wind farm development. With exactly 974,641 birds counted in three years, it’s become a fun guessing game on what the one-millionth bird to fly over the dunes in 2015 will be. If you’re betting Red-winged Blackbird, your odds are probably good, given that 110,588 were recorded in 2014 – almost 43% of all birds counted! All of these data can be seen on eBird at the hotspot for the observation tower – check it out!


Education is an essential aspect of conservation, and the ability to show passers-by the visible spectacle of migration is a great asset to scientific education.

The Indiana Dunes State Park has the greatest expanse of contiguous dunes along Lake Michigan’s southern shore. The park’s diverse natural communities create stopover habitat that is ideal for birds and birders alike! Habitats within the park include marram grass covered dunes; beaches; marshes; oak savanna; wooded swamp; and the lake itself, all of which provide refugia for a wide variety of migrant birds. This abundance of habitat results in a place where many southern birds like White-eyed Vireo, Cerulean Warbler, and Summer Tanager nest alongside typical northern species such as Veery, Blackburnian Warbler, and Canada Warbler.

brendan with birds

Brendan Grube, the official counter, tallying birds as they stream by

On the state park’s west side, the high dunetop location provides a spectacular view of the surrounding dunes, beach, lake, and forests. With stands of Jack Pine below, counters arrive on south winds to find the sky often choked with birds. In addition to hordes of blackbirds, peak daily counts of other species include 13800 Cedar Waxwings, 7264 Blue Jays, 2823 Yellow-rumped Warblers, 1127 Northern Flickers, and 464 Baltimore Orioles. Most astounding may be a single high count recorded last spring of 346 Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. Using past journals and the eBird database, these Indiana Dunes counters tentatively logged North America’s second highest Yellow-bellied Sapsucker count!


A flock of Cedar Waxwings coming in off of the lake, seeking refuge amid the trees and dunes

Clearly, Lake Michigan’s southern shore rests astride a major corridor for migrating birds, and we hope you come by some day to experience the show! eBirders can learn more about this Chicago region birding mecca through the educational blog or attend the inaugural Indiana Dunes Birding Festival, May 7-10, 2015.

Funding for the Dunes Longshore Flight Survey is being provided by Indiana’s Lake Michigan Coastal Program.


Text and images provided by Brad Bumgardner. Brad is the Interpretive Naturalist at Indiana Dunes State Park, and has worked for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources for 14 years.  He was the most recent President of the Indiana Audubon Society, and previously served as the Indiana Bird Records Committee Chair. Last year, Brad was awarded the NWI Times’ Top 20 under 40 Young Business Leader Award. Brad resides in Chesterton, IN.