The Indiana Dunes Birding Festival

It’s the peak time of Spring for migratory birds flying over Lake Michigan to make a pit stop in the Indiana Dunes. The long-awaited annual migration of birders flocking to the lakeshore had finally arrived. As birders since 2019, we have been planning to attend this festival since the 2020 convention was canceled and we weren’t going to miss it again this year. Birding the Indiana Dunes is a hotspot for thousands of migrant birds who settle in its rich biodiversity each spring along the Lake Michigan shoreline. Derek signed up for the 4-day pass and I joined him on the weekend to find new species to add our birding “life list” while hiking the Indiana Dunes.

Day 1: Derek gets ready for his first day of birding and Ashley preps for the New Buffalo HS Girls Tennis Conference Tournament. Itinerary: Birding with the Urban Birder and Pinhook Bog in the Afternoon.

“Drink-your-tea!” Derek texts me while on the Dunes tour with the Urban Birder. The classic melody of the Eastern Towhee singing two sharp metallic notes (drink-your) followed by a musical trill (tea!!!!) lasting just over 1 second was just one birding song mnemonic that he picked up from the guides on his morning birding adventure. He documented his list by texting bird names to me throughout the day and photographing new species with the help of expert ears on the trip.

A unique adventure was birding in Pinhook Bog, normally closed to the public and only accessible with pre-registration. Derek found a raccoon sleeping in a tree among the birds and Fiddlehead ferns.

We concluded the day by attending Board Game Night with Elizabeth Hargrave, the game designer of Wingspan, one of our favorite games! Elizabeth signed our copy and she taught us her flower card game called Tussie Mussie that we hadn’t played before. Groups of people were arranging their eggs and collecting their bird cards as the sun went down into the evening.

Day 2: Derek birds the Cowles Bog 50 in 50 Bird-a-thon!

A carpool caravan of birders ready to roll arrive at Cowles Bog in the Indiana Dunes National Park on Friday, May 13th. The text messages kept coming as Derek discovered new birds with the group while relishing in the beauty of the natural environment. They set out with a goal to find 50 birds in 50 minutes and overpassed their goal with 69 species!

Day 3: Derek and Ashley bird the Indiana Dunes State Park Trail 2

Rise and shine, it’s birding time! The Jagers arrived at the state park about an hour after dawn. Our leader was a retired art teacher who had developed an expert ear for bird songs. We identified 59 species of birds over 3.5 miles from wild turkeys, green herons, and soras, to several species of flycatchers, vireos, and warblers. So many more lifers were added to our list from Derek’s discoveries over the past couple days but a real treat was photographing the male and female Cerulean Warbler. Our guide had only seen the female Cerulean twice in his life. I didn’t realize just how rare this bird was until we saw a crowd of birders literally stopped in their tracks the next day to watch another Cerulean Warbler nesting above the road.

There are too many amazing birds to mention from our adventures but a few unique shots might sum up the rest of our Saturday together.

Day 4: The Dunes Warbler Tour

Our last day of adventures concluded with an early morning trip with a couple from Indy who specialized in identifying migrating warblers by bird songs and markings. We carpooled back to the Cowles Bog for a few hours before birding the state park with an impressive total of 16 different species of warblers! In the afternoon, we caught up with old friends and made some new ones in the marketplace including an action bird photographer and Indiana State Trooper, Lawrence McFerrin, who stages multiple cameras in his backyard to capture shots of birds in flight diving in the air. One of my favorite birds when we first started birding was the Blue Jay so we purchased a print along with a Nuthatch coaster. We also attended a fascinating lecture from a Chicago birder, Nathan Goldberg, who beat the Illinois Birding Record in 2020 by completing a Big Year with 341 species of birds!

It had been an amazing weekend for birding with our life list hitting a new record with 175 different species of birds seen or heard from our previous record of 104 in 2021. We left grateful for the opportunity to take a deep dive into the Indiana Dunes just 15 minutes from our home and energized for improving our birding skills. I couldn’t believe how many birds the guides could identify by sound and just how many I was able to capture with my camera as bird photography can be quite challenging. Derek and I want to take on our next challenge of learning bird songs so that we can identify birds on our own that are too far out of sight but still clearly recognizable to the trained birding ear. The spring migration is upon us and the birding Jagers couldn’t be happier!

“I never for a day gave up listening to the songs of our birds, or watching their peculiar habits, or delineating them in the best way I could.”

-John James Audubon

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