By Matthias Benko
For millions of years, birds have been oblivious to national, state, provincial, and county borders. That was the case this past Saturday when the IYBC headed up to the Indiana/Illinois Lakefront to do a “little birding.” Actually, a “little birding” is quite an understatement. There was quite a lot to keep us busy------for seven straight hours.
The IYBC crew met up at Miller Beach outside of Gary, IN, at 9 o’clock eastern time last Saturday. There was a reported Red Knot there, but before most of us could get there, it was spooked by a Cooper’s Hawk. However, the missing Red Knot was made up by a fly-by Whimbrel. After some of us had regained our breathing from the Whimbrel sighting, we decided to head over to the Whiting Park to look for migrant warblers.
We were rewarded very quickly at Whiting Park when we found a group of Nashville, Blackpoll, and Bay-breasted Warblers trying to scare off a perched Red-tailed Hawk. Some other highlights at Whiting Park after the small flock included a couple of Wilson’s Warblers, an Ovenbird, some American Redstarts, and a black squirrel. We finished up there and decided to go to what would be a life-changing destination for me.
The Migrant Trap is located next to the infamous Horseshoe Casino. Since the birds are very fatigued from the flight across Lake Michigan, they come here in numbers to rest. We started at a bird feeder area with species like American Goldfinch, Gray Catbird, Mourning Dove, House Sparrow, and Black-capped (not Indianapolis’s Carolina) Chickadee. After looking at the feeder birds for a few minutes, we started to head down the park’s only trail. Almost immediately we saw one Black-throated Green Warbler and numerous Tennessee Warblers. After the Tennessees, we started seeing lots of Blackpolls. It was getting a bit repetitive, but then I got my first life bird of the trip-------- a male Magnolia Warbler in vibrant fall plumage. It felt like there was some sort of unbreakable bond between the two of us, and I knew for a fact right then and there that the Magnolia Warbler was one of my favorite warblers. Just when it couldn't it get any better, it did. A male Black-throated Blue Warbler showed up. I don’t exactly know how to explain the feeling when I saw him, but I am sure that is what it must feel like to be star-struck. The only two new warblers that I saw on the trip became part of my top three favorite warblers. It is kind of strange how it ended up that way, but I don’t think it was a coincidence.....
At the end of The Migrant Trap, there is a little mudflat area. I saw new two lifers here------- Semipalmated Plover and Sanderling. By that time, we were all hungry, thirsty, and fatigued, so we took a lunch break. After our quick refueling, we headed back to Miller Beach. I ended the day there after I saw my first American Golden Plover (in full plumage!) and my first Black-bellied Plover. All in all, it was a wonderful day for not only us, but the birds who survived their brutal flight across Lake Michigan.