A Travellerspoint blog

Indiana Big Day

all seasons in one day 80 °F

After weeks of planning, yesterday my friend Jonathan and I birded all over the state of Indiana for about 22 hours! We left my house at 2:15am and proceeded to drive his car to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, where we would start our birding day. The goal would be to criss-cross the state in hopes of gaining as many avian species as possible in one day.

Our first stop was Kemil Beach Road where Kim, Susie, and I had had Barred Owl & Whip-poor-will just last week. Sure enough, as soon as we stepped out of the car, our first bird of the day was the great nocturnal singer, the EASTERN WHIP-POOR-WILL.

Then, after hearing a few calling birds such as TREE SWALLOWS we walked to the “Barred Owl spot” and using my reinforced falsetto voice to imitate its calls, we were quickly able to lure out the majestic BARRED OWL:

Unfortunately, Central Ave. Beach Road lacked the hoped-for screech owl, but we did hear a “peent”-ing AMERICAN WOODCOCK on the way out.

Next stop: Michigan City Beach for any early-morning shorebirds. One interesting species did materialize, a nice breeding-plumage BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER:

Other than that, it was pretty quiet, but we were treated to some incredible views of sunrise & a double rainbow:

Unfortunately, a rainbow meant rain, though — a soaking rain soon poured down upon us as we were searching for songbirds in the Indiana Dunes State Park. Photography was limited because of our fast pace of birding as well as the rain, and some unphotographed highlights from the State
Park area included a singing HENSLOW’S SPARROW near the Observation Tower, CERULEAN & BLACKBURNIAN WARBLERS over the campground, & the PROTHONOTARY WARBLER at its usual spot near its nest box.

I was able to document a bit of the activity in one particular mixed flock, which included a TENNESSEE WARBLER:



Sure enough, the female RED-SHOULDERED HAWK was once again sitting on her nest near one of the picnic shelters:

A nice and welcome surprise there was also a male CANADA WARBLER:

Next stop was Cowles Bog, where we quickly assimilated all of our target species including SORA & VIRGINIA RAIL and nesting SANDHILL CRANE.

Then, we found this COMMON GALLINULE at Grant St Marsh in Gary but unfortunately dipped on our target Yellow-headed Blackbird.

Cline Ave Marsh, also in Gary, was a bust because we didn’t find the Great Horned Owl nest, but I think we did pick up some common birds there such as GREAT BLUE HERON, HOUSE WREN, & RED-EYED VIREO.

Along the longer drive down to Kankakee Sands in west-central Indiana, we were forced to take a detour off of Highway 41 at one point and boy were we glad we did! We found a LEAST SANDPIPER in a “fluddle” alongside a country road:

BARN SWALLOW, common throughout the day:

I stopped the car when this roosting COMMON NIGHTHAWK caught my eye.


Finally, we made it to Kankakee Sands a little bit ahead of schedule (thanks to sacrificing a planned stop earlier in the morning, Hammond Lakefront Bird Sanctuary). We stopped on top of a bridge that is known for swallow diversity and picked out this more uncommon CLIFF SWALLOW:

As planned, we picked up LARK SPARROWS along Road 200 W — very cool!!!


Another Field (left) with a GRASSHOPPER SPARROW. Kankakee Sands delivered pretty well with grassland bird species yesterday.

Unphotographed here were two uncommon game birds: NORTHERN BOBWHITE & RING-NECKED PHEASANT.

Next stop was the nearby Willow Slough. I spotted this male SCARLET TANAGER, our only one of the day, quite far out in a field:

One WILD TURKEY crossed the road far ahead of us, completing the “gamebird slam:”

This flycatcher confused us for a while. It looks quite yellowish, but in the end I have decided to call it a “Traill’s Flycatcher” and since it never made a noise: it is Traill’s since one must identify the two actual possible species, Willow vs Alder Flycatcher, by voice during migration.

This nesting TRUMPETER SWAN was a wonderful surprise at Willow Slough!

The longest drive of the day, nearly three hours in total, loomed ahead and we took it head-on, arriving at our next stop, Goose Pond Fish & Wildlife Area, by five in the evening. This spot is known for amazing numbers of shorebirds and other waterbirds, but it was almost completely dead with barely any birds, few and far between. We managed to eek out a few new species including SEMIPALMATED PLOVER:




Goose Pong was disappointing. On the way to Cane Ridge Wildlife Management Area, we stopped at a grain mill where Eurasian Collared-Doves are known to reside, but unfortunately struck out. Instead there were only pigeons and MOURNING DOVES such as this one:

Cane Ridge turned out to be fairly productive so we spent the remainder of the daylight hours birding this preserve. We were absolutely delighted to see a male BLUE GROSBEAK alongside the road:

As well as a male YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT:

The main target here was a colony of nesting LEAST TERNS, one of the few places they reliably nest in the Midwest I think. After a little bit of waiting, we were treated to distant views of a few individuals — but hey I’ll take what I can get as these views were significantly better than my lifer views of this bird a few weeks ago at Jamaica Bay in NYC.

Later, we watched from afar as a BARRED OWL hunted, flying down to the road at one point:

INDIGO BUNTINGS such as this one were common throughout the day — though the picture is out of focus, I just loved its setting among the yellow flowers.

Unfortunately, we missed the Chuck-will’s-widow down near Evansville, which would have been a life bird for the both of us. It wasn’t for a lack of trying, though — we listened on so many of the country roads in the Lyneville Mine area where this bird has been somewhat consistently reported — but to no avail.

Our last target species of the evening was a Barn Owl which has a known nesting box along Disney Hill Road, in the same general area north of Evansville, IN. We tried the same tactic, and after a few tries, were surprised to hear a descending, hair-raising screech coming from across the field. There was only one thing it could be: one of the few BARN OWLS that are left in Indiana! Very, very awesome, despite unfortunately never managing to see the bird.

It was a wonderful Big Day. 126 species were seen by the two of us, and each of us had one “dirty bird” not seen by the other person: Wood Duck for me and Summer Tanager for him. Big, big thank-yous to: Ed & Margie Bontrager for lending us the car for the day & packing so well for the trip, my mom for packing my meals, Jonathan for being a great birding companion, and the Mervar family for hosting us the night after the big day.

Bird-of-the-day to the Barn Owl with runners-up to the Lark Sparrows, Trumpeter Swan, & Blue Grosbeak. An absolutely incredible day of birding — my second-highest day species count to date. The full list is included below. Stay tuned!!

Good birding,
World Life List: 971 Species

1. Canada Goose
2. Trumpeter Swan
3. Northern Shoveler
4. Mallard
5. Northern Bobwhite
6. Ring-necked Pheasant
7. Wild Turkey
8. Rock Pigeon
9. Mourning Dove
10. Common Nighthawk
11. Eastern Whip-poor-will
12. Chimney Swift
13. Ruby-throated Hummingbird
14. Virginia Rail
15. Sora
16. Common Gallinule
17. American Coot
18. Sandhill Crane
19. Black-bellied Plover
20. Semipalmated Plover
21. Killdeer
22. Least Sandpiper
23. Semipalmated Sandpiper
24. American Woodcock
25. Greater Yellowlegs
26. Ring-billed Gull
27. Herring Gull
28. Least Tern
29. Caspian Tern
30. Double-crested Cormorant
31. Great Blue Heron
32. Great Egret
33. Turkey Vulture
34. Cooper’s Hawk
35. Bald Eagle
36. Red-shouldered Hawk
37. Red-tailed Hawk
38. Barn Owl
39. Barred Owl
40. Red-headed Woodpecker
41. Red-bellied Woodpecker
42. Downy Woodpecker
43. Hairy Woodpecker
44. Northern Flicker
45. Pileated Woodpecker
46. American Kestrel
47. Great Crested Flycatcher
48. Eastern Kingbird
49. Eastern Wood-Pewee
50. Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
51. Willow Flycatcher
52. Eastern Phoebe
53. Bell’s Vireo
54. Yellow-throated Vireo
55. Warbling Vireo
56. Red-eyed Vireo
57. Blue Jay
58. American Crow
59. Horned Lark
60. Purple Martin
61. Tree Swallow
62. Northern Rough-winged Swallow
63. Cliff Swallow
64. Barn Swallow
65. Carolina Chickadee
66. Black-capped Chickadee
67. Tufted Titmouse
68. White-breasted Nuthatch
69. House Wren
70. Sedge Wren
71. Marsh Wren
72. Carolina Wren
73. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
74. Eastern Bluebird
75. Veery
76. Swainson’s Thrush
77. Wood Thrush
78. American Robin
79. Gray Catbird
80. Brown Thrasher
81. Northern Mockingbird
82. European Starling
83. Cedar Waxwing
84. House Sparrow
85. House Finch
86. American Goldfinch
87. Eastern Towhee
88. Chipping Sparrow
89. Field Sparrow
90. Lark Sparrow
91. Grasshopper Sparrow
92. Henslow’s Sparrow
93. Song Sparrow
94. Swamp Sparrow
95. White-throated Sparrow
96. Yellow-breasted Chat
97. Eastern Meadowlark
98. Western Meadowlark
99. Orchard Oriole
100. Baltimore Oriole
101. Red-winged Blackbird
102. Brown-headed Cowbird
103. Common Grackle
104. Northern Waterthrush
105. Black-and-White Warbler
106. Prothonotary Warbler
107. Tennessee Warbler
108. Nashville Warbler
109. Common Yellowthroat
110. American Redstart
111. Cerulean Warbler
112. Northern Parula
113. Magnolia Warbler
114. Blackburnian Warbler
115. Yellow Warbler
116. Chestnut-sided Warbler
117. Blackpoll Warbler
118. Black-throated Green Warbler
119. Canada Warbler
120. Wilson’s Warbler
121. Scarlet Tanager
122. Northern Cardinal
123. Rose-breasted Grosbeak
124. Blue Grosbeak
125. Indigo Bunting
126. Dickcissel

Posted by skwclar 19:57 Archived in USA

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I have been waiting for this report! It sounds like a huge success in spite of a few duds. Thanks for sharing your adventure

by Susie

Wow, Henry, what a fun day in Indiana! I'm in NW Indiana and because of you and also the Indiana Dunes Longshore migration count, I'm trying to recognize more birds. Thank you!

by Katie

Great summary of an amazing day. Thank you for bringing your added skills and enthusiasm to help make it my biggest day of birding ever!

by Jonathan

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