Thursday night, May 14, 2020, was a stormy night. The rain was just starting to end when a few folks walked up the steps to the Longshore Tower at Indiana Dunes State Park the next morning. The overnight south winds were promising for bird migration. What happened next was one for the record books.
"One of the most amazing bird spectacles I've ever witnessed in my life," wrote Caleb Putnam of Grand Rapids, Mich., later that day. "A constant morning flight of mainly westbound birds which mesmerized us for over six hours."
The sheer numbers of species were staggering: an estimated 900 Baltimore Orioles and 500 Indigo Buntings. A giant movement of at least 200 Cape May Warblers smashed the previous state record of 60. The scale of the flight is hard to comprehend for those who've struggled to find just one of these migrants on any given day.
"Every time I thought it was going to stop they just kept on coming," Caleb said. "For every 10 birds that flew over, we probably only identified 10 to 20 percent of them."
The tower is one of the great birding locales in the Midwest, if not the eastern half of the country. It's perched 60 feet up on a dune overlooking Lake Michigan, which is a barrier for birds and acts as a natural migration funnel. Most of the birds on Friday were headed west, around the south end of the lake.
"Some of the high counts for the entire Great Lakes region occur at this site," said Brad Bumgardner, Executive Director of Indiana Audubon Society. "We've seen things like 7,000 Blue Jays fly by in one day. [Friday] was so intense I couldn't put my binoculars down."
For more information on the Indiana Dunes Longshore Flight Count, click here.