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It’s (Mostly) About the Birds

Welcome to The Montrose Birding Blog, a WordPress website about birding Montrose Point in Chicago. I created this blog to report recent Montrose bird and nature sightings and to serve as a guide to birding Montrose. Unless stated otherwise, all images and content were created by and are the property of Robert D. Hughes; any unauthorized use is prohibited..

Questions or comments? Contact the website administrator, Robert D. Hughes.

About Me

Robert D. Hughes

I’ve been birding since 1978 and much of that time has been spent at Montrose. I’ve never lived far from Montrose so it’s always been easy for me to bird there before or after school or work.

I was born, raised, and currently live in Chicago. My professional background is in webmastering, front-end Web development, and content management. When I’m not working I apply my background in Web development and communications to promote the Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary through social media and this blog. You could say I’m a Web guy at heart.

Robert D. Hughes, Administrator
September 2021

Need a Birding Guide?

I offer guided birding services for Montrose Point as well as other locations in the Chicago area. What are you interested in seeing? Spring warblers? Specialty birds like Henslow’s Sparrow? I love finding and showing birds to people. Contact me for more information. I look forward to hearing from you!

I designed and developed this site and produce most of the content for it and its sister birding website, The Orniphile. I also pay for hosting and deal with the many challenges associated with hosting. Managing these sites is a labor of love – I thoroughly enjoy writing about birds and telling the story of Montrose Point, one of the most popular and renowned bird and nature sanctuaries in the United States. Empowering people with the information they can use to make informed decisions about birding Montrose is a passion of mine. With that in mind, I’m asking for contributions to help offset the hosting and management costs.

I use PayPal for donations. It’s safe, secure, and easy to use. To make a contribution, click the Donate button below and follow the instructions. Thanks!





What’s New

Want to see a Snowy Owl this winter? They’re showing up in Chicago, including at Montrose. See the 2022 Winter Birding Tips post for information on how to find Snowy Owls and other winter birds at Montrose.

Parking meters have been installed at Montrose. See the Montrose Parking Meters post for more information.

Header Photo: White-winged Scoters from Montrose Harbor

2022 Winter Birding Tips

Winter is the slow season at Montrose. You’d be doing well if you saw 20 species in a morning. As such, there are some things to do and birds to look for.

  • This is shaping up to be a good winter for Snowy Owls. As of mid January, many have been reported in the Chicago area, and several have been seen at Montrose. The best places to check for Snowies are the beach and Dunes and on the fishing pier, especially after it ices over. Note: Be careful as the paths and sidewalks can be covered in ice. This is especially true of the fishing pier. Sometimes this ice is thin and not easy to see, so-called black ice.
  • The fruiting trees are hosting numbers of American Robins and Northern Cardinals. That’s probably all you will see but there’s always a chance a more unusual frugivore will show up, like a Townsend’s Solitaire or Varied Thrush.
  • The open waters of Lake Michigan and the harbor are attracting numbers of ducks, mainly Red-breasted and Common Mergansers and Common Goldeneyes, but as long as the water remains open, an unusual duck, loon, or grebe is possible. Don’t forget to check the harbor mouth too.
  • Common Redpolls are showing up in big numbers in northeastern Illinois, and several have been seen at Montrose. Good places to look for them are weedy areas, like the Native Planting Area along the southeast corner of the Point.

As always, don’t forget to check the Montrose Point eBird Hotspot for current sightings.

Montrose Point eBird Hotspot

Don’t Forget Montrose On Social Media

I use two social media channels to promote Montrose as a premier destination for birding and nature study, namely Instagram and Twitter. Almost all of the content on these channels comes from Montrose. If you’re on Instagram or Twitter, look us up and join the fun.

Great Black-backed Gulls

Great Black-backed Gull

First cycle Great Black-baked Gull at Montrose Beach (click to see the larger version)

One of the more unusual birds we’ve been seeing this winter are Great Black-backed Gulls. An adult and first cycle bird have been hanging around the beach and nearby Lake Michigan since late 2021. On January 4 I saw the young bird loafing on the public beach (gulls will gather on the beach to look for and eat washed up salmon). Great Black-backed Gulls are uncommon but regular in small numbers in the Chicago area in winter. Ducks and gulls are about the only birding game in town now that serious winter cold has set in.

Lots of birds have alternate or colloquial names, like Big Cranky for Great Blue Heron or Camp Robber for Canada Jay. One colloquial name for Great Black-backed Gull is Coffin Carrier, an allusion to the dark back of adults. Some person, somewhere, came up with this name and it caught on, becoming part of the language and culture of a region. Colloquial names often have color or personality in a way that the standard English names don’t. The name Great Black-backed Gull is literal and descriptive, but Coffin Carrier has a different connotation and shows imagination and creative thinking. Maybe an undertaker in Boston came up with the name.

Montrose Point – More Than Just Birds

The fishing pier at Montrose

This view of the Chicago skyline and fishing pier looks like the yellow brick road leading to Oz. (click to see the larger version)

The focus of this blog, and indeed of the other online channels I manage, is birds and birding at Montrose Point in Chicago. I use these channels to promote Montrose as a premier destination for nature study and raise awareness of the importance of the Bird Sanctuary as a safe haven for birds and other wildlife. But there’s more to Montrose than birds. The view of the Chicago skyline is nothing less than breathtaking, especially at sunrise. Walk out to the east end of the Point as far as land will let you, or go out onto the long fishing pier, and look at our downtown. When I do this I’m struck by how much the skyscrapers look like Oz from The Wizard of Oz, shimmering on the horizon in the early mornng light. You will too.

Winter is the slow season for birding at Montrose but Chicago and its skyline are always there, regardless of the season. If you visit Montrose in winter be mindful of the snow and ice and always use good judgement.

Snowy Owl and Long-tailed Ducks, December 21, 2021

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl (click to see the larger version)

A Snowy Owl was roosting on the end of the fishing pier early on the morning of December 21. This may be the same individual we saw on December 17 as both birds were heavily barred and had paler napes. The fishing pier is a popular location for Snowies when they are around – for this reason, you should always scan it in winter. Unfortunately the pier is also popular with humans while it’s ice free, a fact today’s Snowy found out when an unobservant jogger ran to the end of the pier and flushed it.

As exciting as the Snowy Owl were the 8 Long-tailed Ducks that flew in and landed on Lake Michigan off the end of the fishing pier. Seven of these Long-tailed were striking adult males in their gray and white winter garb. Long-tailed Ducks are regular at Montrose, but seeing a large group of adult males so close to shore is unusual, as well as unforgettable.

Another photo of the Snowy and 3 of the Long-tailed Ducks are at my eBird checklist for the day, URL below.

eBird Checklist
December 21, 2021

Snowy Owl, Finally, December 17, 2021

Sandhill Crane

Snowy Owl and House Sparrow, December 17, 2021. (click to see the larger version)

Not unexpected but perhaps a bit tardy, the first of what will hopefully be many Snowy Owls made an appearance at Montrose on December 17. Snowies can show up almost anywhere. In the past we’ve seen them on the fishing pier, on the stardocks inside the harbor, on top of light poles, at the beach and Dunes, and on the light tower at the harbor mouth. As always, please be discreet when viewing and photographing these birds and give them plenty of space.

In the picture, note the photobombing House Sparrow, or is the Snowy photobombing the House Sparrow?