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It’s (Mostly) About the Birds

Welcome to my blog about birding Montrose Point in Chicago. I created this blog to report some of my recent sightings from Montrose. I’ll also write about non-Montrose bird sightings from time to time. Thanks for visiting and good birding. 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? Direct them to 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. You could say that Montrose has been my obsession and love, and sometimes my disappointment.

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 passion for communication to promoting the Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary through social media and this blog. You could say I’m a Web guy at heart.

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What’s New

An Ancient Murrelet delighted birders on November 9 and 10. This is a first for Montrose and just the fourth record for Illinois. Follow this link to read about the sighting – Montrose Ancient Murrelet.

Passerine migration is winding down but late fall waterbirds like loons and grebes are starting to appear. Check the Montrose eBird Hotspot for the latest sightings.

Header Photo: White-winged Scoters from Montrose Harbor

Ancient Murrelet (!), November 9 & 10, 2019

Ancient Murrelet

Ancient Murrelet. Photo by Mike Carroll. (click to see the larger version)

I wasn’t planning on birding Montrose Point on Saturday, November 9. Saturday is my day to play and do whatever I want, whether it be birding or something else altogether (it is usually birding). I planned on spending the day at Indiana Dunes State Park, hiking, birding, and catching the last of the fall colors. When I woke up that morning I changed my mind and decided to stay closer to home and go to Montrose, my main patch and fallback for aborted longer birding trips. I live about a mile from Montrose so it’s quick and easy for me to get there. I would spend a couple of hours birding, come home, take a nap, watch a movie. Relax. An easy day.

If you’re not familiar with Montrose we like to check Lake Michigan from the fishing pier at the east end of the beach for waterfowl, loons, and other waterbirds, especially in November. November is an exciting month to bird the lakefront, maybe the most exciting month when it comes to rarity potential. The conditions on the Lake were excellent that morning – overcast skies, light winds, a little chop on the Lake but nothing terrible. Good visibility most of the way to the horizon. I made my way onto the pier and started scanning and scoping the Lake for anything on the water or flying by.

The fishing pier hosts 2 light towers, a taller one near the base and a smaller one near the tip (our local Peregrine Falcons like to roost on and hunt from the taller tower). Near the taller tower, I caught a glimpse of a small dark blob slipping under the water on the Lake Michigan side, very close to the edge of the pier. I had a strange sensation this was something different and my heart started to race. The bird popped back up a little further away but still close to the pier, and went under again just as quickly. By this time I could tell it was a small alcid. Now my heart was taking off and the cursing began, both out of excitement and frustration over not being able to pin the bird down, the kind of cursing your mother (or my mother at least) would pinch your ear if she heard. When the bird surfaced again I could see the white spot on the neck, so I knew it was either a Dovekie or Ancient Murrelet. More frustration as the bird dove and disappeared again. It seemed to be playing games with me, and when it got up and flew off my heart almost sank. Instead of flying away it hung a sharp left at the end of the fishing pier, turned around, and started flying back, but more towards the beach, landing about 1/4 mile away. By this time Mike Carroll was there and we were both scanning the lake trying to refind the bird. After a couple of minutes, it picked up and started flying RIGHT AT US, landing about 30 yards away and inside the hook part of the pier. We could see the plain gray back and pale tip to the bill, the distinguishing field marks for Ancient Murrelet, one of the most prized and coveted of November rarities. Mike was taking photos of the bird like a madman, which is a good thing because I didn’t have my camera available. The Murrelet put on an amazing show right in front of us before flying off once again, this time well to the north. The bird flew back towards the pier and landed one more time before flying off to the east and disappearing over the Lake. Once word got out birders started showing up in droves but the Murrelet didn’t return this time, though 2 people reported it later that afternoon.

Ancient Murrelet is a seabird in the truest sense of the word – they breed around the northern Pacific Ocean in Alaska, Canada, and Asia and winter along the Pacific Coast down to California and Japan and China. A few go astray and occur far inland in the United States in late fall, like the Montrose bird. This is the fourth record for Illinois and a new addition for Montrose. Actually, it’s a whole new family (Alcidae) for Montrose too. More of Mike Carroll’s excellent photos are included with my eBird checklist for the day, URL below.

eBird Checklist
November 9, 2019

Previous Illinois Ancient Murrelet Records

  • November 16, 1962, Macomb, McDonough County
  • November 16-21, 1982, Wilmette and Evanston, Cook County
  • November 6, 2004, Carlyle Lake, Clinton County

Addendum: Isoo O’Brien refound the Ancient Murrelet the next day, November 10, off the south side of Montrose Point. Many birders enjoyed the bird, unlike the Saturday sighting.

Northern Harriers (and a lot more), October 23, 2019

Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier (click to see the larger version)

The Northern Harriers put on quite a show on October 23. I counted 16, all southbound flybys, in about 2 hours of morning birding. Most were female/immature type birds, like the individual pictured here. Several were coming in low off Lake Michigan and flying right over the beach and dunes (and me). Other birds seen include Short-eared Owl, 3 Surf Scoters, Franklin’s and Bonaparte’s Gulls, Merlin, American Woodcock, Wilson’s Snipe, and Purple Finch. Link to my eBird checklist for the day below. October rocks!

eBird Checklist
October 23, 2019

LeConte’s Sparrow, October 20, 2019

LeConte's Sparrow

LeConte’s Sparrow (click to see the larger version)

October is the month for LeConte’s Sparrows at Montrose. This particular LeConte’s was hanging around an isolated bush in Montrose Dunes. I think we should start calling this bush the Magic Bush for the way it’s been attracting sparrows this fall. Link to my eBird checklist for the day below.

eBird Checklist
October 20, 2019

American Avocet and Merlin, October 12, 2019

Merlin

Merlin (click to see the larger version)

Highlights from October 12 were an American Avocet that almost became brunch for 2 of the local Peregrine Falcons, and this male Merlin that took a break from terrorizing songbirds long enough to have his pic taken. I ended up with 47 species in 3 hours of birding. Link to my eBird checklist for the day below.

eBird Checklist
October 12, 2019

Butterflies, Lots of Butterflies, October 8, 2019

Painted Lady and Common Buckeye

Painted Lady and Common Buckeye (click to see the larger version)

More October butterfly mania from Montrose. This Painted Lady and Common Buckeye were cheek to jowl, so to speak, on this aster in the Butterfly Garden. Asters are like magnets for attracting nectar-feeding insects. This has been one of the best falls for butterflies I can remember, with hundreds of Monarchs and other leps.

Juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull, October 4, 2019

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Lesser Black-backed Gull with Ring-billed Gulls (click to see the larger version)

The birding highlight for me on October 4 was this crisply marked juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull. I can’t remember the last time I saw a full juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull anywhere – usually by this time of the year first cycle birds have molted in at least a few second-generation upperpart feathers. Lesser Black-backed Gulls have increased dramatically in North America in recent years, including the Great Lakes, where they are uncommon but regular. I wonder where this one hatched? Europe? Iceland? Somewhere in North America? Impossible to know but fun to think about. More photos are at my eBird checklist for the day, link below.

eBird Checklist
October 4, 2019