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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 bird and nature 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.

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
February 2020

Need a Birding Guide for Montrose?

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

NOTE: On June 22 Chicago opened its lakefront trails to the public. This includes the trails at Montrose Point. See my Montrose Is Open Again blog post for more information.

Rising water levels on Lake Michigan have changed the shoreline dynamics at Montrose Point. The public portion of the beach is frequently flooded, reducing the amount of beach available to beachgoers, but creating habitat for gulls, terns, and shorebirds. Also, the winter of 2020 saw a couple of severe storms that flooded and damaged the Dunes, including the pannes. The effects of this damage will be long-lasting. A video of one of these storms is at this link – January 11, 2020 Storm. Also see the Lake Michigan is High! blog post.

Header Photo: White-winged Scoters from Montrose Harbor

Summer Shorebirds


Sanderling (click to see the larger version)

Shorebirds have been moving south at Montrose since late June. This is typical. The first birds are invariably adult Least Sandpipers (adult shorebirds precede their offspring). It’s hard to believe they have enough time to breed before starting migration again. The earliest southbound migrants almost overlap in time with the last northbound spring migrants! Montrose Beach serves as a convenient stopover for feeding and resting. The public part of the beach is often flooded in summer and migrant shorebirds like to break there and fuel up before continuing their journey. Some of the more unusual birds we’ve seen this summer include Whimbrel, Red Knot, Western Sandpiper, and White-rumped Sandpiper. Montrose doesn’t get huge numbers of shorebirds but the ones we do get we usually see well.

For more information about shorebirds at Montrose, see the Shorebirds section on the What to See page.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (click to see the larger version)

August is the month when migrant Ruby-throated Hummingbirds begin to appear in numbers. Ruby-throateds don’t nest at Montrose so we know these birds are in fact migrants. August is also the month when wildflowers bloom in profusion. It’s these wildflowers that attract the hummingbirds. Most of our Ruby-throats are females or immatures, like the bird pictured.

Longnose Gar, July 13, 2020

Longnose Gar

Longnose Gar in Montrose Harbor (click to see the larger version)

Continuing the fish theme this summer, I saw and photographed a Longnose Gar in Montrose Harbor on July 13. Gar are distinctive as a group but specific identification can be challenging (and I’m hardly a fish expert). My gar was about 2 feet long and had heavy, dark spotting on the body. It was swimming slowly and close to the surface, enabling me to get diagnostic photos. After some research, I narrowed down the options to Spotted and Longnose Gar, and after sharing the photos online several fish experts weighed in and confirmed it as a Longnose Gar. This is the first gar of any kind I’ve seen on Lake Michigan and the most unusual fish I’ve seen at Montrose. More photos are on my Facebook page, URL below. Also, see the Fish Archives on this blog for more fish stories from Montrose.

Montrose Harbor Longnose Gar Photos

What’s next on the fish menu at Montrose? Musky? Sturgeon?

Lake Michigan is High!

Montrose Harbor

Montrose Harbor (click to see the larger version)

You may have heard or even noticed that the water level on Lake Michigan is very high this summer. According to NOAA, it’s at a 22 year high and near the all-time high. I took this photo at the mouth of Montrose Harbor in July 2020. The water is so high it’s spilling over the piers at the harbor mouth. In past years fishermen would be using these piers; the only creatures using the piers now are waterfowl and gulls.

Montrose Harbor Fish (Fish? What? Yes)

Black Crappie in Montrose Harbor

Black Crappie in Montrose Harbor (click to see the larger version)

The fish in Montrose Harbor are taking advantage of the decrease in human activity and putting on a show. I’ve been checking the north side of the harbor on my morning walks and I’ve noticed an abundance and variety of fish I didn’t notice before Chicago closed the lakefront parks. Some of the different species include Black Crappie (a Montrose first for me), numbers of Smallmouth Bass and Freshwater Drum, and the ever-present Common Carp. Some of the carp are huge. I’ve also seen large schools of smaller fish, either Alewife or Smelt. It’s noteworthy that Montrose Harbor is far from being a pristine body of water. The many boats release gasoline into the water and there’s often garbage floating on the surface and debris in the water. Despite this, aquatic life is thriving. More fish photos from Montrose Harbor are on my Facebook page, URL below. Also, see the Fish Archives on this blog for more fish stories from Montrose.

Montrose Harbor Fish Photos

Who needs the aquarium?

Montrose Is Open Again (sort of)

On June 22 the city reopened the Chicago lakefront trails after being closed for 3 months. The lakefront trails are the paths in the lakefront parks for running, walking, and bike riding. The trails extend out to and through Montrose Point, so accessing the Point is possible, but only on foot or by bike (parking is not allowed at this time). Note that activities such as picnicking, going to the beach, playing sports, and gathering in groups are prohibited.

Gray Catbird

Gray Catbird in the catbird’s seat at Montrose Point (click to see the larger version)

I live about a mile from Montrose and I started walking there when the trails reopened. The park looks very different from when I last visited in late March – a lot greener, with many fewer people, and an even higher Lake Michigan. Breeding season is in full swing with lots of begging immature birds around. Monty and Rose, the pair of Piping Plovers that nested at Montrose in 2019, have returned and are raising a family again in the Dunes. As of this writing, they have 3 ping pong ball-sized downy young. The male Red-winged Blackbirds are in attack mode and sparing no one. The first southbound shorebirds are starting to appear, signaling the beginning of migration.

If you want to visit Montrose you’ll have to walk in until the park fully reopens. I don’t know when this will be. People have been parking west of Lake Shore Drive and walking in, not very convenient but the only option available now. I’ve included a link to one of my eBird lists from a recent visit, URL below. Also, check the Montrose Point eBird Hotspot to find out what’s being seen there.

eBird Checklist
June 29, 2020