Monthly Archives: November 2020

2020 Winter Finches

Purple Finch

Purple Finch, one of the winter finches (click to see the larger version)

Winter Finch – A collective term that refers to Arctic, subarctic, and boreal forest breeding members of the family Fringillidae. This includes redpolls, Pine Siskin, crossbills, Pine and Evening Grosbeaks, and Purple Finch.

This continues to be an excellent fall for winter finches in the Midwest. Common Redpolls, Pine Siskins, and Purple Finches are being seen almost daily at Montrose. Even more exciting were reports of two of the rarer winter finches. On November 3, I found 10 White-winged Crossbills in a spruce tree near the Park Bait Shop (at the corner of W. Montrose Avenue and W. Montrose Harbor Drive), and several observers saw an Evening Grosbeak on November 5. According to eBird, the last White-winged Crossbills from Montrose were in 2012. The last Evening Grosbeak record was about 20 years ago. The rest of the fall should see more of these birds. The Montrose Map page has an interactive map that shows the road system at Montrose.

How to Look for Winter Finches at Montrose

There are a couple of ways to look for winter finches at Montrose. We don’t have a lot of finch habitat but we have some. The pine and spruce trees south of the main entrance of the Sanctuary on W. Montrose Harbor Drive have cones that could attract crossbills. The hawthorns on the service road to the beach house are laden with berries. We’ve been seeing Purple Finches in these hawthorns and they could attract Pine and Evening Grosbeaks. The pine and spruce trees next to the Park Bait Shop don’t have many cones but could attract crossbills and are easy check. Redpolls like weedy areas such as the native planting areas at the south and east end of the Point and north of the Marovitz Golf Course.

The Joy of Surprise

Wood Thrush

A Haloween Wood Thrush treat in Chicago (click to see the larger version)

One of the most endearing qualities of looking for birds is an element of surprise – the potential to see something unusual, unexpected, or even extraordinary. This element of surprise doesn’t just apply to finding a rare bird. Finding a common bird in an unusual circumstance can be exciting too. Case in point, the Wood Thrush I saw at Montrose on October 31, 2020. Wood Thrushes are common in the eastern United States; we see them every spring as migrants at Montrose, and they breed throughout Illinois in appropriate habitat. By the end of October however they should be on their wintering grounds in Central America or well on their way there, so imagine my surprise when I first laid eyes on this bird. To borrow and modify something Forrest Gump said, birding is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get.