A first cycle California Gull was at Montrose Beach on April 26 and 27. This is about the fifth California Gull record for Montrose. It’s almost warbler time and the last group of birds we’re thinking about is gulls, but we’ve been seeing large numbers of Herring Gulls along the lakefront, so something more unusual was bound to turn up. California Gulls can be tricky to identify, especially the messy immature birds, but the body size, head shape, and bill shape and pattern of this bird stood out among the numerous Herring amd Ring-billed Gulls.
Imani, the male Piping Plover and son of Rose and Monty, returned to Montrose Beach on April 25. This is expected as young Piping Plovers usually return to the area where they were born. Imani also came back to Montrose in 2022 and spent most of the summer in the Dunes. On April 27, two unbanded Piping Plovers joined Imani. It’s too soon to tell what these other Piping Plovers are up to. They could be passing through on their way further north, or they could try to nest at Montrose. Only time will tell. To protect the Plovers, the Dunes is now off limits to the public. This includes the portion of the beach between the fishing pier and protective fence on the west. Please follow the rules and stay out of these areas. You can view the Dunes and beach from the fishing pier on the east and the public beach on the west.
We do well with sparrows at Montrose. To date, 24 species have been recorded there, and of these, 20 are regular. One of the more sought after sparrows is LeConte’s, a rare but regular migrant at Montrose. LeConte’s Sparrow is normally found in grassy type habitats, but during migration they can show up almost anywhere. We’ve seen them on bare ground under trees and even on the concrete fishing pier. Migrant birds can’t always find the right habitat on their journeys and can end up in strange places. The LeConte’s in the photo spent a few hours in a brush tangle near the pond at the Marovitz Golf Course on April 20, 2023.
April is sparrow month in Chicago. While you’re sorting through all the Swamp, White-throated, and White-crowneds, don’t forget about LeConte’s, the sparrow with orange eyebrows (Nelson’s Sparrow also has orange eyebrows, but we don’t see them in April).
This doesn’t look like typical Brown Thrasher habitat. During spring and fall, songbirds will sometimes land on the fishing pier at Montrose early in the morning after a night of migration over Lake Michigan. They don’t stay long and continue on to the more protected Dunes or Bird Sanctuary after a few minutes. Lingering on the pier can be dangerous for a small bird – Peregrine Falcons, Merlins, and gulls like an easy breakfast and won’t hesitate to hunt them.
Montrose is known for all kinds of critters but we don’t do well with amphibians. Part of the reason for this is that Montrose doesn’t have much in the way of amphibian habitat. We used to have American Toads in the pannes, sometimes in the hundreds, but the pannes dried up recently and the toads disappeared.
The Chicago area is home to a large salamander called a Mudpuppy. They’re in Lake Michigan but since Mudpuppies spend their entire lives under water we don’t see them, unless a fisherman accidentally catches one. This is what must have happened to the dead 10 inch long Mudpuppy on the fishing pier on April 12. The Mudpuppy either grabbed the bait or was incidentally snagged by the hook. The unsuspecting fisherman probably thought he caught a salmon. When he reeled it in he realized he didn’t have a fish but something else entirely, something weird and alien looking, like a miniature version of the creature from the black lagoon. Out of frustration, or panic, he threw it on the pier, where it died, an unfortunate end to a fascinating native animal.
The part of the Dunes known as the panne is now cordoned and off limits to the public to protect the vegetation and the birds that nest there. Please stay out of this area. Also, when walking the public areas of the Dunes, please stay on the trails to minimize damage to the plants.