Black-legged Kittiwake flying by Montrose Point (click to see the larger version)
Black-legged Kittiwakes are rare but regular visitors to Lake Michigan, mainly in November. On November 24, a crisply marked juvenile flew north over Lake Michigan past Montrose Point. This is the second Black-legged Kittiwake seen at Montrose this fall, the first occurring on November 4.
If you’re at Montrose, or any other place along the Chicago lakefront this November and December, pay attention to the gulls that are flying by. Most will be Herring and Ring-billed, but you may get lucky and see a Black-legged Kittiwake. Almost all of the kittiwakes we see are juveniles, and juveniles have a distinctive appearance, like someone took a black magic marker and drew a neat “M” pattern on their wings. Try a Google image search for “juvenile Black-legged Kittiwake” to see examples of this plumage.
November is known for rare waterbirds but it’s also excellent for owls. Long-eared, Short-eared, Snowy, and Northern Saw-whet Owls have been reported at Montrose as of November 12. So, while you’re dreaming about alcids and waiting for a Black-legged Kittiwake to fly by, don’t forget to check the Dunes, woods, and shrubs for owls. Look for whitewash, listen for complaining songbirds, and scan open areas for round white lumps.
A list of the next ten or twenty new species for Montrose might include a buteo like a Broad-winged Hawk but probably not Ferruginous Hawk. On November 6 the improbable happened and a juvenile dark morph Ferruginous Hawk flew over Montrose Point. Dark morph buteos can be tricky to identify but diagnostic photos taken by an attentive birder confirmed the identification. The bird drifted down the beach and off to the west before disappearing, though it was seen and photographed the next day at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. Ferruginous Hawk is a very rare visitor to Illinois from the western United States and southwestern Canada. This is the 351st species for Montrose, and yet we still don’t have a verified Broad-winged Hawk.