Winter is the slow season at Montrose. You’d be doing well if you saw 20 species in a morning. As such, there are some things to do and birds to look for.
- This is shaping up to be a good winter for Snowy Owls. As of mid January, many have been reported in the Chicago area, and several have been seen at Montrose. The best places to check for Snowies are the beach and Dunes and on the fishing pier, especially after it ices over. Note: Be careful as the paths and sidewalks can be covered in ice. This is especially true of the fishing pier. Sometimes this ice is thin and not easy to see, so-called black ice.
- The fruiting trees are hosting numbers of American Robins and Northern Cardinals. That’s probably all you will see but there’s always a chance a more unusual frugivore will show up, like a Townsend’s Solitaire or Varied Thrush.
- The open waters of Lake Michigan and the harbor are attracting numbers of ducks, mainly Red-breasted and Common Mergansers and Common Goldeneyes, but as long as the water remains open, an unusual duck, loon, or grebe is possible. Don’t forget to check the harbor mouth too.
- Common Redpolls are showing up in big numbers in northeastern Illinois, and several have been seen at Montrose. Good places to look for them are weedy areas, like the Native Planting Area along the southeast corner of the Point.
As always, don’t forget to check the Montrose Point eBird Hotspot for current sightings.
I use two social media channels to promote Montrose as a premier destination for birding and nature study, namely Instagram and Twitter. Almost all of the content on these channels comes from Montrose. If you’re on Instagram or Twitter, look us up and join the fun.
First cycle Great Black-baked Gull at Montrose Beach (click to see the larger version)
One of the more unusual birds we’ve been seeing this winter are Great Black-backed Gulls. An adult and first cycle bird have been hanging around the beach and nearby Lake Michigan since late 2021. On January 4 I saw the young bird loafing on the public beach (gulls will gather on the beach to look for and eat washed up salmon). Great Black-backed Gulls are uncommon but regular in small numbers in the Chicago area in winter. Ducks and gulls are about the only birding game in town now that serious winter cold has set in.
Lots of birds have alternate or colloquial names, like Big Cranky for Great Blue Heron or Camp Robber for Canada Jay. One colloquial name for Great Black-backed Gull is Coffin Carrier, an allusion to the dark back of adults. Some person, somewhere, came up with this name and it caught on, becoming part of the language and culture of a region. Colloquial names often have color or personality in a way that the standard English names don’t. The name Great Black-backed Gull is literal and descriptive, but Coffin Carrier has a different connotation and shows imagination and creative thinking. Maybe an undertaker in Boston came up with the name.
This view of the Chicago skyline and fishing pier looks like the yellow brick road leading to Oz. (click to see the larger version)
The focus of this blog, and indeed of the other online channels I manage, is birds and birding at Montrose Point in Chicago. I use these channels to promote Montrose as a premier destination for nature study and raise awareness of the importance of the Bird Sanctuary as a safe haven for birds and other wildlife. But there’s more to Montrose than birds. The view of the Chicago skyline is nothing less than breathtaking, especially at sunrise. Walk out to the east end of the Point as far as land will let you, or go out onto the long fishing pier, and look at our downtown. When I do this I’m struck by how much the skyscrapers look like Oz from The Wizard of Oz, shimmering on the horizon in the early mornng light. You will too.
Winter is the slow season for birding at Montrose but Chicago and its skyline are always there, regardless of the season. If you visit Montrose in winter be mindful of the snow and ice and always use good judgement.
Snowy Owl (click to see the larger version)
A Snowy Owl was roosting on the end of the fishing pier early on the morning of December 21. This may be the same individual we saw on December 17 as both birds were heavily barred and had paler napes. The fishing pier is a popular location for Snowies when they are around – for this reason, you should always scan it in winter. Unfortunately the pier is also popular with humans while it’s ice free, a fact today’s Snowy found out when an unobservant jogger ran to the end of the pier and flushed it.
As exciting as the Snowy Owl were the 8 Long-tailed Ducks that flew in and landed on Lake Michigan off the end of the fishing pier. Seven of these Long-tailed were striking adult males in their gray and white winter garb. Long-tailed Ducks are regular at Montrose, but seeing a large group of adult males so close to shore is unusual, as well as unforgettable.
Another photo of the Snowy and 3 of the Long-tailed Ducks are at my eBird checklist for the day, URL below.
December 21, 2021
Snowy Owl and House Sparrow, December 17, 2021. (click to see the larger version)
Not unexpected but perhaps a bit tardy, the first of what will hopefully be many Snowy Owls made an appearance at Montrose on December 17. Snowies can show up almost anywhere. In the past we’ve seen them on the fishing pier, on the stardocks inside the harbor, on top of light poles, at the beach and Dunes, and on the light tower at the harbor mouth. As always, please be discreet when viewing and photographing these birds and give them plenty of space.
In the picture, note the photobombing House Sparrow, or is the Snowy photobombing the House Sparrow?