Author Archives: rhughes

About rhughes

Robert D. Hughes lives and works in Chicago, Illinois. His professional background is in Web site management and front-end Web development. He also writes about Web development issues and works with Joomla! CMS. When he isn't sitting in front of a computer he's out in the field looking for and photographing birds and other critters.

eBird Tip

eBird is a great tool for adding your sightings and contributing to ornithology. Scientists can use your data to better understand bird distribution and abundance. eBird is also a great way to share information with other birders. When I plan birding trips I check the eBird hotspots for the locations I intend to visit. I then look for information about any birds I’d like to see. eBird makes it easy to add details about your sightings. When you enter numbers for species in an eBird checklist, a small button labeled Add Details appears. Clicking this button opens a text field where you can add additional information about each sighting. To help other birders, you should be as precise as possible about where you saw a bird. For example, a Surf Scoter was hanging around Montrose Harbor in November 2020. This is an uncommon species at Montrose that other birders might like to see. Below are screenshots of my entry for this sighting in an eBird checklist I submitted, with extra information about where I saw it (hold your mouse over each image to increase the image size).

eBird screenshot

eBird screenshot

eBird screenshot

Recap

To add additional information about your sightings in eBird

  1. Click the button labeled Add Details that appears after you’ve entered numbers for a species in an eBird checklist.
  2. In the text field that appears, enter details about your sighting, including where exactly you saw it.
  3. If you need to edit the details later, just click the Show Details button and make your edits.

eBird logo

Short-eared Owl (in a tree), November 19, 2020

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl (click to see the larger version)

Short-eared Owls are regular mid and late fall visitors to Montrose. We usually see them on days with brisk west winds following the passage of a cold front. Most of the time they flush from the Dunes and fly over Lake Michigan where they hang out and wait until people have left. They then drift back to the Dunes to settle in. On November 19 I saw a Short-eared perched high in a Honey Locust near the Magic Hedge. This is uncommon behavior for Short-eareds at Montrose. The bird had been flying around the Point, looking for a place to come down, and decided a tree would suffice. It didn’t stay long and continued its search for a quiet spot to roost for the day. Link to my eBird checklist for the morning below.

eBird Checklist
November 19, 2020

eBird Down for Maintenance, November 17 to November 19

The eBird database will be unavailable from 8:00 a.m. Eastern Time on November 17 until 8:00 a.m. Eastern Time on November 19. You won’t be able to enter your sightings or view checklists using the ebird.org website. You can still enter your sightings with the eBird Mobile app and submit them when eBird is back up. This article from Cornell has more information – Cornell Lab Scheduled Database Maintenance.

MEGA! Cassin’s Sparrow, November 13, 2020

Cassin's Sparrow

Cassin’s Sparrow. Photo by Geoff Williamson. (click to see the larger version)

November is one of the most exciting months for birders. We look forward to it with the same sense of anticipation and excitement as we do for May, and with good reason. The annals of Illinois ornithology are filled with November rarities and vagrants.

On the morning of November 13 I was walking the outside of the boat storage lot at Montrose as I have been since a Harris’s Sparrow showed up there in October. I never birded it much in the past and usually just walked by it on my way to the rest of the Point. I didn’t see the October Harris’s Sparrow but I was finding other sparrows, so I had enough incentive to keep checking. At about 8:30 a.m. I kicked up a small bird near a spruce tree on the northeast side of the lot. I thought at first it was a wren but the thick bill ruled out a wren and ruled in a sparrow. The bird was plain to the point of being non-descript and had a long tail. Several possibilities came to mind. I suspected Cassin’s Sparrow based on probability, and when I saw the flank streaking I knew that’s what it was. The bird was decidedly uncooperative for me and played a frustrating game of hide and seek that made seeing plumage details almost impossible. Others had better luck viewing it after I left. Close-up photos show diagnostic field marks for this species that weren’t apparent in the field, including white tips to the outer tail feathers and horizontal barring on the tail. This is the first Cassin’s Sparrow for Montrose, number 347.

Cassin’s Sparrow is a bird of the American Southwest, but they do wander and occur far out of their normal range. eBird has records for the East Coast, New England, and the Canadian Maritimes. Illinois has three previous records, all within the last 40 years. It is a species if not to be expected than to at least consider seriously as a possibility.

To see a list of the birds that have been recorded at Montrose, refer to the Birds Recorded at Montrose Point in Chicago page.

Previous Illinois Cassin’s Sparrow Records

  • May 27 – June 6, 1983, Chicago, Cook County
  • May 3 – 6, 2011, Winthrop Harbor, Lake County
  • September 8, 2014, Chicago, Cook County

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.