Category Archives: Fall Bird Reports

September 1 – November 30, inclusive

The Water Feature is Hot! September 2021

Red-eyed Vireo

Red-eyed Vireo at the water feature. Photo courtesy of Terry Walsh. (click to see the larger version)

The only reliable, easy to access source of fresh water for birds at the sanctuary is the small ground fountain we call the water feature. This makes it vitally important to migrants, and it’s been a magnet for warblers and other songbirds this fall. These birds are attracted to the water but find cover in the small shrub and thick vegetation inside the water feature enclosure. The water feature is about 50 yards east southeast of the Magic Hedge and runs during the warmer months of the year. The best way to bird it is to stand quietly on the dirt path that surrounds the enclosure and look for birds moving around inside.

September 7, 2021

Olive-sided Flycatcher

Olive-sided Flycatcher (click to see the larger version)

I spent about three hours birding Montrose on September 7 and it was time well spent. I tallied 51 species for my effort and saw a number of personal first of season birds. According to eBird, almost 80 species were recorded by all observers. Swainson’s Thrushes have arrived and they seemed to be everywhere. The dogwood north of the Magic Hedge and the cherry trees in the meadow were flush with them. My highlights include

Baird’s Sandpiper
Stilt Sandpiper
Black-billed Cuckoo
Olive-sided Flycatcher
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Golden-winged Warbler
Northern Parula

Additionally, swarms of Chimney Swifts were moving south over the Point. I estimated 600 but that total is likely conservative. Link to my eBIrd checklist for the day below.

eBird Checklist
September 7, 2021

Check That Dogwood, Early September 2021

Dogwood

Dogwood at The Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary (click to see the larger version)

The dogwood just north of the north end of the Magic Hedge has been a hotspot for a variety of passerines this early fall. Birds I’ve seen feasting on its fruit include Gray Catbird, Swainson’s Thrush, Red-eyed Vireo, and Eastern Kingbird. As of early September, the shrub has abundant berries, so it should be productive for a few weeks. Look for the clusters of pea-sized white berries to find it (as far as I know, this is the only dogwood in the sanctuary). The best approach for birding it is to stand quietly 15 to 20 feet in front of it. Patience and determination are needed to pick birds out in the thick foliage.

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

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.