Category Archives: Fall Bird Reports

September 1 – November 30, inclusive

Sparrow Time

White-throated Sparrows

White-throated Sparrows (click to see the larger version)

October means sparrows at Montrose and Montrose is a great location to see a large variety of them. You’ll have fun sorting through the flocks of White-throated and White-crowned Sparrows, and uncommon species like Nelson’s, Le Conte’s, and Harris’s are regular. Nelson’s are best in the marshes in the Dunes known as pannes. Le Conte’s can be found almost anywhere where there’s grass but I’ve had good luck with them in the meadow southeast of the Magic Hedge. Look for Harris’s while you’re sifting through the White-throated and White-crowned Sparrow flocks.

Clay-colored Sparrow, October 1, 2020

Clay-colored Sparrow

Clay-colored Sparrow (click to see the larger version)

This cooperative Clay-colored Sparrow was feeding on the path northwest of the Marovitz Golf Course on October 1. Clay-colored Sparrows are uncommon but regular early to mid-fall migrants at Montrose. The word underbirded and Montrose usually don’t go together but the area at the north end of the Golf Course is just that. I check it on my walk home when I’m finished birding the main part of Montrose and it’s usually birdy, especially for sparrows. I’ve included a link to my eBird checklist for October 1 below.

eBird Checklist
October 1, 2020

Purple Gallinule (!), September 23, 2020

Purple Gallinule

Purple Gallinule (click to see the larger version)

Fortuitous – Happening by a lucky chance; fortunate.

On the morning of September 23 I was walking on the footpath at the east end of Montrose Point as I usually do when I visit. This is one of my favorite places at Montrose as it provides a sweeping view of Chicago and Lake Michigan. Around 7:30 an unfamiliar, medium-sized bird flew over me, heading west, and moving fast. Right behind it and in hot pursuit was one of our local Peregrine Falcons. I thought the mystery bird may have been a Least Bittern or Green Heron. Whatever it was it just missed becoming breakfast for the Peregrine and crash-landed in some shrubs not far from where I was walking. I hurried over to where I thought the bird came down and after poking around found a juvenile Purple Gallinule about 10 feet up buried in dense vegetation. It appeared stunned from the near-death experience and didn’t move while I watched and photographed it. The bird stayed in the same spot for the rest of the day and was viewed and photographed by many. It was not seen after September 23. This is the second record of Purple Gallinule for Montrose. I’ve included a link to my eBird checklist for the day below.

Purple Gallinules breed in the southeastern United States, parts of Mexico and Central America, the Caribbean, and throughout much of South America. Birds in the southeastern United States are migratory and retreat to the American tropics and Florida for the winter. Assuming the bird was born in the US, the Montrose Purple Gallinule should have gone south instead of north, an example of mirror image misorientation. Purple Gallinule vagrancy is well-established; individuals occur regularly far out of range in North America.

Previous Purple Gallinule Records For Montrose Point
May 7 – 10, 1999 (adult). Meadowlark, A Journal of Illinois Birds, Volume 8, Number 4.

eBird Checklist
September 23, 2020

Fall Shorebirds

American Golden-Plover

American Golden-Plover (click to see the larger version)

Shorebird migration may be past peak but that doesn’t mean shorebird migration is over. Six species were at Montrose Beach on September 22, including

American Golden-Plover – 1 juvenile
Black-bellied Plover – 7 juveniles
Killdeer – 2
Pectoral Sandpiper – 3 juveniles
Least Sandpiper – 4
Lesser Yellowlegs – 2

A number of other shorebirds occur at this time of the year, including Dunlin (expected) and Long-billed Dowitcher (rare), and later in the fall Purple Sandpiper and Red Phalarope are possible. Link to my eBird checklist for the morning below.

eBird Checklist
September 22, 2020

Franklin’s Gull, September 16, 2020

Franklin's Gull

Franklin’s Gull (click to see the larger version)

An immature (first cycle) Franklin’s Gull graced Montrose Beach on September 16. This is the time of the year when Franklin’s Gulls start to show up on Chicago lakefront beaches. Large numbers, sometimes in the dozens, can occur in October, especially after strong west winds. Checking groups of Ring-billed Gulls is the best way to find them. Link to my eBird checklist for the morning below.

Franklin’s Gull is named after the English Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin, not the American statesman Benjamin Franklin. Easy mistake to make. Some eponymous bird names may be in trouble because of the questionable activities of their namesakes. As far as I can tell, Franklin’s Gull is safe.

Franklin's Gull

Franklin’s Gull (click to see the larger version)

Note the white outer tail feather in the second photo, a field mark that distinguishes first cycle Franklin’s Gulls from similarly aged Laughing Gulls. This field mark isn’t easy to see and other characteristics like size, structure, and face pattern are more obvious.

eBird Checklist
September 16, 2020

Sanderlings as Grasspipers

Sanderlings

Sanderlings (click to see the larger version)

Grasspiper – A shorebird often found in short-grass habitat, e.g., Buff-breasted Sandpiper.

More fun with Sanderlings at Montrose. On September 12 I noticed a group flying around the grassy field south of the beach. Eventually some landed and began feeding. I’m not sure I’ve seen this behavior before. Sanderlings show high fidelity to sandy beaches but like other birds can adjust their behavior and use non-typical habitat. BTW, the Montrose Beach Sanderling flock is up to 100 or so birds. This is one of the best falls for them I can remember.