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.
The Red Baron (click to see the larger version)
In early August 2020, a sculpture appeared at Montrose near the harbor. The sculpture resembles a giant bird and I’ve dubbed it The Red Baron. Reactions from the Montrose community have been mixed. Some think it’s ugly and intrusive and doesn’t belong in a nature sanctuary. Others think it could interfere with migration and injure birds. My reaction was one of surprise and delight. Montrose is known for its nature and outdoor recreation but has no art of any kind. I think this sculpture adds character and brings something different to the park and it isn’t large enough to harm wildlife.
The Red Baron is near the Purple Martin houses on the northwest side of the harbor.
Montrose Harbor (click to see the larger version)
You may have heard or even noticed that the water level on Lake Michigan is very high this summer. According to NOAA, it’s at a 22 year high and near the all-time high. I took this photo at the mouth of Montrose Harbor in July 2020. The water is so high it’s spilling over the piers at the harbor mouth. In past years fishermen would be using these piers; the only creatures using the piers now are waterfowl and gulls.
Sign of the times. Police closing Montrose Point. Photo courtesy of Ben Sanders (click to see the larger version)
On March 26, 2020, the city of Chicago closed all of Lincoln Park, including Montrose Point, to the public to limit the spread of COVID-19. It’s unclear how long Montrose will be closed. It could be weeks, it could be months. DO NOT attempt to access Montrose (or any other part of Lincoln Park) while it is closed – you could be fined or even arrested.
2019 was a phenomenal year for birds and birding at Montrose, both for migration and the number of rarities and vagrants seen. We also had a historic nesting record. I can’t remember a more exciting year, and I’ve been birding Montrose for over 40 years. Some of the notable happenings include (underlined text points to a story on this blog)
By my tally, at least five new species were added to the list of birds recorded at Montrose, bringing the total to 348. This is above the 2-3 yearly average for the last few years. I’m not sure why 2019 was so special but 350 is within striking distance and will likely happen in 2020. To see a list of birds recorded at Montrose, see the Montrose List page on this site, URL below.
The Montrose List
Wilson Avenue Crib (click to see the larger version)
If you’ve been to Montrose you’ve probably noticed the structure due east on the horizon that looks like it’s floating on Lake Michigan. This is the Wilson Avenue Crib and it was part of the water distribution system for Chicago. The cribs pump water to the filtration plants, also along the lakefront. The filtration plants purify the water and distribute it to the city and nearby suburbs for consumption. The Wilson Avenue Crib is no longer operational but several species of birds are making good use of it. The dark shapes in the photos are Double-crested Cormorants and they nest on the crib. State endangered Peregrine Falcons have also nested there.
I took this photo with my digital camera and Questar telescope in June 2019, a technique known as digiscoping. To read more about how I digiscope, see the Digiscoping with a Questar page on my main birding website, The Orniphile. The Wilson Avenue Crib is about 2 miles offshore.