Category Archives: Rare Birds

Posts about rare birds

Ancient Murrelet (!), November 9 & 10, 2019

Ancient Murrelet

Ancient Murrelet. Photo by Mike Carroll. (click to see the larger version)

I wasn’t planning on birding Montrose Point on Saturday, November 9. Saturday is my day to play and do whatever I want, whether it be birding or something else altogether (it is usually birding). I planned on spending the day at Indiana Dunes State Park, hiking, birding, and catching the last of the fall colors. When I woke up that morning I changed my mind and decided to stay closer to home and go to Montrose, my main patch and fallback for aborted longer birding trips. I live about a mile from Montrose so it’s quick and easy for me to get there. I would spend a couple of hours birding, come home, take a nap, watch a movie. Relax. An easy day.

If you’re not familiar with Montrose we like to check Lake Michigan from the fishing pier at the east end of the beach for waterfowl, loons, and other waterbirds, especially in November. November is an exciting month to bird the lakefront, maybe the most exciting month when it comes to rarity potential. The conditions on the Lake were excellent that morning – overcast skies, light winds, a little chop on the Lake but nothing terrible. Good visibility most of the way to the horizon. I made my way onto the pier and started scanning and scoping the Lake for anything on the water or flying by.

The fishing pier hosts 2 light towers, a taller one near the base and a smaller one near the tip (our local Peregrine Falcons like to roost on and hunt from the taller tower). Near the taller tower, I caught a glimpse of a small dark blob slipping under the water on the Lake Michigan side, very close to the edge of the pier. I had a strange sensation this was something different and my heart started to race. The bird popped back up a little further away but still close to the pier, and went under again just as quickly. By this time I could tell it was a small alcid. Now my heart was taking off and the cursing began, both out of excitement and frustration over not being able to pin the bird down, the kind of cursing your mother (or my mother at least) would pinch your ear if she heard. When the bird surfaced again I could see the white spot on the neck, so I knew it was either a Dovekie or Ancient Murrelet. More frustration as the bird dove and disappeared again. It seemed to be playing games with me, and when it got up and flew off my heart almost sank. Instead of flying away it hung a sharp left at the end of the fishing pier, turned around, and started flying back, but more towards the beach, landing about 1/4 mile away. By this time Mike Carroll was there and we were both scanning the lake trying to refind the bird. After a couple of minutes, it picked up and started flying RIGHT AT US, landing about 30 yards away and inside the hook part of the pier. We could see the plain gray back and pale tip to the bill, the distinguishing field marks for Ancient Murrelet, one of the most prized and coveted of November rarities. Mike was taking photos of the bird like a madman, which is a good thing because I didn’t have my camera available. The Murrelet put on an amazing show right in front of us before flying off once again, this time well to the north. The bird flew back towards the pier and landed one more time before flying off to the east and disappearing over the Lake. Once word got out birders started showing up in droves but the Murrelet didn’t return this time, though 2 people reported it later that afternoon.

Ancient Murrelet

Ancient Murrelet. Photo by Mike Carroll. (click to see the larger version)

Ancient Murrelet is a seabird in the truest sense of the word – they breed around the northern Pacific Ocean in Alaska, Canada, and Asia and winter along the Pacific Coast down to California and Japan and China. A few go astray and occur far inland in the United States in late fall, like the Montrose bird. This is the fourth record for Illinois and a new addition for Montrose. Actually, it’s a whole new family (Alcidae) for Montrose too. See the Montrose List page on this website for a list of birds recorded at Montrose Point. More of Mike Carroll’s excellent photos are included with my eBird checklist for the day, URL below.

eBird Checklist
November 9, 2019

Previous Illinois Ancient Murrelet Records

  • November 16, 1961, Macomb, McDonough County
  • November 16-21, 1982, Wilmette and Evanston, Cook County
  • November 6, 2004, Carlyle Lake, Clinton County

Addendum: Isoo O’Brien refound the Ancient Murrelet the next day, November 10, off the south side of Montrose Point. Many birders saw and enjoyed the bird, unlike the Saturday sighting.

MEGA! Cassin’s Kingbird!, September 22, 2019

Cassin's Kingbird

Cassin’s Kingbird . Photo by K. Kurylowicz. (click to see the larger version)

Krzysztof Kurylowicz found a Cassin’s Kingbird at Montrose on September 22. This is a first state record. The bird moved around a lot and could be difficult to see well, but a number of patient and persistent birders saw and photographed this extraordinary rarity. Unfortunately, it didn’t stay long and disappeared after a couple of hours. Obviously this is a new species for Montrose, number 346, as well as our 15th flycatcher. Link to my eBird checklist for the day below. More photos of the Cassin’s can be found there as well.

eBird Checklist
September 22, 2019

Townsend’s Warbler!, September 15, 2019

Townsend's Warbler

Townsend’s Warbler. Photo by M. Ferguson. (click to see the larger version)

Montrose Point has a loooong list of rare birds to its credit. This Townsend’s Warbler, found on September 15, had birders jumping for joy. Townsend’s Warbler is normally found in the Western United States and Canada; like other birds, they sometimes stray and end up far out of range. Amazingly, this is the second record for Montrose, the other occurring back in 2002. The bird was seen again on September 16. A big thanks and shoutout to Mike Ferguson for letting me use his photo.

Long-billed Dowitcher, September 11, 2019

Long-billed Dowitcher

Long-billed Dowitcher (click to see the larger version)

I checked Montrose Beach on the evening of September 11 to see if any interesting shorebirds had come in. A cold front was forecast to pass the next morning and I know from experience that shorebirds often move ahead of cold fronts in the summer and fall. To my great surprise, a juvenile Long-billed Dowitcher flew in and landed in the fluddle on the public part of the beach. This is a very rare bird at Montrose—in my 40 years of birding there I’ve only seen one (and this was the only record before the September 11 sighting). Hard to believe I know but we just don’t get them. More photos of the Long-billed Dowitcher are at my eBird checklist for the day, link below.

eBird Checklist
September 11, 2019

Western Kingbird, September 4, 2019

Western Kingbird

Western Kingbird. Photo by M. Ferguson. (click to see the larger version)

A Western Kingbird made an appearance at Montrose on September 4. The bird was hanging around the east end of the Point in the native planting area and enjoyed by many. Western Kingbirds are rare but regular (almost annual, actually) visitors to Montrose. Montrose is excellent for flycatchers, with 14 species recorded to date, including rarities such as Say’s Phoebe, Ash-throated Flycatcher, and Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. Link to my eBird checklist for the day below.

eBird Checklist
September 4, 2019

Piping Plover Update (good news, mostly)

Piping Plover

Rose, the mama Piping Plover (click to see the larger version)

Our Piping Plovers are now the proud parents of 2 chicks. A third chick hatched but died recently for unknown reasons. Monty, the papa, is doing an outstanding job of defending his kids from gulls and other shorebirds. Also, Rose, the mother, disappeared for a few days but returned on July 29. With a little luck, the chicks will survive, grow up, and fly away in a few weeks.