Category Archives: Rare Birds

Posts about rare birds

Brant, January 5, 2020

Brant

Brant (click to see the larger version)

By far the most exciting bird of this early winter rarity season is the adult Brant that showed up on January 4. The bird has been associating with Canada Geese at the harbor, and that’s where I saw it on January 5. This is likely the same Brant that was seen along the Wisconsin Lake Michigan lakefront last fall. Brant are rare as far west as the western Great Lakes, as witnessed by the number of previous records for Montrose. It’s also rare enough in Illinois to be on the review list of birds requiring documentation. If you want to see this bird, check the flocks of Canada Geese that frequent the harbor. More photos of the Brant are at my eBird checklist for the morning, URL below.

Previous Montrose Brant Records

  • October 15, 1947
  • December 2-4, 1990
  • September 27, 2001
  • October 29, 2008

eBird Checklist
January 5, 2021

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

Brewer’s Blackbird, October 10, 2020

Brewer's Blackbird

Brewer’s Blackbird (click to see the larger version)

It’s hard to believe Brewer’s Blackbird is rare anywhere in Illinois but they are at Montrose Point in Chicago. They nest to the north of us in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan, but for whatever reason, they largely avoid the Chicago lakefront. So seeing one at Montrose on October 10 was exciting. The bird, a female, was in the Dunes for a few minutes before flying south and disappearing. More photos of the Brewer’s are at my eBird checklist for the morning, URL below.

eBird Checklist
October 10, 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

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 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