Category Archives: Winter Bird Reports

December 1 – February 28/29, inclusive

First of Season Red-winged Blackbird, February 15, 2022

A male Red-winged Blackbird surprised me on February 15. It seems a little early for them, but Red-wingeds didn’t (and usually don’t) winter at Montrose, so this bird has to be a migrant. Along with Red-wings, other early spring passerine migrants we should start seeing in the next couple weeks include Horned Larks, Song Sparrows, and Eastern Meadowlarks. Waterfowl diversity will also pick up during this period. Check weather reports for warm fronts and south winds as these are the conditions that bring in spring migrants.

Montrose Conditions Update, February 9, 2022


Snowdrift blocking the walkway next to the Dunes (click to see the larger version)

Getting around Montrose Point in winter can be tricky, even treacherous because of ice and snow covered streets, paths, and sidewalks. A recent visit confirmed this – I found deep, almost impassable snowdrifts along the path that borders the south side of the Dunes and ice on the walkway around the southeast end of the Point. If you go to Montrose this winter, please be mindful of these conditions and exercise caution while walking.

First of Season White-winged Scoters, February 9, 2022

Chicago area birder David Johnson likes to point out that February is a good month for White-winged Scoters on Lake Michigan. Indeed, the first White-winged Scoters we see at Montrose show up in February. On February 9, a group of three White-wingeds flew north past the Point, the first report of this species at Montrose in 2022. The best way to look for White-winged Scoters at Montrose is to spend time along the immediate lakefront, scanning Lake Michigan for waterfowl on the lake or flying by. Flocks of 20 or more birds are seen on occasion. White-wingeds can also turn up at or just outside the harbor mouth.

Surf Scoter, February 7, 2022

Surf Scoter

Surf Scoter (click to see the larger version)

Terry Walsh found a tame female Surf Scoter at the harbor mouth on February 7. Surf Scoters are rare winter visitors to the Chicago lakefront in winter. This bird brightened what was otherwise an unremarkable morning of birding in a usually uneventful month. February isn’t much different than January in terms of avian variety, though towards the end of the month we can start seeing early migrants, especially if we get a warmup. Link to my eBird checklist below.

Tip: Don’t forget to check the harbor mouth when birding Montrose. Waterfowl and grebes can be hidden from view if you only scan the east, south, or north sides of the harbor. To do this, park at the west end of the harbor near the turnaround and walk over to the harbor mouth.

eBird Checklist
February 7, 2022

Great Black-backed Gulls

Great Black-backed Gull

First cycle Great Black-baked Gull at Montrose Beach (click to see the larger version)

One of the more unusual birds we’ve been seeing this winter are Great Black-backed Gulls. An adult and first cycle bird have been hanging around the beach and nearby Lake Michigan since late 2021. On January 4 I saw the young bird loafing on the public beach (gulls will gather on the beach to look for and eat washed up salmon). Great Black-backed Gulls are uncommon but regular in small numbers in the Chicago area in winter. Ducks and gulls are about the only birding game in town now that serious winter cold has set in.

What’s In a Name?

Lots of birds have alternate or colloquial names, like Big Cranky for Great Blue Heron or Camp Robber for Canada Jay. One colloquial name for Great Black-backed Gull is Coffin Carrier, an allusion to the dark back of adults. Some person, somewhere, came up with this name and it caught on, becoming part of the language and culture of a region. Colloquial names often have color or personality in a way that the standard English names don’t. The name Great Black-backed Gull is literal and descriptive, but Coffin Carrier has a different connotation and shows imagination and creative thinking. Maybe an undertaker in Boston came up with the name.

Snowy Owl and Long-tailed Ducks, December 21, 2021

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl (click to see the larger version)

A Snowy Owl was roosting on the end of the fishing pier early on the morning of December 21. This may be the same individual we saw on December 17 as both birds were heavily barred and had paler napes. The fishing pier is a popular location for Snowies when they are around – for this reason, you should always scan it in winter. Unfortunately the pier is also popular with humans while it’s ice free, a fact today’s Snowy found out when an unobservant jogger ran to the end of the pier and flushed it.

As exciting as the Snowy Owl were the 8 Long-tailed Ducks that flew in and landed on Lake Michigan off the end of the fishing pier. Seven of these Long-tailed were striking adult males in their gray and white winter garb. Long-tailed Ducks are regular at Montrose, but seeing a large group of adult males so close to shore is unusual, as well as unforgettable.

Another photo of the Snowy and 3 of the Long-tailed Ducks are at my eBird checklist for the day, URL below.

eBird Checklist
December 21, 2021