The Joy of Surprise

Wood Thrush

A Haloween Wood Thrush treat in Chicago (click to see the larger version)

One of the most endearing qualities of looking for birds is an element of surprise – the potential to see something unusual, unexpected, or even extraordinary. This element of surprise doesn’t just apply to finding a rare bird. Finding a common bird in an unusual circumstance can be exciting too. Case in point, the Wood Thrush I saw at Montrose on October 31, 2020. Wood Thrushes are common in the eastern United States; we see them every spring as migrants at Montrose, and they breed throughout Illinois in appropriate habitat. By the end of October however they should be on their wintering grounds in Central America or well on their way there, so imagine my surprise when I first laid eyes on this bird. To borrow and modify something Forrest Gump said, birding is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get.

Surf Scoter, Iceland Gull, and Wood Thrush, October 31, 2020

Wood Thrush

Wood Thrush (click to see the larger version)

I didn’t have great expectations for October 31. The forecast called for south winds and south winds in late October never produce many birds at Montrose. Despite the unfavorable weather conditions, I was pleasantly surprised by what I did see. A couple of dead salmon washed up on Montrose Beach that attracted the attention of some Herring Gulls, which attracted the attention of a juvenile Iceland Gull. This was my first Iceland Gull of the season. Another birder alerted me to a scoter on Lake Michigan off the beach that turned out to be a Surf Scoter, another first of the season. The biggest surprise was a late Wood Thrush, the latest Wood Thrush I’ve had at Montrose, and probably anywhere else. Rounding out the list were four Common Redpolls and a couple of Snow Buntings. I tallied 37 species in three hours of birding. My eBird checklist for the morning has photos of the Iceland Gull and Surf Scoter. Follow the URL below to see it.

eBird Checklist
October 31, 2020

Common Redpolls, October 30, 2020. And so it begins.

Common Redpoll

Common Redpoll (click to see the larger version)

Two Common Redpolls were at Montrose on October 30. These were the first of hopefully what will be many more this season. Both were feeding in weeds on the side of the path between the Golf Course Pond and harbor. This is forecast to be an excellent fall and winter for finches. We’ve already had record numbers of Pine Siskins and good numbers of Purple Finches. To see redpolls at Montrose, check any weedy area, such as the native planting areas at the east end of the Point or north of the Golf Course. Link to my eBird checklist for the day below.

eBird Checklist
October 30, 2020

Sandhill Cranes (not from Montrose, but close), October 28, 2020

Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Cranes (click to see the larger version)

I live on the outskirts of Wrigleyville in Chicago, about a mile from Montrose Point and its famous bird sanctuary. My third-floor apartment offers a decent and relatively unobstructed view to the west. When I’m home I often look out my windows to see if anything is flying by. I’ve had some interesting birds and birding experiences over the years – Bald Eagles and Peregrine Falcons, big flights of Common Nighthawks in late summer, and when the conditions are right, flocks of Sandhill Cranes in late fall. On the morning of October 28, 11 Sandhills came in from the north, not far from my apartment building. Sandhill Cranes are less common close to Lake Michigan – I rarely get large flights of them, unless the wind is strong and from the west, which it was on October 28. When those conditions occur, and I have time to look, I sometimes see hundreds or even thousands moving south. I didn’t have a lot of time that day, so those 11 Sandhills were all I saw.

If you live in Chicago and want to see Sandhill Cranes, check the skies from late October to early December on days with strong west winds following the passage of a cold front. You might see them under other weather conditions but they move en masse on days with west winds, the stronger the better.

Long-tailed Duck, October 28, 2020

Long-tailed Duck

Long-tailed Duck (click to see the larger version)

A female Long-tailed Duck has been hanging around the fishing pier at Montrose for the last few days. On October 28 I saw her near the end of the pier on the Lake Michigan side. Long-tailed Ducks are uncommon but regular late fall through early spring visitors to Montrose.

October 28 was an interesting day with a nice mix of birds. I ended up with 49 species for about 2 hours of effort, and 60 species were reported to eBird for the day. Some of my highlights include

White-winged Scoter – 1
Dunlin – 2
Greater Yellowlegs – 1
Bonaparte’s Gull – 6
Great Egret – 1, getting late
Gray Catbird – 1, getting late
Snow Bunting – 3
Vesper Sparrow – 1
Lincoln’s Sparrow – 1, getting late

Link to my eBird checklist for October 28 below, which includes more photos of the Long-tailed Duck and a few other birds.

eBird Checklist
October 28, 2020

Snow Buntings, October 24, 2020

Snow Buntings

Snow Buntings (click to see the larger version)

Snow Buntings are one of the last fall migrant passerines we see at Montrose. Two showed up in the Dunes on October 24, the first of the season. Montrose Snow Buntings can be tame and approachable, as the photo suggests. The best way to see them is to check the Dunes, especially the more open sandy areas at the south end. I’ve included a link to my eBird checklist for the day below.

eBird Checklist
October 24, 2020