Common Nighthawk. Photo by M. Ferguson (click to see the larger version)
The sweet season has commenced. Days like May 9 make suffering through Chicago winters worth it. I don’t know if the volume of birds was better than the fantastic weekend of May 4-5 but the variety certainly was. I tallied 95 species in about 3.5 hours of morning birding, my best spring total to date (according to eBird, over 120 species were reported). My highlights include 3 Black-bellied Plovers, Willet, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Common and Forster’s Terns, a roosting Common Nighthawk, 5 woodpeckers, 19 species of warblers (Pine, Northern Parula, and Blue-winged being the best), and Clay-colored Sparrow. Link to my eBird checklist below.
I spent a little over an hour at Montrose Beach this morning, hoping for large shorebirds, especially the kind with long recurved or decurved bills. The only shorebirds I saw were a flyby Ruddy Turnstone, a couple Semipalmated Plovers, a Spotted Sandpiper, and a few Sanderlings. The morning wasn’t a complete bust however. Around dawn a Merlin flew in off the lake with something in its talons. This is my first Merlin of the season at Montrose. I also had about 15 adult Common Terns fly south over the beach. They were coming by in small groups and never landed. A juvenile Forster’s Tern made an appearance too.
Larry Krutulis found 3 Willets inside the protected area at Montrose Beach earlier today, and they were still there late this afternoon. I also had 2 subadult Forster’s Terns inside the protected area. The Willets and the Least Sandpipers Larry also had are almost certainly early southbound migrants. Both species are among the first shorebirds we see in the summer.
Two Whimbrels flew over the east end of Montrose Beach this morning. This was about 6:30. They continued southeast over Lake Michigan and didn’t act like they were going to stop or come back. This is prime time for Whimbrels along Lake Michigan.
Other birds seen at Montrose Beach this a.m. include 9 Semipalmated Plovers, 2 Baird’s Sandpipers, a Lesser Yellowlegs, 2 Sanderlings, single Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers, and a group of about 8 Forster’s Terns.
I went back out in the afternoon and had a Lark Sparrow in the native planting area near the tower. This was most unexpected as Lark Sparrows are very rare at Montrose in the summer and fall.
Forster’s Terns. Photographs by Mike Miller (click to see the larger version).
Mike Miller photographed these Sterna terns on Montrose Beach in late May. Both birds are Forster’s Terns and I think both are in their third calendar year, that is, they were born in 2011. The top bird has white underparts, a broad white area between the lower edge of the dark cap and bill, and a tail that extends past the tips of the folded primaries. These are Forster’s field marks. The bill also looks stout and the legs look long to me.
The second bird has a gray tail and a white outer web to the outer pair of tail feathers. These are also Forster’s field marks. Except for the dark outer 5 or 6 primaries both birds look like adults, but adult Forster’s Terns in late May should still have silvery white primaries, so that’s why I think they are in their third calendar year. Immature terns molt their primaries earlier than adults and when tern primaries become worn they darken. The dark primaries of these birds are really the only clue that they aren’t fully mature.