White-winged Scoters (click to see the larger version)
It’s White-winged Scoter time in Chicago. February is the month when White-winged Scoters return to Lake Michigan in numbers. I had about 40 at Montrose this morning. A few were resting on the water and a group of 30 flew north past the fishing pier close to shore. The structure on the horizon is the Wilson Avenue Crib, part of the water distribution system for Chicago and a little over 2 miles offshore. This particular crib is no longer operational. White-winged Scoters should be reliable at Montrose through early April.
Lake Michigan can be a violent body of water. Such was the case on January 11. An intense winter storm produced 20-30 m.p.h northeast winds that kicked up 15-foot waves, pounding the Chicago lakefront. I took this video near the base of the fishing pier and southeast corner of the Dunes at Montrose. Note the downed light pole and river of water flowing up the footpath. Not the best day to be on the fishing pier I’d say. Click the square in the lower right corner of the video to enlarge it to full-screen size.
Wilson Avenue Crib (click to see the larger version)
If you’ve been to Montrose you’ve probably noticed the structure due east on the horizon that looks like it’s floating on Lake Michigan. This is the Wilson Avenue Crib and it was part of the water distribution system for Chicago. The cribs pump water to the filtration plants, also along the lakefront. The filtration plants purify the water and distribute it to the city and nearby suburbs for consumption. The Wilson Avenue Crib is no longer operational but several species of birds are making good use of it. The dark shapes in the photos are Double-crested Cormorants and they nest on the crib. State endangered Peregrine Falcons have also nested there.
I took this photo with my digital camera and Questar telescope in June 2019, a technique known as digiscoping. To read more about how I digiscope, see the Digiscoping with a Questar page on my main birding website, The Orniphile. The Wilson Avenue Crib is about 2 miles offshore.
Birding has been slow this winter at Montrose. My best days have maxed out at between 20 and 24 species. This is typical but in some years we at least have Snowy Owls to keep us entertained and to pass the time until spring and migration arrive. Not this year. Not one Snowy Owl has been reported at Montrose this winter.
Today, February 22, was no different; I tallied 24 species in 90 minutes of birding, but the ice formations on Lake Michigan made the long walk out onto the fishing pier worthwhile. I’m always impressed by the geometry of these formations. In this picture, one of the pieces in the foreground looks perfectly square, the piece above it looks perfectly rectangular, and the large piece to the left looks trapezoidal. Nature’s artwork. Link to my eBird checklist for the day below.
This morning I saw a strange fish at Montrose, a fish I’ve never seen before. I’m familiar with most of the local fish and I can at least place them into larger categories, e.g., salmon, bass, pike, gar, but this one looked nothing like any fish I’ve ever seen in the wild. It reminded me of a cod and I vaguely recalled that there is a freshwater cod-like fish found in the Great Lakes called a Burbot. When I got home I did some research and my mystery fish matches up very well with a Burbot (Lota lota). According to Wikipedia, Burbot are benthic in nature, which means they inhabit the lowest levels of a body of water, which might explain why I don’t see them.