Longnose Gar in Montrose Harbor (click to see the larger version)
Continuing the fish theme this summer, I saw and photographed a Longnose Gar in Montrose Harbor on July 13. Gar are distinctive as a group but specific identification can be challenging (and I’m hardly a fish expert). My gar was about 2 feet long and had heavy, dark spotting on the body. It was swimming slowly and close to the surface, enabling me to get diagnostic photos. After some research, I narrowed down the options to Spotted and Longnose Gar, and after sharing the photos online several fish experts weighed in and confirmed it as a Longnose Gar. This is the first gar of any kind I’ve seen on Lake Michigan and the most unusual fish I’ve seen at Montrose. More photos are on my Facebook page, URL below. Also, see the Fish Archives on this blog for more fish stories from Montrose.
You may have heard or even noticed that the water level on Lake Michigan is very high this summer. According to NOAA, it’s at a 22 year high and near the all-time high. I took this photo at the mouth of Montrose Harbor in July 2020. The water is so high it’s spilling over the piers at the harbor mouth. In past years fishermen would be using these piers; the only creatures using the piers now are waterfowl and gulls.
Black Crappie in Montrose Harbor (click to see the larger version)
The fish in Montrose Harbor are taking advantage of the decrease in human activity and putting on a show. I’ve been checking the north side of the harbor on my morning walks and I’ve noticed an abundance and variety of fish I didn’t notice before Chicago closed the lakefront parks. Some of the different species include Black Crappie (a Montrose first for me), numbers of Smallmouth Bass and Freshwater Drum, and the ever-present Common Carp. Some of the carp are huge. I’ve also seen large schools of smaller fish, either Alewife or Smelt. It’s noteworthy that Montrose Harbor is far from being a pristine body of water. The many boats release gasoline into the water and there’s often garbage floating on the surface and debris in the water. Despite this, aquatic life is thriving. More fish photos from Montrose Harbor are on my Facebook page, URL below. Also, see the Fish Archives on this blog for more fish stories from Montrose.
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.