Clay-colored Sparrow (click to see the larger version)
Saturday, May 13 qualified as a fallout given the volume of warblers, sparrows, flycatchers, and other passerine migrants present. Over 140 species were reported to eBird by all observers. The rain, north winds, and temperatures in the 50s didn’t slow down the birds or the birders. My highlights include
A fisherman and his gear (click to see the larger version)
One of the most distinctive sounds of spring at Montrose is the firing of fishing lines. Fishermen use fire extinguishers fitted with a pipe to propel their lines out into Lake Michigan. This setup functions like a canon, and the sound it makes is loud enough to startle you if you’re nearby. I’ve also noticed how close some waterbirds come to these fishing lines. I’ve seen Horned Grebes, Red-breasted Mergansers, and a Common Loon on one occasion swim right up to the lines. These birds may have been curious and looking for an easy meal. I can imagine a grebe or merganser getting tangled or grabbing the baited hook, which would be a mess for the fisherman and the bird. A tangled and thrashing Common Loon would be a worst case scenario. Loons are big enough and strong enough to do serious damage to a human trying to free them. They have sharp bills that can draw blood or poke out an eye. My guess is that fishermen would cut the line and lose their bait rather than try to free a struggling bird.
Common Loon zipping past Montrose Point (click to see the larger version)
We’ve been seeing Common Loons at Montrose for over a week. They start to appear in late March and remain regular through late April. Early April is about peak season for them. Sometimes they show up in the harbor, where they’re easy to admire and photograph on the water. More often we see them in flight over Lake Michigan or over the Point and always at a breakneck clip. The best way to describe a Common Loon is a missile with wings – pointed at the front, with a fast, powerful, and direct flight, like they’re in a hurry to get where they’re going. They look lethal on the wing; if one slammed into you, you probably wouldn’t survive. Double-crested Cormorants are similar in size and shape but aren’t as sleek and look ungainly compared to a loon. The nice thing about spring Common Loons is that they’re usually in beautiful breeding plumage when they make it to Chicago. From a distance this isn’t obvious but up close the white striping against the black neck stands out.
If you visit Montrose in April, keep your head on a swivel and look up. A Common Loon may be flying over.
Cackling and Canada Geese (click to see the larger version)
Late January is the slowest time of the year for birding at Montrose. Fall migration is over and spring migration won’t start for two or three weeks at the earliest. If you see 20 species in a day in the middle of winter you’re doing well. January 2023 hasn’t been any different than previous Januarys, except perhaps for the milder weather, but we have had a few interesting sightings. Two Cackling Geese are hanging out with the large wintering Canada Goose flock. Look for them wherever the Canadas are, like the harbor or at the north end of the Marovitz Golf Course. The smaller, shorter necked, and stubbier billed Cacklers really stand out among their larger cousins.
Red-throated Loons are regular in winter in small numbers along the Illinois Lake Michigan lakefront. On January 22 one was resting on the lake a few hundred yards offshore from the end of the fishing pier. Red-throated Loon is the default winter loon on Lake Michigan. Your best bet for seeing them at Montrose is from the fishing pier.
Photos of the Cackling Geese and Red-throated Loon are at my eBird checklist for the morning, URL below.
A second March Snowy Owl made an appearance on the 25th. Ironically, it was on the end of the fishing pier in the exact same spot as the March 15th bird. Snowy Owls love to roost on the pier – always give it a good scan late fall through early spring for them. Other interesting birds include a flyby Red-throated Loon and 27 White-winged Scoters. Also, Red-breasted Merganser numbers are starting to pick up on Lake Michigan. The males are doing their elaborate dip and bow display to impress the females. Link to my eBird checklist for the morning below.
Snow Buntings at Montrose Dunes, fall 2020. (click to see the larger version)
November is one of the most exciting months of the year at Montrose. The list of rarities found there in November is long and distinguished. As examples, an Ancient Murrelet, just the fourth record for Illinois, made an appearance in 2019, and in 2020 the fourth state record Cassin’s Sparrow delighted birders. General birding can be good too. Here are a few November birding tips:
Check the beach and Dunes for Lapland Longspurs and Snow Buntings. The buntings favor the more open areas of the Dunes, and the longspurs are usually flying over. Both will sometimes feed out in the open on the beach or even in the algae that washes up on the beach.
On days with brisk west winds, Short-eared Owls are a good bet in the Dunes. They usually kick up out of the denser vegetation and fly out over Lake Michigan.
With a little effort and luck, Northern Saw-whet and Long-eared Owls can be found in the peripheral plantings. Look for whitewash and listen for scolding, excited Black-capped Chickadees.
The fishing pier is an excellent place to scan Lake Michigan for loons, grebes, and waterfowl, either resting on the surface or in flight. Overcast days with light winds offer the best viewing conditions.
Northern Shrikes like the Dunes and more open areas of the Point. Look for them perched in the tops of trees or flying through, flashing their white wing and tail spots.
Black-legged Kittiwakes sometimes turn up, especially on days with northeast winds. They aren’t a sure bet but if you’re at Montrose on a day with easterly winds, pay attention to the gulls flying by. This applies for jaegers too.