Purple Finch, one of the winter finches (click to see the larger version)
Winter Finch – A collective term that refers to Arctic, subarctic, and boreal forest breeding members of the family Fringillidae. This includes redpolls, Pine Siskin, crossbills, Pine and Evening Grosbeaks, and Purple Finch.
This continues to be an excellent fall for winter finches in the Midwest. Common Redpolls, Pine Siskins, and Purple Finches are being seen almost daily at Montrose. Even more exciting were reports of two of the rarer winter finches. On November 3, I found 10 White-winged Crossbills in a spruce tree near the Park Bait Shop (at the corner of W. Montrose Avenue and W. Montrose Harbor Drive), and several observers saw an Evening Grosbeak on November 5. According to eBird, the last White-winged Crossbills from Montrose were in 2012. The last Evening Grosbeak record was about 20 years ago. The rest of the fall should see more of these birds. The Montrose Map page has an interactive map that shows the road system at Montrose.
How to Look for Winter Finches at Montrose
There are a couple of ways to look for winter finches at Montrose. We don’t have a lot of finch habitat but we have some. The pine and spruce trees south of the main entrance of the Sanctuary on W. Montrose Harbor Drive have cones that could attract crossbills. The hawthorns on the service road to the beach house are laden with berries. We’ve been seeing Purple Finches in these hawthorns and they could attract Pine and Evening Grosbeaks. The pine and spruce trees next to the Park Bait Shop don’t have many cones but could attract crossbills and are easy check. Redpolls like weedy areas such as the native planting areas at the south and east end of the Point and north of the Marovitz Golf Course.
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.
You know it’s a good fall for Pine Siskins when they outnumber the American Goldfinches. We’re at the beginning of what can only be described as a Pine Siskin invasion. Hundreds have been seen migrating south along the Illinois Lake Michigan lakefront, and numbers have been increasing at Montrose for over a week. On October 5 I saw about 100, my best count this fall, and probably my highest total ever for Montrose. Like other winter finches, Pine Siskins are irruptive, which means their numbers vary from one year to another, sometimes dramatically (2019 saw hardly any for example). This has also been an excellent fall for Purple Finches and Red-breasted Nuthatches, so something is going on in the boreal forest where these birds are coming from. Hopefully we’ll get redpolls and crossbills later in the fall. Link to my eBird checklist for the morning below.
I walked around Montrose for a little while this morning, December 3. My best find was the continuing female Long-tailed Duck in Lake Michigan near the tower at the southeast corner of the point. I haven’t seen her in a couple of days but I assume this is the same bird.
Other birds seen at Montrose this a.m. include 3 Ruddy Ducks in the lake outside of the harbor, 2 Horned Grebes inside the harbor, and a flyover Pine Siskin.
The Red-necked Grebe was still in Montrose Harbor this morning, November 11. I saw it swimming among the starfloats on the west side of the harbor. A brief walk around the point also yielded one each of Pine Siskin, Purple Finch, Snow Bunting, Lapland Longspur, and Rusty Blackbird.
Greater White-fronted Goose (click to see the larger version)
The adult Greater White-fronted Goose was still at Montrose this morning, October 16. I first saw it in the lake with Canada Geese south of the restrooms, and I saw it again with Canada Geese on the grass just east of the bait shop as I was driving out.
I also walked around the point for a little while and there seemed to be good numbers of passerines around, especially White-crowned and White-throated Sparrows. Some of the other birds I saw include:
Horned Grebe – 1
Red-tailed Hawk – 1, the continuing juvenile I presume
Black-belled Plover – 2 at the east end of the beach
Sanderling – ~8, all at the west end of the beach
Chimney Swift – ~300 swarming low over the point
Red-bellied Woodpecker – 1 male
Horned Lark – 1 flyover at the beach
Winter Wren – 2
Ruby-crowned Kinglet – ~6
Golden-crowned Kinglet – 2
American Pipit – 1 flyover
Lapland Longspur – 1 flushed from the beach
Tennessee Warbler – 1
Orange-crowned Warbler – 5
Black-throated Green Warbler – 1
American Tree Sparrow – 1, my FOS
Fox Sparrow – 1
Rusty Blackbird – 4, all in the dunes
Purple Finch – 2, 1 male and 1 female
Pine Siskin – 1