Herring and Ring-billed Gulls feeding in the algae mat at Montrose Beach (click to see the larger version)
The title of this post sounds like the title of a horror or monster movie — “Return of the Green Gunk!” On December 14 I was pleasantly surprised to find an extensive algae* mat at the east end of Montrose Beach. This algae mat developed when a powerful early winter storm churned up Lake Michigan and dumped large amounts of the stuff on the beach. I also noticed a group of Herring and Ring-billed Gulls picking through the algae for food. From what I could tell, and from what I’ve seen in the past, the gulls were hunting crayfish that washed in with the algae. Why does this matter? Because groups of active, feeding gulls attract more gulls that could include something unusual. Now that winter is here, there are multiple, possible rare gulls to consider. The algae could also attract a rare shorebird like a Purple Sandpiper or Red Phalarope. So if you venture out to Montrose this winter don’t forget to check the beach, and if there’s an algae mat, check it too. Once the beach gets covered in ice the algae mat won’t be accessible to gulls and shorebirds.
Only a birder gets excited about algae mats, right?
Long-tailed Duck (click to see the larger version)
A female Long-tailed Duck has been hanging around the fishing pier at Montrose for the last few days. On October 28 I saw her near the end of the pier on the Lake Michigan side. Long-tailed Ducks are uncommon but regular late fall through early spring visitors to Montrose.
October 28 was an interesting day with a nice mix of birds. I ended up with 49 species for about 2 hours of effort, and 60 species were reported to eBird for the day. Some of my highlights include
A number of other shorebirds occur at this time of the year, including Dunlin (expected) and Long-billed Dowitcher (rare), and later in the fall Purple Sandpiper and Red Phalarope are possible. Link to my eBird checklist for the morning below.
Grasspiper – A shorebird often found in short-grass habitat, e.g., Buff-breasted Sandpiper.
More fun with Sanderlings at Montrose. On September 12 I noticed a group flying around the grassy field south of the beach. Eventually some landed and began feeding. I’m not sure I’ve seen this behavior before. Sanderlings show high fidelity to sandy beaches but like other birds can adjust their behavior and use non-typical habitat. BTW, the Montrose Beach Sanderling flock is up to 100 or so birds. This is one of the best falls for them I can remember.
Montrose Beach in Chicago sure does. I had over 60 on September 10, my best count of 2020. This is a continuation of the excellent shorebird migration we’ve had this summer and fall. All of these Sanderlings appeared to be juveniles; Arctic breeding shorebirds must have had a good season. Link to my eBird checklist for the morning below.
Try counting the Sanderlings in the photo. I got up to 62.
For more information about shorebirds at Montrose, see the Shorebirds section of the What to See page.
Today was the best day of the fall for me. I ended up with 53 species in about 3 hours of birding, with good numbers of passerines, especially warblers and Catharus thrushes. Highlights include Connecticut and 2 Golden-winged Warblers (10 warbler species total), Bobolink, Dickcissel, the continuing American Avocet, and a surprise Turkey Vulture. TVs aren’t rare at Montrose but we don’t see a lot of them. Shorebirds were skimpy, mainly because the fluddle has dried up. I also had impressive numbers of aerial insectivores, mostly Chimney Swifts and Barn Swallows, a few bonus Cliff Swallows, and what seemed like thousands of buzzing dragonflies. Link to my eBird checklist for the morning below.