Great Black-backed Gull (click to see the larger version)
Avian activity has slowed considerably at Montrose. I’ve been topping out at about 20 species on my two hour morning visits since December 1. Things won’t improve much until late February when spring migration begins, and if the harbor and Lake Michigan freeze it will only get worse. Common Mergansers and Common Goldeneye, the two main wintering ducks, haven’t arrived yet in numbers because of the mild weather we’ve been experiencing. They’ll start to show up when it gets seriously cold. The big flocks of Red-breasted Mergansers from November have pulled out. Lake Michigan now feels lifeless and empty without them. Common Redpolls are still around but for how long is anyone’s guess. Most of the sparrows from mid-November have left, with only Dark-eyed Juncos and American Tree Sparrows remaining. Despite the doldrums, we have had a few interesting species. An adult light morph Snow Goose has been keeping company with Canada Geese. Scan any group of Canada Geese if you’re looking for it. You could also find other uncommon geese like Cackling or Greater White-fronted by looking through the Canadas. An American Black Duck, an unusual bird for Montrose, has been with Mallards, usually in the harbor. On December 4 I saw an immature Great Black-backed Gull on the public beach. As always, check the Montrose Point eBird Hotspot for current sightings.
Suggestions for Winter Birding at Montrose
I have some suggestions for winter birding at Montrose. As long as the harbor remains open it’s worth checking for waterfowl, gulls, and grebes. Long-tailed Ducks, scoters, Red-necked and Western Grebes, and several unusual gulls have been seen in the harbor in early winter. Once the harbor freezes over this won’t be an option. The hawthorns near the restroom building on the south side of the harbor are full of berries as of early December. On December 4 I had American Robins, European Starlings, and a few House Finches gorging on these berries, and something rare like a Pine Grosbeak or Bohemian Waxwing is possible while the berry supply lasts. Finally, 2020 isn’t shaping up to be a flight year for Snowy Owls but a few could still show up. The best places to look for them are the beach, Dunes, and fishing pier.
Snow Goose (click to see the larger version)
With morning temps in the teens and a wind chill even colder, today felt more like January than early March. I ended up with 23 species in about an hour and half of birding, highlighted by the continuing blue morph Snow Goose and White-winged Scoter, and a bonus adult Iceland Gull in the harbor. There were also good numbers of Red-breasted Mergansers in the harbor and in the lake just outside of the harbor mouth. I did not see the female Long-tailed Duck, which didn’t appear to be doing well when last seen. Link to my eBird checklist below.
I was surprised to see 4 Snowy Owls at Montrose this morning. I thought most had left but it appears more came in to replace them. Two were on the fishing pier, one was on the ice shelf at the west end of the beach, and the other was flying south over the point, almost like it was migrating. I also saw an adult or near adult Glaucous Gull flying north, the Snow Goose in the harbor, and 4 Snow Buntings and a single Lapland Longspur on the beach.
I had a Horned Lark fly in off of Lake Michigan this morning. This is just the second bona fide spring migrant passerine I’ve had at Montrose, the first being a Song Sparrow a couple of days ago. There were also 2 drake Greater Scaup in the lake and the Snow Goose continues in the harbor.
The forecast calls for a warmup by the end of the week. I can’t wait.
I had a third or fourth cycle Great Black-backed Gull this morning. The bird flew in from the north, circled a couple of times near the harbor and continued south. Great Black-backed Gulls are very uncommon visitors to Montrose. I also saw the Snow Goose in the still frozen over harbor.
Snow Goose (click to see a larger version)
The Ross’s and Snow Geese were still present this morning. They were feeding in the grass just south of the parking lot near the bathrooms on the south side of the harbor. The Ross’s Goose has been present for almost 2 weeks now.
I also saw 2 Killdeer at the east end of the beach, my first of the year, and a sure harbinger of spring. Most of the beach is still covered with ice and snow so it was a bit strange (though not unappreciated) to see these shorebirds there.